The Expedition of the Thousand

In March 1860, exile Rosolino Pilo exhorted Giuseppe Garibaldi to take charge of an expedition to liberate Southern Italy from Bourbon rule. At first, Garibaldi was against it, but eventually agreed. By May 1860, Garibaldi had collected 1,089 volunteers for his expedition to Sicily.

Giuseppe Garibaldi, who had learnt revolutionary guerrilla tactics while fighting to liberate South America before returning to his fatherland. At the lowest ebb of his fortunes, was expelled from Piedmont-Sardinia and was forced to lead the life of an exile once more. He worked briefly as a candle-maker in Camden, New Jersey, before returning to Europe in 1854. He established himself in a house on the Sardinian Island of Caprera and gradually became more politically realistic. Under Camillo Benso di Cavour’s influence, Garibaldi accepted that the Piedmontese monarchy offered the best hope of unifying Italy. This renunciation of his Mazzinian and revolutionary principles restored him to favor in Turin, and in 1859 Garibaldi was made a general in the Piedmontese army.

Garibaldi was violently critical of the Treaty of Villafranca. In January 1860, he endorsed the latest venture launched by Giuseppe Mazzini, the “Action party,” which openly espoused a policy of liberating southern Italy, Rome, and Venice by military means. To this end, in the spring of 1860, Garibaldi led a corps of red-shirted patriots from Genoa to the assistance of a Mazzinian uprising in Palermo. The “Expedition of the Thousand” is the most famous of all Garibaldi’s military exploits. After landing near Palermo with the support of ships from the British fleet, Garibaldi swiftly took command of the island. On 14 May 1860, he became dictator of Sicily and head of a provisional government that was largely dominated by a native Sicilian who would play an important role in the political future of Italy, Francesco Crispi.

Garibaldi’s legendary Expedition of the Thousand that sailed from Piedmontese territory in May 1860 in support of the Sicilian insurgents presented Cavour with the most serious challenge of his political career. He opposed the expedition, but did not dare prevent it for fear of offending patriotic sentiment, losing control of parliament, antagonizing the popular Garibaldi, and crossing Victor Emmanuel, whom Cavour suspected of secretly backing Garibaldi. The government therefore adopted an ambiguous policy that allowed volunteers to sail for Sicily and avoid interception at sea. Garibaldi’s unexpected battlefield victories changed Cavour’s mind: he allowed reinforcements to go to Sicily, but also tried, unsuccessfully, to wrest control of the island from Garibaldi to prevent him from invading the mainland. When his attempt failed and Garibaldi marched triumphantly into Naples, Cavour sent the Piedmontese army to finish the fight against the Neapolitans, and to disarm and disband Garibaldi’s. The papal territory that the Piedmontese army occupied on its way to Naples was added to the rest of the booty and became part of the Kingdom of Italy that was formally proclaimed on 17 March 1861.

The Campaign

In one of the most dramatic moments of Italy’s unification, the revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi led an army of over 1,000 guerrillas to support a revolt in Sicily against their Neapolitan ruler, Francis II. While Garibaldi was a seasoned general of proven ability, the odds were stacked against him. His army – known as the Redshirts – was made of mostly untrained young idealists armed with rusty rifles. Meanwhile, Francis II boasted more than 20,000 highly skilled troops. However, the scarlet fighters quickly took the town of Marsala when they landed on Sicily’s west coast. As they made their way to Palermo, hundreds of Sicilian rebels joined them. The Redshirts won further Sicilian support after Garibaldi had the Neapolitan troops running scared at Calatfimi. By July, they had seized nearly all of Sicily and by September, crossed the water and captured Naples itself. Though Garibaldi’s efforts to march on Rome were checked, his ally King Victor Emmanuel II invaded the Papal States. Following a plebiscite, Garibaldi surrendered all of Sicily and Naples to Victor Emmanuel.

4 April 1860

Hearing that a revolt has broken out in Sicily, Garibaldi decides to attack the Bourbon regime.

5 May 1860

Garibaldi recruits more than 1,000 northern men for his expedition to Sicily. Their ships land at the port of Marsala a week later.

15 May – 20 July 1860

Over the next two months, the Redshirts win a series of victories over the Neapolitan forces at Calataimi and Palermo and capture the island.

7 September 1860

Garibaldi triumphantly enters Naples, where he is greeted as a hero by huge crowds. King Francis II led before the liberator arrived, heading by sea to Gaeta.

1 October 1860

King Francis II makes a final stand against Garibaldi at the Battle of Volturno, but Piedmontese troops arrive to support the Redshirts.

26 October 1860

Garibaldi meets Victor Emmanuel II at Teano and hands him control of the region. By March 1861, the Kingdom of Italy is finally established.

Giuseppe Garibaldi was marching north from Naples when he was attacked in a strong position at the Volturno, outside Capua, by the Neapolitan army of Francis II under General Giosue Ritucci. Aided by Piedmontese, fresh from victory at Castelfidardo, Garibaldi drove off the Bourbon forces with heavy losses on both sides. He then captured Capua and advanced on Gaeta (1-2 October 1860).

Battle of the Volturno, 1 October 1860

Giuseppe Garibaldi was marching north from Naples when he was attacked in a strong position at the Volturno, outside Capua, by the Neapolitan army of Francis II under General Giosue Ritucci. Aided by Piedmontese, fresh from victory at Castelfidardo, Garibaldi drove off the Bourbon forces with heavy losses on both sides. He then captured Capua and advanced on Gaeta (1-2 October 1860).

The Army of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies was divided among the large garrisons of Gaeta, Capua, and Messina and the field army of 25,000 men. The Neapolitan Army held a strong position on the Volturno. Two infantry and one cavalry division camped outside Capua, with a third infantry division spread upstream holding the fords and bridges across the river. Garibaldi’s army had advanced to positions from Santa Maria to Caserta and Maddaloni a week earlier. His army now boasted 22,000 men divided among four divisions. Most of these men had served in Sicily, now supplemented by more volunteers.

Garibaldi despised positional warfare. The skirmishing between the armies had agitated the general. He determined to pin the Neapolitan Army under the walls of Capua, while crossing the Volturno and cutting off the king at Gaeta from his army. Simultaneously, the Neapolitan generals concurred that Garibaldi had placed his army in a precarious position between the divisions at Capua and the brigades of Mechel and Ruiz at Dugenta. They saw an opportunity to destroy Garibaldi’s forces by conducting a double-envelopment of the Southern Army.

On October 1 the armies moved in chorus. The Neapolitans struck first. Before 6am, General Anfan de Rivera’s division attacked Giacomo Medici’s 17th Division at Sant’Angelo. To the south, General Tabacchi’s and General Ruggeri’s divisions advanced on the 16th Division under General Milbiz at Santa Maria. Mechel’s brigade pushed in the lead battalions of Bixio’s 18th Division northeast of Maddaloni.

From Caserta Garibaldi was able to dispense the reserve to either flank. Garibaldi properly assessed the threat to his left, and moved reinforcements to support Milbiz and Medici. He went to Santa Maria in person, leaving Türr with the 15th Division at Caserta. On the right, some of Mechel’s battalions lost their way during their march on Maddaloni. This allowed Bixio to concentrate his forces and repel the initial attacks. Fighting raged throughout the day, but by 2pm Medici and Milbiz had determined that the Neapolitans were spent, and issued a counterattack. The renewed vigor of the Garibaldini forced the Neapolitans back to Capua. The success came just in time, as Ruiz’s brigade moved directly upon Caserta. Türr held the town until Medici sent aid. On the far right, Mechel’s uncoordinated attacks stalled, and he withdrew by the late afternoon.

Garibaldi narrowly won the battle of Volturno. He lost 2,000 killed, wounded, and prisoner, while the Neapolitans suffered 3,000 casualties and prisoners. The day after the battle, the Savoia Brigade of the Piedmontese army landed by sea north of Capua. Over the next several weeks Della Rocca’s V Corps crossed the Neapolitan frontier, followed by the rest of the Piedmontese Army. The Southern Army placed Capua under siege, and Piedmontese forces marched on Gaeta where the erstwhile Neapolitan king had taken refuge.


War of the Mantuan Succession

The French were active in Italy. In combination with Savoy, they tried to seize Spain’s ally Genoa in 1625, only to be driven back by the Spaniards. Two years later, the end of the direct male line of the Gonzaga family produced a contested succession for the Duchies of Mantua and Monferrato. Spanish intervention in the dispute led to a joint Savoyard and Spanish invasion of Monferrato in March 1628 in pursuit of a partition. A Spanish army besieged Casale, the capital as well as a major fortress in Monferrato and a crucial point on the western approaches on the Milanese. The French initially tried to stop this consolidation of Spanish power in northern Italy by backing the leading claimant, Charles, Duke of Nevers. He was permitted to raise troops from his French duchies and his governorships of Champagne and Brie on his own sovereign authority as Prince Souverain of Arches. The French army itself was engaged in the struggle against the Huguenots.

Nevers was able to raise 6,600 troops, in part thanks to the effort of his nephew, the Duke of Longueville. This was a pointed reminder of the extent to which what are generally understood as the `states’ of the period did not monopolise military power. At the same time, Richelieu was unimpressed by Nevers’s plan, thinking it lacking in support and preparation. As French power was at stake, the crown provided some support, although, as an opponent of Nevers, the Governor of Dauphiné in fact hindered the expedition. Advancing into Savoy, Nevers’s force was beaten in a skirmish in August 1628 and then dissolved.

Concerned about the situation in northern Italy, and in particular that Nevers might turn to Spain, Louis XIII and Richelieu decided to act after La Rochelle surrendered in October 1628. The Alpine pass at Susa was forced on 6 March 1629, a reminder that campaigning did not cease in the winter. This led Savoy to terms and the Spaniards to abandon the siege of Casale. However, the Spanish government was determined to fight on. It was unintentionally assisted by the maladroit Nevers who had mounted an attack on Lombardy from Mantua. Although he was able to raise only 2,500 men, this led to his being placed under the Imperial ban. Helped by his success against the Danes, Ferdinand II was able to send about 30,000 Imperial troops into northern Italy and in late 1629 they besieged Mantua. After a winter break, the siege was renewed in May 1630 and Mantua surrendered on 18 July. Meanwhile, the French decision to garrison Casale, rather than entrust it to Nevers, had encouraged the Spaniards to send fresh forces into the Monferrato in the autumn of 1629. Even after the war with the Huguenots had ended, the French lacked the forces necessary to defeat their opponents in northern Italy. Richelieu argued in November 1629 that 39,000 troops would be required, but the French were handicapped by the need to prepare a strong army to prevent the danger of an Austrian or Spanish attack on France from Germany.

