Italian Bombers and Transport Aircraft

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  1. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    #1 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 1, 2010
    By the time Italy entered the World War II. the bomber branch represented about 70% of the strength of the Regia Aeronautica. The Italians settled on the tri-motor design, with basically a medium-range capability for most of their bombers. The design created difficulties for the bombardier and made head-on attacks difficult to defend against. The problem of under-powered engines plagued the bomber fleet as well as the fighters. Generally they were lightly armed and carried a very modest bomb load. Typical of the Italian bombers was the Savoia-Marchetti S-79 Sparrowhawk. With a pair of machine guns on both the top and bottom of the plane, it was lightly armed. Powered by three 780 HP Alpha Romeo engines, it had a top speed of 270 mph and a range of 1200 miles. This bomber, operating in North Africa, the Balkans and the Mediterranean, proved no match for Allied fighters and was ultimately converted to torpedo bomber duty. Fiat manufactured the twin engine Br-20 medium range bomber with the typical light defensive armament, minimal bomb loads and limited range. The Piaggio S-82 was the workhorse of the transport fleet.
     

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  2. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    #2 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
    In 1934, Regia Aeronautica requested Italian aviation manufacturers to submit proposals for a new medium bomber; the specifications called for speeds of 330 km/h (205 mph) at 4,500 m (15,000 ft) and 385 km/h (239 mph) at 5,000 m (16,400 ft), a 1,000 km (620 mi) range and 1,200 kg (2,600 lb) bombload. Although Piaggio, Macchi, Breda, Caproni and Fiat offered aircraft that mainly exceeded the speed requirements (but not range), not all exhibited satisfactory flight characteristics or reliability. Accepted among the successful proposals, together with the trimotor Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 and Cant Z.1007, was the BR.20 Cicogna designed by Celestino Rosatelli, thus gaining the prefix BR, (for "Bombardiere Rosatelli"). The BR.20 was designed and developed quickly, with the design being finalised in 1935 and the first prototype (serial number M.M.274) flown at Turin on 10 February 1936. Production orders were quickly placed, initial deliveries being made to the Regia Aeronautica in September 1936.

    Despite the BR.20 being the winner of the 1934 new bomber competition, the Savoia Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero, a non-competitor which was developed at practically the same time, gained a reputation that overshadowed the Cicogna, partly because of its performance in air-racing. The performance differences between the two aircraft were minimal: both were rated at about 430 km/h (270 mph), with maximum and typical payloads of 1,600 kg (3,630 lb) and 1,250 kg (2,760 lb) respectively for a range of 800–1,000 km (500-620 mi). Both also had three to four machine guns as defence weapons, but almost totally lacked protective armour. The reasons for the Sparviero's success lay in its flying characteristics. The Sparviero was a more difficult aircraft to fly with a heavier wingload, but overall its three engines gave more power than the two of the BR.20. The Sparviero, weighing around the same, had a reserve of power and was capable of performing acrobatic manoeuvers, even rolls. Its engines were more reliable than those of the BR.20 and had enough power to return to base even with one shut down. The Sparviero's superior agility enabled it to perform as a torpedo-bomber, while the Cicogna was never considered for that role. Over 1,200 Sparvieros were built, at least twice as many as the Cicogna.
     

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    gekho Active Member

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    #3 gekho, May 1, 2010
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  4. gekho

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    #4 gekho, May 1, 2010
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    Following Nazi Germany's invasion of France in April 1940, and with German forces pushing deep into France, Italy declared war on France and the United Kingdom on 10 June 1940. At this time, only four wings operated BR.20s compared to the 14 wings equipped with SM.79s, with 172 Cicognas being in service with the Regia Aeronautica including those not yet delivered to operational squadrons. The units equipped with the Cicogna were the 7°, 13°, 18° and 43° Stormo (Wing), all based in Northern Italy. The aircraft fought in the brief campaign against France. On the night of 12 June, eight bombers attacked Toulon dockyard, while the next day attacks were made against Hyères and Fayence airfields. On 15 June, two BR.20s were shot down by Dewoitine D.520s, the French air defences in the south having not been defeated by the German attack in the north. Small scale air raids continued until the French surrender, with many BR.20s also used in support for the Army, and as reconnaissance aircraft.

    Later, they were used against Great Britain, serving with the Corpo Aereo Italiano, based in Belgium during the Battle of Britain. The 13° and 43° Stormo formed the major bombing strength of the Corpo Aereo Italiano. They were fully equipped with BR.20Ms, but this did not prevent one disaster after the other. The ferry journey from Italy to their bases in Belgium ended with five bombers crashing, and a further 12 being forced to land en-route due to poor visibility. The first mission, a night attack of 16 aircraft on Harwich, lead to three bombers being lost, with one crashing on takeoff and two becoming lost on their return, failing to find their airfield and their crews bailing out. In a famous battle on 11 November, a formation of 10 BR.20s, escorted by Fiat CR.42 biplane fighters on a daylight raid on Harwich, was intercepted by RAF Hurricanes. Despite the escort, three bombers were downed (together with three CR.42s) and four damaged, with no loss to the Hurricanes.[9] Winston Churchill commented on this raid, which occurred on the same day as the Fleet Air Arm's attack on Taranto: "They might have found better employment defending their Fleet at Taranto.

