One of the least well documented episodes of the Battle of Britain concerns the activities of Corpo Aereo Italiano (CAI) when during the late stage of the battle the Regia Aeronautica was instructed to establish a force in Belgium to assist in operations against the British. It is not easy to see what the Italian high Command hoped this would achieve other than to boost home moral. Participation of the Regia Aeronautica at the end of the Battle of Britain was viewed as a political necessity - yet it was unwanted by the German High Command.
Formed by the transfer of existing unit CAI came into being on 10 September 1940, under the aegis of 1a Squadra Aerea di Milano. Generale sa (Air Marshal) Rino Corso-Fougier was made Air Officer Commanding. He was reputed to be a brilliant officer and pilot, but his only recent war experience was the short lived campaign when Italy invaded the south of France.
There where three Stormi (roughly a RAF Wing). Two of these were bombers and were the striking force, self-protection being provided by the fighter Stormo. With the transport element (twelve Caproni 133Ts, one Savoia-Marchetti S.75, with nine Ca164s for communications) a force of some two hundred aircraft.
18° Gruppo CT was re-assigned from 3° Stormo after having taken part in the attack on southern France and equipped with new aircraft. 20° Gruppo CT was re-assigned from 51° Stormo and was initially equipped with 45 Fiat G.50bis.
During the preparation stage, details were particularly taken care of in order to make a good impression on the German ally. A number of modifications were made to the equipment and a special grey-blue uniform was created for the troop, eliminating knickerbockers and puttees of World War 1 vintage.
Order of Battle
Corpo Aereo Italiano - commanded by Generale sa A Corso-Fougier
13° Stormo BT
43° Stormo BT
56° Stormo CT
Corpo Aereo Italiano's SM.75 on its way to Belgium. Here it's seen outside a hangar at Novi Ligure in September 1940. It was used as the personal aircraft of Generale sa Rino Corso-Fougier.
After the arrival of the force in Belgium Field Marshal Kesselring presented Generale Corso-Fougier with a Fiesler Storch for his personal use. Apart from the military aircraft a Ju52/3m I-BIZI was loaned by the Ala Littorio as courier between Force headquarters and the Stato Maggiore in Rome.
The bomber element left the airfields of San Damanio di Piacenza and Cameri di Novara on the morning of the 27 September, flying in formation through the autumn weather, over the plains of Lombardy and Piedmont. On the northeast course, they approached the Alps under 7/10ths cloud, steadily increasing altitude before levelling for the crossing. Over the mountains, the weather deteriorated further with 8/10ths strato-cumulus being at its worst in the region of Innsbruck.
40 bombers of the 43° Stormo had taken off from Cameri di Novara (north-western Italy) but only 30 arrived at Chiévres four hours later.
One bomber crash-landed (unknown place) due to engine breakdown while flying over the Alps (pilot wounded, aircraft heavily damaged, crew jumped apparently safe). One bomber landed at Gablingen (Goblingen?)) due to an engine breakdown (no further info). One bomber fell in the area of München (Wasserberg) (bad visibility and icing on the wings) and was lost (pilots wounded and three crewmembers dead). Six bombers landed safely in various German airports (four at Nürnberg, one at München and one at Ergoding (Ergelding?)). One bomber crash-landed while landing at Ergoding (Ergelding?) and was written off (crew apparently safe). 37 bombers of the 13° Stormo took off from San Damanio di Piacenza but only 30 arrived at Melsbroek. One bomber landed at Augsburg due to engine breakdown (aircraft and crew apparently safe). One bomber landed in a field near Spa due to engine breakdown (aircraft fate unknown and crew apparently safe). Two bombers were forced to land due to excessive consumption of lubricant. One was safe at Frankfurt, the other went out of the boundaries of the airstrip when landing at Evère and was written off (crew wounded). Three bombers safely landed at Anversa, they too had used too much lubricant.
In contrast, and unexpectedly, the fighters of 56° Stormo seem to have transferred without a great deal of trouble although bad weather hampered the transfer. The 20° Gruppo C.T. brought with them 45 Fiat G.50bis and six Caproni Ca.133s. Each Squadriglia flew in five groups of three aircraft with two Ca.133s bring in the rest of the pilots and some of the crew of the squadriglia.Under Maggiore Mario Bonzano the Gruppo flew from Roma-Ciampino on 22 September to Treviso. In Treviso they were forced to stay on the ground due to fog and only on 6 October could the Gruppo fly on to Bolzano. Eleven days later they flew over the Alps and landed in Munich. The next two stages saw the Gruppo flying to Frankfurt, first, and then to its final base at Maldegem airfield. Only one Fiat G.50bis was left behind having to force-land with carburation problems. The 18° Gruppo led by Commandante Vosilla reached Ursel after a comparatively short and uneventful flight. The Cant Z.1007s of 172a Squadriglia flew a different course via Monaco to Frankfurt and on to Melsbroeck.
