Savoia-Marchetti SM.79

Even if SM.79s were considered overall to be quite sturdy and well-developed aircraft, they had their share of misfortune.

In Spain, SM.79 MM.28-16 (with a total crew of 17) was destroyed in the air on 12 April 1938, when one of its bombs detonated in the bomb bay. MM.28-25 (again with a crew of 17) was lost when another SM.79 damaged by anti-aircraft guns collided with it on 23 March. A further SM.79, MM.28-16 was damaged by an anti-aircraft shell, and landed with dead and wounded on-board (4 January 1939). On 30 June 1939 two of the aircraft, 13-6 and 13-7, both carrying a full fuel load, collided and crashed, with the entire crew of nine killed on impact.

At the beginning of World war II, on 13 June 1940, six Sparvieros of 9th Wing bombed Ghisonaccia airfield, but one was shot down by anti-aircraft guns and became the first Sparviero downed in World War II.

The 9th Stormo continued to suffer heavy losses in Africa. Initially used to harass light forces operating in the desert, the Sparvieros were subsequently sent against the British advanced columns in Operation Compass. On 16 December 1940, six Sparvieros were sent over As Sallum to counter enemy armoured units, but before they could reach their target, three of the lead section were shot down with the loss of 16 men, including Commander Mario Aramu. The wing was put out of action and the personnel were sent back to Italy aboard the RM Città di Messina, but on 14 January 1941 the ship was sunk by submarine HMS Regent, with the loss of 432 men, including 53 members of the 9th. The wing was later re-formed with Z.1007s.

A major safety issue in the operation of the SM.79 was the difference between the calculated and effective range figures, which led to several mishaps. Two accidents highlight the deficiencies in range of the Sparvieros.

One such incident befell MM.23881 of the 278th, which took off at 1725 hours on 21 April 1941, captained by Oscar Cimolini, with the intention of searching for enemy shipping near Crete. The SM.79 carried out an attack at around 20:00 hours, and then began the trip back to its base near Benghazi. The crew became disoriented and unable to locate their exact position, missing their airfield in bad weather conditions. Their radio was broken and they were unable to communicate. They were also unaware that they had reached the African coast. The fuel supply was exhausted at around 23:00, and the aircraft made a forced landing some 500 km (310 mi) away from its base. Most of the crew of six had suffered some injuries, but one crew member, Romanini, was able to leave to search for help. He walked for over 90 km (60 mi) in the desert, and finally was overcome and died only a few kilometres from a road, where his remains were found in 1960. Subsequent searches led to the discovery of the SM.79 and the remains of the rest of the crew.

Another example was the ferry flight of 27th Gruppo. This unit was transferred from Alghero to North Africa. The 16 Sparvieros took off at 11:50 of 4 April 1941, but one of the eight aircraft of the 18th Squadriglia in the first wave had an accident and crashed on the airport strip. The other eight from 52nd Squadriglia could only take off 40 minutes later, while the first seven circled over the airfield. The 15 Sparvieros flew together until reaching Misurata, but the 18th squadriglia had flown for much longer and was short of fuel. Subsequently, its SM.79s crashed one after the other with only two landing safely. At least two were completely destroyed, and three damaged. On that day, on a simple ferry flight of 1,100 km, the 18th lost five Sparvieros and at least one crew, with many wounded. The flight of 52nd Sq lasted for 4 hours and 45 mins but 18th Sq flew for 5h and 15 mins, without any payload, at an average speed of only 210 km/h.

9–11 July 1940: Battle of Calabria, one SM.79 (38th Gruppo) was downed by a Blackburn Skua of HMS Ark Royal. On 11 July, another SM.79 (90th Gruppo) was downed by a Gloster Sea Gladiator of HMS Eagle.

1 August 1940: an SM.79 was shot down by a Skua from Ark Royal. This was General Cagna’s aircraft.

2 September, Operation Hats: the new Fairey Fulmar fighters based on HMS Illustrious downed a 41 Stormo SM.79.

4 September: another SM.79 (34th Gruppo) was downed by Fulmars.

12–14 October 1940, Operation MW 2: two SM.79 (36th Stormo) were downed by Fulmars from Illustrious.

10 January 1941, Battle of Taranto: a single Fulmar from Illustrious downed two SM.79s of 30th Stormo.

20–22 April 1941: one SM.79 (278th Squadriglia, torpedo unit) was shot down on the 21st, another, from 34 Gruppo was shot down the next day, by Fulmars from HMS Formidable

8 May 1941, Operation Tiger: two SM.79s (38thGruppo) were downed by the Ark Royal’s Fulmars

21–25 July 1941, Operation Substance: 23 July, one SM.79 (38th) and two (283rd) torpedo bombers and on the 25th, one SM.79 (89th Gruppo) were shot down, all by Fulmars from Ark Royal.

12–17 June 1942, Operation Harpoon: Fulmars and Sea Hurricanes downed four SM.79s of 36th Stormo (torpedo-bombers) on 14 June. On 15 June another SM.79 (52nd Gruppo) was shot down.

10–15 August 1942, Operation Pedestal: two SM.79s (109th and 132nd Gruppo) were downed on 12 August.

The total number of reconnaissance, bomber and torpedo bombers downed in these two years by naval fighters was, not counting aircraft heavily damaged and eventually lost, 24 aircraft, 2% of total production.




A galley which Ottoman Sultans used at inshore waters. Built at the end of the 16th century. Length: 40 m; Width: 5.70 m. It is reportedly the only original galley in the world. (Maritime Museum, Istanbul).

On August 14, 1571, a gigantic ship’s pennant of silk damask passed through the congested streets of Naples. Embroidered to the pope’s commission, it was the standard of Christendom, to fly from the tallest mast in the fleet of the Holy League as it sailed into battle. The pope’s banner with a huge golden figure of Christ nailed to the cross loomed over the stocky Spanish soldiers who carried it in procession from the steps of the Church of Santa Clara. As the blue flag moved through the Neapolitan crowds, an unnatural stillness gripped all who watched it go by. An hour before, inside the church, the assembled nobles, officers, monks, and priests had stood silent and unmoving, all their eyes on the admiral of the Holy League, Don John of Austria. Arrayed in cloth of gold, scarlet satin, and white velvet, the young admiral knelt before the altar as the pope’s representative, Cardinal Granvelle, handed him his staff of office and pointed to the great banner behind him. “Take these emblems,” the cardinal exhorted, “of the Word made flesh, these symbols of the true faith, and may they give thee a glorious victory over our impious enemy and by thy hand may his pride be laid low.”

Below the cross of Christ were the emblems of the king of Spain and of the Holy Father, Pope Pius V, with the badge of the Republic of Venice, all linked by a great golden chain, symbolizing the power of faith that bound them together. From that chain, in slightly smaller scale, hung the pendant crest of Don John. The emblems marked a brief moment of unity. For the first time in more than a century, Christendom had combined in force to do battle with the power of “Islam.” The war was sanctified, waged under the protection of the golden figure of Christ. The pope had declared that those who fought in this struggle were to be granted the same plenary indulgences as earlier Crusaders fighting to secure the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. All who died in the shadow of this battle flag would be spared the worst rigors of purgatory.

