Tenente Colonnello Bruno Brambilla
Capitano Bruno Brambilla took part in the Spanish Civil War.
In April 1937, the Aviazione Legionaria CR.32 units were reorganised and increased in size. I and II Gruppi were disbanded, re-designated and replaced by two Gruppi that each controlled three Squadriglie as before. A third new gruppo the VI, was also formed.
The XVI Gruppo Caccia under the command of Maggiore Giuseppe Casero (’Casetti’) included:
24a Squadriglia (formerly 4a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Brambilla)The unit adopted the name Gruppo Cucaracha, which it inherited from the first Tercio CR.32 squadriglia in Spain. Its insignia was a winged Moroccan cockroach (synonymous with a popular song of the period), which was applied to the fuselage sides of the gruppo’s aircraft.
25a Squadriglia (formerly 5a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Armando François)
26a Squadriglia (formerly 3a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Mario Viola)
18a Squadriglia (formerly 2a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Guido Nobili)The gruppo was named Asso di Bastoni (ace of clubs) and its CR.32s were adorned with a marking adapted from Neapolitan playing cards showing a weapon used by the squadre d’azione fasciste (fascist action squads).
19a Squadriglia (formerly 1a Squadriglia, CO Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti)
20a Squadriglia (formerly 6a Squadriglia, CO Capitano Antonio Larsimont Pergameni)
When the Republican offensive towards Brunete started on 6 July 1937, the defence of the central front was supported by just the two CR.32 squadriglie present in this area at Torrijos-Barcience; the 19a and 20a Squadriglie from XXIII Gruppo, commanded by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, with squadriglia commanders Capitani Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni.
Capitano Guido Nobili’s 18a Squadriglia was transferred in from Soria to reinforce these units, thus completing the makeup of the gruppo. The XXIII Gruppo now had 29 CR.32s available, but only 17 of these remained serviceable following a series of actions on 6-7 July.
Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo (24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Brambilla, Armando François and Mario Viola, respectively, although the latter was recalled to Italy and replaced by Tenente Corrado Ricci on 11 July) arrived at Torrijos-Barcience from Ávila three days later, as did six CR.32s from capitan Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3.
After the end of the battle of Brunete on 26 July, the XXIII Gruppo Caccia was awarded the Medalla Militar Colectiva (Collective Military Medal) by general Franco following its performance during the first few days of the Republican offensive. Two pilots from the unit had lost their lives in combat and three had been wounded, yet the gruppo continued to engage a numerically superior enemy until reinforcements were brought in.
After the Republican offensive in the Aragon started on 24 August, the Nationalists immediately bolstered the aerial defence of the Aragon front by sending XXIII Gruppo Caccia to Saragossa-Sanjurjo. Led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti, the gruppo was comprised of 18a, 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Guido Nobili, Enrico Degli Incerti and Antonio Larsimont Pergameni, respectively.
On 25 August these units were joined by the CR.32s of capitán Joaquín García Morato’s Grupo 2-G-3 and Maggiore Giuseppe Casero’s XVI Gruppo, consisting of 24a, 25a and 26a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Brambilla and Armando François and Tenente Alfiero Mezzetti (CO from 3 August), respectively.
Finally, Maggiore Eugenio Leotta’s VI Gruppo was also transferred from Villarcayo to Alfamèn on 28 August with its 31a and 32a Squadriglie, led by Capitani Luigi Borgogno and Ernesto Botto.
This was virtually all the CR.32s on mainland Spain with both the Spanish CR.32 Grupo and the whole 3o Stormo Caccia dell’Aviazione Legionaria.
Sottotenente Giuseppe Aurili and Capitano Brambilla claimed a shared civilian type aircraft. This claim was officially credited to Comandante di Squadriglia Capitano Brambilla.
Capitano Brambilla was credited with 1 victory during his time in Spain.
During the spring of 1938, Sottotenente Brunetto di Montegnacco (the most successful Italian pilot in the Spanish Civil War) was part of a large aerobatic formation consisting of 28 CR.32s that had been created to perform a flying display to mark the visit of Adolf Hitler to Italy.
On the morning of 13 April, over Ronchi dei Legionari, near Gorizia, pilots began practising the most difficult and dangerous aerobatic manoeuvre in the programme - a loop by the entire formation. As the CR.32s climbed, section leader Capitano Brambilla collided with Montegnacco’s aircraft just before reaching the apex of the manoeuvre. Brambilla managed to escape by parachute, but Montegnacco fell to his death trapped in his aircraft, which burst into flames upon hitting the ground.
