Biplane fighter aces


Maresciallo Ennio Tarantola

19 January 1915 – 30 July 2001

Maresciallo Ennio Tarantola at Gela in the summer of 1942, sitting on the rudder of his Macchi MC.202 “151-2”.

Date Decoration Note
??/06/38 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (1st) O.M.S.
??/??/38 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (2nd) O.M.S.
??/07/42 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (3rd) 1940-43
??/10/42 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (4th) 1940-43
??/08/42 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare (1st) 1940-43
??/12/42 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare (2nd) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (1st) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (2nd) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (3rd) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (4th) 1940-43
??/??/?? Croce al merito di guerra (5th) 1940-43

Ennio Tarantola was born in Como on 19 January 1915.

During his boyhood he is supposed to have worked as a banana seller for the Colombo-Poggi firm at piazza Cavour, thus earning the nickname “Banana”.

He joined the Regia Aeronautica a Sergente Pilots in September 1936.

He volunteered to the Spanish Civil War and served with the XVI ’la Cucaracha’ Gruppo C.T. as a Sergente, flying the Fiat CR.32.
He reputedly flew a CR.32 with the inscription ’Pivello’ (meaning ‘young and inexperienced flyer’) on the fin.

On 20 January 1938, XVI Gruppo went into action between Teruel and Aldehuela. Italian pilots were credited with shooting down five ‘Curtiss fighters’ and two Ratas. One of the I-15s were claimed by Sergente Tarantola. Sottotenente Renato Andreani of 25a Squadriglia lost his life and two CR.32s returned to base with severe battle damage.
Grupo No 26 lost three I-15s during this clash, one from the 3a Escuadrilla crashing near Torrente after its pilot, Puig Bastons, parachuted safely into Republican territory. A machine from 1a Escuadrilla broke up in the air after being hit, its Soviet pilot, leitenant Ivan Gorshkov, being forced to bail out. Debris from Gorshkov’s I-15 (#9963) in turn hit the Polikarpov of the 2a Escuadrilla commander teniente Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio, who also parachuted into Republican territory (Leopoldo Morquillas Rubio claimed a damaged CR.32 during the day – same combat?). No I-16s were lost, however.

For his service in Spain he was decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare.

When he returned to Italy he joined the 155a Squadriglia, which were equipped with CR.32s.

When the Second World War started he flew Ju 87 Stukas (or 'Picchiatelli' as they were called in Italy) in the 209a and 239a Squadriglie Autonoma Bombardamento a Tuffo from March to October 1941 under the command of Capitano Giuseppe Cenni (also a veteran Spanish Civil War ace).

On 29 June, I and II./LG 1 despatched Ju 88s to raid Alexandria during the early hours. On the way, whilst near Tobruk, the MV Pass of Halmata (758 tons) was spotted, attacked and sunk. The Australian destroyer HMAS Waterhen was also seen and was claimed ‘probably sunk’. However, during the early evening at 19:45, seven Ju 87Rs of the 239a Squadriglia also attacked shipping off the Libyan coast near Bardia. Two 500 kg bombs dropped by Sergente Maggiore Tarantola and Sergente Dino Fabbri found HMAS Waterhen still afloat at the time, hitting her astern.
The ship was firstly abandoned, then a salvage party went on board, but the ship sunk, while being towed by HMS Defender, at 01:50 on 30 June.

At 17:30 on 30 June, 250 Squadron were escorting a Tobruk convoy when 29 Ju 87s, escorted by twelve G.50s, ten Bf 109s and five Bf 110s were spotted. The seven Tomahawks of 250 Squadron attacked the formation, Pilot Officer Clive Caldwell destroying two Ju 87s, and sharing a Bf 110 with Sergeant ‘Bob’ Whittle, who also claimed a damaged Bf 109 and a probable G.50 while Flight Lieutenant ‘Dickie’ Martin claimed two G.50s and Pilot Officer Stanley Wells claimed a Bf 110.
The escorting G.50bis were from 20o Gruppo (take-off at 15:40) and Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio (353a Squadriglia) claimed a Hurricane while 3./JG 27’s Oberleutnant Ludwig Franzisket claimed a P-40 north of Marsa Luch at 16:35.
Two Bf 110s of 8./ZG 26 failed to return, Feldwebel Walter Schöne and his passenger, Unteroffizier Karl Rohde, a war film cameraman (Bf 110E-1 WNr 3459), and Unteroffizier Friedrich Wiesböck and his gunner Gefreiter Otto (BF 110E-2 Wnr 3311), all being lost.
27-year-old Australian Pilot Officer James Frederick Stamford Kent (RAAF no. 402124) of 250 Squadron was shot down and killed while Sergeant T. G. Ryan’s aircraft was badly damaged, resulting in a forced landing.
The attack force included four Ju 87Rs from the 239a Squadriglia, and one of these, flown by Sergente Maggiore Tarantola with 1o Aviere Ruggero Pittini as gunner was reportedly hit by AA fire when diving on the ships. Tarantola released his bombs and managed initially to keep the aircraft in the air. As the engine began to fail, Pittini baled out, but was not seen again. Tarantola spent 18 hours drifting in his dinghy before being rescued by a 196a Squadriglia Cant Z.501.

After this sobering experience he asked to go back on fighters. This he was granted and on 4 November 1941 he joined the 151a Squadriglia of the 20o Gruppo C.T., which was under the command of Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio. The unit was at this time equipped with Fiat G.50s and based in Tripoli.

