|Birth name||Mario Visentin|
26 April 1913|
|Died||11 February 1941
Mount Bizen, Nefasit, Eritrea
|Buried at||Asmara, Eritrea|
|Years of service||1936 – 1941|
|Unit||25ª Squadriglia of XVI° Gruppo "La Cucaracha", 413ª Squadriglia, 412ª Squadriglia|
|Battles/wars||Spanish Civil War
World War II
|Awards||Medaglia d'Oro al Valor Militare
Medaglia di Bronzo al Valor Militare
Mario Visintini, MOVM, (26 April 1913 – 11 February 1941), was the first Regia Aeronautica ace of World War II. In recognition of his flying skill and meticulousness, Visintini was nicknamed cacciatore scientifico (scientific fighter pilot).
Visintini was the top scoring pilot of all belligerent air forces in Eastern Africa (Africa Orientale) and the top biplane fighter ace of World War II; he achieved all his air victories flying the Fiat CR.42 biplane. He is credited with 16 confirmed air victories and five probables, plus two victories achieved during the Spanish Civil War with the Aviazione Legionaria.
Mario Visentin (later changed to "Visintini") was born in Parenzo d'Istria on 26 April 1913.[N 1] His father was an agricultural expert. Visintini tried to enter the Regia Accademia Aeronautica but did not pass the medical examination because he was declared "too weak and susceptible". So he enrolled in the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at "Università di Bologna". Subsequently, in spring 1936, he entered the air training centre at Caproni di Taliedo. Transferred to Lecce, Visintini followed the usual training program. He gained his civilian pilot's licence on 30 May 1936. and his military wings in September 1936. Two months later, he qualified as a military pilot at Grottaglie, Taranto, on Breda Ba.25s and Fiat CR.20s. With the rank of Sottotenente, he was posted to the 91ª Squadriglia, 10°Gruppo, 4° Stormo, at Gorizia, in northeast Italy, where he trained on Fiat CR.30s and Fiat CR.32s.
In November 1937, Visintini volunteered for service in the Spanish Civil War. He was attached to 25ªSquadriglia of XVI° Gruppo "La Cucaracha", then equipped with Fiat CR.32s. In Spain, Visintini distinguished himself as an outstanding pilot, claiming a number of kills. At least two of his victories are confirmed. On 24 August 1938 he shot down a Russian Polikarpov I-15 fighter aircraft, while, on 5 September 1938, he claimed a Polikarpov I-16 of 1a Escuadrilla Chatos, over Venta de los Campesinos. In October 1938, after 330 hours of combat, Visintini returned to Italy, rejoining 4° Stormo. For his service in Spain, he was decorated with a first Medaglia d'Argento al valor militare. [N 2] In September 1939, he was promoted in Servizio Permanente Effettivo.
In April 1940, Visintini, was transferred to 412ª Squadriglia. This unit had, in its ranks, a good number of ex-4° Stormo (the Royal Italian Air Force's elite unit) pilots and - after only one year of operations - produced five aces. On 12 June, two days after Italy entered World war II, flying from Gura, he claimed a Vickers Wellesley bomber K7747 of No. 223 Squadron. It was the first of his 16 air victories during the conflict, in Eastern Africa  Two days later, on 14 June 1940, he intercepted a pair of Vickers Wellesleys from No. 14 Squadron, en route to bomb Massawa. Visintini shot down aircraft K7743, flown by Pilot Officer Reginald Patrick Blenner Plunkett. During a reconnaissance flight over Dekemhare (Italianized as Decamerè), on 3 July 1940 (according to other authors, on 4 July), Visintini shot down another Wellesley (L2652), from No. 14 Squadron, flown by 26-year-old Flying Officer Samuel Gustav Soderholm (RAF No. 40194), who was killed in the crash.
