On 1 July 1937 two BR.20s performed a raid from Soria airfield.
They dropped then twenty 50-kg bombs on the locality of Cifuentes. During the battle of Brunete bombers of that type frequently attacked Republican ground troops. They ventured over enemy’s rear without fighter escort and easily escaped fighters trying to intercept them. The new bomber passed well its first combat test.
On 3 July the bombers from Majorca bombed Valencia. It was a retaliatory raid ordered by Franco, concerning the previous Republican raids on cities in the Nationalist zone.
Before the Republican counteroffensive around Madrid ca. 180 aircraft were concentrated. These were ten fighter squadrons – seven of “Chato” and three of “Mosca”, in total 120 fighters. The 25. Grupo “Natacha” had 30 R-Z aircraft and the 24. Grupo “Katiuska” had 30 SB-2s. The fighter units were manned primarily by Russians1.
On 6 July the battle of Brunete began. Initially at Torrijos-Barcience airfield the CR.32s of 19. and 20. Squadriglias of XXIII Gruppo “Asso di Bastoni” were present, in total 21 Fiats. The Gruppo was commanded Maggiore Zotti and the squadron commanders were Capitani Degli Incerti and Larsimont. Soon also the 18. Squadriglia of Nobili was redeployed there from Soria. Many Italian aircraft were concentrated for the offensive at Santander, far away from Brunete.
On 6 and 7 July the first clashes of the Italian CR.32s and I-16s piloted by Spaniards who had been trained in the USSR took place. The Italians lost three “Chirris” but reduced enemy’s inventory by two aircraft. One Polikarpov fell into enemy’s hands almost intact. By the way it turned out that the Republican pilots were trained by the Soviets in their homeland. This information was obtained from a captured pilot.
On the morning of 6 July 12 CR.32s fought their first aerial battle over Brunete. On the ground the attack of the XI Lister Division was about to begin and the Republicans were awaiting the attack of friendly strike aircraft. Then the Italians spotted 12 “Natachas” escorted by 13 “Chatos”. A bit away, nine “Moscas” were flying over Villanueva de la Canada. The “Chirris” were divided into two groups. Four Fiats rushed towards the “Natachas” and quickly downed two of them. The remaining eight attacked the “Moscas”, breaking their formation. Two hours later nine CR.32s encountered as many SB-2s. But apart from a few accurate shots the Fiats did not manage to endanger the fast bombers. The Italians paid for the encounter with the damage to one of the fighters which had to force land behind friendly lines.
That same day on the afternoon five Italian fighters of 18. Sq. (Cap. Larsimont) encountered 20 “Chatos”. The Italians shot down as many as five enemy fighters, but sadly paid for the success with the loss of Sottoten. Mario Vercellio’s airplane. Even later six CR.32s led by Magg. Zotti attacked from higher altitude nine Moscas which were preparing themselves to strafe Nationalist ground troops with their machine guns. The Italians downed as many as four fighters (including the Russian Khosianov). Two Fiats were damaged.
On the first day of the offensive Italian fighters took part in two encounters on the morning and two on the afternoon. The Italians claimed three light bombers, one SB-2, seven I-15s and five I-16s. One I-16s was credited to Magg. Zotti, who scored his first victory. The pilot of the “Rata” bailed out near Villanueva de la Cañada. Another I-16, piloted probably by Lt. Trusov was shot down by Capitano Degli Incerti. On Nationalist territory landed also a damaged I-16 of Lt Khozyainov, who was taken prisoner. Only one Fiat was lost, during the third encounter Sottoten. Vercellio was killed.
On the morning of 7 July another aerial battle during the offensive at Brunete took place near Navalgamella. Fourteen CR.32s of 19. and 20. Squadriglias, led by Magg. Zotti encountered nine I-15s and eight I-16s which were escorting nine Polikarpov R-Zs. Twenty3 I-16s of another formation joined these forces in air. The encounter began with the attack of the Italians, flying at the altitude of 3,000 m on the I-15s flying a thousand meters lower and unaware of the threat. Soon two Republican fighters burst in flames. A moment later a further I-15 went down. Then the I-16s which were escorting the attack aircraft intervened. Soon the remaining “Moscas” joined the fight. The Italians claimed seven I-15s, of which one was shot down by Zotti, three I-16s, of which one was shot down by Degli Incerti and one R-Z, shot down by Serg. Magg. Mattei4. Mattei bailed out when his CR.32 was hit by defensive fire of one of the Polikarpovs5. He landed on territory controlled by the Nationalists near Pozuelo de Alarcón. One more CR.32 of Zotti was lost, shot down by an I-16. Zotti was wounded in the hip. Ten minutes earlier Zotti with his wingmen managed to shoot down one I-15. Due to a hit in the engine, which started to overheat, the Italian landed at Griñon airfield. Serg. Magg. Passeri of 19. Squadriglia was escorting his commanded all the time but a moment later he crashed on the same airfield and was killed, shot down by an I-16. The “Reds” lost three I-15s of 1. Escuadrilla. They were piloted by: Karpov (killed), Shalhiganov (wounded) and Austrian Walter Koraus (escaped unhurt)6. The squadron commander Serov and his wingmanYakushin managed to crawl to base on damaged aircraft. Dhyakonov, who was leading the formation of I-16s suffered severe wounds, probably from bullets fired by Degli Incerti returned to base but died of wounds the next day.
After the 6 and 7 July the XXIII Gruppo had 29 CR.32s, but only 17 were airworthy. On 7 July 17 CR.32s of 24. and 26. Sq. of XVI Gruppo led by Magg. Casero flew from Vitoria to Avila, 65 km north – west of Brunete. The next day further five fighters of 24 Sq. joined them, and on 9 July nine fighters of 25 Sq. from Saragossa followed.
On 8 July the Fiats of XXIII Gruppo escorted Nationalist bombers over the frontline. They encountered a large group of “Ratas”. The Italians accomplished their mission perfectly and shot down four enemy aircraft. The American Frank Tinker claimed one Fiat, but in fact a slightly damaged airplane landed near Santa Cruz.
On 9 July the Italiand had 50 CR.32s of XVI and XXIII Gruppi around Brunete. The next day the SM.79s of XXIX Gruppo B.V. (Magg. Aramu) based at Soria went into combat there. On the morning and afternoon they bombed enemy positions in the area of Valdemorillo i Villanueva del Pardillo. During three days these targets were attacked by groups of five or six SM.79s and one or two BR.20s of 230. Sq., piloted by Cap. Nello Brambilla and Tenenti Eduardo Agnello and Vittorio Piccinelli.
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