On 22 October the CAI was finally complete in Belgium. The Generale sa Corso Fougier installed his HQ in Petite Espinette of Rhode-St-Genesis (between Brussels and Waterloo) and the technical services were established on the aerodrome of Evere. Once established in their new bases the units had less than a month to become accustomed to strange airfields and language, northern weather conditions and integration into the Luftwaffe structure. 2nd Fliegerkorps was to be the controlling formation and to facilitate control and communications 13° Stormo was designated KG13; 43° Stormo - KG43; 18° Gruppo - 18/JG56; 20° Gruppo - 20/JG56 and 172a Squadriglia - 1(F)172. Zone of operations allocated to the Italians was bounded by the parallels 53oN and 01oE. The worthwhile targets were along the coast between the Thames and Harwich including the estuaries of the Orwell and Stour. In fact there is a single unconfirmed report of only one inland attack and that on Canterbury.
Contrary to wartime propaganda by the Italian news media the bombing carried out by the CAI was comparatively ineffectual and expensive in crews and aircraft. This was due to a number of factors, perhaps the most important being the lack of experience and training, which would have enabled the crews to cope with the difficult meteorological conditions, but additionally much of the equipment was inadequate. The Regia Aeronautica's aircraft had been most advanced in the period 1937/1938, but there had been insufficient development from that time. As an example only three G.50bis were fitted with radios and all G.50bis lacked adequate instruments for instrumental navigation. The absolute lack of instrumental flying training for the crews limited the fighters to only daylight patrols and bomber escort missions. A few days after arrival the Italian's funny cork-stripped life-vests (nicknamed "sausages") were replaced with German-supplied inflatable rubber vests fitted with a fluorescing bag to facilitate being located on the sea.
The arrival of the Italian task force in Belgium resulted in that the exiled Belgian government in London declared war on Italy.
The airfields in Belgium received codenames. Known names are "Dedalo" (Melsbroeck) and "Icaro" (Chièvres).
Operations commenced on 24 October with a night bombing raid on Felixstowe and Harwich, twelve BR.20Ms of 13° Stormo and six from 43° Stormo taking part. The first aircraft, flown by Capitano Bassi of 43° Gruppo, took-off at 20:35 and was quickly followed by the ones flown by Capitano Gastaldi and Tenente Albertini.
At 20:50 MM21928 (5-8) of 5a Squadriglia flown by Capitano Carlo Pagani took-off. A few minutes later this aircraft crashed close to the church at Houtem, killing Pagani together with his crew; Co-pilot Maresciallo Giovanni Favia, Tenente Arrigo Vardabasso, Flight Engineer Sergente Paolo Biziocchi, Flight Engineer Sergente Aldo del Monte and Air gunner Sergente Paride Astesati. Ten of the aircraft from 13° Stormo managed to locate Harwich and dropped their bombs from an altitude of 5000 to 5500 meters. When returning MM21895 (Capitano F. Bassi) of 3a Squadriglia and MM22624 (Tenente M. Pesso) became lost. Bassi's crew baled out near Cambrai and Pesso's between Namur and Charleroi, while his aircraft (MM22624) crashed in Lustin. The evacuation of the two aircraft went well and only the radio operator 1o Avieri Armando Paolini was wounded in a foot.
During the return a third bomber flown by Capitano U. Machieraldo had to force-land at Lille-Epinoy and the aircraft was damaged. The remaining eight aircraft from 13° Stormo landed at Melsbroeck between 23:50 and 00:35. For the 22% loss of aircraft or seriously damaged, the bombing results were poor.
Ramsgate was attacked on 27 October.
On 29 October (the last day within the official limit of the Battle of Britain) saw a change in strategy - a daylight raid with a large fighter escort on Ramsgate Harbour. Fifteen bombers from 43° Stormo with Maggiore M. Tenti as leader with an escort of 39 Fiat CR.42s and 34 Fiat G.50bis plus a gruppe of Bf109E and Fs were briefed and took off. Three of the bombers were forced to abort due to engine troubles and two of them returned prematurely to Chièvres while the third was forced to land at Ostend-Stene.