Eight hundred miles to the east a similar, if less public, ceremony had already taken place. From the treasury of the imperial palace in Constantinople, a bulky bundle wrapped in silk had been brought from Sultan Selim II to Ali Pasha, admiral of the Ottoman fleet. It also contained a flag, but one colored a vivid green instead of the lambent Christian blue. Even larger than the banner that Pope Pius V had entrusted to his commander, this was one of the most potent emblems of Islam. Upon its surface the ninety-nine names and attributes of God had been embroidered in gold. It was reputed that these were repeated no less than 28,900 times. The giant Kufic characters were surrounded and interlaced with endless reiteration of those same names, in a smaller script, so that from a distance the whole surface of the pennant appeared a shimmering network of golden filigree.

The two commanders were opposites—in rank, status, and experience of life. Don John was the acknowledged natural brother of the king of Spain, Philip II, and the by-blow from a few months Emperor Charles V had spent with a young widow called Barbara Blomberg in the imperial city of Regensburg. Don John had come to Naples from fighting a savage war in the mountains of southern Spain, to command the largest fleet ever assembled by Christian Europe. He had never fought at sea before. By contrast, Ali, the Kapudan Pasha of the Ottoman fleet, was a veteran of galley warfare, feared throughout the Aegean and into the far west of the Mediterranean. His origins were more humble, as the son of a muezzin, a mosque servant who called the faithful to prayer. But the two leaders, for all their differences, had much in common. They were like twin paladins from an epic poem: yearning for battle, chivalrous, and honorable. Fate decreed divergent destinies for them. One would die with a musket ball through the skull, his head then hacked off and stuck on the point of a pike. The other would return in triumph, honored and feted, his victory celebrated with paintings, engravings, poems, coins and medals, essays and learned disquisitions through more than four centuries.

Stories of their encounter abound, some closely following facts, others embellished to make a better tale. Quite where history ends and legends begin is still unsure. The battle they fought in the Gulf of Lepanto has a double character: the event itself and its burgeoning afterlife. This afterlife, the mythic Lepanto, came to stand as a synecdoche for the contest between the Islamic and the Christian worlds. In deciphering the meaning of Lepanto, we may find a point of entry into those deeper mysteries. The greater struggle had deep roots. For almost a thousand years the Christian world had felt threatened by the power in the East. Sometimes, with the Crusades in the Levant, for example, in Sicily and in Spain, Christian Europe had taken war to the enemy. Over the centuries a brooding sense of Muslim threat came to mesmerize Christendom. By the sixteenth century conflict was accepted as the natural and inevitable relationship between East and West. Like a child’s seesaw, the rise of the East required the fall of the West. In 1571, the two adversaries sat roughly in balance.

Scholars reinforced a common belief in the danger and evil of “Islam.” The Muslims, according to the Venerable Bede, who wrote in the eighth century, were descended from Hagar, the prophet Abraham’s concubine. Many Muslims believed that she and her son, Ishmael, lay buried under the Kaaba, the great black stone in Mecca, which was the focal point of the Islamic faith. Christians, however, were descended from Abraham’s lawful offspring, Isaac. Worse still than the stain of bastardy, an even darker curse hung over the people of the East. Christians inferred that while all men traced their line back to Adam and Eve, the Muslims were the lineal descendants of Cain, thrust from the presence of God for murdering his brother Abel. For his crime, Cain bemoaned that he would “be a fugitive and a wanderer upon earth … and everyone who finds me will slay me.” They had been forced to dwell “east of Eden.” Between the children of Cain and the other descendants of Adam, there could be only mutual slaughter and revenge for the primordial crime of fratricide. So this struggle grew from a long tradition of atavistic hatred between the peoples of the West and East.

What this meant in practice it is hard to say. Naturally, Christians in battle routinely insulted their enemies as the “sons of Cain,” as “misbegotten,” or “Antichrist.” Muslims decried their enemies with equal vehemence. Conflict between East and West seemed permanent, inevitable, preordained, as much for the Christians as for the Muslims. Yet it did not destroy the skein of mutual economic and political interests that dominated the Mediterranean and the Balkans, the border and boundary between the two worlds. Trade and commercial interests were constantly in play, especially in the case of Venice and the other city-states of the Adriatic, which preferred to negotiate with Muslim power rather than fight it.

The Christian powers in the Mediterranean had much to fear from an Ottoman Empire intent on expansion. The desire for a great victory went beyond political calculations, and not only for the pope, the architect of the grand alliance. After the capture of Constantinople in 1453, many Christians were convinced that the triumphant advance of Islam could only be part of God’s plan. The Islamic scourge was a means to chasten mankind to a better sense of its faults and flaws. Were Christians being punished for the sins of declining faith and, latterly, schism? For more than a century Christian Europe had resisted the Islamic onslaught, but had won few decisive victories. What better sign of renewed divine favor could there be than a great and annihilating victory over the forces of darkness?

Victory was also much in the minds of Sultan Selim II and his advisers in Constantinople. Although the armies of “Islam” had continued to press forward against the infidel, the pace of advance had slowed. Selim’s grandfather and namesake had brought vast territories in Egypt, Arabia, and the Levant into the Ottoman domain. His father, Suleiman the Lawgiver, had captured the fortress island of Rhodes, Belgrade, and Budapest, and held the Hungarian plain almost to the walls of Vienna. Suleiman had destroyed the Kingdom of Hungary in a single day on the battlefield of Mohacs in 1526. Yet Suleiman too had his setbacks. He twice failed to capture Vienna—in 1529 and 1566—and the island of Malta had withstood all the Turkish efforts at storm and siege. In the Mediterranean, the great naval battle in 1538 at Prevesa, just off the Greek mainland north of the Gulf of Lepanto, produced no decisive result.

The Ottoman state was built upon a theory of infinite expansion, and annual war to advance its frontiers. Without conquest it would decay. Moreover, all good Muslims were duty bound to extend the Domain of Peace, and that burden weighed heaviest upon the sultan. Selim II had committed himself to advance the boundaries of righteousness by seizing the island of Cyprus, which was under the rule of Venice. He used the pretext that privateers had sailed from the island to harry his shipping and the coastal towns of Anatolia. By late 1570, it seemed likely that the island would fall to his armies. Even so, he desired much more than the capture of an island. The sultan demanded a dramatic victory from his commanders, another Mohacs. Thus, his admiral, Ali Pasha, knew that he had to achieve the complete destruction of the Christian fleet, and return laden with trophies, slaves, and booty.