    The Italians did not attempt further day missions, and re-commenced flying night missions, which also proved ineffective owing to the poor training in night navigation of the Italian crews. The BR.20-equipped units flew their last mission against Britain on 2 January 1941, and were then withdrawn back to Italy, having lost ¼ of their strength. The Italian contribution to the Battle of Britain was both minimal and a substantial failure. Still, almost 200 modern aircraft were involved, weakening the Regia Aeronautica's presence in the Mediterranean. During the course of the war, BR.20s were used in North Africa, Albania, Greece and Malta. They were also used extensively in Yugoslavia against Tito's partisans. By 1943, when the Italian armistice was signed, many had been relegated to training, although 81 were with operational units, mostly in the Balkans and Italy; also later serving on the Eastern Front.
     

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    Italy invaded Greece in October 1940, and deployed increasing numbers of BR.20s in attacks on Greece from bases in Italy and Albania in support of the Italian Army while it was being driven back into Albania. They were involved in heavy battles with the Greeks and British, often facing fierce RAF opposition, as happened on 27 February 1941, when four BR.20s were lost or heavily damaged. This force was redeployed against Yugoslavia during the more successful German and Italian invasion in April 1941, using a strong detachment (131 aircraft) in four groups. BR.20s were used against Malta from May 1942, with the 99 and 31 Gruppo carrying out night bombing attacks. The two gruppi carried out raids against the besieged island almost nightly, but losses were heavy, and these two units were replaced by the 55 and 116 gruppi in October. Attrition remained high, and BR.20 units continued to be rotated to bases on Sicily to continue the offensive against Malta though 1941 and 1942.

    From March 1941, 98 Gruppo was sent to Tripolitania to bomb the British forces, in particular the key port of Tobruk. North Africa was never a primary theatre for the Cicogna, but 13 Wing was sent there to continue the night attacks against the British in July 1941–April 1942, while the last use over Africa was when 55 Gruppo aircraft contested Operation Torch. Several BR.20s were sent to Russia in August 1942, to perform long-range reconnaissance from Odessa in support of the retreating Italian forces. Other BR.20s were used to drop food and other material to the Italian Army, often trapped in the Balkans, faced with Yugoslavian resistance. After the first year of war, the limitation of this type were evident. It was highly vulnerable to enemy attacks, as Japanese experience had shown in 1938, and the aircraft was replaced by the Cant Z.1007 and Savoia-Marchetti SM.84 in almost all operational units that had employed the BR.20.

    While the main front line task remained that of night bombing, especially against Malta, other roles included reconnaissance and the escort of convoys in the Mediterranean. For escort duties, aircraft were fitted with bombs and possibly depth charges, but with no other special equipment. They were used in this role from 1941, with 37° Wing (Lecce), 13° Wing (end of 1942), 116°, 32 Group (Iesi, from 1943), and 98° (based in Libya) from 1941. One of the 55° aircraft was lost in August 1941 against British torpedo bombers, while between 9 August–11 September 1941, 98° escorted 172 ships from Italy to Libya. In almost all these units, the Cicogna was operated together with other aircraft, such as the Caproni Ca.314. This escort task was quite effective, at least psychologically, although the Cicogna was hampered by the lack of special equipment and, consequently, no submarines were sunk. At the time of the September 1943 Armistice between Italy and the Allies, 67 BR.20s were operational with front line operational units, mainly being used on anti-partisan operations, although most aircraft had been relegated to the training role. During the final years of the war, some surviving aircraft remained in use as trainers and transports. A small number were used by the RSI after the Armistice, with only one retained by the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force, which used it for communications duties. The last BR.20 was retired, 7 June 1946 and none survive today.
     

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    #6 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
    In 1935, Filippo Zappata, the chief designer of the Cantieri Aeronautici e Navali Triestini, designed two medium bombers, the twin engined CANT Z.1011 and the three-engined CANT Z.1007. Both were to be powered by 619 kW (830 hp) Isotta-Fraschini Asso XI inline engines and were of wooden construction. The Z.1007 design was preferred by both Zappata and the Italian Aviation Ministry, with an order for 18 aircraft being placed on 9 January 1936. A further order for 16 more aircraft followed on 23 February 1937. The Cant Z.1007 was developed from the Cant Z.506 seaplane,[citation needed] an aircraft that had established many world records in the late 1930s. It was a land-based version and incorporated many improvements, especially on the powerplant.

    The first prototype flew in March 1937, proving superior to the Z.1011, with its handling and manouverability being praised. Its performance, however, was lower than predicted, and Zappata therefore started a major redesign of the Z.1007, production of the initial version being limited to the existing orders placed before the prototype flew.The Z.1007 was a mid-winged monoplane with a retractable tailwheel undercarriage. It had a crew of five, consisting of two pilots, a flight engineer, a radio operatior and a bombadier/navigator. It could carry 800 kg (1,760 lb) of bombs, and was fitted with a defensive armament of a 12.7 mm (.5 in) Breda-SAFAT machine gun in an open dorsal position and a 7.7 mm machine gun in a ventral tunnel. After much experimentation with the prototype, the production aircraft were fitted with annular radiators so their profile was similar to radial engines that would be fitted to the improved later versions. Delivery of production Asso powered Z.1007s started in February 1939, with production ending in October that year.
     

