Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Tenente Colonnello Vincenzo Dequal

Vincenzo Dequal served in the 1o Stomro CT before taking part in the Spanish Civil War using the nom de guerre ”Paride Limonesi”.

At dawn on 14 August 1936, the Italian freighter Nereide entered the port of Melilla, on the Mediterranean coast of Spanish Morocco. This important town had been occupied four weeks earlier by Nationalist forces led by general Franco himself. The vessel’s cargo consisted of 12 CR.32s, which had been embarked in the Italian port of La Spezia a week earlier.
As well as spare parts for the Fiat fighters, the ship had also transported 18 volunteers from the Regia Aeronautica to North Africa, their passports bearing false details. Amongst them were the first 12 Italian fighter pilots to arrive on Spanish territory. They were led by Capitano Dequal (’Paride Limonesi’) of the 1o Stormo CT and his flight leaders were Tenente Vittor Ugo Ceccherelli (’Vaccarese’), also of the 1o Stormo CT, Tenente Ernesto Monico (’Preti’) of the 4o Stormo CT and Sottotenente Giuseppe Cenni (’Vittorio Stella’) of the 1o Stormo CT. The remaining enlisted pilots were Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Avvico (’Nannini’) the 4o Stormo CT, Sergente Maggiore Bruno Castellani (’Ribaudi’) of the 6o Stormo CT, Sergente Maggiore Sirio Salvadori (’Salvo’) of the 4o Stormo CT, Sergente Angelo Boetti (’Ilacqua’) of the 1o Stormo CT, Sergente Adamo Giuglietti (’Guglielmotti’) of the 1o Stormo CT, Sergente Giovanni Battista Magistrini (’Marietti’) of the 1o Stormo CT, Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca (’Boccolari’) of the 4o Stormo CT and Sergente Guido Presel (’Sammartano’) of the 6o Stormo CT. The groundcrew consisted of just three aircraft riggers and three mechanics.
After being welcomed by Spanish officers and the local Italian Consul, the pilots and groundcrew were immediately enrolled into the Tercio Extranjero with their equivalent ranks.

The CR.32s were assembled at Nador (Melilla) over the course of several days and eventually transferred by air to Tablada (Seville), in southern Spain.
The 12 CR.32s were integrated into the Aviación del Tercio and these, the first fighter unit of this force became the Primera Escuadrilla de Caza de la Aviación del Tercio (1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio) and was commanded by Capitano Dequal.

The new squadron's initial operations consisted of patrols and single sortie missions as dictated by the particular operational requirements and limited efficiency of its aircraft. The CR.32 pilots struggled at first to have an impact on their Republican counterparts because only two of the dozen Fiat fighters in-theatre boasted compasses following a supply oversight in Italy! Unfamiliarity with Spanish terrain and inadequately detailed maps further compounded the unit’s navigational problems when in the air, and the end result was pilot disorientation culminating in emergency landings and damaged aircraft.

Initially, the CR.32s were assigned defensive duties, patrolling overhead Nationalist forces in Andalusia and protecting them from aerial attack, as well as escorting S.81 bombers. The Italian biplanes also provided air cover for the infantry columns of the African Army that had been transported to Spain in the Ju 52/3ms. These troops were particularly vulnerable to attack from the numerically superior Republican air force in the early weeks of the war as they advanced north, occupying western Extremadura. The African Army’s next target was the Spanish capital, Madrid, which it intended to occupy so as to claim international recognition in favour of a new Nationalist administration.

As a result of the Republican air superiority the Aviación del Tercio was reorganized into two Escuadrillas; the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (CO Capitano Dequal, who also was overall commander of the fighters) and the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (CO Tenente Dante Olivero).
From mid-September the 1a Escuadrilla had the nickname ’La Cucaracha’ - The Cockroach, probably after the song of the same title.
Tenente Colonnello Ruggero Bonomi, who was the commander of the entire Italian group, ordered flying in formations of no fewer than six airplanes, usually amounting to 8-12 fighters. Initially he recommended patrolling over the front in small groups. During the escort flights three CR.32s were to fly with the bombers and the remaining were to patrol above in vertical distances of 1,000 m between each other. The Republicans flew by ones or in pairs so the new Italian tactics quickly brought excellent results. Between 18 August and 4 November 1936 the Italian pilots claimed 75 enemy aircraft shot down (during September, CR.32 pilots were credited with the destruction of 35 enemy aircraft and three probables).

