The Last Biplane Fighters by F.I.A.T.

The biplanes CR.32 and CR.42 represented an evolutionary phase in the development of a new generation of fighter planes. While the CR.32 saw action during the first phase of World War Two, as it represented the first phase of the evolution, the CR.42 saw action on all fronts and in a variety of roles throughout the conflict. Soon, the need for faster fighters, even though they would be less maneuverable, made everyone aware that the era of the biplane had come to an end.


A direct evolution of the CR.20 and CR.30, the CR.32 was the best OF the Italian aeronautical engineer Rosatelli’s design work, and it IS distinguishable from its predecessors for the reduced wing area and a more aerodynamic design.
The CR.32 was a biplane fighter with a metallic frame covered by aluminum and fabric. The engine, a FIAT A.30, produced 600 HP driving a dual-blade propeller. Armament included two 12.7 mm Safat machine guns nested on top of the engine cover.

After a period of testing, the prototypes were followed by the first order from the Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica Italiana), and by May 1939 there were already 1052 planes of version “bis”, “tris” and “quarter” in service. The popularity of the aircraft was not limited to Italy; FIAT received orders from many European countries, and non-European ones, including China, which ordered 24 aircraft.

Italy’s support for General Francisco Franco’s forces brought about the CR.32’s participation in the Italian “legionary” air force in Spain. Here, the new fighter achieved brilliant success, establishing an immediate aerial superiority over the enemy air forces, which was equipped with a heterogeneous collection of poorly performing French and British airplanes. The situation changed quite noticeably with the arrival of the new Russian airplanes in the theater of operations; The CR.32 defended itself quite well, but since it was slower and less armed than the enemy aircraft, many were lost. Of the 500 CR.32 serving in Spain, 72 were lost.

Having completed the Spanish experience, FIAT began adapting the plane to new roles. One version had elongated exhaust manifolds for night operations. With the beginning of the hostilities, the CR.32, although dated and antiquated, was tossed into the fray. The first operational deployment took place with the 50th Stormo in Libya in an assault role against mechanized vehicles, and even as a bomber utilizing some of the accuracy acquired during the Spanish conflict.

The CR.32 were also deployed in Greece (160 th Stormo), Crete (163 Squadrone), and Sardinia (3rd Gruppo Caccia) with the role of intercepting enemy aircraft. After May 1941, the diminishing numbers of available planes, and the alternating fortunes of the Italian armies in North Africa, recommended the utilization of the plane only for training purposes, a role in which the plane remained even after September 8th.

FIAT CR.42 “Falco” (Hawk)

Toward the end of the 30’s, the need to modernize the Regia Aeronautica’s CR.32 was quite evident, and also recognized. Although the new monoplanes FIAT G.50 and Macchi C200 were already in advanced stages of testing, it was decided to give room to a new version of an improved biplane, the CR.42. This project gave birth to a new biplane with non-retractable landing gear and full metallic frame, propelled by an 840 HP FIAT A.74 engine. The Regia Aeronautica immediately ordered 200 new planes, and in May 1939 the first 39 aircraft reached their squadrons.
Meantime, the CR.42 obtained some popularity overseas, and FIAT received orders from Belgium, Hungary and Sweden. At the outbreak of the hostilities, the CR.42 participated in missions in southern France obtaining good results in encounters with French fighters. Later, the CR.42 participated in the Battle of England taking off from Belgian airports in escort missions over the English Channel where it encountered Hurricanes and Spitfires.

The largest deployment took place in North Africa where the CR.42, arriving disassembled aboard tri-motors SM-82, were used in strafing missions. Later on, the number of airplanes reached over 100. In September, with the Italian advance in North Africa, the CR.42 were widely used against enemy vehicles and armored vehicles, and also in escort missions in support of SM.79 bombers. The CR.42 were also used in promising night actions utilizing supplemental fuel tanks. Other war theaters and events saw the CR.42 always present despite increasing losses, accidents, and shortage of fuel and spare parts.

In October 1942, the CR.42 were involved in violent fighting during the Battle of El Alamein in support of Rommel’s attempt to arrive at the Nile’s delta. The following year, following the Axis’ retreat, the remaining 82 CR.42 were deployed in Tunisia from which they were later sent back to Italy. Another front, which saw the CR.42 in action in the Mediterranean, was the offensive against Malta. Here, with the planes taking off from Sicily, the CR.42 conducted ground attack missions as well as escort ones. Eventually, activity petered off with the arrival of the new and modern MC.202 and RE.2001.

