Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Maggiore Emilio Stefani

In June 1940 Stefani served in the 74a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo, 3o Stormo, which was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

When the war started on 10 June 1940 the 3o Stormo was sent to the French border to take part in the attacks on southern France.

On 15 June 1940, the Italian Headquarters ordered the 150o, 18o and 23o Gruppi C.T. to attack the French airfields in Le Cannet des Maures (2km south-east of Le Luc) and Cuers Pierrefeu (close to the naval base of Toulon), in Provence, with the purpose of destroying and disrupting the French fighter force on the ground.
Le Cannet des Maureswas the base of the GC III/6, which had arrived there on 3 June with its Morane Saulnier MS.406 fighters and was in the midst of converting from that type to the new Dewoitine D.520 (on 15 June 1940 the groupe had at least 13 D.520s on hand). The airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu was the base of the escadrille de chasse AC 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Bloch 151 fighters, and the escadrille de bombardement en piquè AB 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Vought 156 dive-bombers.
At noon 25 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo departed from Cervere (a small town in Piedmont near the French border) to attack Le Cannet Des Maures airfield. The first group, under the command of Maggiore Tito Falconi (CO of the 23o Gruppo in a CR.42 from the 70a Squadriglia) was to make the strafing attack. The group was composed of Capitano Luigi Filippi (CO of the 75a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Rigatti, Tenente Calogero Mazza, Sottotenente Malvezzi, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti, Sergente Maggiore Renzo Borro, Sergente Maggiore Davini, Sergente Maggiore Germano Gasperoni (all from the 75a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Bobba (CO of the 74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera (all from the 74a Squadriglia). The rest of the formation, with fighters from all three Squadriglie, was to act as top cover. This formation was composed of Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO of the 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Oscar Abello (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Monti (75a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Carlo Scarselli (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Viale (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Benedetti (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Pinna (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Raffaele Marzocca (74a Squadriglia) and Sergente Stefani (74a Squadriglia).
They arrived over the target at 13:00 and attacked under heavy AA-fire. They claimed to have hit fifteen “Curtis” fighters and four old bombers that lay on the sides of the airstrip, in particular Capitano Bobba claimed hits on three aircraft as did Sottotenente Tessera while Sergente Sala claimed to have hit two aircraft on the ground (it seems that at least three D.520s were destroyed when Dewoitine D.520 nos. 257, 294 and 304 of GC III/6 went up in flames).
During the strafing a number of French fighters identified as “four or five Morrane” or alternatively “Dewoitine” engaged the strafing Fiats. Capitano Filippi (MM4361), was shot down by Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan of GC III/6. Filippi baled out and was captured. Maresciallo Pasquetti claimed a “Morane” but was also hit, wounded (reportedly by AA fire but possibly by Le Gloan) and returned to Cervere despite large problems. He was later decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare in the field for this mission. Tenente Rigatti’s and Sottotenente Malvezzi’s fighters were also damaged (reportedly by AA). Among the pilots of the covering patrol, Sergente Stefani claimed a “Morrane”, Tenente Benedetti a probable “Morrane” and Sergente Marzocca a damaged “Morrane”. The pilots of the 70a Squadriglia reported an indecisive engagement with no losses caused or suffered and finally Tenente Viale had his fighter seriously damaged by an explosive bullet that hit the junction between the lower wing and the fuselage. Back at base the plane was declared RD (Riparabile in Ditta - Repairable but only in the manufacturer’s workshop) and sent to the Aeritalia-Fiat workshops in Turin.
