Biplane fighter aces


Sottotenente Brunetto di Montegnacco

30 July 1910 – 13 April 1938

Image kindly provided by Fulvio Chianese at GORIZIA ed il QUARTO STORMO.

Date Decoration Note
??/??/38 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare O.M.S.
??/??/?? Medaglia d’argento al valor aeronautico (Posthumous) O.M.S.
??/??/?? Operazioni Militari Spagna O.M.S.

Brunetto di Montegnacco was born on 30 July 1910 in Tricesimo (UD).

He voluntarily enrolled into the Regia Aeronautica, and he displayed a great aptitude for flying by finishing as one the top students in his course. This success was rewarded with an assignment to the 1o Stormo Caccia, based at Campoformido (a mere nine miles from his birthplace). The 1o Stormo’s flying training syllabus at this time concentrated mainly on aerobatics, and the unit became so good at it that the Minister for Aviation Italo Balbo acknowledged it as the best prepared within the Regia Aeronautica. The 1o Stormo was therefore chosen to be the first unit to re-equip with Fiat’s new CR.32 biplane fighter.

In early August 1936, Italian fighter unit commanders issued a request for pilots to volunteer to be secretly sent to aid the Spanish Nationalist forces. Montegnacco was one of the first to offer his services, and to be selected, and he duly received a false passport in the name of ”Antonio Romualdi” prior to travelling to Spain.

By the end of August, after the first 12 CR.32s, and their pilots, had reached Melilla, three more had been sent to Majorca and nine were offloaded in the port of Vigo de Galicia, on Spain’s Atlantic coast, from the Spanish ship Ebro. The latter had been renamed Aniene in Italy so that it could run contraband under a flag of convenience.

The nine CR.32s delivered to Vigo de Galicia were unloaded on the night of 27 August, although the presence of a British naval vessel in the port at the same time meant that this operation could not be completed in secrecy. Nine pilots under the command of Tenente Dante Olivero (from 6o Stormo) were also on board Aniene, and each of them had a false identity. Amongst the aviators were Sottotenente Adriano Mantelli (’Arrighi’) and Sergenti Montegnacco (’Antonio Romualdi’), GianLino Baschirotto (’Edoardo Giri’) and Raffaele Chianese, while five groundcrew provided technical support. The men and their machines then travelled by train southwards along the Vigo-Orense-Salamanca-Caceres-Seville route, which was controlled by Nationalist forces that had recently occupied the eastern Extremadura to unite the occupied zones of southern and north-western Spain. The reassembly of the nine aeroplanes, which were destined for the Segunda Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio (2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio), commenced after the three-day journey had ended in Tablada on 30 August.

During the morning on 22 September, three CR.32s led by Capitano Vincenzo Dequal spotted a formation of four Republican Breguet XIXs escorted by three French-built parasol monoplane fighters. After an aerial duel that lasted 15 minutes, Sergente di Montegnacco (probably CR.32 NC 183) managed to get on the tail of an enemy fighter, which he identified as a Loire 46 C1, and shot it down near Maqueda. The pilot of the latter machine, 27-year-old British engineer Edward Downes Martin from the Escuadra Internacional, lost his life.

During a morning patrol on 25 September, Capitano Vincenzo Dequal’s flight of four CR.32s intercepted six enemy fighters that were attacking a pair of Ju 52/3ms. Thanks to the Italian pilots’ intervention, the opposing fighters were dispersed. Following a short duel, Sergente Montegnacco (probably CR.32 NC 183) shot down a Loire 46 C1 near Villamiel de Toledo, the enemy fighter crashing to the ground with a Frenchman by the name of Maxime Hantz (from Alsace) still strapped into the cockpit. Hantz was 40-year-old veteran of World War 1 (he had served as pilot in l’escadrille 521 and l’escadrille 523), who had joined the Republican Escuadra España as a mercenary.
During that same combat Sergente Guido Presel was credited with the destruction of two Dewoitine D.372 fighters. One of the pilots to be shot down was Frenchman René Issard, who was also a member of the Escuadra España. He suffered injuries as he crash-landed his fighter in friendly territory between Talavera and Madrid.

