Italo Balbo (1896-1940). Italo Balbo was an instrumental figure in Benito Mussolini's rise to power, but it is his role as Marshal of the Air Force (Maresciallo dell'Aria) that he should be best remembered. He started the expansion of the Regia Aeronautica in 1926 and, on the back of a series of notable distance, air race and airship flights, Balbo led a series of trans-Atlantic flotillas, culminating in the famous 'Crociera del Decannale' air armada in 1933, a round trip made by 24 S.55Xs from Orbetello to Chicago and back again, stopping off at various places in America. This enterprise bought him much acclaim (all large v-formations of aircraft are known as a 'balbo'). In the same year, Mussolini appointed Balbo as Governor General of Italy's colony of Libya. His role was to help extend Italian interests in the various disputed regions of Northern Africa, although some believed it was more of an exile. He settled in Libya in 1934 where he was to remain. It was after Germany's invasion of Poland that Balbo declared his lack of support for Mussolini's alliance with Hitler and when it was made formal, he was heard to exclaim 'you will wind up shining the shoes of the Germans'. With war declared on June 10 1940, it was only a few days later, on June 28, that Italo Balbo was to meet an untimely end. Flying into Tobruk, which had just been attacked by British aircraft, the SM.79 in which he was a passenger was shot down by friendly fire. Everyone on board perished. The RAF dispatched a wreath over the airfield with a note "The British Royal Air Force expresses its sympathy in the death of General Balbo - a great leader and gallant aviator, personally known to me, whom fate has placed on the other side". The note was thought to be signed by Sir Arthur Murray Longmore, Commander in Chief of RAF Middle East Command 1940-1941. In 1970, the Balbo family returned his remains to Orbetello after threats from Gaddafi to disinter the Tripoli cemeteries. Most Balbo memorials have since reverted to their original names or renamed after anti-fascist figures. In 2017, there was a campaign in Chicago to rename Balbo Drive, but another street was renamed Congress Parkway instead.

Ala Littoria. This was the government owned airline that operated during the time of the Regia Aeronautica. It was formed in 1934 with the merger of 4 airlines: Aerea Mediterranea (SAM),  Anonima Navigazione Aerea (SANA), Italiana Servizi Aerei (SISA) and Aero Espresso Italiana (AEI). The majority of their ivory-coloured aircraft were Savoia Marchetti's (S.66, S.71, S.73, S.74, SM.75 & SM.87) and were often emblazoned with large patriotic tricolor flags on the wings and a tricolor band around the fuselage.  As well as numerous routes within Italy, it made connection flights to parts of Africa, Europe and Middle East and at its peak it had the world's fifth largest number of routes. The Italian military used the airline for transport duties. The airline was disbanded in 1945 and a new airline Alitalia was formed in 1946. In 1939 another airline, Linee Aeree Transcontinental Italiane (LATI), was created for routes to Latin America. The SM.83 was used for most of the 211 flights it carried out until the route was stopped when America declared war. Only one flight was lost during that time. The airline itself continued to operate until 1956.

Regia Aeronautica fasce symbol.The fasce device that appears on Regia Aeronautica aircraft is thought to have Estrucan origins. Used by Ancient Roman magistrates as a symbol of power, they were carried by lictors. It is essentially a thick bundle of reeds encasing a single-headed axe, tightly bound by a red leather strap to make a cylinder. The protruding blade symbolised the power of capital punishment. One unfortunate legacy is its subsequent association with the term 'fascism'. Quite a number of kit makers do not get the fasce graphics correct on their decals. What is probably not known is that nearly all wing roundel were standardised: 0.96m for fighter aircraft, 1.2m for reconnaissance and 1.8m for bombers. Their placement from the wing tip was 0.72m for fighters, 1.0m for reconnaissance and 2.8m for bombers and positioned centrally on the wing chord, but to avoid the aileron surface, which meant there were possible variations. What doesn't vary is that the blades should always face the wingtip and the white background was often removed to reduce visibility. The full colour fuselage fasce symbol, which had a dull grey-blue background, should always face towards the nose of the aircraft. Together with the Savoy Crest that appeared on the aircraft rudder, these complex graphics are very difficult to reproduce accurately as a decal. The best I’ve seen are those printed for Pacific Coast Models.

