Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sottotenente Natalino Stabile

Natalino Stabile served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, where he served in the XXIII Gruppo.

During the Spanish Civil War, he claimed 1 victory.

1 November 1940 was the blackest day of war for 228 Squadron when Sunderland N9020/W was intercepted and shot down off Sicily by a couple of Macchi MC.200s from the 88a Squadriglia, 6o Gruppo C.T. piloted by Tenente Luigi Armanino and Sergente Maggiore Stabile. The experienced crew of the Sunderland disappeared with it (Squadron leader Guy Lambton Menzies, Flying Officer Stuart Maxwell Farries, Sergeant Elias Dawes, Sergeant Frederick Harris, Sergeant George Arthur Stamp, Sergeant Edward Louis Setterfield, Leading Aircraftman Benjamin Edwin Nicholas, Leading Aircraftman Leslie Charles Major Hale and Leading Aircraftman Ronald Fletcher).
At 15:30 on the same afternoon, Sunderland L5806/Q piloted by Flight Lieutenant E. M. Ware was intercepted when only 32 miles from Malta by two more 6o Gruppo Macchis piloted by Tenente Pesaola and Tenente Pio Tomaselli and a couple of CR.42s of the 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo piloted by Tenente Ezio Monti and Sergente Francesco Cuscuna. Two men of the Sunderland’s crew were wounded. Mattresses and clothing in aircraft were set on fire by the Italian’s explosive bullets and burning articles were thrown out from the rear door. Flame floats and practise bombs (four of each) were set off by explosive bullets and caused the aircraft to fill with smoke, hindering the amidships gunners in their firing. The rear turret was put partially out of action by having the starboard control handle shot away. The Sunderland was badly holed below waterline and was taken up slip immediately on return to Kalafrana to avoid its sinking. Despite all this damaged the aircraft was back in action on 22 November. The Italian pilots came back reporting that the big flying boat had adsorbed hundreds of rounds apparently without suffering particular problems even if Tenente Tomaselli in one of his attacks had gone so close to it that had almost collided with its empennages. The Sunderland was finally seen to land in Marsaxlokk Bay, without particular problems. Back at base, they argued that the plane had been fitted with some sort of special armour.
With these two losses 228 Squadron practically ceased to exist having no operational plane left. Reinforcement were on their way however and would soon taken to full strength the Squadron.

On 12 December 1941, the 6o Gruppo saw the first action in North Africa. Ten MC.202 (six from the 79a Squadriglia and four from the 81a Squadriglia), led by Tenente Colonnello Vezio Mezzetti, had taken off at 13:10 for a free sweep in the Gazala-Tobruk-El Adem area. The Macchis were divided in two pairs in echelon right and two vics, weather was cloudy. At 13:30, at the height of 3000 m., they met a formation of around 50 enemy fighters (Curtiss P-40s and Hurricanes), flying west.
The Macchis attacked even if outnumbered and every pilot was engaged by many enemy fighters.
Back at base at 14:00, Capitano Guido Beggiato claimed a P-40 and Maresciallo Stabile claimed a Hurricane. 20 more enemy fighters were claimed damaged (twelve P-40s and eight Hurricanes), many of these were seen to flee emitting smoke trails (1603 rounds of ammunition had been used). Sergente Saiani was obliged to force-land in friendly territory but was obliged to burn his plane to avoid its capture and Capitano Camarda came back with his fighter so damaged that it had to be written off.
It seems that Hurribombers of 80 Squadron were out to attack axis vehicles near Derna with twelve Hurricanes of RNFS (Royal Navy Fighter Squadron), which had taken off at 13:00, provided close cover with a top cover of nine Tomahawks of 250 Squadron (they recorded the take off at 12:00 but this is probably wrong). At 2000 feet, between Tmini and Gazala, after the ground attack, the escort fighters reported to have met several Bf 109 and twelve MC.202. Cloud cover was 7/10.
250 Squadron pilots claimed one Bf 109 (Pilot Officer Geoffrey Ranger) and one MC.202 (Sergeant Richard Nitschke) together with two probables and two damaged against the loss of the Curtiss of Second Lieutenant Norton who was wounded and ended up in Tobruk hospital. 80 Squadron lost four Hurribombers flown by Flying Officer Peter Townley Dowding, Pilot Officer Reynolds, Sergeant White and Sergeant Holliwell. All these pilots were taken PoWs. Strangely enough, the ORB of RNFS didn’t report any combat.
Ten Hurricanes of 1 SAAF Squadron were also in action over Gazala. Led by Major Hosler, they had arrived in Sidi Rezegh coming from LG 124, during the morning. After having taken off at 13:10, they met five Bf 109, claiming one shot down, two probables and two damaged while losing Lieutenant Seccombe.
Some Messerschmitt were also in action in the same area and Oberleutnant Erbo Graf von Kagenek of 9./JG 27 claimed two victories over Tmini, one of them at 13.46.
From the available records, it seems that the combat of 1 SAAF Squadron was different from that of 80 and 250 Squadrons but it is likely that all the different units mixed together. This could explain the “fifty fighters” recorded by the Italians and the Messerschmitts seen by Commonwealth units.

