Biplane fighter aces


Capitano Giorgio Solaroli di Briona

17 July 1918 - 1996

Date Decoration Note
??/??/41 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (1st) 1940-43
??/??/43 Medaglia d’argento al valor militare (2nd) 1940-43
??/??/42 Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare 1940-43
??/??/?? Eisernes Kreuz 2. Klasse 1940-43

Giorgio Solaroli, marquis of Briona, was born in Torino on 17 July 1918.
He joined the Regia Aeronautica and was educated in the ’Sparviero’ course at the Accademia Aeronautica at Caserta.

On 1 October 1939, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

He graduated in July 1940 and received his commission as a Sottotenente Pilota in regular service.
Posted to fighters he attended the Operational Training Unit at Castiglione del Lago before being posted to 95a Squadriglia, 18o Gruppo, 3o Stormo C.T.

With this unit he took part in the Battle of Britain as part of the C.A.I..

When he returned to Italy he was first posted to the 156o Gruppo and then to the 23o Gruppo C.T. This unit was equipped with Fiat CR.42s and engaged in the Malta campaign operating from its base in Sicily.

He was promoted to Tenente on 6 February 1941.

On 21 July 1941 a new convoy sailed for Malta (codename ‘Substance’) and by late afternoon on the 23rd the ships were coming within range of aircraft from Sicily and Malta. Five of 272 Squadron’s Beufighters were sent off to give escort at 16:20, followed by six more at 17:03, joining the convoy near Bizerta. Meanwhile from Sicily S.79sil torpedo-bombers of the 278a Squadriglia, escorted by 23o Gruppo CR.42s were on their way, followed by S.79 bombers of the 10o and 30o Stormo, and Ju 87s of the 101o Gruppo Tuff, plus 27 escorting MC200s from 54o Stormo. The bombers gained one hit on the destroyer HMS Firedrake, which was damaged, but it seems that the Beaufighters on patrol attacked both the bombers and the torpedo-bombers. The CR.42 pilots reported that aircraft identified as Blenheims attacked the 278a Squadriglia aircraft near the Califfe islands, and one of these was claimed shot down by Tenente Giorgio Solaroli and Sottenente Carlo Brigante Colonna. This was almost certain the Beaufighter flown by 26-year-old Sergeant William Matthew Deakin (RAF No. 938058) and 24-year-old Sergeant Clifford Franklyn Jenkins (RAF No. 909257) of 272 Squadron, which failed to return from the mission.

During the early summer of 1941 a test batch of Reggiane Re.2000bis were issued to a Sezione Sperimentale of the 23o Gruppo Autonomo C.T. at Comiso, Sicily. In July 1941 these were formed into an autonomous 377a Squadriglia under command of Capitano Pietro Calistri at Trapani. This command was later passed on to Tenente Giorgio Solaroli.

On the night of 15 November the 377a Squadriglia took off for their first offensive operation of the war, all carrying small bombs under their wings. One pilot was obliged to return early due to technical difficulties, whilst another was attacked by a night fighter which he identified as a ‘Defiant’. This was presumably an M.N.F.U. Hurricane or an 800X Squadron Fulmar. The Italian pilot dropped his bombs into the sea and returned. The rest of the aircraft led by Solaroli attacked Luqa airfield, Malta.

Further night raids with the Re.2000 was flown on 19 November and 4 December, but these sorties were discontinued.

In the end of 1941 Solaroli returned to the 74a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo.
The Squadriglia returned at this time to its home base, Mirafiori, to be equipped with Fiat G.50s. This was an interim equipment, filling the gap before the arrival of the more powerful Macchi MC.202s that started to come to the 23o Gruppo on the second half of May 1942.
On 15 May the 3o Stormo was re-established, formed by 18o and 23o Gruppi.
The unit received the order to move to Libya on 8 July. 23o Gruppo landed on the following days, at first at Castel Benito, later at Derna and finally settling down close to the front, at Abu Haggag, 90 kilometres from El Alamein.

On 24 July, Tenente Solaroli damaged MC.202 MM8377/74-6 in a landing accident. Solaroli was however safe.

Taking off at 07:20 on 25 July, Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli (74a Squadriglia) led eleven MC.202s from the 23o Gruppo on a free sweep south of El Alamein. One hour later, they engaged a large formation of enemy aircraft and three P-40s were claimed shot down by Capitano Tugnoli, Tenente Solaroli (74a Squadriglia) and Sergente Maggiore Mario Mantelli (74a Squadriglia). A fourth P-40 was claimed as a probable by Capitano Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia).
They had clashed with eight Kittyhawks from 450 Squadron, which had carried out an early morning armed reconnaissance. They lost one Kittyhawk, but Sergeant O’Neil safely returned on foot later.

On 31 August, two Italian formations from 23o Gruppo flew a fighter sweep over the front-line to protect Italian and German troops.
One eight-plane formation was led by Maggiore Luigi Filippi and the other ten-plane formation was led by Capitano Claudio Solaro.
The Italian fighters intercepted a dozen of Boston bombers escorted by two squadrons Kittyhawks. Maggiore Filippi and his formation attacked the main enemy formation while Capitano Solaro and his formation attacked a smaller group of British aircraft. The combat was fierce but lasted only a few minutes. In fact it was so short that Tenente Solaroli who led the Italian top-cover, never got any opportunities to intervene.
During the combat Capitano Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Albani and Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella each claimed Kittyhawks (even if Zemella claimed that his opponent had been a Spitfire). Maggiore Filippi and Capitano Mario Pinna claimed a fourth Kittyhawk together.