Under Richelieu, France lacked the resources or organisation to field more than one large and effective campaign army. This is a reminder of the danger of reading from the notional total army sizes sometimes quoted and from the wide-ranging nature of hostilities and confrontation in order to assume that several effective armies could be deployed at the same time. In the case of France, as David Parrott has pointed out, ‘a military system that was geared to the fighting of short campaigns in a single theatre was finally confronted in 1630 with the reality of a very different type of war’, and found wanting. The same was true for other states. This indeed helps to account for the character of much of the campaigning in the Thirty Years’War, in particular what might appear a disjointed series of marches in which rival forces sometimes confronted each other. There was insufficient manpower for a war of fronts in Germany or Italy, and maps in historical atlases that suggest otherwise are misleading. Indeed, the absence of fronts helped confer additional importance on fortresses.

In addition, the political-military nature of the war itself was in part set by the problem dissected by Parrott. The availability of only one really effective field army ensured that it was necessary for powers to fight one opponent at a time, or to accept that successful offensive operations could only be mounted against one opponent. This encouraged a military diplomacy in which peace, truce, or stasis with one rival was sought so that another could be attacked. The 1629 agreement between Sweden and Poland was a good instance of this. Similarly, Spanish involvement in the War of the Mantuan Succession left the Army of Flanders short of funds and therefore with its operational effectiveness compromised, and the army downright mutinous.

The need to focus on one opponent established an important constraint on military capability and effectiveness. In so far as the categories are helpful, it had both a political and a military dimension, as the range of factors summarised under the term resources can be seen in both these lights. For example, there was the issue not only of the availability of money but also of experienced troops.

As a reminder of the interlocking nature of military struggles, and thus of the role of politics, the Habsburgs were militarily successful in northern Italy in 1630, taking Mantua and, under Spinola, pressing Casale hard, while the French relief operation languished. However, Ferdinand II withdrew from the conflict in response to the Swedish invasion of northern Germany and the problems for Imperial preparedness in the Empire created by the dismissal of Wallenstein in response to pressure from the Imperial Diet. This weakened Spanish resolve, as did the death of Spinola, leading to talks with France. As a consequence, the French were able to relieve Casale in October 1630, forcing a negotiation which finally hardened into the two treaties of Cherasco in the spring of 1631 that brought the war in northern Italy to a close.


The Spaniards conducted a successful military campaign in the early 1620s. In 1620 they helped the imperial troops to defeat the Bohemian rebels at the battle of White Mountain. Similarly, spectacular victories were achieved in 1625, enabled financially by a particularly remarkable delivery of bullion from the Americas in the previous year, like the rendition of Breda in the Low Countries, the recapture of Bahia in Brazil from the hands of the Dutch, the repulsion of the British fleet in Cadiz, and the repulsion of a French invasion in the Valtelline. However, things took a turn for the worse during the years 1627-29 with the Spanish intervention in the duchy of Mantua – a decision that bore destructive results. With the death of the childless duke of Mantua, the best prospect of succeeding him went to the French claimant, the duke of Nevers. Fearing the strategic compromise of Spanish interests in northern Italy, Olivares sent the governor of Milan to occupy the Monferrat, a Mantuan region bordering Milan to the west. In reaction, a French army was sent to the occupied region, resulting in a long and inconclusive war that lasted until April 1631. Olivares’ expectations of a short campaign were thus shattered, leaving Spain in greater financial ruin as the crown’s share of the Indies bullion went to finance the Italian front.

The Spaniards received a brief boost in confidence as the French were forced to pull forces from various fronts following internal rebellions. Similarly, the death of France’s allies in northern Italy, the Mantuan and Savoiard rulers in 1637, in tandem with the Spanish seizure of the Valtelline, marked the breakdown of French aspirations in Italy. Consequently, Richelieu proposed a truce with Spain, which was rejected by Olivares, who felt that the French proposal came from a deep weakness that could be exploited to achieve a convincing victory.


At the same time as fighting within the country itself, France became caught up in a conflict against Spain in Italy. War had not yet been declared, there were no actual battles; instead historians have spoken of a `covert war’. Richelieu believed that Italy was the `very heart of the world’ and that it was also the weak point in the Spanish empire.

The Mantuan succession proved him right. The duke of Mantua, from the House of Gonzague, died with no direct descendants but he had a cousin, another Gonzague, the duc de Nevers who lived in France and was considered a subject of the king of France. The emperor, as sovereign of Mantua, refused Nevers the right to inherit the duchy but Nevers took it anyway. As the king of France was, at that time, busy with the siege of La Rochelle, Spain thought it would be possible to chase out the French intruder although two main towns remained loyal to him, Casale Monferrato defended by a French garrison, and Mantua itself. This was a major challenge for Spain. Casale controlled the road from Genoa to Milan and Mantua was on the only road between the Milan area and the Republic of Venice, as well as standing on the road to the Brenner Pass and Austria. The duke of Savoy (who also owned the Piedmont) took up arms with the Spanish after they promised him the Monferrat area. Olivares gave the order to besiege Casale. France and Spain were on the brink of war, drawn in by minor powers.

After the capitulation of La Rochelle, Richelieu advised intervention in northern Italy in December 1628. The French supporters of an alliance with Spain were, of course, hostile to the idea, behind Marie de Medici and the Keeper of the Seals, Marillac. In their opinion, the Casale business was a minor affair and not worth the sacrifice of the efforts at reform within the kingdom and the Catholic reconquest of Europe. According to them, Richelieu was recommending war to make himself irreplaceable in the king’s eyes. Meanwhile, the policy burdened the people with higher taxes and led to general discontent. French troops crossed the Alps. Spain obtained assistance from the emperor who, as a result, had to draw troops away from the other fronts, seriously weakening them. This was the first time since 1527 that a German army had entered the Italian Peninsula. Cardinal de Richelieu, in a note to the king dated 13 January 1629, set out the salient points of a political programme: `France should think only of fortifications within its borders. It should build and open doorways allowing it access to all the neighbouring States so that it can guarantee them against oppression by Spain when the occasions arise.’ The French forces captured the redoubtable fortress of Pignerol in the Piedmont on 22 March 1630. As to the imperial army, it took Mantua in July 1630 and sacked the town.

The situation in northern Italy was linked to the situation of the Holy Roman Empire and the Hapsburgs’ ambitions were of concern to the whole of Europe. France and England favoured agreement between the two princes of the House of Vasa – the Roman Catholic King Sigismond III of Poland, and his Lutheran cousin, King Gustav Adolph of Sweden. The latter now had a free hand. He could intervene in northern Germany and provide backup for the Protestant princes who had been dispossessed by the emperor. A meeting of Electors was held in Regensburg in the summer of 1630. Father Joseph, Richelieu’s right-hand man, encouraged the German princes to refuse the election of Ferdinand II’s son as King of the Romans: that would have ensured he succeeded his father automatically, without an election, and would possibly have been one step towards the hereditary transmission of the imperial crown in the House of Hapsburg. Everything might go a different way, however. Gustav Adolph of Sweden landed in northern Germany in 1630, on the grounds that he was defending Protestantism.

When the imperial army captured Mantua, French negotiators took fright and agreed, on 13 October 1630, to sign a treaty that required the French and imperial troops to pull out of northern Italy. The situation in France was then very tense because, at the end of summer, Louis XIII had fallen seriously ill in Lyon and seemed likely to die soon. He had hardly recovered when he received news of the Treaty of Regensburg. Its ratification would mean the failure of Richelieu’s policy since France would then abandon its allies and leave the way free for the emperor. The cardinal advised Louis XIII not to ratify the treaty, claiming that the French envoys had overstepped their brief.

The rejection of the Treaty of Regensburg led to lively controversy in France; Richelieu was immediately subjected to attacks by supporters of peace and by his political adversaries who feared a war against the Hapsburgs. The Queen Mother, Marie, launched an offensive against Richelieu who believed himself to be disgraced. This was the `great storm’ or the `Day of Dupes’ of 11 November 1630 when, in fact, Louis XIII asked his minister to continue `steering the ship’ and exiled his enemies. In France, Richelieu’s political victory was greeted as a victory for `good Frenchmen’ and a defeat for the pro-Spanish faction. Soon, Queen Marie found herself on the road to exile.

In Italy, while the French and Spanish forces were about to do battle at Casale, a papal envoy called Mazarin miraculously obtained a ceasefire on 26 October 1630. The negotiations at Cherasco then led to treaties that appeared to be favourable to France with Savoy giving it Pignerol in 1632. Thanks to this, Louis XIII obtained a `gateway’ halfway between Briançon and Turin, a gateway which, in those days, was seen as the entrance to Italy and a means of rapid intervention. In the end, the Spanish government felt it had been duped by this treaty, with the complicity of the negotiator, Mazarin.

Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia I

Like no other Italian city, Rome symbolized the Fascist experience. The past was evoked by a huge monument with the inscription “Mussolini Dux” near the sports center Foro Italico, and by a series of architectural reminders in the form of bombastic buildings, large avenues, and spacious squares, which formed an ideal background for military parades and mass meetings. Even the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935-6 left its footprint in the old capital of the Impero dell’Africa Italiana. One of the famous Axumite monoliths, which dates from the fourth century, still stands next to the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, although the Italian government has now promised to return it to Ethiopia as soon as possible. The obelisk was transported to Rome as a war trophy in 1937. Rome’s northeastern districts also display reminders of colonial times. “Viale Eritrea,” “viale Etiopia,” “viale Somalia,” “via Adua,” “via Dessie,” “via Tembien,” “via Endert ` a,” and “Piazza Addis Abeba” all ` refer to geographical locations in eastern Africa, which were sites of major battles in the Italo-Ethiopian War.

Even though the signs of the colonial past are still manifest, historians and the general public have until recently suppressed memories of the Italo-Ethiopian War. In contrast to the interwar commentary, Italian historiography has since 1945 been reticent about the Italian colonial experience and the colonial wars on the African continent, even though these conflicts had exercised a formative influence on the young nation-state for seventy-five years. The subject was long regarded as unworthy of mention. Defeat in World War II and the resulting loss of the Italian colonies as a status symbol led to this state of affairs. As a result, Italian historiography remained relatively unaffected by the turmoil of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. Even the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope Pius XI and his advisers Monsignor Pizzardo and Monsignor Tardini, never officially criticized the war in Abyssinia, despite ancient diplomatic relations between the Coptic Church and the Vatican. Fascism never hesitated to cooperate with as many supporters as possible. Moreover, the church and its missionaries were well versed in the game of imperialism. The exponents of the consolata order were literally mobilized to promote the war, and the fascist party exploited the idea of Italy’s “civilizing mission” in Africa to justify the cause. Thus, both clerical and secular authorities supported the seizure of Ethiopia. In most European historiographies, imperialism has registered as a narrative of colonial warfare. Italian expansionism provides no exception to this rule. But while the colonial histories of other imperialist powers featured wars of nation-states against stateless societies, Italian expansion in East Africa in the 1930s featured a war between two states. Both were members of the League of Nations, although they differed profoundly in their political, economic, and military development.

