Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo

10 April 1919 -

Eduardo Sorvillo was born on 10 April 1919.

On 1 October 1938, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

He was promoted to Tenente on 8 April 1940.

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) of the 2o Stormo C.T. was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 77a Squadriglia were: Capitano Mario Fedele (CO), Tenente Sorvillo (recently arrived from 4o Stormo), Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini, Sottotenente Mario Fabbricatore, Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet, Sergente Maggiore Leone Basso, Sergente Maggiore Agostino Fausti, Sergente Raoul Scodellari, Sergente Ernesto Paolini, Sergente Enrico Botti (recently arrived from 53o Stormo), Sergente Amedeo Benati and Sergente Vincenzo Campolo. These pilots had twelve CR.42s (including Maggiore Revetria’s and Colonnello Federici’s) (eight combat ready and three still under assembly) and four CR.32quaters.

At 16:10 on 9 December, three CR.42s from the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini and Tenente Sorvillo) together with six more from the 78a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Sergente Ernesto Taddia, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sottotenente Natale Cima and Sottotenente Canneppele) took off to strafe enemy armoured vehicles on the road between Sidi El Barrani and Bir Enba. The attack was done under heavy AA fire and lasted 30 minutes. The attackers used 3000 rounds of ammunition and reportedly caused heavy damage.
Sorvillo was back at Gambut at 17:45 together with the 78a Squadriglia, while Torresi and Zuccarini landed at Menastir because of the growing darkness.

On 10 December, five CR.42s of the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Colonnello Secondo Revetria, Tenente Sorvillo, Sottotenente Mario Nicoloso, Sottotenente Carmelo Catania, Sergente Ernesto Paolini and Sergente Carlo Manfredi), six from the 78a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sergente Teresio Martinoli, Sottotenente Natale Cima and Sottotenente Luigi Canneppele) with six fighters from the 82a Squadriglia (Capitano Guglielmo Arrabito, Sottotenente Gilberto Cerofolini, Sottotenente Giuseppe Timolina, Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà, Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan and Sergente Luigi Giannotti) as top cover, took off from Gambut at 15:30 to escort S.79s out to attack enemy concentrations in the Bir Enba-Sidi El Barrani area.
Near Sidi el Barrani, Giannotti discovered a Bristol Blenheim, attacked and claimed it damaged.
The rest of the mission was uneventful and the fighters were back at 17:15. While returning, Tenente Sorvillo was forced to land at Menastir because of a broken engine while Sergente Martinoli had to abort because of another breakdown. Sorvillo arrived back at Gambut by car.
The bombers were a vic of three S.79s from the 63a Squadriglia led by Colonnello Aramu that at least were able to release their bomb load (50 kilos bombs) over the British concentrations.

At 14:00 on 14 December, eight or nine Hurricanes from 274 Squadron took off with 10 minutes intervals, refuelling at Sidi Barrani aerodrome to carry out an offensive patrol west of Sollum, as information was received that waves of Italian aircraft were attacking British forward troops. Participating pilots were Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7300) (14:00-16:00), Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley (V7293) (14:00-16:10), Pilot Officer Charles Laubscher (P3720) (14:00-16:00), Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P5176), Flying Officer C. F. Greenhill (N2627), Pilot Officer Strong (P2652), Pilot Officer Garland (P2627), Flying Officer Lynch (P2556) and probably Pilot Officer Ernest Mason (P3722).
Between 16:05 and 16:08 and 25 miles west of Bardia they met a formation of CR.42s described as three in vic first seen but about nine seen later (or 9-12 eventually engaged). They engaged the Italian formation and returned claiming five of them. Two were claimed by Squadron Leader Dunn, two by Flight Lieutenant John Lapsley and the fifth was credited to Flying Officer Greenhill 30 miles west of Bardia while Pilot Officer Mason claimed one probable.
Flying Officer Greenhill reported that he was flying at 12,000 feet in vic with two other Hurricanes and saw the CR.42s at 3 o’clock 12 miles away and 2,000 feet below when in a position 30 miles west of Bardia. He delivered an astern attack:

[The enemy engaged] in dogfight, 1 CR 42 shot down and crashed (seen by F/Lt Lapsley) 1 CR 42 damaged our casualties nil. The formation of 3 CR 42 were taken by surprise after which other CR 42s appeared and attempted to engage us but unsuccessfully.”
Flight Lieutenant Lapsley reported that he was flying at 12,000 feet in vic with two other Hurricanes and saw the CR 42s at 3 o’clock 12 miles away and 2,000 feet below when in a position over the Bardia- Tobruk road. He delivered an astern attack:
[The enemy] turned and a dogfight ensued. 2 CR 42s shot down. 1 crashed after initial attack. The others smoked and crashed in flames. Came in and get away tactics used quite successfully. The enemy seemed more determined than in my previous engagements.”
Squadron Leader Dunn reported that he was flying at 12,500 feet in vic with two other Hurricanes and saw the CR 42s at 4 o’clock 8 miles away and 4,000 feet below when in a position over Bardia. He delivered an astern attack:
[The enemy did] the usual action. Five CR 42’s shot down by flight. Self 2. E a/c were not flying in such tight formation and must have been part of a well planned larger formation which I did not see when attacking original target.”
Pilot Officer Mason later wrote:
“…two of us met a CR 42 which attacked head on but I gave him a long burst and he went down in a spin. We didn’t see him smoke or burn or hit the ground so he is unconfirmed. I have also been doing a lot of ground strafing. I fly down a road at nought feet and fire at motors and things. Interesting to fire at the back of a van full of troops. You see your bullets hitting the sand and you just move the cloud of sand up towards and past the lorry. You then see dozens of chaps pile out like nobody’s business. Some run away – some can’t!”
Squadron Leader Dunn’s Hurricane was hit and he force-landed. He returned safely the next day after having riding part of the way back on an Italian motorcycle. Pilot Officer Strong and Flying Officer Greenhill didn’t either land back at base (probably short of fuel), they were however back the next day with their fighter.
The British fighters had run across a formation of ten Fiat CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo, which had taken off from T2 at 15:20 to make a standing patrol over Sidi Azeiz to cover the SM 79s attacking the area. The formation was composed of five fighters from the 77a Squadriglia (Capitano Eduardo Travaglini, Tenente Sorvillo, Sottotenente Gianmario Zuccarini, Sottotente Mario Nicoloso and Sergente Renato Gori), one from the 82a Squadriglia (Sergente Filippo Baldin) and four from the 78a Squadriglia (this Squadriglias diary from 14 to 16 December is missing but it seems that Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco was part of this formation).
When they arrived over Sidi Azeiz, the formation was split in into two groups of five. One, under Capitano Travaglini remained at 500 metres to cover closely the Savoias that arrived in subsequent waves. The other group with the same numerical strength and under Tenente Sorvillo climbed to 3500 metres. Pilots in this last formation included Sergente Gori, Sergente Baldin and someone from the 78a Squadriglia. It was this group that was attacked from superior height by a reportedly six Hurricanes. From the description of the returning Italian pilots, it seems that the Hurricanes tried to turn with the Fiat and were quickly outmanoeuvred. After a brief but harsh dogfight, four Hurricanes were claimed with the other two as probables, all without loss to the Italian fighters.
Tenente Sorvillo used 250 rounds of 12,7mm ammunition and 300 rounds of 7,7mm, Sergente Gori used 70 rounds 12,7mm ammunition and 80 rounds of 7,7mm. Sergente Baldin was the only pilot positively credited of an individual victory in the Squadriglie diaries and landed an heavily damaged plane, while according with the official history of 2o Stormo (written post-war) other individuals went to Tenente Sorvillo and Sergente Gori with the other victories shared among the pilots of the high covering section.

