Unfortunately, the various books written by former Regia Aeronautica pilots, specialists, gunners and crews were seldom (if not, never) translated
to other languages. Only italian speaking history aficionados or fans could understand the reality of war as seen from the italian side.
It was a side which has been for so long neglected, forgotten, belittled. However, these men fought bravely, often in inferior numbers and in machines
that were more often than not, after 1941, outdated (thinking here about the C.200, G.50 and Fiat Cr.42 planes of course).
Young lives were spent, lost, without even the comfort of having known to have fought for "a just cause". Forgotten even today in our country.
These fallen soldiers paid the ultimate price to be neglected by history, to be subject sometimes of a denigratory or humiliating campaign by post-war armchair generals.
There exists a book, written many years ago by pilot Sergio Flaccomio, named "I falchi del desert" (The Desert Falcons).
Among the many books written from any side of the war, this book really stunned me. It's a shame it was never translated as it could be regarded
as one of the most astonishing book about the air war in North Africa.
I sincerely shed some tears reading it.
I will translate here one of the chapters, in hoping to share to english-speaking fans and amateurs a tiny aspect of the war fought "on the other
side of the barricade". In hoping to give a pleasant aspect of a forgotten side.
I apologize, before reading, for a not perfect english.
"Ghibli" Under the tent which suffers and slams, an intangible reddish dust lands continuosly on objects and persons, covering them with a uniform layer which makes all of us similiar in our shapes and in our wet sweatings.
A very hot air strangles the throats, which triy unfruitfully a relief in the tiepid brackish water from canteens.
With semi-closed eyes, the nose and the mouth closed as best as we could, we are still, immobiles, to let ourselves be covered in dust, slowly; nostrils are
dried, eyes tries to still find some small tear to wet the dried and red congiuntivities, the arid tongue looks like a wooden spatula which slams against the insensible palate, while under the teeth sands scratche and goes everywhere, noboby knows how.
The food is disgusting, each bite feels full of sand and it has no taste nor flavour. It's just a squaling, a sand chewing and we are not looking but for fresh water to drink and to get our head into.
"Don't drink" , said the veterans of the colony, "don't drink", but who listens to them? Attached to the hot neck of my canteen, I let this awful water flow in my throat, which is bad distilled , tiepid and salty. It feels like drinking a spit.
The flies, which are made crazy by the lack of water, jump over every single drop of humidity and they attach themselves to the face and to the neck disperately searching any wetness which is no longer there. They can be taken easily by hands, they don't run away, made stupid by thirst, which make them brave and without fear.
Outside, in the meantime, a tornado of hot wind and sand which flies in clouds, compact, and the single piece of sand hit our face like tips of pins, red.
The dried hair is rigid like mummies and they grow straight; on eyebrows and eyelashes sand land easily, landing like Christmas snow.
We look at each other and we look like grotesque masks, like in an american indians festival; every movement is slow, measured, as to expend the minimum energy possibile; movement, they say, generate heat.
My pillow, which was white before, now is of a dirty ochre coloured, as if over it a dirty pig had some fun and it's really disgusting to put my head on it; the blanket, lightly moved, generated an hellish dust layer and it's useless to try to clean it; later, after all, everything will be back again like it was, or worse.
It's impossible even to smoke, cigarettes have a bitter taste like straw and the bronchi can't stand the smoke. The ones that are with me stay laying down, motionless, with a blanket on their face, and the dust that lands draws up their outline; looking at them I can't think about the chalk funeral masks they look so much alike.
Now the Ghibli is launched in all its fury and we will have to wait it for 3 days; all the atmospheare is full of sand and the sun itself is blurry and looks like a blurry vagant ball in this yellowyish air. Only during dusk, after sunste, we will have a bit of quietness and the stars will start to shine again.
This wind, this sand, make us wonder, today, about a day of calmness; all the encampment is stopped, slumped over. Looking at it, through the tornado, motionless, it looks like a necropolis of another time.
I hear coming to me some steps and someone who stumbles over some cords in my tent; in an air of sand someone enters, don't really know who. I know who he's looking for, and while I immediately want to start swearing, I fake the deepest sleep with an old trick, which sometimes work.
But all is useless; delicate but sure touches shake me, there's nothing else to do, and I say irritated:
"What do you want?"
