Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Gianmario Zuccarini

The 13o Gruppo (77a, 78a and 82a Squadriglie) of the 2o Stormo C.T. was commanded by Maggiore Secondo Revetria and started the war based at Tripoli Castelbenito airfield with twenty-five CR.42s and eleven CR.32s on hand (the CR.32s, kept as a reserve, were later passed on to the 50o Stormo Assalto) to guard against a possible French attach from the west.
Pilots in the 77a Squadriglia were: Capitano Mario Fedele (CO), Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo (recently arrived from 4o Stormo), Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Zuccarini, Sottotenente Mario Fabbricatore, Sergente Maggiore Ernesto Scalet, Sergente Maggiore Leone Basso, Sergente Maggiore Agostino Fausti, Sergente Raoul Scodellari, Sergente Ernesto Paolini, Sergente Enrico Botti (recently arrived from 53o Stormo), Sergente Amedeo Benati and Sergente Vincenzo Campolo. These pilots had twelve CR.42s (including Maggiore Revetria’s and Colonnello Federici’s) (eight combat ready and three still under assembly) and four CR.32quaters.

On 18 June, the 77a Squadriglia moved to Tobruk T2.

At dawn on 29 June, Blenheims again bombed the airfield of Tobruk T2. Ten fighters from the alarm patrol of the 2o Stormo took off at 06:40 following the air alarm given by the Navy with two cannon shots and intercepted the Blenheims over the airfield. The intercepting fighters were four CR.42s from the 94a Squadriglia (Capitano Franco Lavelli, Sottotenente Nunzio De Fraia, Sergente Maggiore Alessandro Ruzzene and Sergente Maggiore Arturo Cardano), two CR.42s from the 92a Squadriglia (Maggiore Vincenzo La Carruba and Tenente Riccardo Marcovich, who possibly was using a borrowed aircraft from the 93a Squadriglia together with one of the pilots from the 94a Squadriglia) and four CR.42s of the 77a Squadriglia (Capitano Mario Fedele, Sottotenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Zuccarini, Sergente Maggiore Agostino Fausti). Fedele was slow in taking off because of engine problems and arrived when the combat was already finished but the others attacked the British formation, which was estimated to nine Blenheims.
Sottotenente Torresi reached the bombers at six-o'-clock and attacked the last Blenheim, which, after three strafes, caught fire and fell. Then, avoiding defensive fire, he attacked another bomber and shot it down. In the meantime, Sottotenente Zuccarini claimed a bomber with a second as a probable while Sergente Maggiore Fausti continued to attack two stragglers that he finally caught over the open sea, shooting down both. Zuccarini, wounded in the knee and with the aircraft damaged in the oil tank by return fire, succeeded to return and force landed at the top of a cliff close to the sea, 25 kilometres from Tobruk, damaging also the landing gear in the process. Sottotenente De Fraia claimed a sixth bomber. Totally, the pilots from the 77a Squadriglia used 2200 rounds of ammunition while those of 94a Squadriglia used 500 rounds.
It seems that they had been involved in combat with Blenheims from 113 Squadron, which lost three aircraft. Blenheim Mk.IV L8436 flown by Pilot Officer D. Pike was reportedly damaged by flak and ditched; Pike, Sergeant R. Lidstone and Sergeant J. Taylor were rescued and taken PoWs. Blenheim Mk.I L8447 flown by 31-year-old Flying Officer Walter Ronald Price Knight Mason (RAF no. 70450) was shot down in flames by fighters and Mason, 28-year-old Sergeant James George Juggins (RAF no. 562162) and 21-year-old Sergeant George Kenneth Biggins (RAF no. 550227) were all killed. Enemy fighters also shot down Blenheim Mk.I L8522 flown by 27-year-old Flight Sergeant Ralph Harry Knott (RAF no. 590277) in flames and Knott, 22-year-old Sergeant James Douglas Barber (RAF no. 745841) and Leading Aircraftman James Patrick Toner (RAF no. 610188) were all killed.
Torresi, Zuccarini and Fausti (in the 77a Squadriglia’s and 13o Gruppo’s Diaries, Fausti is credited with two individual victories while the proposal of the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare speaks of a first plane shot down in cooperation with two unknown pilots and a second one individual) were all proposed to be awarded with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare after this combat.
Zuccarini was recovered from the sea by a Navy team from a minesweeper but his aircraft was too far from whatever road and the coast was too high so it was probably abandoned. In fact it seems likely that the aviation historian Franco Pagliano, then an officer of the Air Force was charged with the recovery of this particular plane and told the story of this operation inside the short novel “The Abyss” in his 1969’s book “In cielo ed in terra”. According with this novel his mission that day was only to recover the most precious instruments, to asses the damage suffered by the plane and to destroy its guns. The recovery of the complete plane was judged too difficult. Pagliano was astonished by the skill demonstrated by the pilot that was able to land a plane in that position. Without deliberately crashing the landing gear the plane would probably had fallen down the escarpment that was only ten metres apart, causing the death of its occupant.