Shortly after lunch on 3 September a number of engagements took place in the El Alamein area with Italian fighters involved.
Seven Bf 109s of III./JG 53 escorted Jabos at 12:25, fighting 20 British fighters near El Alamein. Twelve Macchis suddenly appeared and made a reportedly spirited attack, but without success.
Six Kittyhawks of 3 RAAF Squadron and five of 450 Squadron (13:52-15:09) escorted 18 Baltimores to Deir el Raghil at 13:55 but were attacked by 16 Bf 109s and 13 MC.202s, Sergeant W. W. Thomas of 3 RAAF being severely wounded and his aircraft (Kittyhawk I EV167) badly damaged, but he reached base where he crash-landed. Flight Sergeant Raymond Dyson (EV158) and Sergeant H. R. Hannaford (EV367) of 450 Squadron each claimed to have probably shot down a Bf 109E, but Hannaford was also wounded, and his aircraft damaged, crash-landing at base like Thomas.
MC.202s of the 10o Gruppo were involved in actions between 11:40-13:20. Maggiore Giuseppe D’Agostinis (CO) led 13 fighters on a free sweep mission over the El Alamein area; a formation of 12 Hurricanes, covered by ten P-40s was engaged and two ‘Hurribombers’ were claimed. One of them was credited to Tenente Luigi Padovani south-east of El Alamein and the second was credited over El Alamein as a shared between eight pilots including Capitano Franco Lucchini (MM7901/84-3). At the end of this combat another formation was encountered comprising 12 Bostons escorted by ten P-40s and eight Spitfires. A long fight followed and two P-40s were claimed by Maggiore D’Agostinis and Sergente Maggiore Giovanni Battista Ceoletta (90a Squadriglia) plus one Boston probable by Tenente Luigi Giannella (84a Squadriglia), for no losses.
Following an uneventful morning sortie 19 MC.202s of the 23o Gruppo had taken off again at 12:40 to patrol over the front line. A large formation of 18 twin-engined bombers, identified as Bostons, escorted by about 35 P-40s, was reported and three of the fighters were claimed as destroyed, plus two probables. Attacks were made on several others and one more was claimed damaged. Three of the claims were made by the 75a Squadriglia 30 kilometres south of El Alamein when Sergente Luigi Bozzolan claimed one destroyed, Maggiore Luigi Filippi one damaged and Sergente Aldo Orsucci a second destroyed. 70a Squadriglia made two claims over El Alamein when Sergente Carlo Papa claimed one probable and Capitano Claudio Solaro claimed one destroyed. The last claim, also over El Almein, was claimed as a probable by Tenente Solaroli of 70a Squadriglia. The MC.202 flown by Sergente Papa was damaged and force-landed south of El Alamein. The 23o Gruppo landed again at 14:25
It is possible that 3 RAAF Squadron took part in this engagement since Sergeant G. G. Scribner (Kittyhawk Ia AL167/F) claimed a probable MC.202 over Deir el Raghil at 14:30.
Around this time seven Bf 109s of II./JG 27 carried out a Freie Jagd, first engaging ten Curtiss fighters, followed by 15 more Curtiss or Hurricanes, and 15 Spitfires. Oberleutnant Sinner claimed one P-40 at 14:25 south of El Hammam and a Spitfire south of Bir Ibrahim at 14:35.
Three Kittyhawks of 4 SAAF Squadron provided top cover to 15 Bostons and six B-25s, 260 and the 66th US Squadron flying close and medium covers. Six plus enemy aircraft were reported and three were seen, Pilot Officer J. C. Joerns (Kittyhawk I EV352) failing to return, his aircraft last being seen going down at 15:15 pouring black smoke. He was reported safe in hospital next day.

On 4 September, the 23o Gruppo flew three sorties in support of the ground forces. The first was between 06:05-07:45. At 06:15 a formation of Bostons and P-40s was reported at about 4000 metres 50km east of Taga. The Italian fighters engaged them and claimed five P-40s destroyed and two probables. These were claimed by Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli (74a Squadriglia), Tenente Solaroli (74a Squadriglia; 2 destroyed), Sottotenente Giuseppe Melandri (70a Squadriglia; 1 probable), Sergente William Dusi (70a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Mario Mantelli (74a Squadriglia; 1 probable) and Sergente Maggiore Felice Papini (74a Squadriglia).
Solaroli later recorded in his diary:

‘My wingman, Sergente Maggiore Mantelli, and I swept down onto the left flank of the escort. I immediately began to fire at a P-40 which filled my gunsight. There was absolutely no reaction from the English pilot – so much so that I got within a few metres before I saw him explode, turn on his back and crash into the ground. I vigorously pulled up, for I had to avoid other enemy fighters which were snapping at my heels. With the speed I had gained in the dive I soon found myself at a favourable altitude to attack another formation. This time I again managed to machine-gun a P-40 at close quarters. I hit the aircraft and observed that it caught fire.’
He strafed a third P-40 before being badly hit. His MC.202 (MM8095/74-9) was set on fire and he was wounded in the head and in a leg. He was forced to crash-land in the desert.
When he had struggled out of the cockpit and started to limber back towards the Italian lines, he saw at a distance three soldiers (later identified as a patrol from the 8o Regiment Bersaglieri) waving frantically their hands to stop him. He had landed in a minefield succeeding - miraculously - to have no devices exploded. With the help of Italian soldiers, he managed to get out of it and to reach a field hospital.
After some twenty days Solaroli was flying again.
The main opponents in this combat appear to have been seven Kittyhawk IIas of 260 Squadron (in the air 07:30-08:30) which were escorting 15 Bostons and three B-25s, when being attacked by a reported two or three MC.202s. One was claimed shot down by Sergeant N. S. Stebbing in the Alam el Halfa area (Solaroli). No British losses were listed on this occasion. US P-40Fs were also involved during this engagement and 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Williams (“95” from 66th FS, 57th FG) claimed a probable Bf 109.

He rejoined his unit after a month in a hospital in Libya.

