Italy is one of those countries with a confused wartime history. Early in the war, Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini sided with Germany and Japan as the third “major” power of the Axis. But in the end Italians fought and died for both Allies and Axis.
Join me for a brief look at a late war Italian fighter.
The best Italian fighter in early 1942 was the Macchi c.202 powered by an Italian produced DB601 engine. When the more powerful DB605 engine was made available to the Italians it was obvious to mount it on the C.202 airframe. This is directly parallel to what the Germans did going from the Bf109F to the Bf109G. The resulting improved aircraft is also directly parallel.
The Italians also had two other manufacturers use the same engine for improved model fighters. The Re2005 and G55 were actually better than the C.205 at high altitude, but the Veltro (“Greyhound”) was better at medium altitude and down low, and more maneuverable throughout. That excellent handling made it more popular with pilots, and even better liked than its own later model, the C.205N which was more like the other “5 Series” Italian fighters (the C.205N only flew in prototype form). Famous British test pilot Eric Brown flew the Veltro and considered it one of the best fighters of its age; it combined the power of a late Bf109 with superb maneuverability… not to mention Italian style…
As it turned out, the Veltro would also be the most widely produced of the late fighters by a wide margin. But this reveals the Achilles heal of Italian aircraft production; “widely produced” means 262 aircraft. Italian designs tended to be complicated and largely hand built. They never had mass production like other industrial powers, certainly nothing like the over 33000 Bf109 built.
Italian politics are the most dramatic part of this story. The C.205 had entered service with the Regia Aeronautica and acquitted itself well when the Italian government surrendered in September of 1943. The surrender resulted in a divided Italy; the south was occupied by the Allies and re-entered the war as a co-belligerent force. The co-belligerent forces continued to fly both the C.202 and C.205, although allied command carefully used them in operations where they wouldn’t face northern Italian forces.
Meanwhile northern Italy was occupied by the Germans. After Mussolini was rescued from prison the Germans formed a new government around him to run the north. While the new government was forming, the Luftwaffe group charged with defending northern Italy was equipped with the C.205. Their comments on the type are illuminating; although admitting the plane flew nicely, they disliked how inefficient servicing was. It took longer to rearm and refuel, and general maintenance was labor intensive. They rarely had close to 50% operational. And the radios were lousy…
So the Germans were happy to reequip with Bf109Gs when the new fascist Italian government had an Air Force (the ANR) that took the C.205 off their hands. The ANR used the type effectively, although always outnumbered and with no chance of altering the outcome. Italian industry was located in the north, so the last 72 C.205 built were delivered to the ANR.
Post-war, the C.205 remained in service with the Italian Air Force for several years and 62 were refurbished for sale to Egypt.
This example is the Hasegawa kit with Aeromaster decals. It represents a plane that flew with the ANR in early 1944.