Lauantai 17.11.2018
UTIN ILMAKILTA ry UTTI 

DIEGO MANZOCCHI the forgotten hero

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Story by Tapio Huttunen


Author Tapio Huttunen is a bare-footed citizen of Kuusankoski, born in 1947 on the slope of Kettumäki and later lived in Rekola. Tapio has worked with Kymi workshop as a manager of the Voikkaa tool department. Tapio has been involved in, for example, Kuusankoski environmental war period aviation history.

This article has been published for the first time in the aviation historical magazine Feeniks 1/2011. Juha Käki has translated the source material from italian- into finnish language. This english language translation version is 4.0, March 2018/Tapani Nurminen. If you find that here is bugs in grammatic or in military terminology, please notice me at webmaster(at)ilmakilta.info, I'll try to fix them.

The short life story of Diego Manzocchi, the Senior Sergeant of Italian and Finnish Air Force

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One of the pilots in the heroes of foreign volunteer fighters fought in the Winter War was left unattended. Danish pilots Kristensen, Frijs and Rasmussen are known as the Swedes in the north fought the Flygflottilj F 19 pilots. The fate of an italian pilot, Diego Manzocchi, deserves to be told. However, he sacrificed his dearest for the freedom of Finland, his life!

Diego Manzocchi was born in Morbegno, northern Italy on December 26, 1912. His mother Maria died while the boy was four years old. Diego's father Stefan soon married Anna Gerosa. Death also took off father on his young ages when Diego was 13 years old. Responsibility for Diego and his older sister Rosa was left to their stepmother. Despite the loss of parents, Diego's childhood and youth was a happy time. He became interested in airplanes and hero pilots like Gabriele D`Annunzio, Italo Balbo and Francesco Baracca.

It was not surprising that at the age of 19 he volunteered for the Italian Air Force's Aeronautica Militare. In 1934 Diego joined forces with Benito Mussolini as a member of the Fascist Party. Politics did not interest him, but membership of the party was indispensable for the advancement of the Air Force.

Membership did not benefit him, however, since after three years of Libyan secondment and one year flight instructor period, Diego Manzocchi's military rank was still Senior Sergeant, Sotto sergente della Regia Aeronautica. The reason was the nepotism of the Italian Air Force. Senior superintendents arranged advancements for their boys and relatives.

Manzocchi defects to France

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In the autumn of 1939, Diego was a 27 year old bachelor. Now the goddess Aphrodite was involved and changed Diego's life into an adventurous and fatal direction. Slightly earlier, he had broken in Tripoli with a serious relationship with the Danish virgin Sonja. While relaxing on the Italian Riviera, he met french Justine D. Her surname is not known. Manzocchi fell in love with a woman so thoroughly that he started immediately after returning from vacation to plan a flight to France Justine, maybe she is just the right to him.

Diego Manzocchi put his plan into practice on 29th September 1939. Justine in France and bad relations with the superiors caused Manzocchi to let his old Fiat CR 20 biplane fighter be filled up with fuel and get in the air out of the Cameri field near Milan. The aircraft was single-seated, with a range of 500 - 700 kilometres fully fuelled, depending on the circumstances.

Diego had calculated that with this amount of fuel he could fly over the Alps to Gap Tallard airfield on the French side. The take-off was successful, and the flight path went first passing Turin around its Northern side (to avoid encountering fighters possibly sent from Turin air base to intercept), over the Gran Paradiso National Park, to the North-West, crossing the border between Italy and France at Brianconi. However, the warning light for low fuel finally lit up, and Diego understood that the fuel could never suffice for Gap Tallard. Thus he carried out a forced landing on a corn field by the river Durance, while the engine was already coughing, indicating shortage of fuel. The landing took place without damage, and soon Diego had to explain the reasons of his arrival to the French Gendarmerie who had been alarmed on the site. Diego had studied the French language already at school in his home town, Morbegno, and later with french tourists while spending his holidays on the Italian Riviera.

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Fiat C.R.20 Aviano, 1936

In France, the authorities treated Manzocchi well. After hearing inquiries, he was found to be harmless to French national security. For the reason of his defection, he reported that he could not accept the Italian fascist government and his career in breach of the Air Force, as well as personal reasons. The outcome was was that he was interned in France. He was detained under the control of the Deuxieme Bureau of the French Military Intelligence Service, and he was ordered to reside at the remote town of Bolle from mid-October 1939 on.