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    gekho Active Member

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    #7 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
    The first Asso-powered Z.1007s were used to equip the 50° Gruppo of the 16° Stormo (i.e. the 50th Group of the 16th Wing) from May 1939. The Asso powered bombers were not considered suitable for operational use, however, owing to the unreliability of their and high maintenance requirements, while their defensive armament was considered inadequate. They were therefore used as trainers. In 1942, it was proposed to modify the remaining 16 Z.1007s for weather reconnaissance, re-engining them with Isotta-Fraschini Delta engines, but only one aircraft was converted.

    The Z.1007 saw action during the later stages of the Battle of Britain from November 1940 to January 1941. The Regia Aereonautica sent six Z.1007Bis of the 172nd Squadron to Belgium in the strategic reconnaissance role for the Corpo Aereo Italiano. Upon arrival in September the Italian command realized the Luftwaffe had already photographed nearly every inch of S.E. England and there was really nothing for them to do. They were used in force only once, on November 11, when five were used as a decoy (without bombs or guns) to draw RAF fighters away from the main Italian attack on a convoy and the port facilities around Harwich by 10 Fiat BR 20 bombers. The plan failed. No Z.1007's were lost over Britain, although one of the six originally sent was lost in September on the ferry flight to its base in Belgium.


    The Z.1007 first saw action in the Italian invasion of Greece in October 1940. The Z.1007 participated in the bombing campaign over Malta and in the campaigns in North Africa and on the Eastern Front. Although fast, these bombers were vulnerable when hit and prone to catch fire. The 47 Wing were equipped with some of the first production aircraft at Ghedi. Only four were in service at 10 June 1940. The production was slow with 15 machines made every month at best. With time the aircraft was used by different Wings like the 9th and substituted the SM.79 and BR.20.

    Cant Z.1007 Asso replaced SM.81s in 16 Wing, 47 Wing had Z.1007Bis but operational readiness was only reached in August, when around 30 machines were sent to Sicily to attack Malta. Wings 16°, 12°, 35°, and 47° operated over Greece with some losses, among them one made by a PZL.24 manned by Ltn. Mitraxialexis. 175 reconnaissance squadron, and later 176th, were used in Africa. The British destroyer HMS Juno was sunk by an explosion caused by a Z.1007 bombing in 1941. 35 Wing was sent to Africa in the bombing role. In 1942, Z.1007s were used by four groups and two wings in the Mediterranean theatre, in anti-ship role and against Malta, often escorted by Italian and German fighters. In November 1942, there were eight groups equipped with 75 Z.1007s 75, with just 39 serviceable aircraft out of 150 bombers of all types.

    During Italian and German efforts to stop "Pedestal" Convoy, en route to Malta in August 1942, Sardinia-based Z.1007 Alciones, shadowed the convoy in between bombing raids and one Z.1007bis carried out a special mission, a first in the war, later copied by Allied air forces (John F. Kennedy's elder brother, Joseph P. Kennedy Jr died during a similar mission). General Ferdinando Raffaelli came up with the concept of packing a "SIAI Marchetti SM.79" bomber with explosives and a radio control device. As the Pedestal Convoy was under way off the Algerian coast on August 12, the SM.79 "Drone", a Z.1007bis guide aircraft and escort of five FIAT G.50 fighters flew out to intercept the ships. Once the SM.79's pilot had set his aircraft on a course toward the Allied ships, he bailed out leaving the Z.1007bis crew to guide the flying bomb the rest of the way by radio. The radio, however, malfunctioned. With nothing to guide it, the SM.79-Drone cruised along until it ran out of fuel and crashed on Mount Klenchela, on the Algerian mainland.

    In June 1943, the Z.1007s at Perugia, originally equipped with 30 machines, dropped to 19 with 13 serviceable in September. At the Armistice there were approximately 72 machines in service, with 40 of them sent to southern Italy. They were used as fast transports, with the ICAF proposing to use them as bombers in the Pacific theatre.
     

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    gekho Active Member

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    #8 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2012
    The worst day for Z.1007s was 14 May 1944, when 88° Gruppo sent 12 Z.1007s carrying supplies to Tito's forces. Five were shot down and two damaged by German fighters, 26 Italian aviators were killed. From that day on, it was employed only at night for military purposes.

    Z.1007ter was an improved version, that should have used Alfa 135 engines of 1,040 kW (1,400 hp). This version was dropped because of the advent of the Z.1018 and the unreliability of the engines. There was another -ter proposal with P.XI engines (858 kW/1,150 hp), and production was started in 1942, with a total of around 150 made. Test pilots were more impressed by this machine than the Z.1018, faster but with less power (because of the layout with only two P.XII engines), while the range was improved from 2,000 km (1,240 mi) to 2,250 km (1,400 mi) with 2,460 kg (5,420 lb) fuel and 900 kg (1,980 lb) bombs. So, while the Z.1018 had 2,013 kW (2,700 hp), already Z.1007Bis had 2,237 kW/3,000 hp (1,946 kW/2,610 hp at take off) and Z.1007ter 2,572 kW (3,450 hp). Performances were improved with a max speed of 490 km/h (300 mph) at 6,150 m (20,180 ft) instead of 456 at 4,600 m (15,100 ft). Climbing to 3,000 m (9,800 ft) in 6 min 28 sec, and 5,000 m (16,400 ft) in 10 min 44 sec (Z.1007 bis in 12 min 42 sec, Z.1007 Asso in 14 min 34 sec). Armament and armour were also improved. The dorsal turret was a Breda model, waist guns were replaced by 12.7 mm (.5 in) weapons. The ceiling was raised to 9,000 m (29,500 ft) from 8,400 m (27,600 ft).

