Biplane fighter aces


Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani

Maggiore Tarcisio Fagnani took part in the Spanish Civil War. He arrived in the beginning of October 1936 and used the nom de guerre ’Faroni’.

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 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 Vincenzo Dequal’s 1a Squadriglia remained at Seville, in Andalusia.

During the final weeks of 1936, following the appearance of increasing numbers of Soviet fighters on the Madrid front, the Spanish capitanes Joaquín García Morato and Ángel Salas did not consider that the Italian commander, Maggiore Fagnani, was sufficiently aggressive, and as they sought continually to have their own way the situation daily became tenser. The Italian leader had ordered that on a particular occasion they were not to penetrate into enemy territory. Salas, who was leading the patrol, defied the order. Fagnani attempted to have him arrested when he returned to base, but Morato intervened violently and protested that in Spain nobody was arrested for displaying courage. The outcome of ensuing discussions between Morato and Salas was a decision to try to form their own independent squadrons.
On 22 December, Morato flew to Seville. Ángel Salas and Miguel García Pardo remained in the Italian squadrons for a while, but on 9 January, they also moved to the south.

At the end of December 1936, when five CR.32s were handed over to the Nationalist air force, capitán Morato formed and commanded an autonomous Spanish patrol in Córdoba, together with his wingmen teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea and capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro, and they were joined shortly afterwards by Miguel García Pardo.
The unit was named the Patrulla Azul (“Blue Patrol”).

Aniene delivered 12 more CR.32s during a voyage from La Spezia that ended on 4 February. 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 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 Vincenzo 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)

On 13 February, 16 CR.32s escorted five Ju 52/3ms and three Ro.37bis on a bombing mission over Arganda de Duero and Morata del Tajuña. On way home, three Spanish pilots (Joaquín García Morato, Narciso Bermúdes de Castro and Miguel García Pardo) suddenly left the formation and made a tight 180-degree turn to face about 40 Republican fighters, which they had spotted, and which were following the Nationalist formation at six-o'-clock. Soon all the Fiats entered in the dogfight. Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin of the 1a Squadriglia followed a ’Rata’ in a dive but his machine guns jammed. Meanwhile another ’Rata’ targeted him from behind. Trying to escape, he started to take violently evasive action. This probably un-jammed the four guns (he was flying a CR.32bis) because they went off by themselves just when another ’Rata’ passed in front of him. The ’Rata’ was hit in the fuel tank and exploded. Shortly after this Ruzzin’s aircraft was hit by many shots and with oil tank leaking, he made an emergency landing at Getafe. Ruzzin reported that 138 (alternatively 158) bullet holes were counted on his plane, the same number of the construction number on the tail fin.
Maggiore Fagnani and Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco were also credited with an I-16 apiece.
During the same aerial battle, an I-16 shot down the commander of the 3a Squadriglia, Capitano Luigi Lodi, who became a PoW. Flying his first operational mission, Lodi was at the controls of a CR.32bis four-gun fighter. As this loss clearly proved, the performance of the new variant was clearly not up to that achieved by the earlier twin-gun version. The main problem was that the weight associated with the two extra guns, and their ammunition, in the lower wings adversely affected the flight characteristics of the CR.32. They also weakened the overall wing structure. Such drawbacks had already been noticed during combat in Andalusia the previous month. Yet despite negative reports from other more seasoned Italian pilots on the Madrid front, Capitano Lodi had unwisely opted for a four-gun CR.32. Following his loss all CR.32bis in Spain had their wing armament removed.

Fagnani claimed 1 biplane victory during the Spanish Civil War.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 13/02/37   1 I-16 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Arganda de Duero - Morata del Tajuña I Gruppo

Biplane victories: 1 destroyed.
TOTAL: 1 destroyed.

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
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 26 January 2015