On 21 October, Sergente Montegnacco of the 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio wrote in his diary:

“Talavera de la Reína, 21 October 1936. Defensive patrol over the Illescas front - myself, Capitán Morato and Sergente Maggiore Presel.
We attacked three Loires, a SPAD, a Dewoitine 500 and a Fury that were escorting a Potez and five Breguets. Morato was overwhelmed due to his inferior altitude by a Loire, which Presel managed to shake off the Spaniard’s tail and shoot down. I followed the SPAD down over Jetafe airfield and fired my guns at it. The fighter crashed there.
Returning to our lines, I encountered a Potez and fired my guns at it until one of its engines burst into flames. I could not follow it down, as I went to my colleague’s aid. Presel followed the Dewoitine all the way to Madrid but then had to break off contact due to engine trouble. Capitán Morato attacked a Breguet, although he failed to shoot it down despite firing a considerable amount of ammunition in its direction.
The Potez I had previously hit managed to drop its bombs over enemy territory and was later declared destroyed after falling east of Madrid.”
The CO of the Aviación del Terico Colonello Ruggero Bonomi’s diary entry for the same day commented on the ‘SPAD’ claimed by Sergente Montegnacco:
“During the night we were informed that the cannon-armed SPAD was in fact an experimental machine that was actually being flown by a test pilot during a demonstration flight.”
This aircraft has been attributed to have been a Bleriot SPAD 510 C1s but since only 60 were built and all are accounted for in the Armée de l’Air it was probably a Bleriot SPAD 51 or Bleriot SPAD 91 of which one of each type are known to have operated from Getafe at this time.
The D.500 that Presel chased towards Madrid was probably the sole example of its type sent to Spain during October, this aircraft probably being the company’s demonstration prototype of the export version of the monoplane fighter.

In the afternoon on 16 November, there was an air battle between CR.32s providing escort for bombers and four I-16s escorting nine I-15s over Madrid. Starshii Leitenant Pavel Rychagov’s (CO Escuadrilla Palancar) I-15 was initially hit by return fire from a Ju 52/3m, before being finished off by Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco. Although Rychagov was forced to abandon the aircraft on altitude of only 150 meters, he managed to parachute and survive. He landed in the Paseo de la Castellana, near the War Ministry.
During the same engagement, Sergente Maggiore Vittorino Daffara recorded his very first individual kill when he shot down an SB.
The Nationalists claimed two fighters while one Italian pilot was wounded but managed to reach his base. The Republicans claimed five victories, two of them by Starshii Leitenant Rychagov, and one loss (Rychagov).
Rychagov was slightly wounded and during his recovery, the Escuadrilla Palancar was commanded by Petr Pumpur. The two detachments were in turn led by Yevgeniy Yerlykin and Starshii Leitenant Georgiy Zakharov.

In the morning on 17 November, capitán Ángel Salas led seven Fiats into an attack against two I-16s that tried to intercepted a flight of Ju 52/3ms over the northern Madrid suburb of Fuencarral. Both I-16s were shot down. One of them was credited to Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco while the second was claimed as a shared between Sergente Guido Presel, Baccara and Sergente Maggiore Eugenio Salvi.
Soviet I-16 pilot Leitenant Pavlov was killed.

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 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 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 1937, 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 Tarcisio Fagnani and Sergente Maggiore 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.

In the early morning on 18 February, two Nationalist Ro.37s (flown by Spanish pilots) took off, followed by three Ju 52/3ms escorted by the Spanish Patrulla Azul and the Italian Fiat Group (totally 25 CR.32 including the Spanish). When they arrived over the front at Jarama, the CR.32s turned so that they were patrolling parallel to the front, while a large formation of Polikarpov fighters waited on the other side. When the Ro.37s and Ju 52/3ms were safe and returning, capitán Joaquín García Morato broke formation and, followed by teniente Julio Salvador Díaz-Benjumea and capitán Narciso Bermúdes de Castro, launched himself into Soviet fighters near Arganda. Disregarding recent orders restricting them from engaging superior numbers of enemy aircraft, Italian pilots tenente Corrado Ricci, tenente Enrico Degli Incerti, capitano Guido Nobili and Fiacchino went to the assistance of their Spanish comrades by leading their respective flights against the large Republican formation of Polikarpov fighters. Finally, the entire group took part in the battle, fighting a reportedly 21 I-15s and 18 I-16s, and the Italians claimed for four ”Curtiss fighters” destroyed and four probables, as well as four Ratas destroyed and one probables. One I-16 and two probable I-15s were claimed by tenente Degli Incerti while sergente maggiore Silvio Costigliolo claimed an I-15 in the Arganda area. Sergente maggiore Guido Presel claimed two I-15s and a probable and sergente maggiore Montegnacco claimed two I-16s. Among the Spaniards, capitán Morato, who returned with damage to his fighter, was credited with an I-15 and another as a probable while teniente Salvador was credited with and I-16 and a second fighter as a probable.
The Italians suffered no losses during this action, and only a solitary pilot was forced to make an emergency landing after he was wounded; the damage to his CR.32 was quickly repaired.
Tenente Degli Incerti described the combat:

“We were on the return leg of an escort mission, and having made sure that our bombers were safe, we had the airfield in sight and prepared to land. It was at that very moment that the three Spanish CR.32 pilots following us, but still flying over enemy territory, decided to take on a large Soviet formation. Although the enemy aircraft were still some distance away, we performed a hasty 180-degree turn at full throttle and joined the fray. All the Italian fighter flights following suit, despite us having orders only to intervene following provocation – our duty was to fight as courageously as possible to the end.
Once we had engaged the enemy, both sides formed a long line of aircraft, and this was turning, banking and circling. The fighters alternated in this single file trail, with two or three “Reds” for every Nationalist. It was as if this formation had been planned. Many tracer rounds flashed through the sky from the aircraft, turning the dogfight into an infernal ballet. Smoke trails of death suddenly appeared, and the long line broke into smaller rows.
The battle threw up numerous small skirmishes that ended inconclusively. Despite being outnumbered, we legionnaires stood together, compact, protecting each other. All of a sudden in the centre of the melee an aircraft caught fire and a parachute opened. The former fell away and crashed to the ground, while the latter floated away to safety. A “Red” had been shot down. Four of his comrades, fearing that we'd shoot at the pilot, circled him for his protection. Two CR.32s engaged them. This turn of events split the battle into two groups, within which fierce fighting continued.
The “Curtiss fighter” section then broke off their attack, unable to defeat our concentrated gunfire. They tried to escape, but this move failed and two of the stubby fighters fell in flames.
Thirty minutes into the battle, thousands of bullets had crossed the sky over Villaconejos. By now the revolving aircraft and chatter of the guns had diminished. The fighting faded slowly away, and within a short time we remained as the sole masters of the sky over the Jarama front.”
Reportedly this battle was fought at 11:00 against at least the I-15s of the Escuadrilla La Calle and Escuadrilla José (the Escuadrilla led by Ivan Kopets) and the I-16s from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov (1a/21). The Republican pilots reported meeting six ”Junkers” and 50 fighters (other sources states 85 (!) Heinkel He 51s) over the front. Immediately the Escuadrilla went into a tight horizontal circle (”Lufbery circle”). The first enemy aircraft fired randomly at the I-15s as they dived past the Escuadrilla’s defensive pattern. Unwillingly to challenge the Republican fighters, the remainder of the Nationalist pilots followed suit, executing a single strafing pass, and then flying lazily below the I-15s in hopes of enticing a few green Republican pilots away of the defensive protection. Ben Leider took the bait and started down after one of the easy-looking targets, only to attract three enemy fighters on his tail. As Frank Tinker peered over his shoulder during the swirling melee of aircraft, he saw Leider’s I-15 to shudder as the CR.32s flashed past. Tinker’s heart sank as he noticed Leider veer toward friendly territory in a shallow dive. Twice, Leider tried to land his fighter in a small field before slamming into the side of a hill, killing him.
The Escuadrilla leader Andrés García La Calle’s version of Leider’s end differed markedly from Tinker’s perspective. As Leider dived, breaking away from the ”Lufbery circle” to attack a “Heinkel” below, an enemy fighter locked on his tail. La Calle pulled behind Leider’s pursuer and frightened him away with his machineguns. Repeatedly La Calle then tried to herd Leider’s intended victim back away from Nationalist lines so that the American could down the enemy fighter. La Calle wanted Leider to destroy the enemy fighter as a morale boost for the Escuadrilla and to appease Leider’s Communist backers. When the Nationalist pilot made a third attempt to cross his lines, La Calle shot him down. Irritated by the turn of events and Leider’s seeming inability to shoot down his adversary, the Spanish Commander signalled Leider to head for home. During the flight back to base, Leider flew just behind the Escuadrille leader’s wing. Halfway home, La Calle glanced around only to discover that Leider was gone. Having landed he learned that no one knew of the American’s whereabouts: his comrades saw him re-join their homebound group and never again. There was no other news until Leider’s ”Chato” was located.
Evidence from the crash site gave Leider’s fellow pilots a clue as to his final seconds on earth. During the dogfight, three rounds penetrated his cockpit, one passing through his leg. Instinctively he loosened his seat belt and harness. As Leider prepared to bale out, he had second thoughts about giving up his I-15, so he decided to attempt to set down his aircraft. His loss of blood caused him to faint at the controls.
Jim Allison and Harold Dahl followed Leider down after the Nationalist fighters. Allison shot down his intended victim before three enemy fighters reached him. Allison’s I-15 gave a jerk, then it executed a perfect Immelmann and headed back to base but he was forced to make an emergency landing. Allison had received a serious leg wound during the combat. Dahl prepared to trip his guns on a careless adversary when he noticed the same three enemy fighters flash past. Almost simultaneously, he became aware that his machine was not answering the controls. A glance back revealed that the entire tail of his fighter had been shot away.
The remaining I-15s of the Escuadrilla La Calle maintained the ”Lufbery circle” when another Escuadrilla of I-15s appeared piloted by Russian volunteers (probably from Escuadrilla José). Fighting their way through the curtain of enemy fighters, the Soviets joined La Calle’s men in the wheel formation until the two Escuadrillas were rescued by a third Escuadrilla of I-16s (probably Escuadrilla Kolesnikov).
Totally, the Republican pilots claimed eight enemy fighters for the loss of six aircraft - three from Escuadrilla La Calle, two from Escuadrilla José and one from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov. Leytenant Petr Ugrovatov from Escuadrilla José parachuted to safety over friendly territory from his stricken I-15 although he was badly burned while leytenant Filipp Zamashanskii, patrol leader of the I-16-equipped Escuadrilla Kolesnikov, was killed trying to crash-land his fighter after it had been shot up. Soviet volunteers claimed six victories, these being claimed by leytenant Ivan Lakeev, Konstantin Dubkov, starshiy leytenant Aleksandr Tarasov, Nikolai Nikitin, leytenant Petr Kuznetsov and one shared between starshiy leytenant Aleksii Minaev and leytenant Petr Khara (all I-16s from Escuadrilla Kolesnikov).
Both Allison and Dahl re-joined their unit the next day.
Allison’s leg wound was serious, and he went to the American Hospital in Neuilly, where the doctors saved his leg.
After the battle, Morato thanked tenente Ricci for coming to his aid, as he knew that he owed him his life following the Italian pilots’ timely intervention. General Kindelán recommended that Morato be awarded the Cruz Laureada de San Fernando; Spain’s highest military honour for bravery while Salvador was proposed for the Military Medal. The Nationalist Government also exploited the success of this fight against the odds to lobby Italy for additional CR.32s.

