In the context of Operation Desert Storm, Italy deployed 8 Tornado fighter of 6th, 36th and 50th Wings to the Persian Gulf since September 1990.
Their first mission was to defend Italian Naval Forces that were operating in the region, enforcing the international embargo put in place by UN resolution 661/1990.
On the night between 17 and 18 January 1991, eight Italian Panavia Tornado IDS left the base of the AM Autonomous Flight Department (Al Dhafra AB, UAE) to carry out the first mission ordered by the inter-allied air command.
Major Gianmarco Bellini (pilot) and captain Maurizio Cocciolone (navigator) took off on board their fighter-bomber along with the other seven Italian aircraft and a formation of allied aircraft for the first mission that saw them employed in the airspace controlled by Iraqi forces.
The squadron’s mission was an areal depot (provisioning, ammunition and means) in southern Iraq, northwest of Kuwait City, defended by radar-enslaved anti-aircraft artillery. Bellini and Cocciolone, like many others from the base of the Emirate, were the only ones capable of completing refueling in flight; all other aircraft, including 7 Italian Tornados and about 30 other aircraft from other countries, hindered by weather conditions, failed to approach the aircrew and had to return to base.
Bellini, as head crew, decided that their aircraft would have to go on alone, despite the risk posed by the enemy’s defensive deployment. Received the ok by the air tactical command, the aircraft leveled at about 250 feet of altitude, activated the automatic control TF and unhooked the war load (5 Mk 83 bombs) on the target around at 4.30 in the morning. After about 40 seconds their plane was hit by Iraqi anti-aircraft artillery, trained to defend against low-altitude attacks, and the two Italians had to launch themselves with the ejection seat. The plane hit the ground about 20 km northwest of the Kuwaiti capital, a few hundred meters from an Iraqi Republican Guard barracks. The two airmen were immediately captured by Iraqi troops, separated, confiscated everything they had with them (including clothing and boots) and forced to wear a yellow suit, which qualified them as prisoners of war.
Major pilot Gianmarco Bellini and Captain Navigator Maurizio Cocciolone were released at the end of the conflict, along with the other prisoners of war captured by the Iraqi forces
(source: Italian Air Force, modellismosalento.it, difesaonline.it, Wikipedia)