The attack was performed at a relatively low level as if performing the Italian equivalent of the Hendon airshow, in formation wingtip to wingtip. All of the Italian were gaily painted pale green and bright blue, camouflage for a more exotic climate than Britain's in late October, and made them stand out like peacocks among the 'eagles'. The anti-aircraft gunners were as puzzled as everyone else by this strange sight in the sky, and it was a few minutes before fire was opened. The Italian armada then turned right in one formation, content to have over-flown enemy soil in order to provide Milan newspapers with appropriate propaganda and departed over Ramsgate - upon which 75 bombs were scattered at 17.45. During the attack five of the bombers were damaged and some of the aircrew injured. This would appear to have been as a result of AA fire. One aircraft of 243a Squadriglia (243-3) is so bad damaged that it need to force-land as soon as it reach Belgium. While approaching the machine-gunner 1o Avieri Giuseppe Monti panics and tries to parachute but the aircraft is unfortunately at a too low altitude and he is crushed to death near Courtrai when he hits the ground before his parachute deploys. The aircraft makes a perfect belly landing close to the mill at Kuurne with the four remaining crew-members, Maggiore Corrado Ferretti (commander of 241a Squadriglia), Capitano Romualdo Montobbio (pilot), Maresciallo L. Bussi and 1o Avieri P. Autrello, slightly injured. The rest of the aircraft all returns safely to Chièvres.
During the afternoon on 1 November 26 Fiat G.50s of the 20° Gruppo flew a sweep over Canterbury, meeting violent anti-aircraft fire near Folkestone, while 39 Fiat CR.42s of the 18° Gruppo swept over Ramsgate, Canterbury and Dover. No combats were recorded.
On the night of 5/6 November a night raid was flown by the 'Chianti part', as Fighter Command now had begun to call them, when thirteen BR.20s of 13° Stormo attacked Harwich and Ipswich without losses although one of the bombers returned with battle damage. Local newspapers unkindly reported that the bombers sounded like 'rattling tin cans' when they found out that Italians were responsible for keeping them awake!
In the afternoon on 8 November 22 Fiat G.50s of the 20° Gruppo flew an offensive patrol between Dungeness, Folkestone, Canterbury and Margate. They reported a combat with four RAF fighters, but didn't submit any claims. Squadron Leader B. J. E. Lane (Spitfire Mk.II P7377) was bounced at this time by a reported Hurricane and made an emergency landing with Category 2 damage. It is possible that the Italian aircraft inflicted this damage, but it is also possible that Oberleutnant Hahn of I/JG77 who claimed a Spitfire destroyed at an unknown time inflicted this damage.
On the night of 10/11 November five Fiat BR.20Ms of the 43° Stormo made individual attacks on targets in the Ramsgate area.
November 11 (the same day half the Italian battle fleet was knocked out at Taranto by British naval aircraft) saw the largest operation mounted by the force. Although only ten BR.20Ms from 99° Gruppo (four from the 242a and and six from the 243a Squadriglia) led by Tenente Colonnello G. Battista Ciccu were involved the fighter force escorting was 42 CR.42s, 46 G.50s and supporting Bf109s. Again, the bad weather became an important factor, causing the G.50s and Bf109s to abort shortly after take off and return to base, leaving only the CR.42s as escort.
The BR.20Ms took off around midday, each of them loaded with three 250 kg bombs. They took the route Bruges-Ostend-Harwich and approached Harwich at 14.40 at 3.700 meters.
The bombers formation was: 242a Squadriglia
The bombers formation was: 243a Squadriglia
Information kindly provided by Giovanni Massimello.
When the Italian bombers approached the English coast they were spotted by British radar and Hurricanes from 17 and 257 Squadrons were scrambled shortly after 13.30, whilst Hurricanes from 46 Squadron, already airborne patrolling a convoy off Foulness, were also vectored to intercept Bandits over the Thames Estuary by Fighter Control. The latter formation was slightly delayed while the investigated a formation which proved to be friendly and were forced to made a wide circle before attacking. Elements 249 Squadron were also on a convoy patrol patrolling the same convoy off Foulness.
Flight Lieutenant H. Peter Blatchford (in Hurricane V6962), leading 257 Squadron, sighted nine bombers flying in a tight 'vic' formation some 10 miles east of Harwich. These were heading west-north-west at 12,000 feet, and Blatchford climbed the squadron to 15,000 feet before leading them down in a beam attack on the starboard side BR.20 formation. 46 Squadron, meanwhile, was fast approaching from the port side and attacked almost simultaneously. As they did so they were attacked from above and behind by between 20 and 30 CR.42s.
