Biplane fighter aces


Colonnello Pio Tomaselli

30 March 1914 –

Capitano Pio Tomaselli (left) and Maresciallo Mario Veronesi (right),

Pio Tomaselli was born on 30 March 1914.

He was commissioned in (Servizio Permanente Effettivo) on 1 February 1936.

He served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War, where he served in the 19a Squadriglia, XXIII Gruppo.

On 12 October, the Republican Air Force intervened heavily to support International battalions and tanks in an attempt to break through the enemy lines at Fuentes del Ebro.
During the day, the VI Gruppo lost a good part of numerical, considering that part of the 31a Squadriglia had previously been detached to Córdoba. Therefore, immediately the same morning, the Comando dell’Aviazione Legionaria ordered the XXIII Gruppo to transfer to Sanjurio (Zaragoza).
At 10.30, 29 CR.32s led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, took off from Almaluèz and arrived over Sanjurio around noon. However, before landing, Maggiore Zotti decided to lead his pilots to explore the area between Villafranca and Fuentes del Ebro. Here they spotted four Polikarpov RZ “Natachas” escorted by nine I-16s “Ratas” (above them) and 15 I-15 “Curtiss” (below them). The Italian fighters attacked the Republican aircraft and at the end of the dogfight, that lasted about fifteen minutes, the Italians claimed seven (eleven according to other sources) fighters destroyed for no losses, although several CR.32s were hit and damaged. Combat was very hard for the Italians because their fighters were weighted by pilots’ personal luggage. Pilots that scored, either individually or jointly, were Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) (1 I-16), Sottotenente Giampiero Del Prete, Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni (CO of the 20a Squadriglia), Sergente Francesco Penna, Sottotenente Aldo Felici, Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO of the 19a Squadriglia) (1 I-16), Sottotenente Tomaselli, Franco Lucchini (19a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Nobili (CO of the 18a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Carmello (18a Squadriglia), Sergente Carlo Dentis, Sottotenente Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi, Sergente Federico Tassinari (19a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei and Sottotenente Bruno Trevisan. It seems that Lucchini’s, Tassinari’s and Mattei’s claims was a shared between these three pilots.

During the Spanish Civil War, he totally claimed 2 victories.

1 November 1940 was the blackest day of war for 228 Squadron when Sunderland N9020/W was intercepted and shot down off Sicily by a couple of Macchi MC.200s from the 88a Squadriglia, 6o Gruppo C.T. piloted by Tenente Luigi Armanino and Sergente Maggiore Natalino Stabile. The experienced crew of the Sunderland disappeared with it (Squadron leader Guy Lambton Menzies, Flying Officer Stuart Maxwell Farries, Sergeant Elias Dawes, Sergeant Frederick Harris, Sergeant George Arthur Stamp, Sergeant Edward Louis Setterfield, Leading Aircraftman Benjamin Edwin Nicholas, Leading Aircraftman Leslie Charles Major Hale and Leading Aircraftman Ronald Fletcher).
At 15:30 on the same afternoon, Sunderland L5806/Q piloted by Flight Lieutenant E. M. Ware was intercepted when only 32 miles from Malta by two more 6o Gruppo Macchis piloted by Tenente Pesaola and Tenente Tomaselli and a couple of CR.42s of the 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo piloted by Tenente Ezio Monti and Sergente Francesco Cuscuna. Two men of the Sunderland’s crew were wounded. Mattresses and clothing in aircraft were set on fire by the Italian’s explosive bullets and burning articles were thrown out from the rear door. Flame floats and practise bombs (four of each) were set off by explosive bullets and caused the aircraft to fill with smoke, hindering the amidships gunners in their firing. The rear turret was put partially out of action by having the starboard control handle shot away. The Sunderland was badly holed below waterline and was taken up slip immediately on return to Kalafrana to avoid its sinking. Despite all this damaged the aircraft was back in action on 22 November. The Italian pilots came back reporting that the big flying boat had adsorbed hundreds of rounds apparently without suffering particular problems even if Tenente Tomaselli in one of his attacks had gone so close to it that had almost collided with its empennages. The Sunderland was finally seen to land in Marsaxlokk Bay, without particular problems. Back at base, the Italian pilots argued that the plane had been fitted with some sort of special armour.
Flight Lieutenant Ware later received the DFC for this and other sorties, whilst one of the air gunners, L. A. C. Barton received the DFM. Although wounded in the leg, Barton had continued to operate his gun throughout. With these two losses 228 Squadron practically ceased to exist having no operational plane left. Reinforcement were on their way however and would soon taken to full strength the Squadron.