On 14 February 1942, seven MC.202s of the 88a Squadriglia took off at 11:30, led by Maggiore Marco Larcher, to escort seven CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo and nine MC.200s of the 150o Gruppo (from the 364a and 365a Squadriglie) that were to attack enemy vehicles in the Bir Hacheim area. Six more MC.200s from the 363a Squadriglia, 150o Gruppo helped the Folgores in the escort duty. As usual, the Saettas were the close escort while the MC.202s were top cover.
Weather conditions gradually deteriorated so, over the target the couple of Macchis flying at superior height lost sight of the rest of the formation.
At 12:00, at the height of 2000 m., a formation of around 20 P-40s that was trying to attack the other Italian aircraft was intercepted. Three victories were claimed by the pilots of the 88a Squadriglia (one by Tenente Gino Ramarini and two by Maresciallo Stabile), plus one probable and ten damaged. Tenente Giannuzzi Savelli failed to return (KIA) while Sergente Maggiore Alfredo Bordin belly-landed reportedly with no fuel left. He was slightly wounded but the fighter was recovered, a third Macchi was slightly damaged. The 88a Squadriglia landed back at 13:05 and had expended 1610 round of ammunition.
In the meantime the six MC.200s of the close escort were having a very hard time. Sottotenente Maurizio Nicolis di Robilant and Sergente Bruno Dellai failed to return and two more pilots returned with the plane damaged. To balance these losses the 363a Squadriglia pilots could only claim to have damaged 15 Curtiss with the use of 2110 rounds.
The ground attack Macchis, which claimed to have hit 21 vehicles, leaving eight of them in flames, were reportedly not engaged by the enemy fighters but suffered many losses due to the AA fire. Tenente Armando Badessi parachuted, Sergente Maggiore Angeloni force-landed and later returned to base while a third Macchi was damaged. Additionally a CR.42 was obliged to force-land and was later recovered.
The Italian formation had been attacked by ten Kittyhawks from 112 Squadron and eight from 3 RAAF Squadron. 112 Squadron reported that they scrambled with ten Kittyhawks led by Pilot Officer John Bartle together with eight aircraft of 3 RAAF Squadron to meet an approaching enemy formation. After flying to Tobruk, the Kittyhawks turned west over the Perimeter defences and climbed steadily until, over Acroma, 3 RAAF were at 8,000 ft with 112 Squadron slightly ahead and above, just below the cloud base at the ideal height for the Kittyhawk. At that moment they spotted about a dozen MC.200s and MC.202s in a loose vic formation 2,000 ft below. Pilot Officer Bartle warned the Australians who, however, were more interested in a formation of enemy bombers with a close escort flying lower than 2,000 ft. 112 Squadron concentrated on the fighters who by now were climbing to meet the attack. The Kitthawks dived into them all of the pilots from 112 Squadron made claims. Sergeant Burney, having dived through the Italian fighters found himself amongst enemy bombers and claimed one shot down (claimed as a Ba.65). His victim tried to evade but hit the ground and Burney strafed it. By the time he regained height aircraft were milling around everywhere. Sergeant Cordwell, in his first action, shot away about shot away about three-quarters of the wing of a Bf 109 F, which spun out of control south-west of Acroma. Sergeant Drew claimed two MC.200s south-west of Acroma, one of which he saw hit the ground. "It was easy as breakfast in bed" he is quoted as saying. Pilot Officer Duke attacked a MC.200 south-west of Acoma, which was seen to spin and crash by Sergeant Evans. He also attacked a second MC.200 at ground level from dead astern and it flew into the ground and burst into flames 20m south-east of Gazala. This was shared with Sergeant Reid of 3 RAAF Squadron. The Italians defensive tactic when evading was to drop down to ground level in rolls and vertical dives. Sergeant Leu attacked a MC.200, which blew up and another which flew into the ground south-east of Gazala. Sergeant Simonsen certainly got a MC.200, which he saw spin down and he probably damaged another. Pilot Officer Dickinson made a stern attack on a MC.200, which was enveloped in a sheet of flames at 1,000 ft. Sergeant Christie claimed two MC.200 and one damaged south-west of Acroma when he dived and gave one Macchi a heavy burst so that the aircraft pulled up steeply and then spiralled and crashed, bursting into flames. He then dived on a second, which stalled, pouring out black smoke and going into a dive. He had a go at a third and probably damaged it but without any visible effect. Sergeant Evans also attacked a MC.200, which was seen to lose about two feet off its starboard wing. It dived away so steeply that it seemed doubtful whether the pilot could have pulled out. Pilot Officer Bartle gave a MC.200 a long burst, which sent it down out of control and damaged a Bf 109, which he chased all the way to Tmimi.
Claiming pilots from 112 Squadron were Pilot Officer Eric Dickinson (AK804) (1 MC.200 at 12:15 south-west of Acroma), Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AK578/GA-V) (1 and 1 shared MC.200), Pilot Officer Bartle (AK700/GA-B) (1 MC.200, 1 probable Bf 109 and 1 damaged Bf 109), Sergeant Rudolf Leu (AK781) (2 MC.200s), Sergeant Henry Burney (AK702) (1 Ba.65 south-west of Acroma), Sergeant Roy Drew (AK653) (2 MC.200s), Sergeant R. E. Simonsen (AK682/GA-U) (1 MC.200 and 1 probable MC.200), Sergeant Ron Christie (AK761) (2 MC.200s and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant W. E. G. Cordwell (AK630) (1 Bf 109 F) and Sergeant R. B. Evans (AK637) (1 probable MC 200).
3 RAAF Squadron reported that they scrambled at 11:45 and intercepted 32 enemy aircraft about 20 miles south-east of El Gazala. They tried to attack the bombers but they spotted about six Bf 109s lurking close by. They wheeled round in time and in the ensuing dog-fight four enemy aircraft were destroyed and another damaged. Then, at last, they were able to concentrate on the enemy bombers. All Australians had landed again at 13:20.
Claiming pilots from 3 RAAF Squadron were Sergeant Walter Mailey (AK644) (1 Bf 109s and 1 damaged MC.200), Sergeant Brian Thompson (AK691) (1 MC.202), Pilot Officer Pace (AK664) (1 shared MC.202), Sergeant Gordon White (AK605) (1 Bf 109 and 2 damaged Ju 87s), Flying Officer Peter Giddy (AK665) (2 MC.200s and 1 damaged MC.202), Sergeant F. B. Reid (AK689/CV-W) (1 and 1 shared MC.200 and 1 damaged MC.200), Flying Officer Lou Spence (AK612) (1 Bf 109) and Flying Officer Gray (AK621) (1 damaged Bf 109).
Back at base, the Allied fighters reported that they engaged 32 enemy aircraft and totally they claimed 20 destroyed, 3 probables and 8 damaged without losses. Other Axis units were possibly involved in this combat since the Allied fighters made claims against Ba.65s and Ju 87s. The claims against Bf 109s were probably due to misidentification since no German fighter losses or claims are known for this date. Even if there was some overclaiming it seems that it was really a successful day for the Kittyhawks, which later christened it the “St. Valentine’s day massacre”. The success was helped by the use of RDF in one of the first documented cases in that part of the front, which directed the P-40s to intercept their quarries with height advantage. The Macchis and Fiats were also surprised because of the poor visibility due to bad weather.
Sottotenente Ugo Drago took part in the clash as section leader in the close escort formation of the 363a Squadriglia. He was able to shoot a Kittyhawk off the tail of Capitano Luigi Mariotti's MC.200 and once back at base searched some sort of consolation claiming that the sacrifice of his Squadriglia avoided more losses to the ground attack units. In fact, this battle showed only as the old Saetta, notwithstanding the efforts of its pilots, at the beginning of 1942 was totally inadequate to tangle with its adversaries.