At 07:30 on 4 December, 15 German Ju 87s took off to bomb concentrations of motor vehicles south-east of Bir El Gobi (south of El Esem). Eleven G.50s of the 20o Gruppo (four from each from the 151a and 352a Squadriglie and three of the 353a Squadriglia) provided the close cover, led by Tenente Colonnello Mario Bonzano. The G.50s took off from Martuba between 07:30 and 07:45. The weather wasn't too bad at take-off, while it was quite good over the target. The formation flew at an altitude of 3,000 m and the escort was arranged in a right and left wing, with six and five aircraft respectively.
Seven Bf 109Fs took off at 07:52 as top cover, but they would not come into contact with the enemy.
The dive began at 08:25; the anti-aircraft fire was accurate and very heavy. The targets were scattered, nevertheless numerous fires were noticed. During the dive the Axis aircraft were attacked by an enemy formation estimated to be about twelve P-40s (and Hurricanes), which crossed their paths between 1,000 and 1,500 m. The 151a Squadriglia, on the right of the Ju 87s, immediately engaged the enemy fighters, so that the mission was carried out as planned. Immediately after dropping their bombs the Ju.87s made their way back to base in a very close formation and hedge-hopping, forcing the enemy to fight out a duel at an altitude that was very much in favour of the characteristics of the G.50s and training of Italian fighter pilots. The 151a Squadriglia returned claiming two Tomahawks and one probable. Sergente Maggiore Luigi Mannelli claimed a Tomahawk shot down and one in collaboration with Sottotenente Lanfranco Baschiera. He fired 406 rounds and Baschiera 80 rounds. Maresciallo Tarantola machine gunned a P-40 that was thought to have been shot down with 104 rounds (it was credited as a probable). Sergente Maggiore Tomasi couldn't fire because of a fault with the belt of bullets.
352a Squadriglia together with the 151a Squadriglia parried the attack of twelve Tomahawks. One of the Squadriglie was to the left of the Stukas. A 352a Squadriglia G.50bis had to return early because of engine trouble. Sottotenente Giorgio Oberweger intercepted the first Tomahawk. He appeared at its side at about 1,700 m and managed to hit it with a burst from a distance of 50 metres; then his guns jammed. He managed to reactivate one and took on the enemy pilot in an individual duel and he managed again to hit his enemy’s plane and the Tomahawk caught fire, leaving a trail of white smoke. Altogether he fired 50 rounds. Sergente Aldo Bonazza (352a Squadriglia) attacked and machine gunned at length three enemy aircraft that were lower down mixed up in the battle with the Stukas. He claimed one shot down having fired 520 rounds. His plane was in its turn bit by two bullets. Tenente Giuseppe Vitali (352a Squadriglia), who led the pair that closed off the formation, was involved in a collision with a Tomahawk, but without his companions noticing, in fact he would be declared missing:

“...once we had reached the target area we were attacked by a considerable number of Curtiss P-40s. I managed to shake off a P-40 that was on my tail and had already fired a burst at me, but a second enemy aircraft, coming down from a higher altitude, continued to attack by diving down on me and then regaining altitude. As I was able to turn tighter with the G. 50 I managed to defend myself by making my plane pop up at his plane’s prow and so I was able in my turn to fire. At the second or third of these attempts I saw the tracer bullets from the 12.7 mm machine guns making straight for the enemy aircraft and I had the impression of having hit it because it didn’t turn and came on me from behind. I couldn’t avoid colliding with it.
I remember vaguely having seen that a piece was missing from my left wing, I had dived with my forehead on the padding of the telescopic sight, and then I activated the releasing device and was ejected from the aircraft that was whizzing round like mad. I felt for the opening device of the parachute and lost consciousness and came to on the ground surrounded by British soldiers who were putting me onto a jeep. They told me that the pilot of the enemy aircraft, a South African, had not parachuted, probably hit, and had crashed to the ground with the aircraft. I was admitted to hospital in Egypt and subsequently taken to India as a prisoner.”
Finally 353a Squadriglia claimed two aircraft shot down by Sergente Spiridione Guiducci, four machine gunned by Sergente Maggiore Covre and two machine gunned by Capitano Roveda. All in all 1600 rounds were fired. The formation returned to base at 09:15.
It is reported that the G.50s had found themselves in difficulties because some attacking fighters had not been stopped and had managed to reach the Stukas. In fact three were forced to land away from the airfield. Some crew members were wounded but they all saved themselves.
The attackers were the South Africans of 2 SAAF Squadron, which had taken off at 07:10 with ten Tomahawks to patrol the Bir El Gobi area. The weather was fair, with clouds at 7,000 - 8,000 feet and a cover of 3/10. They estimated that the enemy formation was composed of 30 Ju.87s, 6 Bf 109s and 14 divided between G.50s and C.200s. These also reported heavy anti-aircraft fire.
4 SAAF Squadron also took off at the same time according to the diary reporting an action in the Wing, so it was together with 2 SAAF Squadron. However, the former did not participate in the battle; the two units had probably separated. 2 SAAF Squadron returned claiming two G.50s and five Ju 87s destroyed, one probably destroyed Ju 87 and six damaged Ju 87s. The unit’s diary reported:
“10 Tommies again went out to look for the 87s that have been worrying our Troops and they jumped on over 30 87s escorted by G.50s on their way. [Captain] Piet Robbertse who led the formation came back with 1 Ju 87 confirmed, 1 G.50 we believe to be confirmed and 1 87 damaged. [Lieutenant Eric] Saville had one 87 confirmed and 1 probable [and 1 damaged Ju 87]. [20-years-old Lieutenant John Francis Rollo] Dodson [SAAF no. 103211] collided with a G.50 which was confirmed and he is still missing [KIA]. [Lieutenant Dennis] Lacey had 2 87s confirmed and 3 damaged. This lad Lacey seems to have the Hun pretty well buttoned up. [Lieutenant Gordon] Lipawsky had one 87 [and 1 damaged Ju 87] and was forced to land due to enemy action which damaged his aircraft. He managed to put the aircraft down on its wheels without further damage. In all 7 confirmed and 6 probable [actually one probable and six damaged] with a loss of 1 pilot and 1 aircraft. What a day! Everyone in the Sqn. is beside himself with pride.”
Lieutenant Dennis Lacey who was in formation reported he saw a number of Ju.87’s at 10 o’clock dive-bombing trenches.
“...took my section down to those actually dive-bombing. The remainder of the Sqn. went for those about to dive bomb... I did a bend on to 3 who were pulling up after their dive and I chased them, all the time making attacks from the rear. 2 went down. About 2 minutes after attacking the Ju.87s, some G.50s and 2 C.200 came down but did not attack me then. I just sent one Ju 87 into the deck and had sent another on its way when I was attacked by a C.200 from quarter astern. He hit my port wing and 2 shots went into the engine. I observed my ammunition bursting on 3 other aircraft I attacked but I did not see them go down. My cannons ceased firing - apparently jammed. By now we were about 25 miles from where the fight had started so I turned for home. I saw 5 pillars of smoke on the ground, approximately in the area where I had left the Ju 87s. I picked up 2 Tomahawks and was joined by another one on the way home. In the El Gubi area, we were flying fairly low when we were fired on by our own troops.
The first Ju 87 I shot down still had its bombs on and when it hit the deck the aircraft went up with a terrific crash. I think the dive bombing was nipped in the bud as I saw only 8 to 12 bomb bursts a few seconds before we attacked.”
The fighters returned at 09:10. Use of bullets: 0.5 - 1150, 0.303 AP - 3110, MK VI - 2085.
There were only 15 Stukas and this can be confirmed from the fact that a formation of the same size was in action immediately afterwards. Those were all the planes available. Bf l09s were sighted, but it can’t be believed that these had disappeared. Therefore in the end there were ten Tomahawks very well positioned that attacked a formation of Stukas in the most critical moment with a screen of eleven G.50s at a less favourable altitude. The Stukas were badly damaged, even if some of it could well have been produced by heavy anti-aircraft fire. There were too few G.50s to protect 15 Stukas, but this could probably be explained by the fact that the Bf 109s had got lost on the way; it should be recorded that the weather over the Axis bases wasn't good. Certainly things would have gone differently if these Bf 109s had been present at the usual higher altitude. The G.50 pilots claimed to have shot down six fighters, including Dodson’s that collided with Vitali’s aircraft. In fact it would seem that the latter was the first to be hit because he did nothing to avoid the collision. Lacey’s description of how his plane was damaged has something in common with Oberwerger’s action.
Only one Ju 87s has been identified as shot down and or being badly damaged during the day with both members of the crew being wounded (east of Bir el Gubi). The pilot was Hauptmann Leonhard Busselt, kommandeur of II./StG 2 with Gefreiter Horst Aktories as gunner. It is not known in which combat this happened.