    Z.1007s were used mainly as night bombers and reconnaissance, they were also used for long range reconnaissance, with excellent results. Some, at least 20, were equipped with an auxiliary tank that gave 1,000 km (620 mi) extra endurance. Some were adapted for flare drops when day missions were too dangerous. One modification for photo missions had six robot machines in a ventral gondola plus another in the fuselage. The long range and the ceiling helped these aircraft to obtain good results until the Spitfires appeared on the Mediterranean theatre. They were also the first victims of P-40 Tomahawks over Alexandria.

    Another development was the Z.1015, proposed as a record-breaking version of the Z.1007 in 1938 but not considered until 1942, when the Alfa 135s were substituted by Piaggio P.XII engines. It could reach a speed of 563 km/h (350 mph), thanks to a total of over 2,982 kW (4,000 hp) installed. It was tested successfully as a torpedo aircraft, but it was not used operationally and did not enter production. The few Z.1007ter still flying after the Allied invasion of Sicily went on to fight with the Italian Social Republic, Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force and the 'Luftwaffe.
     

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    gekho Active Member

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    #9 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 1, 2010
    The G.12 was an all-metal low-wing cantilever personnel transport aircraft. It had three radial engines, one mounted on the fuselage nose and the other two in wing-mounted nacelles. The engines drove three-blade feathering metal propellers. The mainwheels of its landing gear retracted into the nacelles; the tailwheel was fixed. The flight deck and cabin were fully enclosed. Access was via a port-side access door aft of the wing. The G.12 was designed as a civil aircraft, but served mainly in military roles during the war. Only a limited number were built, some as late as 1944, after the Italian armistice. The G.12 inspired the postwar G.212 "Flying Classroom", the last Italian three-engine transporter.
     

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    #10 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
    More pics
     

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    #11 gekho, May 1, 2010
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    The SM.79 project began in 1934 and was conceived as a fast, eight-passenger transport capable of being used in air-racing (the London-Melbourne competition). Piloted by Adriano Bacula, the prototype flew for the first time on September 28, 1934. Originally planned with the 597 kW (800 hp) Isotta-Fraschini Asso XI Ri as a powerplant, the aircraft reverted to the less powerful 440 kW (590 hp) Piaggio P.IX RC.40 Stella (license-produced Bristol Jupiter and the basis of many Piaggio engines). The engines were subsequently replaced by Alfa Romeo 125 RC.35s (license-produced Bristol Pegasus).

    This prototype (registration I-MAGO) was completed too late to enter the London-Melbourne race, but flew from Milan to Rome in just one hour and 10 minutes, at a 410 km/h (260 mph) average speed. Soon after, on 2 August 1935, the prototype set a record by flying from Rome to Massaua in Eritrea in 12 flying hours (with a refuelling stop at Cairo). The Savoia-Marchetti was by far the most important Italian offensive warplane of World War II, and one of the very few Italian aircraft to be produced in substantial quantities. Production started in October 1936 and continued until June 1943, totalling 1,217 machines. Some were constructed by Aeronautica Umbra of Foligno, best known for the AUT.18.

    Despite Italy's failure to win the Schneider Trophy, support for aeronautical feats continued as part of Benito Mussolini's propaganda campaign to promote fascist Italy, and following two initial successes, further Sparvieros were modified to set speed records. The SM.79 prototype I-MAGO was modified to carry 6,100 kg (13,448 lb) bombs internally, enabling it to attempt records while carrying a payload, and on 23 September 1935 flew for 2,000 km (1,240 mi) with a 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) load at an average speed of 389.61 km/h (242.09 mph), breaking six world records. Like on the prototype, the "hump" was not fitted to some of the first production aircraft, being transformed into performance aircraft known as the SM.79CS. One of them set further records in 1937: with three Piaggio P.XI RC.40 engines (for a total of 2,237 kW/3,000 hp) it averaged 423.618 km/h (263.224 mph) over 1,000 km (620 mi) with a 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) payload. The record then improved to 444.115 km/h (275.960 mph), while another SM.79 achieved 428.296 km/h (266.130 mph) in the 2,000 km (1,240 mi)/ 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) category. Unofficially, a speed of 472 km/h (293 mph) was later achieved in the same category.

    Five SM.79CSs went on to enter the Paris-Damascus-Istres race, where I-CUPA, I-FILU and I-BIMU took the first three positions, while the other two were placed sixth and seventh. The last was heavily damaged in Damascus. Two Fiat BR.20s also competed, but achieved only sixth (equal with one SM.79) and eighth places. Three of the SM.79CSs were modified to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach Brazil. They took off on 24 January 1938 and landed in Dakar 11 hours later, then headed for Rio de Janeiro arriving at 2245 local time on 25 January. One faulty aircraft, however, landed at Natal. The aircraft remained in Brazil and were donated to the Força Aérea Brasileira.
     