The pilots of the 23o Gruppo observed that despite hits on aircraft on the ground they hadn’t burnt. This was found to have been caused by a defective batch of incendiary ammunition.
The formation from the 150o Gruppo departed from Villanova D’Albenga (in Liguria near the sea) at 12:00 and was composed of 27 Fiat CR.42s divided in three groups. Their target was the airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu and they arrived there at 13:00. A first group of eight aircraft commanded by Capitano Giorgio Graffer (CO of the 365a Squadriglia) and composed of Tenente Franco Gatti, Sottotenente Lorenzo Clerici, Maresciallo Felice Sozzi, Maresciallo Virginio Bodini, Sergente Maggiore Guido Fibbia, Sergente Maggiore Felice Squassoni and Sergente Bruno Zotti (all from the 365a Squadriglia) attacked the airfield of Cuers itself. A second group of nine fighters from the 363a Squadriglia led by the Gruppo CO Tenente Colonnello Rolando Pratelli (Capitano Luigi Mariotti (Squadriglia CO), Tenente Pietro Garfagnoli, Sottotenente Mario Daverio, Maresciallo Giuseppe Salvadori, Sergente Maggiore Natale Viola, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Benassi, Sergente Paolo Rossi, Sergente Antonio Lazzari) and a third group of eight aircraft from the 364a Squadriglia under command of the 53o Stormo commander Colonnello Arrigo Tessari (Capitano Nicola Magaldi (Squadriglia CO), Capitano Nino Caselli, Tenente Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi, Tenente Alberto Spigaglia, Maresciallo Delfino Fratini, Maresciallo Ugo Guidi, Sergente Maggiore Virgilio Pongiluppi, Sergente Giovanni Negri and Sergente Achille Pacini) covered Graffer and his men during the strafing attack.
The covering group led by Colonnello Tessari engaged six French fighters, while Graffer’s group, after four or five strafing passes enter combat against “Morane fighters” while regaining height. All in all four Morane were claimed shot down (all Bloch 151s from AC 3 and confirmed with French records) and 15 Moranes were claimed on ground (in fact at least six Vought 156s of AB 3 were destroyed). The victories were credited as “shared” to all the pilots of the Gruppo.
The aircraft of Capitano Nino Caselli (MM5579) and Tenente Zuffi of the 364a Squadriglia (MM5590) were lost. Caselli’s Fiat was shot down by French fighters and he was killed, while Zuffi landed on Cuers Pierrefeu undamaged due to a breakdown of the throttle. Zuffi was taken prisoner and his undamaged fighter was taken by the French (the only aircraft captured by the Aéronautique Navale), which in the following days painted it with French colours and duly photographed this trophy with pilots posing near it. After the war the Italians had to do great efforts with the Vichy Authorities to finally have back the fighter in August. Additionally the Fiats of Graffer and Clerici were damaged by French fighters during the dogfight.
Finally, 15 Fiat CR.42s the 18o Gruppo took off from Villanova D’Albenga immediately after the 150o Gruppo. They patrolled along the direction of Cuers Pierrefeu - Cannet des Maures - Hyères (the latter an airfield 13 km east of Toulon) to prevent any interference from the French fighter force. Led by the 18o Gruppo’s CO Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla the formation was composed by Capitano Giulio Anelli (CO of the 85a Squadriglia), Tenente Giulio Cesare Giuntella and Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 85a Squadriglia, Capitano Gino Lodi (CO of 95a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Eugenio Salvi, Maresciallo Felice Longhi, Maresciallo Giovanni Ferrari and Sergente Maggiore Giacomo Grillo of the 95a Squadriglia (Vosilla flew with Salvi and Longhi as wingmen) and finally the 3o Stormo Commander Colonnello Fortunato Rolando in a 83a Squadriglia fighter with Maresciallo Francesco Colombo and Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini as wingmen together with Capitano Edoardo Molinari (CO of 83a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Lolli and Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini.