In the beginning of March 1942, Regia Aeronautica spotted Chad-based Free French forces led by Général Jacques-Philippe Leclerc intruding into the Fezzan desert area, in the southern part of Libya, to harass Italian garrisons in order to distract forces from the northern front. The Leclerc column was formed by four independent patrols, the aerial support being provided by the Groupe Bretagne, composed of Nates and Rennes Escadrilles. The former was led by Lieutenant Jean Mahé and had four Martin Marylands (ex-French Martin 167s, known simply as ‘Glenns’) and a Potez 540. The latter, commanded by Lieutenant Marcel Finance, had five Lysanders and three Potez 29s.
Leclerc had moved from Chad on 17 February and ten days later surprised and overwhelmed the small garrison of Uigh el Kebir. Here he established his command post and on 28 February his forces managed to capture the Gatrun and Tegerri garrisons, but a patrol led by Capitaine Jacques Massu met strong resistance at Umm el Araneb and was forced to retreat.
As a result of the French aerial activity in Fezzan, Maggiore Michele Mandara, CO 160o Gruppo CT, deployed four CR.42s to Sebha, led by Tenente Sorvillo (394a Squadriglia). The other three pilots were Sergente Maggiore Duilio Bernardi (393a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Piero Bertonasso (375a Squadriglia) and Sergente Antonio Malavasi (394a Squadriglia). A single S.79 of 175a Squadriglia RST was also sent as reinforcement, flown by Tenente Giuseppe Pellizzotti.
The CR.42s undertook their first sortie from Sebha on 6 March, hunting French vehicles between there and Zuila, but without result.

On 7 March, the four CR.42s at Sebha moved to Umm el Araneb. After a reconnaissance to Gatrun, while on the ground at Umm el Araneb, they were bombed and strafed by the French Lysander P9197 of the Rennes Escadrilla, flown by Lieutenant Marcel Finance. The fighter of Tenente Sorvillo (MM7627/394-8) was set on fire, the pilot suffering severe injuries, while Sottotenente Bertonasso’s CR.42 was slightly damaged.
The pair of Fiats still serviceable took off immediately, flown by Sergente Maggiore Duilio Bernardi and Sergente Antonio Malavasi to hunt for the hostile aircraft. Sergente Maggiore Bernardi found the Lysander and fired at it repeatedly, forcing it to land in the desert trailing smoke. Lieutenant Finance took the gunner Sergent Chef Fernand Leroy, who had been wounded in the leg, out of the Lysander and sought the cover of the smoke. It proved only to be a smoke bomb hit by a bullet from Bernardi’s guns.
Meanwhile, Bernardi flew for some time over the grounded aircraft without attacking it further. Convinced that he had inflicted irreparable damage, he then departed. This allowed Finance, having got the gunner back on board, to take off and fly back to Uigh el Kebir.
At Umm el Araneb meantime, the wounded Sorvillo was put in an S.79 called to the spot and flown to Castel Benito.
The S.79 (MM21465) flown by Tenente Pellizzotti subsequently crashed at Sebha for unknown reasons, all crew being killed.

On 8 March, two more 160o Gruppo CR.42s were flown down to Sebha by Tenente Raoul Francinetti and Sergente Maggiore Aurelio Munich to replace the two which had been destroyed. Meanwhile, however, all the French aircraft left the area, retiring to their base at Faya in Chad, leaving Leclerc’s patrol without air cover.
The next day, on 9 March, Tenente Francinetti and Sergente Maggiore Munich strafed Capitaine Massu’s patrol, leaving one vehicle in flames and others damaged. Francinetti’s CR.42 was slightly damaged by small-arms fire.
In the afternoon Tenente Francinetti, Sergente Malavasi and Sergente Maggiore Munich again attacked Massu’s troops, this time near Uigh el Kebir, ten small trucks were claimed destroyed and others damaged.
On 30 March an Italian patrol of 3o Compagnia Sahariana found the wreck of eight French vehicles. At this point the first Fezzan Campaign was at an end, French forces returning to Chad and the Italians garrisons being re-established.

In 1943, he served in the 160o Gruppo Autonomo.

Sorvillo ended the war with 1 biplane victory.
He was decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare during the war.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 14/12/40 15:20- 1 Hurricane (a) Destroyed CR.42   25m W Bardia 77a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 15:20- 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared destroyed CR.42   25m W Bardia 77a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 15:20- 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared probable CR.42   25m W Bardia 77a Squadriglia
  14/12/40 15:20- 1/4 Hurricane (a) Shared probable CR.42   25m W Bardia 77a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 shared probables.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 2 shared probables.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron. The 13o Gruppo claimed four and two probables with one CR.42 damaged. 274 Squadron claimed five and one probable while losing one Hurricane (Squadron Leader Dunn safe).

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
274 Squadron Operations Record Book
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 78a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Diario Storico 82a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo




Last modified 13 August 2016