Biplane fighter aces


Capitano Elio Broganelli

15 October 1914 - 3 March 1944

Elio Broganelli was born in Jesi on 15 October 1914.

On 1 October 1938, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

In May 1941, Tenente Broganelli served in the 154a Squadriglia, 3o Gruppo Autonomo C.T., which was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

In the beginning of May 1941, a convoy of five fast freighters steamed for Alexandria (Operation Tiger) together with Force H from Gibraltar. To meet this convoy the Mediterranean Fleet left Alexandria on 6 May to rendezvous with it south of Malta. The Tiger convoy escaped discovery until 8 May due to bad weather and poor visibility but was then on to became the focus for the air battles for the next four days.
HMS Ark Royal of Force H had embarked a second squadron of Fulmars to replace the low-performance Skuas of 800 Squadron. This was 807 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander J. Sholto Douglas who was to assist the resident Fulmars of 808 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander Rupert Tillard. However, only twelve aircraft were serviceable this morning.
The early morning patrol had been vectored towards an Italian ‘shadower’ and although this was spotted it could not be intercepted, so all now knew that the assault would soon commence.
The first incoming raid was reported at about 13:45, still 32 miles from the ships. This first raid comprised of five torpedo bombers (SM 79s) of the 280o Squadriglia, which had taken off from Elmas airfield near Calgari, Sardinia. These were flown by Capitano Dante Magagnoli, Capitano Amedeo Moioli, Capitano Ugo Rivoli, Tenente Marino Marini and Sottotenente Francesco Cappa. They were escorted by 15 CR.42s of 3o Gruppo C.T., eight from 153a Squadriglia and seven from 154a Squadriglia, all led by the gruppo commander Tenente Colonnello Innocenzo Monti; these fighters departed Monserrato (also near Cagliari) at 12:05, nine providing close escort with the other six as top cover. Weather conditions were very poor, with a low cloud ceiling and limited visibility. Nonetheless, the British ships were sighted at 13:40, some 120 miles south of Sardinia.
Two sections (four aircraft) of 807 Squadron were scrambled to join the four Fulmars of 808 Squadron on patrol, these latter aircraft intercepting the incoming SM 79s, but as Lieutenant Commander Tillard led the attack they were themselves bounced by a dozen of the escorting CR.42s. Almost immediately Tillard’s Fulmar was shoot down after having ignored the advice he had been given to not get involved in a turning ‘dogfight’ with the CR.42s. He and his observer, Lieutenant Mark Somerville, were killed. 34-year-old Lieutenant Commander Tillard was credited with 6 and 1 shared destroyed enemy aircraft at the time of his death. The three other Fulmars were also hit, the aircraft of both Lieutenant G. C. McE. Guthrie and Petty Officer (A) R. E. Dubber sustaining damage to their tail units, while in Lieutenant Taylour’s aircraft the TAG, Petty Officer (A) L. G. T. Howard received a severe leg wound, an explosive bullet shattering both tibia and fibula. One CR.42 overshot their aircraft and Taylour managed to score hits on it, forcing it into a spin from which he considered it would not be able to recover. Having evaded the other CR.42s, Taylour headed for the carrier with his wounded TAG, where only prompt and skilful action by HMS Ark Royal’s surgeon prevented the loss of Howard’s leg.
The 280o Squadriglia reported that all pilots managed to release torpedoes, Moioli and Magagnoli claiming to have hit a cruiser. However, all five SM 79s had been badly damaged, and although three got back to Elmas, Sottotenente Marini’s aircraft was hit and crashed near La Galite (they got ashore on the island in their dinghy and a French flying boat took the crew to Tunisia, from where they later was repatriated) and Sottotenente Cappa (SM 79 MM23872), hit by cannon fire, launched a torpedo against a large ship from close range, and then disappeared into the water with the loss of all the crew. Cappa was awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
All but three of the CR.42s would return to base 14:30 and 14:40 but Tenente Massimino Mancini’s (153a Squadriglia) had been damaged and he had to crash-land, as did Sergente Maggiore Guerrino Cavalca, who had run out of fuel. Sergente Giuseppe Zani of the 153a Squadriglia was MiA in MM7203.
Meanwhile, a further formation of five SM 79s from the 32o Stormo had taken off from Decimomannu some time after the initial raiding force, covered by ten more 3o Gruppo CR.42s led by Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli (five from each squadriglie). It would seem to be with this formation that the four 807 Squadron Fulmars made contact, Lieutenant N. G. Hallett and his No. 2 – Petty Officer (A) A. G. Johnson – hitting one bomber; however, the gunner returned fire, hitting Hallett’s engine forcing him to ditch. Both he and his Australian observer, Lieutenant V. A. Smith, managed to scramble out and were soon picked up by the destroyer HMS Foresight. Meanwhile the two Blue Section aircraft flown by Lieutenant R. E. ‘Jimmie’ Gardner and South African Lieutenant K. Firth attacked the same SM 79, which was probably that flown by Capitano Armando Boetto, commanding officer of the 49a Squadriglia; Blue 1 got in the final burst before it disinter grated and fell into the sea. A second SM 79 flown by Sottotenente Michele Fonseca of 228a Squadriglia was also lost. Eight of the bombers broke through the defences to launch torpedoes at the HMS Ark Royal and the battlecruiser HMS Renown, but without obtaining hits.
Totally, the Italian pilots from the 3o Gruppo claimed five Fulmars shot down (two more were claimed by the SM 79 gunners). Claimants were Capitano Tugnoli, Tenente Mancini (153a Squadriglia), Tenente Broganelli (154a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Cesare Ciapetti (154a Squadriglia). The fifth was claimed as a shared between Sottotenente Ciapetti, Sergente Angelo Zanaria and an unknown pilot. Five further Fulmars were credited to the fighter units as probables.
These were the only combat with biplane fighters over the convoy during the day but the battle continued all day. The protecting Fulmars nevertheless managed to protect the fleet and no ships were sunk.

