Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Sergente Tolmino Zanarini

On the last day of August 1940, the 151o Gruppo C.T. (366a, 367a and 368a Squadriglie) was ordered to move in Libya with 30 CR.42s as a reinforcement for the attack against Sidi Barrani.
The unit under the command of Maggiore Carlo Calosso was one of the first equipped with CR.42s in 1939 and was based in Caselle Torinese near Turin, with sections and Squadriglie detached in different airbases of North Italy for local defence duties.
They departed Caselle Torinese in the morning of 6 September and at 18:20 on 8 September, the whole Gruppo landed in Tripoli Castel Benito.
The 366a Squadriglia formation was composed of ten aircraft: Capitano Bernardino Serafini (CO), Tenente Mario Ferrero (the Gruppo Adjutant), Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella, Sergente Maggiore Dino Carta, Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Antonio Camerini, Sergente Eugenio Cicognani. Tenente Piero Veneziani and Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi followed in the unit’s hack Caproni Ca.133 together with five ground personnel.
The formation of 367a Squadriglia comprised the Gruppo Commander Maggiore Carlo Calosso, the 368a Squadriglia’s pilot Sergente Piero Hosquet and nine other pilots for a total of eleven. Among them were Capitano Simeone Marsan (the CO), Tenente Irzio Bozzolan, Tenente Aldo Bonuti, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini. The Squadriglia’s other six pilots were Tenente Giuseppe Costantini, Maresciallo Bruno Castellani, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto, Sergente Renato Mingozzi and Sergente Maggiorino Soldati.
The 368a Squadriglia formation was composed of nine aircraft: Capitano Bruno Locatelli (CO), Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti, Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich, Sergente Stefano Fiore, Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Sergente Mario Turchi. Tenente Orfeo Paroli and Maresciallo Guido Paparatti followed in the Ca.133 of the Squadriglia (Paroli and Fiore were just transferred from 367a Squadriglia).
On 25 September the 151o Gruppo transferred from Benghazi to El Adem where it replaced the 9o Gruppo C.T.

Between 15:30 and 15:45 on 10 December, a formation from the whole 151o Gruppo took off from A3 to escort Ba.65s in the Bir Enba – Sidi Barrani area. The 366a and 367a Squadriglie flew direct cover of the assault aircraft while the 368a Squadriglia acted as top cover.
Pilots from 366a Squadriglia were Capitano Bernardino Serafini, Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Sottotenente Carlo Albertini, Sergente Maggiore Cesare Chiarmetta, Sergente Maggiore Fiorenzo Milella and Sergente Antonio Camerini. Pilots from the 368a Squadriglia were Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi, Tenente Orfeo Paroli (aborted due to mechanical problems), Sergente Ottorino Ambrosi, Tenente Giuseppe Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi and Sottotenente Furio Lauri together with Marescaillo Giulio Cesare of the 366a Squadriglia. Not all the participating pilots from the 367a Squadriglia are known but included were Capitano Irzio Bozzolan, Sergente Maggiore Rodolfo Benco, Sergente Maggiore Gino Bogoni, Sergente Zanarini, (plus possibly other three pilots).
After the attack of the Bredas, the close escort Squadriglie went down to strafe. The 366a Squadriglia did five passes and then it was the turn of the 367a Squadriglia. The weather in the meantime was again deteriorating and was not possible to maintain visual contact between the two covering Squadriglie and the strafing one.
Because of this, the 367a Squadriglia was surprised from astern by a formation of Glosters while intent in strafing. After a short combat the CR.42s were able to disengage, claiming only a probable victory by an unknown pilot but losing Sergente Bogoni’s CR.42 and getting Sergente Maggiore Benco’s (wounded in the right foot) and Sergente Zanarini’s fighters damaged. Capitano Bozzolan had a narrow escape when pursued by two Gladiators that damaged his engine; he was forced to land in the midst of the enemy armoured cars with a stopped engine. Suddenly the Fiat A74 engine restarted and Bozzolan was able to do a touch-an-go, just managing to return to A3.
They had run into Gladiators from 3 RAAF Squadron. Four Gladiators piloted by Squadron Leader Ian McLachlan, Flight Lieutenant Gordon Steege, Flying Officer Alan Gatward and Flying Officer B. L. Bracegirdle had taken off from ALG 74 at 15:40 to carry out an offensive patrol over Tummar. They reported encountering twelve CR.42s that were ground strafing Allied troops near Tummar West. The Gladiators attacked the enemy aircraft and in the ensuing battle, Squadron Leader McLachlan shot one down which he saw strike the ground whilst Flight Lieutenant Steege and Flying Officer Gatward each got a possible. These were later confirmed. All Gladiators returned to base at 17:10. According to some sources Steege and Flying Officer Gatward each claimed 1 and 1 probable CR.42 in this combat, but this can’t be verified with 3 RAAF Squadron’s Operations Record Book.
While this combat was taking place the other two Italian Squadriglie didn’t notice anything but the sand thunderstorm below them.
While coming back, the 368a Squadriglia intercepted a Hurricane that was strafing along the road between Sidi Barrani and Buq-Buq. It was shot at by Locatelli, Zuffi, Colauzzi, Ambrosi and Cesare and although clearly hit was seen to escape and was claimed only as a damaged. It seems possible that this was the Hurricane of 23-year-old Lieutenant Jacobus George Fischer (SAAF no. 202883), an SAAF pilot attached to 33 Squadron, which was lost during an evening reconnaissance of the road west of Sidi Barrani.
During the landing at Amseat, two Hurricanes attacked the Bredas, shooting at them and then retreating at full speed. The assault planes didn’t suffer serious damage. They were the three Ba.65s from the 159a Squadriglia flown by Tenente Adriano Visconti, Sergente Maggiore Pietro Scaramucci and Sergente Paolo Perno, which had reached A3 the same morning to operate with the 168a Squadriglia. Visconti was the one attacked by the British fighters but landed safely with his wingmen at 16:45. Back at base, they reported that the attack, done in awful weather conditions was met by heavy AA fire. Visconti used two 50 kilos bombs, seventy 2 kilos bombs, 320 rounds of 12,7 mm and 370 rounds of 7,7 mm ammunition. The identity of their attackers remains unsure but was probably Hurricanes from 33 Squadron.

