Capitano Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi
Please observe the date of birth, which in official Italian records is 9 October 1914.
Picture kindly provided by Renato Zavattini.
Giuseppe Enrico Zuffi was born on 9 October 1914 in Minerbio.
He served as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War in the XXIII Gruppo.
On 12 October 1937, 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 Maggiore Zotti (1 I-15), 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 Pio Tomaselli (19a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Franco Lucchini (19a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Nobili (CO of the 18a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Carmello, Sergente Carlo Dentis, Sottotenente Zuffi, Sergente Federico Tassinari (19a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei and Sottotenente Bruno Trevisan (19a Squadriglia). It seems that Lucchini’s, Tassinari’s and Mattei’s claims was a shared between these three pilots.
In June 1940, Tenente Zuffi served in the 364a Squadriglia of the 150o Gruppo. This unit was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.
On 15 June 1940, the Italian Headquarters ordered the 150o, 18o and 23o Gruppi C.T. to attack the French airfields in Le Cannet des Maures (2km south-east of Le Luc) and Cuers Pierrefeu (close to the naval base of Toulon), in Provence, with the purpose of destroying and disrupting the French fighter force on the ground.
Le Cannet des Maureswas the base of the GC III/6, which had arrived there on 3 June with its Morane Saulnier MS.406 fighters and was in the midst of converting from that type to the new Dewoitine D.520 (on 15 June 1940 the groupe had at least 13 D.520s on hand). The airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu was the base of the escadrille de chasse AC 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Bloch 151 fighters, and the escadrille de bombardement en piquè AB 3 of the Aéronautique Navale, equipped with eleven Vought 156 dive-bombers.
At noon 25 CR.42s from the 23o Gruppo departed from Cervere (a small town in Piedmont near the French border) to attack Le Cannet Des Maures airfield. The first group, under the command of Maggiore Tito Falconi (CO of the 23o Gruppo in a CR.42 from the 70a Squadriglia) was to make the strafing attack. The group was composed of Capitano Luigi Filippi (CO of the 75a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Rigatti, Tenente Calogero Mazza, Sottotenente Malvezzi, Maresciallo Luigi Pasquetti, Sergente Maggiore Renzo Borro, Sergente Maggiore Davini, Sergente Maggiore Germano Gasperoni (all from the 75a Squadriglia), Capitano Guido Bobba (CO of the 74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Arnaldo Sala and Sottotenente Domenico Tessera (all from the 74a Squadriglia). The rest of the formation, with fighters from all three Squadriglie, was to act as top cover. This formation was composed of Capitano Ottorino Fargnoli (CO of the 70a Squadriglia), Tenente Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Oscar Abello (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Ezio Monti (75a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Balilla Albani (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Carlo Scarselli (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella (70a Squadriglia), Tenente Lorenzo Viale (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Benedetti (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Mario Pinna (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Renzo Bocconi (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Raffaele Marzocca (74a Squadriglia) and Sergente Emilio Stefani (74a Squadriglia).
They arrived over the target at 13:00 and attacked under heavy AA-fire. They claimed to have hit fifteen “Curtis” fighters and four old bombers that lay on the sides of the airstrip, in particular Capitano Bobba claimed hits on three aircraft as did Sottotenente Tessera while Sergente Sala claimed to have hit two aircraft on the ground (it seems that at least three D.520s were destroyed when Dewoitine D.520 nos. 257, 294 and 304 of GC III/6 went up in flames).
During the strafing a number of French fighters identified as “four or five Morrane” or alternatively “Dewoitine” engaged the strafing Fiats. Capitano Filippi (MM4361), was shot down by Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan of GC III/6. Filippi baled out and was captured. Maresciallo Pasquetti claimed a “Morane” but was also hit, wounded (reportedly by AA fire but possibly by Le Gloan) and returned to Cervere despite large problems. He was later decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare in the field for this mission. Tenente Rigatti’s and Sottotenente Malvezzi’s fighters were also damaged (reportedly by AA). Among the pilots of the covering patrol, Sergente Stefani claimed a “Morrane”, Tenente Benedetti a probable “Morrane” and Sergente Marzocca a damaged “Morrane”. The pilots of the 70a Squadriglia reported an indecisive engagement with no losses caused or suffered and finally Tenente Viale had his fighter seriously damaged by an explosive bullet that hit the junction between the lower wing and the fuselage. Back at base the plane was declared RD (Riparabile in Ditta - Repairable but only in the manufacturer’s workshop) and sent to the Aeritalia-Fiat workshops in Turin.
The pilots of the 23o Gruppo observed that despite hits on aircraft on the ground they hadn’t burnt. This was found to have been caused by a defective batch of incendiary ammunition.