Peter Blatchford first attacked the rear BR.20 to the starboard side, seeing no effect from his fire and passing across to the port side, where he delivered two rear-quarter attacks on the rear left bomber. This aircraft looped violently and dived vertically towards the sea, disintegrating before hitting the water. His second opponent was also probably attacked by Pilot Officer K. Pniak (in Hurricane V7292) of 257 Squadron, who attacked one bomber that began to smoke and burn and then turned onto its back before it dived into the sea 10 miles east of Harwich after one man had baled out. He then attacked another, which glided in towards the coast, trailing smoke.
Meanwhile Pilot Officer Kay of 257 Squadron attacked the extreme right-hand aircraft, which had broken away upwards, trailing smoke. This was given a burst by Pilot Officer S. E. Andrews of 257 Squadron and dived into the sea. Kay then attacked another with Pniak. It broke formation and headed for the coast. Flight Lieutenant L. M. Gaunce (in Hurricane V6928) of 46 Squadron had also attacked the first bomber, noting that it was then attacked by two more Hurricanes (Kay and Andrews), and indeed was also probably engaged by Pilot Officers G. North and P. A. Mortimer of 257 Squadron and by Sergeant R. J. Parrott of 46 Squadron.
North, after making an unsuccessful beam attack on one aircraft, made a stern pass on another, which fell away, diving towards the coast. He chased it, expended all his ammunition, saw four bombs fall away and the undercarriage drop. Mortimer, who had previously made a head-on attack, hitting one aircraft before engaging North's opponent, then attacked this bomber. The bomber then caught fire and dived into the sea. One man baled out but pulled his parachute release too early and his canopy caught on the tail unit.
Sergeant Parrott saw a BR.20 heading for the coast pursued by a Hurricane that was obviously out of ammunition (North). He made two firing passes under fire from the rear gunner and on the second attack the bomber's engines burst into flames and it dived into the sea.
Meanwhile, the aircraft previously attacked by both Pniak and North came under attack from three 46 Squadron pilots; Pilot Officer G. Leggett had already attacked one BR.20, from which one of the crew had baled out before it crashed into the sea, and now he joined forces with Pilot Officer Hedley and Sergeant N. Walker to chase another in over the English coast heading towards Ipswich. After several attacks the BR.20 circled, losing height, and finally crashed into a wood some 10 miles east of the town.
The last claims against the Italian bombers came from Sergeant S. E. Lucas of 257 Squadron who reported that he had disabled one bomber by putting one engine out of action. Pilot Officer B. Davey of 257 Squadron attacked the bomber on the extreme right, attacking from underneath and using up all his ammunition. He saw black smoke belch from both engines. This bomber was then attacked by a Hurricane from 46 Squadron.
Spitfires of 41 Squadron had also been scrambled, but although they arrived too late to take part in the main battle, they were the first to sight the CR.42s. The Spitfire (Spitfire Mk.II P7322) flown by Flying Officer E. P. Wells was attacked, but he evaded and claimed one CR.42 damaged east of Ofordness before the biplane fighters disappeared. This event apparently delayed the Italians from interfering with the initial attack by 257 and 46 Squadrons. While the Hurricanes were ripping into the BR.20s, the Italian fighter pilots had appeared above. Peter Blatchford was turning to attack the bombers again, but saw many fighters. He engaged one, opened fire and it "waffled extensively", but he was unable to conclude this combat as he was then caught up in a dogfight with others. He found that he could turn with the agile biplane, but quickly ran out of ammunition and rammed the Italian fighter, striking the upper mainplane with his propeller. The CR.42 at once fell away. Blatchford headed for base, but saw a Hurricane coming under attack from three CR.42s in line astern. He made a dummy head-on attack on each, causing them to break away and head east. On his return, Blatchford found that nine inches had been lost from two propeller blades and that they were also splashed with blood.
Meanwhile, Sergeant Lucas of 257 Squadron, breaking away from his attack on the bombers, saw enemy fighters below and behind. He turned and took one in a head-on attack, seeing it go down in a spin. He was then attacked by four more and quickly climbed into cloud, but saw his opponent crash into the sea. In fact it is likely that the aircraft he saw was not his opponent, but that of Flight Lieutenant Gaunce of 46 Squadron, who had seen a CR42 appear beside him whilst the rest of the 46 Squadron Hurricane pilots were still shooting at the bombers. He turned and opened fire at close range. The CR.42 dived and Gaunce followed spinning and manoeuvring violently with his throttle closed in order to stay above. He then lost sight of his adversary and pulled up, engaging two more and firing a deflection burst at one of them. He then saw another pair, one of which he chased with closed throttle, opening fire at 150 yards. The CR.42 took no evasive action, but continued straight on, losing height. He lost sight of it, but then approached another CR.42 from the side. After a full deflection burst from 80 yards, it burst into flames and dived into the sea 15 miles east of Ofordness.