At a height of 5500 meters over Beau Champ they were intercepted by enemy fighters, which suddenly appeared from a cloud bank. They were identified as “Morane 406 plus another type not sure” and in the ensuing combat three of them were claimed shot down plus four others hit without being able of ascertain the damage inflicted (these claims can’t be verified with French sources). It seems that no individual credit was given for these victories that went as shared to all the fifteen pilots participating in the mission. During the combat, two aircraft of the 83a Squadriglia were lost when Sergente Maggiore Formentini (MM4449) and Maresciallo Colombo (MM4366) both were shot down and killed (both were probably shot down by Le Gloan and Assolant of GC III/6, which had attacked the “vic” of the Stormo commander). All the fighters of the 85a Squadriglia suffered gun-jams and were forced to flee, Capitano Anelli, in particular, had to escaped into clouds to get away from enemy fighters, got lost and was obliged to force-land at Dorniella near Grosseto in Tuscany where his plane (MM4372) broke the landing gear and was heavily damaged (RD). Finally Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini’s Fiat was hit by a cannon shell that opened a hole of 60 centimetres in the upper wing. Later during the day two more fighters were heavily damaged (RD) on landing back in Villanova D’Albenga returning from scrambles because of the bad conditions of the ground flooded by heavy rain but this was not connected with the above described combat.
The French reported that in the early hours of 15 June bad wheatear halted flight activities, then, at mid morning, it cleared up. At 10:00, a patrouille composed by Adjutant Diaz, Sergent Pimont and Sous-Lieutenant Stage took-off to cover the reconnaissance mission of a Potez 63. The mission was completed successfully.
At 11:40, the fighter control centre of Toulon signalled big formations of heavy fighters and bombers passing the border and heading south-west. Five minutes later a patrouille simple (three planes group) of Dewoitine D.520s (Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan, Capitaine Jacobi and Capitaine Assolant) of the 5th escadrille of groupe de chasse III/6 (GC III/6) took-off.
The patrouille made for Saint Raphael (on the coast, near the Italian border), where a group of fifteen enemy planes was signalled. Four minutes later (11:49), a second patrouille simple (Capitaine Guerrier, Adjutant Japiot, Sous-Lietuenant Capdeviolle), this time of the 6th escadrille, took off to help the first. However, it took off to late and didn’t participate in the combat.
After arriving over Saint Raphael, the patrouille of Le Gloan received by radio the order of going over Saint Tropez (around 30km south-west). At the same time, Capitaine Jacobi was forced to turn back with engine problems.
Le Gloan saw a formation of twelve Fiat CR.42s in the direction of Saint Tropez heading south-west. He reached them rapidly and attacked at 12:00. In a brief combat, Le Gloan and Assolant claimed two shared aircraft shot down. These were the last two aircraft of the Italian formation and one of the Italian fighters (Maresciallo Colombo of the 83a Squadriglia) was seen to go down in flames near Beauvallon (4km south of Grimaud) while the other went down in flames near Ramatuelle; the pilot was seen to bale out (probably Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini of the 83a Squadriglia).
At this moment the two pilots of the patrouille was split up. Le Gloan turned over Saint-Tropez and lost contact with the enemy while Capitaine Assolant attacked a third Italian fighter (perhaps Maresciallo Bortolini of the 83a Squadriglia), but his guns ceased to fire and he had to disengage coming back to Le Cannet des Maures.
Adjutant Le Gloan in the meantime, saw anti-aircraft fire in the direction of Hyères airfield (being over Saint Tropez this direction is quite close to the direction of Toulon-Cuers Pierrefeu that was under attack at that moment). Le Gloan flew in that direction and discovered a group of three Fiat CR.42s heading east. He attacked the right hand Fiat of the group and saw that after the first burst of fire it went down near Saint-Amèe, in the bay of Pampalonne. This claim is not confirmed with Italian records but perhaps claimed in combat with an aircraft from 150o Gruppo returning from the attack on Cuers or alternatively against stragglers of the 18o Gruppo formation. He was then attacked by eight Italian fighters and he disengaged by diving away.