The formation from the 150o Gruppo departed from Villanova D’Albenga (in Liguria near the sea) at 12:00 and was composed of 27 Fiat CR.42s divided in three groups. Their target was the airfield of Cuers Pierrefeu and they arrived there at 13:00. A first group of eight aircraft commanded by Capitano Giorgio Graffer (CO of the 365a Squadriglia) and composed of Tenente Franco Gatti, Sottotenente Lorenzo Clerici, Maresciallo Felice Sozzi, Maresciallo Virginio Bodini, Sergente Maggiore Guido Fibbia, Sergente Maggiore Felice Squassoni and Sergente Bruno Zotti (all from the 365a Squadriglia) attacked the airfield of Cuers itself. A second group of nine fighters from the 363a Squadriglia led by the Gruppo CO Tenente Colonnello Rolando Pratelli (Capitano Luigi Mariotti (Squadriglia CO), Tenente Pietro Garfagnoli, Sottotenente Mario Daverio, Maresciallo Giuseppe Salvadori, Sergente Maggiore Natale Viola, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Benassi, Sergente Paolo Rossi, Sergente Antonio Lazzari) and a third group of eight aircraft from the 364a Squadriglia under command of the 53o Stormo commander Colonnello Arrigo Tessari (Capitano Nicola Magaldi (Squadriglia CO), Capitano Nino Caselli, Tenente Zuffi, Tenente Alberto Spigaglia, Maresciallo Delfino Fratini, Maresciallo Ugo Guidi, Sergente Maggiore Virgilio Pongiluppi, Sergente Giovanni Negri and Sergente Achille Pacini) covered Graffer and his men during the strafing attack.
The covering group led by Colonnello Tessari engaged six French fighters, while Graffer’s group, after four or five strafing passes enter combat against “Morane fighters” while regaining height. All in all four Morane were claimed shot down (all Bloch 151s from AC 3 and confirmed with French records) and 15 Moranes were claimed on ground (in fact at least six Vought 156s of AB 3 were destroyed). The victories were credited as “shared” to all the pilots of the Gruppo.
The aircraft of Capitano Nino Caselli (MM5579) and Tenente Zuffi of the 364a Squadriglia (MM5590) were lost. Caselli’s Fiat was shot down by French fighters and he was killed, while Zuffi landed on Cuers Pierrefeu undamaged due to a breakdown of the throttle. Zuffi was taken prisoner and his undamaged fighter was taken by the French (the only aircraft captured by the Aéronautique Navale), which in the following days painted it with French colours and duly photographed this trophy with pilots posing near it. After the war the Italians had to do great efforts with the Vichy Authorities to finally have back the fighter in August. Additionally the Fiats of Graffer and Clerici were damaged by French fighters during the dogfight.
Finally, 15 Fiat CR.42s the 18o Gruppo took off from Villanova D’Albenga immediately after the 150o Gruppo. They patrolled along the direction of Cuers Pierrefeu - Cannet des Maures - Hyères (the latter an airfield 13 km east of Toulon) to prevent any interference from the French fighter force. Led by the 18o Gruppo’s CO Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla the formation was composed by Capitano Giulio Anelli (CO of the 85a Squadriglia), Tenente Giulio Cesare Giuntella and Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 85a Squadriglia, Capitano Gino Lodi (CO of 95a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Eugenio Salvi, Maresciallo Felice Longhi, Maresciallo Giovanni Ferrari and Sergente Maggiore Giacomo Grillo of the 95a Squadriglia (Vosilla flew with Salvi and Longhi as wingmen) and finally the 3o Stormo Commander Colonnello Fortunato Rolando in a 83a Squadriglia fighter with Maresciallo Francesco Colombo and Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini as wingmen together with Capitano Edoardo Molinari (CO of 83a Squadriglia), Sottotenente Carlo Lolli and Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini.
At a height of 5500 meters over Beau Champ they were intercepted by enemy fighters, which suddenly appeared from a cloud bank. They were identified as “Morane 406 plus another type not sure” and in the ensuing combat three of them were claimed shot down plus four others hit without being able of ascertain the damage inflicted (these claims can’t be verified with French sources). It seems that no individual credit was given for these victories that went as shared to all the fifteen pilots participating in the mission. During the combat, two aircraft of the 83a Squadriglia were lost when Sergente Maggiore Formentini (MM4449) and Maresciallo Colombo (MM4366) both were shot down and killed (both were probably shot down by Le Gloan and Assolant of GC III/6, which had attacked the “vic” of the Stormo commander). All the fighters of the 85a Squadriglia suffered gun-jams and were forced to flee, Capitano Anelli, in particular, had to escaped into clouds to get away from enemy fighters, got lost and was obliged to force-land at Dorniella near Grosseto in Tuscany where his plane (MM4372) broke the landing gear and was heavily damaged (RD). Finally Maresciallo Gaetano Bortolini’s Fiat was hit by a cannon shell that opened a hole of 60 centimetres in the upper wing. Later during the day two more fighters were heavily damaged (RD) on landing back in Villanova D’Albenga returning from scrambles because of the bad conditions of the ground flooded by heavy rain but this was not connected with the above described combat.