At dawn on 11 September 1936, the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio took off from Cáceres with the orders to intercept Republican aircraft in the Talavera area.
Here three CR.32 led by Capitano Dequal and with Sergente Maggiore Giuseppe Avvico and Sergente Vincenzo Patriarca intercepted Breguet XIXs escorted by some Nieuport Ni-H.52s. Dequal and Avvico each claimed one Breguet while Sergente Patriarca claimed one of the Nieuports. The Ni-H.52 was flown by British pilot Brian Griffin of the Escuadra Internacional, who was killed. Francisco Portillo Ortega flew the Breguet claimed by Dequal and he escaped back to Republican lines but the observer was killed.

During the second week of September, capitán Ángel Salas and Julio Salvador arrived at Tablada, offering to serve with the Italians in the Aviación del Tercio on recommendation from capitán Joaquín García Morato who was at this time already serving in the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio.
Initially they were unwilling to accept them, but after Salas had given them a demonstration of his flying ability, including some manoeuvres, which even the Italians, had not attempted in the Fiats, they were finally convinced.
By this time, Capitano Dequal commanded both Escuadrillas of the Aviación del Tercio and capitán Salas was accepted into the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio

On 4 November 1936, the I-15s were put in their first air-battles. There were four missions during the day.
Commanded by Petr Pumpur and Starshiy Leytenant Pavel Rychagov, I-15 fighters in squadron strength engaged the enemy planes over Carrabanchel during the day’s first mission. The Soviet pilots claimed four victories in the clash that lasted barely 10 minutes.
The aim of the second mission was to intercept six Ju 52/3ms escorted by fighters. Commanded by Starshiy Leytenant Rychagov the squadron shot down one Ju 52/3m.
During the third mission a squadron led by Starshiy Leytenant Georgiy Zakharov (in his first mission) fought against two flights of bombers, which were escorted by ten fighters. I-15s claimed one enemy fighter. There were no losses of I-15s even if it seems that Zakharov's I-15 was badly damaged. Of this combat, Zakharov recalled:

"Here I am above Madrid. I look around and there's no one there, neither friend nor foe. Then I scrutinize the horizon in the direction of the glaring sun. With flickering eyes I finally detect the remote shapes of friendly biplanes. Stressing my vision, I manage to count them 12! So Pavel must have decided to ensure the most favorable conditions for our attack, thus heading north of Madrid so as to lead the flight into the attack from down-sun, That’s where I should have looked for them right from the start.
They approach the city in a wide arc and I am inside that arc, so I can quickly catch up, flying headlong towards them. I want to make my way towards the leading aircraft and take up my position on Rychagov's left. Well, I’ve been too hasty and popped up in front of the leader. Now I need to he spotted by my comrades, so I reduce speed and rock my wings. I believe they will see me and soon catch up. What happens next I still regard as being beyond my comprehension. I will forever remember that feeling, which is hard to explain in mere words, when the burst of enemy gunfire narrowly missed cutting off my wing. However, it was instinct that saved me, rather than training or rational thinking. Before I realized where I was and what was happening I had already swerved away into a steep turn to spoil the enemy’s aim. Yet I still felt I was a target, and I felt it with my entire physical being.
Today I see that the only reason I survived was that there were too many hunters after me. The entire swarm was engaged in pursuing me and they got in each other’s way. Otherwise, the first one to approach me from behind would easily have split my aircraft in two with his first burst. Instead, they all began to shoot erratically. My fighter was hit but I was alive! I was spinning between them while trying to draw them towards Madrid where, I felt, I could save myself. My comrades-in-arms would soon come to my rescue, I thought. The g-forces were almost blinding but I knew I couldn't give up and fly straight and level for more than a second! The aircraft had to withstand the punishment. I prayed that it wouldn't fall apart.
Three times Heinkels popped up into my gunsight and I pushed the firing buttons. And here I was, finally, approaching my airfield. Well, I could do better than reveal its location to the enemy, but I had no choice. My aeroplane’s bracing wires had been shot away and the wing curved upwards to the verge of collapse. I looked back, just in time to meet another blast of gunfire. My instrument panel was smashed and my upper machine guns were out of order. A Heinkel kept close behind me to finish me off, but I made it and landed from a hedgehopping approach.
The mechanics promptly pulled me out of the cockpit and we escaped to shelter under the nearest trees. I pressed my back against a tree-trunk and suddenly felt that my lips were being wetted - oh, it was just some water from a friend's flask."
It seems that Zakharov is credited with one victory in this combat.
The last, forth mission at the end of the day was an alert scramble. A squadron led by Starshiy Leytenant Rychagov claimed one more enemy fighter.
In all, the I-15s claimed five enemy fighters and two Ju 52/3m bombers on this day - 7 victories without losses. One of the fighters, a He 51, was claimed by Starshiy Leytenant Rychagov. Two I-15s however became lost and the pilots made forced landing in Segovia.
Sources from the Nationalist side at least partially confirmed this tally. During the day, Capitano Dequal and his wingman Sergente Giovanni Battista Magistrini of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio were on a reconnaissance mission over Madrid when they saw a Nationalist Romeo Ro.37 coming under attack by seven biplane fighters the likes of which they had not seen before over Spain. The Italian fighter pilots managed to distract their Soviet opponents long enough for the Ro.37 to escape, albeit with a wounded Spanish observer on board and some damage to the airframe.
Overwhelmed by the well-flown Republican machines, both CR.32 pilots were eventually shot down. Capitano Dequal lost consciousness after suffering wounds from a bullet that hit him in the forehead. He woke up next to his parachute in enemy territory, at which point he realised that he had fallen out of his stricken aircraft and the 'chute had opened automatically. Despite suffering further injuries to his legs and chest when he was yanked out of this fighter, Dequal somehow managed to limp back to friendly territory, where he was rescued by Nationalist soldiers and hospitalised in Talavera. Sergente Magistrini, meanwhile, had landed his badly shot up CR.32 behind the Nationalist frontline, but he subsequently succumbed to serious wounds later the same day in a local field hospital. Although seriously damaged, Sergente Magistrini’s aircraft was recovered. Two more Fiat CR.32 suffered damage in landing accidents at Torrijos. Two Nationalist bombers also suffered this day. One German Ju 52/3m from the Pablos y Pedros squadron, flown by Leutnant Kolbitz, was shot down over Humanes and a Spanish Ju 52/3m from Luis Padron’s squadron was badly damaged and had to force-land at Esquivias. The observer Captain Aquirre was fatally wounded.

