Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Manlio Tarantino

In July 1940 Tarantino served in the 75a Squadriglia of the 23o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which was equipped with Fiat CR.42s

On 12 July the recently arrived 9o Gruppo C.T. was ordered to fly on to Libya, to operate in the desert. To replace the unit two new gruppi of fighter flew in to Sicily, the autonomous 23o and the 17o from 1o Stormo C.T.

At 09:45 in the morning of 31 July, nine 23o Gruppo CR.42s escorted a single reconnaissance S.79 over Malta. Hardly any Hurricanes were now serviceable on the island, and three Gladiators took off to intercept, flown by Flying Officers Peter Hartley (N5519), Fred F. 'Eric' Taylor (N5529) and William ’Timber’ Woods (N5520). As they attacked the formation, the bomber turned away, but a dogfight at once began between the opposing fighters. A burst of fire from the guns of Sergente Tarantino’s aircraft caused the fuel tank of Hartley’s Gladiator (N5519) to explode, and he baled out suffering from severe burns. Woods shot down the commander of the Italian formation, Capitano Antonio Chiodi of the 75a Squadriglia, his aircraft falling into the sea five miles east of Grand Harbour. Chiodi was subsequently awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
The returning Italian pilots claimed that they had seen five Gladiators and two of them were claimed shot down. One by the above mentioned Tarantino and one by Capitano Luigi Filippi. Two more Gladiators were attacked by Tenente Mario Rigatti.
South African Flying Officer Roger ‘Jock’ Barber of the Island’s Fighter Flight witnessed the shooting down of Hartley and N5519 from the ground:

“Peter Hartley must have been hit in his centre tank because his Gladiator burnt just like a magnesium flare - an actually brilliant light in the sky, and it was a very lovely day: typical Malta summer day very hot, clear blue sky, no clouds.
He actually baled out after his aircraft caught fire and he fell into the sea. He was very badly burnt, particularly about the knees and arms and face. In those days, we, of course, flew in khaki shirts and shorts and stockings and it was, of course, the exposed portion of his body that got damaged. He spent a very long time in hospital and was eventually evacuated to UK, but I believe made a good recovery and flew again.”
According to at least one report, Gladiator N5519 fell just offshore, close to Ras il-Fenek, in south-east Malta. Hartley was rescued by a boat from Kalafrana and admitted to the Station Sick Quarters suffering from shock and third degree burns. Soon after, he was transferred to the military hospital at Mtarfa. He did indeed return to flying duties in the UK and the Middle East, but was eventually reassigned a ground role due to continuing problems with his injuries.

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 Emilio Stefani, Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli and Sergente 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 09:15 on 26 December, eight Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron took off from the LG south-west of Sollum to escort a Lysander doing artillery reconnaissance over Bardia. The Lysander failed to appear. At approximately 14:05 (obviously during a third patrol) two flights of five SM 79s escorted by a number of CR.42s were observed a few miles north-east of Sollum Bay. A separate formation of 18 CR.42s was following the bomber formation and escort 2,000 feet higher as top cover. Two Gladiators attacked the bomber formation whilst the remainder climbed to meet the higher formation. The attack on the bombers was broken off when the higher formation attacked the Gladiators. In the ensuing combat, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege and Flying Officer Wilfred Arthur each claimed a destroyed (seen to fall into the sea) and a damaged CR.42. Flying Officer Peter Turnbull, Flying Officer John Perrin and Flying Officer Alan Rawlinson each claimed one probable.
The CR.42s were 14 fighters from the newly arrived 23o Gruppo led by the CO, Maggiore Tito Falconi and 22 CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo. The CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo included three from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Claudio Solaro, Sergente Pardino Pardini and Tenente Gino Battaggion), five from the 74a Squadriglia (Capitano Guido Bobba, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sergente Maggiore Raffaele Marzocca (forced to return early due to a sudden illness) and Sergente Tarantino) and five from the 75a Squadriglia (Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Sottotenente Leopoldo Marangoni and Maresciallo Carlo Dentis). The fighters from the the 10o Gruppo included seven from the 91a Squadriglia (Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni, Capitano Mario Pluda, Sottotenente Andrea Dalla Pasqua, Sottotenente Ruggero Caporali, Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato and Sergente Elio Miotto), nine from the 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Luigi Monti, Tenente Antonio Angeloni, Sottotenente Luigi Prati, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Corrado Patrizi, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Luciano Perdoni and Sergente Mario Veronesi) and six from the 90a Squadriglia (Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Tenente Franco Lucchini, Sottotenente Alessandro Rusconi, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Giovanni Battista Ceoletta), which had taken off at 13:00.
They were escorting ten SM 79s from the 41o Stormo under Tenente Colonnello Draghelli and five SM 79s 216a Squadriglia, 53o Gruppo, 34o Stormo, led by Tenente Stringa. The SM 79s had taken off from M2 at 12:25 and attacked Sollum harbour’s jetty (reportedly hit) and two destroyers inside Sollum Bay (with poor results because of the heavy AA fire). AA from the ships hit four bombers from the 34o Stormo; one of them, piloted by Sottotenente Bellini had to force land close to Ain El Gazala with the central engine out of action. Returning pilots reported an attempt to intercept by some Gladiators but the escort repulsed the British fighters. They landed without further problems at 15:15.
Over the target, immediately after the bombing, the Italian fighters reported the interception of “enemy aircraft” alternatively “many Glosters” or “Hurricanes and Glosters”. The 70a Squadrigli pilots claimed a shared Hurricane, this was possibly an aircraft from 33 Squadron. This unit’s ORB reported that during the day’s patrols many SM 79s and CR.42s were intercepted with one CR.42 believed damaged. Two Gladiators confirmed and two probables were shared between the whole 10o Gruppo. Another Gladiator was assigned to the 23o Gruppo (in the documents of 75a Squadriglia but this is not confirmed by the other two Squadriglie). Many Glosters were claimed damaged by Tenente Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Schiroli, Sergente Tarantino, Sottotenente Marangoni, Tenente Calistri, Tenente Monti and Sottotenente Villa. The CR.42s were back between 14:30 and 15:05.
No Gladiators were lost even if three of them were damaged (all repairable within the unit). The Australians had done a very good job indeed, facing a formation four times more numerous (even if it seem improbable that all the Italian fighters were able to join the combat). From the Italian reports it seems that only the front sections of the escort (including the 74a, 75a and the 84a Squadriglie) were engaged in a sharp dogfight with the Gladiators. The Australians were able to shot down the CO of the 74a Squadriglia, Capitano Guido Bobba, who was killed when his fighter fell in flames into the sea and damaged Tenente Lorenzoni’s fighter, who landed at T2 (and came back to Z1 the day after). Three more CR.42s were damaged when Tenente Angeloni was forced to land at T5 before reaching Z1, Sergente Veronesi’s fighter was damaged and Sottotenente Prati was forced to make an emergency landing short of T2 (his fighter was reportedly undamaged and only suffering for a slight engine breakdown). Maggiore Falconi’s fighter was also heavily damaged but managed to return. The morning after Angeloni was able to return to Z1 with his aircraft.
Capitano Guido Bobba was awarded a posthumously Medaglia d’Argento al valor militare. He was replaced as CO of the 74a Squadriglia by Tenente Mario Pinna.