"They want you at the Command, immediately, it's urgent".
At the Command I find the Major who is attached to the telephone with all his bandaged face and is screaming:
"But it's impossible, conditions are prohibitive, prohibitive, we cannot fly like this".
But at the other side of the line, there is a room which is well aired, between palm trees, with a ventilator and with an orange juice with ice. The Major stops the calls and looks at me for a few second with a strange face... then screams:
"Dick-hea....".... but he stops the word and instead say:
"They want a patrol of 6 planes, they say there is a enemy column which is moving, we must go to take a look and to strafe them; I am coming too. Prepare everything and bring people who are up to this task, understand?"
I say yes with my head, silently, because today it's him that will take the responsability to bring us to take a walk in the sky, and each comment shall be useless and out of place. I am going away but he stops me:
"Wait", he said, "we will go in two patrols of 3 planes, me first then you. We will see how to take off on the airfield, we shall reach this place here", and he shows me a lonely point in the map, very due south.
I have an urgent will to laugh and maybe I did, because he asks me:
"Why are you laughing?"
"Nothing, nothing, we will risk our skin and we will behave like fools"
"No stories, let's go, let's go".
I give the necessary orders, then I go into my tent:
"Wake up boys, we must fly".
"But are they crazy?"
"Yes, they are crazy, the Major is coming with us too, we still need an officer and 3 NCOs. Who wants to come"?
And so, the sacred choosing ritual is cast and consulted, the chosen ones are called one, I give come explanations, recommendations, the usual stuff actually, said with a bitter mouth to be honest.
A little later we find ourselves in the airfield; we call it like that but it's nothing but a strip of desert which is leveled very roughly for about a thousand meter for 100 meters wide with our planes scattered on its sides, fuel tanks, some workshop tents, the transport airplane and the red-cross airplane too.
The airfield, sorry, the strip, is almost invisible, the tornado of sand cover it. I see that the Major is swearing between himself some bitter words, while we are near him to wait for the go; 6 pilots in search of problems. The Major decided:
"Here it's impossible to go flying in 6 and neither in 3, we will go in 2 and look at me as if to see if I agree on this decision, but my face is enough eloquent by itself as to not give any answer.
Naturally, the other guy who is needed to go with him is obvious who must be. That place, unfortunately, is mine by law.
With our hands and with the help of God we take off through puffs of sand. In this circumstance I appreaciate that in the desert there are no trees, no houses nor hills. We are quite high now and it's possible to see clearly, I see the Major who puts his fingers in his nose, cleans it a little bit , and I do the same. A couple of sneezes clears up my lungs to their natural ways.
Every once in a while we look around, more out of routine than other, because today there shall not be many planes around. Not everyone is an idiot like us now. But this feeling gives me a sensation of unusual tranquillity, gives me a sense of safety and it's a pleasant sensation, very likeable; from the sky, at least today, we don't have to worry.
Under us, through some fast clearness of sky, I barely see small pieces of rough patches of desert.
I really doubt about the good result of our mission; in fact we can say that in the indicated location there is actually nothing.
It's without discipline and without a serious interpretation of the air regulamentation laws that, in that moment, I give my thought to the crazy people who gave orders such as this, and I think that my companion down there is thinking the same, because I see his mouth moving and, for sure, not because he is muttering lovely words.
In order to get back home we try to solve the 2 simple problems which we have in front of us: find the airfield and put our wheels on it; time for resolutiuoun, the 50 minutes of fuel which we still have.
Today, however, as I did often at school, I can copy; I do it elegantly, I attach myself to the Major and I imitate him fully. While I am following him, I think that it would not be a bad idea to go to the coastline and follow it; our airfield, in fact is close to a big rock, easy to recognize and it would ease the first problem greatly.
Soon after, I see that my companion is doing what I thought, and so soon we are in the airfield. I see the white red cross airplane. Now the hard part is to land well.
The Major tells me by hand to get away from him, but I say no; my dignity would suffer.
We take a large round way, and I really think it’s a correct solution; we dive down, engine at hand,, we should cross that road and then we will be in the field, there are some damaged airplane at the limit of the runway, but let’s hope for the best.
It looks like, for the first time, my copying is going bad. But there we are. After a couple of testing, we find land and we land quite close to each other, after some unpleasant bumps.