The French reported that in the early hours of 15 June bad wheatear halted flight activities, then, at mid morning, it cleared up. At 10:00, a patrouille composed by Adjutant Diaz, Sergent Pimont and Sous-Lieutenant Stage took-off to cover the reconnaissance mission of a Potez 63. The mission was completed successfully.
At 11:40, the fighter control centre of Toulon signalled big formations of heavy fighters and bombers passing the border and heading south-west. Five minutes later a patrouille simple (three planes group) of Dewoitine D.520s (Adjutant Pierre Le Gloan, Capitaine Jacobi and Capitaine Assolant) of the 5th escadrille of groupe de chasse III/6 (GC III/6) took-off.
The patrouille made for Saint Raphael (on the coast, near the Italian border), where a group of fifteen enemy planes was signalled. Four minutes later (11:49), a second patrouille simple (Capitaine Guerrier, Adjutant Japiot, Sous-Lietuenant Capdeviolle), this time of the 6th escadrille, took off to help the first. However, it took off to late and didn’t participate in the combat.
After arriving over Saint Raphael, the patrouille of Le Gloan received by radio the order of going over Saint Tropez (around 30km south-west). At the same time, Capitaine Jacobi was forced to turn back with engine problems.
Le Gloan saw a formation of twelve Fiat CR.42s in the direction of Saint Tropez heading south-west. He reached them rapidly and attacked at 12:00. In a brief combat, Le Gloan and Assolant claimed two shared aircraft shot down. These were the last two aircraft of the Italian formation and one of the Italian fighters (Maresciallo Colombo of the 83a Squadriglia) was seen to go down in flames near Beauvallon (4km south of Grimaud) while the other went down in flames near Ramatuelle; the pilot was seen to bale out (probably Sergente Maggiore Evdo Formentini of the 83a Squadriglia).
At this moment the two pilots of the patrouille was split up. Le Gloan turned over Saint-Tropez and lost contact with the enemy while Capitaine Assolant attacked a third Italian fighter (perhaps Maresciallo Bortolini of the 83a Squadriglia), but his guns ceased to fire and he had to disengage coming back to Le Cannet des Maures.
Adjutant Le Gloan in the meantime, saw anti-aircraft fire in the direction of Hyères airfield (being over Saint Tropez this direction is quite close to the direction of Toulon-Cuers Pierrefeu that was under attack at that moment). Le Gloan flew in that direction and discovered a group of three Fiat CR.42s heading east. He attacked the right hand Fiat of the group and saw that after the first burst of fire it went down near Saint-Amèe, in the bay of Pampalonne. This claim is not confirmed with Italian records but perhaps claimed in combat with an aircraft from 150o Gruppo returning from the attack on Cuers or alternatively against stragglers of the 18o Gruppo formation. He was then attacked by eight Italian fighters and he disengaged by diving away.
At the same time (around 12:15), he received by radio the order of coming back to Le Cannet des Maures which was under attack. He obeyed immediately, arriving over his airfield while the Italians were strafing it. He dived on a couple of fighters and with a single burst of cannon fire he shot down one of them (Capitano Filippi). This plane went down near the farm of the Thermes, just 1km from the airfield of Le Cannet. Continuing his patrol Le Gloan saw a Fiat BR.20 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission over Le Cannet des Maures, probably with the aim of checking the damage inflicted to the airfield. Le Gloan attacked it and, even with no more cannon ammunitions left, shot it down with five passes of his remaining four guns. The bomber fell down near the farm of the Moulin Rouge. This was Fiat BR.20 MM21873 of the 172a Squadriglia Ricognizione Strategica, which in fact went down over Le Luc. Two of the crew were killed; Aviere scelto motorista Giovanni Bonanno and Aviere scelto fotografo Egisto Di Croce. The rest of the crew were taken POWs; Maggiore Mario Salvadori (an intelligence Officer from the Air force HQ aboard as a passenger), Capitano Giorgio Parodi (the Squadriglia’s CO) and Aviere scelto armiere Attilio Imparato. Bonanno was posthumously decorated with the Medaglia d’Oro al valor militare for this action because he helped his commander, who was wounded, to jump out of the falling plane, but after that he was unable to jump himself and died in the subsequent crash.