At the same time (around 12:15), he received by radio the order of coming back to Le Cannet des Maures which was under attack. He obeyed immediately, arriving over his airfield while the Italians were strafing it. He dived on a couple of fighters and with a single burst of cannon fire he shot down one of them (Capitano Filippi). This plane went down near the farm of the Thermes, just 1km from the airfield of Le Cannet. Continuing his patrol Le Gloan saw a Fiat BR.20 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission over Le Cannet des Maures, probably with the aim of checking the damage inflicted to the airfield. Le Gloan attacked it and, even with no more cannon ammunitions left, shot it down with five passes of his remaining four guns. The bomber fell down near the farm of the Moulin Rouge. This was Fiat BR.20 MM21873 of the 172a Squadriglia Ricognizione Strategica, which in fact went down over Le Luc. Two of the crew were killed; Aviere scelto motorista Giovanni Bonanno and Aviere scelto fotografo Egisto Di Croce. The rest of the crew were taken POWs; Maggiore Mario Salvadori (an intelligence Officer from the Air force HQ aboard as a passenger), Capitano Giorgio Parodi (the Squadriglia’s CO) and Aviere scelto armiere Attilio Imparato. Bonanno was posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for this action because he helped his commander, who was wounded, to jump out of the falling plane, but after that he was unable to jump himself and died in the subsequent crash.
At Cuers Pierrefeu (attacked by the 150o Gruppo), the French reported that the Italian fighters attacked the parked Voughts of AB 3 and destroyed six of them. A section of three fighters of AC 3 had taken took off just minutes before the Italian attack. It was commanded by the Enseigne de Vaisseau Carmeille and included Second-Maitres Saint Vanne and Heff. The section had to patrol between Le Luc en Provence and St Raphael. Near the first locality it became involved in combat with 15 Italian fighters (possibly the 18o Gruppo). The section didn’t claim anything and didn’t suffer any losses even if, later, it was credited with two shared Italian fighters shot down. After this combat, the three pilots went on patrolling over Toulon.
Two other sections of AC 3 took off while the Italians arrived over Cuers. The section commanded by the Lieutenant de Vaisseau Ziegler (CO AC 3) was composed by the Second-Maitres Miramont and Briet. Gaining altitude over Cuers the section was attacked by the Italian fighters. Ziegler had his Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.1, serial number 77) seriously damaged and wounded, he was forced to crash-land at base with his left landing gear cut in half. Briet was rapidly in difficulties under the attack of the numerically superior Italians, with the ailerons damaged and the reservoir holed he disengaged, rejoining the first section over Toulon. Miramont engaged combat north-east of the airfield, over the hills of Hyères. His Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.3, serial number 69) was seriously damaged, but in the heat of the fight, he found himself 50 meters behind a Fiat CR.42 (Capitano Nino Caselli) and with a single burst of his four MAC guns he shot it down. Miramont was not able to continue the fight after this and had to land at Hyères.
The third section of AC 3 suffered worst. It was commanded by the Adjutant Chef Hourcade (a pilot of the Armée de l’Air attached to the Aéronautique Navale since 1939) (Bloch 151 AC3.15 serial 51) and included Soulimont (Bloch 151 AC3.8 serial 348) and Second-Maitre Le Bihan (Bloch 151 AC3.9 serial 37). A few second after the take-off, Hourcade was shot down and killed by the marauding Fiats; Soulimont engaged the Italians but was immediately put out of action and obliged to force-land with his aircraft riddled with bullets. Le Bihan received a burst of fire in the engine and five minutes after took-off had to land in the narrow of Rocbaron. Unfortunately, his plane hit a tree and burst into flames hitting the ground. He succeeded in extricate himself from the burning wreck, but died five hours later at the hospital. Some time later Le Bihan was credited with an aerial victory obtained by collision, but looking in the initial reports of this combat there is no trace of this victory.
It is interesting to note that all of Le Gloan’s claims were homologated by the CO of the Zone D’Opérations Aériennes Alpes (ZOAA). (“L’homologation” was the definitive confirmation of an aerial victory corroborated by evidences, was a recognition quite difficult to obtain in the French Air Force). The victories were credited as follows:
Fiat CR.42 individual, Ramatuelle.
Fiat CR.42 shared with Assolant, Saint-Amé bay of Pampelonne.
Fiat CR.42 individual, Beauvallon.
Fiat CR.42 individual , ferme des Termes near Le Luc.
Fiat BR.20, ferme du Moulin-Rouge near Vidauban.
That is not in complete accordance with the reconstruction above. It is also interesting to note that the victories claimed by AC 3 were apparently not homologated.