Another activity in which the CR.42 saw intense use was the escort of Italian convoys to Libya, taking off from airports on the islands of Pantelleria and Lampedusa. The CR.42 was also used for dive-bombing attacks on naval targets with good results during Operation Harpoon, and even better ones during Operation Pedestal.

The evolution of the conflict saw the CR.42 operate from Sicilian airfields as a night fighter. The armistice of September 8th left few planes in the south (under Allied control), while the larger number, mostly aircraft fresh from the factory, fell into German hands. Part of these planes was sent to Germany, while the remaining served in the “Repubblica Sociale” (Mussolini’s) Air Force. After the war, very few aircraft were left and they served in training schools.
It was the end of the glorious life of the last Italian biplane, which, even if lacking speed, was able to gallantly fight on all fronts and in multiple roles.

The First Italian Jet Plane: Campini-Caproni

” 500 km/h is already passé; in a few years, it will be common to all planes. We are so sure of it that we are looking even further… (Italo Balbo, 1931). This declaration perfectly recaps the spirit which brought about, a few years later, the first Italian jet. Since 1931, Secondo Campini, an aeronautical engineer, had shown to the Ministry of Aeronautics his studies of a new kind of engine, which promised higher speed and greater elevation. In brief, the schema proposed called for the dynamic collection and compression of air, which, subsequently, would be further compressed by a mechanical device, heated and then expanded through a jet to generate thrust.

In February 1934, the “Regia Aeronautica” stipulated a contract with Campini for the realization of two jet airplanes. For the construction of his machines, Campini contacted the firm “Aeroplani Caproni” of Taliedo, whose owner had been a believer in this new kind of propulsion since the beginning. The production of the first two prototypes began immediately, but was delayed mostly due to the unavailability of the aeronautical engines used to propel the compressor, and by increasing costs. The first prototype was not completed until 1940.

These delays caused the German Henkel He.178V1 to become, on August 27, 1939, the first jet plane in the history of aeronautics. Campini-Caprini prototype number one called for a propulsion system capable of dynamically collecting and compressing air via the movement of the airplane itself. Subsequently, air was further compressed using a three-stage axial compressor mechanically operated by an internal combustion engine (Alfa Romeo Asso L.121 RC40 900Hps). Upon exiting the compressor, air was heated by external burners and then allowed to expand through a Bernoulli jet. This device was adjustable by means of a “never-ending screw” of the Pelton type; the total thrust was about 750 Kg.

In reality, this propulsion system was still quite rudimental because the air was heated by a series of burners placed outside the jet. For better performance, these burners should have been placed inside the combustion chamber, thus allowing the air-gasoline mix to burn internally and not externally. Another substantial limitation was the fact that an auxiliary combustion engine actuated the three-stage compressor, and not, as usually found in similar engines, by a turbine directly connected and actuated by the exhaust gases. Naturally, this second choice would have caused substantial difficulties in terms of the proper material to be used by the turbine itself due to the extreme heat.
The prototype which flew for the first time on August 27, 1940 was an elegant monoplane with two seats wholly constructed of metal with a low wing of elliptical shape. After a series of tests and demonstration flights, the first prototype was transferred in November 1941 from Milan to the “Centro Sperimentale” in Guidonia, near Rome.

Test flights continued until 1942 when the plane was abandoned and later mined by the retreating Germans. The relic was examined by the British, sent to England and later scrapped. The second prototype, which left the assembly line in 1941 and had flown only once, survived the war and is currently preserved in excellent condition at the “Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica” in Vigna di Valle, just north of Rome. The Campini-Caproni jet plane was an aircraft of modest performance because of its excessive weight and the propulsion solution chosen. It never passed the prototypical stage but still represents a testimonial to a fascinating but unlucky technological gamble.

Macchi: the Fighters with the Humpback

Since 1935, after the successes obtained by the famous racing hydroplanes, the Aeronautica Macchi began studying the construction of a new prototype for a fighter plane which would meet the requirements defined by the Regia Aeronautica for a modern interceptor. Soon, these studies, led by the chief engineer Mario Castoldi, produced the first prototype of a single-seat fighter with a high wing.