In 1940, Maggiore Brambilla commanded the 17o Gruppo, which was equipped with MC.200s.
With this unit, he took part in the attacks on Malta during the winter of 1940/41.
Later they converted to MC.202s and moved to North Africa.
At 09:10 on 4 December, 16 German Ju 87s and six Italian of the 239a Squadriglia took off to bomb concentrations of about 150 motor vehicles 20 km north-east of Bir El Gobi, with the top cover of ten Bf 109Fs and close cover of ten MC.200s of the 153o Gruppo, which had taken off at 09:30, and six of the 157o Gruppo. The targets were scattered but nevertheless the bombs were well aimed and a good result was expected.
Ten Tomahawks of 112 Squadron, led by Squadron Leader Morello, with ten Tomahawks of 250 Squadron, took off at 09:30 for a wing sweep over the El Adem and Sidi Rezegh area. Flying at 10,000 feet, with 250 Squadron as top cover, ahead and below was seen a mixed force of about 30 enemy machines.
“…On sighting the enemy, the C.O. ordered one section down to attack about 15 Ju.87s flying in three batches of 4 or 5 at approx. 6,000 ft. At the same time, the C.O. and the second section attacked a mixed bag of about 10 G.50 and Macchi C.200. However, these went down to level of the 87s and top section were attacked by about 5 Me 109E and F. 3 Macchi C.202 were seen but must have been attacked by No. 250 Sqn., who had climbed above us.The claims of 112 Squadron was later somewhat updated when Flight Lieutenant Gerald Westenra claimed two G.50s, Pilot Officer Neville Bowker claimed a G.50 and a Ju 87, Pilot Officer Neville Duke claimed a MC.200, a probable Ju 87 and another damaged while a Bf 109F and a probable were claimed by Sergeant Ronald Christie and a damaged Bf 109F was claimed by Flying Officer Peter Humphreys.
A general dogfight developed in the top section as a result of which Sgt. Christie claims a Me 109F probably destroyed and F.O. Humphreys a Me 109F damaged, whilst Sgt. Ferguson was badly shot up and it was a sterling effort to bring his machine back to base. F.Lt. Westenra, P.O. Bowker and P.O. Duke chased their quarries to the West, the latter finishing off a good show by driving a C.200 to earth inside the Tobruk defences, finally landing there before returning to base.
2 G.50s destroyed by F.Lt. Westenra (AN 303)
1 G.50 and 1 Ju.87 destroyed by P.O. Bowker (AN372)
1 C.200 and 1 Ju.87 probably destroyed by P.O. Duke (AN337/F)
1 Me 109F probably destroyed by Sgt. Christie (AK354)
1 Me 109F damaged by P.O. Peter Humphreys (AK415)
1 Tomahawk (Sgt Ferguson) damaged-airframe beyond repair, engine repairable by RSU.
1 Tomahawk (P.O. Bowker) damaged, but repaired at unit and flying same day.”
“Type of attack delivered on enemy: dead astern climbing on one 109F. Enemy was attacking one of our sections in usual dive and away tactics. Heavy bursts into enemy at 100 yards. Saw shots entering the fuselage. Consider he was severely hit and as he broke away into a steep dive without further evasive action he was almost definitely destroyed. If destroyed, this aircraft should have landed at Point 420, 390, 300. I claim 1 109F probably destroyed. I also saw a Tomahawk going down in flames but do not think it was one of our Sqn.”Pilot Officer Duke wrote:
“Oh, Boy, another! Encountered the Hun Circus of Ju 87s, 109s, Macchi 200s and G.50s. Got stuck into them. Came across five Ju 87s flying in close formation and sprayed them all. One broke away and went down in a gentle dive, smoking a bit. Couldn’t watch him as some 109s appeared and I don’t like them!The information relating to 250 Squadron is rather meagre; this unit together with 112 Squadron was carrying out an escort mission for reconnaissance Hurricanes between El Adem and Tobruk. Ten Tomahawks acting as the top cover of 112 Squadron were flying at an altitude of 13,000 feet, when they spotted a formation of enemy fighters at 10:30. They were crossing them at more or less the same altitude. Bf 109s, G.50s (obviously MC.200s) and Ju 87s were recognized. They were in an open or irregular formation. Finally also MC.202s were recognized.