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    #12 gekho, May 1, 2010
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    Almost 600 SM.79-I and –II aircraft were in service when Italy entered World War II, and these aircraft were deployed in every theatre of war in which the Italians fought. The 12° Stormo (Wing) was the first to be equipped with the SM.79, starting in early 1936. 12 Wing was involved in the initial evaluation of the bomber, which continued throughout 1936. The Wing went operational on 1 May 1936 with the SM.79 successfully completing torpedo launches from a target distance of 5 km (3.1 mi) in August 1936. The torpedo bomber variant was much more unstable and harder to control than the civilian version (and much less precise than its successor, the SM.81). Its capabilities were still being explored when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and a number of SM.79s were dispatched to support the Nationalists. By 4 November 1936, there were only six SM.79s with enough crew to fly them operating in Spain. At the beginning of 1937, there were 15 SM.79s in total, and they went on to be used in Spain throughout the conflict, with very few losses. Around 19 of the total sent there were lost. Deliveries to 12 Wing and other units involved numbered at least 99 aircraft.

    The first recorded interception of an SM.79 formation took place on 11 October 1937 when three aircraft were attacked by 12 Polikarpov I-16s. One of the SM.79s was damaged but its defensive armament prevented close-up attacks. All bombers returned to base, although one had been hit by 27 bullets, many hitting the fuel tanks. Other interceptions occurred in the conflict without any SM.79s being lost.

    Combat experience revealed some deficiencies in the SM.79: the lack of oxygen at high altitudes, instability, vibrations experienced at speeds over 400 km/h (250 mph) and other problems were encountered and sometimes solved. General Valle, in an attempt to answer some of the criticisms about the ability of the aircraft to operate at night, took off from Guidonia and bombed Barcelona, a journey of six hours and 15 minutes. On this occasion the aircraft proved it had a useful range (around 1,000 km/620 mi with eight 100 kg (220 lb) bombs, for a total gross weight of around 1,000 kg/2,200 lb). SM.79s operated from the Balearic Islands and later from mainland Spain. Hundreds of missions were performed in a wide range of roles against Republican targets. No Fiat CR.32s were needed to escort the SM.79s, partly because the biplane fighters were too slow.

    After serving in the Spanish Civil War, the Sparviero came into use with 111° and 8° Wing. By the end of 1939, there were 388 Sparvieros in service, with 11 wings partially or totally made up of this aircraft. They also participated in the occupation of Albania in autumn 1939. By the beginning of World War II 612 aircraft had been delivered, making the Sparviero the most numerous bomber in the whole of the Regia Aereonautica, assigned to a total of 14 wings (8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 30, 32, 33, 34, 36, 41 and 46). Not all of these wings had Gruppi (groups) entirely equipped with the SM.79. Every squadron had around nine to 10 aircraft, but this included second line aircraft, so the force of each squadron consisted on average of around seven to eight bombers, and every wing had around 30 bombers. Among these units; 8, 9, 11, 12, 30, 32, 36, 41 and 46 Stormi (Wings) were based in Italy, and participated in the fighting in France. They were equipped with a total of around 350 SM.79s, including those used in training squadrons, and over Malta
     

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    gekho Active Member

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    #13 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
    A small number operated in Ethiopia. On the western side of Italian East Africa was 44° Gruppo, based at Diredawa, consisting of the 6a and 7a Squadriglie, with 12 Savoia SM.79s. Four SM.79s were part of the reserve forces while two were under repair. The Sparviero was the only type present that had not participated in the previous war with the Negus. The SM.79s of Italian East Africa entered in action on 13 June 1940. That day, nine Savoia Marchetti of 44° Gruppo based on Diredawa took off to attack Aden. The SM.79 flown by Sottotenente Ruffini was hit by anti-aircraft fire from a British warship and crashed. Then, two Gloster Gladiators intercepted the bombers. The one flown by Pilot Officer Stephenson attacked the "Sparviero" of Capitano Serafini, damaged by anti-aircraft fire, but the dorsal gunner of the SM.79 hit its aircooler, forcing him to crash-land. Serafini managed to land at Assab, but his aircraft was written-off. Another Savoia Marchetti was damaged, but landed on the same base. These few aircraft were later reinforced by others, and modified to fly at an economical speed over Sudan for the hazardous journey of over 2,000 km (1,240 mi). They could not, however, do much to save the Italian situation in Ethiopia and they were forced to surrender in the spring of 1941. The same period saw the five Iraqi SM.79Bs and the 45 SM.79Ks in Yugoslavian service unable to mount a successful defence in both Iraq and Yugoslavia.

    In North Africa, around 100 SM.79s served in 10, 14, 15 and 30 Wings, bombing mainly non-strategic targets in the desert. On one of the first days of the war, following an attack made by Blenheim bombers on an airfield near Tobruk, an SM.79 arrived carrying Italo Balbo and at least eight other persons, among them the father of the Italian film director Folco Quilici. Anti-aircraft guns, possibly from the cruiser San Giorgio, downed the aircraft and all were killed. It was declared a tragic accident by the Italian government, though suspicions have lingered that Balbo's death may actually have been ordered by Mussolini. Balbo had already started to protest the continuous tactical missions asked of the Regia Aeronautica, which were reducing its effectiveness.