The Italian government, chaired by Mussolini, insisted on the return of Manzocchi and the aircraft. The relation between French socialist government and Italy was cool and permission was granted only for the withdrawal of the aircraft. Lieutenant Mario Gatti with two Italian aircraft mechanics as take-off assistants, flew the plane back to Italy.

From disappointment to a new adventure

In Bolle, Manzocchi had to go on a daily signing up at the Gendarmerie Department. Friendship with the head of gendarmerie enabled him to travel to Paris on December 28, 1939. Justine's address at Avenue Victor Hugo in the middle of Paris attracted him. Diego's great disappointment was the door opened by a long, dark man who announced that he was the husband of that woman. Now Manzocchi had to say that she was only a French-born vacation romance on the Riviera. The dreams and expectations of Justine had to be forgotten.

On the following day, 29th December, walking headless around with his problems, he noticed in a café by the Gare de Lyon street two men wearing leather pilot jackets, who were on their way to Stockholm, and from there, later on to Finland for volunteers in the Winter War. These two Canadians were Lieutenant John McMaster and Sergeant John Jenkins, who also did arrive at Finland. The Canadians were well aware about things in Finland, and they gave Diego the address of a recruitment office as well as instructions for the journey by rail from Stockholm to Tornio.

Manzocchi returned to Bolle, where he was full filled with a new enthusiasm and made an application for an immediate request to fight against communism. The application was returned with a negative response on 9th January 1940. Another application of 12th January which was supplemented by head of Avignon's Gentarmerie Department, was also returned as negative. He had previously made an application for French foreign passport, but it had not yet been granted, and therefore no permission was granted. Persistence was awarded to a third try on January 25th: Manzocchi had now a foreign passport and permission to exit the country.

A visa requirement was recently imposed on Sweden. From the Swedish Embassy in Paris, Manzocchi received the transit visa for a limited time until 15th February 1940. As there was waging war in Germany it was definitely being to go round, Manzocchi traveled by train to Belgium via Amsterdam, where the journey continued on KLM's flight to Copenhagen. From Denmark, he arrived in Sweden on January 29th, 1940 and was registered at the Finnish Embassy in Stockholm.

Finally arrived in Finland

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Italian mechanics in front of the Utti Officer Club during the Winter War. On the left is a Finnish non-commisioned officer. The third on the left is the sculptor Matti Haupt, an Italian interpreter.

Finns interviewed Manzocchi for a long time at the Stockholm Recruitment Office. Eventually they were happy with the answers they received. Manzocchi got the money for the train trip. He was ordered to register at the Tornio Recruitment Office on February 7th, 1940, to which he was arriving at the deadline. In Tornio Manzocchi was quarantined. Again he was questioned. The authorities were convinced of the intentions of the immigrant. He was paid a month's salary in advance and was given the appropriate clothing for Finland's winter.

From Tornio, Diego Manzocchi was sent to Lapua “Detachment Sisu”, commanded by Captain Bertil Nordlund. The Detachment established for foreign volunteers on January 8th, 1940. Normally, the pilots were sent from Lapua to Parola for Replenishment Flight Squadron 29 (abbreviated T-LLv 29) and thereafter after the training examination selected pilots were moved to appropriate battlefront squadrons. Some were returned to Lapua, among other things, "Pilots", adventurers and cheats. An example of a villain is an american captain Julien, better known for his nickname "Black Eagle" and “Field Marshal of Abyssinia”.

Canadian McMaster and Jenkins, known for Manzocchi in his Paris times, must be placed in the caste of adventurers. Upon arriving in Finland, the gentlemen were delivered according to the diagram via Lapua to Parola. From there they were sent to Utti, where Jenkins was found to be a mediocre pilot and relocated to Parola. McMaster was also found to have mediocre flyer skills. For some reason, however, he was reliant on his skills and he just got to the helm of the Brewster BW-353 fighter aircraft from Sweden at the assembly plant on 9th March 1940. At the landing stage, the plane gulped around when the squadron commanding officer looked and jumped over his over his furry cap, and not by pleasure. The job of Lieutenant McMaster's pilot career in Finland ended in the Lahti Military Hospital.

