Biplane fighter aces

Italy

Capitano Giorgio Tugnoli

13 December 1912 –

Giorgio Tugnoli was born on 13 December 1912.

On 31 December 1935, he was commissioned (in Servizio Permanente Effettivo).

Tugnoli served in the Spanish Civil War were he claimed 1 victory while serving in the VI Gruppo C.T.

He was promoted to Capitano on 31 December 1938.

In November 1940, he belonged to the 153a Squadriglia, 3o Gruppo Autonomo CT which was equipped with Fiat CR.42s.

At around midday on 27 November, the British and Italian fleets clashed in what was later called the Battle of Cape Spartivento. Eleven Swordfishes from 810 Squadron of HMS Ark Royal led by Lieutenant Commander M. Johnstone attacked at around 12:40, claiming a hit on the battleship Vittorio Veneto (in fact, they all missed).
In the early afternoon, nine Swordfishes from 820 Squadron of HMS Ark Royal led by Lieutenant Commander J. A. Stuart-Moore attacked the Italian cruisers, claiming two hits (none achieved). Three CR.42s of 154a Squadriglia piloted by Capitano Tovazzi, Tenente Giannini and Sergente Maggiore Bortolani intercepted a British plane identified as a “Blackburn” during a cruise over the Italian fleet and Giannini claimed it shot down. Ten SM 79s of the 32o Stormo, escorted by CR.42s of the 3o Gruppo Autonomo then arrived over Force “H” and seven Fulmars of 808 Squadron, which were up, intercepted at 14:30 claiming two or three victories without being able to stop them. Green Section’s Lieutenant Rupert Tillard claimed one SM 79 shot down but then he and the men of his section were bounced by the CR.42s. A formation of five CR.42s of the 153a Squadriglia led by Capitano Tugnoli and including Tenente Alfonso Mattei, Sottotenente Cesare Ciapetti (154a Squadriglia), Sergente Maggiore Visconti and Sergente Lucato (154a Squadriglia) reported a combat against seven British fighters probably “Hurricanes” over the sea 200 km south-west of Cagliari. They claimed five victories with the use of 1080 rounds, one of the victories was claimed individually by Ciapetti while Lucato failed to return. In fact, unable to fight back because low on ammunitions and after having mistaken the Fiats for Sea Gladiators, Fulmar N1941 (pilot Sub Lieutenant Richard Maurice Scott Martin and TAG L/A Alexander Laird Milne Noble (FAA/FX 79397)) was shot down into the sea with the loss of the crew. The FAA pilots were unable to claim anything and the missing CR.42 probably run out of fuel after the combat and disappeared in the sea with its pilot.
All the SM 79s from the 32o Stormo returned to base, even if eight out of ten were damaged by the Fulmars and the AA, two of them seriously. However, a transit Vichy French Farman 223 was involved in the combat and shot down, most likely by the Fulmars.
One hour later, seven Skuas of 800 Squadron led by Lieutenant Richard Smeeton dive bombed the Italian ships without success but while coming back to HMS Ark Royal they run across the Ro.43 seaplane spotter of Vittorio Veneto (piloted by Capitano Violante with observer Sottotenente di Vascello Davide Sovrano). Four of the Skuas shot it down into the sea (Lieutenant Rooper/Sub Lieutenant Woolston in L3015, Petty Officer (A) ‘Bert’ Sabey/L/A Cooles in L2900, Petty Officer (A) Burston/N/A Holmes in L3007 and Petty Officer (A) Jopling/N/A Glen in L3017).