    The British offensive in December hit Italian aviation hard and many wings (a total of nine until May 1941) were phased out because of losses. The tasks in which many aircraft were involved were in attacking British land forces, with bombing and strafing. The losses caused by Hurricanes and ground fire increased, so at the beginning of 1941 only around 40 machines were still present in Libya and by the end of 1941, only one operational squadron remained. In the Battle of El-Alamein many Sparvieros were used for defensive tasks, such as countering SAS teams in the desert, and in anti-ship role. From autumn 1940, SM.79s were used against Greece, then Yugoslavia. They continued to be hampered in their operations by the Royal Air Force, but also by poor weather conditions. Over the Mediterranean, the Sparvieros were used in reconnaissance missions, and anti-ship attacks.
     

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  14. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    #14 gekho, May 1, 2010
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    Italy declared war on Britain on 10 June 1940 and attacked Malta the following day starting the Axis' Siege of Malta, which was to continue for three years. The Allies' base at Malta was strategically situated to be a threat to communications between Europe, Italy and North Africa. The Sparviero launched its career as torpedo-bomber on 25 July 1940 when a new unit was established after several years of experiments. The "Special Aerotorpedoes Unit" was led by Colonel Moioli. After having ordered the first 50 torpedoes at Whitehead Industries, on 10 August 1940 the first aircraft landed at T5 airfield, near Tobruk. Despite the lack of an aiming system and a specific doctrine for tactics, an attack on shipping in Alexandria was quickly organized. There were experiments for many years but still, no service, no gear (except hardpoints) and no tactics were developed for the new speciality. This was despite previous Italian experiments into the practice of aerial torpedoing in 1914, 26 years before.

    15 August 1940 saw the first action under way, with five SM.79s that were modified and prepared for the task of torpedoing enemy shipping, sent to El Adem airfield. Among these aircraft pilots were Buscaglia, Dequal and other pilots destined to became "aces." The journey was made at an altitude of 1,500 m (4,920 ft) and after two hours, at 2130, they flew over Alexandria and began attacking the ships. This first attack was unsuccessful. The aircraft had only 1,000 m (3,280 ft) of runway for takeoff, so two of the fuel tanks were left empty to reduce weight. This gave an endurance of five hours, with a journey of 4.33 hours. After this first action, only Buscaglia and Dequal, after over five hours, returned, both aircraft damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Buscaglia landed on only one wheel, with some other damage. The other three Savoias, attacking after the first two, were hindered by a fierce anti-aircraft defence and low clouds, so they returned to their base without releasing their torpedoes. However, all three ran out of fuel, were forced to jettison the torpedoes which exploded in the desert, and then force-landed, three hours after the attack. Two crews were rescued later, but the third (Fusco) was still in Egypt when they force-landed. The crew set light to their aircraft the next morning, which alerted the British who then captured them. These troubles were experienced within a combat radius of only about 650 km (400 mi), in clear contrast with the glamorous performances of the racer Sparvieros a few years before.

    Many other missions followed, on 22–23 August (Alexandria), 26 August (against ships never found), and 27 August (Buscaglia against a cruiser). The special unit became known as the 278ima Squadriglia, and from September 1940 carried out many attacks on ships, including on 4 September (when Buscaglia had his aircraft damaged by fighters) and 10 September, when Robone claimed a merchant ship sunk. On 17 September, after an unsuccessful day attack, Buscaglia and Robone returned at night, attacking the British ships that shelled Bardia. One torpedo hit HMS Kent, damaging this heavy cruiser to the extent that the ship remained under repair until September 1941. After almost a month of attacks, this was the first success officially acknowledged and proven. After almost a month of further attacks, a newcomer, Erasi, flew with Robone on 14 October 1940 against a British formation and hit HMS Liverpool, a modern cruiser that lost her bow and needed 13 months of repair. After several months, and despite the losses and the first unfortunate mission, the core of the 278 ima was still operating the same four aircraft. The last success of this squadron was at Suda Bay Crete, when Buscaglia damaged another cruiser, HMS Glasgow, despite the anti-torpedo netting surrounding the ship. This powerful Royal Navy vessel was out of commission for nine months whilst repairs were made. The aircraft continued in service until a British bomb struck them, when the usual mounting of the torpedo under the belly led to a "chain reaction" which destroyed them all.
     

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  15. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    #15 gekho, May 1, 2010
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    1941 started out badly, but improved in April, when many successes were recorded by SM.79s of the 281 and 280 ima. They sank two merchant ships, heavily damaged the British cruiser HMS Manchester (which was out of service for nine months) and later also sank the F class destroyer HMS Fearless. Further Italian successes came in August, when the light cruiser HMS Phoebe was damaged. The large merchant ship SS Imperial Star (10,886 tonnes/12,000 tons) was sunk by an SM.79 in September. The 130 and 132 Gruppo were also active during the autumn. On 24 October, they sank the Empire Pelican and Empire Defender, on 23 November they sank the Glenearn and Xhakdina, and finally, on 11 December they heavily damaged the Jackal.

    The year ended with a total of nine sunken and several damaged Allied ships. The Italians had lost 14 torpedo bombers and sustained several damaged in action. This was the best year for the Italian torpedo bombers and also the year when the SM.84, the SM.79's successor was introduced. Overall, these numbers meant little in the war, and almost no other results were recorded by the Italian bombers. Horizontal bombing proved to be a failure and only dive bombers and torpedo-bombers achieved some results. The damaging of the British cruisers was the most important result, but without German help, the Italians would have been unable to maintain a presence in the Mediterranean theatre. The 25 Italian bomber wings were unable to disturb the British forces, as the Battle of Punta Stilo demonstrated. Almost all of the major British ships lost were due to U-Boat attacks, with the damaging of HMS Warspite, and the sinking of HMS Barham and Ark Royal. The British fleet was left without major ships in their Mediterranean fleet leaving the Axis better situated to control the sea.
     

