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Macchi C.205V vs Spitfire

From the book “Un Pilota del Cavallino Rampante”, by Tenente Pilota Paolo Voltan, 4° Stormo Caccia, Regia Aeronautica Italiana.

December, 2012

This classic factory shot of a C.205V M.M.9388 shows the Veltro name on the tail but not the AerMacchi logo

The following translated accounts are from the book “Un Pilota del Cavallino Rampante”, (edition La Galaverna-Flaviana, Battaglia Terme, Padova, 1999) written by Tenente Pilota Paolo Voltan, 4° Stormo Caccia, Regia Aeronautica Italiana. The accounts refer to two different missions, flowen by Paolo Voltan on August 14 and September 8, 1943.  The accounts indicate how the Macchi C.205V was able to out-perform the Spitfire Mk.VB and Spitfire Mk.IX, then operational over Italy.

August 14, 1943, over Sicily
On 14th of August our flight took off with 8 planes. The planes were all Macchi C.205s, armed with two 20mm cannon (finally!) and the usual two 12,7 mm machine guns. I was the wingman of Ten. Querci, and we were the third section, flying close to him on his right side, as for the general rule in combat flying (…) Our flight of eight planes climbed up to 3.000 m. Our orders were to climb up to 6.000 m, escorting a flight of RE.2002, flying at 5.000 m. The difference in height of 1.000 m should have allowed us a diving attack, in case an enemy formation would attempt to intercept the RE.2002 during their bombing attack (….)

We were flying over Milazzo, when a short burst from our flight leader warned us that an enemy formation was in sight. I raised my head, and high in front of us, a little on the left, I saw a formation of not less than forty Spitfires, flying toward us.  As soon they were about 300 meters from us, they opened fire all together, and an avalanche of red tracers hit us.  Our sections broke formation both left and right, attempting to avoid enemy fire.

Querci made a hard break to right, and I followed him carefully. My hand was firm on the control stick, my finger ready on the firing button, in order to open fire as soon as needed.  Closing on maximum turn, Querci was trying to position himself at 6 o'clock on a bandit, because after the first contact it was only a matter of ability. In fact the maneuverability of our Macchi enabled us to engage the whole enemy formation, until the RE.2002 were on target. The Spitfires, meanwhile, were all around us in the sky, flying in sections of two planes.

I was still flying near Querci, continuously checking around to watch for possible targets. Suddenly in front of us we saw two Spitfires turning hard left. Querci opened fire, but due to the turning rate, the tracers missed them around the tail area of their aircraft. I was ready to engage them, but then I saw two other Spitfires coming from the right, aiming at Querci’s plane. With a hard bank to right I turned toward them, hitting them both, but unable to prevent them from firing on Querci.  I suddenly realized I was alone, while all around I could see British and Italian planes, firing and chasing each other, in the middle of one hell of a dogfight. At that moment two Spitfires crossed in front of my plane, flying in very close formation. They missed me because they were turning to left, following an isolated Italian plane. In a matter of seconds I closed in on their six, pushing my Macchi on maximum turn without going into a spin. With a few seconds more I would be able to put the enemy wingman in my gun sight. I felt the plane trembling and shaking as usual, announcing the beginning of a horizontal spin. Pushing a little forward the stick, I succeeded in stabilizing her, while I realized I was slowly gaining advantage on these bandits, who probably did not spot me. Shooting at the wingman would give me an advantage. If the leader would not know the wingman was hit, I could attack the second target with another quick burst.

The progress I was making turning hard required my full attention, and I forgot to check my six, when suddenly I found another section of Spitfires. The bandits were finally in my gun sight. I knew that if I wanted to hit them, I should aim ahead of them. On the contrary, our continuous turn on the left would have pushed my bullets away from the target. When I let the first burst go, my thoughts were confirmed when tracers showed that my burst missed the bandit, sliding down, away from the tail of his plane, leaving the two planes still free to aim their guns at the Macchi ahead. A second burst hit the wingman Spit. The plane banked: initially a dark smoke burst out of his engine, than a sudden burst of fire covered the whole plane, which went down like a torch.

The other Spitfire was not yet aware of having lost his wingman, because he was still engaging the other Macchi. The other Macchi was still turning left while climbing hard, knowing this was the best way to get free of the bandit on his tail. Looking around I could see planes flying in all directions, but not one of the British planes were following a RE.2002, which in the mean time should have accomplished their mission. On my gun sight I still had the other Spit, and I was committed not to leave him for any reason.

The victory I got on his wingman pushed me into a wider turn, and I had to close again, if I wanted to get the other. The hard turn was pushing me to my seat, and moving my head in different directions which required an enormous effort.  In a few seconds, I could fire another burst on my target. The shape of the Spit was slowly entering into my gun sight, well centered in the external circle. I just needed a few more seconds to place it right in the central cross of my gun sight. Then I had to go further ahead, in order to aim before the Spit, and balance the turn speed. When I shot, a burst erupted from the Macchi’s guns, shaking the whole plane. My tracers hit the target that, after turning, totally exposed the full shape of the plane in my gun sight. I could see my bullets entering his wing, the cockpit, the engine, but the plane was still flying as if nothing had happened. I was ready to shoot again, when I saw some red flashes passing near my plane. I turned suddenly, and what I saw were the turning propeller blades of two Spits, with a spiral painted on the nose, creating a strange visual effect, and together with them, the flashing machine guns shooting at me.  At that moment I was not really thinking but rather my reaction was pure instinct. With a sudden break I turned my plane to right, closing the throttles. The two Spits passed over me, overshooting, and I found myself on their six, but unfortunately I was too far away from them.