At 11:00 on 5 December, 27 German Ju 87s together with nine Italian aircraft of the 239a Squadriglia took off to attack units and depots of enemy motor vehicles 12 km east of Gobi.
The close cover was composed of 14 G.50s of the 20o Gruppo (five of the 352a Squadriglia, six of the 353a Squadriglia and three of the 151a Squadriglia) led by Tenente Colonnello Mario Bonzano and headed for the area south-east of Gobi. The G.50s took off at 11:05 and joined with the Stukas above Gazala at 11:35. The close cover was completed with 13 MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, whose diary mentions an attack in the Bir El Esem area. There were also two MC.200s of the 157o Gruppo.
Finally, according to Commonwealth sources, twelve Bf 109s of I. and II./JG 27 provided the top cover.
The G.50s were placed in two groups: six of the 353a Squadriglia on the right of the Stukas and eight on the left (the five of the 352a Squadriglia and the three of the 151a Squadriglia flying at an altitude of 3,500 m.
The Bf 109s of the top cover engaged enemy fighters south of El Adem before reaching the target. The German operational report mentions the first clash with twenty enemy fighters. The latter broke off after several short attacks. Italian sources noted that this first group of enemy fighters was machine gunning our motor vehicles in the Bir El Garaat area.
Meanwhile the target was reached at 11:45.
A formation of 15 enemy fighters was encountered after Bir El Gobi before the dive. They turned without attacking, presumably to get into a more favourable position.
The Ju 87s began the dive and as usual were followed by the close cover. As soon as they got together at 1,000m the battle with the above-mentioned 15 enemy fighters began (these must have been Tomahawks of 250 Squadron) and with others that were at a lower altitude. It is not clear who they belonged to (112 Squadron) was higher up.
Of the five pilots from the 352a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Borgogno managed to shoot down a P-40, after having got over a critical moment at a low altitude hemmed in by several enemy aircraft. Maresciallo Otello Bonelli found himself in some difficulties against two enemy aircraft and received some rounds on the empennages. However, he got free of one of the enemy fighters and having jousted with the other managed to shoot it down. Sergente Maggiore Francesco Pecchiari also machine gunned several enemy aircraft and shot down one. On engaging an enemy aircraft, Sottotenente Giorgio Oberwerger was in a favourable position but had to abandon it before being able to line it up because he was in his turn threatened by the attentions of a fighter, which was later found out to be a Bf 109. The five pilots of the 352a Squadriglia returned to base without any problems at 12:45.
The three pilots of the 151a Squadriglia were all heavily engaged. Sottotenente Lanfranco Baschiera machine-gunned a P-40 and saw it turn over near the ground but was unable to check how the duel had gone. He fought with two other enemy aircraft, machine-gunning one (totally he used 166 rounds). Sergente Maggiore Luigi Manelli and Maresciallo Tarantola (15m south of El Adem) both claimed enemy fighters which they then saw burning on the ground. Both hit other aircraft hard (totally using 222 and 544 rounds respectively). Sergente Maggiore Manelli landed at South Gazala the engine overheating; the other two returned to base without problems at 12:50.
Another four fighters were claimed by the pilots of the 353a Squadriglia; Tenente Colonnello Bonzano, Capitano Riccardo Roveda, Sergente Maggiore Tullio Covre (south-east of El Adem) and Sergente Spiridione Guiducci while Sergente Manini machined-gunned another two. It was a fierce battle that split up into individual duels. About half of the G.50s managed to disengage themselves and re-join the escort of the Stukas. At the end of the dive other P- 40s attacked the Stukas (presumably 112 Squadron). The battle also continued on the way back. Tenente Colonnello Bonzano landed at South Gazala with his plane badly damaged, hit on the fuel and oil tanks. Altogether the pilots of the 20o Gruppo claimed nine enemy planes shot down and 12 machine-gunned.
The diary of the 153o Gruppo was very concise; during the dive they were attacked over the target by a wave of planes greater than the one before, which attacked time after time in a mass. The close cover and semi top cover (presumably Italian units) managed to free the bomber formation from the grip the enemy had them in, machine-gunning the enemy aircraft that tried to put themselves on the tail of the bombers and fighter escort. However, it was not possible to check the results. A MC.200 that had been hit on the radiator landed at Gazala.
The German operational report noted that most of the bombs fell on the target and numerous fires were observed. Losses among the Stukas were very heavy; totally six Ju 87s. The 239a Squadriglia lost three ”Picchiatellis”:
Sergente Mangano (KIA) and 1o Avieri Faienza (PoW)
Sottotenente Steffanina (PoW) and 1o Avieri Spada
Sergente Lanfredi (badly WIA) landed near Gazala.
The heavy anti-aircraft fire hit another three Italian Stukas. The German operational report mentions three German Ju 87s missing. The surviving six returned to base at 13:10.
I./StGW WNr. 6063, forced landing, 50% damage; crew unhurt
II./StGW WNr. 6023, forced landing, 60% damage; crew unhurt
3./StGW WNr. 6153 forced landing, 100% damage; it was destroyed by the bombs of a Ju 87 that was diving down above it and Feldwebel Hans Bremkamp and gunner Wihelm Heger KIA.
All six had probably been hit by enemy fighters.
Finally the clash of the Bf 109Fs from JG 27 with 30-40 Curtisses was reported; it was noted that five of the latter had been shot down as well as a probable:
Unteroffizier Horst Reuter of 5./JG 27, who claimed one at 11:43 south-east of Bir el Gobi
Leutnant Franz Külp of 6./JG 27, who claimed one at 11:45 over Bir el Gobi
Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel of 4./JG 27, who claimed one at 11:55 north-west of Bir el Gobi
Hautpmann Wolfgang Redlich of 1./JG 27, who claimed one at 12:05 south of Bir el Gobi
Unteroffizier Josef Grimm of 1./JG 27, who claimed one south of Bir el Gobi
II./JG 27 lost (100%) Bf 109F-4 trop WNr. 8429, which was hit in the radiator but the pilot was unhurt, l./JG 27 lost (50%) Bf 109F-4 trop WNr. 8523, above Bir el Gobi, pilot unhurt and plane recovered. Bf 109F-4 trop WNr. 8453 was damaged during the take-off (70%), but the pilot was unhurt.
Squadron Leader Clive “Killer” Caldwell (AK498) led the Commonwealth formation from 250 and 112 Squadrons. 112 Squadron with seven Tomahawks had taken off at 10:50 and returned to base between 12:00-12:25, was the top cover for 250 Squadron with eleven Tomahawks, which had taken off at 11:00. The patrol area was about 10 miles west of El Gobi and was reached at 11:40, when an RT communication warned of the arrival of a large enemy formation from the north-west, at about the same altitude as the two Squadrons (7,000 feet). Both the squadrons immediately gained height and, in the space of a minute, the formation of Stukas (thought to be 40 aircraft) protected by the fighter escort was seen on the right, at the same altitude, south of El Adem. The bombers were flying in sections of three planes, stepped on the left and very close to each other.