On 25 May, ten MC.202 of the 6o Gruppo (four from the 79a Squadriglia and six from the 88a Squadriglia) took off at 16:20, led by Maggiore Marco Larcher, for a free sweep between Gazala and Bir Hakeim.
At 16:45, south-east of Gazala, at the height of 5000 metres a formation of 20 enemy fighters (identified as P-40s and Spitfires) was discovered at inferior height. Making use of the tactical advantage given by the height, the Italians attacked, broke the Commonwealth formation and followed them deep inside enemy territory. At the end, nine P-40s were claimed shot down together with 13 P-40s and Spitfires damaged. A single Macchi was reported damaged in return when the Italian pilots landed at 17:40, recording the use of 3600 rounds of ammunition. Two victories each were assigned to 88a Squadriglia’s Maresciallo GianLino Baschirotto and Maresciallo Stabile, while one victory went to Capitano Domenico.Camarda (CO 79a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Alfredo Civetta (88a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Roberto Sgorbati (88a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Ferrazza (79a Squadriglia ) and Sergente Maggiore Paroli (79a Squadriglia). Thanks to these two victories Maresciallo Stabile reached the total of six confirmed individual victories and was thus the second pilot of the Stormo to became an ace.
The Italians had probably met twelve Hurricane II of 274 Squadron over Gazala, which had taken off from Tobruk at 17:05 being directed over Gazala at the height of 12000 feet, where it was expected to find four enemy fighters. The British pilots returned at 17:40 claiming to have probably shot down two Bf 109s by Flight Lieutenant George Keefer (BE229) and Sergeant John Neil (not officially credited to him) and one damaged by Pilot Officer Frank Samuel. They lost one Hurricane when Flight Lieutenant ”Bags” Playford was forced to belly-land and was slightly wounded while Flight Lieutenant Parbury was obliged to force-land two miles west of base due to lack of fuel (however to an Italian pilot it could have seemed a aircraft shot down).
In the same area, there was also 260 Squadron, flying at 12000 feet but it didn’t record any action and only reported to have seen three enemy planes taking off. The number of opponents estimated by the Italians led to think that there could have been some other unit present – perhaps equipped with P-40s.

