Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Torquato Testerini


Soria, October 1937. From left to right:
Sottotenente Ranieri Piccolomini, Tenente Leopoldo Sartirana, Capitano Desiderio, Capitano Duilio Fanali and Sottotenente Testerini.

Torquato Testerini served as commander of the 393a Squadriglia of the 160o Gruppo during the Greek campaign. The unit was at this time equipped with Fiat CR.42s

On 14 November the Greek army launched an offensive against the whole front, which quickly begun to crumble the Italian defence. To support this the Elleniki Vassiliki Aeroporia (Royal Hellenic Air Force) made a maximum effort. Blenheims, Potez 63s and Battles from 31, 32 and 33 Miras made frequent attacks on the northern and southern airfields at Koritza, and on Argyrokastron.
At 09.45 two Blenheims (a third having become stuck in the mud and failed to take off) and two Battles attacked the southern airfield at Koritza. Here the Italian defences claimed two Blenheims shot down, one by AA and one shot down by Tenente Testerini.
Sminagos Demetrios Papageorgiou's Blenheim disintegrated in mid-air as the result of a direct AA hit, but the other Blenheim, damaged by the same explosion and attacked by a reported three CR.42s, managed to release its bombs on target and get back to Larissa with a shattered tailplane and more than 100 bullet holes in the airframe. The gunner claimed one of the attackers shot down.
Other 393a Squadriglia pilots then saw the two Battles taking off from a nearby Greek forward airfield, and one of these was claimed shot down by Sergente Maggiore Walter Ratticchieri. In fact the bomber regained its base at Kouklaina, having suffered severe damage. During these operations the Greeks claimed to have destroyed ten Italian aircraft on the ground and damaged many others; the actuality was more prosaic.

On 18 November, during two separate combats over the front of Koritza, the fighters of 393a Squadriglia claimed six Greek fighters without losses.
The first action happened during the morning after the scramble at 10:05 of two Falcos piloted by Tenente Mario Gaetano Carancini and Sergente Teofilo Biolcati. They met a reportedly three PZLs and claimed two (one apiece) landing back at 11:35.
The second action was in the early afternoon when three machines of the same Squadriglia, which had taken off at 13:16 reportedly met four PZLs claiming all of them, three of the EVA pilots were seen to jump with parachute and followed during their descent were seen to land inside their own territory. Tenente Testerini claimed one victory while Sergente Maggiore Arturo Bonato claimed two and Sergente Luca Minella claimed the last one.
Greek sources show that Hiposminagos Costantinos Yanikostas of 22 Mira was killed during the day, as was Episminias Gregorios Valcanas of 23 Mira, although this pilot was reported to have voluntarily crashed on an Italian bomber, while Hiposminagos Corneleus Kotrones of 22 Mira was wounded in one leg, but managed to force-land his shot-up aircraft at an emergency airfield. Additionally according with other sources Episminias Dimitrakopoulos was shot down and jumped with parachute while Anthyposminagos Giannikostas of 22 Mira made it back to its base although seriously wounded reporting two kills, thus possibly confirming at least three of the six Italian claims. Additionally, the Greeks claimed two CR.42s shot down, one each by Hiposminagos G. Laskaris of 23 Mira and Anthyposminagos Ioannis Katsaros of 21 Mira.

At 10:30 on 21 December 1940, 80 Squadron took off from Yanina for the front in Greece. They were led by Squadron Leader William Hickey and flew in three sections. The first comprised four aircraft and was led by Hickey, the second of three was led by Flight Lieutenant ’Pat’ Pattle and the third trio was led by Flying Officer Sidney Linnard.
Near Argyrokastron three enemy trimotor bombers were seen. They were identified as S.79s, and then three more aircraft with twin tails were seen, recognized in this case as Fiat BR.20s. All six were in fact Cant Z.1007bis aircraft from the 47o Stormo B.T. from Grottaglie. The Italian bombers were attacked by the Gladiators and Pattle believed that he had hit one.
At this moment however 15 CR.42s of the 160o Gruppo appeared on the scene. Maggiore Oscar Molinari, the Gruppo commander, was leading these Italian aircraft on an offensive reconnaissance over Yanina, Paramythia and Zitsa. Seeing the bombers under attack by an estimated 20 Gladiators, the Italian attacked, joined by six other CR.42s from the 150o Gruppo led by Capitano Luigi Corsini so that 80 Squadron pilots assessed the number of their opponents at 54!
After 25 minutes, the air battle broke up and eight of the British pilots returned to claim eight confirmed and three probables. Pilot Officer ’Bill’ Vale claimed three, one of them in flames (according to Pattle this was the fighter that shot down Flight Lieutenant Ripley). Vale’s own aircraft was riddled by explosive bullets during the combat. Vale reported:

‘At 1050, ten Gladiators took off from Yannina on an offensive patrol, flying in three flights of four, three, and three aircraft. I was flying in No.3 in the third flight led by F/O Linnard.
On reaching the patrol line “Tally-ho!” was immediately given for three bombers seen going from west to east. The leading flight led by S/L Hickey immediately went into action. At the same moment three more bombers were seen approaching from our port beam. The leader of the second flight, F/L Pattle, immediately turned left and carried out a head-on attack, and my flight leader followed.
I was able to get in a short burst before breaking away. On turning to follow, I observed a large formation of CR42s diving down from above. We immediately climbed to attack and a general dogfight started. I singled out one enemy aircraft who tried to dive away and dived down firing a burst at long range. He pulled up and I got in a full deflection shot from underneath and noticed flames coming from underneath his engine. The enemy aircraft went down out of control and finally hit the ground in flames. I then noticed a single Gladiator low down in a valley being attacked by five CR42s. I dived down and engaged two of them and managed to get behind one and fire a long burst until it suddenly spun out of control and crashed into the valley.
I was then attacked by more CR42s who carried out frontal quarter attacks on me with the superior speed that could out-climb me. I carried out one evasive action and noticed that the Gladiator below me was on fire and spinning down out of control
[this was Sqn Ldr Hickey’s aircraft]. I dived down towards it and saw the pilot leave the aircraft and use his parachute. I was again fired at by a CR42 from above who carried out his attack and then headed away north. When I again looked down I saw the Gladiator in flames on the ground with the pilot going down in his parachute. At the same time I saw a CR42 dive on the pilot and twin streams coming from behind his aircraft. I dived down and managed to get in a surprise attack as he pulled away from the parachutist. I got on his tail and fired a long burst from a single fuselage gun until he turned over out of control and went straight down to crash in the valley.
As I pulled up another CR42 came down very close to my machine, out of control, and crashed quite near to the burning Gladiator. I gained altitude and saw another Gladiator circling above me, and as I was short of ammunition I joined formation and found the other pilot to be F/S Richens, who had shot the CR42, which went past me. I noticed the position of the crashed Gladiator in respect to Argyrokastron and then returned to base.
On landing I inspected my aircraft and found that my lower and upper starboard mainplanes had been hit twice by explosive bullets, one of which had entered the wing ammunition tank and had exploded inside but had done no apparent damage to the structure of the mainplane. The fuselage was hit in several places but with no structural damage.’
Sergeant Charles Casbolt claimed one CR.42 during the combat, which blew up and another, which spun down (later downgraded to a probable). Sergeant Donald Gregory claimed another two, again one in flames, but his own aircraft was badly shot up with the engine and the undercarriage damaged by a series of frontal attacks from a CR.42s that had also wounded him in the right eye and was barely able to save himself from a “desperate position”. He however managed to return to Yanina and reproted:
‘Turning round in a stall turn I observed the leader [of the 42s] diving vertically whilst the remaining two had split, No.2 going up, No.3 down. As I had the advantage over the lower aircraft I decided to attack this first. He attempted to come up under me but as I was near to stalling, I had no difficulty in bringing my sight round to get in a deflection shot and then turn astern on him. Followed him down. At the same time I observed the leading aircraft crash on a hill and burst into flames. This dive was very steep, so much so, that I very nearly hit the ground with the 42. When I pulled up sharply out of this dive the third 42 came past and then pulled up underneath me into such a position that we could both get in quick deflection shots.
This happened three times and each time we missed colliding by inches, so that after each attack I had to find him again. Quite naturally this developed into a head-on attack, the first of which I slid out of. As the following attack was also head-on I became rather worried. I brought him into my sights, fired, ducked down behind my engine for cover, at the same time pulling back on the control column.
Immediately after this my right eye became warm and I found I had lost my sight in this eye. It took me some seconds to get used to this, as I would try to look towards the rear on the right side, but all I saw was the extensive damage to the centre section, starboard lower plane and a flying wire that had broken. I seem to remember at this point that he came at me from below and we had another deflection shot at each other, but as I had seen him so often in this position it may have stuck in my mind. However, I do remember I decided that my position was desperate and I weighed up the ground that was to receive me below. When I was overcome by a wave of determination, possibly due to the fact that when I was hit and saw the blood I turned my oxygen on at full strength. I pulled up in a loop and rolled off the top into a tight turn back into the direction I had come from. I looked at my compass but it seemed blurred. Although I could see the sun, I could not convince myself which direction to fly.
Diving down into the valley seemed to be the only means of escape. I was unable to look behind, as this brought on pain in my eye. At one period my sight was so blurred that I could not decide whether I was being chased by CR42 or if it was AA fire. Fortunately it was the latter. I discovered my position to be ten miles north of Valona at four thousand feet. As I could use only sixteen hundred revolutions due to damage to the rocker arm, causing excessive vibration, it took forty minutes to return to base where a landing was made under difficulties due to damage to eyesight and to undercarriage.’
Sergeant Gregory was recommended for an immediate DFM. Pattle and Warrant Officer Sid Richens also claimed one CR.42 each, Pattle reporting that his victim fell in flames, whilst Flying Officers W. B. Price-Owen and F. W. Hosken both claimed probables. However Flight Lieutenant Henry Derek Ripley (RAF no. 70575) in N5854 was seen to be shot down in flames and killed, while Squadron Leader Hickey was spotted bailing out of N5816; sadly his parachute caught fire, and he died from injuries soon after reaching the ground. Greek troops recovered the bodies of both pilots. Of Hickey’s death Vale reported:
‘The Gladiator was flat-spinning too. Suddenly the pilot hurled out of the cockpit like a black ant and the white burst of his parachute spreading in a puff … the parachute burst into flames and the sudden black smudge as its slow speed became a lightning streak of charred smoke and the black figure of the Gladiator pilot hurtling two thousand feet down to the black earth.’
Linnard’s aircraft (N5834) was also badly hit and he was hit in the left calf by an explosive bullet and was taken to hospital after landing at Yanina. Flight Lieutenant Pattle noted:
‘Enemy fighters used a definite plan of attack. Attacking from superior height they maintained that height by attacking the Gladiators singly and in quick succession and climbing after each attack, the Gladiators, forced to evade, were unable to climb.’
And also
‘for fully five minute I was kept on the defensive without being able to fire a shot in return.’
In return the 160o Gruppo pilots claimed six Gladiators, two each by Maggiore Molinari and Tenente Edoardo Crainz (in CR.42 ‘394-7’), and one apiece by Tenente Eber Giudici (his aircraft was damaged by enemy fire) and Capitano Paolo Arcangeletti. Probables were claimed by Tenente Testerini, Sergente Maggiore Francesco Penna and Sergente Maggiore Domenico Tufano. The 150o Gruppo pilots claimed two more Gladiators when Capitano Luigi Corsini claimed one Gladiator and a probable while Sergente Maggiore Virgilio Pongiluppi claimed one Gladiator; both pilots were from the 364a Squadriglia. The 47o Stormo gunners claimed one more and a probable. As in the case of the British fighters, actual Italian losses totalled only two aircraft, Tenente Mario Gaetano Carancini and Tenente Mario Frascadore of the 160o Gruppo being lost, while Maggiore Molinari was wounded in the right foot and force-landed near Tepelene in a dry river-bed with a damaged engine (it seems that the aircraft was written off).