Strange though, the other times the airfield felt much smoother; anyway, all went well and we advance slowly.
But in the middle of the sand, we see men running towards us with desperate gestures in their hands.
We block our brakes, what happens? In a sudden clearness amidst the sand, I see the big transport plane very close, while it should have been about 400 meters to our left.
Only then I realized we passed through the decentered planes, between the alarm tent, between the place where pilots slept and the empy jerry cans, and all of it with our beautiful smile of satisfaction.
A little later the Major, again at the telephone, reports about the mission; I look at him with the right of being a partecipant of the mission. I see that, after having spoken, he listens calmly and then harshly say: “Ok, ok, I obey” and he slams the receiver. I don’t ask him what happened; I know it. They didn’t tell him a Thank you, Bravo, You did the right thing.
They actually summoned him because instead of 6 we tried to kill ourselves in only 2 , and then for nothing actually.
He looks at me and throws the flying helmet on the table, he kicks the chair and at the end he sais “Dick-hea….” but this time he doesn’t stop himself, he tells it all.
Considering the atmospheare, I quietly go away and go back to my tent where my attendant prepared for me some water to clean my face and a good cup of coffee.
“Bravo Tasca” I tell him. “You are the only one who here understands something”.
Finally, during the night, after dusk, the wind calms down, the sand slowly lands on the ground, the stars start to bright and we can breath fully the freshness of the night to recuparete our breath.
Sitting on our hand-made (by us) chairs , rough but comfortable, each one of us look at the stars, while every once in a while a strip of light breaks the sky, a shooting star which brings with itself the promise of a wish to fullfill; to go back home, to end it all, to not die and, in my case, the wish to end this awful colitis.
The small reddish lights of the cigarettes every once in a while move, and it looks like they wink at us. The Pleiades are at the zenith, the Gemini are high and they look at us though their bright eyes; it’s late, guys go to the tent as tomorrow morning probably we still will need to work.
On the field, after having inspectioned the airplane and tested the engines and everything that must be needed to do after a sand storm, there is a presentation of the new pilots who joined our group; 1 officer and 3 NCOs, very young. All of them inexperienced about war and trained surely very hurriedly.
The 2nd Lieutenend is blonde with big blue eyes and his hair is a little longer than prescriped by regulations. While he presents himself he becomes red; he’s a newbie, I can see it immediately from his red handkerchief on his neck and the necklace of the Madonna di Loreto, surely given to him by his mother, and the white beret so brightly new with his nice rank insigna which is shining in the sun.
I look at him with a mixture of tenderness and a flux of memories comes alive, about the time when I also looked like him when I presented myself at my first squadorn commander. He must be a “good guy” this one, milk and honey, of the kind of guys who don’t swear nor smoke. I give him a handshake and I offer him a cigarette; exatly as I thought, he doesn’t smoke.
“Good” i tell him “come over. We must try some engines, let’s see how good you are, we will fly a orientation flight even if there is still some Ghibli, you will follow me up on the right wing and then we will go to the sea and we will fire some bursts on the beach, always in contact”.
His eyes shine like crazy and he smiles happily. He is a newbie, and as such, he has the passion and the thirst of flight, important for a pilot.
While on land a lost sheep with big blue eyes and blonde hair; in the air, the guy is very good.
With his smile, he begs for pardon for everything, he puts himself on my right annd he never loses me. He follows in perfection all my maneuvers, he shoots with good aim, he perfectly follows me in a harsh inverted flight and, while recovering, he doesn’t lose a centimeter. I turn towards him and I look at him; we are very close, a few meters, I smile and I nod; he answers with a smile full of joy and I understand that behind the glasses, he maybe is crying in joy of commotion. We go back and, while on the ground, I call him up because he was shy to come over.
“You are good, young man”, and I give him a pat on his shoulder.
“Thank you Commander, will you bring me immediately in action?”
“Well! Let’s see; you will remove this idea of going to action so soon. Don’t worry, there is much war for anyone here”, I say to him, smiling. “Now, go to the field, make yourself comfortable, and write to your mother, who is surely worrying about you, understood?”
“Yes Sir, and thanks for the nice flight”, and he goes on happily , enthusiast, surely with his heart full of pride.
The day after there is an occasion to see how good he is at acrobatic flying.
