Sergente Maggiore Guido Presel
Guido Presel was born on 3 December 1913 in Trieste.
Presel was studying industrial engineering when he was called up for military service with the Regia Aeronautica in April 1934.
He received a Medaglia di bronzo al valor aernautico when he risked his life to save an aircraft from being destroyed by fire at the Grottaglie Flying School in Puglia in August 1934.
He subsequently completed his flying course at the same school two months later. Having mastered the CR.20 fighter, Presel was sent on an advanced flying course at the Aviano Fighter School in Venezia Giulia, close to the base of Campoformido. The latter was home to the 6o Stormo CT, which was equipped with the CR.32. Presel duly joined this unit in early 1936 as a Sergente.
Sergente Presel served in the Spanish Civil War using the nom de guerre ’Sammartano’.
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 Vincenzo 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 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.
On 30 August, Sergente Presel of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio took off from Tablada as the lone escort for a Ju 52/3m that was heading for Nationalist northern Spain. As the pair neared Badajoz, on Spain’s border with Portugal, Republican Fury ‘4-2’ flown by alférez Félix Urtubi Ercilla from Grupo de Caza No 11 (on detachment to the Don Benito airfield) suddenly attacked the Junkers tri-motor. Presel immediately engaged the British fighter, whose pilot broke off his pursuit of the Ju 52/3m and concentrated on the Italian aircraft instead. What followed was a closely fought engagement between two evenly matched biplane fighters flown by determined and well-trained pilots.
Concentrating on each other, both men neglected to keep an eye on their fuel, or their location. The engine in Urtubi Ercilla’s aircraft fell silent first, and he was forced to land near Alburquerque, which was controlled by the Nationalists. Disguising himself as a peasant holding the halter of a donkey, he then had to walk for a week to reach Republican territory, keeping away from main roads and populated areas as much as he could. His intact Fury was recovered by Nationalist forces and pressed into service.
Presel, meanwhile, had lost sight of the Ju 52/3m during the fight, and lacking a compass in his CR.32, he found himself alone over unfamiliar territory. With the engine of his aircraft running on vapours, Presel had little choice but to make an emergency landing on Portuguese soil, damaging the undercarriage of the CR.32 in the process. Fortunately for him, the Portuguese government supported the Nationalist cause, so the aircraft was quickly recovered and Presel returned to Tablada.
Sargento Ercilla, had gained notoriety five days prior to this action when he had shot and killed a Nationalist officer whilst flying a Breguet XIX from Spanish Morocco to Spain. Ercilla proceeded to land at Madrid-Getafe, where he promptly joined the Republican air force. Ercilla was killed in action on 13 September 1936.
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 Brunetto di 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 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 26 September, Sergente Presel of the 1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio downed a D.372 during an evening patrol.
On 21 October, Sergente Brunetto di 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.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:
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.”
“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.
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 Brunetto di Montegnacco while the second was claimed as a shared between Sergente Presel, Baccara and Sergente Maggiore Eugenio Salvi.
Soviet I-16 pilot Leytenant Pavlov was killed.
Aniene delivered 12 more CR.32s to Spain 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)The newly formed II Gruppo (CO Tenente Colonnello Alberto Canaveri) and including:
2a Squadriglia (CO Capitano Guido Nobili)
3a Squadriglia (CO Tenente Corrado Ricci (followed by Capitani Luigi Lodi and Mario Viola)
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)
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 Presel claimed two I-15s and a probable and sergente maggiore Brunetto di 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.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.
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.”
When the Nationalist attack on the Basque Country began in the end of March 1937, 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 Presel, Sergente Maggiore Brunetto di Montegnacco, Eugenio Salvi, Galadini, Bernardino Serafini and Virgilio Pongiluppi.
In April 1937, XVI Gruppo ”Cucaracha” was formed and included 24a (formerly 1a), 25a (formerly 2a) and 26a (formerly 3a) Squadriglie.