I opened full throttle, trying to catch them, but they were really too far, and I would have needed too much time to catch them. I had a further look around and I realized I was alone. The remaining Spits were heading toward Mount Etna. No other Macchi was in sight. My altimeter was showing 6.000 meters (…) Looking at my clock I was flying for over 70 minutes, and it was time to return to base …

A line-up of Veltros of 1o Stormo (79a Squdriglia) at Catania-Sigonella airfield.
     A line-up of Veltros of 1o Stormo (79a Squdriglia) at Catania-Sigonella airfield.

September 8, 1943
My Squadron, 73a Squadriglia, belonging to the 9th Gruppo of 4° Stormo, was based at Gioia del Colle from August 28th, 1943. We were flying the Macchi C.205, finally armed with 20 mm cannons and a maximum speed of over 650 Km/h.  We scrambled at around 10,30 AM. We got notice of a formation of 65 B-24 Liberators south of Pescara, flying toward south, returning to their bases in Tunisia.  We took-off in eight planes and climbed at maximum rate to 6.000 m (...) The possibility of attacking a group of 65 bombers was making us all excited. The first to spot the Americans was Rinaldi, my wingman (….)

The American tactic was always the same: flying in boxes, so they could concentrate their offensive power. A formation of 65 Liberators could provide firepower of 650 machine guns, and approaching them was dangerous. We knew that their guns could fire horizontally for about 300 meters, then the bullet trajectory would change, loosing a great amount of its speed. As a consequence the Liberator gunners would not open fire until our planes were very near. Our tactic was to fly in the same direction as the bombers, on the side of their formation, at a distance of about 500 meters. Their speed was about 450 Km/h and therefore we had a speed margin of about 200 Km/h. So we flew straight, passing them, and then with a hard turn, attacking them frontally. This was the side in which the B-24s were the most vulnerable, due to dead angles caused by the engines, where the gunners could not fire upon us.

When we passed the formation at about 500 meters, a little higher than the bombers, we dived toward them firing. The volume of fire hitting our planes was terrible as we passed, but the duration of the attack was only a few seconds. As soon we approached close to a bomber we attacked, we made a roll, turning our plane upside down, and pulled a reverse half split-s diving quickly toward the ground. While turning down, we showed our entire silhouette to the bombers gunners, but only for a few seconds. We continued our dive until being out of sight, we climbed again on the opposite side. Then we flew again on the side of the formation as before, waiting once again to be straight in front of them, in order to start the next attack. This kind of maneuver might be repeated several times, at least until the remaining fuel in our fighters allowed us to attack again.

That day, as soon we spotted the bombers, while moving to our attacking position, a formation of eight Spitfires suddenly appeared on our right side. Fortunately they were not higher than us, and so they did not dive on us firing. The four Macchis on the right side of the bombers abandoned the attack route, turning toward the Spits. The other four, including me and Rinaldi, continued in pursuit of the bombers.

From my cockpit I could see the engagement of Macchis and Spitfires. The altitude was favorable to the Macchis, because up to 6.000 meters our planes were practically unbeatable. Mariotti, followed by his comrades, went into the dogfight with a terrible commitment. In spite of four against eight, the Italians were soon dominating the situation. The maneuverability of their planes, and the ability of the pilots put them in the condition of being able to fire without being fired upon. The duel lasted approximately ten minutes, while we were flying south, following the bombers.

The intercept happened south of Termoli, and the fight continued toward Puglia, with our series of attacks … On the third pass, one of the leading bombers banked on his wing, while a long black smoke was erupting from its wing. After firing at him, when I rolled upside down and dived, I could see her well and clearly while climbing on the opposite side. The B-24 was flying without control, in a narrow spiral dive. It was the end: the huge beast was going down smoking furiously, while I could see some parachutes opening over her.

But we needed to make another attack, although we already flew over Bari, heading into the Ionio sea. In the following pass another B-24 started to smoke heavily and to loose height, but without loosing control. At least another five bombers were heavily damaged. We were now flying over Santa Maria di Leuca, and our fuel level did not allow us to perform another attack, therefore we headed home, very curious about learning the story of the other section.

The other section had already arrived back to base before us. One Spitfire had been shot down and confirmed, maybe a second. A poor score, but obtained by only four Macchis against eight Spitfires, which at the end decided to disengage (….)

Each combat was always different from the others. After this dogfight our debriefing conclusions were two. The fighters attacking the Spits made a few comments about the British, being out-turned by the Macchis; without succeeding to break away, and therefore hit by our fighters, and retreating home, helped by the fact that our Macchis were out of fuel and therefore could not pursue them.

The other section got good confirmation about their tactics in attacking the bombers, able to produce good results. The limited fuel was the main reason why our results were limited. But it is also important to mention that we were only four against 65 of those huge bombers, and the volume of fire leveled at us was quiet incredible.

C.205V M.M. 9488 was transferred to Sardegna in September 1943 (by s.ten Re), but returned to Lonate Ozzolo for a re-egining.  Note the different camouflage of the engine cowling.
     C.205V M.M. 9488 was transferred to Sardegna in September 1943 (by s.ten Re), but returned to Lonate Ozzolo for a re-egining. Note the different camouflage of the engine cowling.

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