“Do you want to make some evolutions in the sky alone? I will be looking at you, don’t make stupid stuff otherwise, if you don’t kill yourself, I will ground you up immediately for a month. Go up to 2000 meters, make a pair of loopings, a pair of tonneaux, an imperial, then turns on the right and left and come landing while slip diving. Will you be able? Are you sure to know hwo to do them?” He nods smiling with an enthusiast which explodes from his eyes.
“Look”, I repeat, to be sure that he understood, “that I can’t tolerate foolish behaviour in flight, and put this surely in your head until you’ll be with me, ok?”
The acrobatic maneuvers were perfect.
While he came back I told him:
“Good like this; tomorrow , if we will have time, I will bring you up with me and we will make some mock fights and then we will see for the first action, also in that you’ll come with me”.
He was a born-pilot and, with his few school hours of flying, was able to absorb the real sense of flying, of acrobatic flying, of the absolutely mastery of the airplane in every attitudes.
Somebody told me, days later, that they already gave him a nickname “Mammina” (little mama) , and that everybody already called him like that. And he was even quite happy about it, taking the joke light-heartedly.
A little more than a month later, a twisted propeller and a rag of poor stuff in the middle of the desert pinpointed the location of his ever-lasting rest.
On the propeller, roughly written, were the name, the last name, the date of birth and death, his unit; but they were words, numbers; they didn’t say anything else; I would have loved to inscribe myself only 2 more words: “Farewell, Mammina”.
That day I wanted solitude, I thought about my last comeback to land. With heavy steps I wanted to get away from all the other people, looking for something which I didn’t know what. It was dusk, on the west the sun was leaving the earth, we had some iron bronze coloured clouds that slowly were shaping themselve in a pallid pink colour.
Around a dune I sit, I lay down in the tiepid sand which welcomes me lovely. The Prodigal Son who had crazy fun in the immense adventures of the sky, comes back to the terrain, and this embrace is more motherly and sweet: it looks like the earth is telling me, hugging me: “What are you going to do up there, young man? After all, it’s here that you must come back”.
About the last action which I lived just a few hours ago I still have the flashbacks, a retina of pictures which are alive, like in a caleidoscope, which follows each other rapidly, while the most important ones stop themselves remaining with their movement in a still position, like when in a cinema the long strip of a a film is abrubtly broken.
We took off in 9, in the afternoon, when the cockpit was so hot like a crematorium oven; up in the sky, very high, the air is fresh and while in front of me the engine gave me a nice hot air, on the back the ice of the 6000 meters began to bite us. And in that siutation one doesn’t know if he’s cold or hot.
The sky was a dark gloomy blue, it seems like sinking in it, the sun burns and one breathes a lot, because air is pure but it seems as not to be enough and the oxygen plant, as often, works badly.
With under us a cloud of dense clouds and above us the blueness of the sky, it looks like flying in cotton wool and blue tissue paper, inside a tiny box, like little toys, and in the meantime the roars of the engine, continuous and regular, gets lost and all become silent again.
I look back and I see the other 8 that are behind and lateral to me; they look still, like attached to strings coming from the sky, which are not visible. I watch them but at the same time not noticing this act, because my attention is all taken in looking up, down, left, right, behind. The head swivels like madly but there is nothing but clouds. But there could be other toys around, attached to the same strings in the sky, all orderly and in line abreast like us that, like me, are turning their heads around madly; they search for us, we search for them, and who see the other last is almost certainly fried; the first burst is for him and he keeps it.
For now, there’s nothing around, but I know that they are near. They are just some toys around, nothing serious in this huge world, little objects of metal, not too different from us. However, once we meet in the air, harsh duels start.
Thinking about this up here, with a cold mind, in the middle of clouds and sun, one really wonders why all of this madness happens.
Immediately from the almost static quiteness a movement begins: small movements of wings starts from plane to plane and reaches me. I understood it too, but I also saw them up there, the other toys, higher than us, 12, and now they will dive upon us. I maneuver as to climb as much as possible with the sun in our backs, to see if maybe they didn’t see us yet, as to become from victims, hunters.
Climb, climb, if we could help ourselves to climb we would even use our hands, and now we are still hanged on the sky by our nose, with our tail towards the ground like lambs on slaughters’ hooks.
