Italian flight to Tokyo

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Airman 1st Class
Oct 25, 2006
Wellington, New Zealand
In 1941 the Italian High Command came to suspect their radio codes for communication with Tokyo were broken. The need arose to urgently find a safe way to deliver new codes to Japan.

Thoughts turned to using long range aircraft. The Fiat G.12 GA seemed ideal for operating a proposed regular air route, but for the first flight the new Savoia Machetti SM.75 RT (RT= Roma – Tokyo) was chosen.

A trial with the first SM 75 RT was performed dropping leaflets over Asmara the capital of Eritrea. After returning the aircraft was destroyed upon landing so a second aircraft was prepared (MM 60539). During delays, the intended payload kept being reduced.

On 29 June 1942 the historic flight to Tokyo began under the command of Ten.Col. Antonio Moscatelli. En route it landed at Saporoshje, near Rostov, which was under Axis control. During approach the aircraft came under ground fire from Soviet forces.

On departure it was still under anti aircraft fire for 100miles from Saporoshje, but then the firing stopped. The route went north of the Caspian Sea, across the Aral Sea and then lake Balkhash. Then the aircraft crossed the Altai range into the Gobi desert. A landing took place in China at Pao-Tow-Chen as it was then known, subsequently known as Ninghsia east of Peking (Beijing). The flight thus far had covered 6,000km in just over 21 hours.

At Ninghsia the crew were put up in a hotel. The aircraft was repainted with the Japanse Hinomoru, the red national symbol of the sun goddess Amerakatsu. A Japanese navigator was also taken into the crew to guide the aircraft to Tokyo. The route flown thence was Darien, Seoul, Yonagom, Tokyo.

It arrived at Tokyo in the evening of 3 July 1942, landing at the Tachikawa air base. The Italian crew were feted with parties and ceremonies until departure on 16 July 1942. The route and process was repeated in return. The SM 75 RT departed Ninghsia departed there on 18 July. It's landing in the Caucusus was at Odessa on the Black Sea on 20 July in the early morning darkness. Later that same day it reached Rome in the evening greeted by huge crowds.

The publicity was unwelcome and led to diplomatic protests from the Soviet Union to Tokyo. The Japanese were highly unimpressed by the publicity and thereafter demanded that all German flights to Ninghsia be in civil aircraft with civil crews and avoid overflights of the Soviet Union.

The Italian Government planned further flights over a more southerly route in future from Rome to Rhodes-overflying Turkey-Axis friendly Iran-Afghanistan-India to Rangoon. Italy abandoned this air bridge in November 1942.

There is some evidence that German Ju-290 flights to Manchuria performed by Deutsch Luft Hansa (airlines) operated from Bulgaria after the fall of Odessa and they may have followed in part some of the new Italian route.
A lot of people say the Ju-290 flights from Odessa to Ninghsia never happened, but the Ju-290 had far more range and payload capacity than the SM-75, so why not ?
Very interesting stuff Kiwikid!

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