The first prototype was flown by chief test pilot Burei on December 24th, 1937 and immediately proved itself superior to the Caproni Vizzola F/5, the Reggiane Re.2000 and the FIAT G.50. The MC 200 had a fully metallic structure with the cockpit quite elevated so to offer better visibility for the pilot. It was armed with two 12.7mm machine guns which fire thought the propeller’s blades. This new plane was a beautiful monoplane characterized by a streamline frontal area and with a power plan similar to the one of the FIAT G.50, but with a different engine cowl.

Initial, the plane experienced a few problems such as low power, low endurance, but with the most dangerous being a tendency to stall at high elevation due to the wings avionics. This “feature” of the plane was by many liked, but ultimately, thanks to the perseverance of the Macchi’s test pilots, was corrected with the introduction of a wing with changeable profile. After some trouble, which caused several accidents, finally the first 144 MC.200 were distributed to various squadrons, with some already flying over Malta in summer of 1940 while escorting the S.79s. In November 1940, two Mc.200 were able to shoot down a large British flying boat off the port of Augusta, Sicily and the same month began some aerial duels with the British Hurricanes.

Meantime, the campaign against Malta turn ever harsher, and the MC.200s were utilized in additional roles, from aerial photography to escort for German bombers. In 1941, the 374th Squadron began operating in North Africa, followed later one by the 153rd Fighter Group employed in missions against ground troops. The MC200 was actively engaged in all campaigns conducted by the Regia Aeronautica, from Africa to the Balkans to Greece, and during the disastrous Italian campaign in Russia.

In Russia, the plane faced the most difficult conditions; heaters and air blowers were often insufficient, and to get engines started engineers had to pre-heat the starters and the engine oil. Often, the extreme cold caused the hydraulic pump to seize up leavening the landing gear extended. The open cockpit exposed the pilots to unbearable conditions and cases of frost bytes were quite common. Goggles, windshields, and range finders would fog up making the shooting very imprecise. In these infernal conditions, the Italian fighters obtain good results loosing only 15 Mc.200 to 88 enemy planes. On January 17th, 1943 the 21st Group completed its last mission on the Russian front to the while trying to save planes and materiel during the retreat. In the last few months of the war, the Mc.200 were used against the Allied landings in southern Italy. On September 8th, 1943 of the originally produced 1,153 Mc.200, only less than 100 were left.

Il Macchi Mc.202 “Folgore”

A direct evolution of the Mc.200, the Mc.202 retained the same wing and controls, along with some parts of the fuselage, but employed a new engine, the Daimler Benz DB601 (later produced by Alfa Romeo as the RA.100 RC.41) that allowed exceptional performances.

The new airplane had a beautiful and aggressive design and was delivered to the operation groups in 1941. After a bumpy ride, due mostly to lack of training for the crew, the MC.202 was sent to the 17th Group on the Libyan front where they were later followed by those of the 6th Group. Here the planes will follow all the Axis campaign, and after the retreats of 1941, and the counteroffensive of 1942, the Mc.202 of the 17th and 6th Group of the 1st Wing and the 9th and 10th of the 4th Stormo were deployed in Benghazi. Here, along with other planes, they were protagonist of a brilliant operation against the British base of Ganut. After having retaken Tobruk in June, the plane participated to the disastrous advance do Alexandria. Despite the negative turn taken by the North African campaign, the Mc.202 flu hundred of missions often without the necessary spare parts or fuel. After the heavy toll paid to lack of maintenance, sand, and enemy attacks, the planes were finally removed from Tunisia.

Meantime Malta was another front that represented a continuous hemorrhage of both men and materiel. The Mc.202 deployed in Sicily actively participated in the battle fought over the skies of the small island, bastion of the British forces in the Mediterranean. During this period, a terrible tactical decision, which was to be tragic for the Axis forces, brought about the ground advance into Egypt while the plan for the occupation of Malta was abandoned. This left the British an advantage, which, later, will become a crucial factor in the battle for the Mediterranean. Only a few dozen Mc.202 were left in Sicily to continue the Malta campaign, while the British, despite the heavy losses (Between 1940 and 1942 the R.A.F. lost 850 planes and 520 pilots) kept a constant and effective presence.

