Maresciallo Luciano Tarantini
Luciano Tarantini was born in Maglie on 13 December 1917.
In November 1940, Tarantini belonged to the 160o Gruppo C.T. At this time this unit took part in the Greek campaign and was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.
On 19 November 1940, 'B' Flight of 80 Squadron, which recently had arrived to Greece to reinforce the Greek fighter forces, flew up to Trikkala during the morning. After refueling, nine Gladiators took off at 14:10, led by three Greek PZL P.24s (23 Mira), for an offensive patrol over the Koritza area. Squadron Leader William Hickey led the Gladiators.
When they neared the Italian airfield at Koritza the PZLs were obliged to turn back due to their short range. The Gladiators flew over Koritza were Italian anti-aircraft opened up. Flight Lieutenant 'Pat' Pattle, who were leading the second section, sighted four Fiat CR.42s climbing towards them from the starboard beam.
It had been arranged beforehand that the Gladiators would not use their radiotelephones unless it was absolutely essential, because they had discovered in the desert that the CR.42s used a similar wavelength; by listening in to the Gladiators, the Italians received prior information of an attack. Pattle warned Hickey of the presence of the CR.42s simply by diving past the Commanding Officer's section and pointing his Gladiator towards the Italian aircraft. Hickey acknowledged that he understood by waggling his wing and Pattle withdrew to his position at the head of his section.
As Hickey’s section dived towards the four CR.42s, Pattle noticed a second group of two more CR.42s and took his section, consisting of Pilot Officer 'Heimar' Stuckey and Sergeant Charles Casbolt, to engage these. Pattle went for the leading CR.42, which attempted to evade the attack by diving steeply and slipping from side to side. Pattle followed, closing in rapidly, but he didn't fire until the CR.42 straightened out and thereby offered a steadier target. From 100 yards astern, he lined up the CR.42 in his sight and opened fire. The CR.42 steepened its dive; the pilot had apparently been hit, because he fell forward over the control column. Pattle pulled away, as the CR.42 went straight down to crash about two miles west of Koritza, bursting into flames on striking the ground. Stuckey, following close behind Pattle's Gladiator, smiled and gave a thumbs-up signal to Pattle signifying confirmation of the victory.
The two Gladiators, now completely alone, climbed up to 15,000 feet immediately over the airfield, and saw a dogfight in progress a few miles to the north. Heading in that direction, they were soon engaged by five CR.42s and two G.50s. One of the G.50s came at Pattle in a head-on attack, but broke away much too early, the tracers passing yards below the Gladiator. A CR.42 had a go next, but Pattle quickly snap-rolled, up and over the Italian aircraft, and came down perfectly in position fifty yards behind the CR.42. A short burst and the cockpit of the CR.42 became a mass of flames and it fell away burning furiously. After this combat he noticed that his air pressure were so low that he couldn't fire his guns and he soon returned to base.
Totally in this combat the British pilots claimed nine and two probables shot down. Apart from Pattle's two CR.42s, Stuckey claimed one G.50, which crashed, and one CR.42, Flight Lieutenant Greg Graham claimed one G.50 and one CR.42, Pilot Officer Samuel Cooper claimed one shared CR.42 with Pilot Officer William Vale, who also claimed one additional CR.42, Sergeant Charles Casbolt claimed one G.50 and finally Flying Officer Sidney Linnard claimed two CR.42s as probables.
Pilot Officer Stuckey was hit in the combat by CR.42s and wounded in the right shoulder and leg. He was saved from being finished off by Squadron Leader Hickey, who managed to driving away the CR.42s and then escort him back to Trikkala from where he would be dispatched to the Greek Red Cross hospital in Athens.
Pilot Officer Vale reported:
"Nine Gladiators and three PZLs took off from Trikkala in four flights of three aircraft to carry out an offensive patrol over Koritza. I was flying in the second flight as No.2 to F/Lt Pattle. We arrived over the area at approximately 1440 hours and after patrolling for about five minutes two CR42s were seen approaching our formation at 14,000 feet from starboard ahead. The signal for line astern was given by the flight leader, who immediately attacked the enemy aircraft, which broke formation. F/Lt Pattle engaged one CR42 and after a shot dogfight shot it down out of control, with smoke coming from the engine.80 Squadron had been involved in combat with Fiat CR.42s of 160o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which were patrolling over this area, and with G.50bis from 24o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which were escorting bombers in the same area.