At 16:10 on 9 December, three CR.42s from the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Zuccarini and Tenente Eduardo Sorvillo) together with six more from the 78a Squadriglia (Capitano Giuseppe Dall’Aglio, Sottotenente Dario Magnabosco, Sergente Ernesto Taddia, Tenente Giovanni Beduz, Sottotenente Natale Cima and Sottotenente Canneppele) took off to strafe enemy armoured vehicles on the road between Sidi El Barrani and Bir Enba. The attack was done under heavy AA fire and lasted 30 minutes. The attackers used 3000 rounds of ammunition and reportedly caused heavy damage.
Sorvillo was back at Gambut at 17:45 together with the 78a Squadriglia, while Torresi and Zuccarini landed at Menastir because of the growing darkness.

Seven CR.42s from the 13o Gruppo took off at 06:50 on 12 December, for a free sweep in the Ogerin Bir El Kreighat, Halfaya area. Six fighters were from the 77a Squadriglia (Tenente Colonnello Secondo Revetria, Tenente Giulio Torresi, Sottotenente Zuccarini, Sottotenente Carmelo Catania, Sottotenente Mario Nicoloso and Sergente Ernesto Paolini), and one from 82a (Sottotenente Giuseppe Bottà). The fighters intercepted a Hurricane, which was ground strafing Italian troops near Bardia and claimed it damaged. This Hurricane was probably from 274 Squadron even if this unit didn’t report any clash with Fiat CR.42s during the day.
At 08:50, four of the 77a Squadriglia machines landed back at T2. The other two and Sottotenente Bottà returned to Gambut.

In December, the 2o Stormo left their few surviving CR.42s to 4o Stormo and returned to Italy.
The 2o Stormo had in the period 11 June - 19 December totally claimed 45 enemy aircraft during 2403 missions. They had lost 13 aircraft, ten pilots KIA and two pilots POW.

1941 found the 13o Gruppo split into local defence sections around the industrial cities of northern Italy and later tackling the Royal Navy in the Ligurian Sea.

The re-equipped with Macchi MC.200s in October 1941 and returned to North Africa in February 1942.

On 8 July 1942 the 13o Gruppo was based at Bu Amud, Tobruk, and still equipped with MC.200s.

On 23 August 1942, Zuccarini claimed a shared B-24 over Tobruk together with Sergente Zanarini.

Towards 16:00 on 8 November, Tenente Giorgio Savoja (Commander of the 77a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Zuccarini took off in two MC.202s for the days final traffic protection patrol shift over the Via Balbia. They climbed to around 8000 meters and spread out into patrol formation along the sides of the Balbia, in a pair, 500-600 meters apart. They spotted a huge formation of a reportedly 20 P-40s (identified as P-46s), which they, after a quick radio exchange, attacked individually. The enemy fighters were at a much lower altitude (2000-3000 meters) and when they saw the diving Italian fighters, they dropped their drop-tanks but the Italian fighters kept the initiative thanks to surprise and speed, splitting up the P-40 formation. Zuccarini managed to hit a P-40, which caught fire and crashed. Thanks to the high speed obtained during the dive (over 750 km/h) the MC.202s rapidly regained height and attacked again. The P-40s had at this time formed a ’Lufberry’ circle and the Italian fighter continued to attack until they run out of ammunition. Giorgio Savoja claimed three damaged P-40s in this combat.
The P-40 claimed by Zuccarini was possibly a Kittyhawk from 450 Squadron flown by Sergeant Markle, who was forced to make an emergency landing (reportedly due to heavy flak) during the day.

On 29 November, Sottotenente Zuccarini claimed two shared B-24s together with Sergente Maggiore Filippo Baldin and Sergente Turchetti.
During this sortie, at least Zuccarini was again flying a MC.202.

On 10 December the 2o Stormo was based at Misurata after having retreated. During the day the 8o Gruppo left Libya for Italy, leaving its aircraft to the 13o Gruppo. Hence, the 13o Gruppo had 33 MC.200s (29 serviceable) and four MC.202s (two serviceable). The following days some other aircraft joined them.

The 13o Gruppo left Libya in January 1943, fighting in southern Tunisia, mainly with ground attacks.

The Gruppo returned to Italy where the joined the interceptor defence in July 1943.

After the Italy surrendered to the Allies on 8 September 1943 he joined the Italiana Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR) and the 3a Squadriglia of the Io Gruppo Caccia with the rank of Tenente. This unit was equipped with the Fiat G.55.

Tenente Gianmario Zuccarini (right) when serving in ANR, beside Maggiore Adriano Visconti.

On 26 June 1944, he claimed a P-47 over Ravenna.
It is possible that this claim was made in combat with P-47s from the 79th FG which claimed one probable and three damaged Bf 109s from a reported six Bf 109s and six Fw190s encountered over Imola. No American fighters seem to have been shot down.

In the Mantua-Modena area IoGruppo Caccia sent up eight C.205s and eight G.55s at 10:15 on 25 July. In combat with a group of P-47 bomber escorts they claimed one shot down (by Tenente Zuccarini), another probable (by Sergente Maggiore Morabito of 2a Squadriglia) and five damaged.
This action has not been correlated with any Allied reports.