At Cuers Pierrefeu (attacked by the 150o Gruppo), the French reported that the Italian fighters attacked the parked Voughts of AB 3 and destroyed six of them. A section of three fighters of AC 3 had taken took off just minutes before the Italian attack. It was commanded by the Enseigne de Vaisseau Carmeille and included Second-Maitres Saint Vanne and Heff. The section had to patrol between Le Luc en Provence and St Raphael. Near the first locality it became involved in combat with 15 Italian fighters (possibly the 18o Gruppo). The section didn’t claim anything and didn’t suffer any losses even if, later, it was credited with two shared Italian fighters shot down. After this combat, the three pilots went on patrolling over Toulon.
Two other sections of AC 3 took off while the Italians arrived over Cuers. The section commanded by the Lieutenant de Vaisseau Ziegler (CO AC 3) was composed by the Second-Maitres Miramont and Briet. Gaining altitude over Cuers the section was attacked by the Italian fighters. Ziegler had his Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.1, serial number 77) seriously damaged and wounded, he was forced to crash-land at base with his left landing gear cut in half. Briet was rapidly in difficulties under the attack of the numerically superior Italians, with the ailerons damaged and the reservoir holed he disengaged, rejoining the first section over Toulon. Miramont engaged combat north-east of the airfield, over the hills of Hyères. His Bloch 151 (numbered AC3.3, serial number 69) was seriously damaged, but in the heat of the fight, he found himself 50 meters behind a Fiat CR.42 (Capitano Nino Caselli) and with a single burst of his four MAC guns he shot it down. Miramont was not able to continue the fight after this and had to land at Hyères.
The third section of AC 3 suffered worst. It was commanded by the Adjutant Chef Hourcade (a pilot of the Armée de l’Air attached to the Aéronautique Navale since 1939) (Bloch 151 AC3.15 serial 51) and included Soulimont (Bloch 151 AC3.8 serial 348) and Second-Maitre Le Bihan (Bloch 151 AC3.9 serial 37). A few second after the take-off, Hourcade was shot down and killed by the marauding Fiats; Soulimont engaged the Italians but was immediately put out of action and obliged to force-land with his aircraft riddled with bullets. Le Bihan received a burst of fire in the engine and five minutes after took-off had to land in the narrow of Rocbaron. Unfortunately, his plane hit a tree and burst into flames hitting the ground. He succeeded in extricate himself from the burning wreck, but died five hours later at the hospital. Some time later Le Bihan was credited with an aerial victory obtained by collision, but looking in the initial reports of this combat there is no trace of this victory.
It is interesting to note that all of Le Gloan’s claims were homologated by the CO of the Zone D’Opérations Aériennes Alpes (ZOAA). (“L’homologation” was the definitive confirmation of an aerial victory corroborated by evidences, was a recognition quite difficult to obtain in the French Air Force). The victories were credited as follows:
Fiat CR.42 individual, Ramatuelle.
Fiat CR.42 shared with Assolant, Saint-Amé bay of Pampelonne.
Fiat CR.42 individual, Beauvallon.
Fiat CR.42 individual , ferme des Termes near Le Luc.
Fiat BR.20, ferme du Moulin-Rouge near Vidauban.
That is not in complete accordance with the reconstruction above. It is also interesting to note that the victories claimed by AC 3 were apparently not homologated.
After the French surrender, Zuffi was released and posted to the 368a Squadriglia of the 151o Gruppo in August. This unit was based at Casabianca, Italy, and equipped with Fiat CR.42s.
During the night between 18 and 19 August, Zuffi took off from Bresso airport (near Milan) and, thanks to the moonlight, was able to intercept an enemy bomber that had just attacked Linate airport with incendiary bombs. He expended 140 rounds 12,7 mm calibre and seven rounds 7,7 mm against the bomber before his guns jammed because of bad quality of ammunitions and ammunition belts. The enemy aircraft returned fire with a four gun stern turret (it was probably a Whitley) before escaping. Zuffi’s CR.42 (MM5580) was damaged but he was able to land one hour after take-off.
During the night between 25 and 26 August Tenente Zuffi took off from Bresso and intercepted a British bomber that escaped in the dark after receiving 100 rounds of 12,7 mm. Sottotenente Furio Lauri of the same Squadriglia took off from Cameri (in Piedmont) and attacked another enemy bomber. After the first burst of fire (46 rounds of 12,7 mm and 106 rounds 7,7 mm) he saw under him a big fire on the ground and thought he had shot down the intruder, claiming it when back at base.
Subsequently was discovered that the fire seen by Lauri was caused by the incendiary bombs that the British raider jettisoned when attacked while Zuffi had caused some damage to his opponent’s bomb bay. In fact, on the ground at Taliedo airport (attacked by the night raiders) many British bomb were discovered with the fins pierced with 12,7 mm holes; one of them still with a 12,7 mm SAFAT round trapped on it.
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 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.
At 20:00 on 16 September, two CR.42s from the 368a was scrambled from Benina. Tenente Zuffi intercepted a British night bomber expending 130 12.7 mm rounds and 155 7.7 mm rounds on it. From the ground, the British bomber was seen to escape with a red light (as of a small fire) in one of the wing’s engines.