Pilot Officer Karel Mrazek, a pre-war Czech Air Force pilot, of 46 Squadron was flying with the intercepting force when he experienced partial engine failure in his Hurricane (V7610) and fell behind the formation. He then sighted a number of twin-engined bombers flying in five sections of three, and identified them as Fiat BR.20s.
Mrazek served as Pilot Officer with 43 and 46 Squadrons during the Battle of Britain. Later in the war he was promoted to Squadron Leader and took command over 313 (Czechoslovak) Squadron. Later still he served as Wing Commander of the whole Czechoslovak Wing. Mrazek was awarded with both the DFC and the DSO during the war. He returned to Czechoslovakia after the war as a Group Commander and lived in the town of Jablonec. Mrazek passed away on 5 December 1998.
Pilot Officer Karel Mrazek who during patrol with 46 Squadron claimed two shot down Italian CR.42s on 11 November 1940.
Flight Lieutenant M. Burnett of 46 Squadron had not engaged the bombers, but had climbed above as 257 Squadron attacked. Then a large formation of CR.42s appeared from cloud to the south. He took one of the leading pair, opened fire, and as he closed turned his guns on the other, firing until his ammunition was gone. He saw strikes on the fuselage of his second opponent, which broke left in a step turn, leaving the others in a gentle dive.
Pilot Officer Hedley of 46 Squadron saw a CR.42 about to dive or spin and opened fire, but as it went down another Hurricane hurtled down and destroyed it.
Finally, Sergeant L. D. Barnes of 257 Squadron, who sighted approximately ten groups of CR.42s in sections of four, attacked one group, using up his ammunition. His opponent at once dived past the vertical, but the other three out-turned the Hurricane, which took one bullet through the wing before he shook them off and returned to base.
This was not the end of the story, for 249 Squadron also had Hurricanes airborne on convoy patrol duties. Wing Commander F. V. Beamish sighted one of the returning CR.42s and claimed a 'probable' 20-30 miles east of Southwold, while Flight Lieutenant Robert A. Barton attacked an aircraft identified as a Junkers Ju 86P, which he claimed "went into the sea like a torch". This could have been one of the BR.20s - although Luftwaffe lost several other aircraft this day. It is more probable that this was Focke-Wulf Fw58 (3551 'OJ + AK') of Stab III/JG51, flown by Unteroffizier Karl Nispel + 1 crew. This had been sent out to seek three shot-down fighter pilots from the morning's operations over the Thames Estuary and did not return.
RAF made following claims after this combat:
249 Squadron Wing Commander F. Victor Beamish - 1 CR.42 probably destroyed
41 Squadron Flying Officer Edward Preston Wells - 1 CR.42 damaged
In return, the Italian fighters claimed nine enemy fighters. One Hurricane was credited to Giuseppe Ruzzin, who fired on a climbing Hurricane. He reported that it was his and fell away with along trail of smoke and was credited with a victory. Defending gunners in the bombers also claimed one additional Hurricane.
As usual, with this kind of large air combats, these claims are exaggerated for CAI lost three fighters and three bombers while RAF didn't suffer any losses and only 2 Hurricanes were slightly damaged.
During combat over the Suffolk coast, the 99° Gruppo lost three BR.20Ms. The two aircraft flown by Sottotenente Enzio Squazzini (242-3/MM22267) and Sottotenente Ernesto Bianchi (243-10/MM22620) ditched in the North Sea; two men were seen to bale out from one of the bombers. The third (243-2/MM22621) flown by Sottotenente Pietro Appiani was pursued by the 46 Squadron trio (Leggett, Hedley and Walker - Pniak was also probably part of this claim) and crashed in Tangham Forest, Bromswell, near Woodbridge. The radio-operator 1o Avieri Armando Paolini had been killed in the air and the co-pilot Sergente Pilota Giuliano Rigolone and the flight engineer 1o Avieri Motorista Emmanuelle De Gasperi were wounded (Rigolone later died of his wounds). The pilot Sottotenente Appiani, Degasperi and the unit's photographer Avieri Sc. Mario Pensa were taken prisoner. The sixth in the aircrew, 1o Avieri Elvino Cerrosi (front air gunner and bombardier), survived the crash without any wounds and became a POW. MM22621 was later removed to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough for evaluation. 257 Squadron personnel visited the wreckage first however and 'liberated' two crests, a bayonet sheath and a steel helmet to serve as squadron trophies. The Aldeburgh lifeboat was sent out after the crews from MM22267 and MM22620 but only found an Italian parachute. A German He59 also looked for survivors but it was shot down 20m off the Naze. No survivors were found.