One telling example illustrates the disparity in military strength. In March 1929 young Ras Tafari challenged his last rival, Ras Gugsa Wolie. He achieved final victory thanks to a mysterious weapon, a single airplane that bombarded his enemy’s army. Soon after the victory, Ras Tafari was proclaimed emperor of Ethiopia and adopted the name Haile Selassie, “Power of Trinity.” Even as he did so, several hundred Italian officers, engineers, and scientists deliberated about the character of future war, its proper objectives and methods. In this connection, they seized on the idea of a “nothing-but-air war.” The enemy’s civilian population, not its armed forces, was to be targeted. In earlier wars civilians had been involved in military action and suffered attack, but never as directly, massively, or on such a sustained basis as the Italian advocates of air power now recommended. The employment of fleets of bombers represented one of several doctrines that emerged during the interwar period, but it was a central feature of the next European war.

The central question in this essay pertains to the character and significance of the Italo-Ethiopian War in the military history of the twentieth century. Was it an unlimited war of conquest, fought with all available financial, economic, and military means? Or was it a traditional colonial war, with limited expenditures and restricted war aims? Do lines of continuity extend from the first Italian expansion into East Africa, which culminated in the disaster of Adowa in 1896, to the Italo-Ethiopian War of the 1930s; or are there significant disjunctures between these two imperial episodes?

Statistics are lacking about the total number of those killed, injured, or imprisoned during this second East African war. Nor is it clear how many people starved to death, were dislodged or raped, or were crippled for life. The Italian historian Angelo Del Boca has estimated that on the Ethiopian side, 55,000 to 70,000 combatants were killed on the two fronts of the war – the southern, Somali front and the northern, Eritrean front. According to the files of the Central Archive in Rome, the Italians lost some 9,000 men. These numbers cover the period between October 10, 1935, and May 5, 1936, which marked out the official duration of the war. In addition, 500 Italian workers, who had been recruited for road construction in Africa, were killed. The soldiers and officers killed in action were generously decorated with medals. On average, every fourth fatality earned a medal.

In this “war of seven months,” mass armies fought one another. While the Italian armed forces comprised five hundred thousand combatants, the Negus managed to mobilize only half that number. In addition, the Ethiopians lacked modern equipment, weapons, and ammunition, as well as the financial resources to provision a larger army. There was thus a great material imbalance between the opponents. In spite of the discrepancies, Haile Selassie decided to confront his enemy with regular armies. He rejected the idea of a guerilla warfare, which would presumably have brought him a tactical advantage, for such a people’s war might have jeopardized his own claim to the imperial throne. In most of the five principal battles of the war, the Ethiopians were thus the weaker party, not only numerically but also technologically and logistically. In the fall of 1935, shortly before the conflict began, there were 170,000 soldiers, 65,000 ascaris, and 38,000 workers ready for war in Africa on the Italian side. In May 1936 there were twice as many – about 330,000 soldiers, 87,000 ascaris, and 100,000 workers. Ninety-thousand pack animals and 14,000 motor vehicles of various categories, from automobiles to trucks, supported the Italian forces. The effective Italian armaments included 10,000 machine-guns, 1,100 artillery pieces, 250 tanks, and 350 warplanes, most of which were reconnaissance planes and bombers. The daily petrol consumption of these machines exceeded Italy’s total petrol consumption during World War I. The Italian navy transported soldiers, building materials, and arms to the African colonies. Altogether 900,000 soldiers and civilians, as well as several hundred thousand tons of goods, were shipped to the colonies and back.

The most evident consequence of the Italo-Ethiopian War, and later the Spanish Civil War, was the loss of military effectiveness. Manpower and arms were exhausted. Fifteen hundred airplanes were lost during the two wars – about 20 percent of the air force’s entire capacity. In the aftermath, Italy had to increase exports of its own warplanes in order to finance imports of critical raw materials. The backwardness of Italy’s military technology on the eve of World War II was the product of the conflicts of 1935-6 and 1936-9. Diminished productive capacity and the expense of technological innovation impeded the modernization of the Italian military until the outbreak of World War II.

According to the initial plans, the Italo-Ethiopian War was supposed to cost 1.5 to 2 billion lire. But the financial burden amounted to 1 billion lire per month. Including the preparation of the campaign and the period of reconstruction shortly after the war, Italy spent about 57,303,000,00 lire from 1935 to 1940. The short-term effect of the Italo-Ethiopian War was to encourage Italian heavy industry, particularly the armament industries, and to reduce unemployment. But the country’s financial reserves diminished rapidly. From 1935 to 1940 some 77 billion lire were consumed by the costs of the wars in Ethiopia, Spain, Albania, and the pacification campaigns in East Africa. This sum corresponded to two-thirds of the military budget of that period.

The first serious plans for the campaign were initiated by Emilio De Bono, the minister of colonial affairs. He ordered two complementary studies. Within three months, the military experts in Asmara had prepared a memorandum dated September 8, 1932, which described a scenario for offensive war against Ethiopia. In December 1932 the second plan, an analysis of a defensive war, had been completed, too. The plan for the offensive war assumed that Europe was at peace and that Italy had arranged a diplomatic agreement with France and Great Britain, the two other powers that were interested in stability in the African Horn. The second memorandum, on the defensive war, posited an Ethiopian attack during a period of instability in Europe, during which the metropolitan army’s movement to Africa would be impeded. The first of these plans assumed that on the Italian side a colonial army of 35,000 regular soldiers and 50,000 mercenaries would suffice. Within one month, the Ethiopian army was supposed to mobilize 50,000 to 60,000 soldiers. Within three months, however, Ethiopian mobilization was to comprise between 200,000 and 300,000 men. The maximum force available on the Ethiopian side was supposed to reach 500,000 men. In the second plan, nearly all the manpower on the Italian side had to be provided by the colonies of Eritrea and Somalia. About 60,000 to 80,000 Eritreans would be called to arms. The equipment had to be imported from Italy, but the quantity and quality of the requested material was to depend on the military situation in Europe. In order to be prepared for any of the alternatives, offensive or defensive, on November 29, 1932, De Bono called for the deployment of at least a hundred airplanes, which the aircraft industry was to supply. He thus based his plans on the speed of Italian mobilization and on the destructive potential of warplanes, for he knew that the Ethiopian side possessed only a handful of airplanes and antiaircraft guns. De Bono planned to invade the Ethiopian plateau from the north. A second attack, from Italian Somaliland, was not considered at this time, because environmental conditions were regarded as too harsh for Europeans and Eritrean ascaris alike.

In 1932 Pietro Badoglio, the chief of the Supreme General Staff and governor of the North African colonies, became De Bono’s rival for leadership of the campaign. The rivalry grew in the ill-defined competencies of the Fascist bureaucracy. As governor of Libya, Badoglio was the colonial minister’s subordinate, but in military affairs De Bono was Badoglio’s. As chief of the Supreme General Staff, Badoglio coordinated the three branches of the armed forces and held the higher rank. The bureaucratic jungle encouraged the accumulation of important positions, however, and in this case, the issue was complicated by the involvement of Mussolini himself in his drive to institutionalize his own military power. In July 1933 he took over the War Ministry. Four months later he took over the Air Ministry and the Navy Ministry. The undersecretaries in the three ministries acted respectively as chiefs of the general staff of the army, the air force, and the navy. In the autumn of 1933, however, Mussolini designated De Bono, informally and secretly, as the military leader of a future African campaign, which both men anticipated would begin in 1935. Ignorant of the agreement, Badoglio worked out his own operational schedules for a campaign that carried special emotional significance for him: He had seen service at Adowa in 1896. However, he reckoned with a longer mobilization, which would conclude only in 1936; and he warned that the campaign would drastically weaken Italy’s military force in Europe. He expressed these concerns in a letter to Mussolini on January 20, 1934. A war against Ethiopia, he wrote, would not be one of the “usual colonial ventures.” It would be real war. It would catch the eye of the whole world and take place under completely different circumstances than the war of 1896. As Haile Selassie’s incipient modernization of the Ethiopian army made clear, that country was well aware of Italy’s desire for revenge for Adowa. In addition to the regular armies of his vassals, he had built up an Imperial Army, a kind of personal guard of several thousand men, all of whom were well equipped and well trained by Belgian instructors. Badoglio stressed that many Ethiopian officers had been trained in European military academies. Finally, Badoglio emphasized that the war would be fought by Italians, for he did not regard the Eritrean ascaris as reliable.

With countless problems waiting for solution, preparations continued secretly and at high speed after August 1934. The Italian ports in the Red Sea, Assab and Massawa, were enlarged, war materials were built up, pack animals bought, camps constructed, and the whole infrastructure improved. In addition, several landing fields were constructed. The colonial administration in Eritrea recruited most of the people who had earlier served in the Colonial Army. The training of the ascaris took place in special camps in Libya. Suddenly, at the end of 1934, Mussolini’s role became known, when he issued an appeal for war and explained to Badoglio the special features of the campaign he intended to “dictate” from Rome. He had become a convinced supporter of the campaign, for he recognized Ethiopia’s military inferiority. He wanted a decisive, powerful takeover, and he wanted it to happen quickly. The timing was crucial. A war 4,000 kilometers from home was feasible only while peace survived in Europe. The dictator trusted that a Franco-Italian diplomatic arrangement, which was imminent, would at least temporarily stabilize the European continent. In his memorandum of December 30, 1934, he scheduled the beginning of operations for October 1935. The goal of the war was to “destroy the Ethiopian Army and achieve the total conquest of the land” in a minimum amount of time. The sooner the war was over, he reasoned, the less resistance would arise in Europe, mainly from Great Britain and France.

In the view of the historian Giorgio Rochat, this memorandum held the key to Italy’s military policy in the interwar period. Rochat argued that Mussolini regarded the Ethiopian war as an opportunity to win broader support from the Italian middle classes. Ethiopia was hence, in Rochat’s opinion, no prelude to the conquest of other regions in Africa or Asia. Rochat’s interpretation of the war did not differ substantially from the analysis that he himself offered of the first Italian expansion into East Africa in the nineteenth century. In 1935 the proportions of the conflict were merely more vast. Nonetheless, Mussolini called his Ethiopian war a “national war.” The transition from colonial to national war was also analyzed by Esmonde Robertson. Like Rochat, he interpreted the war as an Italian response to an opportunity. He attributed the campaign in East Africa to an “improvised decision,” not to a systematic line of policy. Robertson’s interpretation portrayed the Italo-Ethiopian War as the last venture of European imperialism.

Historians are nowadays extending the investigation of modern military history. The “master narrative of total war” has itself been challenged and enlarged. Analysis is turning to neglected aspects of total warfare, such as the specific methods of war, mobilization, and the attempt to keep warfare under control – to make total war “practical.” If total war is conceived as the totalization of all these elements, the concept can be useful in comparing the world wars in Europe with the colonial war that was fought in East Africa in the 1930s.