On 5 November 1941, the 3o Gruppo C.T. still had 33 efficient CR.42s on charge.
From 21:50 to 02:30 the 154a Squadriglia of this Gruppo carried out five scrambles above Tripoli, each one involving a CR.42 and the sky was cloudy at the altitude of the clash, 1,500 m.
Six Wellingtons were machine-gunned and three were thought to have probably been shot down. During the battle, Sergente Maggiore Italo Petrelli was badly wounded in the right hand and had to land under bombardment at Castel Benito. Petrelli was credited with one of the probable bombers and the other two were credited to Tenente Broganelli and Sottotenente Cesare Ciapetti.
The three CR.42s returned from these actions having been hit by return fire from the enemy. 1068 rounds from 7.7 mm machine guns and 867 from 12.7 mm ones were expended.
On the night of 5/6th November, 18 Wellingtons (eight from 40 Squadron and ten from 104 Squadron) attacked Castel Benito dropping 22 tons of H.E. and over 3 tons of incendiaries.

”Heavy AA was fairly accurate, the shells forming black puffs. The Tripoli defences were firing a green tracer changing to red, the last round in the clip appearing white. The smoke screen was ineffective.
B saw 4 fighters and was attacked by one of them without any effect. G was attacked from astern and starboard by a CR.42, fire was returned and the enemy broke off the engagement. S was attacked by 4 fighters on separate occasions. J claims hits on a CR.42 which passed by without attacking.
Weather good over target. 10/10 clouds over Tripoli at 10.000 feet. All aircraft returned safely.”
The Italian pilots complained that the guns of the CR.42 were not powerful enough and proposed reducing the tracer bullets to one every fifteen to reduce the glare.

At 10:15 on 1 December, four CR.42s of the 154a Squadriglia scrambled from Uadi Tamet. A Bristol Beaufighter that was attacking vehicles on the road was sighted. This plane was repeatedly attacked but given its greater speed it was able to get away. It must have been a spectacular action because Tenente Broganelli in hedge-hopping to follow the Beaufighter touched the ground; fortunately damage was limited to the loss of the right leg of the undercarriage. Obviously when it landed, the other wheel also was lost, the fighter was damaged but Broganelli was unhurt. 763 rounds were fired from 12.7 mm machine guns and 1320 rounds from 7.7 mm ones. The Italian pilots underlined the difficulty of lining up the enemy plane hedge-hopping because the gun pointed up slightly too much.
The enemy plane was a Beaufighter from Malta that was above the target between 09:41 and 10:45. It reported being attacked by two CR.42s but managed to get away.

On 18 March 1943, he was promoted to Capitano.
At the time, he was still serving with the 3o Gruppo.

Broganelli was killed on 3 March 1944.

At the time of his death, Broganelli was credited with 1 biplane victory.
During the war, he was decorated with the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare and two Medaglie di bronzo al valor militare.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 08/05/41 13:45-14:40 1 Fulmar (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   off Sardinia 154a Squadriglia
  05/11/41 21:50-02:30 1 Wellington (b) Probably destroyed Fiat CR.42   Tripoli area 154a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed.
(a) Claimed in combat with Fulmars from 807 and 808 FAA Squadrons, which claimed one probable CR.42 while losing two Fulmars and getting three damaged. 3o Gruppo claimed five Fulmars and five more probable while losing three CR.42s.
(b) Claimed in combat with Wellingtons from 40 and 104 Squadrons, which didn’t suffer any losses.

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
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
La Battaglie Aeree In Africa Settentrionale: Novembre-Dicembre 1941 – Michele Palermo, IBN, ISBN 88-7565-102-7
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Ministero della Difesa
Additional information kindly provided by Bruce Buchanan, Antonio Maraziti and Ludovico Slongo.

Last modified 07 July 2016