The high number of aircraft flying in the area during these days caused such confusion that the German Freya radar personnel had troubles to identify friend or foe aircraft. So, many times the alarm was delayed, and Axis fighters scrambled late.
This happened on 20 October when at 10:55, 14 MC.202s of the 4o Stormo hurriedly scrambled to intercept 24 Bostons and Hudsons above Fuka, escorted by 30 P-40s and 20 Spitfires. The bombers were still releasing their cargo over the airfield when the 73a Squadriglia (Tenente Giuseppe Oblach, Tenente Vittorio Squarcia, Sergente Armando Angelini and Sergente Leonardo Rinaldi), 84a Squadriglia (Capitano Franco Lucchini, Tenente Alessandro Mettimano and Sergente Maggiore Piero Buttazzi), 91a Squadriglia (Capitano Carlo Maurizio Ruspoli di Poggio Suasa, Sergente Maggiore Leonardo Ferrulli and Sergente Maggiore Alessandro Bladelli), and 97a Squadriglia (Tenente Jacopo Frigerio, Tenente Giovanni Barcaro, Sottotenente Leo Boselli and Maresciallo Giovanni Bianchelli), attacked them. The escort intercepted the Italian fighters, and a number of claims were made. Ruspoli, Oblach and Ferrulli claimed two P-40s each, Bladelli, Frigerio, Barcaro and Boselli claimed one P-40 each while Bianchelli claimed one Spitfire. Another Spitfire was claimed as a probable by Bladelli. Mettimano, in his first combat mission, damaged four Hudsons and a P-40 while Angelini, Rinaldi and Squarcia jointly claimed four damaged P-40s. Buttazzi claimed three damaged P-40s and Lucchini claimed a Hudson as a damaged. Lucchini’s MC.202 (MM7905/84-4) was hit when a 20mm shell tore off the aircraft’s spinner and he was forced to make an emergency landing at 11:30.
Totally the 4o Stormo claimed 25 enemy aircraft shot down during the day, but of the 57 fighters (43 of which were combat-ready) on charge in the morning, only eleven were serviceable in the evening. The 9o Gruppo reported the mission as between 10:55 and 12:20 while the 10o Gruppo reported it as between 11:00 and 12:30
The 23o Gruppo also scrambled (11:00-12:30) and they also made a number of claims. From 70a Squadriglia, Sottotenente Luigi Bandini and Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella each claimed a P-40 over El Daba while Tenente Antonio Maccanti claimed a probable P-40 in the same area. 74a Squadriglia was in combat south of El Alamein, and Sergente Maggiore Felice Papini claimed a Boston and Sergente Maggiore Emilio Stafano claimed a Spitfire while Tenente Solaroli claimed a shared Spitfire together with Sergente Maurizio Mandolesi (75a Squadriglia). Tenente Carlo Moruzzi claimed a probable P-40.

23o Gruppo flew a mission between 09:05-10:00 on 23 October meeting P-40s north of El Daba. Tenente Marco Marinone (70a Squadriglia) claimed one damaged, Capitano Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia) claimed two damaged, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella (70a Squadriglia) claimed one damaged, Tenente Solaroli (74a Squadriglia) claimed one probable and Maresciallo Gino Giannelli (75a Squadriglia) claimed one destroyed.

Seven MC.202s of the 23o Gruppo, led by Capitano Mario Pinna (CO 75a Squadriglia), took off at 14:35 on 27 October to escort 17 Ju 87s and 42 CR.42s of the 50o and the 5o Stormi. Near Daba a formation of P-40s was intercepted and engaged, two P-40s being claimed; one of them was claimed by Sergente William Dusi (70a Squadriglia) while the second was shared by Tenente Solaroli (74a Squadriglia), Sergente Maurizio Mandolesi (75a Squadriglia) and Capitano Pinna. The fighters from the 23o Gruppo landed again at 16:00.
At 15:10 four Spitfires of 601 Squadron escorted Kittybombers over Daba, but their pilots then spotted at least 30 fighters which were escorting 30 CR.42s of the 50o Stormo to strafe positions at E1 Alamein, attacking many vehicles and armoured cars by dive-bombing. Just after these biplanes had completed their dives, they were attacked by a formation of fighters and combat commenced. Following several earlier missions, in the air at this time were eight bomb-carrying P-40Fs of the US 65th FS (15:10-16:35), escorted by eight more of the 64th FS.
According to the Luftwaffe, the Axis formation included Ju 87s, and also placed the number of CR.42s involved at 43 (the Allied units involved put the size of the biplane formation at 20-24!). Apart from the MC.202s, ten Bf 109s of II./JG 27 and eight of III./JG 27 had also taken off at 15:40 to take part in the escort. To add to the confusion, the Hurricanes of 33 Squadron were scrambled at 15:45 to intercept the raid, covered by 213 Squadron. These pilots reported that the biplanes were flying in four vics each of six aircraft, the vics following each other in line astern, and that they were just entering their dives at this point. The Germans reported that as the formation was assembling (or re-assembling) aircraft identified as ’Curtiss, Airacobras and four Spitfìres’ attacked; once more the reference to Airacobras seems to have been a give-away that US P-40Fs were involved. Oberleutnant Ernst Börngen (5./JG 27) claimed one Spitfire V north of Turbiya at 15:03 and a Hurricane II north-west of El Alamein at 15:32. Hauptmann Gustav Rödel (Stab II./JG 27) claimed one ’Airacobra/P-39’ at 15:05 north of El Daba. Hauptmann Gerhard Homuth (Stab I./JG 27) claimed a Spitfire V south of Bir Mumin Busak at 15:15. Leutnant Werner Schroer (8./JG 27) meanwhile, claimed three P-40s north-east of El Daba, north-east of Quotaifiya and north-west of Quotaifiya, all of which he reported crash-landed. Losses during this very busy combat included two Bf 109s, one flown by Oberfeldwebel Fritz Lüer of 6./JG 27 (Bf 109 F-4 WNr. 7151 Yellow 10), which crashed into the sea 15km north-east of El Daba with the pilot being KIA II.Gruppe and one of 8./JG 27 (Bf 109 F-4 WNr. 7489), which force-landed at Daba with 80 % damaged (pilot safe).
Meantime, the American pilots were enjoying a very successful engagement. The pilots of the 65th FS released their bombs on LG.20, having spotted about six Bf 109s. They then saw more than 20 CR.42s coming in from out to sea, heading south-west. These were intercepted and following a confused engagement claims were made for three shot down, three probables and three damaged. Captain Thomas Clark (P-40F #41) claimed one damaged, Lieutenant Harry Stanford (#43) claimed one probable, 1st Lieutenant Roy Whittaker (#54) claimed one destroyed, one probable and one damaged while 1st Lieutenant Gilbert Wymond (#48) claimed two destroyed, one probable and one damaged. During the fight Captain Marshall Sneed’s aircraft was attacked by a Bf 109 and was quite badly damaged, although he managed to return safely.
Meanwhile, six more P-40s, this time from the 66th FS (15:00-17:15), had been sent out to strafe MT on the coast road west of Mersa Matruh which their pilots had been unable to locate. Flying at 3 meters altitude, they spotted a lone CR.42 at about the same height which had apparently just taken off. Pulling up together, four of the pilots opened fire simultaneously at which the biplane turned sharply and landed, then being destroyed by a further burst. The pilot was seen to leap out but was fired on by 1st Lieutenant William Taylor (#74) and fell to the ground. The four pilots credited with this victory were 1st Lieutenant William Campbell (#77), 1st Lieutenant Taylor, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Tilley (#75) and Captain William Yates (#70).
At the same time the pilots of the 64th FS who were providing escort for the 65th FS fighter-bombers, observed a reported 20 Ju 87s approaching from the west without close escorts. Nonetheless, four Messerschmitts then appeared from the east and six more from out to sea. Some of these were engaged at 15:50 and Lieutenant Lyman Middleditch (#13) became the star of the day after claiming three Bf 109s:

“got in bursts on one Me, saw smoke come out, dove down on another e/a, missed this one, stayed near the deck trying to control the plane and saw the first e/a hit the deck. Was attacked by three e/a. Turned into them, one by one, and let them have good bursts. Hit first one and saw it hit the sea. Other two kept attacking. Got close bursts on second e/a in mid-section. E/a half rolled and went into sea. Last one kept attacking.”
By now Middleditch had only two guns firing, so continued to turn into ”e/a until it ‘pooped off'”. The last two aircraft were confirmed to have been shot down by Captain Burman. By then out of ammunition, he returned safely.
However, the Hurricane IIcs had also entered the fray, pilots of 213 Squadron (15:45-16:40) claiming one more CR.42, plus two probables and two damaged west of El Alamein, although one British aircraft was lost. The claims were made by Pilot Officer C. Luxton (Hurricane IIc HL613) who claimed one damaged, Sergeant D. J. McKay (BM354) who claimed one damaged east of LG.105, Pilot Officer G. R. S. McKay (BP507) who claimed one destroyed, Pilot Officer C. D. A. Smith (BP237) who claimed one probable and Sergeant W. G. Sweney (HL680) who claimed one probable. The lost Hurricane IIc (HL987) was reportedly shot down by MC.202s or CR.42 near El Alamein with the pilot, Flight Sergeant S. G. Brookes becoming PoW. It was probably against the Hurricanes that Leutnant Schroer gained his own big success (claimed as P-40s), for apart from the 127 Squadron aircraft, Squadron Leader R. M. Lloyd, the 243 Wing sweep leader and Pilot Officer Gardner (HV398) from 33 Squadron’s top flight were both shot down (Gardner KiA) and two more Hurricanes in the lower flight were damaged (both Sergeant F. J. Bateson and Sergeant M. D. Marcus safe). By this time the other 33 Squadron (15:40-16:35) pilots had spotted 40 or more Stukas west of El Alamein, claiming one shot down, one probable and one damaged before they were driven off. These claims were made by Flight Sergeant J. W. E. Belec (HL626/L) who claimed one probable, Flight Lieutenant O. C. ‘Sandy’ Kallio (HL654/Q) who claimed one destroyed and one damaged and Pilot Officer L. H. Peterson (BP130/R) who claimed one damaged. These dive-bombers had taken off at 15:55, escorted by 22 Bf 109s of the just-returned I./JG 27. The pilots of the latter reported combat with nine Spitfires, Hauptmann Homuth claiming one shot down (possibly one of the Hurricanes). It seems that only one Ju 87 suffered combat damage during the day when Ju 87 D-3 (WNr. 2387) was shot up by AA, suffering 30 % damage and crash-landing at El Daba with the pilot Unteroffizier Adolf Ebner KIA and the gunner safe.
According to Italian records, 30 CR.42s led by Tenente Colonnello Ferruccio Vosilla, the 50o Stormo commander, strafed enemy positions at El Alamein from 14:10-16:00. They were joined in this operation by 12 CR.42s of the 5o Stormo, led by Maggiore Carlo Alberto Rizzi (238a Squadriglia). Many vehicles and armoured cars were dive-bombed. Just after the dive, despite the intervention of the MC.202s of the 23o Gruppo, they were jumped by a formation of P-40s and a long fight ensued, where the biplanes apparently achieved some success. The 39la Squadriglia reported that they flew a mission between 14.10 and 15.05 with a formation of five CR.42s from the Squadriglia (equipped with three aircraft of their own and two borrowed from 389a and 390a Squadriglie) to attack armoured vehicles in the Tell el Tisa area. In this area the 9th Australian Division with support from 51st British Division and 1st British Armoured Division was attacked by the 164th German division at the Kidney Ridge. The 15th Panzer Division and the Littorio Division supported the German division. The Squadriglia became heavily engaged by enemy fighters and in the ensuing combat one P-40 was claimed by Tenente Pietro Vodret who also claimed a second as a damaged. His aircraft was then hit in the oil cooler and he is forced to make an emergency landing at El Ostegia. Tenente Francesco Jadanza claimed a P-40 and a second as a damaged while Sottotenente Armando Marini claimed a damaged. Also, Maggiore Rizzi, Capitano Edmondo Massi (238a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Stelio Zaganelli (238a Squadriglia) scored some hits on the attacking fighters, while Maresciallo Urbano Suzzi (MM8936) of the 238a Squadriglia was shot down and crashed into the sea in flames (pilot MiA). Three CR.42s were forced to crash-land in Axis controlled territory, and eight returned damaged. The lost CR.42s were MM8856 from the 389a Squadriglia which force-landed but was later recovered (Tenente Mario Aimi safe), MM8851 from the 389a Squadriglia, force-landed near El Daba and later recovered (Sergente Maggiore Costante Cipitelli safe) and MM8491 from the 387a Squadriglia, which caught fire and crash-landed 60km south-east of El Daba; Capitano Bruno Rossoni was WiA and rescued the next day by a Fi 156 flown by Maggiore Simeone Marsan from the 4o Stormo.