However, two objections can be raised to this comparison straightaway. The first is the utter incomparability of the civilian casualties. The second is the fact that purists among the military thinkers in interwar Italy did not use the term guerra integrale to describe war overseas.

Total Colonial Warfare: Ethiopia II

Map showing the military actions from 1935 to February 1936.

Map showing the military actions from February to May 1936.

Giulio Douhet was one of the first to define the distinction between guerra totale and guerra integrale. The term guerra totale implied a war fought with all means against combatants. Guerra integrale, by contrast, implied a war fought against noncombatants as well. Other contemporary thinkers took up Douhet’s arguments and elaborated on the difference between the two concepts. Thereafter, strategists in Italy and elsewhere were not content to restrict their plans to land warfare or decisive battles among regular armies. Airplanes and noncombatants had become central in their thinking. Future wars would take place everywhere and encompass everyone. The morale of civil populations, friendly and enemy alike, would be essential. As formulated by Douhet and his disciples, the concept of a guerra integrale in Europe emphasized a war against civilians. In his pioneering writings on air power, Douhet noted in 1921 that the enemy’s urban centers should be destroyed. He considered aerial bombardment an effective and efficient solution to the stalemate of land warfare. He worked out the doctrine of the “command of the air,” which represented the prize of aerial warfare among technologically advanced nations. The tools of strategic bombing were explosives, incendiary bombs, and poison gas. Paradoxically, Douhet wrote, the annihilation of the enemy’s cities and industrial production would shorten the war and spare the lives of soldiers.

Living conditions in the colonial world, where there were few cities or areas of industrial concentration, hardly conformed to this vision. Nonetheless, colonial warfare resembled European war in the twentieth century in at least one respect, which might not be immediately apparent. Beginning with the Italo-Turkish War in 1911-12 and through the Great War, the “pacification” of Libya in the 1920s, the Italo-Ethiopian War, the Spanish Civil War, the invasion of Albania and finally World War II, Italy experienced war, both in Europe and overseas, almost without interruption for more than three decades. While theorists such as Douhet, Amedeo Guillet, Ugo Fischetti, and Ernesto Coop pondered the question of war in Europe, colonial officers, such as Rodolfo Graziani, Riccardo Barreca, and Ambrogio Bollati, focused on colonial warfare. Italian military doctrine evolved in the exchange of ideas and experiences between these two camps, primarily through the medium of the military journals.

De Bono moved to Eritrea in early 1935 in order to supervise the preparations for the campaign. As war broke out in October, De Bono, who was supposed to invade the Ethiopian plateau, hesitated. As soon as Mussolini became aware of the old general’s behavior, he dismissed him and named Badoglio his successor. Meanwhile, Badoglio had developed a series of new operational plans, which testified to his aggressiveness and enthusiasm for the campaign. The fact that he had also dropped his demand to delay the war until 1936 convinced Mussolini to choose him. In his operational plans Badoglio relied on air power, which was to bomb enemy combatants and to destroy the Ethiopian military infrastructure, including lines of strategic communication and supply centers. Badoglio assumed that the enemy troops would operate in masses, so bombers could locate objectives and inflict great damage. “200 kilometers south of our borders, our aircraft could cause such devastation that an army of 300,000 soldiers would be forced to withdraw,” he wrote. His strategy featured a colossal march over more than 800 kilometers, from Eritrea to the capital of the Ethiopian Empire, Addis Ababa. Passing through Adowa, the invading column was to advance steadily southward by foot or on motor vehicles. Warplanes were to precede the convoy and “prepare the territory,” bombing every city and intimidating the country’s population. Everything of importance was to be bombed with explosives and incendiaries. Terror was to reign. Badoglio’s war plans exceeded the traditional dimensions of limited colonial warfare. Indeed, Badoglio’s plans appear to have absorbed much of Douhet’s vision of future warfare. The totalization of warfare had become a necessity. Italy could not stand a long war, for Mussolini’s military advisers feared a deterioration of the political situation in Europe after 1936.

In November 1935 Badoglio assumed command of all the armed forces on the Eritrean and Somali fronts. Some three-quarters of the mobilized soldiers and officers thus came under his direct command. In Mogadishu, the other quarter of the Italian forces was commanded by general Rodolfo Graziani, who oversaw his part of the campaign with great autonomy and was more answerable to Mussolini than Badoglio, his immediate superior in the chain of command.

The war was fought against an enemy who was from the beginning at an enormous disadvantage. In fact, the war presented the Italians with a unique opportunity to practice aspects of modern warfare with little risk. Logistics were put to a severe test, because nearly everything had to be imported from Italy. Thousands of soldiers, officers, blackshirt volunteers, and workers were mobilized; and even the ascaris were allowed to demonstrate their reliability.

Immense effort went into the propaganda of war in Italy, the colonies, and the Ethiopian regions close to the borders. A Ministry of Propaganda was established in 1935 to confront its first challenge in the Italo-Ethiopian War. Critics were to be silenced by means of coordinated official communiques. Censorship of written correspondence, telephone calls, telegraphic ‘ communications, and the radio was to do the rest. Journals, literary and scientific reports, and books were full of war propaganda, which extended to the theatre, cinema, songs and poetry, museums, research centers, exhibitions, postcards, and stamps, even into comics and children’s books. Imperial expansion and war were portrayed as necessary. In the illustrated reviews, photography and printing depicted the color and exoticism of colonial life. The subjects of the propaganda were the heroic Italian soldiers, militiamen, and workers, who were fighting for the glory of the new empire in the distant colonies.

In Africa, De Bono set up rudimentary offices of censorship, in Asmara and in Mogadishu, in January 1935. Thereafter the flow of military and personal information from the front to families in Italy or abroad, and from families to the front, was put under increasing control. The censors read the reports of hundreds of Italian and foreign correspondents. Journalists were gathered together in an elaborate media center, which was established in an old camp near Asmara, far from the front. The center included a dining room, a settlement of huts for lodging, and a special office that supplied journalists with photographs and documentation, as well as a post office and a telegraph and telephone station. Within eight months, 80,000 meters of film were recorded, and some eight thousand official photos were shot, to be reproduced more than three hundred fifty thousand times. In addition, special newspapers and radio transmissions went out to the soldiers and road-builders. The purpose of all this effort was to keep up the morale of listeners and readers and to promote a ruthless policy.

The correspondence carried by airplane or ship to and from Eritrea and Italian Somaliland amounted to two million letters and postcards monthly. The censors selectively read two hundred thousand pieces of civilian correspondence and a similar amount of military correspondence. Reports from the front were read with special attention, and letters that contained sensitive information were censored. This procedure allowed the political and military leaders to keep abreast of the general situation in other countries, as well as the Italian people’s feelings about the invasion of Ethiopia and reactions to the sanctions that the League of Nations imposed. Of greatest importance was the correspondence to and from Italy. Surveys of censored correspondence were transmitted to the ministries, secret services, and the secret police, who could use it to reconstruct regional patterns of resistance to the war.

The army’s secret service (Servizio Informazioni Militari, SIM), the navy’s secret service (Servizio Informazioni Segreti, SIS), and the information service of the air force (Servizio Informazioni Aeronautiche, SIA) decoded telegraphic correspondence within Ethiopia, including messages sent to and from the emperor and telegrams among the Ethiopian military commanders. In this way the Italians were normally well informed about the enemy’s armament, mobilization, and, later in the war, about crucial troop movements. A staff of translators and spies kept information and rumors flowing. As the process took on a certain momentum, the mass of news to be controlled and censored (or the rumors to be spread) increased. Errors and misinterpretations were impossible to avoid. Sometimes secret information on Italian military operations leaked out. But on the whole, the “information front” underwent totalization in this war.

Neither Badoglio nor Graziani shied away from using chemical weapons. Although Italy had in 1928 ratified the international convention forbidding the use of chemical and bacteriological weapons, this document proved to be no obstacle. The “pacification” of Libya in the 1920s concluded as Italians employed chemical agents, although military operations in Libya did not find much echo in public opinion. In the case of Ethiopia, the use of chemical agents was long planned. The documents that related to chemical weapons were treated with great discretion, and use of gas was often only implied. In his memorandum of December 1934, Mussolini ordered “absolute superiority in artillery and gas weapons.” The commander of the chemical services in Eritrea had already completed studies of gas warfare by the spring of 1934. He concluded that the terrain, meteorological conditions, and an enemy who would be unprepared all favored the use of gas. His report recommended its employment as soon as the Ethiopian Army came within range of the air force. The results would be effective if the Ethiopians’ routes and rallying points were properly contaminated. Nor were Ethiopian soldiers to be the only people targeted. E. Venditti, the chief of the chemical services in Asmara, wrote in February 1935 that the air force should also use fire-bombs, in order to destroy Ethiopian huts, which were built of highly flammable materials such as tree branches, twigs, and straw.

In his correspondence with Badoglio in February 1935, Giuseppe Valle, the undersecretary in the Air Force Ministry and chief of staff of the air force, also proposed the use of chemical agents in bombing Ethiopian cities, such as Addis Ababa, Gondar, and Harrar.

Chemical weapons, above all mustard gas, were in fact used during the Italo-Ethiopian War. Gas was not, however, released over the capital. It was instead employed in remote areas, over provincial towns, against the armed forces, and later against the guerillas. Rochat, who pioneered research on the gas war in Ethiopia, calculated that before January 1936 about 300 tons of mustard gas were used on the northern front. On the southern front, 30,500 kilograms of mustard gas and 13,300 kilograms of phosgene were put to use. 35 On the variety and quantity of bombs used in the following months, there is little information.

Bacteriological weapons were not used in the campaign, although De Bono had suggested the idea in February 1935 and Mussolini had welcomed it early in 1936. The Italian failure to employ these weapons was not due to Badoglio’s humanitarian feelings. It was rather a question of political rationality. The overwhelming superiority of the Italian Army after the battle of Enderta had altered the situation. Badoglio did not want to attract ` the animosity of the local population by needlessly harming Italy’s future subjects. Particularly in the Tigray region, the official policy became one of reparation in 1936, as the Italians tried to make amends for the damage they had caused. This policy, too, was part of the propaganda effort to win the confidence of the local elites, above all the clergy. Between February and April 1936 at least 476,000 leaflets, printed in Amharic, Tigrine, and Arabic, were dropped by airplane over villages and towns. In some cases buildings and Coptic churches were reconstructed, indemnities were paid, and village chiefs were allowed to lodge complaints about marauding troops at the newly established bureaus of the unita politiche `.