Tenente Pier Antonio Poggi, who was lost on 11 November. He was probably co-pilot in Sottotenente Enzio Squazzini's 242-3/MM22267. Image kindly provided by Antonio Poggi.
Tenente Pier Antonio Poggi at Brugelette prior the 11 November mission. Image kindly provided by Antonio Poggi.
Fiat BR.20M 242-3/MM22267 lost on 11 November 1940. Image kindly provided by Antonio Poggi.
In the course of aerial combat 18° Gruppo C.T. lost three CR.42s. 46 and 257 Squadrons shot down two. Sergente Enzo Panicchi of 83a Squadriglia was killed when MM6978 was shot down into the sea apparently by Gaunce. Sergente Antonio Lazzari of the 85a Squadriglia crashed with MM6976 ('16') near Corton Railway Station and was taken prisoner.
Fiat CR.42 MM6976 flown by Sergente Antonio Lazzari and shot down 11 November 1940 near Corton Railway Station.
The third, MM5701/95-13 flown by Sergente Pietro Salvadori of 95a Squadriglia force-landed due to engine problems on a beach near the Orfordness lighthouse and he was also taken prisoner. This last aircraft was made serviceable by the RAF and flown on evaluation trails as BT474 and is now on exhibition in the Battle of Britain Museum, Hendon.
The British interrogation of Salvadori revealed a lot of details. He told that even before the combat started his aircraft had got a broken oil duct, which meant that the aircraft couldn't stay in formation. The engine started to overheat and he was forced to make an emergency landing on the beach. This landing was successful and the aircraft didn't sustain any large damage. Shortly after the landing a Hurricane flew over him and he waved at it, at which the Hurricane responded by waggling his wings. The British interrogation also revealed that Salvadori had a very weak moral and didn't want to fight any more. He was really happy to have left the war and was very dissatisfied with the Italian officers. He also didn't like the Belgian weather and appreciated neither the Germans, nor their food.
Evidence from bomber wreckage revealed an extraordinarily large crew of six, all wearing tin hats and armed with rifles and bayonets. Also had some nice wiine and cheese too from the photo :-)
Apart from loses already mentioned other aircraft, both fighter and bomber, were damaged in combat. Four BR.20s force-landed either on the Dunes at Dunquerque or at Antwerp-Deurne airfield. One of the aircraft, which landed at Bray-Dunes, was 243-6/MM22628 flown by Tenente Luigi Gnechi with a dead radio-operator aboard. The other three damaged BR.20Ms were 242-4/MM22626, 243-4/MM21914 and 243-9/MM21879.
Nineteen CR.42s landed away from base as a result of either combat damage or shortage of fuel. Of these were eight damaged and MM5676 (Sergente Mario Sandini) and MM5662 (Tenente P. Tacchini) of 83a Squadriglia were destroyed; Sandini's aircraft crashing in a public square in Amsterdam. One of the aircraft that was damaged was flown by the ace-to-be Sottotenente Franco Bordoni-Bisleri when he landed short on fuel. MM5703 (95-14) overturned on landing but the pilot Tenente Ramolo Artina was unharmed. Sottotenente Peppo Re also overturned with his 85-4 when he force-landed near Dunderlewe. Another CR.42 damaged or destroyed was flown by Sottotenente Brunolena.
After the ambitious effort of the 11th, the next sortie was on the night of 17/18 November and was a small-scale night raid on Harwich by six BR.20s of 43° Stormo without losses.
On 18 November two CR.42s (Tenente Specker and Maresciallo Giuseppe Ruzzin) were detached to Vlissingen on night fighter and reconnaissance duties.
At 10:10 on 20 November a lone BR.20M of the 13° Stormo set out to attack Norwich, but aborted due to the bad weather.
Next attack came as twelve BR.20s of 13° Stormo took off between 23:30 and 00:45 on the night of 20/21 November. Seven 250kg and seventy 100kg HE bombs being dropped.
One aircraft was lost when 5a Squadriglia BR.20M MM22257 failed to return, the crew last being heard radioing that they were attacked by a night fighter. The bodies of Tenente Sergio Paoli and Sergente Maggiore Gino Rildani were later washed ashore at Wassenaar, without 'chutes but with lifejackets. The remainder of the crew, Sottotenente Umberto Fonda, 1o Avieri Motorista Erasmo Lesignoli, 1o Avieri Marconista Amelio Brunetti and 1o Avieri Armiere Raffaele Giampieretti were reported missing.