After Capitano Filippi’s capture, temporarily command of the 75a Squadriglia was given to Tenente Mario Rigatti.

In July 1940 the 23o Gruppo moved to Sicily and took part in the attacks on Malta.
On 9 July the 23o Gruppo became Autonomo and the first escort missions over Malta was flown on 12 July.

On 16 December 1940, the 23o Gruppo (previously part of 3o Stormo but now Autonomo) with 20 Fiat CR.42s (70a, 74a and 75a Squadriglie) and three hack Caproni Ca.133s arrived in Tripoli to help trying steam Operation Compass, which was mauling the Italian forces. The Gruppo had experienced brief (and quite unlucky) action at the beginning of the war against France, and then it had moved to Sicily where they had seen extensive action against Malta.
They were led by their CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi (a famous aerobatic pilot that had held the world record in inverted flight going in a Caproni 113 biplane racer from St. Louis to Chicago in 1933 and a veteran of the Abyssinian Campaign where he had gained some ground victories and of the Spanish Civil War where he had claimed many (mostly shared) aerial victories) in a 70a Squadriglia fighter.
Pilots in the 70a Squadriglia were Tenente Claudio Solaro (acting CO), Tenente Gino Battaggion, Sottotenente Oscar Abello, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali, Sergente Balilla Albani, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella and Sergente Cesare Sironi.
Pilots in the 74a Squadriglia were Capitano Guido Bobba (CO and already credited with one over Spain and three individual and a probable Hurricanes over Malta, which made him one of the top scoring Italian pilots up to that moment), Tenente Mario Pinna, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca, Sergente Stefani, Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli and Sergente Manlio Tarantino.
Pilots in the 75a Squadriglia were Tenente Pietro Calistri (CO), Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis.
The pilots in the Ca.133s were Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Pardino Pardini (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Milano Pausi, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni (brother in law of Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli) and Sergente Leo Mannucci (75a Squadriglia)).
The Gruppo landed at Tripoli-Castel Benito at 17:15. Celso Zemella’s fighter was left behind at Pantelleria after an engine breakdown.

On 19 December, the 23o Gruppo moved to Z1 landing ground at Ain el Gazala.

At 11:00 on 5 January 1941, 202 Group HQ signalled to 274 Squadron to continue the patrols. In the meantime had Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (V7558) and Pilot Officer Wilson (N2624) already taken off at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. They were followed by Flying Officer Arthur Weller (P2544), Flying Officer Ernest Mason (P3722), Second Lieutenant Robert Talbot (P3721) and Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn (P3723), taking off between 11:00 and 11:30. This group of pilots would experience a lot of action.
At 12:20 alternatively 12:30, Flying Officer Mason and Second Lieutenant Talbot arrived independently but keeping visual touch over Ain el Gazala. Mason, who was flying at 3500 feet, saw two CR.42s in a vic, 2000 feet below him and approached the leader unobserved. He hit him with a burst, seeing him stalling and diving vertically into the ground and bursting out in flames. The no. 2 in the meantime turned away and attempted to make a head on attack. A burst from the eight guns of Mason made him turn over and dive into the deck where the CR.42 burst into flames too. In the meantime, Talbot stayed higher and saw five CR.42s in a scattered formation, which looked as if they were diving on Mason. Unobserved he performed a stern attack on the leader who stalled and dived into the ground. When the two 274 Squadron pilots left the scene, three CR.42s were seen burning on the ground. Mason reported:

”in the afternoon we went there [Gazala airfield] again and circled over the aerodrome. Suddenly I saw two CR42s approaching to land. I dived down and came up behind. I gave the leader a burst and as I shot past him he turned slowly and dived straight in the middle of the aerodrome and exploded. In the meantime the other chap had turned and came for me head on. I gave him a short burst and he did the same thing. This time on the edge of the aerodrome. By then five more, also returning home, had seen me and were diving on me so Bob shot down the leader and they dispersed.”
Mason had shot down Sottotenente Oscar Abello and Sergente Pardino Pardini of the 70a Squadriglia, who were landing on Z1 coming from Benghazi at 11:20 (Italian time). The identity of the fighters attacked by Talbot remains unknown. Sottotenente Abello was a highly respected pilot, already credited with three victories (two of them Hurricanes over Malta). As recognition of his previous activity, he received a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
In the meantime, the rest of 274 Squadron formation was intercepting a formation of Italian bombers over the front. First to attack was Pilot Officer Wilson. At 12:40, he was flying at 18,500 feet in the vicinity of Sidi Azeiz when he discovered a formation of at least 3 SM 79s escorted by 20 CR.42s a mile north-east and 1000 feet below. The Fiats flew in scattered vics of three above and on the flanks of the bombers. Wilson intended attacking the bombers diving through the CR.42s but had no opportunity to do so because the fighters on the flanks climbed on observing his approach and then whipped on his tail as he passed through. Wilson was however able to fire a burst on a straggler in centre of the escort formation, definitely hitting it as it lurched off but then seven unobserved CR.42s dived on him and he was unable to observe further effects of his fire. After the attack, he dived in a right hand turn. When the fighters broke off, he turned and gave chase again but was unable to catch up with them because of the loss of height and shortage of petrol. He landed at 13:25, claiming a damaged CR.42.
At 12.45, over Great Gambut, Squadron Leader Patrick Dunn and Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes intercepted more enemy aircraft. The 274 Squadron’s CO was flying at 8000 feet, 3000 feet below the Italian formation, which was 15 miles away and he estimated it composing five bombers and ten individually weaving fighters, which looked as if they had been split up by somebody else before (probably Flight Lieutenant Wykeham-Barnes). He tried to attack the bombers but after a long chase, the temperature of his engine became excessive, his cockpit filled with smoke and he was forced to fight with an open hood. Being unable to catch up with the SM 79s, he delivered a quarter attack from below and astern on one CR.42, which was separate and about three miles behind the main force. Dunn witnessed the Italian pilot (possibly wounded) baling out while his aircraft burned out on ground. Dunn landed at 14:15.
Wykeham-Barnes in the meantime was flying at 20,000 feet and was only ten miles from the Italian formation, which he reported as composed of five SM 79s and 17 CR.42s weaving behind and above the bombers. He wanted to deliver an astern attack on the bombers but the escort attacked at once with determination, repulsing his intended action so he was forced to turn round and above for an head on attack. The first attack on the SM 79s, which kept close formation, was believed successful because when he came back for a second head on attack the first aircraft had disappeared. Confirmation of this victory was however made difficult by the escort action. The second bomber instead was seen to dive straight into the ground at Bir Sacta(?) south-west of Tobruk. Wykeham-Barnes landed at 13:15 claiming one SM 79 confirmed and one probable (credited as a damaged).
Around the same time, 73 Squadron was active over the same general area with 23 fighters being despatched singly with 15 minutes intervals starting from 06:30 until 13:45. Flight Sergeant Alfred Marshall (V7562/TP-A) claimed his sixth SM 79 some 30 miles south-east of Gambut, watching the crew baling out. His action was witnessed by Pilot Officer Goord (TP-M), who caught another fighter 25 miles south-east of Tobruk, just south of the main road from Bardia. Finally Flight Sergeant Webster (V7551/TP-K) claimed a CR.42 in flames and damaged another ten miles south-east of Gambut. All these victories were achieved between 12:35 and 13:05.
Last victory of the day was claimed by Flight Lieutenant M. L. Beytagh (V7561/TP-X) from 73 Squadron, who claimed a CR.42 near Marsa Es Sahal, just west of Tobruk, at 14:20.