Many aspects of the war against the civilian population are waiting to be examined. While there is a good paper on the attitude of the International Committee of the Red Cross, we know little about the treatment of Ethiopian civilians in the north and south. Given the rivalry between Badoglio on the northern front and Graziani on the southern, we can speculate about different military priorities and their effects on combatants as well as noncombatants. The impact of the Italo-Ethiopian War on civilians deserves an important place in the totalization of war in the twentieth century. The employment of forbidden weapons is but one dimension of this story. Another is the perception of the enemy, combatants and noncombatants alike. The Italians’ representation of the Ethiopian enemy was deeply influenced by fascist ideology. Racism became a prominent feature in it, as the mass media celebrated the beauty of war, and millions of Italians professed adoration for the Duce. The Italo-Ethiopian War was thus of fundamental significance in the regime’s pursuit of two goals: the militarization of society and the fascistization of the army.

While the ruling Ethiopian elites fought for survival, for Ethiopia’s independence, and the preservation of their own social and economic positions, Italy’s war aims were more limited. Unlike Libya, Ethiopia was not to become a settlement colony for Italian peasants. The goals of the Italian leadership were to destroy the Ethiopian army and to conquer the land in a short period of time. Officially the war lasted seven months. But the conquest of Ethiopia was by no means complete. Italian propaganda misrepresented the situation, as it spread the news that Italy had accomplished its “total” aims.

Nor did the conflict approach “total war” in other respects. Although a huge army was supplied for the first time with motor vehicles and from the air, the tactical and strategic lessons of the war were modest. Italian leaders were aware that they could not have waged war in the same fashion against an enemy that was armed with a comparable air force, artillery, and antiaircraft guns, or one that could exploit the same kind of mobilization and propaganda machinery as the Italians enjoyed.

Nonetheless, the enormous financial, propagandistic, and military exertions caused by the Italo-Ethiopian War vastly exceeded the parameters of nineteenth-century imperialism. The doctrines and techniques of warfare, the mobilization of society, and the attempt to establish total control over the war effort all reached dimensions unknown in the previous century.

Military violence, new weapons systems, and the full powers of propaganda were used against noncombatants as well as combatants. Involving civilians in war in this fashion admittedly resembled practices in earlier wars of colonial conquest, but it also conformed no less to the futuristic vision laid out in Europe’s military academies, military journals, and general staffs.

The Italian mobilization for war was impressive. Several hundred thousand tons of war material and some nine hundred thousand men were transported to Africa. In addition, the war had had a tremendous impact on the minds of the Italian people, as it forged a kind of community feeling. As Italian historians emphasized in the 1970s, the war served in this way the purpose for which it was launched, to legitimize the Fascist regime. Growing popular self-esteem went hand-in-hand with the expansion of the Fascist Empire. During the war the populace was increasingly subjected to government control. The incessant repetition of the message that Mussolini and the military commanders in the colony had the situation well in hand created a climate of stability and faith in the regime. Propaganda pervaded nearly ‘ every sphere of life – schools, youth organizations, trade unions, leisure time, women’s organizations, and, to a certain extent, even the church, as well as the armed forces. Above all in its methods, in its wholesale mobilization of the population, the attempt to establish total control, and the systematic waging of war on civilians, the Italo-Ethiopian War represented an important way station on the road to total war.

Italian Air Raids on Gibraltar

Raid on the Rock – Tribute to the Crews of the Regia Aeronautica by Ivan Berryman. The only four engined heavy bomber to serve with the Regia Aeronautica, the Piaggio P. 108 was built in too few numbers to have any significant effect in the Italian air campaign in World War Two, but was a worthy aircraft with several innovative design features, not least the remotely controlled gun barbettes in the outer engine nacelles. Most notable of the P. 108’s achievements were a number of daring night time.

The Piaggio P.108 first: the decision to use the four-engined bomber against the British target was put into practice in the summer of 1942. On 26 June at least seven P.108s of the 274a Squadriglia Bombardamento G.R. (Grande Raggio = Long Range) left Pisa airfield for Decimomannu airfield in Sardinia.

From there five P.108s took off at 21.00 hrs of 28 June to effect a night bombardment against Gibraltar. One of them was forced to come back early due to engine troubles, while the other four reached their objective and dropped 66 bombs of 100kg and 6 of 250kg from a height comprised between 4.000 and 4.300 meters. Though attacking singularly over a span of 35 minutes no bomber was hit by the enemy a/a fire. The return route however turned out to be a dramatic adventure due to an unforeseen high fuel consumption. Only the P.108 flown by T.Col. Castellani managed to come back to Decimomannu after over nine hours of flight. The plane of Cap. Balletta was forced to land at Palma de Maiorca and, avoiding being interned, managed to refuel and take off again next morning. The P.108 MM.22001 of Ten. Sassi was instead compelled to crash-land at 05.30 hours on the Spanish coast, near Valencia, with the plane damaged beyond repair and the crew captured. Same destiny for the P.108 MM.22005 flown by Ten. Sotgia, badly damaged while trying to land without fuel at Los Alcazares airfield (near Cartagena).

The mission was tried again on the night of 3 July with only one P.108 (MM.22601) flown by Cap. Balletta, but ended in tragedy: the plane probably crashed into the sea for unknown reasons since it was never heard anymore, bringing with him the pilot and seven crew members.

A period of reorganization and training ensued, while also studying the problem of high fuel consumption. On the night of 24 September 1942 two P.108s flown by Cap. Semprini and Cap. Grassi effected a new bombing mission against Gibraltar. The mission was performed faultlessly and the two bombers came back safely to Decimomannu. A new action was thus planned for the night of 20 October: four Piaggio took off but one  (MM.22002) was forced to come back and was destroyed in the landing. The other three bombers however, effected the mission safely and came back home; on the following night the mission was repeated by three more P.108s, but the one flown by Ten. Rossi was compelled to crash-land on the Algerian coast near Bona, destroying the MM.22602. The crew managed to reach Bona’s airfield and were then taken to Tunis, coming back  to Italy only a few days before the Anglo-American landings…

Those events stopped the bombardments of Gibraltar and in the following months the 274a Sq. employed its P.108s for long range reconnaissance flights but mainly for night bombardments  against the Algerian area occupied by the Allied troops. Maison-Blache, Philippeville, Bona airfields were the target as well as the ports of Bona, Algiers, Bougie… high losses were suffered and by the summer of 1943 the 274a Sq. had been virtually wiped out.

Let’s now turn to the Savoia Marchetti S.79: a new mission against Gibraltar was attempted on 19 June 1943 using the latest version of the S.79, equipped with new A.R.128 R.C.18.

The mission requested a long study of the routes and the ten S.79s chosen for the mission had to take off from the French airfield of Istres, nearer to the objective. Even in this way, the flight was foreseen to last 10 hours of which only 30 minutes for the attack.

On midnight of 19 June 1943, nine S.79s took off overloaded with 5,000 litres of fuel, led by T. Col . Carlo Unia and comprising the best Italian torpedo-bomber pilots, like Magg. Casini, Magg. Melley, Cap. Marini, Cap. Cimicchi, Cap. Magagnoli, Cap. Di Bella, Cap. Faggioni, Cap. Amorosu. Only the S.79 of Cap. Graziani was unable to participate due to damages sustained in the training phase.

At a quote of 2,000 metres the planes followed the Spanish coastline, but one after another, all had to abort the mission for the most different technical problems: only two S.79s, flown by Cap. Cimicchi and Cap. Faggioni, managed to reach Gibraltar, finding the bay full of ships and fully illuminated. Both dropped their torpedoes, but were unable to see the results.

The S.79 of  Cap. Cimicchi was the only to came back at Istres at 09,40 hrs of 20 June, while Faggioni’s plane was compelled to land in Spain due to excessive fuel consumption.

These were the Italian air operations led against Gibraltar before the Armistice.

No Piaggio P.108 was ever flown by the ANR, let alone used operationally on the Eastern front. Although a second Italian transport unit (Gr. “Trabucchi”) was being trained in Germany with its Savoia Marchetti S.82s, only the Savoia Marchetti S.81 of Gr. “Terracciano” were employed on the northern part of the Eastern front for a few months between March to August 1944.

Piaggio P.108

The only four-engine heavy bomber to see operation with Italian forces during World War II, the Piaggio P.108 was an interesting design. Long established in Italy as engineers and shipbuilders, Piaggio had entered aviation during World War I, producing some aircraft and components under subcontract. Developed from an earlier P .50-11 design for a four-engine bomber, the P.108 was a cantilever low-wing monoplane of all metal construction, with retractable tailwheel landing gear and power provided by four Piaggio P.XIIRC.35 radial engines, two on each wing, in nacelles at the wing leading edges. Four versions were planned, but only the P.108 Bombardiere, which was first flown in prototype form during 1939, was built in any quantity. The variants, built only as prototypes or in small numbers, comprised first the single P.108A Artiglieri anti-shipping aircraft which, converted from the P.108 prototype, had its standard armament supplemented by the installation of a 102-mm cannon. Captured by German forces at the time of the Allied-Italian armistice, it was impressed for service with the Luftwaffe. The P.108C Civile was a civil transport version with increased wing span and a redesigned fuselage to accommodate 32 passengers. A total of 16 was built, including one prototype, but these were modified for use as military transports accommodating 56 troops, and about 24 P.108Bs were also converted to this configuration. One P.108T (Trasporto) military transport prototype was built as a conversion from a P.108C, from which it differed primarily by incorporating side loading doors and a ventral hatch. Proposed variants included the P.108M (Modificato), a development of the P.108B with the single machine-gun in the nose turret replaced by four guns and a 20-mm cannon; and the P.133, an advanced version of the P.108B with uprated engines and an increased bombload.

The P.108B was first deployed in night attacks on Gibraltar during early 1942, and the type saw service subsequently in the Mediterranean theatre of operation. A total of 163 was built, but heavy losses meant that less than five per cent survived after the armistice with the Allies.


Production totals of the P108C and T are unclear, but combined there were approximately 16 built, with most of the P108Cs subsequently converted to the transport version.

    Prototype : MM 22001

    Series 1 : MM 22002—22008, MM 22601—22604

    Series 2 : MM 24315—24326

    Series 3 : MM 24667—24678

P.108 Prototype

P.108A Artiglieri

    Anti-shipping version. One built.

P.108B Bombardiere

    Heavy bomber version. 24 built.

P.108C Civile

    Civil transport version. Uncertain number built, but probably six.

P.108M Modificato

    Intended modification of P.108B with heavier armament. None built

P.108T Trasporto

    Transport version. More than 12 (including converted P.108Cs).


    Advanced version of the P.108B with better engines and increased bombload. Not completed.