In response to the appearance of the new Soviet aircraft types over Madrid, the Nationalist air force officially formed the first Fiat fighter group on 11 November. Designated Gruppo Caccia di Torrijos or Primo Gruppo Caccia Fiat (First Fiat Fighter Group), its CO was Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani. The group included 2a and 3a Squadriglie on the Madrid front, these units being led by Capitani Guido Nobili and Goliardo Mosca, respectively, while Capitano Dequal’s 1a Squadriglia remained at Seville, in Andalusia.

Aniene delivered 12 more CR.32s during a voyage from La Spezia that ended on 4 February 1937. With this shipment arrived squadriglia commander Capitano Mario Viola (’Viotti’) and an additional 11 pilots – five Sottotenenti and six Sottufficiali.

With the arrival of these new fighters there were now sufficient aircraft in-theatre to organise the CR.32 stormo into two gruppi of three squadriglie each. These took the form of the already established I Gruppo (formerly Gruppo Caccia di Torrijos) (CO Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani) and including the reformed:

1a Squadriglia (CO Tenente Enrico Degli Incerti from 15 January)
2a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Guido Nobili)
3a Squadriglia (CO Tenente Corrado Ricci (followed by Capitani Luigi Lodi and Mario Viola)
The newly formed II Gruppo (CO Tenente Colonnello Alberto Canaveri) and including:
4a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Dequal)
5a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Armando François from 19 January)
6a Squadriglia (initially remained in reserve, although it was later commanded by Tenente Antonio Larsimont Pergameni)

Dequal ended the war Spanish Civil War with 4 biplane victories.

Capitano Giuseppe D’Agostinis temporarily held the command of 10o Gruppo from 1 November 1937 when he replaced Maggiore Umberto Chiesa until 18 February 1938 when he was replaced by Maggiore Dequal.

On 1 April 1940, Tenente Colonnello Armando Piragino took command over the 10o Gruppo after Maggiore Dequal.

In 1941, Dequal served as CO of the 24o Gruppo Autonomo.

He is credited with one victory during the Second World War.

Dequal ended the war with 4 biplane victories and a total of 5.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  1936                
1 11/09/36 dawn 1 Breguet XIX (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Talavera area 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
2 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain  
3 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain  
4 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain  
  1940                
5 ??/??/4?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed        

Biplane victories: 4 destroyed.
TOTAL: 5 destroyed.
(a) Breguet XIX flown by Francisco Portillo Ortega, who survived while his observer was KIA.

Sources:
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - Giovanni Massimello, 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999, Giorgio Apostolo Editore, Milan
Courage Alone - Chris Dunning, 1998 Hikoki Publications, Aldershot, ISBN 1-902109-02-3
Due Volte Asso - Giovanni Massimello, 1997 Storia Militare Nr. 49 Ottobre 1997 kindly provided by Massimo Cappone
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO
Ministero della Difesa
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
The Legion Condor - Karl Ries and Hans Ring, 1992 Schiffer Publishing, ISBN 0-88740-339-5
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.




Last modified 13 July 2017