Attached to Flight Squadron 26 and immediately in action

In Lapua Diego Manzocchi was found to be an experienced pilot. While in France, he had also sought the French Air Force pilot. His ability was proven in the twin-engine Potez. The suspicions of the defector or the lack of necessary air carriers in France prevented more his intentios to flight.

Manzocchi was ordered by Lapua directly to Utti Flight Squadron 26, whose fighter equipment was the Fiat G 50 planes already known to Manzocchi. He enrolled at the Kouvola Police Department on 22th February. He had to live in Kouvola for a few more days until, by the end of February 27th, all bureaucracy related to the exotic enthusiast was clear and Flight Squadron 26 was ready to receive and accommodate Diego Manzocchi Utti. He was given the rank of overcrowding earned by the Italian Air Force. A new but experienced pilot was a welcome addition to the flight crew.

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Diego's Fiat G.50, FA-22
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Fiat G.50 fighter on Haukkajärvi ice on March 13th 1940

Manzocchi flew his first flight to Fiat on February 28th, 1940. The first flight in battlefront of Finland he made the Viipurinlahti Bay with Lieutenant Puhakka on February 29th at 14.50 hours, and another one at 16.25 hrs, totaling 60 minutes. According to the war diary of the squadron, Manzocchi flew in February 3 hours and 20 minutes. On 1st March 1940 there were two interception sorties. On the next day, there was only a transit flight from Utti Lake Haukkajärvi ice air field to Hollola. On 5th March, there were two interception sorties and the next day a transfer flight from Utti to Hollola, where his aircraft capsized on its nose in soft snow while taxiing after landing. The following entry is for 9th March 1940, when Manzocchi participated in combat at Viipurinlahti Bay. On this flight the landing gear of Fiat did not entirely retract because of a hydraulics failure. Flight time was 65 minutes. On 10th March, Manzocchi participated with three other Fiats in a land battle flight to the Viipuri Bay, where advancing Soviet infantry was fired.

A fateful day

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Italian-made 20mm Breda 35 anti-aircraft gun,
which arrived in Finland in February 1940 48 pieces.

On that fateful day of 11th March 1940 the events unfolded as follows: at 11.20 hrs Lieutenant Olli Puhakka and Senior Sergeant Diego Manzocchi took off for an interception mission in the direction of Viipuri without encountering the enemy, and returned to the base. After the aircraft were serviced and refueled, the couple took off again at 13.40 hrs for an interception sortie in Viipuri direction. Again, the bombers had already left the air space of Viipuri, and the pair decided to return. As they arrived at Lake Haukkajärvi, they spotted a huge formation of about a hundred bombers heading towards Lahti approximately in height at 3000 meters.

The power of engines were adjusted to climbing position, and men went chasing the formation. They reached the bombers above Sääskjärvi Lake of Iitti. Lieutenant Puhakka managed to shoot down one Iliyushin DB-3 aircraft from the formation. The bomber fell in the forest at Kimonkylä village of Lapinjärvi. Captain Grigori Bulava and his crew were killed. The devastated DB-3 bomber belonged to the strength of the 7DBAP unit, in other words, 7th Bomber Regiment/1st Eskadrill (squadron), equipped with DB-3 bombers.

Antero Hasu, a 13-year-old boy who was an eyewitness, recalled later this:

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Ltn. Olli Puhakka

"That day, russian's air operations were lively. Approximately 100 aircraft were counted in the air from Kouvola towards Lahti. Then thirty bombers came back from the direction of Lahti back in the direction South-East. The planes were pretty much disordered and at different heights. Suddenly, one of the bomber blazes to fire from the right side of the hull. It will first knock the higher with howling engines, but then begin to fall down. When the plane dropped about two hundred meters, the right wing with its engines fell off. The wing fell slowly slowly as if it were a "bird's feather potato", which was thrown into the air as a kid. Gasoline and oil were burning at the fall pit. The banging and the rattling was horrible when the machine gun cartridges exploded in heat. None of the crew survived, all four burned with the plane. The smell of burning human flesh was horrible. Banging and smell lasted for several days. The wing of the machine fell beside a bar lieing 300 meters farther. A tall spruce at the corner of the bar acted as a shock absorber so that the wing with its engines fell intact on its pane of roof. It was pulled down by a horse team to the road, where the army took it away. Later, I heard Lieutenant Puhakka had been dropping the plane and using 500 to 600 cartridges".