On 18 September, over Benghazi, an enemy shadower was discovered at 12:20. A section from the 368a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo (Tenente Zuffi, Sergente Maggiore Annibale Ricotti and Sergente Maggiore Alvise Andrich) were scrambled. The three pilots identified their opponent as a Blenheim and attacked. The British aircraft started to dive after some bursts from Zuffi and Ricotti. The bomber was followed down for a while by Ricotti and Andrich, who clearly had the impression that their opponent’s dive was final.
Meanwhile Zuffi remained at height and after some time discovered another Blenheim and attacked. The enemy dived to ground level and retreated in eastward direction, fighting back. After some time Zuffi was forced to end his attacks after running low on fuel. He returned to clam this Blenheim as a damaged after having spent 300 12,7mm rounds and 450 7,7 mm rounds.
Capitano Bruno Locatelli took a car and started in search of the shot down enemy aircraft but found nothing. When asking some Bedouins it transpired that the Blenheim was not shot down in the first attack but its dive was only an evasive manoeuvre, while the bomber damaged by Zuffi was probably the same aircraft.
In fact, a 113 Blenheim sent over Benghazi at 13:05 was chased by fighters and obliged to turn back without completing its mission with the check of the damage inflicted upon Benina the day before. The reconnaissance aircraft however was able to discover two ships in flame inside the city’s harbour. They were probably the freighters Nirvo and Cherso sunk the previous days even if it is not completely clear if they were victim of the Swordfishes or of some form of night bombing.
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 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 Tolmino 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.
At 08:10 on 14 December, a formation from the 151o Gruppo took off from Tobruk T2 for a free sweep in the Sollum area. Participating pilots were Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini, Sottotenente Amedeo Guidi, Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi and Sergente Rosario Di Carlo (in the only four combat ready CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia), Capitano Giuseppe Costantini, Tenente Aldo Bonuti and Sergente Maggiore Bruno Celotto (367a Squadriglia), Capitano Bruno Locatelli, Tenente Zuffi, Maresciallo Guido Paparatti and Sergente Piero Hosquet (368a Squadriglia).
The formation was climbing in direction towards Bardia when, slightly lower, a formation of reportedly nine Bristol Blenheims was discovered heading for Bardia. The British bombers were immediately attacked. One of them was hit by the precise fire of Sottotenente Guidi and fell in flames. Another bomber was shot down immediately after (possibly credited as a shared) and all the other bombers, which in the meantime had released their bomb load in the sea, were damaged. Then a long pursuit started with another bomber claimed as probable (possibly another shared). Tenente Chiarini followed three bombers 100 km out over open sea, expending all his ammunition on the left side bomber before returning to base. Sergente Di Carlo, while returning to base, discovered and strafed a group of armoured cars, claiming three in flames.
While returning after the pursuit, Sottotenente Guidi discovered another formation of nine Blenheims and attacked, claiming one in flames and another damaged with the little remaining ammunitions. Tenente Zuffi also discovered this formation (reported as seven strong) but was unable to engage.
The CR.42s were back at 10:00, claiming three Blenheims, one probable and many damaged (plus three armoured cars in flames). The 366a Squadriglia’s pilots had expended 2411 rounds of ammunition. Capitano Locatelli used 200 12,7mm and 350 7,7mm rounds, Tenente Zuffi used 200 12,7mm and 325 7,7mm, Maresciallo Paparatti used 240 12,7mm and 150 7,7mm and Sergente Hosquet 50 12,7mm rounds.
The Italian fighters had met eight Blenheim Mk.IVs from 55 Squadron together with one from 11 Squadron, which had taken off from Fuka for a daylight attack on Bardia at 08:55.
Over Bardia they were attacked by a reportedly 50 (!) CR.42s. 55 Squadron had usually been successful in its encounters with the CR.42s, chiefly because of the use of clever hit-and-run tactics and a good flight discipline in case of attack of the Italian biplanes, but this time things went differently. Owing to poor visibility, a number of CR.42s commenced their unwelcome attentions before the Squadron could assume battle formation. One of the fighters made an unsuccessful head on attack on the leading machine of No.3 flight (Flying Officer Ellis in Blenheim T1872), while the gunner’s attention was directed to eleven other Fiats attacking from astern, resulting in the loss of the starboard airscrew and other damage. The Italian fighters destroyed T1872 beyond repair but the crew (Flying Officer K. Ellis DFC, Sergeant I. Brownrigg and Sergeant J. Perkins) survived unhurt. One of the enemy relaxing from an attack on the leading flight, in which Flying Officer Potter sustained damage on the starboard engine of his aircraft (Blenheim T2113), went down in flames after a burst from the rear gunner of a machine of No.3 Flight. Two aircraft of No.3 Flight were able to assume formation on the two remaining machines of the leading flight after a hurried run-up on a last minute objective. The results were unobserved as were those of the other bombs, which were jettisoned over the town. No.2 Flight took independent evasive action, and Pilot Officer Blignaut was later forced to land his aircraft (possibly T2049) at Bir El Rahman Itmah, south of Matruh, due to holed petrol tanks. Blenheim L8395 (a Mk.I) flown by Sergeant Bailey of 11 Squadron was badly hit and with the port engine out of action it belly-landed at Derawla, near Ma’aten Bagush (the aircraft was damaged beyond repair and Struck off Charge on 6 January 1941). Blenheim L8790 was seen to dive into the sea killing the crew; pilot 25-year-old Flying Officer Millin Selby Singleton (RAF no. 41482), observer 30-year-old Sergeant Eric Percy Chapman (RAF no. 747802) and gunner 21-year-old Sergeant Bernard Joseph Fox (RAF no. 544933).