The two adversaries gathered their forces from far distant points in the Mediterranean. Throughout the summer of 1571, little clusters of ships moved toward the designated meeting points: Messina for the Christians commanded by Don John, the Aegean for the sultan’s war fleet under Ali Pasha. They were galleys, a type of ship built for the specific conditions of the Mediterranean. Galley warfare occupied its own universe, utterly different from battles fought between the sailing ships of the Atlantic. Long, sitting low on the water, frail by comparison with their solid northern counterparts, war galleys appeared to be able to move regardless of the force or direction of the wind. Although these slender craft carried two or three large triangular sails, their main motive power was banks of oars that extended out forty feet or more from either side of the ship, both banks pulling in unison so that the boat moved forward swiftly in what seemed a series of rhythmic spasms. In their element, with a calm sea and a following wind, they resembled gigantic water beetles skittering on their long legs over the surface of the water. Although the galleys were faster under sail than when they depended on their oars alone, their power of maneuver came from the rowers. It meant that a galley never risked being blown ashore onto a rocky coast, which was a constant danger for the clumsy deep-hulled merchant sailing ships. A galley could move almost as fast backward as it did forward and, with its shallow draft, could negotiate shoals that would strand other sailing vessels.

Over the centuries galleys had developed many forms, some designed to carry cargo, but by the mid–sixteenth century they were evolving for a single purpose: war. The Mediterranean war galley had been adapted over many generations, from the Greek triremes that destroyed the Persian fleet at the battle of Salamis, almost two thousand years before. After 1500, some galleys acquired superstructures at bow and stern, to house guns and fighting men. But the essence of the galley remained the same. As in classical times, galleys were merely a floating platform from which men could board and overcome the crews of other ships, an insubstantial shell for carrying the oarsmen and men-at-arms. Originally, as in the rowing skiffs and caïques to be found in every Mediterranean port, each man had pulled his own oar, but this became a costly option since oars had to be made from expensive well-seasoned timber, much of it imported from northern Europe. From the mid–sixteenth century a new style of rowing appeared that reduced the number of oars. Three or four men, sometimes as many as five, would sit side by side on benches, all pulling in unison on a single massive sweep. It was easy thereafter to add more men to increase the force behind the oars.

The power of a war galley lay in its personnel. Aboard each one would be a number of well-equipped professional fighting men, a battle crew. On Muslim and Venetian ships, many among the rowing crew were also armed and would join the melee. Of the Venetian oarsmen, who were volunteers, those on the end of each bench had a sword and short pike close at hand, while the second man had a bow and a quiver of arrows. As the ships closed, they would leave their oars to the third man and gather, ready to swarm across onto the deck of their victim. No merchant vessel loaded with cargo could hope to outrun a galley pursuing at full speed. Most tried, because the alternative was dire. The galley attack resembled that of a hawk swooping to snatch its prey. The sharp beak of the galley would come closer and closer to the fleeing ship, so close that the crew of the doomed vessel could see its nemesis preparing to board. At that point, many ships yielded; any that continued to run would be showered with arrows or musket fire and the crew killed. For reasons of economy the great bow guns of the attacking galley were rarely used.

Galleys were raptors, living off weaker and less well armed vessels.

Like the carnivorous dinosaur the war galley dominated its environment. But like the dinosaur, it grew progressively larger and more powerful to compete with its own kind until, like the dinosaur, it became increasingly immobile. The tactical power of the Mediterranean war galley, with the teeth and jaws of Tyrannosaurus Rex, depended on a continuous supply of flesh and blood.

Unless a galley could keep its rowing benches filled it could not survive. Much of the ceaseless raiding and predation was to seize not cargo but manpower. When a Muslim vessel took a Christian ship, all non-Muslims aboard would be immediately enslaved. Often the crew and any passengers would be the most valued prize. Some could be ransomed, and others sold for a good profit in the markets of North Africa or Constantinople.

If a Christian galley intercepted a Muslim ship, exactly the same transactions would take place. All non-Christians would be made prisoner and put to work at the oars. But Spanish, French, and Venetian ships preyed as frequently on the ships of other Christian nations. There were many excuses that would permit a war galley to seize a merchant vessel. They might search a Christian ship for “contraband,” claiming that the crew was trading with an enemy. The Knights of St. John, sailing from their fortress island of Malta, were feared by all, Christian and Muslim alike. If they stopped a Christian ship in eastern waters, they would examine the cargo minutely for anything that could be termed illicit. When lacking anything more obvious, they were in the habit of uncovering “Jewish clothing” during a search, indicating that the ship was trading with the Jewish population of Muslim ports. This justified the expropriation of the whole cargo, and the enslavement of the crew.



Battle of Lepanto.

In the curious parallelism that surrounds the events of 1571, at that moment the Ottoman commander, Ali Pasha, was also holding a council of war with his captains, and their opinions were divided in a roughly similar manner. Hassan Pasha, a bey of Algiers, spoke for the overwhelming majority. He acknowledged that the scouts had told them that this was the largest fleet they had ever seen. But he recalled how at Prevesa (in 1538) and at the island of Jerbi, off Tripoli (in 1560), the infidels had faded under Turkish attack. He believed that they were cowards, without spirit, and would flee here, as they had done in the past. The opposite view was presented by Hamet Bey, who suggested it would be a mistake to underestimate the power or unity of the Christians, and that Don John, although young and inexperienced, had proved himself in the war against the Moriscos (Muslims forcibly converted to Christianity) in the Alpujarras mountain range of southern Spain. The Ottoman fleet had everything to gain by playing a waiting game, under the protection of the guns of the Lepanto fortress.

Ali Pasha himself favored an immediate attack, and his resolve was hardened by the long-awaited orders from the sultan. Selim ordered the fleet to capture the Christian ships and to bring them immediately as trophies of war to line the waters of the Golden Horn, below his palace of the New Seraglio in. The order admitted no dissent, and all doubters were silenced Constantinople. The council came to a precipitate end, and the captains returned to their ships to prepare for battle. The efficient Ottoman commissary quickly stocked the hundreds of ships with food and water, and with large quantities of powder and shot, while Ali summoned more troops from neighboring garrisons. He speedily added 10,000 janissaries and 4,000 other troops to his fighting crews.

Meanwhile, the fleet of the Holy League moved south. By October 3, it was off Prevesa, but its advance was halted by high seas and adverse winds from the south. October 4 and 5 were spent battened down, riding out the storm. While the fleet was at anchor, a small vessel heading north from the island of Crete to Venice brought terrible and unexpected news.

Every Venetian in the fleet knew that the Ottomans were besieging the town of Famagusta in Cyprus. The island’s capital, Nicosia, had fallen a few months after the invasion of July 1570. Twenty thousand inhabitants had been slaughtered when the Turkish troops broke into the city, and the rest of the islanders submitted to avoid the same fate. Only the small port city of Famagusta refused to surrender and held out in the hope of relief from the sea. Within hours of the fall of Nicosia, Turkish horsemen were riding around the walls of Famagusta, taunting the inhabitants with the heads of the leading citizens of Nicosia impaled on their lance points. However, Marcantonio Bragadino, the governor in Famagusta, had prepared his command to withstand a long siege and it was clear that the city would resist, despite the frightful example of Nicosia’s fate. By the early spring of 1571 more than 100,000 Turks had gathered around Famagusta. It seemed that it could not hold out for long. But for four months the 4,000 defenders beat back every assault until attacks in July 1571 breached the walls in six places, and the troops in the garrison were reduced to their last barrels of gunpowder. Faced with certain defeat, Bragadino sought an honorable surrender. The terms agreed on August 1 with the Ottoman commander, Lala Mustafa, were unusually favorable: the Venetians secured protection for the remaining citizens, while the garrison would be evacuated to the Venetian island of Crete.

