Along with the Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79, the CANT Z.1007 Alcione series of bombers served as the backbone of the Regia Aeronautica’s conventional and torpedo strike forces in World War II. Under the aegis of the firm of CANT, Ingeniere Filippo Zappata began design studies of the CANT Z.1007 and Z.1011 in 1935: both were powered by 625kW Isotta-Fraschmi Asso XI RC.15 engines, for which the former had three and the latter two. The relatively low power ratings of this engine forced the Regia Aeronautica to order the trimotor CANT Z.1007 for production, the first prototype flying in March 1937. The aircraft was constructed entirely of wood, save for the usual metal ancillaries and nacelle cladding. The first examples had two-bladed wooden propellers, but all later versions adopted the three-bladed metal Alfa Romeo types. In 1938, as a means to better load and performance, the CANT Z.1007bis entered production, having three 745kW Piaggio B.XIbis RC.40 radial engines as standard. The CANT Z.1007bis was the major production model, and featured revised armament, engine cowlings and dimensions. A single fin and rudder was used on the Z. 1007 Serie I-III, with a twin fin-rudder format being adopted on the Z.1007 Serie IV-IX subtypes.
Battle of Britain
The Z.1007 first saw action during the Battle of Britain in September 1940. Regia Aereonautica sent five Z.1007Bis to Belgium as part of the Corpo Aereo Italiano, with almost 200 other bombers and fighters. They were considered the best of all the Italian bombers, but since there were so few, they were used mainly for strategic reconnaissance. After several months of operations and near the end of Italian operations over Britain, one Z.1007 was lost to an accident after having survived many reconnaissance missions over Britain.
The Z.1007 also participated in the Italian invasion of Greece in October of 1940. The Z.1007 participated in the bombing campaign over Malta and in the campaigns in North Africa and on the Eastern Front. Although fast, these bombers were vulnerable when hit and prone to catch fire.
The service saw 47 Wing equipped with some of the first bombers at Ghedi. Only four were in service at 10 June 1940. The production was slow with 15 machines made every month at best. The first 34 machines, Cant Z.1007Asso were used just as trainers and later as weather recognisers. In 1943 there were still 16 available. A transformation with Delta engines was made to improve economical congestion but applied to only one machine. With the time the aircraft was used with many Wings like 9th and substituted the SM.79 and BR.20 as possible with so few available.
Cant Z.1007 Asso substituted SM.81s in 16 Wing, 47 Wing had Z.1007Bis but the transformation gave the possibility to reach only in August the first operational readiness, when around 30 machines were sent in Sicily to attack Malta. Over Greece operated 16°, 12°, 35°, and 47° Wings, with some losses, among them one made by a PZL.24 manned by Ltn. Mitraxialexis. 172° squadriglia was sent on Belgium to fight UK. It had only five machines, while BR.20s were around 80 on two wings.
Used as high altitude reconnaissance machines, they had no losses, except one lost just at the end of the campaign. 175 reconnaissance squadron, and later 176th were used in Africa. The destroyer HMS Juno was destroyed by an explosion caused by a Z.1007 bombing, in 1941. 35 Wing was sent over Africa with the bombing role. The bad weather conditions made difficult to hold in service this wooden aircraft, but still the machine was used until 1943.
In 1942 Cant Z.1007s were used by four groups and two wings during Mediterranean battles, both in anti-ship role and above all, against Malta, often escorted by Italian and German fighters
In November 1942 there were eight groups equipped with Z.1007s but only 75 machines, with just 39 efficient out of 150 bomber of all types.
Again, the Allies
Fighting against Allied invasion had losses, even flying only at night, especially by Bristol Beaufighters, and the same could be said over Malta.
In June 1943 was made a Raggruppamento with almost all the Z.1007s at Perugia, with only 30 machines, dropped to 19 with 13 serviceable in September. At the Armistice there were around 72 machines, around 40 of them escaped to South Italy. They were used as fast transports, and even was proposed by ICAF to use them as bombers in the Pacific theatre.
Post WWII problems and performances
The worst day for Z.1007s was 14 May 1944, when 88° Gruppo sent 12 Z.1007s with supplies to Tito’s forces. Five were shot down and two damaged by German fighters in a dramatic air battle, 26 Italian aviators were killed. From that day the employ was authorized only at night until the end of the German fighter force.
Z.1007ter was the best version, It should have been proposed already with Alfa 135 engines, 1,400 hp. Dropped this machines because the Cant Z.1018 and the unreliability of that engine, there was another -ter proposal with P.XI engines, 1,150 hp, and the production was started in 1942, with a total of around 150 machines. The test pilots were better impressed by this machine rather than Z.1018, faster but with less power (because the layout with only two P.XII engines), while the range was improved from 2,000 to 2,250 km with 2,460 kg fuel and 900 kg bombs. So, While Z.1018 had 2,700 hp, already Z.1007Bis had 3,000 (2,610 at take off) and Z.1007ter 3,450. Despite this, the Z.1018 was so clean with only two engines, that was capable with the same weight to obtain 70 and 34 km/h more.
Performances were improved with a max speed of 490 km/h at 6,150 m instead of 456 at 4,600 m. Climbing to 3,000 m in 6 min 28 sec, and 5,000 m in 10 min 44 sec (Z.1007 bis in 12 min 42 sec, Z.1007 Asso in 14 min 34 sec). Armament and armour were also improved. Dorsal turret was a Breda model, flank weapons were replaced with 12,7 mm. Ceiling finally raised to 9,000 m instead of 8,400 m.
Z.1007s were used mainly as night bombers and reconnaissance, and they were in service only during the war, so they had much less press than SM.79s and BR.20s. They were used also as long range reconnaissance, with excellent results. Some, at least 20 were equipped with an auxiliary tank that gave 1,000 km extra endurance. Some were adapted for Bengala launches when day missions were too dangerous. One of the best set for photo missions had six robot machines in a ventral gondola plus another in the fuselage. The long range and the ceiling helped these aircraft to obtain good results until the Spitfires appeared. In every case, they were also the first victims of P-40 Tomahawks (over Alexandria).
Another development was the Z.1015, it was proposed as record version of the Z.1007 already in 1938 but it was not considered until 1942, when substituted Alfa 135 with Piaggio P.XII engines. It had 563 km/h of speed, thanks to a total of over 4,000 hp installed. It was tested successfully as torpedo aircraft, but it was not used operationally and not passed in production.
The Z.1007ter, which had more powerful engines, entered service in 1942. By the time of the Allied invasion of Sicily, few were still flying. The remainder went on to fight with the Italian Social Republic, Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force and the Luftwaffe.