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Senior Airman
Dec 22, 2005
Manziana Field, near Rome
On 21 july 1960, Gian Luca Desio and Giovanni Vacirca, technicians of the CORI (geological prospects company), that were 580 km south of Bengazi, heading for Cufra, at 8 km from the Gialo-Giarabub track, discovered the body of a man, perfectly preserved under the sand.
He dressed an italian flight suit, with him there were a big compass taken from the instruments of an italian bomber, a 1/2 liter empty water tank, a screwdriver, a signal gun with three used rockets and a bunch of keys marked MM23881.
The body was that of Marshall Giovanni Romanini, gunner of the torpedo bomber SM 79 MM23881 that taken off from Berka in the late evening of 21 april 1941 and never turned back.
On that day the Italian torpedo bombers were employed in a series of spaced out attacks at dusk counter a british convoy near Crete. The MM23881, was commanded by Cpt. Oscar Cimolini that, with his crew, arrived in Africa only two days before. The aircraft has taken off a middle our after that of Lt. Robone. Robone arrived over the convoy at 19,25, badly damaged the tanker "British Lord" (the merchants "Bankura" and "Urania" were lost due to aerial attacks that day) and landed safely at 21,30. He testified to have heard AA fire from the convoy when he was coming back, so he thought Cimolini attacked the convoy only few minutes after him, but after that there were no more signs ot the MM23881, for 19 years.
After the recovery of the body of Romanini, the search for the aircraft and for the rest of the crew resumed, but only after two month, and still by case, the aircraft was discovered 80 km south of him (and several hundreds of Km out of the maximum range of the aircraft) by the technicians of AGIP (Italian oil company).
The aircraft, apart for the fabric covering, was in nearly perfect conditions, with even the windscreen intact and without signs of enemy fire. Subsequent studies estabilished that it landed with the engines functioning and the undercarriage open (that was broken at impact)
Still on the pilot's seat there were the body of Cpt.Cimolini, with a broken shouder. The bodies of the others members of the crew and some empty bottles of water were few meters off the plane.
What happened first than the landing is only a matter of hypotesis. The more probable is that, returning from the attack, in the dark, Cimolini has misjudjed the intensity of the wind to calculate the drift, so lacked the airstrip, was lost in the desert and finally, running out of fuel, decided to land, but this explanation supposes the failure of the radio. It's difficult to estabilish if the radio was or not functioning at 19 years of distance, but the AGIP technicians were able to switch it on with only a summary polishing.
What appened after is easy to immagine. The crew decided to send one of them in search for rescue, hoping to find a track. Romanini, the younger of the crew, was equipped with the compass, the signals and the keys (probably to permit an easier identification in case of death) and headed north.
He covered 80 km of distance in the desert, carring the heavy compass, first to die at 8 km from salvation. Probably, in his last night (perhaps hearing the vehicles over the track) he fired the rockets, but none saw him.

The MM23881 as it appears in 1961

Good old equipement made to endure.
The 12,7mm Breda SAFAT was perfectly polished and FUNCTIONING when the AGIP technicians discovered it. 19 years of ghibli weren't able to ruin the burnished finishing.
s79_mitragliatrice.jpg insabbiato/S79K_MM_23881_2.htm

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