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DB-3 bomber's right wing and engine at Kimonkylä
Photo: Lapinjärven kunnan kuva-arkisto, Anita Silfvast

The attack of Senior Sergeant Manzocchi was not equally successful, but from the defensive fire of the bombers or from the Polikarpov I-153 Chaika fighters that protected the bombers, he sustained the hit of a bullet in his lungs. Bombers were protected by 15 IAPs (15th Fighter Regiment), which I-153 aircraft pilots reported having fought against two Finnish Spitfire fighters.

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Observers on the ground saw Manzocchi’s plane swing and fall steeply towards the ground, but however in a controlled fashion. The wounded pilot chose the small Ikolanjärvi Lake as his site of forced landing. As he approached the lake, he lowered his landing gear in the down position. This decision most likely cost him his life. If he had done a traditional “belly landing” with the landing gear retracted, the aircraft would most likely have glided on along the ice and stayed upright.

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Matti Laitinen who found Manzocchi's plane on ice

Manzocchi landed his aircraft on soft ice with a layer of wet snow on it, which had built up tightly packed elevated winter road across the ice used by the villagers.

Aircraft hit the bank of the winter road, turning upside down and continuing its way with the inertia of its speed. The open cockpit of the aircraft was packed with ice and wet snow, bruising the head of the pilot. As the plane stopped, the Manzocchi was left hanging from his seat belts head down, obviously he was already unconscious.

The first one beside the plane was a little boy Matti Laitinen, whose home was at the western end of Lake Ikolanjärvi, about 300 meters from the Manzocchi's aircraft. Matti's home was known as the "Pusarin torppa", it was the only house at the western end of Lake Ikolanjärvi. The next few houses were a couple of miles away and they did not have a phone. The announcement the authorities of forced landing by Matti Laitinen took much time so the rescue work started very slowly. At Kuusankoski, there was a training company, and its men were collected for a rescue group. From the stables of the Kymi Company, a horse and a sleigh were borrowed. Thereafter, mechanical jacks were fetched, as they were thought to be needed in lifting the aircraft. Finally the group was under way and they reached the plane at 17.20 hrs.

Villagers had been near the plane earlier in the day, and knocking was heard from inside the plane at about 15.00 hours. Now it was all silent. The rescue group lifted the tail of the aircraft with the jacks, and then snow was shoveled away from where the cockpit was. The leader of the rescue group asked volunteers to crawl into the aircraft. Aarne Mattila recalled that day in the "Iitin Seutu" -newspaper on January 12, 1986:

"The leader of the group asked for a volunteer and I enrolled in a task that proved to be very difficult. Space between the plane and the ice was about 70 to 80 centimeters, and the pilot hanged down on the seat belts. Because I did not know how to get the straps open, I asked for a knife from a comrade and I cut the straps. Now the pilot literally went a little lower, but his legs were still caught on some drivers. I waved his legs by pulling legs of the hauler and finally legs loosened and the pilot got on the ice. He was already dead at this stage. Although his skin was warm, no signs of life were observed".

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The body of the pilot slid on the ice and was lifted in the sled. Manzocchi was taken by sled to Kymi vocational school, which then served as a makeshift war hospital. He was carried to the lobby, where a doctor confirmed him as dead. According to the doctor, the bullet in the lungs alone was not the cause of death, but the bruises of the head, loss of blood, and hanging head down for several hours all together caused the death.

The information on Diego Manzocchi’s fate went extremely slowly. Not until the evening of the same day did the Commander of Fighter Squadron 26, Major J.W.R. Harju-Jeanty received the sorrow message. He ordered to forward following message to the Headquarters of Flight Regiment 2 located in Selänpää:

"At 19.35 hrs, LLv 26, Utti. I hereby report that today at 17.20 hrs Ensign Alppisara found on the ice of Ikolanjärvi Lake, 7 kilometres to the South-West from Voikkaa, at the map location 70,4 on the spot of the number 7, a downed Finnish fighter aircraft Number 4946 FA-22. The aircraft has green colour, it has fallen at about 13.00 hrs, according to what a small boy Matti Laitinen has told, today in the time between 12.00 – 15.40 hrs, and as reported by Ensign Alppisara, it is on the ice upside down, partially sunken in water. Inside is at least one dead pilot. I have arranged for guarding of the plane, and sent a task group, which will try to lift the aircraft so that the bodies can be removed." Deputy Commander of II / Training Company IV, Olavi Järvelä.