In the beginning of May 1941, a convoy of five fast freighters steamed for Alexandria (Operation Tiger) together with Force H from Gibraltar. To meet this convoy the Mediterranean Fleet left Alexandria on 6 May to rendezvous with it south of Malta. The Tiger convoy escaped discovery until 8 May due to bad weather and poor visibility but was then on to became the focus for the air battles for the next four days.
HMS Ark Royal of Force H had embarked a second squadron of Fulmars to replace the low-performance Skuas of 800 Squadron. This was 807 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander J. Sholto Douglas who was to assist the resident Fulmars of 808 Squadron under Lieutenant Commander Rupert Tillard. However, only twelve aircraft were serviceable this morning.
The early morning patrol had been vectored towards an Italian ‘shadower’ and although this was spotted it could not be intercepted, so all now knew that the assault would soon commence.
The first incoming raid was reported at about 13:45, still 32 miles from the ships. This first raid comprised of five torpedo bombers (SM 79s) of the 280o Squadriglia, which had taken off from Elmas airfield near Calgari, Sardinia. These were flown by Capitano Dante Magagnoli, Capitano Amedeo Moioli, Capitano Ugo Rivoli, Tenente Marino Marini and Sottotenente Francesco Cappa. They were escorted by 15 CR.42s of 3o Gruppo C.T., eight from 153a Squadriglia and seven from 154a Squadriglia, all led by the gruppo commander Tenente Colonnello Innocenzo Monti; these fighters departed Monserrato (also near Cagliari) at 12:05, nine providing close escort with the other six as top cover. Weather conditions were very poor, with a low cloud ceiling and limited visibility. Nonetheless, the British ships were sighted at 13:40, some 120 miles south of Sardinia.
Two sections (four aircraft) of 807 Squadron were scrambled to join the four Fulmars of 808 Squadron on patrol, these latter aircraft intercepting the incoming SM 79s, but as Lieutenant Commander Tillard led the attack they were themselves bounced by a dozen of the escorting CR.42s. Almost immediately Tillard’s Fulmar was shoot down after having ignored the advice he had been given to not get involved in a turning ‘dogfight’ with the CR.42s. He and his observer, Lieutenant Mark Somerville, were killed. 34-year-old Lieutenant Commander Tillard was credited with 6 and 1 shared destroyed enemy aircraft at the time of his death. The three other Fulmars were also hit, the aircraft of both Lieutenant G. C. McE. Guthrie and Petty Officer (A) R. E. Dubber sustaining damage to their tail units, while in Lieutenant Taylour’s aircraft the TAG, Petty Officer (A) L. G. T. Howard received a severe leg wound, an explosive bullet shattering both tibia and fibula. One CR.42 overshot their aircraft and Taylour managed to score hits on it, forcing it into a spin from which he considered it would not be able to recover. Having evaded the other CR.42s, Taylour headed for the carrier with his wounded TAG, where only prompt and skilful action by HMS Ark Royal’s surgeon prevented the loss of Howard’s leg.
The 280o Squadriglia reported that all pilots managed to release torpedoes, Moioli and Magagnoli claiming to have hit a cruiser. However, all five SM 79s had been badly damaged, and although three got back to Elmas, Sottotenente Marini’s aircraft was hit and crashed near La Galite (they got ashore on the island in their dinghy and a French flying boat took the crew to Tunisia, from where they later was repatriated) and Sottotenente Cappa (SM 79 MM23872), hit by cannon fire, launched a torpedo against a large ship from close range, and then disappeared into the water with the loss of all the crew. Cappa was awarded a posthumous Medaglia d’oro al valor militare.
All but three of the CR.42s would return to base 14:30 and 14:40 but Tenente Massimino Mancini’s (153a Squadriglia) had been damaged and he had to crash-land, as did Sergente Maggiore Guerrino Cavalca, who had run out of fuel. Sergente Giuseppe Zani of the 153a Squadriglia was MiA in MM7203.
Meanwhile, a further formation of five SM 79s from the 32o Stormo had taken off from Decimomannu some time after the initial raiding force, covered by ten more 3o Gruppo CR.42s led by Capitano Tugnoli (five from each squadriglie). It would seem to be with this formation that the four 807 Squadron Fulmars made contact, Lieutenant N. G. Hallett and his No. 2 – Petty Officer (A) A. G. Johnson – hitting one bomber; however, the gunner returned fire, hitting Hallett’s engine forcing him to ditch. Both he and his Australian observer, Lieutenant V. A. Smith, managed to scramble out and were soon picked up by the destroyer HMS Foresight. Meanwhile the two Blue Section aircraft flown by Lieutenant R. E. ‘Jimmie’ Gardner and South African Lieutenant K. Firth attacked the same SM 79, which was probably that flown by Capitano Armando Boetto, commanding officer of the 49a Squadriglia; Blue 1 got in the final burst before it disinter grated and fell into the sea. A second SM 79 flown by Sottotenente Michele Fonseca of 228a Squadriglia was also lost. Eight of the bombers broke through the defences to launch torpedoes at the HMS Ark Royal and the battlecruiser HMS Renown, but without obtaining hits.
Totally, the Italian pilots from the 3o Gruppo claimed five Fulmars shot down (two more were claimed by the SM 79 gunners). Claimants were Capitano Tugnoli, Tenente Mancini (153a Squadriglia), Tenente Elio Broganelli (154a Squadriglia) and Sottotenente Cesare Ciapetti (154a Squadriglia). The fifth was claimed as a shared between Sottotenente Ciapetti, Sergente Angelo Zanaria and an unknown pilot. Five further Fulmars were credited to the fighter units as probables.
These were the only combat with biplane fighters over the convoy during the day but the battle continued all day. The protecting Fulmars nevertheless managed to protect the fleet and no ships were sunk.

In the beginning of November 1941 and at the eve of the British offensive Operation Crusader, Capitano Tugnoli served as CO of the 153a Squadriglia, 3o Gruppo C.T. This unit was still equipped with CR.42s and based at Sorman/Misurata.

Later in the war Tugnoli was transferred first to the 74o Squadriglia (which he commanded) and later to the 23o Gruppo C.T., which he also commanded.

