History of the 2º Stormo

The Stormo at War

In the very first day of war the 2º Stormo flew interdiction mission over Tripoli and Tobruk, but soon the first problems began to show up: the biplanes and their armament were often outclassed by the British aircraft (although they used at the beginning similar models, like the Gloster Gladiator).

On June 11, a flight of Bristol Blenheim and Gloster Gladiator attacked the T3 airfield near Tobruk: since the fighters of the 8º Gruppo were considerably slower than the English intruders, they couldn't even catch up with them. In spite of its technical inferiority, the Unit was successful in some occasions (the Gruppo shot down nine Blenheims, one Sunderland and three Gladiators). In mid June the 77ª and 82ª Squadriglia of the 13º Gruppo deployed to T2 field to help the 8º Gruppo out, while the 87ª Squadriglia remained at Buka.

At the end of June the 8º Gruppo replaced the remaining CR-32 with the CR-42 then, on the first days of July, it deployed to T3 airfield.

The Gruppi of the 2º Stormo made all possible efforts to satisfy the growing requests of fighter escort missions and at the same time to keep making scramble takeoff and attacking enemy motorized troops; unfortunately aircraft efficiency dropped to such a low value that was not possible to provide for all needed aircraft. The desert sand caused many problems to the engines and in July the situation went critical: to give an idea of the abnegation of the 2º Stormo to carry out its tasks in technical and numerical inferiority, a description of a typical day, taken from the historic diaries, is given below.

July 4th, 1940. "Hour 9:00. The fighters of the 8º Gruppo, on ground alert at T2 airfield, scrambles after a flight of Gladiators: five CR-42 take off to protect an IMAM Ro.37 reconnaissance aircraft, which is flying along the front line, from the English fighters. The pilots of the 2º Stormo make shield for our spotter and engage the enemies: its a deadly carousel what the English and Italian fighters draw over the desert. At a certain point , as happened many other times, four aircraft of ours jam their machine gun: all what they can do is trying to escape from the enemy bullets by doing aerobatics, but two CR-42 are shot down. The only CR-42 with working machine guns is the one of Master Sergeant Fausti: fighting like a lion he manages to hold the English at bay, shoots down two Gladiators allowing the survivor CR-42s to make for home safely.

All day long the 8º and 13º Gruppo perform fighter escorts, fighter sweeps, combat air patrols, then at 6:05 PM they scramble again after the English Gladiator, spotted close to our forward line troops: again five CR-42, belonging to the 93ª and 94ª Squadriglia, are ready for take off, their engines roaring at maximum power. The crew chiefs near the fighters, almost hidden by the sand lifted by the propellers, give the starting signal: the biplanes lift off then climb up towards the Menastir area, were the Gladiator were spotted. There are six English fighters up there and the fight brakes out fiercely: Warrant Officer Cecchi is deadly hit within short time (his machine guns were jammed) his biplane spiraling down and crashing in the desert. Later on it's Lt. De Fraia turn to be shot down, but at least he makes it to jump out before the crash, then also Captain Lavelli is engaged by the Gladiators: with its machine guns unable to fire its only a matter of seconds before he is shot down.

Of the two remaining CR-42s, one has its machine gun jammed the other one is flown by Master Sergeant Fausti: he tries to engage the enemies fighters, like he did in the morning, but this time the Gladiators close in and all his aerobatics is no use: bursts reach the biplane from everywhere, it's the end.

Fausti has paid with his life his heroic altruism; he has found his death because the 2º Stormo has been forced to fight using inferior aircraft that often are not even able to fire. The survivor CR 42 lands riddled with bullets, its arms still jammed: rage pervades pilots and maintenance crew encircling the aircraft.

In his memory, Master Sergeant Fausti is awarded with the Gold Medal for Military Valour."

In the end of July aircraft efficiency was so scarce to compromise any combat activity: on August 9 the two Gruppi had only five aircraft in flight conditions. The 13º Gruppo had to move to Berka and later on , together with 8º Gruppo, moved to K airfield where began the overhaul and repairing of the aircraft. In the meantime, a new supply of engines fitted with sand filter arrived in Berka and could be mounted on the overhauled aircraft.

With their fighters again in flight conditions, the Stormo performed several scrambles, but they were always unable to intercept the enemy bombers due to the delay the Italian observers spotted the English attackers: this shortcoming, happened many times, was caused by communications failing and delayed not to say paralyzed the air interceptors.

On September 4, the 2º Stormo was able to engage one of the many Blenheims flights over Marmarica managing to shoot down two of them. Then the Unit was divided and its Flights deployed on the various airfields in that sector i.e. Derna, T4, T2 and Sidi Magrum: the 8º Gruppo Headquarters moved to Uadi-ed-Monaster (after being temporarily stationed at Gambut and El Adem) while the 13º Gruppo placed its Headquarters at Gambut. All these camps were decentralized airfields without the simplest logistic support such as buildings, personnel housing etc. and only the brilliant work of the maintenance crew made these camps less inhospitable. On September 15 the two Gruppi could count on fifty six CR-42 in flight conditions.

On September 25 three CR-42 engaged six English bombers: the Italian fighters with great ability attacked the second flight of the formation, managing to shoot down two bombers while the aircraft of the first flight disrupted the formation and headed back for home. The three pilot - Cerofolini, Porta and Giannoni - were all awarded with the Silver Medal for Military Value.

During the Italo-German counteroffensive the pilots flew two or three sorties per day, attacking numerous Blenheims, while the North African sky began to see Hurricanes and Spitfires: our biplanes were absolutely no match for these new fighters.

The great effort made by the 2º Stormo a this time resulted in heavy strain both for aircrew and aircraft; at the end of October the Unit suffered once again from engines overheating and breakage and by the end of the year the aircraft could only fly short missions close to the departing airfields.

On 11 December the 8º Gruppo escorted a flight of SM.79 bomber and at the end of this mission it found itself with just one serviceable aircraft: it was assigned to the 13º Gruppo that moved first to Bengasi then to Tobruk, leaving all unserviceable aircraft behind. From T2 airfield the remaining aircraft performed escort missions for the SM.79 and air support for our own troops, forced to fall back towards Sollum.

On 20 December the 2º Stormo began the trip back to Italy and once arrived it was awarded with the Silver Medal for Military Value, in recognition of the brilliant service in North Africa, while Captain Mario D'Agostini, Master Sergeant Agostino Fausti and Lieutenant Giorgio Savoia were awarded with the Gold Medal for Military Value.

Deployment in North Africa (1934-1940)
A year of wandering (1941)