Tenente Solaroli left the 74a Squadriglia and was promoted to commanding officer of the 95a Squadriglia, 18o Gruppo on 3 December 1942, replacing Capitano Vittorio Bariletta.

At the beginning of 1943 the unit left the advanced bases and settled down at Tauorga, not far from Misurata.

92 Squadron, which was still based further back, had flown up to be on readiness at Hamraiet and was now scrambled at 10:50 on 8 January. A large force of Bf 109s and MC.202s which were providing cover for some Ju 87s were engaged at 4,000 meters over Bir el Zidan, two Macchis being claimed shot down and two more as probables. Flying Officer Neville Duke (Spitfire Vb ER200/QJ-R) and Flight Sergeant J. C. Sales (BR521/QJ-E) dived on their two Macchis which were flying 900 meters below them and chased them to the ground. Flying Officer Duke went down vertically before he managed to get several strikes on his victim which crashed in flames and broke up at 11:00. Flight Sergeant Sales was credited with one destroyed MC.202 while Pilot Officer Willian Chisholm (BR576/QJ-T and Lieutenant Hendrick Smith (AR494/QJ-D) claimed one probable each. 92 Squadron landed again at 12:23.
Regia Aeronautica reports indicate that 16 MC.202s of the 18o Gruppo (take-off at 10:15) were involved in escorting strafing aircraft over the front (some sources claims that they escorted MC.200 fighter-bombers from 13o Gruppo). Tenente Solaroli claimed one Spitfire shot down while a second was claimed as a damaged by an unknown pilot. MC.202 MM7877 from 74a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo flown by Sergente Giorgio Pettazzoni (temporarily posted to 95a Squadriglia) failed to return and Pettazzoni was posted as MiA and later declared KiA.