Capitano Testerini led the 236a Squadriglia, 158o Gruppo, 50o Stormo from May 1942 to the Armistice.

Early in the morning on 10 July 1942, eleven MC.202s from the 10o Gruppo led by Capitano Franco Lucchini (84a Squadriglia) took off to escort CR.42s from the 158o Gruppo out to attack Commonwealth troops attacking an Italian division in difficulties in the costal area in the El Alamein area. The MC.202s where then to continue on a free hunt mission.
In the target area, Lucchini spotted a formation of 15 P-40s approaching from the east at 2,600 meters. After a short attack made with height advantage (the Italian fighters were at 4,000 meters), the P-40s went into a ’Lufberry’ circle. The combat ended after 30 minutes when the ammunition was exhausted.
Lucchini, Sottotenente Luigi Giannella (84a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Virgilio Vanzan (90a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Amleto Monterumici (90a Squadriglia) returned claiming one P-40 each. Four more were claimed by the pilots from the 91a Squadriglia; two by Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli and one each by Sergente Elio Miotto and Sergente Maggiore Lorenzo Migliorato. Monterumici remained to defend the CR.42s from the attacks from the P-40s and this he made so successfully that the formations leader, Capitano Testerini (236a Squadriglia) later visited them at Fuka to show his gratitude.

After the Armistice he joined the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force and served with the 4o Stormo.

Testerini ended the war with 2 biplane victories.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 14/11/40   1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Koritza area 393a Squadriglia
2 18/11/40 13:16- 1 PZL P.24 (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Koritza area 393a Squadriglia
  21/12/40 10:30- 1 Gladiator (c) Probable Fiat CR.42   Argyrokastron area 393a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 destroyed, 1 probable.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 probable.
(a) Claimed in combat with Blenheims from 32 Mira. The Greek aircraft returned to base damaged.
(b) Claimed in two combats with PZL P.24s of 21, 22 and 23 Mire. 393a Squadriglia claimed six without losses. The Greek fighters lost at least three aircraft, possibly four, while claiming four CR.42s shot down.
(c) The Regia Aeronautica claimed 9 and 5 probables while suffering 2 aircraft lost and 1 one force-landed. The 80 Squadron claimed 8 and 3 probables while suffering 2 aircraft lost and 3 damaged.

Sources:
50o Stormo d'Assalto - Nino Arena, 1979 STEM Mucchi, Modena, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Air war for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete - Christopher Shores, Brian Cull and Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-948817-07-0
Ali nella tragedia - Giulio Lazzati, 1970 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-2132-9, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 08 December 2015