On 2 January 1941, the 23o Gruppo recorded an escort mission to SM 79s bombing Sollum Harbour. The fighters took off at 14:45 and the participating pilots were Maggiore Tito Falconi, Tenente Claudio Solaro, Tenente Gino Battaggion, Tenente Marino Commissoli, Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani and Sergente Ubaldo Marziali of the 70a Squadriglia, Tenente Mario Pinna, Tenente Lorenzo Lorenzoni, Sottotenente Sante Schiroli, Sottotenente Milano Pausi, Sergente Tarantino and Sergente Giuseppe Sanguettoli of the 74a Squadriglia and Tenente Pietro Calistri, Tenente Ezio Maria Monti, Sottotenente Renato Villa, Maresciallo Giovanni Carmello, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti and Sergente Leo Mannucci of 75a Squadriglia. Together with them were some CR.42s from the 10o Gruppo flown by Capitano Luigi Monti, Sottotenente Bruno Devoto, Sergente Domenico Santonocito, Sergente Piero Buttazzi, Sergente Corrado Patrizi and Sergente Mario Veronesi of the 84a Squadriglia, Tenente Giovanni Guiducci, Sottotenente Neri De Benedetti, Sergente Luigi Contarini and Sergente Alfredo Sclavo of the 90a Squadriglia and finally Maggiore Carlo Romagnoli, Capitano Vincenzo Vanni and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato of the 91a Squadriglia.
While coming back from the action Maggiore Falconi led his men in a strafing attack in the Capuzzo area, Tenente Pinna’s pilots claiming three armoured cars destroyed. Falconi’s CR.42 returned hit in many places by the AA reaction. All the fighters were back at 17:20.

Tarantino ended the war with 1 biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 31/07/40 09:45- 1 Gladiator (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Hal Far 75a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 -15:05 1/13 Gladiator (b) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  26/12/40 -15:05 1/13 Gladiator (b) Damaged Fiat CR.42   Sollum area 74a Squadriglia
  1941                
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia
  02/01/41 14:45-17:20 1/6 Armoured car Shared destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.42   Capuzzo area 74a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged, 3 armoured cars shared destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 1 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 damaged, 3 armoured cars shared destroyed on the ground.
(a) Gladiator (N5519) of Hal Far Fighter Flight flown by Flying Officer Peter Hartley, who baled out with severe burns.
(b) Claimed in combat with Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 and 3 probables without any losses, and possibly Hurricanes from 33 Squadron, which claimed a damaged CR.42 during the day. The 23o Gruppo claimed 1 Hurricane and 1 Gladiator and the 10o Gruppo claimed 2 and 2 probable Gladiators while losing one CR.42 and getting five more damaged.

Sources:
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Desert Prelude: Operation Compass - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2011 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-61421-18-4
Gladiators over Malta: The Story of Faith, Hope and Charity – Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2008 Wise Owl Publications, ISBN 978-99932-92-78-4
Hurricanes over Malta - Brian Cull and Frederick Galea, 2001 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-91-8
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 Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 10 June 2012