On 20 March 1937, the 1a Escuadrilla (”Escuadrilla La Calle”) took part in the last aerial combat during the battle of Guadaljara. They took off in four patrols, led by Andrés García La Calle, Harold Dahl, Frank Tinker (CA-056) and the Guatemalan pilot Miguel García Granados, and were soon involved with three bombers and 20 Fiats. Granados patrol was jumped by the Fiats, which had been patrolling in a higher altitude, and in the first hail of bullets Granados was shot down. Tinker gained his second victory at 17:00 (M. Scala KIA?), and from the two squadrons of fighters taking part five Fiats were destroyed.
The Italians reported that a patrol of four Fiat fighters under the command of Capitano Mario Viola had taken off from El Burgo de Osma in the afternoon and subsequently bounced two I-15s flying at low altitude in the vicinity of Almadrones. Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco shot one of the aircraft down in flames in spite of his opponent’s violent evasive action, the pilot taking to his parachute and being captured. Montegnacco’s victim was Miguel Garcia Granados, who suffered burns to his face and one hand and he was captured (he later returned in a prison exchange).
Granados (1896-1968) was a former Colonel in the Guatemalan Air Force who had done a famous goodwill flight in 1929 from Washington DC to Guatemala. He had previously commanded the Guatemalan air force, with the rank of colonel, between 1930 and 1933. He had also served with the Paraguayan Air Force in the Gran Chaco War.

He later served in the 1a and 3a Squadriglie of the I Gruppo CT.

3a Squadriglia took part in the battles around Madrid, including the Battle of Jarama in February 1937, and the Battle of Guadaljara in March.