Three Italian fighters were claimed shot down (one unconfirmed) by the gunners on the Blenheims. AA fire of indifferent quality was also encountered over the target at 14,000 feet. With such odds, it is scarcely surprising that one aircraft only remained unscathed when after 20 minutes running fight the enemy broke away. Holes from fifty bullets were later counted in one aircraft, one of which apparently explosive, expanded itself on the pilot’s armour, others had been deflected by that of the rear gunner. Several of the bombers were indeed damaged as reported I.S.O. Playfair :
“[During Compass casualties to aircraft were relatively light] but the rate of unserviceability was very high, due to the intensity of the air operations, to the climatic conditions of the desert, and to enemy’s use of explosive bullets. For example, during an attack on Bardia on December the 14th, nine Blenheims of No 55 Squadron encountered a patrol of some 50 enemy fighters and, although only one aircraft was lost [in fact they were three], no less than seven were severely damaged by these explosive bullets.”
In January 1941, Zuffi served as temporary commanding officer of the 368a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo C.T. in Libya. This unit was at the time still equipped with the Fiat CR.42 and based at Sorman in Tripolitana.
On 26 January, 274 Squadron had a field day. After an uneventful morning sortie, five Hurricanes took off in the afternoon for an offensive patrol from the Martuba-Mechili area to the coast. Pilots taking part were Flight Lieutenant Peter Wykeham-Barnes (P2638), Flying Officer Thomas Patterson (P3723), Flying Officer Ernest Mason (P3722), Flight Lieutenant J. D. Smith (V7477) and Pilot Officer Garland (V7484), which all took off at 13:45.
At about 15.10 when one mile south of Derna aerodrome, Flying Officer Patterson discovered a group of three Fiat G.50s 2000 feet below him that were ground strafing Commonwealth troops. The Italian aircraft were escorted by twelve CR.42s in four vic of three 8000 feet above them. Patterson was with Wykeham-Barnes, who reportedly drove off the escort while he attacked from astern, claiming two G.50s shot down and seen to burn out on ground and the third machine damaged by deflection shots (Wykeham-Barnes confirmed his victories).
In the meantime, Flying Officer Mason was flying alone at 6,000 feet, ten miles west of Martuba when he discovered seven CR.42s in two formations of five and two, ahead of him and at the same height. Mason attacked single handed, starting a general dogfight down to 2000 feet, which ended with himself claiming three CR.42s crashed into the ground without burning and confirmed by troops of 2/4 Battalion of the 19th Australian Brigade over whom the fight took place. In his C.F.R. Mason didn’t mention that he was shot down during the combat, however, in a letter to his parents he described the action in this way:
“I had a quick dogfight with them all round me. The first one I fired at went down and crashed without burning. The second and third each turned slowly over and dived straight in and exploded. All this was over in two or three minutes. By the time the third one was down the others had disappeared which was very fortunate as my motor cut and I had to force land (…) I landed next to a blazing CR 42 amidst crowds of wildly enthusiastic Australians (about 30 miles south-west of Gazala). Unfortunately the ground was very rough and I burst a tyre and went up on my nose, wrecking the poor old aircraft with which I had got all my victories.It seems possible that P3722 later was salvaged by the efficient recovery teams of the RAF because even if not more flown by 274 Squadron during February and March it is recorded as finally lost on El Adem on 22 April 1941 some days after that the Afrika Korps had invested that airbase.
After I force-landed I learnt that one of the CR42 pilots had tried to bale out but his parachute had not opened. So I had a look at him. He was about 200 yards from his still-blazing machine. I had got him in the right shoulder so he had not been able to open his chute. I went through his pockets and found a lot of interesting snapshots and a lot of letters. Before I left I covered him with his parachute and weighted it down with stones. I hitchhiked by road and air, back to the Squadron. When I arrived there I was accosted by several press representatives who made me pose for photographs.”
