Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Gilberto Caselli Medaglia d’oro al valor militare

– 26 August 1937

Gilberto Caselli served in the 53o Stormo before volunteering for service in the Spanish Civil War.
In Spain, he served in the 20a Squadriglia, XXIII Gruppo.

In the morning on 26 August 1937, the CR.32s escorted 19 bombers to Villamajor. Close to the bombers was the 20a Squadriglia, while the 18a and 19a Squadriglie stayed above them. The weather was far from ideal and soon a layer of cloud separated the two higher flying Squadriglie from the rest. The minutes slowly ticked away as the formation moved toward the target area. Suddenly the clouds broke and Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti noticed a swarm of enemy aircraft below. Followed by his wingmen, he dived through the tattered clouds and found himself in perfect position behind an I-15. Five short bursts and the fighter began to fall. Degli Incerti followed his victim and saw it crashing into the Ebro River.
In order to gain altitude, he pulled the stick back – only to discover five I-15s at 3,000 feet, coming straight for him. His wingmen were nowhere in sight. The Republican leader, as he soon found out, was a very able pilot. He attacked the Italian at once, and while he engaged his adversary, the four other I-15s flew around them and sent bursts toward the CR.32 at close range. Bullets smashed the windscreen, tore into the parachute pack and holed the fuselage, but Degli Incerti's luck held. He threw the Fiat into a steep dive, but his foe clung to him. Bullets broke instruments on the panel and one bullet tore the belt off his waist without wounding him. Degli Incerti didn’t even try to aim anymore. He just shot wildly in the direction where a winged shadow appeared. Only three minutes went by, yet they seemed an eternity. Using all the tricks he had ever learned or heard of, he somehow managed to evade the fire of his adversaries. Then suddenly, the Republican leader’s tail came into sight. His fighter instinct made him aim and fire, but at the same second, another I-15 sent a burst into the Fiat. There was no pain, but the warmth of blood rolling down his leg made him realize that he was wounded. In desperation, he opened the throttle full, but the crippled machine didn’t respond. Glancing back, he saw a thin streak of smoke trailing him. The engine’s revolutions dropped from 2900 to 1000 and it seemed a miracle that the CR.32 was still airborne. The I-15s attacked with renewed fury and the Fiat descended more rapidly while the Republican leader closed in for the coup de grace. A hail of bullets hit the aircraft but it continued to fly. Degli Incerti noted with some relief that he had just crossed into Nationalist territory. But the attacks of his pursuers became more determined as they tried to finish him off. The I-15s opened up again and he put the Fiat’s nose down. Somehow, he managed to pull the machine out and found himself alone. He smelled smoke then felt the rapidly increasing heat of the burning fuselage. To add to his troubles, the engine suddenly stopped. Luckily, however, the ground was only a few meters below, so he switched the fuel off and landed the fighter. The burning Fiat’s tail rose into the air and then luckily fell back to the ground. Paralyzing pain knifed into his wounded leg as he tried to get out of the cockpit. However, the will for survival made his muscles move and set his body into motion out of the burning aircraft.
The 20a Squadriglia lost two pilots when Tenente Caselli and Sottotenente Enrico Schievano were shot down over Villamajor and killed (Caselli was shot down wounded and captured but died of his wounds in hospital). Both pilots later received a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
It seems that at least some of the bombers escorted by the 20a Squadriglia were He 46s from 3-G-11 led by the unit’s CO commandante José Pérez Pardo, who was shot down and killed together with his observer Salvador Blanco. They had possibly been intercepted by I-15s from 1a/26 led by Kapitan Anatoly Serov and it seems that they claimed three destroyed He 46s, one of them claimed by Kapitan Evgeni Antonov.
It also seems that 2a/26 (I-15) took part in this combat and while flying from Alcañiz during the Belchite offensive, sargento Vicente Castillo Monzó claimed one CR.32 over Fuentes de Ebro and a Ro.37 over Caspe.
The CO of the unit, teniente Chindasvinto González García claimed two CR.32s shot down.
Sargento José Redondo Martín was mentioned in dispatches as follows:

“A major air battle over the Aragon front near Saragossa this morning ended in complete success for the Republican air force, which managed to shoot down five enemy aeroplanes - four Fiats and a Romeo - without loss to our escuadrillas. Worthy of mention in this combat is the conduct of a recently graduated sargento, José Redondo, son of the former mayor of Madrid, Cayetano Redondo. In combat with a Fiat, Redondo shot it down, despite numerous machine gun hits to his own aircraft, several of which damaged its port wing. After shooting down the Fiat Redondo flew his aircraft the considerable distance back to his airfield. The groundcrew found it hard to understand how Redondo had managed to make it to their airfield with such damage to his fighter aircraft and a serious leg wound.
The Minister of National Defence congratulated the heroic pilot, and in the presence of all the personnel of the fighter escuadrillas at the airfield, promoted him to teniente. Several captured enemy airmen stated that our offensive in Aragon had occupied a great deal of the aviation forces operating on the Santander fronts. One of the captured airmen, comandante Pérez Pardo, has a serious stomach wound and is in hospital.”

At the time of his death, Caselli was credited with 5 biplane victories.
Caselli was also decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare and the Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  193?                
1 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 20a Squadriglia
2 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 20a Squadriglia
3 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 20a Squadriglia
4 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 20a Squadriglia
5 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain 20a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 5 destroyed.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed.

Sources:
Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Russian Fighter Aces of 1914-1953 years
Soviet airmen in the Spanish civil war 1936-1939 - Paul Whelan, 2014 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 978-0-7643-0
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4




Last modified 11 June 2017