The British offensive Operation Crusader was launched in North Africa on 18 November 1941. Italian reinforcements were rushed to Libya including the 17o Gruppo, which arrived at Martuba on 25 November with their MC.202s and Capitano Tomaselli as CO of the 72a Squadriglia.

On 4 December 1941, eleven MC.202s from the 17o Gruppo (six from the 71a Squadriglia, three from the 72a Squadriglia and two from the 80a Squadriglia) led by Tenente Colonnello Bruno Brambilla had taken off at 09:45 for an indirect escort to Ju 87s to be followed by a free sweep over Bir el Gobi.
At 10:20, in conditions of poor weather and at the height of 4000 metres over the target area, the Italian fighters met a Commonwealth formation of an estimated 30 P-40s and Hurricanes. In the ensuing combat, the pilots of the 1o Stormo claimed eight confirmed and one probable victories (the confirmed went to Tenente Colonnello Brambilla, Capitano Pericle Baruffi, Capitano Tomaselli, Tenente Conti, Tenente Ottorino Cappellini, Sottotenente Renato Bagnoli, Sergente Maggiore Gabriele Romagna, Sergente Egidio Buogo; they had spent 2195 rounds of ammunition). Sottotenente Lorenzo Chellini’s Macchi was hit in the cooling system and he was obliged to force-land close to El Adem writing off the fighter in the process while Maresciallo Marcello Lui had to force-land due to an engine breakdown. The remaining fighters landed back at 11:00.
It seems that opponents were Hurricane IIs coming from 1 SAAF Squadron and 274 Squadron (both parts of 258 Wing). Ten fighters from the first unit had taken off at 09:15 (one of them forced to turn back early due to engine problems) while twelve Hurricanes from the second unit had taken off at 09:20. The ORB of 1 SAAF Squadron recorded a free sweep over El Adem while 274 Squadron recorded a patrol cruise over the Army’s armoured units in the Trigh Capuzzo. 1 SAAF Squadron flew at superior height when it encountered a loose formation of MC 202s. It appeared to be a decoy formation for when Captain C. A. van Vliet climbed to attack, the Italians attacked the flanks of the formation; only now above them were seen six more and above these were some 16 Macchis and Messerschmitts, the former dark-green, the latter identifiable by their square wingtips. Meanwhile a straggling Hurricane had been picked off; Lieutenant T. Meek came down 40 miles from base and walked in two days later. In the ensuing general dogfight the Italians showed their fatal love for aerobatics. Lieutenant Vivian Penberthy caught one at the top of its loop, upside down and shot its tail off. Lieutenant Robert Kershaw DSO, claimed one and a probable, Lieutenant Lawrence Waugh caught one pulling out of its attack, half-rolled and sent it down smoking. Another pulling up in front of him went into a spiral and he saw it crash and finally he fired a long head-on burst on a third, which sent debris flying from it. Second Lieutenant C. B. Wilson saw his victim stop a burst, flick onto its back and go down in a trail of black smoke. The final score in the encounter was judged at two Macchis destroyed (Lieutenants Penberthy (Hurricane DG626) and Waugh), three probables (Waugh, Lieutenant Kershaw and Second Lieutenant Wilson) and two damaged (Waugh and Kershaw).
274 Squadron reported combat with Bf 109s and MC.200s claiming one Bf 109 confirmed and two damaged.
The South Africans, pleased with their own performance landed back at 10:45 while 274 Squadron landed back between 10:50 and 11:05.
At 09:10, 16 German Ju 87s together with six ’Picchiatelli’ of 239a Squadriglia BaT, had taken off to bomb enemy vehicles 20km north-east of Bir el Gobi. The close escort was provided by ten MC.200s from 153o Gruppo (take off at 09:30) and the indirect provided by ten Bf 109s of JG 27.
At 09:30, ten Tomahawks of 250 Squadron had taken off together with ten more from 112 Squadron to escort reconnaissance Hurricanes to El Adem and Tobruk. Between El Adem and Sidi Rezegh they met a huge formation of Stukas escorted by enemy fighters (most likely the Axis formations from the 17o and 153o Gruppi and JG 27) and attacked with devastating effects.
112 Squadron claimed heavy when Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra (Tomahawk AN303) claimed two G.50s (perhaps mixed with MC.200s), Pilot Officer Neville Bowker (Tomahawk AN372) claimed a G.50 and a Ju 87, Pilot Officer Neville Duke (Tomahawk AN337/F) claimed a MC.200, a probable Ju 87 and another damaged while a Bf 109 and a probable were claimed by Sergeant Ronald Christie (Tomahawk AK354) and a damaged Bf 109 was claimed by Flying Officer Peter Humphreys (Tomahawk AK415). Finally, Flight Lieutenant Bary of 250 Squadron claimed a probable Bf 109.
Two Tomahawks of 112 Squadron were damaged, one of them (Sergeant Ferguson) heavily.
The MC.200s met the P-40s. Tenente Mezzetti, slightly wounded, landed at Gazala while four more Macchis were hit but the Stukas were able to land unscathed thanks to their action.
Messerschmitt pilots reported to have met around 40 P-40s, claiming three of them by Oberfeldwebel Otto Schulz (at 10:16 over Bir el Gobi), Oberleutnant Gustav Rödel (10:18 north-east of Bir el Gobi) and Unteroffizier Alfred Heidel (at 10:20 over Bir el Gobi) of 4./JG 27.