Specifications (Piaggio P.108B)

General characteristics

    Crew: 6 or 7

    Length: 22.30 m (73 ft 2 in)

    Wingspan: 32.00 m (105 ft)

    Height: 6.00 m (20 ft)

    Wing area: 135.0 m² (1,453 ft²)

    Empty weight: 17,325 kg (38,195 lb)

    Max takeoff weight: 29,885 kg (65,885 lb)

    Powerplant: 4× Piaggio P.XII RC.35 radial engine, 1,120 kW (1,500 hp) each


    Maximum speed: 430 km/h (267 mph)

    Range: 3,520 km (2,187 mi)

    Service ceiling: 8,500 m (27,187 ft)


    5 × 12.7 mm (.5 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns

    2 × 7.7 mm (.303 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns

    3,500 kg (7,700 lb) of bombs

War Against the Turks

Sembrose por la corte como negocio venido de la mano de Dios, y á todos nos parescia un sueño, por sir cosa que no se ha jamas visto oido esta batalla y victoria naval.

There is no man at the court who does not discern in it the hand of the Lord, and it seems to us all like a dream, in that never before has such a battle and victory at sea been seen or heard of.

Letter from State Secretary Juan Luis de Alzamora to Don John of Austria, 11 November 1571

The antagonism in Christendom towards the Ottomans was fundamental, the evidence for it pervasive. Yet beyond the calls to mobilize resources and efforts to defend a common faith lay debates in and around the councils of Christian princes about the best strategies and military techniques to deploy, and fundamental disagreements about whether what was needed was the defence of what remained in Christian hands (and in which regions to concentrate) or the recovery of what had been lost. Those divergences were occluded in the rhetoric of the double goal to bring peace to Christendom in order to confront the Muslim foe. The moral authority of the papacy and (to a lesser extent) the emperor were both implicated in the quest for that mostly illusory twin objective. Partly as a result of papal insistence, the diplomatic correspondence and international negotiations echoed to the importance of achieving a peace in Christendom in order to unite against the ‘common enemy’. Sent by Pope Julius III to negotiate an accord between the French king, Henry II, and Emperor Charles in 1554, Cardinal Pole wrote a discourse that was a classic statement about how true peace between Christian princes was a gift from God. That gift was the more to be sought after, said Pole, because ‘truly nothing but your dissensions and wars’ was to blame for the Ottoman capture of Belgrade or the fall of Rhodes. The papal dream of a united Christendom as the necessary precondition for a war against the Turk remained on the agenda throughout the sixteenth century since it was one to which Protestant and Catholic Christian princes jointly subscribed, even though little else united them.

That papal dream was still active at the end of the sixteenth century as the ‘Long War’ against the Ottomans in Hungary showed no signs of reaching a successful conclusion for the emperor’s forces. That conflict underlined Pope Clement VIII’s efforts to reconcile the French king, Henry IV, with Philip II, culminating at the Peace of Vervins (1598). The Cardinal-Nephew Pietro Aldobrandini wrote in October 1596: ‘These peace talks are of infinite importance to His Holiness because he sees in them a service to God and Christendom, and the true means of exterminating heresies and subjugating the Turk.’ That was the last moment in Europe’s major diplomatic encounters when the rhetoric of peace in Christendom in order to unite against the Ottomans played a significant role. Protestant powers in northern Europe ceased to take it seriously. The international diplomatic role of the papacy retreated. In the initial stages of the Westphalian negotiations in 1645–6, the papal nuncio Fabio Chigi corralled the delegates from the Catholic powers in Münster to arrive at a common peace in order to resist the Ottoman offensive in the Aegean, begun with the siege of Crete in 1645. His Venetian counterpart, the experienced diplomat Alvise Contarini, tried to do the same among Protestant delegates at Osnabrück, even exaggerating the dangers for the sake of the audience. Like Contarini, however, Chigi was dismayed by the results, confiding to the nuncio in Venice that evoking the Turkish threat worked ‘the opposite of what he had expected’. Delegates, he said, ‘hear the Turk spoken of as though it was merely a name, a creation of the mind, an unarmed phantasmagoria’. By the time the negotiations neared completion, the papacy had to make a choice between not sacrificing Catholic gains in Germany during the Counter-Reformation, and supporting peace in order to pursue the Turkish threat. It chose the former.

There was one occasion when the papal dream came close to being realized. In May 1571, negotiations for a Holy League were concluded in Rome on the initiative of Pope Pius V. The agreement was signed by a majority of the Catholic maritime states in the Mediterranean (the Papal States, Spain, Venice, Genoa, Tuscany, Savoy, Parma, Urbino and Malta). Their maritime assets combined to make up the League forces placed under the overall command of Don John of Austria. Twenty-six years old, the illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V, and brought up almost as a brother to Philip II, he completed the repression of the Morisco rebellion in southern Spain before joining the fleet at Genoa in August. His flotilla then made for Messina, where other League ships assembled in September. On the 17th, Don John stepped ashore and made his way through a ceremonial parade of Spanish troops, arranged the length of the harbour, to attend Mass in the cathedral. In the bay were 208 galleys, six galleasses and a further sixty-six frigates. From one of the ships, Pope Pius V blessed the armada and presented it with the League’s crusading banner. The expeditionary force was crewed by 44,000 sailors and oarsmen. Its ships were armed with 1,800 guns and carried 28,000 soldiers. It was the largest naval force mounted by Christendom, and the largest ever deployed against Islam.

The Ottoman fleet had already left port in June 1571. It was composed of over 250 ships, crewed by 50,000 sailors and oarsmen, and carried 31,000 soldiers. Its first objective was an assault on the strategically important and rich Venetian colony on the island of Crete. Always vulnerable because of underlying Greek dislike of Venetian rule, it was additionally weakened by the Ottoman capture of Cyprus the year before. Although the island’s principal fortress held out, the island was ransacked before the Ottomans besieged Kotor on the coast of Montenegro, the fortress capital of the Venetian colony of Albania. The Ottomans were alert to the rumours of Orthodox Christian unrest in their Dalmatian sanjaks of Delvine, Avlonya, Ohrid and Elbasan. Open revolt had just broken out in the southern Peloponnese (the Morea), and Ottoman intelligence knew that its leaders had sent emissaries to Philip II and the Venetian Senate. The Ottoman amphibious force moved to suppress the rebellion in August before mounting an assault on Corfu, the Greek island at the entrance to the Adriatic.

Seeking the Ottoman navy, Don John’s fleet engaged with it in the Gulf of Lepanto, which was where the Ottoman fleet had their arsenal, on 7 October. The Turkish commander, Müezzinzade Ali Pasha, a senior figure in Ottoman councils and favourite of Sultan Selim II, promised liberty to his Christian galley-slaves if he won the day. John of Austria simply told the crew of his flagship: ‘There is no paradise for cowards.’ The battle was bloody and decisive. By four o’clock in the afternoon it was over; 7,000 or more League sailors and soldiers had perished, along with at least seventeen ships. Ottoman losses were overwhelming: 20,000 dead, wounded or captured, fifty ships sunk and a further 137 captured along with the mainly Christian slave crews. Ali Pasha himself was captured and decapitated, his head displayed on a pike above the mast of Don John’s flagship. Janissaries continued fighting, even after the battle had been lost. When ammunition ran out they threw oranges and lemons at the enemy.

The significance of the Holy League and of the battle of Lepanto did not lie in the destruction of the Ottoman navy or a decisive shift of strategic power. The ships were quickly replaced. When Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmed Pasha, the brilliant Bosnian janissary-trained administrator, was asked the following year about the losses at Lepanto, he replied: ‘The Ottoman state is so powerful that, if an order was issued to cast anchors from silver, to make rigging from silk and to cut sails from satin, it could be carried out for the entire fleet.’ Replacing the trained crews turned out, in fact, to be the harder task. The League failed to follow up their naval victory, never contemplating the recapture of the island of Chios (which the Ottomans had captured from the Genoese in 1566) or Cyprus (taken by the Ottomans after the long siege of Famagusta in 1571).

The League was disbanded in 1573. The Venetians made independent overtures to the Porte to safeguard their commercial Levantine interests, leaving Spain (now embroiled in a major war in the Netherlands) to summon alone what resources it could to defend its position on the North African coast. In touch with the Dutch rebels, the Ottomans mounted a successful attack on Tunis in 1574 with a naval force larger than either of those which fought at Lepanto. That gave them a secure base from which to invade Morocco in 1576 and unseat its dissident sultan, Abu Abdallah Muhammad II Saadi, and replace him with his compliant uncle and rival, Abu Marwan Abd al-Malik I Saadi. The Ottomans thus reminded Christendom that they could still bring war close to Europe’s heartlands. Abu Abdallah fled to Portugal and sought to engage King Sebastian in his restoration. Although he failed to interest Philip II in the project, Sebastian launched an expedition to Morocco which had all the hallmarks of a Crusade. His expeditionary force of 17,000 troops joined the 6,000 Moorish soldiers of Abu Abdallah, but they were overwhelmed at the battle of Alcácer-Quibir (‘Battle of the Three Kings’) on 4 August 1578. Sebastian was last spotted, Don Quixote-like, leading the Portuguese nobility into Ottoman lines of fire.

Alcácer-Quibir was a humiliation to be forgotten. Lepanto, by contrast, was turned into a fairy-story, complete with a handsome prince (Don John), wicked ogres (the Turks), a prize to be rescued (Christendom) and a fortuitously successful outcome. The naval battle’s significance was that it was commemorated in a surfeit of celebration. Don John became a crusading icon. Rome treated the commander of its galleys, Marc’Antonio Colonna, to a hero’s welcome. Sculpted bronze medals were distributed from the papal mint in memory of the victory, while Giorgio Vasari was commissioned by the papacy to undertake a fresco cycle for the Sala Regia (where it accompanied a painting to celebrate the massacre of St Bartholomew). In Venice, the captain-general of the Venetian galleys, Sebastiano Venier, was apotheosized in a painting by Tintoretto in which he was depicted standing on the deck of his flagship while the battle raged, assisted by a heavenly host. His renown secured him the election as the Republic’s Doge at the age of eighty.

The legend of Lepanto reassured those in Christendom who had come to believe that their internal divisions were so great that the Turk could never be defeated. Yet the reality was more sobering. Even after the League had been signed, there were anxieties that Venice was negotiating a separate agreement with the Porte to safeguard its maritime empire. Persistent disagreements over the command of the forces as well as their eventual objective had delayed the departure of the fleet. Key players in Christendom had stood aside from the League. Europe’s Protestants ostentatiously ignored it. King Charles IX of France preferred to hang on to the Capitulations of 1569, privileges offered to the French on the eve of the Ottoman Cyprus campaign in order to foster disunity among Europe’s princes. Emperor Maximilian, too, rejected the League in favour of an Ottoman-imperial accord which had been negotiated in 1568. Portugal pleaded its commitments in Morocco and the Red Sea.