In 1943, when the war got closer to home, Pantelleria was the first to taste the Allied onslaught; 3,450 planes dropped more than 4,900 tons of bombs to the useless defensive effort of 4 (this is not a typo) Mc.202. When the Allied decided to invade Sicily, about 20 Mc.202 were deployed against them. With the armistice of September 8th, 1943 what was left was split between the now pro-Allied Regia Aeronautica in the South, and the pro-German Aerounautica Repubblicana in the North. At the end of the war only a few Mc.202 were restored to be shown in museum (One beautifully restored plane can be seen in the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. along with a Bf.109 and a P.51 Mustang)

So ended the operational life of one of the best Italian planes of WW II. Strong, fast, and maneuverable are the comments of those who flu it, with the only defect noted of having a limited armament. Even if a version equipped with two 20mm guns mounted under the wins was planned, it would be the Mc.205 the model that would bring heavier armament into battle.

Il Macchi Mc.205 “Veltro”

The Macchi Mc.205 flu for the first time in April 1942; this new plane was, practically, the same airframe used by the MC.202, but with the new and more powerful Daimler-Benz DB605. This new airplane immediately showed its excellent qualities reaching, during trails, a speed of 650 Km/h. Armament was quite good with two 12.7 mm machine guns and two 20 mm guns (the only effective weapon against enemy bomber), followed later by model with even grater firepower.

The Mc.205 reached the airfields in June 1943, with the first planes assigned to the 1st Stormo based on the island of Pantelleria and utilized over North Africa and in defense of the last convoys directed to Tunisia.. On their first sortie, 25 Mc.205 faced, with excellent results, much larger enemy squadrons of P.40s and Spitfires. Later, the “Veltro” were relocated from Pantelleria to Catania where they were used in support of MAS (torpedo boat) operations. Here, they role became solely defensive in the attempt of stopping the ever increasing enemy bombers.

When the Allied forces landed in Sicily, in addition to the 10 Mc.205 deployed on the island’s airfield, there were about 50 Mc.202 and about the same number of Bf.109s. Despite the fact that more planes were sent to the front, the situation appeared immediately dramatic. The Luftwaffe has only 400 planes against the 4,900 deployed by the Allied air forces. The quick retreat from eastern Sicily, forced some of the air force personnel to destroy on the ground six of the Mc.205s based at the airport of Catania-Fontanarossa. The battle for the control of the airspace over Sicilywas short lived; heavy Allied bombing over Axis’ airfields did the job. The 4th Stormo, later reorganized in Calabria where it attempted to halt the new landing by strafing ships and landing vessels along the coast.

Meantime, the Pisa-based 51st Stormo, which had received it first Mc.205 since April 1943, was engaged in harsh fights over the Island of Sardinia. On the 2nd of August, six Mc.205 attacked 20 P.38 and P.40 engaged in the shooting of a Cant Z506 rescue plane; 6 of the Allied planes will be lost to only one Mc.205. Mussolini’s air force (Aviazione Repubblica Sociale Italiana) saw a conspicuous utilization of the Mc.205 with 29 planes retained after the armistice and 112 new one produced by the Macchi of Varese, which, later on, will be neutralized by Allied bombing.

The plane was produced until 1948. The “Veltro” along other planes of the so-called series 5 (Macchi Mc.205, Reggiane Re.2005, Fiat G.55) represent the best of Italian aeronautical engineering during the war and demonstrated Italy’s ability to produce planes capable of fighting the much more modern enemy aircrafts. These planes could not be fully utilized to the chronic shortage of engine and weapons and, most of all, row material especially toward the end of the war.. These machines, against common belief, are witnesses of the Italian Air Force ability to deploy, although in limited number, planes of the highest quality.

Heavy Bomber

As part of the program of modernization and expansion which had begun after the Ethiopian war, the Regia Aeronautica sought the construction of a group of heavy four-engine bombers. A ministerial contest was published and the Cant Z 1014 was declared the winning bidder. Five prototypes were to be built, but for financial reasons, the production never came its way. The project was taken over by Piaggio, which had classified second in the contest with the offering of its P 108 at a cost of 50% less than those of the Cant Z 1014. The first prototype was completed in October 1939 but, because of an accident, it could not be transferred to Guidonia for tests and evaluation until the following year. The four-engine Piaggio was a very advanced aircraft with an elegant line, a structure entirely in metal, and ample windows. The engines were four 1,350-hp double radial eighteen cylinders P XII RC45 which allowed a maximum speed of 420 km/h. Particular attention was dedicated to the defensive armament with six 12,7 mm machine guns, four of which were mounted in two electrically controlled turrets set on the back of the engines and remotely controlled by the gunners; a solution which was decidedly avant-garde for the period.