The other CR42 was engage by No.1 Flight. I tried to regain my flight but finally attached myself to two Gladiators in formation, which I found out to be No.1 Flight led by S/Ldr Hickey. We carried on the patrol at about 10,000 feet over Koritza, where we met fairly accurate AA fire. ‘Tally-ho!’ was then given when three CR42s in formation were seen at about 6,000 feet. The formation split up and I dived on a CR42 which was attempting to escape to the north. I carried out a quarter attack and then slid in to an astern position, which I held while the enemy pilot did evasive tactics. He then carried out a manoeuvre which appeared to be a downward roll and I noticed that smoke was coming from his engine. I carried on firing in short bursts until he went between two hills through a small cloud. I followed over the cloud but no enemy aircraft appeared and so I went below into the valley and saw wreckage in a copse – at the same time getting fired at by enemy troops.
I climbed up immediately and at 6,000 feet saw a shiny monoplane with radial engine diving down. I gave chase but was out-distanced and so gave up after firing a short burst at about 400 yards. I gained altitude and observed a Gladiator and a CR42 in a dogfight very low down over the hill, and also noticed that the enemy pilot was attempting to lead the Gladiator over a group of enemy ground forces. I waited until the Gladiator pilot had manoeuvred into an astern attack and then carried out a quarter attack. I noticed that first white smoke and then black was coming from the engine of the e/a before I opened fire. I carried out quarter attacks until the other Gladiator pilot pulled away and then slid into an astern attack.
I remained in that position until very low over the main road and then the CR42 turned over and slid into the side of a hill. The aircraft did not burst into flames. While pulling up I fired at the enemy ground troops. I gained altitude and waggled my wings for the other Gladiator pilot to join me and then found the other pilot was P/O Cooper, who had apparently run out of ammunition. I then set course for home and finally landed at Eleusis, where I refuelled, before proceeding to the base aerodrome. I inspected my aeroplane and found that I had one bullet hole in my tail plane, which had done no damage. In each encounter with CR42s I found that both pilots used the downward roll manoeuvre at high speed for evasive action."
On 3 December 1940 six 23 Mira PZL P.24s engaged 18 CR.42s of 160o Gruppo led by Maggiore Oscar Molinari, south-west of Moschopoles. Three of the Greek fighters were claimed shot down by Molinari, Sottotenente Giorgio Moretti and Sergente Tarantini, while a fourth and two probables were claimed shared by several pilots. Greek aircraft losses are not known in detail, but one pilot - Hiposminagos (1st Lieutenant) Constantine Tsitsas - was killed in the combat.
23 Mira pilots claimed one CR.42.
On 9 February 1941, 18 S.79s from the 104o Gruppo were out to bomb in the Kelcyre-Tepelene area. These bombers were escorted by twelve Fiat G.50bis fighters from the 24o Gruppo led by Maggiore Eugenio Leotta, and twelve Fiat CR.42s from the 160o Gruppo, led by Tenente Edoardo Crainz. Four Greek Gladiators of 21 Mira (Sminagos Ioanis Kellas (CO of 21 Mira), Anthiposminagos Anastasios Bardivilias, Episminias Ilias Dimitrakopoulos and Episminias Nikolaos Kostorizos) and eight PZLs from 22 and 23 Mire intercepted the formation.
The Greek fighters didn’t manage to penetrate the fighter screen and a series of hectic dogfights started with the Italian escort. Overclaiming was heavy on both sides and the Greek pilots claimed eight enemy fighters, Kellas claimed two while Bardivilias, Dimitrakopoulos and Kostorizos claimed one enemy aircraft each. Episminas Epaminondas Dagoulas of 22 Mira claimed one fighter while Yposminagos Marinos Mitralexes from the same unit claimed one fighter over Berat; Mitralexes also claimed one additional fighter and a probable during the combat. The Greek Army confirmed the eight victories and this was also confirmed by a Mr. Roussos, a journalist of the newspaper ELEYTHERON BHMA, who was on the ground with the troops as a war correspondent. His report is a first hand account and also gives the enthusiasm of the Greek soldiers while the Italian planes fell to the ground.