Pounced on a Macchi 200 and had a pretty good dog-fight. He started beetling off home and I chased him. Once he did a complete roll in front of me. My guns were all haywire and in the end only one cannon was going and I had to keep cocking that. Finally that stopped just as we came roaring over Tobruk at nought feet. The Macchi was still showing fight however, but he suddenly spun in off a steep turn and crashed. I was hoping he would land on the aerodrome as he had put up a good fight - nearly always at ground level, and once we went chasing out to sea. I was making dummy attacks on him as my guns had packed up.
I landed at Tobruk and had lunch. It had bucked the boys up no end to see the fight.”
“No 1 Sqn., SAAF, received instructions from 258 Wing RAF to carry out a wing sweep with No.274 Sqn., RAF, over our troops in area 4237, 4736 and 4533 (Purple grid map: 250.000 Egypt and Cyrenaica Sollum-Tobruk Sheet 3). The leaders of the formation of No. 1 and 274 Squadrons agreed that No. 1 should provide the top cover for the sweep. The Hurricane Mk.lls of No. 1 took off from L.G. 124 at 9.15 hrs. flying in formation, i.e. pairs in line abreast. They flew at 10.000 feet, and above No. 274 Squadron’s formation. Owing to engine (oil pressure dropping) one Hurricane returned at 9.45 hrs.274 Squadron reported having clashed with Bf 109s and MC.200s and to have claimed one MC.202 damaged (MacDonnell in BD821).
After approx. one hour ten minutes flying the leader of No. 1 (which was then flying in a northerly direction) observed about 8 E/A approaching. The E/A were to the left (about 10 O’clock) and slightly above our formation. The 8 E/A, which were in no particular formation, dived towards the rear of our formation and shot down a straggler [2nd Lieutenant Meek]. Then they appeared to break up on either side of No. 1 and climbed into the base of the clouds, at 12000 feet, where they joined other E/A. Another large group of E/A (about 16) were seen to the right and slightly above.
These aircraft did not take part in the general dogfight for several minutes, but remained milling about on their own, while No. 1 was attacked on both flanks by single aircraft. Pilots estimated between 20 and 30 E/A. Most of them were C.202s, but some pilots identified Me109Es with their square wing tips.
The leader of No. 1 turned into the 8 E/A that attacked by a climbing turn to the left. But single E/A made attacks from both sides almost at the same time as the climbing turn was begun, and the formation broke up and general dog fighting took place.
The attacks were made generally by single aircraft diving out the base of the clouds, between 12000 and 13000 feet. No enemy aircraft attempted a head-on attack.
The presence of a large group of E/A that remained for several minutes slightly above and to the right of our formation without taking part in the fight worried our pilots. This group of aircraft frequently distracted their attention from the single aircraft that were making repeated attacks from out of the clouds.
Several pilots commented on the astonishing aerobatics that the enemy pilots carried out during the dogfight. Several of them were seen to loop, stall turn, and roll off the top for no apparent reason. One C.202 was attacked when it was inverted at the top of a loop and the tail plane was shot to pieces [possibly Brambilla claimed by Lieutenant Penberthy]. Another C.202 was shot down when it was in a stall turn. It is presumed, because of the aerobatics, that the enemy aircraft were flown by Italians. If they were Italians they had learned from the Germans how to take advantage of the clouds and to pounce immediately on any stragglers in a formation.
Description of the Macchi C.202.
The Macchis encountered were painted in a dark green livery and they had a wide broad white band round the fuselage towards the tail. The wings have rounded tips and the end of wings appears to be as broad as it is at the base. The cockpit is not set well back as on the Me 109 or Tomahawk, and has not therefore a pronounced nose.
The C.202 is a highly manoeuvrable aircraft, but the general opinion of the pilots of No. 1 Sqn. who dog fought with them was that the Hurricane Mk. II could outturn them. One pilot dog fought one for several minutes, but neither aircraft fired because at no time could one of the pilots get the other in his sights. Three Hurricanes that chased a Macchi which had a start in a 5000 feet dive, failed to catch up with it. The A.I.S. of the Hurricane was 340 mph, but in the level chase at 2000 ft above the deck, the C.202 pulled away from it.
Pilots saw lines of self-explosive cannon fire, which could have been fired through the spindle of the Macchi. This aircraft carries guns its wings, but not many, as the fire seen coming from the wings was not nearly as dense as that when an 8 gun Hurricane fires. One Hurricane of No. 1 which was hit and returned to base was damaged in the starboard wing by machine gun fire. Bullets similar to our new .303 were found in the wing.