After the evaluation period, the 274° squadron BGR (bombardamento a grande raggio) was based in Pisa and equipped with the first Ps 108s. During one of the training missions Captain Bruno Mussolini, son of the Duce, perished. The first operational mission took place in June of 1942. Subsequently, the squadron moved to Sardinia with the few remaining Ps 108s where it operated in actions against Gibraltar. Thereafter, following the Allied landing in Africa, it operated against naval convoy and the Algerian harbors. The P 108, the only Italian strategic bomber of World War II, was a structurally sound machine with good flight characteristics, but tormented by continuous problems with the engines, which never allowed for its full operational employment.

Torpedo Bombers

Early operations in the Mediterranean demonstrated that engagments between surface vessels, despite being spectacular, rarely provided definitive effects. Soon, it was demonstrated that control of the sea corresponded to dominance in the air. Therefore, the Regia Aeronatica had to bear ever-heavier responsibilities.
Since the beginning, aerial attack on ships was conducted by bombers which, despite being highly accurate, lack enough destructive power, thus demostrating the disproportion between the means and the results.

On August 27, 1940 Lieutenant Buscaglia completed the first Italian attack employing a torpedo, thus making operational the most dangerous attack weapon against the Royal Navy.

The first experimental launches of airborne torpedoes dated back to 1914. Nevertheless, Italy entered the war without a single squadron of torpedo launchers. After the end of World War I, attempts to employ aerial torpedoes were not successful due to inadequate equipment, faulty techniques, and limited support from the military hierarchy, experiments continued. Several aircraft were used , from the Caproni Ca. 33, to the Macchi M.24 and the very latest S.55. Later on, experimentation continued on the Cant Z.506 with the dual role of torpedo bomber and bomber, even though the time of the flying boat had already reached its azimuth.

Meantime, the war had already started, and during the encounter off Calabria, British torpedo bombers made their foray into the Mediterranean aboard aircraft carriers. Despite lack of success, it was possible to anticipate the potential of this terrible new weapon. Confirmation of this potential was dramatically evident the night of November 11, 1940 when British Swordfish launched from the aircraft carrier Illustrious inflicted a terrible strike against the Italian fleet in the harbor of Taranto, dramatically altering the balance of power in the Mediterranean.

Meantime, the “Reparto Sperimentale Aerosiluranti” (Experimental torpedo-bomber group) assembled in Gorizia at the beginning of 1940 received the Savoia Marchetti SM.79 which, although not originally designed as a torpedo bomber, was a strong, fast and maneuverable aircraft far superior to the British Swordfish. During the entire conflict, the British “Gobbo Maledetto”, (“Damn Hunchback”), so named for the unusual shape of the fusilage), became the standard aircraft used by all the torpedo bomber Squadrons, representing an insidious and dangerous presence for allied shipping.

Savoia Marchetti SM.79

The Savoia Marchetti SM.79 was designed during the mid-thirties as a military version of the civilial transport SM.79P. This tri-motor, with a mixed structure (wood and metal), won several speed and endurance records thanks to its 750-HP Alfa Romeo 126 RC.34 engines.

The military version was equipped with three 12.7 mm and one 7.7 mm machine guns. Ordinance included bombs loaded into an internal bomb bay plus two torpedo supports under the wings. It was first used in combat during the Spanish Civil War where it demonstrated high maneuverability and speed even though it was too light and, at times, unstable. It was capable of continuing flying with just two engines, capabilities which were of great use during engine failures. Excellent also was the ability of the plane to float, thus giving its crew enough time to bail out in case of forced sea landing.

On August 10, 1940 after a summary preparation, the only five SM.79 belonging to the “Reparto Sperimentale Aerosiluranti” were transferred to the airport of Ciampino, just outside Rome. From here, they were then transferred to El Adem, from where the first mission against Alexandria took place. The attack, which contemplated a simultaneous attack from two directions, against units in port, was not very successful mostly due to the shape of the harbour itself and to adverse weather conditions.

In the following months, Italy created more units and refined its weapons and techniques. Meantime, making up for all the time wasted in the previous years, during 1941 the Regia Aeronatica began harvesting the first results, hitting 30 units and sinking 9. Unfortunately, the price paid was very high and of the 260 aircrafts used, 14 were shot down and 46 damaged. Post-war statistics revealed that on average, a crew was shot down after just three missions.
Noteworthy missions took place in 1942 with the massive attack on a Malta-bound convoy, the Second Battle of Sirte, Mid-June, Mid-August. Along with the increased activity came an ever more furious reaction from antiaircraft units.Meantime, the Italian aeronautical industry was trying to improve on the SM.79 by installing more powerful engines, updating on-board equipment, and by increasing autonomy through the installation of fuel tanks in the bomb bay.