112 Squadron had to deal with the Bf 109s, while 250 Squadron attacked the Stukas and the close escort. The sections were also close to each other. Squadron Leader Caldwell thought that they were an easy target but on the other hand it was the best defensive tactic to use, both for the weapons and for the fighter escort. The latter was identified well above the Stukas. The commander led the attack on the Stukas with 250 Squadron in line astern, while 112 Squadron engaged the escort. The attack was delivered from the stern quarter. Before Squadron Leader Caldwell started firing another pilot (presumably Sergeant ‘Mac’ Twemlow) on his right started firing into the mass of planes from 500 yards. A Stuka that had been hit started to fall leaving a trail of smoke. Caldwell also opened fire from about 300 yards with all his guns blazing on the section leader of the rear section of three. The deflection was not very effective but numbers 2 and 3 were hit, one of which caught fire immediately. The latter came down leaving a trail of smoke and was burnt up after losing 1,000 feet of altitude. Then Caldwell attacked the section leader of a rear section of three on the right of the formation. He opened fire with all his guns from behind and below from a very short distance. The enemy plane turned over with the right wing root in flames. While Caldwell went down to the left to attack the leader of a section of two planes, the latter jettisoned his bombs by making a sharp nose-up manoeuvre to the right, but was immediately shot down by a Tomahawk. Then Caldwell unleashed a short burst at a wingman that was diving. Nevertheless he managed to remain close to its tail by going flat out and side slipping down to 2,000 feet; again he opened fire from a short distance and the Stuka caught fire on the left wing root, coming down in flames near to lorries full of troops. The latter got out of the way so as not to be hit by the plane. Caldwell regained altitude up to 2,000 feet managing to attack from below, again from a short distance, another Stuka that was shot down in flames. While he was turning he noticed a G.50 500 feet higher up and attacked it, opening fire from a short distance. Unfortunately, all his guns stopped firing. At this point the Italian pilot noticed Caldwell and disengaged by turning over sharply and then diving. A second G.50 saw Caldwell and appeared to want to attack him, but gave up the idea before getting within firing range. Caldwell counted that about 12 planes had come down in flames or left trails of smoke until they crashed into the ground. As well as this he saw three explode in flight. Besides he thought that the Stukas had jettisoned their bombs before reaching their target. In the end he claimed as many as five Ju.87s shot down and a G.50 that was damaged (claimed as a MC.200).
Sergeant Twemlow was in his turn attacked by a G.50 but managed to disengage himself. He was credited with a Ju 87 shot down and two more as probable. Sergeant “Bob” Whittle (AN313) claimed two Ju 87s, with one more initially claimed as probably shot down but this was later upgraded to a “confirmed” after that it had been found crash-landed. Sergeant “Bill” Cable claimed two and one damaged Ju 87. Flight Lieutenant I. F. Rose claimed a probable Bf 109. Pilot Officer Francis Albert Creighton (AM274) claimed one Ju 87 and one damaged Bf 109. It is also possible that R. E. Bary claimed a damaged Bf 109. Totally 250 Squadron claimed twelve Ju 87s shot down, two probables and one damaged, one damaged G.50, one probably destroyed and one damaged Bf 109.
250 Squadron lost four aircraft when Pilot Officer Cole was shot down and wounded as was Sergeant McWilliam, both returning the next day. Sergeant James Ross Gilmour (RAF no. 1365007) and 19-year old Sergeant Edmondson Peter Greenhow (RAF no. 1059800) were both shot down and killed.
112 Squadron reported taking off at 11:20 led by Flight Lieutenant Charles Ambrose (AK475) and including Flying Officer John Soden (AK377), Pilot Officer Neville Duke (AN337/GA-F), Sergeant Rudy Leu (AK354), Pilot Officer “Jack” Bartle (AN372/GA-Q), Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (AK509) and Pilot Officer Joseph Sabourin (AK457). The seven Tomahawks were flying at a higher altitude, at 9,000-10,000 feet, and sighted the enemy formation at about their own altitude, slightly to the left, at 12:00. They saw 30-40 Ju 87s in sections of three with the close cover of 20-25 G.50s and C.200s, mixed up with Stukas in a slightly higher position; while the top cover, composed of twelve Bf 109s, was flying some hundreds of feet higher, divided into two groups of six on both the sides of the formation.
Pilot Officer Sabourin, who mentions a general dogfight, was credited with the shooting down of a Bf 109E, a G.50 and a Ju 87. He saw his rounds enter the cockpit, then these planes came down going into an uncontrollable spin; the first enveloped in smoke and the second in flames. The Stuka came down in the El Adem area. Besides this, he damaged a G.50, a Bf 109E and a Bf 109F. He noted that the wingtips of the enemy aircraft were painted white. Sabourin’s plane was slightly damaged by a round.
Sergeant Leu attacked a MC.200 from out of the sun, which spun in and was claimed destroyed. He also attacked a Bf 109F, which "seemed to falter in the air" and then dive, but he did not see it crash but it was credited as a probable.
Pilot Officer Bartle also reported an attack from above and behind. He shot down a Ju 87 and a G.50. He reported that he was on the tail of a G.50 above El Adem, at a distance of 200 yards, when the latter was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire.
Pilot Officer Bowker claimed three Ju 87s, two of which exploded in flight, and damaged a G.50 south of El Adem. He noticed that the Ju 87s had a very dark camouflage scheme without the classic crosses. After shooting down a Ju 87, the other two planes of the section closed up tightly low down and continued on the route heading for the target.
In the Tobruk-El Adem area, Flight Lieutenant Ambrose observed many rounds entering the fuselage of a MC.200, so the latter started a shallow dive flying in an irregular way; it was declared probably shot down. He hit the fuselage of a G.50 with several rounds and he declared it damaged (it was later upgraded to a probable). Finally he commented that the two Italian fighters tried to no avail to get away with a shallow dive after making a full circle.
Flying Officer Soden attacked the tail of a Bf 109 from above; the latter tried to turn against him, but he managed to hit him making him lose the engine cowling and the canopy. He claimed it as a probable. After this, he attacked the stern of the Ju 87s from below. He claimed a Stuka shot down; the tail came away while it came down.
The Stukas appeared to be black and the Bf 109s dark green with a light green shade.
Altogether 112 Squadron claimed to have shot down six Ju 87s, two G.50s, one Bf 109E and one MC.200, two Bf 109F were claimed as probably destroyed as was one G.50 and one MC.200 with two G.50s and two Bf 109s as damaged.
Pilot Officer Duke belly-landed at Tobruk having been hit in the leg by an explosive shell. His radio had failed and his cockpit had sanded up so that he hadn't seen his attacker until cannon shells started hitting his aircraft. He wrote:

“Oh dear, shot down again. Met the Hun Circus again and all the types piled in and got ten down. I stayed up to stave the 109s off but got hit in the right elevator which was carried away, and in the starboard wing where all the trailing edge up to the aileron was shot off.
Spun down from 10.000 ft to about 2-3,000. Undid the straps, etc, preparatory to baling out, but it seemed to fly OK. Made north for Tobruk at ground level. Crash-landed at 150 mph as I could not keep nose up at slower speed; got thrown about the cockpit, and found I’d been hit in the right leg by cannon shell splinters. Hopped out pretty quick. Pinched the compass and clock from the machine as spoils of war!
The chaps were pretty surprised to see me again at Tobruk. I was whisked off to the hospital and X-rayed but the wounds were not very bad. Lucky enough to get a lift back in a Blenheim same evening. Shot down twice within five days – so flying down to Cairo for a few days’ leave.”

The Commonwealth fighters managed to get through to the Ju 87s easily, notwithstanding a considerable number of escort fighters, even if they were not perhaps sufficient to protect such a large number of bombers. What’s more it seems that they weren’t taken by surprise. The Axis formation seemed to be well placed; the G.50s and the MC.200s were very close to the Ju 87s and the Bf 109s were at a higher altitude in a position to threaten the attackers. Perhaps the formation was strung out too far, with probably too small number of escort fighters (in a ratio of about 1:1).
250 Squadron had probably mainly encountered the Ju 87s and the close cover.
112 Squadron made claims in its clashes with Bf 109s but also with that of the close cover. Therefore it must also have clashed with the latter. This would seem strange because there were Germans to hold off. The latter in their turn claimed five P-40s when 112 Squadron only suffered one badly damaged (Pilot Officer Duke) so this seems to indicate that the Bf 109s also clashed with 250 Squadron. Thus it seems that at first the clashes were separate, then to merge into a general one. The estimate that 30-40 enemy planes had encountered Bf 109s is also far from certain; it indicates that perhaps that there was a third Commonwealth unit. The Germans claimed five victories while the Italians claimed as many as nine and only five Tomahawks were lost by the two Squadrons. Apart from the number of claims the effort of the fighters of the 20o Gruppo is also backed up by the fact that 3022 rounds were fired altogether.