The Turks had lost more than 50,000 men in the capture of Nicosia and Famagusta. The terms granted were remarkable, especially after the massacres at Nicosia. On August 4, Lala Mustafa summoned Bragadino and his staff to his camp. The Venetian commander, wearing the purple robe of a senator, rode out from Famagusta under an ornate parasol (against the searing heat) at the head of his officers and with a bodyguard of forty harquebusiers. He was, according to the records, “serene … without fear or pride.” At the meeting, the Ottoman commander accused him of breaching the agreement for the city’s surrender and demanded hostages. Bragadino responded that this did not form part of the terms. Then, at a prearranged signal, janissaries rushed into the tent and overpowered the Venetians. Outside, the senator’s escort had already been disarmed.

The subsequent events were played out for the benefit of the Ottoman army gathered in a huge mass around Lala Mustafa’s encampment. It seems unlikely that Bragadino expected to survive the surrender, or to see the treaty honored. The Ottomans usually repaid resistance with death, and to allow the defenders to retire with their arms in hand and flags flying was almost without parallel. On previous occasions the Ottomans had invariably slaughtered or enslaved the bulk of their captives, sparing only a few for ransom, or to take the news back to their enemies. After the battle of Mohacs, Sultan Suleiman had “sat on a golden throne” while his soldiers decapitated thousands of prisoners. The Venetians were playing a grim but well-understood role in a gory traditional drama. The performance was designed to be exemplary, and to satisfy the sultan in Constantinople that the long and costly siege had not been in vain. Bragadino’s officers and staff were beheaded in front of him, so that a rivulet of blood flowed across the hard dry ground and washed over his feet.

This was the news brought to the fleet of the Holy League waiting fogbound between the islands of Cephalonia and Ithaca. It stilled any remaining doubts about the need for a battle, which would now, additionally, revenge the death of Bragadino and repay his humiliation many times over. As soon as the fog lifted sufficiently for the fleet to move safely, in the early hours of Sunday, October 7, the whole armada advanced into the open sea, in the mouth of the Gulf of Patras, and some forty miles from the entrance to the well-protected harbor of Lepanto. With the mainland coast in sight, Don John sent two fast ships forward down the gulf to discover if the Ottoman fleet was still at anchor. If it was, it would not slip past the mass of Christian ships rowing down the narrowing gulf toward the straits before Lepanto.

To the north, as the Christian galleys pushed into a stiff breeze, lay the high mountains of Acarnia; to the south, the lowlands of the Morea. The winds came off the high ground, veering back and forth, so the sails on the galleasses could not be used, and the whole fleet slowed to the rowing pace of these ungainly vessels. Shortly after dawn the fleet halted, and moved into the battle formations designated by Don John. He also gave orders that the rams, or spurs, mounted on the prow of each war galley should be cut away. These stout wooden structures were designed to hook into the side of an enemy ship, providing a platform along which boarders could advance. But the spur made it difficult to maneuver the bow guns, which alone had the capacity to cripple an enemy vessel. Don John’s strategy was not to capture the Ottoman fleet but to destroy it. He intended to use his heavy guns to smash the lighter hulls of the Ottoman vessels, boarding where necessary, but first sending as many ships and crews as possible to the bottom of the sea. But the order gave a deeper message to his men: cutting away the spurs was equivalent to throwing away the scabbard of his sword, signifying that it would not again be sheathed unbloodied.

No one had any prior experience of marshaling so large a fleet into battle. Moreover the six galleasses were new and wholly untried weapons. The forthcoming conflict would be like no other at sea, but Don John planned to fight in the open waters of the Gulf of Patras much as he would have fought a cavalry battle on land. However, the scale was vast: the fleet extended in a line for almost four miles end to end. Don John divided the hundreds of galleys into four divisions: the center, which he oversaw in person; two wings; and behind this line the reserve, commanded by a trusted Spaniard, and intended to staunch any breach made by the enemy. The battle tactics were simple: in front would be the six galleasses, and the galleys of the Holy League would row forward at a steadily increasing pace behind them. Once the firefight began, the rowing rate would rise until the galleys covered the last few hundred yards in less than a minute, until they smashed into the enemy, also advancing at full speed. Then all semblance of strategy would vanish in the melee of hand-to-hand fighting. The great danger was that the fast and maneuverable Ottoman galleys would break through the line and swarm around the Christian ships on every side, rather in the way that on land Turkish horsemen would pull down armored Christian knights by weight of numbers.

Although he had never fought at sea, Don John knew his enemy. The war in the Alpujarras, from house to house, from village to village, had taught him that even Muslim peasants would die rather than yield or retreat. The lesson of innumerable galley battles was that once the hardy Muslim fighters gained a foothold on the opponent’s decks, then the chances of survival were small. As a last act before the fray, he ordered that all his ships should be rigged with boarding nets, to act as a fence all along the sides above the rowing decks. The nets would not stop boarders, but they would slow them down, giving the defending crew time to rally. The only effective protection against the rush of the janissaries was firepower. On the Real he trained a force of 300 men, armed with the heavy Spanish harquebuses and muskets, to fire in volley if the enemy did succeed in boarding. But ultimately Don John could not control the flow of the fight on his ships. Success would depend on the spirit and morale of his men. In the early morning light, in a fast small fregata he traversed the line of stationary ships back and forth, shouting encouragement to the crews and soldiers, telling them that God was with them, and reminding them of the fate of Bragadino, for whom they would wreak revenge upon the bodies of their enemy. Cheers rose as he passed each ship. He had ordered that every Christian convict oarsman should be freed so that they could join the Crusade, while Muslim rowers were double-chained, by both hand and foot, to the oars.

Only the best of his soldiers were equal to the Ottomans, and the advantage lay with Ali Pasha, with fresh troops rested, well fed, and eager for battle. Don John’s victory at Lepanto was due to the supremacy of the gun. He had placed the six galleasses in front of his line at intervals, confident that their firepower would disrupt the Ottoman line of battle. As well as the heavy guns, he crammed them full of marksmen with muskets. Later pictures of the battle show the ships bristling with gun barrels, like the spines on a hedgehog. Success would depend on Ottoman willingness to be drawn into the killing zone around these floating fortresses. But if the Ottomans retreated, drawing Don John’s ships farther down the gulf toward the guns of the Lepanto fortress, then the dynamics would alter. There was already a stiff breeze and the sea was running against the Christian ships. The more his oarsmen exhausted themselves, the greater chance that the advantage would slip to the Turks. As in all battles, chance and providence were in command.