At 15:45 on 11 January, eight Spitfires from 601 Squadron scrambled, and at 4,300 meters three Bf 109s were seen and chased. Reforming, the squadron then spotted Axis aircraft over the sea near Tamet, coming in to attack Buerat from about 3,600 meters; these intruders were identified as twelve Bf 109s and twelve MC.202s. Several Spitfire pilots saw strikes on aircraft, and one parachute was spotted, but the only claim was made by Flying Officer I. F. Gilbert (Spitfire Vc BR134) for a Bf 109 probably destroyed over Hamraiet.
Twelve P-40Ks of the 64th FS and twelve P-40Fs of the 65th FS had also taken off at 15:25 for a fighter sweep over the lines, the pilots of these sighting Axis aircraft south-west of Buerat at 15:45. 2nd Lieutenant R. J. Byrne (#10) from 64th FS was twice attacked but managed to get a good burst into one of his assailants, being credited with one MC.202 damaged 16km west of Hamraiet, but he was hit (reportedly by a Bf 109 10km west of Hamraiet) and wounded, returning to base with 23 bullet holes in his aircraft. As aircraft returned to land, six pilots were ordered to scramble over base at 2,400 meters. They were then directed to Tamet at 3,600 meters where they attacked four MC.202s over Tamet. One of these was claimed by lst Lieutenant William Beck from 64th FS (#13) when it rolled onto its back and crashed into the sea, while other pilots claimed two more damaged; one each by 1st Lieutenant William Mount (#32) and 1st Lieutenant Thomas Tilley (#11). 1st Lieutenant Gerald A. Brandon's P-40K #26 was hit in the coolant system by one bullet from a MC.202 over Tamet, obliging him to force-land 16km from base; he walked back safely that evening.
Meanwhile the 65th FS P-40Fs also became engaged with enemy fighters between Buerat and Gheddahia at 15:40, 1st Lieutenant Roy Whittaker (#45) claiming one Messerschmitt shot down and 2nd Lieutenant Charles Costanzo (#60) another just as it was lining up on a Warhawk. Two more Bf 109s were claimed damaged, one each by Lieutenant Lee Gossick (87th FS in #41) and Lieutenant Jessie Jory (87th FS in #44). However, Lieutenant Edwin R. Weaver’s (from 64th FS) Warhawk (#40) was hit by two cannon shells, and he crash-landed at base.
Around this time II./JG 77 pilots made claims for no less than ten P-40s and one Spitfire over the Buerat area. At 14:44, Oberleutnant Heinrich Osswald (4./JG/77) claimed a Kittyhawk 20 km north-east of Zidjen at 4,500 meters. At 14:55 (14:35?) Feldwebel Ernst-Wilhelm Reinert (4./JG77) claimed a Kittyhawk 38km east of Zidjen at 5,200 meters and at 14:56, he claimed a second 26 km east-north-east of Zidjen at 3,400 meters (he had claimed two Spitfires during the morning). At 15:00 Unteroffizier Bruno Weidlich (4./JG 77) claimed a Kittyhawk 15km north-east of Zidjen at 3,500 meters and at the same time did Unteroffizier Franz Nägele (6./JG 77) claim a Spitfire (unknown place). At unknown time during the afternoon, two P-40s were claimed by Hauptmann Anton Hackl from 5./JG 77 (he had already claimed two in the morning) while Leutnant Erwin Müller (4./JG 77) claimed a Kittyhawk and Leutnant Johann Badum (6./JG 77) claimed a P-40. Two unknown pilots from II./JG 77 also did claim two P-40s during the afternoon.
The only known loss for German fighters during the day was Bf 109 G-1 WNr 13892 from 6./JG 77, which suffered 10% damage during combat north-west of Zliten.
At 15:40, a big Italian formation approached Tamet, comprising 17 MC.200s and MC.202s of the 13o Gruppo, led by Maggiore Lorenzo Viale out to attack British airfields in the Uadi Tamet area. These fighter-bombers were escorted by 22 MC.202s of the 18o and 23o Gruppi, led by Tenente Colonnello Tito Falconi with the 18o Gruppo’s new commanding officer, Maggiore Gustavo Garretto (later to become a Generale in the post-war Italian air force) (take-off at 14:55) and the 23o Gruppos’s commander, Maggiore Luigi Filippi. Acting as close escort on this mission were four aircraft from the 95a Squadriglia (18o Gruppo) under the command of Tenente Solaroli. A little bit higher up were Maggiore Gustavo Garetto with six aircraft. As top cover at 6,000 to 7,000 metres were six MC.202s from the 23o Gruppo under the command of Capitano Mario Rigatti and above these were six more under the command of Tenente Colonnello Falconi.
The Italian aircraft were attacked by enemy fighters and the escort managed wth difficulties to defend the fighter-bombers. The pilots of the MC.202s claimed to have shot down five Spitfires and one probable, plus nine more damaged during this combat which they reported involved 25-30 Spitfires. From the 85a Squadriglia Sergente Luigi Gorrini claimed one destroyed and one damaged north-north-west of Tamet and Tenente Mario Melis claimed one destroyed over Tamet. From the 95a Squadriglia Maresciallo Felice Longhi claimed one destroyed north-north-west of Tamet, Tenente Solaroli claimed one destroyed north-north-west of Tamet, Tenente Pietro Salvatico claimed one destroyed over Tamet and Tenente Roberto Caetani claimed one probably destroyed over Tamet.
The 13o Gruppo strafed Tamet landing ground with some success, four aircraft being claimed burnt and nine damaged. At Tamet, three Baltimores of 1437 Strategic Reconnaissance Flight were badly damaged, one Hurricane of 73 Squadron, which had just arrived, was burnt out, and a Lysander was destroyed. 2 PRU arrived later in the day, fortuitously missing this attack.
Maresciallo Longhi’s MC.202 (MM7894) was damaged in combat but Longhi managed to return to base. However, two MC.202 and one MC.200 were shot down. Sottotenente Ferruccio Telleschi from 95a Squadriglia (MM7908) and Maggiore Garetto were shot down together with Sergente Giuseppe Torre from 78a Squadriglia, 13o Gruppo, (MC.200 MM8324). All three pilots managed to escape by parachute. Sergente Torre was apparently hit by AA and wounded; he force-landed his MC.200 some distance away and was able to reach Axis lines two days later with the help of some Arabs. The other two pilots were captured and became PoWs.
Nine Spitfires of 92 Squadron were scrambled at 15:30 to intercept, led by Flying Officer Neville Duke (whose birthday it was) in Spitfire Vb EP338/QJ-S. Climbing to 4,000 meters over Tamet, the Spitfire pilots then spotted five MC.202s and dived on them. Four of the Italians dived and one climbed, Duke giving chase to the latter; after a burst struck the aircraft behind the cockpit, it rolled over and the pilot (most probably Sottotenente Telleschi), baled out north-north-west of Tamet. Flying Officer Duke and Sergeant McMahon then flew about for a few minutes before seeing another Macchi below west-south-west of Buerat, on which they dived out of the sun. Duke followed it and fired until it crash-landed; this aircraft was probably flown by Maggiore Garretto (the next day, Maggiore Domenico Camarda took over command of the 18o Gruppo). Duke’s claims were reported at 16:30-17:15.

14 January was a hectic day in the air with many air combats. During this day, Tenente Solaroli claimed a probable Spitfire and Maresciallo Felice Longhi claimed a damaged Spitfire. Both claims were made 10 kilometres south of Bir Dufan.
No Allied losses were reported in the area during the day.

MC.202s from the 3o Stormo scrambled at 16:40 on 17 January to intercept a formation of B-24s flying at 7,600 meters to bomb Tripoli’s harbour. At that height the MC.202s were much less effective than at lower level and the pilots failed to press home their attacks effectively. The intense return fire hit some fighters damaging them, among them those of Capitano Claudio Solaro (70a Squadriglia) and Tenente Solaroli (95a Squadriglia).

The 3o Stormo withdrew to Medenine, Tunisia, where its aircraft were heavily bombed by Allied bombers.
During this period Solaroli fought against P-38s and B-26s claiming some victories.

Two MC.202s of 83a Squadriglia, flown by Tenente Solaroli and Sottotenente Cecchino Maestri, a rather green pilot, took off on a reconnaissance mission over the Medenine – Remtsa area at 13:45-14:30 on 21 January. During the flight, Solaroli sighted at lower altitude a formation of P-38s heading for the Italian airfield. He reported:

”While I try and radio to base to get ready for defence, I keep an eye on the enemy that so far hasn’t noticed us. I have the sun behind me and I see the enemies splitting in two groups, heading for the coast. I follow the largest formation, arranged in narrow Vics. Almost over the coast, together with Maestri we dive on the tail-end patrol. At this point, having seen us, the enemy fighters make a steep turn, but it’s too late for them. My first burst scores a direct hit on the right wingman. Climbing, I look around and see an aircraft crashing to ground and another, just behind me, falling into a spin. I don’t see Maestri around and start to fear that the spinning aircraft was his. [...] At evening a scouting army patrol, back to Foum Tatahouine, reports to have witnessed the engagement and confirms that two aircraft crashed to ground: the P-38 and Maestri’s Macchi…”
Cecchino Maestri was born on 21 January 1920 and was from Gambettola. He was killed when he crashed in MC.202 MM7878.
It seems that they had intercepted P-38s from 71st FS, 1st FG, which reported combat with enemy fighters (misidentified as Bf 109s) east of Foum Tatahouine at 14:30 during which Captain John D. Eiland Jr. claimed a Bf 109 F and 1st Lieutenant Verl B. Schoenfeldt claimed a second Bf 109. The American fighters returned without losses.