During July 1940, Visintini shot down several aircraft but the number and the dates are unknown. On 29 July, he was decorated with the Medaglia d'Argento al valor militare (Silver Medal for military valour). He claimed another Wellesley, possibly on 26 August (K7731). On 1 September 1940, Visintini shared the kill of another Vickers monoplane with two other pilots. The downed aircraft was a Wellesley (L2669) from No. 14 Squadron, flown by Sergeant Norris on a photographic reconnaissance sortie over Harmil Island, when it was intercepted and attacked by Fiat fighters, scrambled from Massawa. The Wellesley crash-landed on the island, the crew being taken prisoner. According to other sources that was a solo kill, qualifying him as an ace.
On 6 November, the British forces in Sudan launched an offensive against the Italian Gallabat and Metemma Forts, just across the border. The CR.42s led by Capitano Raffi and "ace" Mario Visintini from 412ª Squadriglia clashed with No. 1 SAAF Squadron Gladiators and shot down 24-year-old Flight Lieutenant Kenneth Howard Savage (RAF no. 37483) (L7614), Pilot Officer Kirk (K7969) and forced Pilot Officer J. Hamlyn to crash-land his aircraft (L7612). Meanwhile, Major Schalk van Schalkwyk (N5855) of No. 1 SAAF Squadron was attacked by Fiat biplanes that put his aircraft in flames and forced him to bale out but he did not survive. Captain Brian Boyle took off to van Schalkwyk’s assistance but was himself immediately attacked and wounded, being forced to crash-land. That day, around midday, while trying to attack Caproni Ca.133 bombers, another flight of Gladiators was intercepted. Flying Officer Haywood (K7977) was hit and crashed in flames. South Africans claimed to have shot down two Fiats, but only Sottotenente Rosmino's aircraft was hit, returning with his parachute pack riddled with bullets. Two or three of these victories were credited to Capitano Visintini.
On 12 December 1940, five CR.42s of 412ª Squadriglia and a Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79 attacked the Goz Regeb airstrip, the home base of No. 237 Squadron B Flight. They destroyed four Hawker Hardys (K4053, K4308, K4055 and K4307) parked on the ground, but the Sudan Defence Force defending the base hit the Fiat of Capitano Antonio Raffi, who was forced to land to the east of Aroma. Visintini landed and helped Raffi aboard. With both pilots tightly packed into the cockpit, Visintini flew back to the Barentu base. On 11 February 1941, Visintini claimed a Hurricane, over Keren, probably an aircraft from No. 1 SAAF Squadron that had 11 fighter aircraft on patrol, that day. Two of the British aircraft clashed with Fiat CR.42s, then the Hurricane of Lieutenant S. de K. Viljoen was forced to land. Visintini landed on his airfield, refuelled and took off again, searching for his faithful wingman, Luigi Baron (an ace with a score of 12 kills, at the end of the war), who had been forced down by a storm. Because of the same inclement weather Visintini's Fiat crashed into Mount Bizen, near Nefasit, about 24 kilometers from Asmara, Eritrea.
According to Shores in 1983, Visintini shot down 20 enemy aircraft. During 50 air battles, he downed at least five Blenheim bombers, a greater number of Wellesley bombers, almost certainly three Gladiator fighters and a Hawker Hurricane, plus 32 enemy aircraft (alone and shared with others pilots) destroyed on the airfields of Gedaref, Goz Regeb (Sudan) and Agordat.
Honours and tributes
His successes, his charm and his demise during a gallant attempt to help his comerades, made Visintini a legend at the time. In 1942, a volume of the series, Eroi della nostra guerra (Heroes of Our War), entitled Il Pilota solitario (The Lonely Pilot) was dedicated to him.
Postwar, the Gruppo Giovanile Mario Visintini named in honour of Visintini was a youth group in Eritrea that operated from 1950–1957.
The Aeroporto di Rivolto "MOVM Cap. Mario Visintini" is a small regional civil airport located four km southwest of Udine, Italy.
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