Reconnaissance Battalion Nizza

AB41 appatenant à la Nizza Cavalaria et à la Monferrato.

While reading Panzer Commander, the memories of Colonel Hans Von Luck I can across an interesting few paragraphs.

“Some days later Rommel’s HQ informed me that I was to be sent an Italian armored reconnaissance battalion, the Nizza. At first, I was not very pleased, as I had no great opinion of Italian weapons or morale. They duly arrived, well spread out and apparently still at normal fighting strength. Their commander, a tall, fair haired Major, presented himself. As he told me later, he had been given the posting “for disciplinary reasons,” because of an affair with a member of the Royal House. The officers and men came exclusively from the north. They were proud Piedmontese and Venetians. They wanted to show that they knew how to fight.

“May our patrols go on reconnaissance with your?” I was asked by the commander and his officers. “That would be the best way to learn.” I inspected their armored cars and weapons. “More sardine tins,” said our men, who were standing around inquisitively. Indeed, the equipment didn’t approach the standard of that which we had at the start of the Polish campaign. It was hopelessly inferior to the British Humbers and anti-tank guns. And yet, the Italians wanted to be sent into action at the front. IN the difficult weeks that followed, my feeling waved between admiration and pity for these brave men, who despite heavy losses, didn’t give up and so remained to the end, our good friends.

He (The Italian) doesn’t take war with deadly seriousness and ends it for his part when he considers it to be hopeless. Hitler’s pathetic, cynical maxim, “the German soldier stands or dies,” is, to the Italian profoundly alien.

It is against this background that the active service and performance of our allies is to be seen. So much more highly did we value the service of the Nizza Battalion, whose officers and men fought bravely beside and with us to the bitter end”

Then near the end in Africa he received the Medaglia d’Argento, by request of the Nizza Battalion commander.

3rd Battalion Nizza Cavalleria (AB41 Armoured cars) part of Italian 132 Armoured Division Ariete.


Italian Torpedo-Bomber Squadrons

On the whole, Italy’s aviation industry was badly organized and inefficient, producing a wide variety of aircraft types in small numbers. The various companies involved resisted manufacturing each other’s more successful designs, and the almost artisan production methods resulted in production times that were more than 50 percent longer than for comparable German aircraft. The Italian air force largely depended on radial engines, but these low-powered machines seldom exceeded 1,000 hp. Adoption of the bulkier but much more powerful German-designed Daimler-Benz in-line engine helped solve that problem.

The fact that the CR-42, a wood-and-canvas biplane fighter with nonretractable landing gear, was still in production in 1944 (and a serious candidate for the Daimler-Benz engine) reveals the sad state of Italian aircraft production. Italian fighters were almost all underarmed, due to financial considerations and poorly designed, weak wings. Radios were not installed in all aircraft until 1942; fuel was stored in thinly lined, leaking tanks; most airfields were dirt runways; and pilots were slow to adapt to closed canopies. On any given day, operational efficiency was rarely higher than 70 percent. Ground-support aircraft, based on precepts developed by General Amadeo Mecozzi, were so poorly designed that early in the war, Italy simply retired its ground-attack planes and purchased 159 Ju-87 Stuka dive-bombers from Germany.

One area in which the Italian air force excelled was the torpedo-bomber. Although use of this plane was hindered by interservice rivalry before the war, the torpedo-bomber was deployed to units by late 1940. German air units later successfully emulated Italian torpedo-bombing tactics and purchased torpedoes from Italy. Yet the Italians chose simply to adapt a three-engine SM-79 level bomber for torpedo bombing rather than design a true torpedo-bomber.


The Sparviero began its torpedo bomber (Aerosilurante in Italian) career on 25 July 1940 when a new unit was established after several years of experiments. The “Special Aerotorpedoes Unit” was led by Colonel Moioli. After having ordered the first 50 torpedoes from Whitehead Torpedo Works, on 10 August 1940 the first aircraft landed at T5 airfield, near Tobruk. Despite the lack of an aiming system and a specific doctrine for tactics, an attack on shipping in Alexandria was quickly organized. There had been experiments for many years but still, no service, no gear (except hardpoints) and no tactics were developed for the new speciality. This was despite previous Italian experiments into the practice of aerial torpedoing in 1914, 26 years earlier.

The first sortie under way on 15 August 1940 saw five SM.79s that had been modified and prepared for the task sent to El Adem airfield. Among their pilots were Buscaglia, Dequal and other pilots destined to become “aces.” The journey was made at an altitude of 1,500 m (4,920 ft) and after two hours, at 21:30, they arrived over Alexandria and began attacking ships, but unsuccessfully. The departure airport had only 1,000 m (3,280 ft) of runway for takeoff, so two of the fuel tanks were left empty to reduce weight, giving an endurance of five hours for a 4.33 hour journey. Only Buscaglia and Dequal returned, both aircraft damaged by anti-aircraft fire. Buscaglia landed on only one wheel, with some other damage. The other three SM.79s, attacking after the first two, were hindered by a fierce anti-aircraft defence and low clouds and returned to their base without releasing their torpedoes. However, all three ran out of fuel and were forced to jettison the torpedoes which exploded in the desert, and then force-landed three hours after the attack. Two crews were rescued later, but the third (Fusco’s) was still in Egypt when they force-landed. The crew set light to their aircraft the next morning, which alerted the British who then captured them. These failures were experienced within a combat radius of only about 650 km (400 mi), in clear contrast with the glamorous performances of the racer Sparvieros just a few years before.

Many missions followed, on 22–23 August (Alexandria), 26 August (against ships never found), and 27 August (Buscaglia against a cruiser). The special unit became known as the 278th Squadriglia, and from September 1940 carried out many shipping attacks, including on 4 September (when Buscaglia had his aircraft damaged by fighters) and 10 September, when Robone claimed a merchant ship sunk. On 17 September, after an unsuccessful day attack, Buscaglia and Robone returned at night, attacking the British ships that shelled Bardia. One torpedo hit HMS Kent, damaging the heavy cruiser to the extent that the ship remained under repair until September 1941. After almost a month of attacks, this was the first success officially acknowledged and proven. After almost a month of further attacks, a newcomer, Erasi, flew with Robone on 14 October 1940 against a British formation and hit HMS Liverpool, a modern cruiser that lost her bow and needed 13 months of repair. After several months, and despite the losses and the first unfortunate mission, the core of the 278th was still operating the same four aircraft. The last success of this squadron was at Souda Bay, Crete, when Buscaglia damaged another cruiser, HMS Glasgow, despite the anti-torpedo netting surrounding the ship, sending it out of commission for nine months while repairs were made. The aircraft continued in service until a British bomb struck them, setting off a torpedo and a “chain reaction” which destroyed them all.