The unlucky Italian units subjected to all these unwelcome attentions were an arrow of five SM 79s from the 34o Stormo commanded by Tenente Saladin and escorted by 17 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo with six from the 70a Squadriglia (Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani, Sergente Cesare Sironi, Sergente Ubaldo Marziali and Tenente Marino Commissoli), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi and Sergente Stefani) and six from the 75a Squadriglia (Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni, Sottotenente Giuseppe De Angelis, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Carlo Dentis and Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti), which had taken off from Z1 at 11:15. The bombers had taken off from Benina at 09:50 to attack the British armoured units south of Sidi Azeiz in the Trigh Capuzzo area and despite the spirited defence offered by the Fiat biplanes some ten Hurricanes piloted by aces like Dunn, Wykeham-Barnes and Marshall where odds too big against them. Three of the Savoias failed to return. Tenente Lino Saladin’s SM 79s was shot down, and even if some crewmembers (Sottotenente Severino Sheimer, Sottotenente Puntatore Antonio Scarparo, Sergente Maggiore Radiotelegrafista Adelchi Lenissa, Primo Aviere Motorista Vito Bellomo and Primo Aviere Armiere Michelangelo Conti) were seen to parachute, they all perished. This bomber was almost certainly the victim of Marshall. Two other bombers force-landed, one of them close to Barce reportedly because of lack of fuel (most probably the victims of Wykeham-Barnes even if the returning pilots from the 23o Gruppo reported that one of the SM 79 had been brought down by the AA reaction). Only two bombers were able to escape back in Benina, landing at 14:45.
The Italian escort also suffered heavily. Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni was wounded but remained in the fight to the last minute before finally landing a heavily damaged fighter at T2. Unfortunately, the CR.42 overturned on landing. Sottotenente Schiroli was killed, falling with his fighter without being able to use his parachute. Finally, after claiming a Hurricane, Sottotenente Marangoni was shot down and parachuted, wounded in the right leg (possibly victim of Squadron Leader Dunn). Unluckily he fell on the wounded leg, completely shattering it, and was taken prisoner a short while after. Some weeks later, a British aircraft throw a message over the Italian lines, which contained a letter written by a British Army Officer (Antony McDonald) to Marangoni’s mother. The British Officer had been wounded close to the place where Marangoni had parachuted and had been recovered in a field hospital together with him. He told that Marangoni died for loss of blood on the first hours of the 6th and described the gallant behaviour maintained by him during his last hours. For this combat and for his precedent activity over Malta, Leopoldo Marangoni received a posthumous Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare “in the field”, which in 1942 was upgraded to the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
Tenente Mario Pinna, newly appointed commander of the 74a Squadriglia claimed a Hurricane with the use of 380 rounds of ammunition. Sergente Stefani claimed a damaged Hurricane with the use of 350 rounds and damaged Hurricanes were claimed also by Sottotenente De Angelis, Sottotenente Villa and Maresciallo Carmello. After the action, the Italian fighters landed directly at Tmini M2 at 13:35.
The loss of Marangoni, a quite popular person coming from the upper middle-class of Milan and the son of the owner of a small cork processing plant, was particularly felt by his mates. A sport cars driver and a volunteer, he could had avoided to reach the front line in Libya for health problems that arise in September but he decided for an operation and was back in his unit in middle November after a fast recovery. His sister Olga had married the CO of the 10o Gruppo, Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, who in the day following his loss made many low level flights to look for him or at least to obtain information on his fate. His Squadriglia CO Pietro Calistri (who was not present during his last combat) credited him with an individual victory obtained in a frontal attack immediately before being shot down; this was recorded also in the 75a Squadriglia’s Diary. The description of the events given by his friend Marino Commissoli in a letter to Marangoni’s parents was slightly different:
“(…) targets that day were enemy troops close to Bardia. We were seventeen fighters and we escorted five bombers that had to attack the enemy positions. Enemy reaction was very strong and we had to stand three consecutive fights. It was during the second attack, just after leaving the target area over the desert west of Bardia that Leopoldo was surprised by a Hurricane and with him also his wingman. Both left formation. The attack was lightning-swift and they were unable to avoid it, as we were unable to help them or to follow their fate because the enemy’s precision was too high and we had to guard against new attacks. Back at base we hoped that someone of the missing pilots came back, perhaps landing in some advanced landing grounds. Two in fact came back later but we received no news of Leopoldo and his wingman (…) Only later, just before leaving Tripoli we knew his fate (…)”.