The 95a Squadriglia moved to Gabes and then to El Hamma following the retreat of the Italian troops.

Two MC.202 of the 18o Gruppo, flown by Tenente Solaroli and Maresciallo Felice Longhi (both 95a Squadriglia), were scrambled at 14:15 on 4 February 1943 to intercept a formation heading for Gabes airfield. Maresciallo Longhi’s aircraft failed to start, so Tenente Solaroli took off alone. He encountered an isolated twin-engined bomber, identified as a Marauder, and attacked repeatedly, claiming to have shot it down west of El Hamma.
This seems to have been B-26B-2-MA 41-17878/’Bat Outa Hell’ from 432nd BS, 17th BG, which failed to return after spun in near Djebel Daouaia with the loss of 1st Lieutenant Jack S. Collins and four crew.

Taking off at 08:00 on 16 February, Kittyhawks of 450 Squadron provided top cover for 112 and 3 RAAF Squadrons attacking defence on the Medenine West landing ground in support of the ground troops. After the bombing, six Bf 109s and three MC.202s attacked, nine Allied pilots firing at these although only Sergeant K. Marrows from 450 Squadron (Kittyhawk III FR417) managed to claim one probable Bf 109.
No losses were suffered by the Allied fighters which were back at base at 09:30.
Regia Aeronautica recorded that 13 MC.202 of the 3o Stormo (07:15-08:30) had taken part in this operation, escorting German aircraft to bomb. Tenente Solaroli claimed one probable P-40 in the Ben Gerdane area. One MC.202 then crash-landed near Mareth, killing the pilot Capitano Mario Dellai (85a Squadriglia) but this was reportedly due to engine failure.
No Luftwaffe claims or losses were recorded.

Taking off at 11:30 on 6 March, Tenente Solaroli claimed a probable Spitfire over the Mareth line.

13 MC.202s from the 3o Stormo took off at 11:30 on 16 March to cover troops operating on the Mareth Line. An intense combat occurred during which Tenente Solaroli claimed a probable Spitfire.
Solaroli recalled that this intense 40-minute engagement was the longest in his fighter career.
The only possible unit that they could have engaged is the 85th FS where 2nd Lieutenant Carl L. Simpson (P-40F #X32) claimed a damaged Bf 109 in the Mareth area at 12:25.
No losses are recorded in either Axis or Allied units.

Taking off at 08:45 on 23 March, Tenente Solaroli (95a Squadriglia) led twelve MC.202s from the 3o Stormo over the Mareth Line. Here they intercepted a British formation and Tenente Solaroli claimed one Spitfire destroyed while Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella (70a Squadriglia) claimed a second. Seven more enemy fighters were claimed damaged. The Italian aircraft returned without losses.

The Italian fighters were heavily engaged on 29 March, MC.202s being scrambled continually due to heavy attacks on their airfields. 15 pilots of the 1o and 3o Stormi, led by Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli, reported engaging Spitfires and P-40s over Gabes, claiming three Spitfires and one P-40 destroyed and others damaged. Tenente Solaroli, who claimed a Spitfire, was later hit by friendly fire, most probably coming from his wingman Sottotenente Remo Lugari. Solaroli force-landed and destroyed his aircraft, luckily emerging almost unhurt; he managed to walk back to base by late evening, where he found an almost desperate Lugari. Solaroli recalled this episode in his diary:

“Shot down for the second time! But this time by my Number two! At 10 o'clock I take off with three MC.202s on a patrol over the lines. 1o Stormo has sent about ten planes to cover us, and they are already in the air. At 4,000 metres, before arriving over the lines, the carousel begins. You can see Spits and P-40s all around. The radio is useless, you can rely only on your eyes. The sky could be clear but for the trails of white and red tracer bullets. Engaged by a formation of Spitfires, 1o Stormo starts the fight. 1 turn 180o to get the sun behind me. The second pair doesn’t follow me, diving rather prematurely to evade an attack.
“Together with my wingman Sottotenente Lugari I’m just levelling when two Spits, surprised by my move, pass just in front of me. They start to dive and I follow the second, who is slightly behind his leader: 4,000 metres at full speed, diving and shooting. I see the ground approaching and I pull the stick with all my strength. For a few seconds I lose my vision and then I find myself at 3,000 metres climbing almost vertically. I level and look around: no one near, a big fire and a column of black smoke mark the end of a Spit. Towards the sea I sight four P-40s at about my altitude. I climb a little to get a favourable position to attack when I realize that a ‘white spinner’ (therefore a friend) is coming towards me: I imagine that Lugari, left behind after my long dive, is trying to reach his position at my side.
“All of a sudden a burst hits my fighter: I roll immediately on my back to evade the attacker. I notice that glycol and oil temperatures are rapidly increasing and out of the corner of my eye I sight a long trail of white smoke: my radiators have been hit. I decide to force-land and I spot a suitable area in front of a large Red Cross tent: in case of bad luck the hospitalization would be immediate! Undercarriage up, flaps down, engine cut, left hand pushed against the dashboard, I finally touch the ground with a rather violent impact. After a long slide on its belly my aircraft stops in a cloud of smoke. I get out of the cockpit very quickly to escape a possible fire… It takes some hours to get back to my base, riding three different vehicles. When I reach the camp Colonnello Falconi greets me very relieved. Later on, as soon as I’m alone, Lugari comes to me and confesses that he fired that burst. I understand his mistake and, to overcome this awkward situation, we drink a glass of cognac together…”

By the end of March, the exhausted unit was repatriated.

The unit then took part in the defence of Italy, first of all the city of Rome. During this period, he claimed his last victories.