Starting from 09:00 on 19 December, nine Hurricanes from 274 Squadron took off with fifteen minutes intervals during the morning. Then at least seven others took off for a second mission, this time taking off with 25 minutes intervals. Although explicitly ordered to keep clear of fighters they engaged CR.42s on two separate occasions during the day.
Second Lieutenant Talbot (P3721) claimed a confirmed victory over a CR.42. He was flying at 17,000 feet, 30 miles west of Bardia (Great Gambut) when at 13:05 he discovered two formations of six CR.42s stepped up to right and flying one mile to starboard. He approached unobserved and attacked a straggler of the formation. He reported:

“attacked by remainder of formation. 1 CR 42 spiralled down after attack and was later seen burning on the ground by Flying Officer Greenhill. CR 42s where on offensive patrol not escorting bombers.”
Flying Officer Greenhill (P3822) reported the height of the Fiats (around 15,000 feet) and added:
“the CR 42s were 11 or 12 in a bunch (no formation). I delivered an attack from astern and the enemy immediately attacked, 1 CR 42 was badly damaged (probably shot down), 6 holes in own aircraft through main spar. Enemy a/c on offensive patrol showing determination. Holes in own aircraft about 303 size (1 e/a seen burning after engagement by 2nd Lieutenant Talbot).”
They had met a formation from the 151o Gruppo, back in action after many days, out for an armed reconnaissance and to strafe targets of opportunity. The formation included four fighters from the 366a Squadriglia (Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giulio Cesare and Sergente Maggiore Roberto Marchi), four from the 367a Squadriglia (Capitano Simeone Marsan (leading the sortie), Capitano Giuseppe Costantini, Sergente Maggiore Renato Mingozzi, and Sergente Tolmino Zanarini), three from the 368a Squadriglia (Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi and Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti) and a single fighter from the 70a Squadriglia (Tenente Gino Battaggion), which had taken off from N1 at 12:15. At 4,000 meters, south of Sidi Azeiz, six-seven British monoplanes (described as Spitfires and Hurricanes) attacked with height advantage. The Italian pilots reacted but many pilots (in particular those of the 366a Squadriglia) were unable to fire their guns because of stoppages caused by the insufficient maintenance of the previous days. Capitano Locatelli used 55 12,7mm and 90 7,7mm rounds of ammunition on two Hurricanes and in the end one fighter was claimed as probable and two-three shared damaged by the whole formation. The formation landed at Z1 at 14:15 and no losses were suffered but Fiat CR.42 MM4325 piloted by Sergente Maggiore Ricotti was damaged and landed unserviceable, having the tanks holed (in fact it was so badly damaged that it was written-off). Three more CR.42s were lightly damaged including Tenente Battaggion’s who claimed a damaged Hurricane in return. The 366a Squadriglia didn’t suffered combat damages but three out of four of its planes once on land were found u/s, two of them for excessive oil consumption and the other for the broken propeller speed regulator.

Zanarini ended the war with 1 shared probable biplane victory.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
  19/12/40 12:15-14:15 1/11 Hurricane (a) Shared probable Fiat CR.42   S Sidi Azeiz 367a Squadriglia
  19/12/40 12:15-14:15 1/11 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   S Sidi Azeiz 367a Squadriglia
  19/12/40 12:15-14:15 1/11 Hurricane (a) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   S Sidi Azeiz 367a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared probably destroyed, 2 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 1 shared probably destroyed, 2 shared damaged.
(a) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 274 Squadron, which claimed 1 and 1 probable CR.42 without losses. 151o Gruppo claimed 1 probable and 2 damaged Hurricanes while suffering 1 badly damaged CR.42 and 2 lightly damaged. The 70a Squadriglia claimed 1 damaged Hurricane while suffering 1 damaged CR.42.

Sources:
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
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
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5




Last modified 23 February 2019