There’s a persistent myth about Italy not fielding any effective aircraft in World War II. But that really isn’t true on any level.
After the jump, a quick look at a very capable torpedo bomber that sank many British warships during the war.
In the 1930s Italy was an established and respected producer of civil and military aircraft. The SM.79 Sparviero (Sparrowhawk) was successful in both of those markets. It started life as a high speed light duty airliner, but quickly was developed into a fast medium bomber. With a top speed of nearly 300 mph it claimed 26 international speed records in the mid 1930s. During the Spanish Civil War it would be the one bomber type that did not need fighter escort. Except for the Russian I-16 no other fighter could catch it.
The SM.79 is an interesting design, very different from most allied aircraft. Its structure was mostly plywood, covered in fabric. Only the forward fuselage was a more modern aluminum. The Italians made extensive use of the tri-motor configuration, since they were slow to develop engines above 1000 hp. The Sparviero had three Alfa-Romeo radials of 860 hp. The bomb bay carried bombs vertically, like most German aircraft. This proved more restrictive on maximum bomb size than the horizontal stowage used by most other combatants. The bombardier’s position is in a ventral gondola near the rear of the fuselage.
As World War II started the SM.79 was still seen as a fast medium bomber. But gradually, as they ran up against more Hurricanes (Malta, North Africa, Greece) it became obvious it could no longer depend on its speed to escape interception and fighter escort would be required.
The SM.79-II shown here is an early World War II modification of the basic design. The bomb bay was sealed off and used for an extra fuel tank; racks were added to the belly for carrying larger bombs or torpedoes. As torpedo bombing became the type’s primary function the bombardier position was usually blanked off, although the gondola remains for the lower gun position. It could carry two torpedoes for transport, but only used one on strike missions due to the impact on performance.
Although the SM.79 no longer had the great speed advantage it held in the 1930s, the switch to torpedo bombing was fortuitous. Especially since the Gloster Gladiator bi-plane was still the standard British carrier fighter at the start of the war. Another plus was that Italian torpedoes were outstanding. Easily the best in the European conflict (worldwide, only Japanese torpedoes were better than Italian), they could be dropped at nearly 200 kts. This meant the SM.79 could keep its speed up throughout an entire torpedo run. This is something other combatants could not do. It was enough of an advantage that the Germans operating in the Mediterranean often used Italian torpedoes. And it led to the British rushing more modern fighters to Mediterranean based aircraft carriers (Fulmer, Sea Hurricane).
The SM.79 was very effective in its role as a naval strike aircraft. Especially in 1941-42, the Italians inflicted massive shipping losses on the British. They nearly cut off the island of Malta from any resupply, and sank merchant and warship alike during the bloody Greek and Crete campaigns. Italy may be the only European combatant who celebrated its torpedo bombing pilots and their successes more than their fighter pilots.
This subject is from the Trumpeter kit. This is an early kit of theirs, and it is crude by modern standards. I feel like I fought it every step of the way! Surface detail is good, but fit is poor. It is also fiddly with a lot of little parts (hey, never mold one part when 17 are just as good!). I’d also mention Italian camouflage is difficult! I used a lot of liquid mask to get the result here, and I would definitely try something different if I try a similar scheme again.
Macchi C.202 Folgore
~ Up Next: Vought F4U-1 Corsair