When the Nationalist attack on the Basque Country began in the end of March, I Gruppo was moved north and 3a Squadriglia was stationed at Vitoria.
The 3a Squadriglia was commanded by Capitano Mario Viola ("Viotti") who led the 1st Flight of five aircraft (with reserve pilots) usually including Tenente Luigi Mariotti, Ottorinio Cappellini, Giannoti ("Vitullo"), Curilli, Sartori and Romagnoli.
The 2nd Flight was led by Tenente Corrado Ricci and usually included (with reserve pilots) Tenente Giuseppe Mollo, Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel, Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco, Eugenio Salvi, Galadini, Bernardino Serafini and Guido Pongiluppi.

In April 1937, XVI Gruppo "Cucaracha" was formed and included 24a (formerly 4a), 25a (formerly 5a) and 26a (formerly 2a) Squadriglie.

On 15 April, Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco of the 26a Squadriglia claimed an I-15 near Ochandiano, Vizcaya. Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco noted in his diary:

“Defensive patrol over the Ochandiano front. Flight made up of Capitano Viola, Costantini, Comelli and myself. Above Villareal, a “Curtiss fighter” managed to escape the commander’s attack, despite the latter getting very close to him. My attack took him by surprise as he came out of cloud, setting him on fire. The pilot, who was hit in the head and various other parts of his body, could not escape by parachute and he fell with his aircraft close to Villareal.”
The I-15 pilot who perished was eighteen-year-old sargento José Rodríguez de la Cueva. He was part of the only a handful of I-15s flown by Spanish pilots of the single Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte opposing the Fiat fighters in the Basque region. This was the second Spanish fighter pilot lost on this Front.
This was the only CR.32 claim on the Bilbao front in April.

During the attack on the Basque town of Guernica on 26 April at least the 2nd Flight and possibly also the first provided escort to the German bombers when they left the target area in the afternoon and evening.

During a patrol by the 26a Squadriglia on 5 June, they strafed Somorrostro airfield. They destroyed six I-15s of Escuadrilla Baquedano on the ground, three which were claimed by Tenente Corrado Ricci while Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel (CR.32 NC 208/3-2) claimed two (it seems that one of them in fact had just taken off when Presel shot it down) and Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco one. The latter also shot down another I-15 in the vicinity of Castro Urdiales.
Twenty minutes after the attack on the airfield had commenced, teniente Rafael Magriña Vidal, patrulla CO of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte, appeared over the base after returning from Santander in a repaired I-15. Diving on the CR.32s out of the sun, teniente Magriña immediately latched onto the tail of the patrol leader Tenente Ricci, taking him by surprise. The latter pilot, who had been concentrating on strafing Republican fighters at low level and low speed, now found himself in grave danger. Sergente Maggiore Presel quickly came to his aid, but without opening fire, as he had either used up all his ammunition or his guns had jammed after his long strafing attacks.
Presel’s timely intervention allowed Ricci to shake off his opponent, who made a sharp turn to the left and went after Presel’s CR.32 instead. The Italian, flying at 1,500 ft, was in a banking turn to the right at the time. Making the most of the I-15’s manoeuvrability, and the Fiat fighter’s limited speed following Presel’s low-level strafing attack, Magriña succeeded in getting in behind the CR.32 and shooting it down into the sea just offshore. Presel was killed before the aircraft hit the water, having been shot through his right side and his neck. His body and his wrecked aeroplane were retrieved a short while later and briefly displayed on the sandy beach. Magriña himself arranged for Presel’s burial in a cemetery near to the town of San Juan.

On 18 July, 23 CR.32s from XVI Gruppo and four from 2-G-3 intercepted a formation of 12 light bombers, escorted by 32 I-15s and I-16s, between Valdemorillo and Navalcarnero. Italian pilots were credited with 14 victories - eight light bombers (R-Zs from Grupo No 30), five ’Ratas’ and a ‘Curtiss fighter’ - for the loss of Tenente Giuseppe Mollo from 26a Squadriglia. One of the R-Zs was claimed by capitán Joaquín García Morato. Six R-Zs and at least three of the fighters claimed by the CR.32 pilots were actually lost, both Capitano Armando François (25a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Giuseppe Aurili (24a Squadriglia) downing light bombers to give them their fifth individual victories while Bruno Alessandrini (24a Squadriglia) claimed another R-Z over Brunete as his first victory. Tenente Corrado Ricci (26a Squadriglia) claimed a “Papagayo” (R-Z or Aero 101) over Brunete. Two of the Ratas were credited to Sergente Maggiore Montegnacco (26a Squadriglia), whose tally now stood at 15 individual victories. Of this action he wrote:

“Fighter escort for bombing raid over the Brunete-Valdemorillo front. Gruppo formation. Collective attack on enemy “Praga” [Aero A-101 light bomber] aircraft. I spotted three Ratas diving down at us from above, and I tried to disrupt their attack by throwing myself straight at them. I shot one down and forced another to break away from us. The third fighter, rolling onto its back, caught up with Tenente Ricci and hit him with a round that, fortunately, only perforated his parachute. Seeing more Ratas, I quickly despatched a second Republican fighter but couldn’t follow it all the way to the ground as I was attacked by two “Curtiss fighters”. My first Rata fell east of Valdemorillo and the second crashed a short distance away from it.”

