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.