Regia Aeronautica

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Senior Airman
Dec 3, 2003
Originally written by 'robert' at the Great planes community

The Problems With the Regia Aeronautica

The problems with the Regia Aeronautica, the Italian air force, during World War Two were numerous. Having said that, many individual Italian fighter pilots and units did fight well. Private research has found that Italy produced 123 fighter pilots who reached "ace" status during the war, and their land-based SM.79 torpedo bombers were quite successful against allied shipping.

One reason the Italian pilots are not well known is that because the Italian air force was split in two after the September 1943 treaty, many of their best pilots fought with the ANR, which was allied with Germany. Pilots who fought with the ANR were persona non grata after the war; virtually all were expelled from the post-war Italian air force. The Italian authorities have done little to publicize the efforts of any Italian pilots, because they don't want to give credit to pilots who fought with the Nazis; for example, there is no official list of Italian aces.

Some of their later aircraft, especially the Macchi C.202/205 series, were actually quite good.

Anyway the major problems that hounded the Regia Aeronautica included the following -

1) Obsolete equipment, especially at the start of the war. Italy built up a large air arm in the early and mid-1930s, with aircraft that were acceptable for the time. Unfortunately, most of these aircraft were still in service in 1940, by which time open cockpit biplanes with fixed undercarriages had generally been replaced in most air forces. Not so in Italy - the re-armament program started in the late 1930s was slow to get moving. When Italy declared war, it had 542 operational fighters in front-line service. Over two-thirds of them (377 to be exact), were either Fiat CR.32 or CR.42s, the aforementioned open cockpit biplanes with fixed undercarriages.

Like the Soviets, the Italians also drew the wrong conclusions from their experience in the Spanish Civil War, as far as fighters were concerned. The CR.32 had been able to hold its own against similar Soviet and French fighters, leading Italian authorities to believe that the maneuverable biplane was still a viable fighter concept. The CR.42 biplane didn't go into production until 1939, at which time aircraft such as the Spitfire and Bf 109 were equipping other air forces.

They also had too many multi-role aircraft such as the Caproni Ca.311 to Ca.316, which were twin-engined aircraft supposed to fill a variety of roles, but which excelled at none.

2) Lack of standardization and outmoded production techniques. Italian authorities, instead of selecting one aircraft type for a particular role, often ordered small quantities of several different types, leading to huge problems with training, operations, and logistics. For example, at the same time the CR.42 was going into production, three monoplane fighters quite similar to each other, the Fiat G.50, Macchi C.200, and Reggiane Re.2000 were also entering production. It would have been better to concentrate production on the best design, rather than order a few of each. While countries such as the USA, which had a large industrial base, could afford to duplicate resources, a country such as Italy could not. Many Italian air units operated mixed equipment, which led to huge logistics problems.

Italian aircraft were also built very slowly compared to other countries. They were beautifully hand crafted, but while that means they look great in museums, they didn't get to the front lines in sufficient quantities. Production of the most important Italian fighter, the Macchi C.202/205, totaled a little over 1,350. Compare that with 33,000+ Bf 109s, 23,000+ Spitfire/Seafires, 16,000+ Yak-9s, 15,000+ P-47s, or even 11,000+ Zeros.

3) Lack of suitable engines and armament. While Italian airframes were often quite good, their engines were not. The lack of a high performance engine for fighters handicapped Italian designers until the German DB 601 engine was acquired in 1940, to be built under license by Alfa Romeo. When the DB 601 replaced the radial engine in the Macchi C.200, as the C.202, it immediately transformed a mediocre fighter into an excellent one.

Most early war Italian fighters were under gunned, carrying only two 12.7 mm machine guns. Muzzle velocity and rate of fire were very poor, and the ammunition was of poor quality.

4) Italian logistics were terrible. Especially in North Africa, supply lines were erratic, a problem compounded by having to provide spares for too many different aircraft types.

5) Leadership was terrible. Italian leadership at squadron level was not all bad, but the higher ups were inflexible and clung to outmoded tactics. Promotion in the Regia Aeronautica was extremely slow compared to other air forces. Unlike the RAF or Luftwaffe, successful fighter pilots were not able to impart their knowledge and experience to other pilots from command positions, lowering the overall quality of the service.