During the evening on 30 January, Capitano Bruno Locatelli returned from the rest period he passed in Italy and reassumed command of the 368a Squadriglia from Tenente Zuffi.
On 31 January 1941, Capitano Bruno Locatelli led five CR.42s from the 368a Squadriglia and one from the 367a Squadriglia in a reconnaissance mission over Mechili. West of Mechili, he observed a strong concentration of British vehicles and went down to investigate with his wingman. At the height of 300 metres, his aircraft was suddenly seen to catch fire under the fuselage (most likely hit by AA) and Locatelli immediately parachuted slightly burned in the face neck and hands and landing near Mechili. The remaining pilots landed at Benina at 17:00. Later radio intercepts reported that an Italian fighter had been shot down and its pilot had been captured by a cavalry unit. In fact “A” Sqn. 11th Hussars reported that a CR.42 had been shot down by AA fire from the 4th Armoured Brigade at 16:30.
Locatelli was an extreme accurate and competent leader and was sorrowfully missed by his pilots. He was awarded with a Medaglia d’argento al valor militare for his overall performances during the campaign. His place at the head of 368a Squadriglia was again taken by Tenente Zuffi.
On 4 February, four Blenheims (Flight Lieutenant Paine, Flight Sergeant Overell, Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen) from 45 Squadron took off at 09:20 to bomb the railway station at Barce. Pilot Officer Collins and Pilot Officer Allen found no activity at all over the target and instead bombed motor transports between Barce and Tocra. Flight Lieutenant Paine and Flight Sergeant Overell were intercepted by Italian fighters and Paine’s Blenheim Mk.I L8538 was shot down. A few weeks later Paine returned to base stating that his crew (Sergeant Harry Cecil Thomas Holmans (RAF no. 581388) and 19-year-old Sergeant Colin Pryce Edwards (RAF no. 552544)) had both been shot and that after baling out, he had been helped by a friendly Senussi to escape through the Italian lines.
The Italian fighters were five CR.42s from the 368a Squadriglia (Tenente Zuffi, Sergente Mario Turchi, Sottotenente Furio Lauri, Sergente Maggiore Ezio Masenti and Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi) and one from the 366a Squadriglia (Sergente Audibert). They had taken off at 07:25 to make an offensive reconnaissance over the front area. Near El Hamana, Tenente Zuffi and Sergente Turchi had strafed two armoured cars claiming one stopped, in fact 1Tp, “A” Sqn. of 11th Hussars was strafed at 08:15 by two CR 42s that holed the tank of the Rolls Royce armoured car. While coming back to base, Sottotenente Lauri discovered a British bomber and started in pursuit and claimed it shot down, reporting that one of the crew had been able to jump and had landed a few kilometres north-east of El Abiar (apparently Flight Lieutenant Paine). Some Hurricanes were in the meantime discovered higher and attacked by Tenente Zuffi, Sergente Turchi, Sergente Maggiore Colauzzi and Sergente Audibert, but the British monoplanes reportedly escaped on seeing the Italian fighters.
The CR.42 flown by Sergente Ezio Masenti, suffered big loss of oil from the engine and landed at Barce. British troops were in the area and, as soon as returning pilots reported on Masenti's plight, a Ca.133 being used as a hack by the 151o Gruppo CT took off from Agedabia in the hands of Maresciallo Giovanni Accorsi of the 366a Squadriglia, who was accompanied by an engineer, 1oAv Mot. Callerani. Three CR.42s of the 366a Squadriglia led by Tenente Guglielmo Chiarini and including Maresciallo Cesare and Sergente Antonio Camerini, volunteered to provide escort. Over Barce, the Ca.133 was intercepted at low-level by a section of 73 Squadron Hurricanes.
This was ‘B’ Flight’s second patrol and consisted of the leader Pilot Officer George Goodman (V7716/TP-U), Pilot Officer J. B. 'Chips' McColl (V7372/TP-W) and Pilot Officer Ken M. Millist (V7941). The Ca.133 was shot down by Pilot Officer McColl at about 500 feet above the ground. Maresciallo Accorsi notwithstanding the desperate situation caused by the heavy damage suffered by his Caproni, reportedly didn’t parachute but instead tried to crash-land the aircraft, with the aim of saving the life of Callerani. His gallant effort failed and they both died in the subsequent crash.
As the CR.42s dived down in a vain attempt to assist the doomed transport, the Hurricanes turned to engage. In the ensuing combat Chiarini was shot down in flames and killed by Pilot Officer George Goodman (victory number 7 of 10 totally), who claimed a CR.42 that was attacking McColl.
Meanwhile, Sergente Antonio Camerini succeeded in damaging a Hurricane that he last saw escaping trailing black smoke. The Hurricanes disappeared after the short combat while the Italians started to mourn two of their most valued pilots. Unknown to them, the Hurricane flown by Pilot Officer Millist had been shot down in a head-on attack.