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  16. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    The Axis fortunes started to decline steadily during 1942. Over 100 SM.79s were in service in different Italian torpedo squadrons. In addition to its wide-scale deployment in its intended bomber-torpedo bomber role, the Sparviero was also used for close support, reconnaissance and transport missions. In the first six months of 1942, all the Italo-German efforts to hit Allied ships had only resulted in the sinking of the merchant ship Thermopilae, which was by an aircraft flown by Carlo Faggioni. The Allies aimed to provide Malta with vital re-supplies and fuel through major convoy operations at all costs. The first was the Harpoon convoy, and almost all the Axis air potential was used against the convoy. 14 June saw the second torpedoing of Liverpool, by a 132° Gruppo Savoia, putting it out of action for another 13 months. Regardless of where the torpedo struck, (amidships in the case of Liverpool, aft as for Kent, or forward as happened to Glasgow) the cruisers remained highly vulnerable to torpedoes, but no Italian air attack managed to hit them with more than one torpedo at once. On this day the merchant ship Tanimbar was sunk by SM.79s of 132°, and finally the day after HMS Bedouin, a Tribal-class destroyer, already damaged by two Italian cruisers, was sunk by pilot M. Aichner, also of the 132° Gruppo. For years, this victory was contested by the Italian Navy, that claimed to have sunk Bedouin with gunfire.

    August, saw heavy attacks on the 14 merchant ships and 44 major warships of the Operation Pedestal convoy, the second Allied attempt to resupply Malta past Axis bombers, minefields and U-boats. Nine of the merchant ships and four of the warships were sunk, and others were damaged, but only the destroyer HMS Foresight and the merchant ship MV Deucalion were sunk by Italian torpedo bombers. Although damaged, the tanker SS Ohio, a key part of the convey, was towed into Grand Harbour to deliver the vital fuel on 15 August 1942 to enable Malta to continue functioning as an important Allied base; a major Allied strategic victory. By autumn 1942, in contrast to Operation Torch, 9 December was a successful day when four SM.79s sank a sloop and a merchant ship, with the loss of Angelucci's aircraft. Carlo Emanuele Buscaglia, another prominent member of the Italian torpedo-airforce who was credited with over 90,718 tonnes (100,000 tons) of enemy shipping sunk, was shot down the day after he said that they would probably all be dead before Christmas. The risks of attempting to overcome the effective defences of allied ships were too great to expect much chance of long-term survival, but he was later rescued from the water, badly wounded.

    Despite the increased activity in 1942, the results were considerably poorer than those of the previous year. The efforts made by the bombers were heavily criticized as being insufficient. Many debated the possibilities of torpedo manufacturing defects or even sabotage. In the first 30 used, in 1940, the reliability was excellent, but a number of later torpedoes were found to be defective, especially those made at the Napoli factory. During Operation Harpoon, over 100 torpedoes were launched with only three hitting their targets.
     

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  17. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    #17 gekho, May 1, 2010
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    The year 1943 opened with attacks against allied shipping off North Africa, but still without much success. In July, the Allies invaded Sicily, with an immense fleet. Sparvieros were already obsolete and phased out from service with the bomb wings, but the SM.84 was a failure and the few Z.1007s were not enough, so the latest version of the Sparviero was retained for torpedo attacks. This version was considerably faster than its successors. Before the invasion, there was a large force of torpedo aircraft: 7 Gruppi (groups), 41, 89, 104, 108, 130, 131 and 132° equipped with dozens of aircraft, but this was nevertheless an underpowered force. Except 104°, based around the Aegean Sea, the other six Gruppi comprised just 61 aircraft, with only 22 serviceable. Almost all the available machines were sent to the Raggruppamento Aerosiluranti, that of almost all of the 44 aircraft, only a third were considered flight-worthy by 9 July 1943. Production of new SM.79s continued to fall behind, and at least until the end of July, only 37 SM.79s and 39 SM.84s were delivered. Despite the use of an improved engine, capable of a maximum speed of 475 km/h (295 mph), these machines were unable to cope with the difficult task of resisting the invasion. The size of these aircraft was too large to allow them to evade detection by the enemy defences, and the need for large crews resulted in heavy human losses. In the first five days, SM.79s performed 57 missions, only at night, and failed to achieve any results, with the loss of seven aircraft. Another three aircraft were lost in the night in which the British aircraft carrier was damaged.

    The Italians co-ordinated their attacks with the German forces, and succeeded in hitting an aircraft carrier for the first time, Indomitable, on 16 July 1943, but this was more by accident than design. SM.79s were not equipped with radar, so the attacks had to be performed visually, hopefully aided by the light of the Moon, while the enemy had ship-borne radar and interceptor aircraft. The damaging of the Indomitable was due to an error of identification, because the incoming aircraft had been picked up on the ship's radar whilst still 8 km (4.9 mi) away, and failed to be identified as a threat. The ship had seven dead, but the flooding was limited due to the 102 mm (4 in) armoured belt, which was damaged so badly that it disintegrated at the impact point, but nevertheless prevented the ship from structural damages.