The Gladiators flown by Kellas and Dimitrakopoulos were both hard hit during the combat but it was possible to repair these fighters. Yposminagos Kotronis was shot down, but he managed to force-land his PZL, totally destroying it in the process. He escaped, however, only lightly wounded. A second PZL was shot up by three fighters and Episminias (Sergeant) John Michopoulos of 22 Mira was wounded in the thigh, but he managed to get back to Salonika/Sedes and land. Other aircraft returned damaged.
The G.50bis pilots in return claimed one Gladiator and three PZLs shot down, while the pilots from the 160o Gruppo submitted claims for three Gladiators (one each by Tenente Crainz, Sergente Maggiore Tarantini and Sergente Maggiore Aurelio Munich) and two PZLs (Sottotenente Raoul Francinetti and Sergente Antonio Crabbia).
It seems that no Italian fighters were lost on this occasion.
In November 1941, the 160o Gruppo arrived in North Africa after a period of rest in Italy.
On 18 November, Operation’Crusader’ was launched by the Allies in North Africa. Six Hurricanes from 33 Squadron strafed El Eng airfield (Gialo airfield by the Italians) destroying a Ghibli aircraft on the ground. The squadron was attacked by three CR.42s, but Pilot Officer Lance Wade (Hurricane Z4360), a young American flying with the RAF, quickly destroyed two of these as his first victories of a total of 22, while the combining fire of the rest of the squadron sent the third flaming to the ground. They returned to base without any damage.
The Italians reported that the Gialo airfield was attacked at 09:30. Two CR.42s from the 393a Squadriglia flown by Sergente Maggiore Tarantini (MM7551) and Sergente Alberto Gardelli (MM7756) scrambled. A third aircraft (MM7554) didn’t manage to scramble because it was immediately machine gunned by the Allied fighters (it was damaged – RD). Gardelli made a determined attack on the enemy formation and managed to fire on two enemies, but he was the overcome and shot down badly wounded. Despite care and treatment, he succumbed to his wounds the same later the same day (Gardelli was born in Forlì on 16 April 1918). Tarantini also managed to fire on a Hurricane (he was subsequently credited with a damaged) before his own aircraft was repeatedly hit and he was forced to land away from the airfield; he had left behind him a long trail of black smoke but he returned slightly wounded.
Tarantini was killed on 31 March 1943 in the ranks of the 375a Squadriglia possibly during the home-defence operations over Sardinia. At this time, he had been promoted to Maresciallo.
At the time of his death, Tarantini was credited with 3 victories, these being claimed while flying Fiat CR.42s.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||19/11/40||14:10-||1||Gladiator (a)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Koritza area||160o Gruppo|
|2||03/12/40||1||PZL P.24 (b)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.42||SW Moschopoles||160o Gruppo|
|3||09/02/41||1||Gladiator (c)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Kelcyre-Tepelene area||160o Gruppo|
|18/11/41||09:30||1||Hurricane (d)||Damaged||Fiat CR.42||MM7551||Gialo||393a Squadriglia|
Biplane victories: 3 destroyed, 1 damaged.
TOTAL: 3 destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with 80 Squadron, which claimed 6 destroyed and 2 probables CR.42s and 3 G.50bis destroyed with 1 damaged Gladiator. The 160o Gruppo and the 24o Gruppo, lost 3 CR.42s and 1 G.50bis and 1 damaged CR.42 while claiming 1 and 2 probable Gladiators.
(b) Claimed in combat with 23 Mira.
(c) Claimed in combat with fighters from 21, 22, 22 Mire. The 24o and 160o Gruppi claimed five PZLs and four Gladiators without loss. The Greek fighters claimed eight enemy fighters for the loss of one PZL while several more were damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which didn’t suffer any losses.
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Ace of Aces: M T StJ Pattle - E C R Baker, 1992 Crécy Books, Somerton, ISBN 0-947554-36-X
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Gladiator Ace: Bill 'Cherry' Vale, the RAF's forgotten fighter ace - Brian Cull with Ludovico Slongo and Håkan Gustavsson, 2010 Haynes Publishing, ISBN 978-1-84425-657-0
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Ministero della Difesa
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo and Dimitrios Vassilopoulos.