Millist was posted missing at the end of the action, believed shot down because his mates had seen about five unidentified aircraft above him (!). His aircraft was hit in the engine and he made a forced-landing ten miles north-east of Benina, running far away from his aircraft to avoid capture. For two days, without food or water, Millist – known as ‘Tiny’ due to his height, in excess of six feet – walked and hid, being chased on one occasion by an Italian motorcyclist whom he successfully evaded. On the third day, he met an Australian army sergeant who gave him food and water before helping him to obtain a lift to Derna. He finally arrived at Gazala on 6 February. Of Millist’s plight, his colleague Pilot Officer Bill Eiby recalled:
“Tiny Millist was a short service Australian and when he was shot down by the vintage biplane everyone laughed their bloody heads off. He went in head-on. We were told not to tackle them head-on, but Tiny did and got hit in the radiator for his pains. He got back from that one.”Camerini, who most probably shot down Millist, initially claimed the Hurricane as a probable.
On 12 February 1941, the last 12 airworthy CR.42s of the 151o Gruppo were pulled out of the frontline and sent west to Sorman airfield, on the Libyan coast. Here the unit was placed under the command of Tenente Colonnello Raffaele Colacicchi, who had taken over from Maggiore Calosso in the December when the latter stood down due to ill health. The three squadriglie commanders were Capitano Bernardino Serafini (366a), Capitano Simeone Marsan (367a) and Tenente Zuffi (368a).
In May 1941 the 368a Squadriglia was still under Zuffi’s command but now it was based at Mellaha. At this time, he had been promoted to Capitano.
The British offensive Operation Crusader was launched in North Africa on 18 November 1941. Italian reinforcements were rushed to Libya including the 151o Gruppo, which arrived at Benghazi K2 on 25 November with their CR.42s and Capitano Zuffi as CO of the 368a Squadriglia.
The Gruppo was on the same day immediately ordered to Agedabia.
Capitano Zuffi left the command of the 368a Squadriglia, 151o Gruppo, in January 1942, when Capitano Mario Ferrero took command of the unit.
Zuffi was killed in a flying accident in Naples on 13 February 1942.
At the time of his death, Zuffi was credited with 5 shared biplane victories.
|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||XXIII Gruppo|
|15/06/40||13:00-||1||”Morane” (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||MM5590||Cuers area||364a Squadriglia|
|15/06/40||13:00-||1||”Morane” (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||MM5590||Cuers area||364a Squadriglia|
|15/06/40||13:00-||1||”Morane” (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||MM5590||Cuers area||364a Squadriglia|
|15/06/40||13:00-||1||”Morane” (a)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||MM5590||Cuers area||364a Squadriglia|
|25/08/40||night||1||Enemy bomber||Damaged||Fiat CR.42||Bresso area||368a Squadriglia|
|18/09/40||12:20-||1||Blenheim (b)||Shared damaged||Fiat CR.42||Benghazi area||368a Squadriglia|
|10/12/40||15:40-||1/5||Hurricane (c)||Shared damaged||Fiat CR.42||Sidi Barrani-Buq-Buq||368a Squadriglia|
|14/12/40||08:10-10:00||1/11||Blenheim (d)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.42||Bardia area||368a Squadriglia|
|14/12/40||08:10-10:00||1/11||Blenheim (d)||Shared probable||Fiat CR.42||Bardia area||368a Squadriglia|
|26/01/41||15:35-||1||Hurricane (e)||Probable||Fiat CR.42||30m SW Gazala||368a Squadriglia|
53o Stormo - Marco Mattioli, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-977-5
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
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
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
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
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
Diario Storico 366a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Diario Storico 368a Squadriglia kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.
Guerra di Spagna e Aviazione Italiana - Ferdinando Pedriali, 1992 USSMA, Rome, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Hurricanes over Tobruk - Brian Cull with Don Minterne, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-11-X
Il 23o Gruppo Caccia - Nicola Malizia, 1974 Bizzarri, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
L’Aéronautique navale francaise de septembre 1939 à juin 1940 (Hors série Avions nr.1) - Lucien Morareau, January 1994 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
La campagne de France, les combars franco-italiens 10 juin-25 juin (Batailles Aeriennes nr. 11) - Matthieu Comas, January 2000 Le La Presse, Boulogne sur Mer, kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo
Le giovani aquile – Antonio Trizzino, 1972 Longanesi Milano, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Ministero della Difesa - Banca Dati sulle sepolture dei Caduti in Guerra
Quelli del Cavallino Rampante - Antonio Duma, 1981 Editore Dell'Ateneo, Roma, kindly provided by Stefano Lazzaro
Additional information kindly provided by Ludovico Slongo.