    Despite their depleted state, the Regia Aeronautica attempted a strategic attack on Gibraltar on 19 July with 10 SM.79GAs, but only two managed to reach their target, again without achieving any result. The last operation was in September 1943, and resulted in the damaging of the LST 417, on 7 September 1943. Following the 1943 Armistice, the SM.79s based in southern Italy (34 altogether) were used by the Aeronautica Cobelligerante del Sud as transports in support of the Anglo-American military; those that remained in the North (36) fought with the German forces as part of the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana, or were used by the Luftwaffe. A small number of SM.79s remained in service in the new Aeronautica Militare after the war. There they served as passenger transports into the early 1950s.
     

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  18. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    The SM.81 was a militarised version of Savoia-Marchetti's earlier SM.73 airliner, having cantilever wings, three engines and a fixed undercarriage. The origins of this version were in pursuit of the interests of Italo Balbo, a brilliant exponent of the Fascist regime (but nevertheless "exiled" in Libya by Mussolini), who required a fast and efficient aircraft that was capable of serving the vast Italian colonies in Africa. The SM.81 had wings that were roughly similar to those of the double-fuselage SM.55, and identical to those of the SM.73, but had a much simpler fuselage. Around six months after the SM.73s first appearance, the SM.81 prototype (MM.20099) first flew from Vergiate, near Varese, on 8 February 1935, controlled by test pilot Adriano Bacula. The first serie, ordered in 1935, was for 100 aircraft and was quickly put into production as a result of the international crisis and the embargo caused by the war in Ethiopia. The first examples were sent to 7 Wing, Lonate Pozzolo. Although it was quickly superseded as a front-line bomber, the SM.81 continued to serve as a transport aircraft by virtue of its wide fuselage, which allowed it to accommodate a wide range of armament. Apart from its speed, it was generally superior to the SM.79 Sparviero as a bomber and multirole aircraft.
     

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  19. gekho

    gekho Active Member

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    The SM.81 was a robust, three-engine monoplane, with a fixed tailwheel undercarriage, with the mainwheels enclosed by large spats to reduce drag, and had a crew of six. The aircraft was of mixed construction: the fuselage had a framework of steel tubes with a metallic-covered aft portion, while the rest was wood- and fabric-covered. It had a relatively large fuselage, an unnecessary characteristic for a bomber, which determined its future as a transport aircraft. Since the engines were quite small, the fuselage did not blend well with the nose engine, even less so than the SM.79. Many windows were present to provide the fuselage interior with daylight, giving the impression that it was a passenger aircraft.

    The all-wooden wings had three spars to provide the necessary support, whereas the semi-elliptical tail surfaces were fabric-covered metal. The pilot and co-pilot were seated side-by-side in an enclosed cockpit, with separate cabins for the flight engineer and the radio-operator/gunner behind the cockpit. The bomb bay was behind the cockpit, together with a passage which linked the mid and aft fuselage, where there were three further defensive positions.

    The bombardier's position was located just below the cockpit, in a semi-retractable gondola, and differed from that of the SM.79, being both larger and in a location which was more favourable for communicating with the crew, and provided excellent visibility thanks to the glazed panel. Both this position and the cockpit had escape hatches, but for normal entry and exit there was a door in the left, mid-fuselage, and one in the aft fuselage. Equipment included an RA 350I radio-transmitter, AR5 radio-receiver, and a P63N radiocompass (not always fitted), while other systems comprised an electrical generator, fire extinguishing system, and an OMI 30 camera (in the gunner's nacelle). The aircraft, having a large wing and robust undercarriage was reliable and pleasant to fly, and could operate from all types of terrain. It was surprisingly fast for its time and given the power of its engines, especially compared to the similar Junkers Ju 52. It was better armed than SM.79s, but the increased drag combined with the same engine power reduced the maximum and cruise speeds, as well as the range. No armour was fitted, except for the self-sealing fuel tanks.
     

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    gekho Active Member

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    #20 gekho, May 1, 2010
    Last edited: May 6, 2010
    The SM.81 first saw combat during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, where it showed itself to be versatile serving as a bomber, transport and reconnaissance aircraft. SM.81s also fought in the Spanish Civil War with the Aviazione Legionaria and were among the first aircraft sent by the fascist powers to aid Francisco Franco. Despite their obsolescence, by 1940, when Italy became involved in World War II, more than 300 (290-304 depending on source) SM.81s were in service with the Regia Aeronautica. The first Italian aircraft to enter action in East Africa were a pair of SM.81s. On 11 June 1940, one of them attacked Port Sudan and the other flew a reconnaissance flight over the Red Sea. That same night, three SM.81s took off to bomb Aden, but one turned back, and one of the other two hit a hill near Massawa while trying to land.

    Its low speed and vulnerability to fighter aircraft meant that during daytime it was restricted to second line duties, finding use as a transport. At night the SM.81 was an effective bomber, particularly in the North African theatre. Anti-ship actions were also carried out, but without significant success. Most SM.81s were withdrawn by the time of the Italian armistice of 1943, though some remained in service with both the Italian Social Republic and the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force. Several examples survived the war and went on to serve with the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, but by 1950 these had all been retired. SM.81s serving in Ethiopia had the "white avorium" markings applied to distinguish them in SAR missions. The normal camouflage pattern was yellow, green and brown mimetic. The all-over dark olive green scheme was introduced later, when the aircraft were used only in transport missions.
     

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