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.