This loss can't be verified any corresponding RAF claims.
Fiat CR.42 of Corpo Aero Italiano based in Belgium. Right image © Archive D'Amico-Valentini.
On the 23 November a fighter sweep was flown by 29 CR.42s of the 18° Gruppo led by Maggiore Ferruccio Vosilla with Sottotenente Franco Bordoni-Bisleri as his wingman. The course was Dunquerque - Margate - Eastchurch - Folkestone - Calais while 24 G.50s of the 20° Gruppo covered them, operating a little further inland. At 11:40, 12 Spitfires Mk.IIs (P7550, P7597, P7311, P7496, P7529, P7388, P7289, P7543, P7389, P7449, P7528, and P7324) from 603 Squadron were scrambled from Hornchurch and headed south. Off Folkestone 603 Squadron spotted the Italian CR.42s travelling west and the Spitfires hit them from astern. The CR.42s were badly bounced and two of them were lost when MM5694 of the 83a Squadriglia flown by Tenente Guido Mazza and MM5665 of the 95a Squadriglia flown by Sergente Maggiore Giacomo Grillo were shot down into the sea and reported missing. On return to base Sergente Maggiore F. Campanile and Sergente P. Melano of the 83a Squadriglia had to force-land and both pilots were slightly injured. Later it was found out that Campanile had, due to the lack of armour plating, been saved by his parachute pack, which had stopped several machinegun bullets. During the combat Tenente Giulio Cesare Giuntella's CR.42 was hit several times but he returned claiming hits on a Spitfire. Maresciallo Felice Sozzi of the 83a Squadriglia (83-15) attacked and chased off a Spitfire on the tail of Sergente Maggiore Luigi Gorrini's aircraft, who in his turn were attacking other British Spitfires. Sozzi was however hit in return by two other Spitfires, who attacked him from behind. He was seriously wounded with three bullets in his lungs but he succeeded despite pain and a damaged aircraft, to return for an emergency landing on a Belgian beach. He survived his ordeal and recovered to receive the Medaglia d'argento al valore militare "in the field".
603 Squadron claimed seven shot down and two probables. CR42s were claimed destroyed by Pilot Officer Archie L. Winskill (Spitfire Mk.II P7389)(his first two claims) and Sergeant A. S. Darling, who claimed two apiece and by Pilot Officers Ronald Berry (his 9th claim), B. R. MacNamara and Flying Officer Colin Pinckney (Spitfire Mk.II P7529)(his third claim). Berry also claimed a probable, as did Flying Officer John C. Boulter (Spitfire Mk.II P7597)(his last claim before being killed in an accident on 17 February 1941), while Pilot Officer F. David S. Scott-Malden (Spitfire P7278 (?) 'D') claimed two damaged when he saw strikes on these.
18° Gruppo claimed five enemy fighters. However it appears that only one Spitfire was actually damaged when Archie Winskill returned to base with the canopy shattered and the aircraft (P7389) damaged by return fire from the CR.42s. Winskill was however safe.
As 603 Squadron disengaged, more RAF units were alerted to the presence of furthers enemy units. 92 Squadron left Biggin Hill at 12:25 together with 74 Squadron. Aircraft identified as Bf109s were sighted by 92 Squadron pilots some miles south of Dover, but these particular fighters avoided combat. It seems that it is likely that these were the Fiat G.50s of the 20° Gruppo. The Italian pilots reported sighting a formation of British fighters, but did not engage them.
On 25 November 25 Fiat CR.42s of the 18° Gruppo flew out from Calais and made landfall at Margate. Over Eastchurch, the bad weather deteriorated and the formation aborted the patrol without sighting any British aircraft.
In the early hours on the night of 27/28 November six BR.20Ms of the 13° Stormo raided Ipswich without loss.
Around noon on 28 November 23 Fiat G.50s of 20° Gruppo, accompanied by a small formation of Bf109s and followed by 24 Fiat CR.42s of 18° Gruppo flew an offensive patrol over Ashford, Maidstone and Dungeness, but were not engaged by British fighters.
A further night raid was made on Harwich, Ipswich, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth on the 29th, ten of 13° Stormo's aircraft taking off between 1745 and 1830 hours. 41 x 100kg and 20 x 50kg HE bombs being dropped. They met strong AA fire and later, when MM21908 came in to land at base, presumably because of combat damage, it hit some workers houses at Diegem-Lo, burning out and killing Tenente Talete Rebuscini, Tenente L. Dal Forn, Maresciallo E. Romito, Avieri G. Columbano, G. Maruelli and M. Cini.