The limitations imposed by the original design of the aircraft for civilian use were many, so in 1940 it was decided to begin working on a successor, the Savoia Marchetti SM.84. The original design was ingenious, utilizing some of the existing and highly tested components already in use on the SM.79 and developing others. In fact, the SM.84 would have the same wing of the SM.79, but more powerful engines, the Piaggio P.XI RC.40, capable of 1000 HP. The fuselage was completely redesigned, introducing a spit tail thus offering more advanced defensive control. In addition, the internal defense armament was replaced with 4 12.7 mm guns.

Unfortunately, the SM.84 did not have the flying characteristics of its predecessor and it was prone, during take off, to go face down and in general, it was hard to maneuver. Despite these faults, the SM.84 was assigned to the torpedo launcher squadrons in January 1941. The 41° Stormo, so equipped, was transferred to the Aegean where it was operational until 1942 with very few positive results.

During September 1941, the SM.84s of the 282°Squadriglia based in Sardinia were deployed against a convoy which had left Gibraltar and were able to seriously damage the battleship Nelson, a cruiser and another unit. But the missed intervention of the Regia Marina made the sacrifice superfluous. Later on, a new version of the plane, the SM.84 bis was released, but without the expected results. So, in 1942 this new model was used as a torpedo bomber, but soon after removed from service. On September 8, 1943 30 SM.84s were captured by the Germans and mostly destroyed. The SM.79s survived the armistice and were utilized by the German-controlled “Repubblica Sociale Italiana” until the end of the war.


The torpedo utilized by the torpedo bombers were the 450/170/4.5 built by the Whitehead of Fiume and by the Silurificio Italiano di Baia (Naples). Both models had a range of 3,000 meters at 40 knots. The torpedo was usually launched at a speed of 300 km/h and at an altitude of 30 to 40 meters. From this height, the torpedo would enter the water at an angle of about 30° and, after having sunk about 10 meters, would, within 160 meters from the launch area, stabilize on its course and depth.

During the war, several torpedos were modified to fit the need of an aerial launch and they incorporated interesting and innovative solutions.It should be mentioned that during the war Italy built several prototypes utilizing various aircraft, such as the smaller Ca.313 and Ca.314, although too underpowered for the task. Also the Re.2002 was equipped with a torpedo shortened to 2.38 meters, and so was the very new Fiat G.55. These solutions were later implemented after the war

Flying Boats

Italian seaplanes were protagonists, during the last war, of hundred of missions in adverse meteorological conditions with crews scouting the sea in search of the enemy fleet or a raft of some ill-fated pilot. Often, these missions were interrupted by enemy fighters and the airplane was forced to ditch under the blows of a Spitfire, a Fulmar or a Hurricane, which had taken off from Malta or an aircraft carrier. Undoubtedly, the British controlled all the southern sector of the Mediterranean.

Proper homage must be rendered to the men, pilots and airmen, who despite the danger, flew, fought and often died on these airplanes while giving Supermarina vital information on the movements of the Mediterranean Fleet or while recovering some downed companion.

Before WW II, the Italian aeronautical industry had reached an enviable experience in the construction of seaplanes carrying Italy to the conquest of several records of endurance. Unfortunately, the greater importance given to the development of floater-equipped multi-engine planes, cause the neglecting of the great central-boat seaplanes that were the rule in foreign aviation.

At the explosion of the hostilities, Italy found herself with machines like the Cant.Z 501, that even though reliable, were by then of old conception and for which there were no adequate replacements. Other seaplanes like the Cant.Z 506 even though of modern conception were obstinately employed in missions for which they were not designed for, such as naval bombardment. Subsequently the Cant.Z 506 was often employed for tasks above its own limits. The Cant.Z 501 “Seagull”

Designed in 1933, the Cant.Z 501 ” seagull ” was a single-engine high-wing monoplane with wooden structure and four crew members. Elegant and harmonious, it was armed with three 7.7 milimeter machine-guns mounted on single emplacements. Ordnance was constituted by two bombs, one funder each wing, for a total of 640 kg. The Cant.Z 501 was initially classified as a long range maritime reconnaissance plane. In 1941 the Regia Marina had already 26 squadrons. The airplane possessed optimal characteristics of autonomy (2600 km) and excellent nautical qualities, but it was too slow and relatively defensible in case of enemy aerial attack.