The year started out badly, but improved in April when many successes were recorded by SM.79s of the 281st and 280th . They sank two merchant ships, heavily damaged the British cruiser HMS Manchester (sending it out of service for nine months) and later also sank the F class destroyer HMS Fearless. However, one SM.79 was shot down 25 nmi (46 km) north west of Gozo on 3 June, landing in the sea and staying afloat for some time. Further Italian successes came in August, when the light cruiser HMS Phoebe was damaged. The large merchant ship SS Imperial Star (10,886 tonnes/12,000 tons) was sunk by an SM.79 in September. The 130th and 132nd Gruppi were also active during the autumn. On 24 October, they sank the Empire Pelican and Empire Defender, on 23 November they sank the Glenearn and Xhakdina, and on 11 December they heavily damaged the Jackal.

The year ended with a total of nine Allied ships sunk and several damaged. The Italians had lost fourteen torpedo bombers and sustained several damaged in action. This was the best year for the Italian torpedo bombers and also the year when the SM.84, the SM.79’s successor was introduced. Overall, these numbers meant little in the war, and almost no other results were recorded by Italian bombers. Horizontal bombing proved to be a failure and only dive bombers and torpedo-bombers achieved some results. The damaging of the British cruisers was the most important result, but without German help, the Italians would have been unable to maintain a presence in the Mediterranean theatre. The 25 Italian bomber wings were unable to trouble the British forces, as the Battle of Calabria demonstrated. Almost all of the major British ships lost were due to U-Boat attacks, with the damaging of HMS Warspite, and the sinking of HMS Barham and Ark Royal. The British fleet was left without major ships in their Mediterranean fleet leaving the Axis better situated to control the sea.


The Axis’ fortunes started to decline steadily during 1942. Over 100 SM.79s were in service in different Italian torpedo squadrons. In addition to its wide-scale deployment in its intended bomber-torpedo bomber role, the Sparviero was also used for close support, reconnaissance and transport missions. In the first six months of 1942, all the Italo-German efforts to hit Allied ships had only resulted in the sinking of the merchant ship Thermopilae by an aircraft flown by Carlo Faggioni.

The Allies aimed to provide Malta with vital supplies and fuel through major convoy operations at all costs. Almost all Axis air potential was used against the first Allied convoy, Harpoon. 14 June saw the second torpedoing of Liverpool, by a 132nd Gruppo SM.79, putting it out of action for another 13 months. Regardless of where the torpedo struck, (amidships in the case of Liverpool, aft as for Kent, or forward as happened to Glasgow) the cruisers remained highly vulnerable to torpedoes, but no Italian air attack managed to hit them with more than one torpedo at once. On the same day the merchant ship Tanimbar was sunk by SM.79s of the 132nd, and finally the day after HMS Bedouin, a Tribal-class destroyer, already damaged by two Italian cruisers, was sunk by pilot M. Aichner, also of 132nd Gruppo. For years this victory was contested by the Italian Navy, who claimed to have sunk Bedouin with gunfire.

August saw heavy attacks on the 14 merchant ships and 44 major warships of the Operation Pedestal convoy, the second Allied attempt to resupply Malta past Axis bombers, minefields and U-boats. Nine of the merchant ships and four of the warships were sunk, and others were damaged, but only the destroyer HMS Foresight and the merchant ship MV Deucalion were sunk by Italian torpedo bombers. Although damaged, the tanker SS Ohio, a key part of the convoy, was towed into Grand Harbour to deliver the vital fuel on 15 August 1942 to enable Malta to continue functioning as an important Allied base, a major Allied strategic success.

By winter 1942, in contrast to Operation Torch, 9 December was a successful day when four SM.79s sank a Flower class corvette and a merchant ship, with the loss of one aircraft. Carlo Emanuele Buscaglia, another prominent member of the Italian torpedo-airforce who was credited with over 90,718 tonnes (100,000 tons) of enemy shipping sunk, was shot down the day after saying “We will probably all be dead before Christmas”. The risks of attempting to overcome the effective defences of allied ships were too great to expect much chance of long-term survival, but he was later rescued from the water, badly wounded.

Despite the increased activity in 1942, the results were considerably poorer than those of the previous year. The efforts made by the bombers were heavily criticized as being insufficient. Many debated the possibilities of torpedo manufacturing defects or even sabotage: the first 30 used in 1940 had excellent reliability, but a number of later torpedoes were found to be defective, especially those made at the Naples factory. During Operation Harpoon, over 100 torpedoes were launched with only three hitting their targets.


The year opened with attacks against Allied shipping off North Africa, but still without much success. In July, the Allies invaded Sicily with an immense fleet. The Sparvieri were already obsolete and phased out of service in bomber Wings and its intended successors, the SM.84 and Z.1007, were a failure, while the latter were not produced in enough numbers. As a consequence, the latest version of the Sparviero was retained for torpedo attacks, being considerably faster than its predecessors.

Before the invasion, there was a large force of torpedo aircraft: 7 Gruppi (groups), 41, 89, 104, 108, 130, 131 and 132nd equipped with dozens of aircraft, but this was nevertheless an underpowered force. Except 104th, based around the Aegean Sea, the other six Gruppi comprised just 61 aircraft, with only 22 serviceable. Almost all the available machines were sent to the Raggruppamento Aerosiluranti. But, of the 44 aircraft, only a third were considered flight-worthy by 9 July 1943.

Production of new SM.79s continued to fall behind and up to the end of July only 37 SM.79s and 39 SM.84s were delivered. Despite the use of an improved engine, capable of a maximum speed of 475 km/h (295 mph), these machines were unable to cope with the difficult task of resisting the invasion. The size of these aircraft was too large to allow them to evade detection by enemy defences, and the need for large crews resulted in heavy human losses. In the first five days, SM.79s performed 57 missions at night time only and failed to achieve any results, with the loss of seven aircraft. Another three aircraft were lost on 16 July 1943 in a co-ordinated attack with German forces on HMS Indomitable. that was eventually hit and put out of combat for many months.

SM.79s were not equipped with radar, so the attacks had to be performed visually, hopefully aided by moonlight, while the Allies had ship-borne radar and interceptor aircraft. Despite their depleted state, the Regia Aeronautica attempted a strategic attack on Gibraltar on 19 July with 10 SM.79GAs, but only two managed to reach their target, again without achieving any result.

The last operation was in September 1943, and resulted in the damaging of the LST 417, on 7 September 1943. On 8 September, when the Armistice with Italy was announced, the Regia Aeronautica had no fewer than 61 SM.79s, of which 36 were operational.

Following the Armistice, the SM.79s based in southern Italy (34 altogether) were used by the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force as transports in support of the Allies; those that remained in the North (36) continued to fight along German forces as part of the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana or were incorporated into the Luftwaffe. A small number of SM.79s remained in service in the post-war Aeronautica Militare, where they served as passenger transports into the early 1950s.