Total number of rounds fired pilots of No. 1: 7595 (armour piercing, ball and tracer).”
On 9 December, two Luftwaffe transport aircraft were shot down in error by Italian fighters and an Ultra intercept added that the Italian fighter was an MC.200 (incorrect) and that the two transports fell on the edge of the airfield, two Luftwaffe personnel being seriously wounded and two less so.
Reportedly, Oberfeldwebel Schulz of II./JG 27 took off rapidly and shot the offender down, but no formal report of this matter was recorded in the daily logs of either air force. However, an account in an Italian aviation magazine (Volare of May 1984), while mentioning no names or units, provided sufficient information to allow a reconstruction of this ‘friendly fire’ action to be undertaken.
At 10:10, three MC.202s of the 71a Squadriglia, 17o Gruppo CT, based at Martuba were preparing to take off for a patrol (the second of the day for this unit) over the Ain el Gazala-Tobruk area. The leader was the gruppo commander, Tenente Colonnello Brambilla. His wingmen were Tenente Glauco Vatta and Sergente Remo Broilo.
Just before taking off, they received advice of a British incursion towards Derna, and consequently Tenente Pierfrancesco Conti was also scrambled to intercept the bombers which were supposedly already on their return course to their base.
At about 10:30, Brambilla spotted two multi-engined aircraft over Tmimi flying at low level, which he incorrectly identified as Wellingtons. He dived to attack them at once, firing most of his ammunition at them and setting both on fire. His victims were in fact Ju 52/3ms carrying men and material to JG 27, which had just recently arrived at Tmimi. Recalling this accident after the war, Eduard Neumann, then gruppenkommandeur of I./JG 27, described it as “a true disaster”.
Meanwhile, Schulz had indeed rapidly taken off, chasing and attacking Brambilla’s Macchi, one 20mm shell hitting the tail and severely damaging the rudder. Brambilla, taken completely by surprise by this attack, which to him was totally inexplicable, actually managed to escape and return safely to Martuba. Within two hours of landing he fully understood what had transpired following the arrival of a cable reporting that an MC.202 had shot down two German Junkers landing at Tmimi. Many years later, Remo Broilo, one of his wingmen, recalled that when his commanding officer realized the gravity of his mistaken identification, he “had a nervous breakdown burst into tears.” An inquiry followed that established the good faith of the pilot.
On 11 December, ten MC.202s of the 17o Gruppo (seven of the 71a Squadriglia, two of the 72a Squadriglia and one of the 80a Squadriglia), led by Tenente Colonnello Brambilla, took off at 12:05 to escort four Bf 110s on a ground attack of the Acroma area. The forecast was for very bad weather so that an altitude of 700m was kept to on the route to the target. A wedge shaped patrol was adopted for the right wing of the formation. A formation of Hurricanes was spotted in a break in the clouds for only a few seconds, while the Italian formation was over the target at an altitude of 250m at 12:35. Only one enemy aircraft was effectively machine gunned by Tenente Colonnello Brambilla, in view of the fact that the others had managed to get themselves covered up in the clouds. 70 rounds had been fired. The Macchis returned to base at 13:10.
It has not been possible to ascertain from which unit the Hurricanes came from but both 94 Squadron and 4 SAAF Squadron (Tomahawk IIb) suffered unaccounted losses around midday.
Brambilla ended the war with 1 biplane victory and a total of 2.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||??/??/3?||1||Civilian type (a)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Spain||24a Squadriglia|
|2||04/12/41||10:20||1||Tomahawk (b)||Destroyed||MC.202||Bir el Gobi area||17o Gruppo|
|11/12/41||12:35||1||Enemy fighter||Destroyed||MC.202||Acroma area||17o Gruppo|
Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 destroyed, 1 damaged.
(a) Actually a shared victory with Giuseppe Aurili.
(b) Claimed in combat with Hurricanes from 1 SAAF and 274 Squadrons, which claimed 2 destroyed, 3 probables and 4 damaged while losing 1 Hurricane from 1 SAAF Squadron. 17o Gruppo claimed 8 destroyed and 1 probable while losing two MC.202s and getting 2 damaged.
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Regia Aeronautica: The Italian Air Force 1923-1945 - An Operational History - Chris Dunning, 2009 Ian Allan Publishing, Hersham, Surrey, ISBN 978-1-906537-02-9