The plane was prone to flight incidents especially during violent landing caused by the inexperience of the pilot or fatality. The support structure between the wing of the motor would sometimes collapse causing the propeller, which was placed just above the control pedal, to amputate the legs of the pilots.
During the course of the war, the Cant.Z 501 was employed in multiple roles, from coastal surveillance to antisubmarine warfare to the discovery of mines. Its employment as rescue plane was limited by the on-board, so usually its task would be limited to the discovery of a shipwrecked and the signaling to the naval units. Nevertheless, it was often the protagonist of very difficult landing in order to recover shipwrecked sailors of downed pilots.

The Cant.Z 501 also was employed in the search of obstructions and mines in collaboration with the minesweeper or just shooting at the isolated device from a low altitude causing them to explode. Quite intense was also the support provided the convoys in the attempt of diverting them from mined fields and from the enemy submarines. During one of these actions, in the summer of the 41, a Cant.Z 501 sank the submarine H.M.S. Union, also damaging, in the following weeks, other enemy ships. By the end of the war there had been 454 Cant.Z 501 constructed, only of which 24 remaining. The planes were employed until 1950 and subsequently demolished Cant.Z 506 ” Airone”

The Cant.Z 506 was a seaplane to two floaters with structure in wood and burlap. The original designed originated in the thirties when this plane was the holder of numerous endurance records. With the advent of the war a military version (Cant.Z 506 B) was developed targeting naval scouting and bombardment as one of the primary roles. It had a crew of five and was armed with three 7.7 millimeter machine-guns and a 12.7 millimeter machine-gun mounted on a dorsal turret.

At the explosion of the hostilities there were 57 Cant.Z 506 assigned to naval bombardment squadrons and 28 assigned to naval reconnaissance. at the same time, the Cant.Z 506 started operating from Sicily as naval rescue compleating, in the first month alone, 67 missions and recovering 25 shipwrecked Italian and English sailors. A similar squadron, based in Lero (Aegean Sea) completed 57 search missions, and recovered 37 people. Meantime, the 506s from the naval bombardment units were distinguishing themselves in numerous attack against the enemy convoys, participating to the encounter of Calabria and the battle of Cape Teulada. These were the last missions as a bomber of the 506 which however modern was slower of other bombers of the same generation and had a small ordnance. It was then decided to merge the groups and to transfer the 506 to Naval Aviation as a reconnaissance aircraft.

The crews of the Naval Reconnaissance Groups took off every day sifting the Mediterranean with the longest missions, facing serious sacrifices and much risks; their airplane was generous, equipped of excellent nautical qualities, absorbed blows well but it was always terribly exposed to enemy fighters. Losses were high due to the nature of the missions which carried the airplane in solitary missions near fortified naval bases or large naval. At the end of the war of the 315 Cant 506 constructed only 36 remained and were employed until 1959. The only Cant 506 B conserved to the days can be seen at the Museum of the Aeronautics of Vigna di Valle, near Rome (Italy).

CMASA RS.14 Was designed in 1937 in order to provide for the specific need of marine reconnaissance. It was planned as a replacement of the Cant.Z501 and was meant to operate side by side with the Cant.Z 506. The RS.14 was a twin-engine seaplane with two floaters with an entirely metallic structure. It was armed with three 7,7mm Breda-Safat machine-guns and a dorsal 12.7 millimeter gun. A development phase and continues failure of the support from the wings to the floaters caused several delays to the actual commissioning. Only between the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, the first RS.14 were delivered to the operating units of Augusta and Marsala in Sicily. These airplanes participated to the naval battle of Mid-August and subsequently they were employed for tasks of marine reconnaissance and escort to t convoys. In exceptional cases, the RS.14 carried out rescue missions which were uncharacteristic to the plane due to difficulties in landing in open sea.

Although the RS.14 was an airplane quite different from previous models, it ended up being integrate with the Cant.Z 501 as a convoys escort and with the Cant.Z 506 as a reconnaissance plane. (it was more maneuverable but with lesser range). In the first months of 1943 there were approximately 50 operating RS.14. Many were damaged to evoid falling into in enemy hand during the invasion of the Sicily. The survivors, after the armistice of the September 8, continued flying from their bases in Sardinia until the end of the war. Only 9 RS.14, later demolished in 1950, survived to the war.