Montegnacco was the most successful Italian pilot during the Spanish Civil War with 15 victories and 1 probable.

He returned to Italy in the summer of 1937 following a year in Spain, being awarded the Medaglia d’argento al valor militare and promotion to Sottotenente as a result of his achievements in combat.

When he returned from Spain he served in the 1o Stormo Caccia at Campoformido and took up aerobatic flying once again. He expressed a strong desire to return to Spain with the first Fiat G.50s to reach frontline service, without knowing just how poor these fighters performed in combat.

During the spring of 1938, Montegnacco 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 Bruno Brambilla (also a Spanish war veteran) 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.

He was posthumously awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valor aeronautico.

At the time of his death, Montegnacco was credited with 15 victories, all of them claimed while flying Fiat CR.32s in Spain.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
1 22/09/36   1 Loire 46 C1 (a) Destroyed Fiat CR.32 NC 183? near Maqueda 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
2 25/09/36 morning 1 Loire 46 C1 (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.32 NC 183? near Villamiel de Toledo 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
3 21/10/36   1 ’SPAD’ Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Getafe 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
4 21/10/36   1 Potez 540 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   E Madrid 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
5 16/11/36 afternoon 1 I-15 (c) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Madrid area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
6 17/11/36 morning 1 I-15 (d) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Fuencarral area 2a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio
7 13/02/37   1 I-16 Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Arganda de Duero - Morata del Tajuña 2a Squadriglia
8 18/02/37 11:00 1 I-16 (e) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Arganda area 2a Squadriglia
9 18/02/37 11:00 1 I-16 (e) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Arganda area 2a Squadriglia
10 20/03/37 17:00 ca 1 I-15 (f) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   near Almadrones 2a Squadriglia
11 ??/??/37   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32     2a Squadriglia
12 15/04/37   1 I-15 (g) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Villareal 26a Squadriglia
  05/06/37   1 I-15 Destroyed on the ground Fiat CR.32   San Juan de Somorrostro airfield 26a Squadriglia
14 18/07/37   1 I-16 (h) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   E Valdemorillo 26a Squadriglia
15 18/07/37   1 I-16 (h) Destroyed Fiat CR.32   E Valdemorillo 26a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 15 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 15 destroyed, 1 probably destroyed, 1 destroyed on the ground.
(a) Loire 46 C1 of the Escuadra Internacional flown by British pilot Edward Downes Martin, who was KIA.
(b) Loire 46 C1 of the Escuadra España flown by French pilot Hantz, who was KIA.
(c) Starshii Leitenant Pavel Rychagov’s (CO Escuadrilla Palancar) shot down.
(d) The CR.32s claimed 2 I-16s without losses and it seems that 2 were shot down (Leitenant Pavlov KIA).
(e) The CR.32s claimed 4 and 4 probable I-15s and 4 and 1 probable I-16s shot down with 2 CR.32s damaged. Republican pilots claimed 8 enemy aircraft for the loss of 6 aircraft.
(f) Miguel Garcia Granados (1896-1968) of 1a/16 (”Escuadrilla La Calle”) shot down, WIA and taken POW.
(g) Sargento José Rodríguez de la Cueva of the Escuadrilla de Chatos del Norte KIA.
(h) The CR.32s claimed 8 light bombers, 5 I-16s and 1 I-15 for the loss of 1 CR.32. It seems that 6 R-Zs and 3 fighters are verified with Republican records.

Aircraft of the Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 – Gerald Howson, 1990 Putnam Aeronautical Books, London, ISBN 0-85177842-9
Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell’ A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 2 Volume M - Z
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Mussolini’s Eagles Over Guernica, April 26,1937 - Paul Whelan and Tom Sarbaugh, 1989 Skyways Vol.12, October 1989
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
The Legion Condor - Karl Ries and Hans Ring, 1992 Schiffer Publishing
Additional info kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso and Giovanni Massimello.

Last modified 26 September 2022