During the afternoon on 4 June, ten CR.32s from 26a Squadriglia, led by Capitano Mario Viola, clashed with 16 I-15s between the Republican Escuadrilla Baquedano’s two bases (San Juan de Somorrostro and Sondica). Italian pilots claimed to have shot down seven “Curtiss fighters” without loss, Capitano Viola being credited with two individual victories and Sergente Maggiore Presel one.
Although both sides drastically overestimated their claims, Spanish I-15 pilot Marcelino Alonso Romero from from Escuadrilla Baquedano did indeed lose his life during this encounter.
On the morning of 5 June, Presel wrote a letter to his family in Italy:
“After a lull of many days we performed a magnificent flight that has once again permitted us to defeat our adversaries. I have increased my tally of destroyed aircraft, which now stands at 14 on my own, plus ten together with the squadriglia, placing me at the top of the list of aces. And to think that it's not over yet.”
Later on the day, the 26a Squadriglia 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 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 Brunetto di 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.
During his brief military career Sergente Maggiore Presel had been decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare, two Medaglie di bronzo al valo militare, and he posthumously received Italy’s highest military honour, the Medaglia d’oro al valo militare.
At the time of his death, Presel was credited with 12 and 10 shared victories, 2 probables and 2 I-15s destroyed on the ground during his last flight (one of which, according to Ricci’s testimony, caught fire on the runway just after take-off and could therefore be considered as his 13th kill).
When teniente Rafael Magriña Vidal was killed in combat with a Bf 109 near Santander on 17 August, he wore Presel’s scarf around his neck.
|Kill no.||Date||Time||Number||Type||Result||Plane type||Serial no.||Locality||Unit|
|1||25/09/36||morning||1||D.372 (a)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Talavera-Madrid||1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio|
|2||25/09/36||morning||1||D.372 (a)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Talavera area||1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio|
|3||26/09/36||evening||1||D.372||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Bargas||1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio|
|4||21/10/36||1||Loire 46 C1||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Illescas front||1a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio|
|17/11/36||morning||1/3||I-15 (b)||Shared destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Fuencarral area||3a Escuadrilla de Caza del Tercio|
|5||18/02/37||11:00||1||I-15 (c)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Arganda area||3a Squadriglia|
|6||18/02/37||11:00||1||I-15 (c)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Arganda area||3a Squadriglia|
|18/02/37||11:00||1||I-15 (c)||Probably destroyed||Fiat CR.32||Arganda area||3a Squadriglia|
|7||??/??/37||1||Enemy aircraft||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32|
|8||??/??/37||1||Enemy aircraft||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32|
|9||??/??/37||1||Enemy aircraft||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32|
|10||??/??/37||1||Enemy aircraft||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32|
|11||??/??/37||1||Enemy aircraft||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32|
|12||04/06/37||afternoon||1||I-15 (d)||Destroyed||Fiat CR.32||San Juan de Somorrostro-Sondica||26a Squadriglia|
|05/06/37||1||I-15||Destroyed on the ground||Fiat CR.32||NC 208/3-2||San Juan de Somorrostro airfield||26a Squadriglia|
|05/06/37||1||I-15||Destroyed on the ground||Fiat CR.32||NC 208/3-2||San Juan de Somorrostro airfield||26a Squadriglia|
Biplane victories: 12 and 10 shared destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, 2 destroyed on the ground.
TOTAL: 12 and 10 shared destroyed, 2 probably destroyed, 2 destroyed on the ground.
(a) Presel claimed two Dewoitine D.372. One of them was flown by Frenchman René Issard of the Escuadra España, who escaped safely.
(b) The CR.32s claimed 2 I-16s without losses and it seems that 2 were shot down (Leytenant Pavlov KIA).
(c) 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.
(d) 26a Squadriglia claimed to have shot down 7 I-15s without loss but only the loss of Marcelino Alonso Romero from Escuadrilla Baquedano is known.
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
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
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, ISBN 0-88740-339-5
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.