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Manzocchi’s Fiat G.50 aircraft was disassembled on site and transported back to Utti and the report of the aircraft inspector of Flight Squadron 26, Väinö Lemmilä, is as follows:

"Senior Sergeant Manzocchi carried out a forced landing at Lake Ikolanjärvi for an unknown reason. In the forced landing, the propeller of the aircraft bent, the canopy of the cockpit, wings, and rudders were damaged. Airplane sent to Härmälä depot Tampere to be repaired on 19 March 1940. From the depot, the aircraft was returned to the Flight Squadron 26 only after 19 April 1941, just to be finished for Continuation War This machine served gloriously the Finnish Air Force throughout the war. Its last flight was 28 August 1944, handover to the depot on 25 February 1945 and removal from the accounts on 31 May 1945."

An another aspect

Diego Manzocchi was long times an untold person in Italy because he was considered as a deserter and a quisling. Only in the 1990's, the perception of him has changed. Now he is considered a hero who gave his life for the freedom of a small northern country. It is an indisputable testimony of the changed appreciation of the Italians is the flowers on Diego Manzocchi's tomb in Hietaniemi, put down by the last three Italian presidents during their state visit.

Manzocchi's defect has been related in two ways in Italy. Case Justine D. is a bit special, whose tracks have completely disappeared. No document has been found about her, not even about Diego's letters. There is some kind of spy theory in Italy. According to him, Manzocchi's defect would have been arranged for inquiries of the French defense posts. It's a well known thing that Italy declared the war to France in the summer of 1940. The archives contained a comprehensive report on the defense arrangements for the border between France and Italia. The author of the report was probably by no means Lieutenant Mario Gatti, Manzocchi's plane retriever.

Two months before Manzocchi had had a similar kind of defect. Pilot Orlando Pagliarini also flew to France for asylum and got it. Later on, Italian lieutenant colonel Giuseppe Casero and his secondment group arrived to Finland to teach and maintain the newly purchased Fiat G 50 aircraft and 20 millimeter Breda air defense guns. The group included some twenty men worthy of Orlando Pagliarini. Curious thing? So Manzocchi and Pagliarini were officially defecters in Italy, who would probably have been condemned to death from treason. In Finland, they came very well with other Italians. How was this possible?

This article that treats Manzocchi's happened works in Italy and France is largely based on Ulderico Munz's book "Gli Aquiloni non Volano Piu" published in 2007.

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The book is, of course, the only work that deals with Manzocchi more widely. There are also fact errors in the book. For example "Manzocchi is taken to the hospital by a reindeer pulled sledge". The Italian "Corriere della Sera" -magazine has been told by a freelancer Paolo Torretta that Manzocchi was shot by the Finnish White Guard, believing him as a Soviet pilot. This is already reported in January 1940, when Manzocchi was not yet in Finland. Maybe in the Italians Munzi's and Torreta's mind Finland is a distant and mystical country where anything can happen.

Manzocchi was appreciated in Finland

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In Finland, Manzocchi has been appreciated during the Winter War and beyond. Whether his original motives were to leave his homeland, he served the Finnish Air Force with a short time of excitement and glory. He received a major honor from the Finnish state when he was awarded the Finnish Flight Badge k 62 Honoris Causa ('Honor of Cause').


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Diego's earlier tombstone at Hietaniemi cemetery Helsinki

Diego Manzocchi was a very cheerful and polite, gregarious gentleman. The pilots and mechanics liked him a lot. In Finland, he became enthusiastic about the sauna and bathing. He taught the pilots and mechanics an Italian song ”E l`aeronautica e`l árma elegante”.

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Mechanic Veikko Lappalainen remembers that once when he went to the tents of the pilots he met Manzocchi, who was laughing while reading aloud a Finnish cartoon “World of Adventure”, pronouncing the words in a perfectly correct manner, but without understanding a word.

The data on Manzocchi flight hours varies. In March 1940 he flew for at least 6 hours 10 minutes, maybe more. In total, he flew to Finland for at least 9 hours and 30 minutes.