On 31 July 1942 a formation of 12 MC.202s from 70a and 74a Squadriglias surprised a squadron of Kittyhawks, who were attacking German lines at Bir Mukeisin with a squadron of Spitfires as escort. Totally was the allied group twice as big as the Italian was.
Despite this the Italian fighters attacked and during the following dogfight five of the enemy fighters were claimed as destroyed. In this combat enemy aircraft were claimed by Capitano Tugnoli, Capitano Claudio Solaro, Sergente Maggiore Celso Zemella, Sergente Maggiore Mantelli. The fifth was claimed jointly by Tenente Moruzzi, Tenente Spinelli, Sottotenente Sprinelli Barrile and Sottotenente Carlo Brigante Colonna. Tugnoli and Sergente Maggiore Stefani claimed two more aircraft as probables. Eleven more of the enemy aircraft was shot at.
All the Italian aircraft returned to base.

At dawn on 4 September 1942 the Italian pilots of 23o Gruppo were in the air. Led by Maggiore Luigi Filippi and Capitano Tugnoli the 20 MC.202s were led by radar to intercept a large formation of Boston bombers escorted by Kittyhawks. The English aircraft were on their way back to their bases after an attack when the Italian aircraft intercepted them. In the ensuing fierce combat three Allied aircraft were claimed by Tugnoli, Sergente Maggiore Pappini and Sergente Dusi.

Capitano Tugnoli became CO of the 23o Gruppo on 20 February 1943.
He was to remain in this position until the Italian surrender in September when the Gruppo was dissolved.

On 11 March 1943 Capitano Tugnoli of 23o Gruppo spotted 20 twin-engined bombers escorted by 25 Spitfires over Tunisia. In the ensuing combat one bomber was claimed shot down and Maresciallo Felice Longhi claimed one of the fighters.
MC.202s from 6o Gruppo also participated in this combat.

Tugnoli ended the war with 2 biplane victories and a total of 6 destroyed.
During the war, he was decorated with three Medaglie d'argento al valor militare, three Medaglie di bronzo al valor militare, the Croce al merito di guerra, the Medaglia commemorativa operazioni militari in A. O. I., the Medaglia commemorativa della campagna di Spagna and the Medaglia di benemerenza per i volontari della guerra Spagna.

Claims:
Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  193?                
1 ??/??/3?   1 Enemy aircraft Destroyed Fiat CR.32   Spain VIo Gruppo
  1940                
  27/11/40 p.m. 1/5 ’Hurricane’ (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km SW Cagliari 153a Squadriglia
  27/11/40 p.m. 1/5 ’Hurricane’ (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km SW Cagliari 153a Squadriglia
  27/11/40 p.m. 1/5 ’Hurricane’ (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km SW Cagliari 153a Squadriglia
  27/11/40 p.m. 1/5 ’Hurricane’ (a) Shared destroyed Fiat CR.42   200km SW Cagliari 153a Squadriglia
  1941                
2 08/05/41 13:45-14:40 1 Fulmar (b) Destroyed Fiat CR.42   off Sardinia 153a Squadriglia
  1942                
? 31/07/42   1 Enemy aircraft (c) Destroyed MC.202   Bir Mukeisin area 74a Squadriglia
  31/07/42   1 Enemy aircraft (c) Probable MC.202   Bir Mukeisin area 74a Squadriglia
? 04/09/42   1 Enemy aircraft (d) Destroyed MC.202   North Africa 74a Squadriglia

Biplane victories: 2 and 4 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 6 and 4 shared destroyed, 1 probable.
(a) Probably claimed in combat with Fulmars from 808 Squadron. The 3o Gruppo claimed five shot down without losses. 808 Squadron didn’t claim anything and lost Fulmar N1941 and the crew was KIA.
(b) Claimed in combat with Fulmars from 807 and 808 FAA Squadrons, which claimed one probable CR.42 while losing two Fulmars and getting three damaged. 3o Gruppo claimed five Fulmars and five more probable while losing three CR.42s.
(c) Claimed in combat with P-40 Kittyhawks and Spitfires.
(d) Claimed in combat with Boston bombers escorted by P-40 Kittyhawks.

Sources:
3o Stormo, storia fotografica - Dai biplani agli aviogetti - Carlo Lucchini and Leproni Enrico, 1990 Gino Rossato Editore
A History of the Mediterranean Air War 1940-1945: Volume One – Christopher Shores and Giovanni Massimello with Russell Guest, 2012 Grub Street, London, ISBN 978-1908117076
Annuario Ufficiale Delle Forze Armate Del Regno D’Italia Anno 1943. Part III Regia Aeronautica – 1943 Istituto Poligrafico Dello Stato, Roma
Assi Italiani Della Caccia 1936-1945 - 1999 Aerofan no. 69 apr.-giu. 1999 kindly provided by Jean Michel Cala
Diario Storico 153a Squadriglia anno 1940.
Diario Storico 154a Squadriglia anno 1940.
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41 - Christopher Shores and Brian Cull with Nicola Malizia, 1987 Grub Street, London, ISBN 0-89747-207-1
Additional information kindly provided by Bruce Buchanan, Antonio Maraziti, Stefano Lazzaro and Ludovico Slongo.




Last modified 25 June 2015