All of these factors meant that while some Italian pilots were quite successful, and well respected by their opponents, as a whole the Regia Aeronautica was not very successful.
It certainly was - by most standards it was a very good aircraft 8)

That was a very interesting read Crazy - I knew the Italians had clung to alot of outdated aircraft because of the false feeling of security they gained from Spain but I didn't know how slow they were at building planes (but it doesn't surprise me! like you said they look lovely in museums! :lol: ) nor how poor they're ammunition quality was. As a point of interest, did they ever use cannons?? i don't think they did but they might of I suppose :?:
If I remember, I think the SM.79 was one of the most succesful Torpedo Bomber's around

does anyon have more info on the sm.79, im interested in it cos it loos nice and now you lot are saying its a good plane, and also cos its italian 8)

Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79 Sparviero
Wing span: 69 ft 6 1/2 in (21.2 m)
Length: 53 ft 1 3/4 in (16.2m)
Height: 13 ft 5.5 in (4.1 m)
Empty: 16,755 lb (7,600 kg)
Operational: 24,192 lb (11,300 kg)
Maximum Speed: 270 mph (434 km/h)
Service Ceiling: 23,000 ft (7,000 m)
Range: 1,243 miles (2,000 km)
Powered by three 559 kW (750 hp) Alfa-Romeo 126 RC.34 radials. Later three Piaggio P.XI RC40 1,000 hp 14-cylinder radial. The twin-engined S.M. 79B variety. Romania built the 79JR under license with two 894 kW (1,200 hp) Junkers Jumo 211Da liquid-cooled engines.
It carried a 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT gun firing ahead from the roof of the cockpit humpback that enabled bullets to clear the nose propeller; a second firing to the rear from the hump; a third aimed down and to the rear from the gondola under the rear fuselage; and often a 7.7 mm firing from each beam window. this needing a crew of at least five. The bombardier occupied the gondola with his legs projecting down in two retractable tubes during the bombing run. Up to 1,000 kg (2,205 lb) of bombs were carried in an internal bay; alternatively two 450 mm (17.7 in) torpedoes could be hung externally.


It was the most important Italian bomber of World War II, this tough three-engined aircraft established a reputation that contrasted with most Italian weapons of the day, and it was flown with courage and skill. SM.79s served widely in the normal bombing role; but it is as a land-based torpedo bomber that the type deserves its place in military aviation history, being regarded by many as one of the finest torpedo bombers of the war.

The prototype appeared in late 1934 and subsequently had a varied career, setting records and winning races with various engines and painted in civil or military markings. The basic design continued the company's tradition of mixed construction with steel tubes light alloy wood and fabric (this being the only way to produce in quantity with available skills and tools); but compared with other designs it had a much more highly loaded wing which demanded long airstrips,

The prototype SM.79 had flown on 2 September 1935, powered by three 750 hp AlfaRomeo 125 RC.34 engines, and so following the Regia Aeronautica's preferred tri-motor formula. About 1,300 production models were built over a nine year period. They had internal provision for 2,750 lb (1,250 kg) of bombs, supplemented by under fuselage racks for a pair of heavy bombs, or two torpedoes in the case of the SM.79-II and SM.79-III.

The SM.79 had a distinctive 'hump' on the upper forward fuselage, which housed both the fixed forward-firing heavy machine-gun and the dorsal gunner's position. Its appearance earned the aircraft the nickname 'Gobbo Maleditto' ('Damned Hunchback'). In spite of its cumbersome appearance and outdated steel tube/wood/fabric construction, the S.M.79 was a rugged, reliable multi-role medium bomber which did quite a bit of damage in the face of heavy opposition.