Solaroli ended the war with 1 shared biplane victory and a total of 12.

After the war Solaroli attended his family’s agricultural business. He was for long times a free time flyer and Chairman of the Turin Flying Club.

Solaroli died in 1996.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  23/07/41   1/2 Beaufighter (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   near Califfe islands 74a Squadriglia
1 25/07/42 08:20 1 P-40 (b) Destroyed MC.202   S El Alamein 74a Squadriglia
  03/09/42 12:.40-14:25 1 P-40 Probably destroyed MC.202   El Alamein 70a Squadriglia
2 04/09/42 06:15-07:45 1 P-40 (c) Destroyed MC.202 MM8095/74-9 50km E El Taga 74a Squadriglia
3 04/09/42 06:15-07:45 1 P-40 (c) Destroyed MC.202 MM8095/74-9 50km E El Taga 74a Squadriglia
  20/10/42   1/2 Spitfire Shared destroyed MC.202   S El Alamein 74a Squadriglia
  23/10/42 09:05-10:00 1 P-40 Probably destroyed MC.202   N El Daba 74a Squadriglia
  27/10/42 14:35-16:00 1/3 P-40 Shared destroyed MC.202   near El Daba 74a Squadriglia
4 08/01/43 10:15- 1 Spitfire (d) Destroyed MC.202   Bir Zidan 95a Squadriglia
5 11/01/43 14:55- 1 Spitfire (e) Destroyed MC.202   NNW Tamet 95a Squadriglia
  14/01/43   1 Spitfire Probably destroyed MC.202   10km S Bir Dufan 95a Squadriglia
6 21/01/43 13:45-14:30 1 P-38 (f) Destroyed MC.202   Bir Remtsa 95a Squadriglia
7 04/02/43 14:15-15:15 1 B-26 (g) Destroyed MC.202   W El Hamma 95a Squadriglia
  16/02/43 07:15-08:30 1 P-40 (h) Probably destroyed MC.202   Ben Gardane area 95a Squadriglia
  06/03/43 11:30- 1 Spitfire Probably destroyed MC.202   Mareth Line 95a Squadriglia
  16/03/43 11:30- 1 Spitfire Probably destroyed MC.202   Mareth Line 95a Squadriglia
8 23/03/43 08:45- 1 Spitfire (i) Destroyed MC.202   Mareth Line 95a Squadriglia
9 29/03/43 10:00- 1 Spitfire (j) Destroyed MC.202   Gabes 95a Squadriglia
10 19/07/43   1 P-38 (k) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia
11 27/07/43   1 P-38 (k) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia
12 29/07/43   1 P-38 (k) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia
13 03/09/43   1 P-38 (k) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 13 and 3 shared destroyed, 6 probably destroyed.
(a) Beaufighter of 272 Squadron.Sergeant W. M. Deakin and Sergeant C. F. Jenkins missing.
(b) Claimed in combat with 450 Squadron, which lost 1 Kittyhawk (pilot safe). 23o Gruppo claimed 3 and 1 probable P-40s without losses.
(c) Probably claimed in combat with Kittyhawks from 260 Squadron and P-40Fs from 66th FS. 260 Squadron claimed 1 MC.202 and 66th FS 1 probable Bf 109, both without losses. 23o Gruppo claimed 5 and 2 probable P-40s while losing 1 MC.202.
(d) Claimed in combat with Spitfire Vbs from 92 Squadron, which claimed 2 destroyed and 2 probable MC.202s without losses. 18o Gruppo claimed 1 destroyed and 1 damaged Spitfire while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KiA).
(e) Claimed in combat with Spitfire Vs from 92 and 601 Squadrons and P-40s from 57th FG, which claimed 2 destroyed Bf 109s and 3 destroyed MC.202s, 1 probable Bf 109, 2 damaged Bf 109s and 3 damaged MC.202s while losing 2 P-40s and getting 1 P-40 damaged. II./JG 77, 18o and 23o Gruppi claimed 10 destroyed P-40s, 6 Spitfires destroyed, 1 probable Spitfire and 9 damaged Spitfires while losing 2 MC.202s (2 pilots PoW) and 1 MC.200, 1 damaged MC.202 and possibly 1 damaged Bf 109.
(f) Claimed in combat with P-38s from 71st FS, 1st FG, which claimed 2 destroyed MC.202s without losses. 83o Squadriglia claimed 1 P-38 destroyed while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KiA).
(g) Possibly B-26B-2-MA 41-17878/’Bat Outa Hell’ from 432nd BS, 17th BG, which failed to return.
(h) Claimed in combat with Kittyhawks from 3 RAAF, 112 and 450 Squadrons, which claimed 1 probable Bf 109 without losses. The 18o Gruppo claimed 1 probable P-40 while losing 1 MC.202 (pilot KIA).
(i) Can’t be verified with any corresponding Allied losses.
(j) Can’t be verified with any corresponding Allied losses.
(k) Due to loss of official records, the data concerning the last four victories are taken from Solaroli’s personal diary.

3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - C. Lucchini and E. Leproni, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala with translations kindly provided by Birgitta Hallberg-Lombardi
Aces High - Christopher Shores and Clive Williams, 1994 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-898697-00-0
Aces High Volume 2 - Christopher Shores, 1999 Grub Street, London, ISBN 1-902304-03-9
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Two – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781909166127
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume Three – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, Frank Olynyk & Winfried Bock, 2016 Grub Street, London, ISBN-13: 9781910690000
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Elenco Nominativo dei Militari dell' A. M. Decorati al V. M. Durante it Periodo 1929 - 1945 2 Volume M - Z
Giorgio Solaroli (Galleria degli Assi) - Giovanni Massimello, 1998 Aerofan nr. 66 lug-settembre 1998 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala.
Italian Aces of World War 2 - Giovanni Massimello and Giorgio Apostolo, 2000 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 1-84176-078-1
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Last modified 07 February 2024