By the end of the sixteenth century, the balance of forces in the Mediterranean reached an unstable equilibrium. In Hungary and the Balkans, a similar unsteady balance rested on the border defences in the Danubian marches and the relationships between the Ottomans and their Balkan and European protectorates. The Ottomans inherited fortresses hitherto in Hungarian Christian hands – those along the Danube and across to Lake Balaton in Transdanubia as well as those in the Novigrad Mountains and all the major castles along the river Tisza and its tributaries: some 130 installations which they garrisoned by 18,000 soldiers and 7,000 cavalry. The Austrian Habsburgs, confronted with their own weakness and the vulnerability of that part of Hungary remaining in their hands, chose appeasement as the only option, accepting in 1568 a truce which included annual payments of tribute to Constantinople. Gradually thereafter, the Habsburgs assembled their own defensive crescent along the 600-mile frontier from the Adriatic to northern Hungary, guarding it with over 20,000 soldiers. In 1590, they negotiated, albeit on disadvantageous terms, an eight-year extension of the truce. But conflict along this armed border escalated into a war that began in 1591 (as the Habsburgs saw it) and 1593 (as the Ottomans thought) and dragged through into the next decade, being concluded only by the Treaty of Zsitvatorok in 1606. Contemporary observers in Christian Europe were convinced that the Ottomans took advantage of the lull in the conflict with Persia in order to challenge the new Habsburg strategic fortifications.

Pope Clement VIII, following in the footsteps of Pius V, tried to turn the Hungarian conflict into an opportunity to unite Christendom under papal initiative. This time, however, Protestants were not even solicited to join in, so deep-rooted had become Europe’s religious fracture. Instead the ‘Long War’ became the moment when the revived forces of a globalizing Catholic Christianity were brought into play. Venice, Savoy, Ferrara, Mantua, Parma and Urbino, Genoa and Lucca were all approached to support what the emperor declared to be a Crusade. Princes and their spouses found themselves the object of solicitous letters from the Holy See. To the east, the pope sought a commitment from the king of Poland and, beyond Europe, he dreamed of a grand alliance with the Cossacks, the grand duke of Muscovy and Shah Abbas I of Persia. An embassy from the latter was received in Rome with suitable ceremony in 1601. International subsidies were raised, and money transhipped through financiers and intermediaries largely outside Habsburg direct control. Yet the results in material terms were disappointing. The papacy despatched three forces under Francesco Aldobrandini and additional subsidies, but Spain proved a reluctant backer, at least until after 1598. The fleets of Naples and Sicily, on which Pope Clement had relied to launch diversionary sorties in the Mediterranean, limited themselves to cautious sallies, save for one ambitious raid on Patras in 1595. Henry IV of France was as generous in his support for the principle of intervention as he was hard-headed and reluctant to deliver anything material. The Habsburgs managed to finance their war-effort only thanks to a generous reading of an agreement at the 1570 Diet of Speyer to the effect that imperial territories were obliged to provide quarter and subsistence for an army engaged in the common defence of the empire.

In the end, the outcome of the ‘Long War’ turned not on the lack of unity in Christendom but on the behaviour of the Ottoman client-states. The military hostilities in central Hungary destabilized the loyalties which the Turks had developed among the competing dynasties in Moldavia, Wallachia and Transylvania. These regions were as seriously affected by the climatic irregularities of the 1590s as the rest of the European landmass. In addition, the greater demands for raw materials, foodstuffs and subsidies to support the Ottoman forces in Hungary sharpened resentments towards their overlords. An important contingent of the armies fighting for the Ottomans in Hungary came from the Crimean Tatars (they furnished over 50,000 troops in 1595 and succeeding years). Each year, the sultan despatched ‘boot money’ to the Crimea in order to enlist their support. Once it was received, the Tatar host set forth along one of several routes, one of which took them across Transylvania, and another through Moldavia and Wallachia, and then up the right bank of the Danube. The Tatar reputation for laying waste the lands through which they passed, stealing animals and capturing peasants to sell as slaves was amply deserved.

With Ottoman attempts to limit depredations bearing little fruit, local opportunists offered to protect local people from Tatar predators and seized the moment to lead revolts against their Ottoman overlords. Leaders, looking for support from the Habsburgs, the Ottomans and Poland came and went in rapid succession. Aaron Emanoil (‘Aaron the Tyrant’) in Moldavia was twice prince before he was captured in Transylvania and imprisoned by Sigismund Báthory. Michael Viteazul (‘Michael the Brave’) became prince in Wallachia with Ottoman support in 1593 but, even as the Long War began in Hungary in earnest, Pope Clement VIII tempted him into an alliance with neighbouring upstart princes. He was variously prince of Wallachia, Transylvania and Moldavia (and, for a brief period, of all three at once) until he was assassinated on the orders of the Habsburg imperial commander, Giorgio Basta, in 1601. Sigismund Báthory held on in Transylvania, partly because of his dynastic connections with Poland, but also thanks to a 40,000-strong army, led by a Hungarian Calvinist nobleman, István Bocskai. But, with Ottoman military pressure too great for him, Sigismund eventually resigned in October 1598 in favour of one of his Polish cousins, leaving the region in turmoil.

Giorgio Basta attempted to reimpose Catholicism by force in Transylvania after 1599, following the initiative set by Archduke Ferdinand in Styria. His effort was thwarted, however, by an uprising, organized by Bocskai with covert Ottoman support. Bocskai’s army went on to defeat the Habsburg forces in two crucial battles (Álmosd and Bihardiószeg). In 1605, Bocskai was elected prince of Hungary and Transylvania at the Diet of Szerencs. The Long Turkish War drew to a negotiated conclusion in 1606 with the Ottomans having little but modest fortress gains on the Hungarian plain to show for their efforts, but with much more to be hoped for from the Transylvanian insurrection against the Habsburgs. Sultan Ahmed I despatched a crown to Bocskai, offering him the kingship of Transylvania in return for nominal vassalage to the Turkish Porte. Bocskai prudently refused the offer in favour of a deal with the Habsburg Archduke Matthias, who was compelled to recognize the authority of a Calvinist prince in Ottoman Hungary and Transylvania.

French diplomats and royal publicists were the first to find the arguments which would become widely accepted to justify alliances with the Infidel. When the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius came to publish his Law of War and Peace (1625), he asked ‘whether it was permitted to make treatises and alliances with those who are not of the true religion’. The issue was as relevant to princes making alliances across the European confessional divide as to powers making common cause with those outside Europe. Grotius’s answer was straightforward: ‘that caused no difficulty because, by the law of nature, the right to make alliances was common to all mankind generally, such that a difference of religion created no exception’. Even so, Grotius was obliged to refute the biblical arguments against the proposition, and to counsel caution. Prudence dictated, he advised, that one should not enter into such an alliance if ‘it put Pagans and Infidels in a position of overwhelming power’. Europe’s rulers should see themselves as belonging to a Christian family with a shared duty to ‘serve Jesus Christ’ and help one another when ‘an enemy of [their] religion smites the states of Christianity’. It was the customs of international diplomacy among the European ‘society of princes’, with their permanent embassies and diplomatic immunities, and shared (albeit often contested) conventions of precedence which the Ottoman state refused to acknowledge and participate in. In this respect Europe had created a sense of its political identity by 1650 which necessarily consigned the Ottomans (their political system now increasingly regarded as ‘despotic’) to the margins.


The rhetoric of anti-Turkish mobilization eventually wore thin through overuse as well as through an increasing mismatch between the idealistic commitments that it evoked and the political and strategic realities on the ground. The word ‘Crusade’ entered the English and French vocabularies in the later sixteenth century, just as the reality was vanishing over the horizon. But there would still be those in whom the call to war against the Infidel found an echo. Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, wanted to respond in 1529. Philippe-Emmanuel de Lorraine, duke of Mercoeur, was inspired to put the military experience he gained in the French Catholic League to good use in the Long Turkish War. Leaving France in 1599, he led the imperial forces which recaptured Székesfehérvár, home of the mausoleum of the kings of Hungary, from the Ottomans.

The dream of a Crusade in defence of Christendom infected the imaginations of more modest individuals too, both Protestant and Catholic. The Elizabethan adventurer Edward Woodshawe was arrested in 1575 for attempting to levy men in his English locality for a ‘journey against the Turk’. John Smith, whose expedition to Chesapeake Bay and survey of the lower Potomac led to the publication of the map of Virginia in 1612, earned his title of ‘captain’ by fighting the Ottomans in Hungary and Transylvania. In 1616, the Capuchin François Le Clerc du Tremblay was given a mission to Rome by Louis XIII’s new secretary of state, Cardinal Richelieu. He presented a project for a European Christian militia, open to both Catholics and Protestants, whose mission would be to protect Christendom against its Muslim aggressors. The scheme was the brainchild of Charles de Gonzague, duke of Nevers. The idea was to divert the destructive energies of religious discord into the common cause of a renewed Respublica christiana, albeit organized no longer under the banner of the Church but of those of its crowned heads. Meanwhile, the duke of Nevers sought the backing of the emperor and even equipped five galleons to transport the Crusaders to Greece in 1621. This was, perhaps, Christendom’s last truly crusading act. No sooner conceived, it was consigned to oblivion by the onset of war in Europe. The Thirty Years War demonstrated the destructive power of Europe. In doing so, it put paid to Christendom.

For nobles, the call of Crusade offered an opportunity to perfect their military training and to acquire chivalric glory. But the overwhelming majority of those who found themselves engaged in military or naval operations against the Ottomans were mercenaries for whom it was simply a campaign, the deprivations and brutality of which eroded any sense of idealistic engagement they might have had. Even the Knights of Malta (and their equivalent, the Italian Order of San Stefano) found their fervour fell on increasingly deaf ears towards the close of the sixteenth century. Christian corsairs disturbed ordinary commercial relationships, said Venetian senators, who succeeded in persuading the authorities to confiscate the property of the Knights of Malta. Their views were echoed by French consular representatives in the Levant in the early seventeenth century, Henry IV forbidding French subjects from undertaking privateering in the eastern Mediterranean. The papal Curia, anxious to protect the lives of Christians in Ottoman custody, not to mention its investment in the port of Ancona, multiplied its representations to the Grand Master of Malta against Christian corsairs.

Fiat G.50 Fighter

The Fiat G.50 was built in response to specifications issued by the Ministerio dell’ Aeronautica in 1936, calling for a lightly armed interceptor, a long-range escort fighter, and a fighter-bomber. While other manufacturers submitted four designs to address each of those requirements, Fiat’s Giuseppe Gabrielli designed his G.50 to satisfy all three. Built around the new 840-horsepower Fiat A.74 twin-row fourteen-cylinder radial engine, the G.50, which first flew on February 26, 1937, became the first Italian monoplane fighter to enter production, with an initial order for forty-five machines. After the second prototype crashed in September, the G.50’s competitor, the Macchi C.200, was judged the better fighter, but G.50 production continued as insurance against any problems in getting the C.200 into operation.

During a visit to Italy, García Morato test-flew a G.50 at Guidonia in October 1937. He then returned to the Catrulla Azul and his trusy CR.32, in which he brought his tally to forty on January 19, 1939. On April 4, days after the Nationalist victory, Spain’s ace of aces performed aerial stunts for the newsreel cameras at Griñón. While flying inverted at low altitude, his Fiat’s engine suddenly cut out and Morato crashed to his death.