Naval Aviation

Dalla metà degli anni venti si cominciò a sentire l’esigenza di istallare su tutte le maggiori unità della Regia Marina delle catapulte che permettessero il lancio degli aerei con la nave in moto, anche in presenza di onde di altezza tale da non permettere il decollo dalla superficie del mare. Nel contempo la catapulta cominciava ad uscire dalla sua fase sperimentale e venivano prodotti i primi esemplari operativi. Si trattava in genere di strutture a traliccio, brandeggiabili o fisse, sulle quali scorreva un carrello di lancio al quale era fissato l’aereo, generalmente un idrovolante, il carrello era accelerato mediante l’immissione di aria compressa all’interno di appositi cilindri di espansione. L’effetto combinato della velocità del carrello e del vento contrario prodotto dall’avanzamento della nave permettevano all’aereo di decollare.Dopo una serie di prove con vari velivoli (Macchi M18, Piaggio P6 ter, Cant.25 ed altri), verso la seconda metà degli anni trenta si era orientati verso un idrovolante, collaudato nel 34, ed ormai prodotto in serie; si trattava del IMAM RO 43, biplano biposto a galleggiante centrale dotato di non brillanti doti marine ma capace di raggiungere i 300 km/h e i 1000 km di autonomia.

Allo scoppio delle ostilità, dunque l’Italia disponeva di un sol tipo di caccia imbarcato, erano infatti pronti all’impiego sulle varie unità della Regia Marina ben 42 idrovolanti Ro 43. Nonostante successive prove per l’impiego di un bimotore catapultabile da destinare alle corazzate classe “Littorio”, l’incalzare degli eventi bellici costrinse il Ro 43 ad un impegno durissimo che mise a nudo alcune sue deficienze strutturali e rese necessaria la costruzione di una 2° serie che portò il numero totale degli esemplari prodotti a 194.

A guerra ormai inoltrata, ci si rese conto delle enormi limitazioni che l’uso di questo tipo di aereo comportava. Il suo impiego si limitava esclusivamente all’esplorazione ed all’osservazione del tiro, essendo infatti sprovvisto di un seppur minimo carico bellico, non era possibile impiegarlo in alcuna azione di attacco contro il naviglio nemico, inoltre l’idrovolante a missione conclusa doveva ammarare, condizioni meteomarine permettendo, nelle vicinanze della nave ed essere recuperato, a nave ferma, mediate apposite gru. La complessità di queste operazioni faceva sì che si preferisse far rientrare gli aerei in un idroscalo costiero con successivo reimbarco con la nave in porto, ciò praticamente consentiva, per ogni singola navigazione, l’utilizzo di ogni velivolo imbarcato per un’unica missione.
Quando, dopo la scontro di Capo Matapan, l’assenza di navi portaerei comincio ad incidere pesantemente sulle sorti della Squadra in mare aperto, si cerco di correre ai ripari affiancando all’idro Ro 43 un caccia terrestre catapultabile. La scelta cadde sul Reggiane Re 2000, dotato di buona velocità (530 km/h) e discreta autonomia.

Dopo alcune prove di catapultamento sulla nave portaidrovolanti “G. Miraglia”, alla fine del 42 una serie di sei Re2000 opportunamente modificati denominati Re 2000 “Catapultabile” comincio ad essere imbarcata sulle corazzate classe “Littorio”.
Al 8 Settembre 1943, data dell’armistizio, i Ro 43 imbarcati erano 19 mentre 20 erano in forza alle Squadriglie Forze Navali, mentre i Re 2000 “Catapultabile” erano 6, la corazzata Roma ne aveva a bordo due, la Vittorio Veneto e l’Italia (ex Littorio) uno ciascuna.

A compendio di questa breve descrizione sugli aerei italiani imbarcati durante la II G.M. va ricordato il seppur tardivo tentativo di riparare alla mancanza di protezione aerea in alto mare prevedendo la realizzazione della nave portaerei “Aquila”, che la fine delle ostilità colse in fase di avanzata realizzazione nel porto di Genova. La nave doveva imbarcare circa 51 caccia tipo Reggiane Re 2001 modificati per il decollo e l’atterraggio sul ponte di volo.