In the end of December 1941 20o Gruppo moved back to Italy to re-equip with Macchi MC.202s. When they were re-equipped they were transferred to the newly reformed 51o Stormo and moved to Sicily to take part in the attack on Malta.
During 1942, Tarantola usually flew the Macchi MC.202 coded ‘151-2’, marked with a prominent inscription on its nose, reading ’Dai Banana!’ (meaning ‘Come on, Banana!’).

During this period he often flew as a wingman to the Squadriglia commander Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio was shot down and killed by the ace George Beurling of 249 Squadron on 27 July.
After Niclot’s death, Tenente D’Amico took command of the Squadriglia (D’Amico was later killed over Sardegna (Sardinia)).

Just after 18:45 on 1 July 1942 he claimed a Spitfire over Malta after a combat with 603 Squadron. The Italians claimed eight Spitfires and only got two damaged themselves. RAF claimed one enemy fighter destroyed and one probable plus one probable bomber while losing one Spitfire.

In an early morning raid on 4 July ten Spitfires of 249 Squadron intercepted three S.84bis of 4o Gruppo escorted by 22 MC.202s of 51o Gruppo with 17 more Macchis acting as indirect support. During the combat 249 Squadron claimed three bombers with no losses even if two of the Spitfires were badly shot-up. The Italians lost two bombers but claimed four Spitfires – one by one of the bombers and three by the fighters, including one by Tarantola.

On 7 July he claimed a shared Spitfire with Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio over Malta, seeing the pilot baling out as the Spitfire went down to crash east of Valetta.

He claimed another shared Spitfire with Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio on 10 July when Axis and Allied Fighters clashed south of Rabat. Involved in this combat was seven Spitfires from 249 Squadron, MC.202 from 20o and 155o Gruppi (19 and 6 MC.202s respectively) and Bf 109s from JG53. The Spitfires were later reinforced with seven more Spitfires from 603 Squadron.
In this combat was Tarantola’s Macchi badly damaged but he was able to safely return to his base.

During the afternoon on 25 July a dozen MC.202s of 20o Gruppo and seven of 155o Gruppo joined Bf 109s to cover five Ju 88s to Luqa and Hal Far. On the latter airfield shrapnel and debris damaged two Hurricanes (BG719 and BG794), while over the target the Italians reported that six Spitfires were encountered. Two of these were claimed shot down, one by Tarantola, which he reported crashed near Delimara Point and one east of St Thomas’ Bay by Tenente Italo D’Amico. Capitano Niclot claimed a probable and four more were claimed damaged, but D’Amico’s MC.202 was hit five times in the starboard wing.
Eight Spitfires from 603 Squadron scrambled to intercept and Pilot Officer Glazebrook claimed a Macchi shot down. His opponent may have been D’Amico or possibly a Bf 109 of 2/JG77, as Oberfeldwebel Kurt Görbing was reported missing from a combat sortie in ‘Black 6’. The German pilot was later located in the sea and was soon rescued by an ASR Dornier from Sicily. Two pilots of 1435 Flight managed to reach the bombers, two of which were claimed damaged by Flight Sergeant MacLennan and Flight Sergeant Pinney. One Spitfire was slightly damaged.

On 27 July Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio was shot down and killed by the ace George Beurling of 249 Squadron (Spitfire Mk.V BR301/UF-S) (victory number 14). In the same combat was Tarantola wounded in one arm, but managed to regain his base safely.

At 07.20 on Sunday morning on 11 October 25 Macchis from 20o and 155o Gruppi and four Bf 109s escorted seven Ju 88s from I/KG54. The bombers released bombs on Hal Far and Benghaisa Point. 19 Spitfires were scrambled (8 from 1435 Squadron, 7 from 126 Squadron and 4 from 229 Squadron). In the ensuing combat the Italian pilots claimed four Spitfires shot down, one by Tarantola, who claimed that he shot down a Spitfire in flames. RAF lost no aircraft in this combat, although one Spitfire from 126 Squadron and one from 1435 Squadron was damaged. Regia Aerounatica lost one Macchi in this combat, which correspond with RAF claims

During the second (of four) raids on Malta shortly after 10.00 on 14 October he claimed a Spitfire over Malta. His aircraft, however, had suffered such serious damage that he was forced to parachute from it near the Sicilian coast. In this raid Axis pilots claimed five Spitfires while RAF actually lost three.