Developed from a civil airliner, the first Sparvieros entered service with the Regia Aeronautica in late 1936, just in time to fly combat over Spain with the Aviacion Legionaria, the Italian contingent fighting in support of the Nationalists. The SM.79-I established an excellent reputation in combat with the Aviacion Legionaria in Spain in 1936-1939. Its performance drew favorable comments from both sides, leading to a succession of export orders. The SM.79-I served with the Italian Aviazione Legionaria in support of Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

In October 1939 the Regia Aeronautica began to receive the 79-II with 745.2 kW (1,000 hp) Piaggio P.XI RC.40 engines (one batch had the Fiat A.80 of similar power) and this was the dominant version in action subsequently. About 1,200 served with the Regia Aeronautica including a handful of the III sub-type with forward-firing 20 mm cannon and no ventral gondola.


When Italy joined the war in 1940 its air force had nearly 1,000 bombers, of which well over half were Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79 Sparviero (Hawk) medium bombers. These trimotors, were thought by many to be among the best land-based torpedo bombers of the war. They could carry 1,250 kg (2,750 lb) of bombs internally or two torpedoes. Also active as a medium bomber around the Mediterranean and on anti-ship duties was the Cant Z.1007bis Alcione (Kingfisher) ,production of which began in 1939. It also was a trimotor, powered by 1,000 hp Piaggio radials, and it carried four machine guns for self-defence as well as up to 2,000 kg (4,410 lb) of bombs or two torpedoes.

In the summer of 1942, Allied efforts to relieve beleaguered Malta culminated in 'Operation Pedestal', when 14 merchantmen with heavy Royal Navy escort left Gibraltar on August 10. Among the enemy aircraft sent against them were 74 Sparvieri (Sparrow Hawks), a number of which had already scored hits on the battleship HMS Malaya and the carrier HMS Argus. 'Pedestal' eventually got through to Malta, but at the cost of one carrier, two cruisers, a destroyer and nine merchant ships, many of them having been hit by torpedoes from the S.M.79s.

The more powerful SM.79-II served in North Africa, the Balkans, and Mediterranean during the Second World War, while other units called Aerosiluranti (aerial torpedoes) pioneered use of these large fast bombers in the anti-shipping role. When the Italians surrendered on September 8,1943, it did not end the combat record of the SM.79, and a new version, the SM.79-III torpedo-bomber, was placed in production by the RSI, the fascist government in northern Italy.

An effective torpedo bomber as well, the S.M.79 served in the air forces of Brazil, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Romania and Spain, some right up to the end of the war. The Romanians flew them on the Russian front from 1941 to 1944, an unprecedented record for an aircraft designed in the early 1930s. Though known as a tri-motor, several versions were built as twin-engined aircraft using a number of different powerplants, including Junkers Jumo 211 D 1,220 hp inlines. Regardless of the version, its handling pleased most pilots and its ability to come home with extensive damage endeared it even more. Used throughout North Africa and the Mediterranean until the Italian surrender in September 1943, the Sparviero remained flying with both the Italian cobelligerent forces fighting alongside the Allies and the surviving pro-Nazi units.

About 100 were exported to Brazil Iraq and Romania - all of the twin-engined S.M. 79B variety. Romania built the 79JR under license with two 894 kW (1,200 hp) Junkers Jumo 211Da liquid-cooled engines. These were used in numbers on the Eastern Front; initially as bombers with visual aiming position in the nose and subsequently mainly as utility transports.

Post-war surviving SM.79s were converted into various versions of utility transports during the last phases of the war and survived in that role until 1952.

You ask, I giveth :lol: :D
the lancaster kicks ass said:
that's a hell of a pic, I've heard of close formation flying, but that's taking the piss......................

They aren't flying as close as they seem to be - its an old photogrpahy trick... ;)
Actually, they ARE flying that close-- The Eyties had some of the finest formation fliers in he world. They also made very powerful racing engines,trouble is, they didn't suit mass production. Thoe Italians are lovers, not fighters---oh---wait-----
Hot Space said:
If I remember, I think the SM.79 was one of the most succesful Torpedo Bomber's around :shock:

Hot Space

It needs to be said that the Italian antishipping squadrons were better at hitting Allied ships than any German unit except for Fliegerkorps 10. No one who made the Malta convoy runs ever laughed at the Regia Aeronautica.

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