The first G.50s entered Regia Aeronautica service at the end of 1938, and ten were promptly shipped to Spain, where they were formed into a Gruppo Sperimentale de Caccia (Experimental Fighter Group) under the command of Maggiore (Major) Mario Bonzano. The unit was based at Escalona alongside the CR.32s of Bonzano’s old unit, the XXIII Gruppo, and consequently some of the G.50s were marked with that group’s “Asso di Bastoni” (Ace of Spades) emblem. Flying as escort to the CR.32s at an altitude of 8,000 meters, the G.50s saw some service in the last fortnight of the war but encountered no aerial opposition. The principal operational evaluation consisted of pilot complaints about inadequate visibility from the enclosed cockpit, which resulted in the adoption of a traditional open cockpit for all subsequent production batches of the G.50.

Even after World War II broke out, the Regia Aeronautica was remarkably reticent about committing its Fiat G.50s to combat. During the Battle of Britain, for example, the 20o Gruppo’s G.50s only flew discrete patrols over the English Channel, while the 18o Gruppo’s CR.42 biplanes escorted Fiat BR.20 bombers over Britain in November 1940—with predictably disastrous results when they encountered Hurricanes and Spitfires. By that time, however, another country had been less shy about blooding the G.50 in combat.

After the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939, Italy—which unlike Germany had not signed a nonaggression pact with Stalin—shipped some of its G.50s to the beleaguered Finns. The first Fiats were organized into a Koelentue (Test Flight) under Kapteeni (Captain) Erkki Olavi Ehrnrooth, and were soon “tested” in battle. On January 13, 1940, Ehrnrooth, appropriately flying a Fiat bearing the serial number FA-1, shot down an SB-2 bomber over Sisä-Suomi, followed by an Ilyushin DB-3 on January 29.

By February, G.50s were actively serving in a regular squadron, Lentolaivue 26, which added a number of additional Soviet aircraft to the butcher bill before Finland finally capitulated on March 13, 1940. On February 26, a Spanish Civil War match—which had not, up till that time, occurred—was finally achieved when Luutnantti (Lieutenant) Risto Olli Petter Puhakka, in Fiat FA-4, took on an I-16 and shot it down over Etelä-Suomi for his fifth victory (he had scored four earlier in Fokker D. XXIs). On February 29, Vääpeli (Sergeant Major) Lasse Erik Aaltonen, also flying FA-4, downed a DB-3, followed by an I-153 on March 2. Two days before the armistice Puhakka, in FA-21, destroyed a DB-3. The Finnish Fiats would serve on in the Continuation War as well, with considerably more distinction than they achieved in Regia Aeronautica service. Puhakka would score another eleven victories in G.50s before going on to Me 109Gs and finishing out the war as Finland’s sixth-ranking ace with a final tally of forty-two, while Aaltonen’s tally would total at least a dozen.



    First production version.

G.50 bis

    Development of the G.50 version with extended range; 421 built.

G.50 bis/A

    Two seat carrier fighter modified from a G.50B; one modified.

G.50 ter

    More powerful version with a 746 kW (1,000 hp) Fiat A.76 engine; one built.


    Liquid-cooled V12 variant with a Daimler-Benz DB 601 engine; one built.

G.50 bis A/N

    Two-seat fighter-bomber prototype; one built.


    Two-seat trainer version. 100 aircraft built.


    Projected production version of the G.50V, abandoned in favour of the Fiat G.55.


    Projected version of the G.50, powered by a Fiat A.75 R.C.53 engine. The engine never materialised and the G.52 was never built.

Specifications (G.50)

General characteristics

    Crew: 1

    Length: 8.01 m (26 ft 3 in)

    Wingspan: 10.99 m (36 ft 1 in)

    Height: 3.28 m (10 ft 9 in)

    Wing area: 18.25 m2 (196.4 sq ft)

    Empty weight: 1,963 kg (4,328 lb)

    Max takeoff weight: 2,402 kg (5,296 lb)

    Powerplant: × Fiat A.74 R.C.38 14-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 649 kW (870 hp) for take off

                720 kW (966 hp) at 3,800 m (12,467 ft)

    Propellers: 3-bladed Hamilton Standard-Fiat constant-speed propeller


    Maximum speed: 470 km/h (290 mph, 250 kn) at 5,000 m (16,404 ft)

    Range: 445 km (277 mi, 240 nmi)

    Service ceiling: 10,700 m (35,100 ft)

    Time to altitude: 5,000 m (16,404 ft) in 6 minutes 3 seconds


    Guns: 2 × 12.7 mm (0.50 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns

Fiat G.50 Freccia

Caproni Ca.133 Type


The Ca.101 was essentially an enlarged Ca 97 which appeared in 1927 as a commercial transport, powered by three AHa Romeo built 200 h. p. Armstrong-Siddeley Lynx radial engines. Specifications of this model included a span of 65 ft., a length of 44 ft. 8 in., a height of 12 ft. 6 in., and a wing area of 592 sq. ft. The empty and loaded weights were 4730 lb. and 7920 lb. Maximum speed was 121 m. p. h. and ceiling 13,120 ft.

Relatively large numbers of the Ca.101 saw extensive service during Italy’s conquests in Africa, particularly with La Disperata squadron during the Ethiopian campaign, and some remained in use during the Second World War, despite their total obsolescence. A slab-sided high-wing monoplane with a generous interior, the Ca.101 was well suited to the colonial administration uses to which it was first put. As a bomber, powered by three 370 h. p. Piaggio Stella VII radial engines, it fitted four bomb racks and three machine guns, one in a dorsal turret and two firing through the floor. The military Ca.101 ‘s equipped night bomber squadrons of the Regia Aeronautica, as well as the colonial units. Engines fitted to the colonial versions were three 240 h. p. Walter Castor or three 270 h. p. Alfa Romeo Dux radials. In service with the well-publicized La Disperata squadron, commanded by Count Galeazzo Ciano, the Ca.101 was flown by Bruno, Vittorio, and Vito Mussolini, sons and nephew respectively of II Duce. A civil accomplishment of the Ca.101 was Mario de Bernardi’s 1933 non-stop flight from Rome to Moscow, carrying six passengers. Paraguay purchased a few Ca.101’s in 1933.

Of fabric-covered welded steel tube construction, the Ca.101 weighed 7577 lb. empty and 11,317 lb. fully loaded, its complement including radio, camera, and stretchers, in addition to the armament, Span was 64 ft. 6 1/2 in., length 47 ft. 1 1/2 in., height 12 ft. 9 in., and wing area 664 sq. ft. The performance included maximum, cruising, and landing speeds of 155 m.p.h., 127 m.p.h., and 59 m.p.h. respectively, a range of 621 miles, and a service ceiling of 19,680 ft. Climb to 3280 ft. took 3 min. 15 sec; to 9840 ft., 12 min. 31 sec.; and to 16,400 ft., 37 min. 32 sec.


    Ca.101 – Production model

        Ca.101bis – Slightly larger and with more powerful engines designed for colonial service.

    Ca.102 – Ca.101 airframe with two Bristol Jupiter engines (34 built)

        Ca.102quarter – Ca.102 with four engines (one built)


The Ca.102 was essentially similar to the Ca.101 except for the substitution of two 500 h.p. Bristol Jupiter engines for the three lower-powered units. Like the Ca.101, it was built in both military and commercial versions, but not in large numbers.

The Ca.102 quater had four engines in tandem pairs; it was used by the 62a SperimEmtale Bombardieri Pesanti (Experimental Heavy Bomber Units).


When Ing. Rodolfo Verduzio rejoined Caproni in 1934, he immediately began projects aimed at improving the existing Caproni range of aircraft. A development of the basic Ca.101 design, designated Ca.131, was still further improved under Verduzio, emerging as the Ca.133. Three Piaggio Stella P. VII C. 16 radial engines of 460 h. p. each were chosen to power the modernized transport, and both sixteen passenger commercial and military bomber and hoop transport versions were built. Despite the obsolete configuration, which really dated back even further than the Ca 101 to the Fokker and Ford trimotors, the Ca.133 was a functional and reasonably efficient design which saw considerable service during the late 1930’s and early war years. The civil version served with Ala Littoria, while the military model functioned long and well in the Italian colonies, notably A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana, or Italian East Africa).

Although the basic airframe remained the same, the Ca.133 was considerably improved over the Ca.101 by the higher-powered engines, and by such refinements as N.A.C.A. cowlings, smoothly faired engine nacelles and landing gear, flaps, and revised tail surfaces. The Ca.133 was of welded steel construction with mixed metal and fabric covering. Retaining the dorsal turret and ventral gun positions, the military Ca.133 also mounted a lateral machine gun firing from the door on the port side of the fuselage, bringing the total armament to four 7.7-mm. guns. Two 550-lb. bombs or one 1100-lb. bomb could be carried beneath the fuselage. A larger number of smaller bombs were occasionally carried: six 220-lb., 110-lb., or 44-lb. bombs, or fifteen 33-lb. or 27-lb. bombs. As a military transport the Ca.133 carried up to eighteen fully-equipped troops.

In 1939 the Regia Aeronautica possessed 259 Ca.133 aircraft, of which 183 were bombers in service in A.O.I. Performance was adequate only for colonial use against limited opposition, and by the outbreak of the Second World War the Ca.133 had limited military value. The Capronis were destroyed in large numbers during the North African conflict, usually on the ground. Maximum speed was only 166 m. p. h., cruising speed 144 m.p.h., and landing speed 63 m.p.h. The cruising range was 838 miles and the service ceiling 18,050 ft. Dimensions were: span 69 ft. 8 in., length 50 ft. 4 in., height 13 It. 1 in., and wing area 700 sq. it. Empty and loaded weights were 9240 lb. and 14740 lb. respectively.


The final development of the series high-wing trimotor transports commencing with the Ca.101 was the eighteen-passenger Ca 148 of 1938, which differed very little from the Ca.133. Power was supplied by 460 h.p. Piaggio Stella VII R. C. radials driving Piaggio-d’Ascanio variable-pitch airscrews. The only important modifications were confined to the fuselage. The pilots’ cabin was moved forward approximately three feet from its former position just ahead of the wing, and the loading door beneath the port wing was moved behind the trailing edge. Aside from these changes, which were made to increase the capacity of the fuselage, and a strengthened undercarriage to cope with the increased loaded weight of 10956 lb., the characteristics of the Ca.148 were the same as for the Ca.133. Intended for operation in East Africa, only a small number of transports were built, a few serving with the postwar Italian Air Force. One example, owned by the Aero Club d’Italia, was still flying as late as 1956.



    Bomber and transport; 76 aircraft produced


    Medical transport, 30 aircraft produced


    Troop transport, 283 aircraft produced


    Stretched eight-seat civil/military transport, 54 aircraft produced