20o Gruppo was pulled back to Ciampino Sud in December, and following five months of rest and re-equipment the unit moved to Capoterra, Sardegna (Sardinia) in May 1943.

On 28 June 1943 he claimed a P-40 over Sardegna.

He claimed a P-38 over Sardegna on 30 July.

On 2 August 1943 the MC.202s and MC.205s of the 51o Stormo took part in a long combat (around two hours) over Sardegna against US P-38s.
The P-38s were from the 14th FG, which claimed three Bf 109s and one MC.202 and three more damaged Bf 109s. At 14:35, 5 miles south of Paula, Captain William E. Hanses (48th FS) claimed a Bf 109 while 1st Lieutenant Joseph E. Miller Jr. (48th FS), 1st Lieutenant Orson T. Smith (48th FS) and Lieutenant Barcak (48th FS) claimed a Bf 109 damaged each. At 15:40, at the outskirts of Cagliari, 1st Lieutenant Lothrop F. Ellis (49th FS) claimed a Bf 109 while 1st Lieutenant Carroll S. Knott (49th FS) claimed one Bf 109 and one MC.202.
It seems that no P-38s were lost in this combat.
The Italian pilots from the 51o Stormo claimed 11 or 12 P-38 in the ”Battle of Cap Pula”. It seems that two of these were claimed by Maggiore Duilio Fanali, CO of the 155o Gruppo (MC.205).
Maresciallo Tarantola of the 151a Squadriglia (MC.205) called this his ”lion’s day” taking off five times in the same day to face enemy attacks. After bouncing a formation of P-40s from 325th FG, he then engaged the P-38s from the 14th FG, claiming two of them shot down over Capo Pula.
During one of these actions Tarantola lost his friend, and fellow ace, Maresciallo Pietro Bianchi (his MC.202 possibly shot down by 1st Lieutenant Knott), who was later posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’oro al valor militare. This seems to have been the only loss for the Italians.

After the Italian surrender Tarantola joined the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) where he served in the Squadriglia Complementare ‘Montefusco-Bonet’.

On 25 April, 117 B-24s of the 304th Wing USAAF, escorted by 45 P-47s of the 325th FG, attacked the Aeritalia aircraft factory in Turin.
24 MC.205s from 1o Gruppo ANR intercepted them and Sergente Maggiore Francesco Cuscuna claimed a P-47 at 12:15 at 4.500 meters over Monte Cimone. Maggiore Adriano Visconti and Maresciallo Carlo Cucchi from the same unit claimed a P-38 each over La Spezia at the same time.
Seven G.55s and two MC.205s of the “Montefusco-Bonet” Gruppo scrambled at 12:40 from Venaria Reale to intercept the US bombers. They were led by Capitano
Giulio Torresi and included Sergente Maggiore Lucio Biagini, Biron, Celentano, Franco Sarasino and Maresciallo Tarantola. Comoni and Morettin probably also took part in this scramble. Biron was forced to abort the scramble after technical problems on his MC.205.
At 13:05, while attacking the bombers at 22,000 feet over Turin, the ANR fighters were jumped by the escorting P-47s. Three G.55s were shot down and Biagini (G.55 serie 0 “Yellow 13” MM91074) was killed after having spent at least eighty 20mm and one hundred-twenty 12.7mm rounds claiming a B-17 over Turin while Torresi (G.55 serie I “Yellow 1”? MM91100) parachuted from his burning aircraft at 13:20, lightly wounded in the head after having been attacked by enemy fighters. Tarantola (G.55 serie I “Yellow 8” MM91101) also parachuted badly wounded.
Franco Sarasino (G.55 “Yellow 5” MM91087) scrambled late due to engine troubles and arrived on the scene when his companions were attacked by Thunderbolts. He tried to help them (spending twenty 20mm and thirty 12.7mm rounds), but was soon chased by two P-47s that forced him to escape westwards; he was left by them in the Val di Susa area, so he could return to his base at Venaria Reale.
In his logbook Torresi claimed two Liberators, one Boeing and one Thunderbolt probably shot down.
Totally it seems, however, that only two B-24s from the 304th Wing were lost during the day; one B-24 (42-52214) from 744th BS of the 456th BG (MACR 5640) and one B-24 (42-52195) from 453th BG (MACR 4632). The 325th FG didn’t sustain any losses.
Of the 45 P-47s from 325th FG only 17 reached Turin (4 aborted and 24 released their drop tanks when engaged with the ANR fighters over Genova). They claimed two G.55s and one damaged. Torresi was probably shot down by Second Lieutenant Donald J. McDonald (P-47 42-75823) of the 318th FS, who claimed a G.55 at 13:05 over Turin. The other claims were made by First Lieutenant Benjamin H. Emmert Jr. of the 318th FS (P-47D-15RE 42-75671), who claimed a G.55 south of Turin at 13:05 and Second Lieutenant Joseph W. Harper (P-47 42-75803/#90) of the 318th FS, who claimed a damaged G.55 at 13:00.
The three Fiat wrecks were recovered respectively on 30 March 2000 (MM91074), 5 August 2000 (MM91100) and 22 February 2003 (MM91101).

Tarantola did not return to flying until well after VE-Day.

Tarantola ended the war with 1 biplane victory (claimed in Spain) and a total of 11.

During the war he was promoted twice ‘for war merits’.