On 22 May, six MC.202s of 17oGruppo (four of them from 72a Squadriglia) took off at 07:45 led by Capitano Tomaselli, to intercept a bomber formation heading for Martuba 5. Only Tomaselli was able to reach and engage an enemy bomber identified as a Boston at the height of 5000 meters firing 160 rounds of ammunition on it. He landed back at 08:25. The bomber had probably been part of a formation of nine Bostons from 24 SAAF Squadron that raided Martuba. Four of them were reportedly slightly damaged by AA fire.

After the Italian surrender on 8 September 1943, he joined the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR).

Capitano Tomaselli served as CO of the 3a Squadriglia ”Arciere” of the Io Gruppo Caccia.

On 30 April 1944, the Italian fighters of the Io Gruppo was involved in combat with P-38s at 9,000 meters altitude. Tomaselli claimed a P-38 south-east of Forli at 11:13, Sergente Maggiore Domenico Lajolo of the 1a Squadriglia claimed another over Forli-Ravenna at 11:10 and a third was claimed by the Gruppo CO Maggiore Adriano Visconti over Forli at 11:10.
It is possible that they were involved in combat with P-38s from the 14th FG, which lost P-38 42-104043 during the day (MACR nr. 4642).

Tomaselli ended the war with 2 biplane victories and a total of 6.
During his career, he was decorated with four Medaglia d’argento al valor militare, one Croce al merito di guerra, one Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and one Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna.

Tomaselli continued to server in the Air Force after the war.

Between 12 July 1961 and 20 July 1964, Colonnello Tomaselli served as CO of the 5a Aerobrigata.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  12/10/37 10:30- 1 Enemy fighter Shared destroyed Fiat CR.32   Villafranca-Fuentes del Ebro 18a Squadriglia
  01/11/40 15:30 1 Sunderland (a) Shared damaged MC.200   off Malta 6o Gruppo
3 04/12/41 10:20 1 P-40 (b) Destroyed MC.202   Bir el Gobi area 72a Squadriglia
  22/05/42 07:45-08:25 1 Boston (c) Damaged MC.202   Martuba area 17o Gruppo
6 30/04/44 11:13 1 P-38 (d) Destroyed MC.205   SE Forli 3a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 and 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 6 and 1 shared destroyed, 1 and 1 shared damaged.
(a) Sunderland L5806/Q of 228 Squadron, flown by Flight Lieutenant E. M. Ware damaged.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 1 SAAF Squadron 274 Squadon, which claimed 3 destroyed, 3 probables and 4 damaged while losing one Hurricane from 1 SAAF Squadron. 17o Gruppo claimed 8 destroyed and 1 probable wheil losing two MC.202s.
(c) Probably claimed in combat with Bostons from 24 SAAF Squadron, which suffered 4 damaged by AA fire.
(d) Possibly claimed in combat with P-38s from the 14th FG, which lost P-38 42-104043 during the day (MACR nr. 4642). Io Gruppo claimed three P-38s.

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 Italy 1944-45 - Nick Beale, Ferdinando D'Amico and Gabriele Valentini, 1996 Airlife Publishing, Shrewbury, ISBN 1-85310-252-0
Ali in Spagna - Giuseppe Federico Ghergo and Angelo Emiliani, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Ali nella tragedia - Giulio Lazzati, 1970 Mursia, Milan, ISBN 88-425-2132-9, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Army Air Forces
Aviatori Italiani - Franco Pagliano, 1964 Longanesi Milano, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Aviobrigada X - Alfredo Lagoluso, 2001 no. 97, 98 and 99 of Storia Militare (October-December 2001), kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Eagles Strike - James Ambrose Brown kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Guerra di Spagna e Aviazione Italiana - Ferdinando Pedriali, 1992 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Il 5o Stormo - Giuseppe Pesce and Nicola Malizia, 1984 STEM Mucchi, Modena
Il 23o Gruppo Caccia - Nicola Malizia, 1974 Bizzarri, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Le giovani aquile – Antonio Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi Milano, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Luftwaffe Claims Lists - Tony Wood
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Additional information kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro, Michele Palermo and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 30 January 2014