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Aces of the Regia Aeronautica

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“Papa did you see planes during the war…did you see “planes fighting” when you were a boy” “Yes..of course I did. When we heard the planes coming we would go to the tower in the field and watch them fly.The big four engine planes flying over us. Sometimes they would try to bomb the bridge over the Italiagmento. They never seemed to make it there. They were afraid of the German guns and would drop their bombs on our little town. Other times we would watch the planes fight each other…one chasing an other but at those times you would see one Italian or German plane go up after ten or twenty of the other ones… poverini . We would watch them shoot and chase each other through the sky. I remember an Italian plane, the base was just north of us, Aviano, chasing a four motor plane. “She got him” …smoke was coming out from the plane and it started to go down. The smaller plane followed him then I heard two loud shot’s “tom tom” and the little plane blew up”.and then there was the time”……. And so the stories went, and my imagination ran with them. Thus began my love affair with planes, one which I still have.

When a fighter pilot shot down a minimum of 5 planes (kills), he (in the case of Russians it could also be she!) could claim the status of Ace. Of the main combatants in the west, pilots such as Don Gentile,”Pips” Priller, “Sailor” Malon and of course Erich Hartman come to mind. Where were the Italians? There was nothing available in the English language press about Italians planes, fighter pilots and most everything Italian regarding WW2. It was not until the last few years that we have begun to see more light shed on the Italian Armed forces of the Second World War. The information on Italian aces is scanty at best and confusing at worst. If one were to look at five different sources you might find five different top 10 aces!! Confusing to say the least! Further there appears to be confusion over RA kills and ANR kills. Some authors appear to include them in the final tally while others differentiate between them. Incredibly Giovanni Massimelo reports the final tally’s differently in his excellent work Italian Aces of World War 2 (Osprey 2000) and an excellent article written for Aero Fan ( 1999)! Given the circumstances I have chosen to include both RA and ANR kills for a given pilot (if applicable). I have attempted to cross reference as many sources as I could to find a common thread. The top ten aces listed below are the ones most listed.

While writing this essay I have identified what I believe are the principle issues that lay at the problem of the lack of information as well as a brief note that I hope the reader will take into account when looking into this most intriguing subject.

The Problems

A) Awarding of Kills:

In Italy unlike most of the other warring nations, the idea of hero worship was frowned upon, unless of course it was directly related to the Fascist party and in that case you usually had to have been “Martyred” ( as in the case of the “brigata nere” -black brigades- names).

Ace Ugo Drag

“A Noi”, together, was the watch word of Mussolini’s Italy. Hence kills were generally awarded to units rather than the individual and more so to a leader of the specific action. So when after action reports are viewed they are seen as unit x reporting kills for a specific action led by unit commander y who in some cases received an award for the action thus misleading researchers as to who did what.

Dunning, in his authoritative work “Courage Alone”, further notes that the idea of the group being recognized above the individual was done to “prevent loss of moral by the less able pilots and crews”. However individual pilots were able to note scores in their personal log books.

B) Personal log books:

Often times these are missing, which is understandable for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the outbreak of a full blown civil war in 1943. For the most part, the missing log books will never be found and when they do turn, they are much sought after by collectors. One had recently come up on eBay and had a starting bid of 800 Euros and was reaching into the 1,000’s!!

C) Revisionism:

For reasons of internal politics as has been noted by other website members Fascist Italy has been censured by the new democracy. Giovanni Massimello in his article “Gli assi italiani” Aero Fan N69 April 1999 notes that “it is a well known fact that contrary to WW1 the Italian government did not release an official list of Aces”. Only in 1962 did the air force Historical Office release a partial list of Aces (19 in total!!). This was done by cross referencing military awards for bravery with the actions they were associated with!

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  1. I found your article very useful. I’m doing research about Novi Ligure airfield, which was active until the 1960s or even later. Most of the young men born in Novi were with the air force. I have further questions about our air force in North Africa in the years 1940-41-42-43 and in Italy after the 8th September. What happened of the pilots who joined the Social Republic? What happened of the ones who joined the Americans? I think I found enough answers in your interesting articles, but if you have more information, please contact me at my e-mail address. Thank you