The clouds this time are not our friends; from the right to the left I see passing by other 6 little toys. All together they start to be too many, but I don’t esitate; these 6 are less than us, let’s get them, now, and I leave the knights of King Arthur at their table for a better use.
Now it’s just a matter of a children game of catchinig the other kids; who will arrive first? Us or them?
My guys are behind me , a little loosed perhaps, combat formation, eyes wide open, teeth that scratch and obviously the heart is pumping like crazy; with my tail eye I already saw for a brief moment that the 12 come towards us like rockets and for a few brief moments, it’s really like children playing hide and seek.
C’mon, all gas, a little of confusion, the sooner the cauldron is created the best it is; let’s jump on the ones lower than us, but we are already there; we are embraced to our machineguns like leeches, we vomit everything we can, a little more brief instants, but they seem like centuries, and we will be all in a chaotic sarabande, the real “great day of aviation”.
Well, now the carousel has began, I don’t even know where the land is, it’s a continuous rotation, somersaults continuous, contortions in which it seems like the iron of the wings suffer like the blood that from our heads go to our feet. Of them, I have one just in front of me, I follow him like crazy and I shoot at him, but two are on my tail and fire at me; how it will end up only God will know, but it’s not true, as a colleague knows it better and jumps at the two in my tail and frees me up. God bless you, my friend, how I loved you in that small moment.
The one in front of me starts to smoke; I got him, now the clouds are just under us, it’s safety and he dives down fast between them. It’s useless ot follow him, he’s gone and out of battle.
I turn around, what’s happening now?
Up there there is an object which is spiraling smoking; it’s one that is going back to earth, ours or theirs?
A little under a parachute floats slowly with a mannequin attached to it which moves; another one who is going back to the earth, quite more slowly though, who can it be?
We are on their territory; let’s hope for the best…
Now it’s finished, like a summer storm; thunder, storm, rain, then immediate calm.
I see 3 of my guys already reunited that look for me and come closer, other 4, in pairs, far away.
The elementary mathematical calculation requires a strong effort; 3+ 4 is 7 + me, it’s 8, and the 9th?
There he is, behind me very close, coming at me fast; I smile like a slice of a watermelon, all went well, 2 to 0, but he doesn’t smile, why?
He is so close to me, a few meters; what’s up young boy? What do you have, "Mammina"?
He raises his hand and removes his flying goggles and his face is scraped by blood. To home, to home, let’s not wait for the others, go go; but at my gesture he shakes his head and it appears to me that he starts to smile, a sad smile.
I wish I could, I wish I could walk on this thin air, pick you up, take you up, bring you with me, in my hands like a child. I look at his eyes as to transport this life right through him, this same life that is leaving him slowly.
His machine seems intact and the roar of the engine is regular, it’s him that is damaged, it’s him that is hit and is not intact, and my left wing, full of holes, makes me wonder, in comparison.
“Jump out, jump out” I tell him. “Out, out”.
He understands the gesture but he shakes negatively his head and I watch as he tries a little bit, but he can’t, and already his machine is flying by itself down and up, with big lumps of movement, and I am as close to him as possible.
The others reach for us and surely they understand what’s happening and fly above us as to protect us, as in a position of last farewell.
I bite my hands, I am powerless, I understand that it’s the end.
He now turns towards me, he looks at my eyes, it appears to me that he makes a military salute, then his head abandons him, turns on his side; the machine gives a last roar and movement which I cannot follow , then, as already dead, turns inverted, belly in the air, I see its whiteness shining, and then down, fast, straight.
I follow him in a last hope to see it recover; but no, it’s late, I see it, a flash, and the crash which I couldn’t hear with my ears I can hear it fully with my heart in an horrendous roar.
Up there, high, the others are waiting for me, it’s time to get back, I see them compact, above.
They salute me, they salute with wings.
Every passion is spent, any emotion is lost. Flying back home we fly tightly, compactly.
Above the airfield, the usual show of airmanship today will not be there; it’s a day of mourning, no jokes around.
Out of the plane, with heavy steps, as I came, I go away.
I watch my steps I made in the sand, legs-spine-head; yeah, tomorrow it could happen to me too; I wonder around and the stars start to shine again. I watch one of them, which was alwas close to me, and I see it wink at me: “Don’t think about it”.
But yeah! That’s how it is. Tomorrow, yeah, another time.