Biplane fighter aces


Capitano Giorgio Solaroli di Briona

17 July 1918 - 1996

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 our 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.

On 4 September 1942 Solaroli took part in a routine patrol over the frontline at about 4000 metres. The patrol, which was led by Captiano Giorgio Tugnoli, encountered a formation of Bostons, heavily escorted by P-40s. Solaroli 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 by Sergeant N. D. Stebbings from 260 Squadron. His MC.202 was set n 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 Italian’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.

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

During the autumn he was promoted to Capitano.

On 20 October he shared in the destruction of two P-40s with Sergente Mandolesi and Capitano Mario Pinna.
One of the Allied reported missing this day was Sergeant Stebbings of 260 Squadron!

He was promoted to commanding officer of the 95a Squadriglia, 18o Gruppo on 3 December 1942.

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

On 8 Janaury 1943 he claimed one Spitfires on a missions while escorting MC.200 fighter-bombers from 13o Gruppo.

On 11 January 1943 MC.200s from 13o Gruppo attacked British airfields in the Uadi Tamet area. These fighter-bombers were escorted by MC.202 from 18o Gruppo. Acting as close escort on this mission were four aircraft from 95a Squadriglia under the command of Capitano Solaroli. A little bit higher up were Maggiore Gustavo Garetto with six aircraft. As top cover at 6000 to 7000 metres were six MC.202s from 23o Gruppo under the command of Capitano Mario Rigatti and above these were six more under the command of Tenente Colonello Tito Falconi.
The Italian aircraft were attacked by RAF and 18o Gruppo managed with difficulties to defend the fighter-bombers. During the combat were Sotto Tenente Telleschi and Maggiore Garetto shot down together with a MC.200 from 13o Gruppo. All three pilots managed to escape by parachute. The pilot from 13o Gruppo managed to reach the Italian lines but the other two pilots were captured. It is probable that Telleschi and Garetto were claimed by the British ace Flying Officer Neville Duke of 92 Squadron in Spitfire Mk.Vb EP338 ‘QJ-S’ (victory 8 and 9).
The Italian attack were however a success and a fuel depot, a transport aircraft, which was surprised while taxiing, and several parked aircraft were destroyed in the British airfield. Also six British Spitfires were claimed in the combat. One of them were claimed by Solaroli, one by Sergente Luigi Gorrini (who also claimed one damaged) and a third by Maresciallo Felice Longhi, who returned with his aircraft damaged by enemy fire on several places. The Italians also claimed hits on 9 additional enemy aircraft.

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.

95a Squadriglia moved to Gabes and then to El Hamma following the retreat of the Italian troops.
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.
During the war, he was decorated with two Medaglie d’argento al valor militare, one Medaglia di bronzo al valor militare and the German Iron Cross 2nd class.

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
2 04/09/42   1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
3 04/09/42   1 P-40 Destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
  20/10/42   1/3 P-40 Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
  20/10/42   1/3 P-40 Shared destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia
4 08/01/43   1 Spitfire Destroyed MC.202   Tunisia 95a Squadriglia
5 11/01/43   1 Spitfire Destroyed MC.202   NNW Tamet 95a Squadriglia
6 21/01/43   1 P-38 Destroyed MC.202   Tunisia 95a Squadriglia
7 04/02/43   1 B-26 Destroyed MC.202   Tunisia 95a Squadriglia
8 23/03/43   1 Spitfire Destroyed MC.202   Tunisia 95a Squadriglia
9 19/07/43   1 P-38 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia
10 27/07/43   1 P-38 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia
11 29/07/43   1 P-38 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia
12 03/09/43   1 P-38 (c) Destroyed MC.202   Italy 95a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 1 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 12 and 5 shared destroyed, 7 probables.
(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) 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
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
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 21 January 2021