Aeronautica Macchi C.200 Saetta Series in Combat

Macchi MC 200 Saetta

While the Fw 190A served as a worthy complement to the Me 109F in the Luftwaffe’s fighter arsenal, Italy’s Regia Aeronautica was in desperate need of a new fighter just to restore parity with such British counterparts as the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire. The most numerous Italian fighter in 1939 had been the Fiat CR.42 biplane, essentially a refined World War I fighter. The Fiat G.50, Italy’s first monoplane fighter, could barely outperform the CR.42, let alone its contemporary opposition.

Aeronautica Macchi’s designer, Mario Castoldi, had already tried to redress those consequences of shortsightedness on the part of the Regia Aeronautica. His C.200 Saetta (Thunderbolt), which first flew on December 24, 1937, was a monoplane with retractable landing gear that strove to incorporate the aerodynamic refinements of Castoldi’s Schneider Trophy racers, much as Reginald Mitchell did with his Spitfire. Unlike the Spitfire, however, the C.200 suffered from compromises. It had a humped upper fuselage to provide the pilot with a good field of vision, which was enhanced by the later omission of its enclosed canopy at the behest of conservative seat-of-the-pants pilots. Most telling, both from the standpoint of performance and aesthetics, was the installation of an 870-horsepower Fiat A74 RC.38 fourteen-cylinder double-row radial engine on the airframe. Looking as if it had been stuck on as an afterthought—which, for all intents and purposes, it was—the radial obscured the C.200’s Schneider Trophy pedigree and added an inordinate amount of drag.

CR.42s were the only fighters committed to Italy’s invasion of France on June 10, 1940, but on the following day, the C.200 joined battle over another target entirely: the British-held isle of Malta. As successive flights of Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 trimotor bombers of the 34o, 11o, and 41o Stormi B. T. left their Sicilian air bases for Malta, eighteen Saettas, drawn in equal part from the 79a and 88a Squadriglie of Tenente Colonello (Lieutenant Colonel) Armando Francois’s 6o Gruppo Caccia Terrestre Autonomo, took off from Comiso, Sicily, to provide escort. As the eighth raid of the day neared Malta, the island’s lone radar picked up the attacking formations, and the island’s entire fighter force—three Gloster Sea Gladiator biplanes led by Flt. Lt. George Burges—rose to intercept them. The Italians were already bombing Valletta harbor and Hal Far airfield when the Gladiators split up to attack as many of the enemy as they could—with little damage inflicted by either side. It was the third Gladiator, N5520 flown by Flying Officer William J. Woods, that caught the attention of one of the escorting C.200s, flown by Tenente Giuseppe Pesola of the 79a Squadriglia. “Timber” Woods had just completed his second attack on a five-plane bomber formation when he heard machine gun fire behind him, immediately went into a steep left-hand turn and then saw the enemy fighter diving at him.

“For quite three minutes I circled as tightly as possible and got the enemy in my sight,” Woods reported afterward. “I got in a good burst, full deflection shot, and he went down in a steep dive with black smoke pouring from his tail. I could not follow him down, but he appeared to go into the sea.” Pesola, who had fired 125 rounds at the Gladiator before having the tables turned on him, was credited to Woods as the first aerial victory to be scored in the long aerial siege of Malta—but in fact he brought his Macchi back to Comiso with little damage. For neither the first nor the last time in the war, Woods and other witnesses had mistaken the black exhaust smoke from a fighter diving away with its throttle suddenly opened for a burning adversary.

The next encounter would be more conclusive. On June 23, three SM.79s made for Malta, escorted by five C.200s of the 88a Squadriglia. Burges, in Gladiator N5519, and Woods, in N5531, rose to intercept when Burges found one of the fighters diving on him. He evaded the Saetta’s fire and then engaged it in what he described as a tight dogfight out of World War I. At one point the Macchi overshot, allowing Burges, in his own words, to “belt him up the backside as he went past.” After four or five such rounds, Burges got in a burst that set the C.200 on fire, and its pilot, Sergente Maggiore Lamberto Molinelli, bailed out over Sliema, where he was taken prisoner. Burges later paid him a visit in Intarfa Hospital, but found him less than friendly.

Molinelli had reason for a sour mood because the C.200’s first combats showed it to be almost as nimble as a biplane—but not quite nimble enough to make old school dogfighting a good idea. They had not highlighted any other merits in the plane.

The first confirmed victory for C.200s did not come until November 1, when Malta-based Short Sunderland N9020 of No. 228 Squadron, conducting a morning reconnaissance near Augusta, Sicily, was caught and shot down by Tenente Luigi Armanino and Sergente Maggiore Natalino Stabile of the 88a Squadriglia, with all nine crewmen perishing aboard. A second 228 Squadron Sunderland, L5806, was patrolling thirty-two miles from Malta at 1530 that afternoon when it came under attack by two more Saettas of the 88a, flown by Tenenti Pesola and Pio Tomaselli, along with Fiat CR.42s of the 75a Squadriglia, 23o Gruppo, 3o Stormo, flown by Tenente Ezio Monti and Sgt. Francesco Cuscuna. Although riddled by its attackers, the tough Sunderland managed to return to Kalafrana, where it was promptly taken upslip before it sank. The Italians reported their victim as only being “damaged,” and rightly so, for it was repaired and flying again on November 22.

Over the next three years, Saettas would soldier on over Malta, North Africa, and the Soviet Union with sometimes creditable, but never spectacular, results. Although a sufficient improvement over the Fiat CR.42 and G.50 to have warranted production as a stopgap fighter, the Saetta was barely a match for the Hurricane and no match for the Spitfire. A closer examination of the C.200’s airframe, however, revealed an essentially clean design with an excellent combination of stability and maneuverability. All it needed was a better engine.

With that in mind, Castoldi privately approached the Daimler-Benz A. G. and purchased a twelve-cylinder air-cooled DB 601Aa engine. He then commenced work on an aerodynamically refined adaptation of the C.200 airframe to accept the German engine, at the same time abandoning the C.201, another project to reengine the Saetta. The result of his efforts, which took to the air at Varese on August 10, 1940, restored the racy appearance of the Castoldi floatplanes to the basic C.200 design, as well as to its performance potential. So successful were its tests that the Ministerio dell’Aeronautica immediately ordered the new fighter into series production—not only at Macchi’s Varese factory but also at Breda’s plant at Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. While more DB 601 Aas were ordered to power the first production batch, Alfa Romeo acquired a license to manufacture the engine as the R. A. 1000 R. C. 41-I Monsone (Monsoon), which was rated at 1,040 horsepower at 2,400 revolutions per minute. The Macchi C.202 Folgore (Lightning), as the new fighter was designated, had a maximum speed of 372 miles per hour at 18,370 feet, featured self-sealing fuel tanks, a molded armor-plate pilot’s seat, and an enclosed cockpit, although it lacked an armor-glass windscreen. Armament was initially the same as the C.200—two synchronized 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns—but ammunition capacity was increased from 370 to 400 rounds per gun. Later-production series Folgores added two 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT guns in the wings.

