Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Giuseppe Vitali

4 March 1918 –

Giuseppe Vitali was born on 4 March 1918.

On 1 October 1939, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

In January 1941, Vitali served in 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo Autonomo C.T in Libya. The unit was at this time equipped with the Fiat CR.42.

On 24 January 1941, the Italian airfields were targeted by the British bombers with one SM 79 of the 232a Squadriglia, 41o Stormo, being destroyed and one RD at Soluch by eight Blenheims from 55 Squadron that attacked at 13:35, accurately claiming a direct hit on a bomber and another plane left in flames. Additionally, one SM 79 from the 15o or 34o Stormi was damaged at Sidi El Magrum. Maraua was also attacked by three machines of 45 Squadron but no losses were suffered there. During the day, one Blenheim (possibly from 113 Squadron) was heavily damaged but succeeded in limping back to base.
It seems that it had been intercepted by Sottotenente Vitali, who had taken off from Benghazi at 12:45 and claimed a probable British bomber.

He was promoted to Tenente on 6 February 1941.

At 07:30 on 4 December 1941, 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 Ennio 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 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.

Vitali ended the war with 1 probable biplane victory and a total of 1.
During the war, he was decorated with the Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1941                
  24/01/41 12:45- 1 Blenheim (a) Probable Fiat CR.42   Benghazi area 75a Squadriglia
1 04/12/41 08:30 1 Tomahawk (b) Destroyed Fiat G.50bis   Bir el Gubi 352a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
(a) Possibly a Blenheim from 113 Squadron, which was heavily damaged.
(b) Claimed in a collision with a Tomahawk. The 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.

Sources:
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 10 February 2015