Diego Manzocchi was buried in Helsinki Hietaniemi Cemetery of Heroes fairly close to the tall cross, line 40. The number of the grave is 1055.

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Diego Manzocchi's new tombstone in Hietaniemi cemetery, Helsinki with fixed data
*26.12.1912 †11.3.1940

Unfortunately, the text of the gravestone "Italian pilot Diego Manzoechi † 13.1.1940 Valkeala" is abusively significant: the last name, the date of death and the place. Perhaps Diego Manzocchi, the only Italian volunteer pilot in the Winter War who gave up his life for an independent Finland, deserved a reminiscence and refinement of the memorial stone.

Diego Manzocchi's new tombstone

Italian flyer Diego Manzocchi's tombstone was changed in Cemetery of War Heroes in Hietaniemi 14.11.2017.

The old stone included a lot of incorrect data. In a way, it is a special story, too, that some of the false tombstones have come to pass in time.

The tombstone was changed by an iniative of Italian-Finnish aviation history enthusiast Marco Corsi.

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Diego Manzocchi in Libya in 1930's

E l'aeronautica è l'arma elegante

E l'aeronautica è l'arma elegante
non va a casino ma tiene l'amante
gira gue l'elica romba il motor
questa è le bella vita la bella vita dell'aviator.

Cuando del cielo incoutri la morte
girale altorno falle la corte
questa

E le ragazze digli-occhi luceuli
danno lo Icolo ai nostri tenenti
gue
guesta

E la marina nostra Sorella
dopo di noi è la più bella
gue
questa

E l'aeronautica è l'arma del volo
che non va a perchè ha lo Icolo
gue
questa

Del fantaccino ci ne freghiamo
perchè dall'alto lo mitragliamo
gue
questa

Del Martin Bomber ce ne fregliamo
perchè coi Fiat li mitragliamo
gue gira l'elica romba il motor
questa la bella vita bella vita dell'aviator

Diego Manzocchi ©1940.

Sources:
Bruun, Carl-Erik: Hävittäjälentolaivue 26, 1991
Geust, C-F, Tirkeltaub, S, Petrov, G: Itämeren laivaston ilmavoimat talvisodassa, 2004
Hasu, Antero: Kimonkyläänkin putosi venäläinen lentokone, artikkeli Lapinjärven Veteraanikirjassa, 1999
Tapio Huttusen kokoelmat Hyvönen, Jaakko: Kohtalokkaat lennot 1939–1944, 1982
Jaakkola, Hanna: Italia ja Suomen talvisota, Pirkko Kanervon haastattelu, Historian tietosanomat 9/2007
Keskinen, K ja Stenman K: Suomen ilmavoimien historia, nro 8, Fiat G 50, 1977
Mattila, Aarne: Veteraanin muistelma maaliskuulta 1940, Iitin Seutu 12.1.1986
Munzi, Ulderico: Gli aquiloni non volano piu, 2007,suom. Juha Käki
Pajari, Risto: Talvisota ilmassa, 1971
Ritaranta, Eino: Talvisodan vapaaehtoiset ilmavoimissa, Suomen ilmailuhistoriallinen lehti 1/1996
Saarinen, Ahti: Jäätukikohdan talvisota Hollolan Pyhäniemessä, 2011
Heimo Siiropään kokoelmat Torretta, Paolo: Diego Manzocchi, l`italiano che mori nella Guerra d`inverno Vita, avventure e morte del`volantario`, Corriere della Sera 26.3.2010, suom. Juha Käki
Vanhala, Pekka: Tuokiokuvia Kouvolan seudun ilmapuolustuksesta talvi- ja jatkosodassa, 2003
Vanhala, Pekka: Lisähavaintoja Pohjois-Kymenlaakson ja sen lähialueiden ilmapuolustuksesta talvi- ja jatkosodassa, 2005
Vesen, J ja Siiropää, H: Utin koneet siipi maassa. Utissa toimineiden lentojoukkojen onnettomuuksia ja vaurioita 1918–1963, 2008
Ilmailumuseoyhdistys/Marco Corsi: Diego Manzocchi sai uuden hautakiven

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Morbegno, Tempietto dei Caduti del Dosso dei Ronchi

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