Generale Matriciardi again blamed the fighters for their ineffectiveness “it seems clear that bomber protection have to be realized through a single close formation of fighters and bombers” and then criticised the escort believed absent. From the reports from the British pilots and of the losses suffered, this was indeed unfair comments.

At the beginning of 1942, the 23o Gruppo joined the 18o Gruppo to establish the 3o Stormo again. The units reassembled at Mirafori to be re-equipped with Macchi MC.202s.

The unit returned to North Africa and took part of the Axis offensive into Egypt during the summer and fall of 1942.

On 31 July 1942 a formation of 12 MC.202s from 70a and 74a Squadriglias surprised a squadron of Kittyhawks, who were attacking German lines at Bir Mukeisin with a squadron of Spitfires as escort. Totally was the allied group twice as big as the Italian was.
Despite this the Italian fighters attacked and during the following dogfight five of the enemy fighters were claimed as destroyed. In this combat enemy aircraft were claimed by Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli, Capitano Claudio Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella, Sergente Maggiore Mantelli. The fifth was claimed jointly by Tenente Moruzzi, Tenente Spinelli, Sottotenente Sprinelli Barrile and Sottotenente Carlo Brigante Colonna. Capitano Tugnoli and Sergente Maggiore Stefani claimed two more aircraft as probables. Eleven more of the enemy aircraft was shot at.
All the Italian aircraft returned to base.

Stefani ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 15/06/40 13:00- 1 ’Morane’ (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Cannet des Maures area 74a Squadriglia
  1941                
  05/01/41 11:15-13:35 1 Hurricane (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Gambut area 74a Squadriglia
  1942                
  31/07/42   1 Enemy aircraft (c) Probable MC.202   Bir Mukeisin area 74a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Dewoitine D.520s from the GC III/6, which didn’t suffer any losses.
(b) Claimed in combat with either 274 Squadron or 73 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.
(c) Claimed in combat with P-40 Kittyhawks and Spitfires.

Sources:
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - Carlo Lucchini and Leproni Enrico, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
French Aces of World War 2 - Barry Ketley, 1999 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-85532-898-4
Il 23o Gruppo Caccia - Nicola Malizia, 1974 Bizzarri, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
L’aeronautica Italiana nella Seconda Guerra Mondiale - Giuseppe Santoro, 1957 Danesi, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
L’Aéronautique navale francaise de septembre 1939 à juin 1940 (Hors série Avions nr.1) - Lucien Morareau, January 1994 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
La campagne de France, les combars franco-italiens 10 juin-25 juin (Batailles Aeriennes nr. 11) - Matthieu Comas, January 2000 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Regia Aeronautica e Armee De L’Air 1940-43 - Giancarlo Garello, 1975 Bizzarri, Roma, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Regia Aeronautica periodo prebellico e fronti occidentali - Angelo Emiliani, Giuseppe Ghergo and Achille Vigna, 1975 Intergest, Milano, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 17 June 2012