In November 1944, Italian pilots were training on Bf 109s. During this time Maggiore Adriano Visconti was contacted by the OKL, which proposed the training of a group of Italian pilots on the Me 163 Komet in preparation for the probable allocation of this rocket-powered interceptor to the Italians. This was an irresistible offer and Visconti asked for volunteers. Only single men were allowed since the training was so hazardous and seventeen pilots were chosen.
The pilots involved were: Capitano Giuseppe Robetto, Tenente Gian Mario Zuccarini, Tenente Lucio Stramese, Tenente Giuseppe Biron, Sottotenente Aurelio Morandi, Sottotenente Raffaele Marzocca, Sottotenente Franco Storchi, Sottotenente Roberto Di Lollo, Maresciallo Luigi Jellici, Maresciallo Silvio Girolami, Maresciallo Danilo Billi, Maresciallo Romano Spazzoli, Sergente Maggiore Gino Pizzati, Sergente Maggiore Mario Veronesi, Sergente Maggiore Giampiero Svanini, Sergente Maggiore Isonzo Baccarini and Sergente Dante Toselli.
Under the command of Capitano Giuseppe Robetto, Second-in-Command of Io Gruppo Caccia, they transferred during early December to Rangsdorf (Berlin) where they were to train on gliders between 5 to 30 December. The gliders used were the two-seater Kranich, the single-seater Grunau and the Habicht 14, 8 and 6 (the number indicates the wing-span in meters). The Habicht 6 was similar in handling to the Me163 during un-powered flight.
After almost three hours of gliding, the Italians were transferred from Rangsdorf to Liegnitz were they finally saw the Komet for the first time. However bad weather and the Russian advance didn't allow any of the Italian pilots to ever fly the Me163 and the pilots returned to Italy at the beginning of February 1945.

Zuccarini ended the war with 1 biplane victory and a total of 4.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1940                
1 29/06/40 06:40- 1 Blenheim (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tobruk T2 77a Squadriglia
  29/06/40 06:40- 1 Blenheim (a) Probable Fiat CR.42   Tobruk T2 77a Squadriglia
  12/12/40 06:50-08:50 1/7 Hurricane (b) Shared damaged Fiat CR.42   Bardia area 77a Squadriglia
  1942                
  23/08/42   ½ B-24 Shared destroyed MC.200   Tobruk area 77a Squadriglia
2 08/11/42   1 P-40 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Sidi el Barrani 77a Squadriglia
  29/11/42   1/3 B-24 Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 77a Squadriglia
  29/11/42   1/3 B-24 Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 77a Squadriglia
  1944                
3 26/06/44   1 P-47 (d) Destroyed G.55   Ravenna 3a Squadriglia
4 25/07/44 10:15- 1 P-47 (e) Destroyed G.55   Mantova-Modena 3a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 probable, 1 shared damaged.
TOTAL: 4 and 3 shared destroyed, 1 probable, 1 shared damaged.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Blenheims from 113 Squadron. Italian fighters claimed six and one probable. 113 Squadron lost three aircraft. L8436 flown by Pilot Officer Pike was damaged by flak and ditched; the crew became PoWs. L8447 flown by Flying Officer W. R. P. K. Mason was shot down in flames by fighters and the crew was killed. L8522 flown by Flight Sergeant R. H. Knott was shot down in flames by fighters and the crew was killed.
(b) Probably Hurricane from 274 Squadron even if this unit didn’t report any clash with Fiat CR.42s during the day.
(c) Possibly a Kittyhawk from 450 Squadron flown by Sergeant Markle, who was forced to make an emergency landing (reportedly due to heavy flak) during the day.
(d) Possibly claimed in combat with P-47s from the 79th FG which claimed one probable and three damaged Bf 109s from a reported six Bf 109s and six Fw190s encountered over Imola. No American fighters seems to have been shot down.
(e) This claim can’t be verified with Allied losses.

Sources:
2o Stormo - Note storiche dal 1925 al 1975 - Gino Strada, 1975 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Air War Italy 1944-45 - Nick Beale, Ferdinando D'Amico and Gabriele Valentini, 1996 Airlife Publishing, Shrewbury, ISBN 1-85310-252-0
Centauri su Torino - Giancarlo Garello, 1998 Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Desert Prelude: Early clashes June-November 1940 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2010 MMP books, ISBN 978-83-89450-52-4
Diario Storico 77a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 78a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Fiat CR.42 Aces of World War 2 - Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo, 2009 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-427-5
Fighters over the Desert - Christopher Shores and Hans Ring, 1969 Neville Spearman Limited, London
Finally The “202” – Giovanni Massimello, 2004 Aerofan no. 91 Ott.-Dic. 2004, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan, kindly provided by Stafano Lazzaro
The Bristol Blenheim: A complete history – Graham Warner, 2002 Crécy Publishing Limited, Manchester, ISBN 0-947554-92-0
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Additional information kindly provided by Chris Goss, Stefano Lazzaro, Giovanni Massimello and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 25 September 2010