He remained in the air force until he reached retirement age.

Tarantola lived in Cesenatico before passing away on 30 July 2001.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 20/01/38   1 I-15 (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Teruel-Aldehuela XVI Gruppo
  04/12/41 07:45-09:15 1 Tomahawk (b) Probably destroyed Fiat G.50bis   SE Bir el Gubi 151a Squadriglia
2 05/12/41 11:45-12:50 1 Tomahawk (c) Destroyed Fiat G.50bis   15m S El Adem 151a Squadriglia
3 01/07/42   1 Spitfire (d) Destroyed MC.202   Malta 151a Squadriglia
4 04/07/42   1 Spitfire (e) Destroyed MC.202   Malta 151a Squadriglia
  07/07/42   ½ Spitfire Shared destroyed MC.202   E Valetta 151a Squadriglia
  10/07/42   ½ Spitfire (f) Shared destroyed MC.202   S Rabat 151a Squadriglia
5 25/07/42 (g)   1 Spitfire Destroyed MC.202   Delimara Point 151a Squadriglia
6 11/10/42   1 Spitfire (h) Destroyed MC.202   Malta area 151a Squadriglia
7 14/10/42   1 Spitfire (i) Destroyed MC.202   Malta 151a Squadriglia
8 28/06/43   1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   Sardegna 151a Squadriglia
9 30/07/43   1 P-38 Destroyed MC.202   Sardegna 151a Squadriglia
10 02/08/43 14:00-16:00 1 P-38 (j) Destroyed MC.205   Capo Pula 151a Squadriglia
11 02/08/43 14:00-16:00 1 P-38 (j) Destroyed MC.205   Capo Pula 151a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 11 and 4 shared destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 destroyed on the sea.
(a) XVI Gruppo claimed 5 I-15s and 2 I-16s for the loss of 1 CR.32 and 2 damaged. Grupo No 26 lost 3 I-15. No I-16s were lost.
(b) Claimed in combat with Tomahawks from 2 SAAF Squadron, which claimed 2 G.50s and 8 Ju 87s destroyed, 1 Ju 87 probably destroyed and 6 Ju 87s damaged while losing 1 Tomahawks (in a collision). The 20o Gruppo claimed 6 Tomahawks and 1 probable while losing 1 G.50bis (in a collision). No Ju 87s were lost.
(c) Claimed in combat with 112 and 250 Squadrons, which claimed 22 destroyed, 7 probables and 8 damaged while losing 5 P-40s. Fighters from Regia Aeronautica and I. and II/JG 27 claimed 14 P-40s for the loss of 6 Ju 87s and several fighters damaged.
(d) Claimed in combat with 603 Squadron. Regia Aeronautica claimed eight Spitfires and only got two damaged themselves. RAF claimed one enemy fighter destroyed and one probable plus one probable bomber while losing one Spitfire.
(e) Claimed in combat with 249 Squadron. 249 Squadron claimed three bombers with no losses. The Italians lost two bombers but claimed four Spitfires – one by one of the bombers and three by the fighters, including one by Tarantola.
(f) Regia Aeronautica claimed 4 victories in this combat and lost 2 aircraft. RAF claimed 5 aircraft and lost none.
(g) Alternatively on 23 July 1942. In this combat Regia Aeronautica claimed two Spitfires and got one damaged while RAF claimed one (could have been a German Bf 109) and got one slightly damaged.
(h) RAF lost no aircraft in this combat, although one Spitfire from 126 Squadron and one from 1435 Squadron was damaged.
(i) Axis pilots claimed five Spitfires while RAF actually lost three in this combat.
(j) Claimed in combat with P-38s from 14th FG, which claimed 4 enemy fighters without losses. The 51o Gruppo claimed 11-12 P-38s while losing one MC.202.

25 Aprile 1944 – Ferdinando Pedriali, 2004 Storia Militare no. 129 (XII) June 2004 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro.
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
97o Gruppo Autonomo Bombardamento a Tuffo 1940-1941 - A. Borgiotti and F. Gori, 1980 Edizioni dell'Ateneo & Bizzarri, Roma kindly provided by Antonio Maraziti
Army Air Forces
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
Centauri su Torino - Giancarlo Garello, 1998 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, ISBN 88-87261-04-0 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Dal Reggiane 2002 al 2005 - Sergio Govi, 1984 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell' A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 2 Volume M - Z
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Furio Niclot Doglio - Un pilota indimenticabile - Giovanni Massimello, 1998
G 55 e MC 205 a difesa di Torino - Ferdinando Pedriali, 2003 Storia Militare no. 116 (XI) May 2003 kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Golfo di Cagliari, 2 agosto 1943 - Nicola Malizia, Storia Militare Magazine n. 157
Il Carmagnolese
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
La battaglia aerea di Capo Pula, 2 agosto 1943 - Marco Mattioli, 2002 Ali Tricolori n. 23
Loss of HMAS Waterhen – Reports and Board of Inquiry, Series MP1049/5, file 2026/4/97, National Archives of Australia, Melbourne kindly provided by Antonio Maraziti
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
L'ultimo volo del mitico "Banana" – Roberto Ferrarese, 2003 Aerofan no. 87 Oct-Dec 2003, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Malta: The Spitfire Year 1942 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1991 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-16-X
Shark Squadron - The history of 112 Squadron 1917-1975 - Robin Brown, 1994 Crécy Books, ISBN 0-947554-33-5
Soviet airmen in the Spanish civil war 1936-1939 - Paul Whelan, 2014 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7643-0
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Stars & Bars - Frank Olynyk, 1995 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-17-5
Additional information kindly provided by Gianni Biguzzi, Stefano Lazzaro and Stefano Mencarelli.

Last modified 02 March 2023