The first C.202s were delivered to the 4o Stormo C. T. at Gorizia in July 1941. After accustoming themselves with the new fighter’s characteristics, pilots of the wing’s 9o Gruppo, comprised of the 73a Squadriglia (Fotoricognitori) and 96a and 97a Squadriglie C. T., commenced operations against Malta from their base at Comiso on September 29, 1941. On the following afternoon, Italy’s new lightning bolt struck for the first time when five Hurricane fighter-bombers of No. 185 Squadron, escorted by six other Hurricanes, attacked Comiso. Three C.202s of the 97a Squadriglia scrambled up to intercept them, and in the running fight that followed, Tenente Iacopo Frigerio shot down Pilot Officer Donald W. Lintern, who was last seen bailing out near Gozo Island.

After returning to their base to refuel, five of the Hurricanes accompanied a Fairey Fulmar of the Kalafrana Rescue Flight in a search for Lintern. They never found him, but they did come under attack by the C.202s. Tenente Luigi Tessari and Sgt. Raffaello Novelli were jointly credited with downing an enemy fighter, which they reported to have fallen into the sea and blown up ten kilometers south of Cap Scaramia. Their victim was the Fulmar, but it ditched relatively intact, and its crew, Lt. D. E. C. Eyres and Sub-Lt. Bernard Furlong, were subsequently rescued by a Fairey Swordfish floatplane of their flight. One of the Hurricane pilots, Flt. Lt. Charles G. St. David Jeffries, claimed to have probably downed one of the unidentified enemy fighters, while Pilot Officer Peter J. B. Veitch and Flt. Sgt. A. W. Jolly each claimed to have damaged one; Tessari returned with numerous holes in his fuselage.

The 9o Gruppo carried the fight back to Malta on the morning of October 1, as Capt. Mario Pluda led seven C.202s to escort two C.200s on a reconnaissance mission. At 1150 hours, eight Hurricane Mark IIAs of No. 185 Squadron took off to intercept, but as they reached an altitude of 24,000 feet, thirty miles northeast of the embattled island, they were jumped by the Folgori. Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, and Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari claimed two Hurricanes shot down and two probables in their first pass; but only one Hurricane was lost along with its pilot, Squadron Leader P. W. B. Mould—the same “Boy” Mould who, as a member of No. 1 Squadron, had scored the first confirmed Hurricane victory in France on October 30, 1939. Mould’s total account stood at eight, plus one shared, when he became one of the C.202’s earliest victims. The Italians did not get off scot-free, however. Sergeant Ernest G. Knight scored hits on Ivaldi’s main fuel tank, and he only just made it to Sicily before the last of his fuel drained away, force landing on the beach near Pozzallo.

The Folgore quickly demonstrated its inherent mastery over the Hurricane, and by the end of 1941, at least one of the 9o Gruppo’s pilots, Teresio Martinoli, had been credited with five out of an eventual personal total of twenty-two victories (one of them German while flying for the Allies in Italy’s Co-Belligerent Air Force), including Peter Veitch, whom he shot down and killed off Malta on October 4. The C.202’s numbers were too small to have a decisive impact over Malta in the late months of 1941, however. By the time it was available in significant quantities in 1942, Spitfire Mark Vs had arrived to engage the Italian fighters on roughly equal terms. Nevertheless, the C.202 gave a much-needed boost to the confidence of Italian fighter pilots and became the Regia Aeronautica’s fighter mainstay until Italy capitulated on September 8, 1943. A more potent variant with a license-produced version of the DB 605 engine and heavier armament, the C.205 Veltro (Greyhound), would continue to be a formidable fighter thereafter, in the hands of both Allied Co-Belligerent pilots and the diehard Fascisti of the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana.


Pistola Automatica Beretta modello 1934

Beretta automatics were amongst the most sought after of war trophies. Although of excellent design, they were really too light to be effective service pistols, but as personal weapons to officers they were highly prized.

The little Pistola Automatica Beretta modello 1934 is one of the joys of the pistol collector’s world, for it is one of those pistols that has its own built-in attraction. It was adopted as the standard Italian army service pistol in 1934, but it was then only the latest step in a long series of automatic pistols that could be traced back as far as 1915. In that year numbers of a new pistol design were produced to meet the requirements of the expanding Italian army, and although the Pistola Automatica Beretta modello 1915 was widely used it was never officially accepted as a service model, These original Beretta had a calibre of 7.65mm, although a few were made in 9 mm short, the cartridge that was to be the ammunition for the later modello 1934.

After 1919 other Beretta pistols appeared, all of them following the basic Beretta design. By the time the modello 1934 appeared the ‘classic’ appearance had been well established with the snub outline and the front of the cutaway receiver wrapped around the forward part of the barrel to carry the fixed foresight. The short pistol grip held only seven rounds and thus to ensure a better grip the characteristic ‘spur’ was carried over from a design introduced back in 1919. The operation used by the mechanisms was a conventional blowback without frills or anything unusual, but although the receiver was held open once the magazine was empty it moved forward again as soon as the magazine was removed for reloading (most pistols of this type keep the receiver slide open until the magazine has been replaced). The modello 1934 did have an exposed hammer which was not affected by the safety once applied, so although the trigger was locked when the safety was applied the hammer could be cocked either by hand or by accident, an unfortunate feature in an otherwise sound design.

In honor of Benito Mussolini’s assumption of power, fascist-era Model 1934s are not only stamped with their date of production in Arabic letters but also the year of Il Duce’s rule in Roman numerals.

It is light and compact, weighing just 1.25 pounds, and measures 6 inches in overall length. Its simple blowback mechanism functions smoothly, and its exposed hammer allows it to be lowered on a loaded chamber for safer carrying. A catch on the bottom of the grip secures the seven-round magazine that is equipped with a finger extension to aid steadier aiming. The Model 1934 is also chambered for a much more efficient cartridge than most earlier Italian service pistols. Known in Italy as the caliber 9mm corto (short) cartridge, the Model 1934’s loading is also known as the 9mm Kurz in Germany and the caliber .380 ACP in the United States. Although not as powerful as the 9mm Parabellum, it is ideal for such a compact weapon and much more powerful in its ballistics than such cartridges as the popular caliber 7.65mm (.32 ACP). The Model 1934 was also used by Romanian and Finnish troops during World War II. Actual usage of the Model 1934 by Italian troops during World War II did little to prove its value as a combat weapon.

The modello 1934 was almost always produced to an excellent standard of manufacture and finish, and the type became a sought-after trophy of war. Virtually the entire production run was taken for use by the Italian army, but there was a modello 1935 in 7.65 mm which was issued to the Italian air force and navy. Apart from its calibre this variant was identical to the modello 1934, The Germans used the type as the Pistole P671(i). Despite its overall success the modello 1934 was technically underpowered, but it is still one of the most famous of all pistols used during World War II.


Beretta modello 1934

Caliber: 9mm Corto (.380 ACP)

Operation: blowback

Length overall: 152mm (6″)

Barrel length: 94mm (3.7″)

Weight empty: 680g (24 oz)

Magazine capacity: 7

Muzzle velocity: c. 251 mps (825 fps)