Visiting Luftwaffe personnel watch with interest as the pilot of a Fiat CR.42 of the CAI climbs into his fighter on a cold day in late 1940. Location is probably Ursel, although it could be Vlissingen, where two of the fighters were detached for reconnaissance and night interception duties.
On the night of 5/6 December twelve BR.20Ms of the 13° Stormo attacked Ipswich.
On the night of 13/14 December seventeen BR.20Ms of 13o and 43° Stormos carried out nuisance raids on the east cost together with bombers from KG2. On of the BR.20Ms was hit by gunfire near Harwich.
The Ursel base was attacked for the first and only time on 19 December by a Bristol Blenheim.
On the night of 21/22 December six BR.20Ms of 13o and 43° Stormos again raided Harwich. One of the bombers returned with battle damage attributed to a British night-fighter, although no British claim was submitted for a combat in this area during this night.
Last time the CAI appeared over British skies during 1940 was on the night of 22/23 December when six BR.20Ms of the 43° Gruppo made individual attacks on Harwich without losses.
The bomber effort of the CAI ended with a touch of farce when a single BR.20M flown by the CO of 240a Squadriglia took off to bomb London. Almost inevitably, the crew became lost and bailed out near Abbeville.
Four BR.20Ms from the 13° Stormo took off from Melsbroek on the late afternoon on 2 January 1941 in order to fly a mission against Ipswich harbour. They were to operate separately. Two however experienced technical problems (failures at the landing gear retraction system on both) while still over Belgium and they returned to base. The remaining two bombers were disturbed by searchlights and by intense AAA. One night-fighter was observed and it seems that no bombs were dropped. According to other sources the target was Harwich harbour which according to the same source was successfully bombed.
A further bombing mission with eigth BR.20M from the 13° Stormo was planned on 9 January 1941, with the same target. Two aircraft took off at 19:00 but the mission was suspended and the aircraft were recalled.
By January 1941, all of the BR.20Ms and CR.42s that remained were flown back to Italy, leaving only the G.50s in Belgium, in yet another token gesture of support for the Luftwaffe.
13o and 43o Stormis flew home to take part in the Greek and Yugoslavian campaigns while 18° Gruppo moved to Libya.
After the main CAI units had left for Italy, 352a and 353a Squadriglias remained for patrols along the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts as far as Calais (353a Squadriglia moved to Desvres, France on 1 March), until 15 April 1941.
Some of the Italian pilots were checked out on the Bf109E at Maldegem (at least one of them was borrowed from II/JG54) during this time. One of these pilots was the pre-war well-known pilot and ace-to-be Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio (he was later killed over Malta on 27 July 1942 by George Beurling of 249 Squadron after having claimed 7 victories). More of the pilots were allowed to fly the Bf109Es at JG51's training unit, based at Cazaux, France. The Italian pilots were so impressed with the German fighter that they asked their commander to order 100 of them for the Regia Aeronautica. The Germans however declined to supply this amount but did offer to equip one Gruppo but this was rejected by the Italian higher command.
Capitano Furio Niclot Doglio in front of Bf109E-4 "White 1" borrowed from II/JG54 to train some 20° Gruppo pilots.
On 3 April 1941 Sergente Maggiore Pilota Remo Meneghini of 353a Squadriglia died in a flight accident during one uneventful patrol.
The crash site of this G.50 seems to be the village of Crémarest, very close to Desvres airfield.
At 11:45 on 13 April Tenente Mario Roncalli of the 352a Squadriglia was scrambled from Ursel. He intercepted an enemy aircraft at 300 meters altitude above the Eastern Flanders. However, he aborted the interception to return to base but due some unknown cause he lost control of the aircraft and it crashed into the ground, killing the pilot. This was C.A.I.'s last operational loss. No reports of RAF activities in the area have been possible to find.
The remains of Roncalli were recovered and he was buried close to Steenbrugge. Roncalli was one of 352a Squadriglia's best pilots and he had flown the Bf109E for the first time two weeks earlier.
On 16 April 20° Gruppo took off from their base to fly back to Italy and further on to Libya.
During their six months in Belgium the G.50s of 20° Gruppo flew 662 sorties, but, extraordinarily, never encountered any enemy aircraft! They actually only sighted enemy aircraft twice!
Known aviators in the Corpo Aereo Italiano (CAI)
Editor for Asisbiz: Matthew Laird Acred
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