During the night between 26 and 27 May, Rommel launched his new offensive. The Folgore equipped units were in the forefront from the beginning. The 6o and 17o Gruppi escorted MC.200s of the 2o Stormo strafing enemy vehicles along the Balbia road, east of Gazala. The 6o Gruppo was up with ten fighters (three from the 79a Squadriglia, three from the 81a Squadriglia and four from the 88a Squadriglia) led by Maggiore Marco Larcher, which had taken off at 06:10 and landed at 07:20. The 17o Gruppo was up with eight planes (two from the 71a Squadriglia, two from the 72a Squadriglia and four from the 80a Squadriglia), which had taken off at 06:15 and landed back at 07:15.
At 06:30, south of Gazala, at the height of 4500 m. and despite the morning haze that hampered visibility, the 6o Gruppo was able to discover and engage around 15 fighters identified as P-40s and P-46s. The Italian pilots reported that their enemies were obliged to flee after having suffered the loss of three fighters and the damaging of the rest of the formation. It was not possible to pursue them because the Macchis were at the limit of their endurance. Victories went to Capitano Dante Ocarso, Maresciallo Stabile and Sergente Maggiore Alfredo Bordin (all from the 88a Squadriglia) with the use of 2730 rounds of ammunition.
17o Gruppo instead, flying at 5000 m., engaged 25 P-40s, claiming three shot down shared between three pilots; Tenente Renato Talamini (who also claimed three damaged), Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich and Sergente Maggiore Mario Host (all from the 80a Squadriglia) with the use of 550 rounds of ammunition. The two Sergenti landed with their fighters heavily damaged including cannon hits on Host’s.
Major Daniel Wilhelm Human (AL186/DB-G), for the first time at the head of 2 SAAF Squadron led twelve Kittyhawks of his unit over Gazala. After taking off at 06:45 they engaged twelve enemy aircraft that were flying in small numbers. A general melee followed, where most of the pilots were able to shot at enemy fighters. Three pilots were forced to fight their way against the Macchis up to El Adem.
Lieutenant David Paddon and Lieutenant Norman Soames Ford failed to return, while a third fighter (‘T’) had to land at El Adem short of fuel. Major Human claimed a Bf 109 (first of his five victories), Lieutenant Gordon Derek Reynolds claimed a Macchi MC.202 probable while a Bf 109 was claimed damaged by an unknown pilot.
In the same area there were also four Bf 109 escorting a reconnaissance aircraft and Feldwebel Erich Krenzke of 6./JG 27 claimed a P-40 at 06:55, 20km. south of Gazala, but considering the circumstances and the development of the combat, a confused dogfight typical of the engagements that involved the Italian units it seems improbable that 2 SAAF Squadron was engaged by the Messerschmitts, so it seems more likely that the South Africans fought only against 1o Stormo.
Considering the number of enemy fighters estimated by the pilots of the 17o Gruppo it is not possible to discard the possibility that another Commonwealth unit was present.
It is also noticeable that despite the intensity of the combat the South Africans didn’t record any additional damage.

After the Italian surrender on 8 September 1943, Stabile joined the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (A. N. R.).

He served in the 3a Squadriglia ”Arciere” of the Io Gruppo Caccia.

On 30 January 1944, heavy bombers from the 15th AF attacked targets in the Udine area. B-17s hit airfields and landing grounds at Villaorba, Maniago, and Lavariano. B-24s bombed Udine airfield and Fier radar station. P-38s escorted the B-17s on the Villaorba and Maniago missions, and P-38s and some RAF Spitfires escorted the B-24s on the Udine mission. Additional P-47s from 325th FG carried out sweep over the Villaorba area. The bombers and the fighters claimed over 60 airplanes shot down and a number destroyed on the ground (the US fighters alone claimed 45 destroyed, 11 probables and 2 damaged). It seems that the 15th AF losses were 9 aircraft (2 B-17s, 3 B-24s, 1 P-38 and 2 P-47s).
This heavy raid was intercepted by a mix of German and Italian fighters. The German fighters from JG 53 and JG 77 claimed at least 14 heavy bombers (9 B-24s and 5 B-17s) and three fighters (2 P-38s and 1 P-47) between 11:56 and 12:44.
Around 12:30, the 1o Gruppo ANR was involved in this combat and the 1a Squadriglia claimed five enemy aircraft when Sergente Maggiore Also Burei claimed one B-24, Sergente Maggiore Luigi Gorrini claimed a P-47, Tenente Giuseppe Re claimed a P-47 and Maresciallo Carlo Magnaghi claimed two P-47s. These were claimed over Grado with the exception for one of Magnaghi’s claims, which was made over Palmanova. Stabile of the 3a Squadriglia claimed a B-24 over Udine during the day.
However, the Italian fighters suffered hard and the MC.205 of Tenente Re was shot down and the pilot bailed out. At the end of the fighting three more MC.205s had been shot down with the pilots KIA; Capitano Marco Marinone (born 31 August 1914 in Vercelli), Tenente Luigi Torchio (3a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Luciano Cipiciani (born 23 September 1918 in Gubbio).

Stabile ended the war with 1 biplane victory and a total of 10.
During his career, he was decorated with one Medaglia d’argento al valor militare and one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  193?                
1 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy fighter Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain XIII Gruppo
  1940                
  01/11/40   ½ Sunderland (a) Shared destroyed MC.200   off Sicily 88a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 23/03/41 15:00 1 Hurricane Destroyed MC.200   Malta area 88a Squadriglia
  23/03/41 15:00 1 Hurricane Shared destroyed MC.200   Malta area 88a Squadriglia
3 12/12/41 13:30-14:00 1 Hurricane (b) Destroyed MC.202   Gazala-Tobruk-El Adem 88a Squadriglia
  1942                
4 14/02/42 12:00-13:05 1 P-40 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Bir Hacheim area 88a Squadriglia
5 14/02/42 12:00-13:05 1 P-40 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Bir Hacheim area 88a Squadriglia
6 25/05/42 16:45-17:40 1 P-40 (d) Destroyed MC.202   SE Gazala 88a Squadriglia
7 25/05/42 16:45-17:40 1 P-40 (d) Destroyed MC.202   SE Gazala 88a Squadriglia
8 27/05/42 06:30 1 P-40 (e) Destroyed MC.202   S Gazala 88a Squadriglia
9 10/07/42 16:40-18:00 1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   El Alamein area 88a Squadriglia
  1944                
10 30/01/43   1 B-24 (f) Destroyed     Udine area 3a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 10 and 2 shared destroyed.
(a) Sunderland N9020/W of 228 Squadron shot down with the loss of the whole crew.
(b) Probably claimed in combat with Allied fighters from 80, 250, 1 SAAF and RNFS Squadrons, which claimed 3, 4 probables, 4 damaged while losing six fighters. Axis fighters claimed 4 and 20 damaged while losing at least two fighters.
(c) Claimed in combat with P-40s from 112 and 3 RAAF Squadon, which claimed 20 destroyed, 3 probables and 8 damaged without losses. The Italian fighters claimed 3, 1 probable and 25 damaged while losing 5 and 6 damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed 2 probables and 1 damaged while losing two aircraft (1 due to lack of fuel). The 6o claimed nine P-40s and 13 P-40s and Spitfires damaged while suffering one damaged MC.202.
(e) Possibly claimed in combat with P-40s from 2 SAAF Squadron, which claimed 1, 1probable and 1 damaged while losing two aircraft. 6o and 17o Gruppi claimed 6 and many damaged while two MC.202s were damaged.
(f) Claimed in combat with bombers from 15th AF.

Sources:
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
Ali d'Africa - Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 IBN Editore, ISBN 88-7565-060-8
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Additional information kindly provided by Ferdinando D'Amico, Stefano Mencarelli, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 04 August 2013