Aircraft designation. Each country had their own sometimes strict rules when giving an aircraft its designation. Italy had a variety. Some used the initial of their designers surname, hence CANT Z (Zapatta), Macchi C (Castoldi), FIAT G (Gabrielli) and Savoia SM (Marchetti). Rosatelli aircraft featured a lower case ‘r’, hence Br.20, Cr.25, Cr.32 & Cr.42. IMAM used 'Ro' in honour of its founder Nicola Romeo. Acronyms were popular too... we have AVIA, CANSA, CANT, CMASA, CNA, CRDA, IMAM, SAI, SAIMAN and not forgetting FIAT or course!

Unit insignia. These stylish, colourful and always tasteful unit badges were often inspired or designed by pilots or crew members and appeared on nearly all aircraft. Sometimes there is a story behind them. For example, the Black Cat insignia for the 51° Stormo was inspired by the then new FIAT G.50 being able to intercept the supposedly uncatchable racing S.79, which sported a three green blind mice graphic. The most widely known device has to be the ‘cavallino rampante’ of 9° Gruppo, which first appeared on the aircraft of Italy’s WWI leading air ace, Francesco Baracca. Enzo Ferrari was given permission to adopt this device by the Baracca family. Many insignia are still seen on modern day AMI aircraft. The Japanese animator Miyazaki based a character in his movie 'Howl's Moving Castle' on the Spauracchio device of 22° Gruppo and Pacific Coast Models used the 150° Gruppo device for its branding.

Published material. Despite the rather specialist nature of the Regia Aeronautica, there was a surprising amount of printed material. Some have since gone out of print, unfortunately, such as the much lauded bi-lingual titles published by Giorgio Apostolo Editore (La Bancarella Aeronautica). This includes the Ali d’Italia, mini Ali d’Italia, Ali e Colori, Ali Straniere in Italia series and the Aerofan magazine.  Other useful books now thought to be OOP are Chris Dunning's Courage Alone, J. Thompson's Italian Civil and Military Aircraft 1930-1945, and U. Postiglioni & A. Degli Innocenti's Colori Schemi Mimetici della Regia Aeronautia 1935-1943. Another publisher is IBN Editore with their Aviolibri dossier series and the modelling guides authored by Maurizio di Terlizzi, where he displays his modelling expertise and great depth of knowledge. Books published under the Aeronautica Militare - Ufficio Storico banner are Italian language only. Osprey also printed a series of booklets based mainly on the theme of air aces and Squadron Signal have covered the Macchi C.202, SM.79 and Reggiane aircraft.

Allied and Axis aircraft in Regia Aeronautica service. The Regia Aeronautica obtained a large number of aircraft from the Luftwaffe, but they also had a few captured from the French air force, RAF, USAF and quite a number from the Yugoslavian air force. The Italians often gained insight into technical solutions from these aircraft such as radio technology, folding wing mechanisms and even arrestor hooks. Another useful insight was the flame-damper exhaust, which became known as 'tipo wellington', and started to appear on night fighters and bombers as a result. The GAE 'Ali Straniere In Italia' series is a good source of information for any modeller who is keen to expand their Regia Aeronautica collection. Such suitable aircraft would include the P.38, B.24, D.520, LeO 451, Hurricane, Blenheim, Beaufighter, Swordfish, Albacore and, if you can get them, a range of Rogozarski aircraft such as the Fizir FP2, P.V.T. & SIM-XIV H.

Theatre of operations. The first campaign took place in Ethiopia, from Oct 1935 until Feb 1937, where it met little opposition. Some aircraft were sent to Spain which gave the Regia Aeronautica a chance to try out some of their newer aircraft, such as the AP.1, FIAT G.50 and Br.20. Operations in the Middle East and East Africa were to follow but their most intense campaign was in the Western Desert of North Africa, aided by and then in support of Rommel. Other notable operations include the Battle of Britain, Malta, Gibraltar, Greece & Yugoslavia, the Eastern Front and Sicily. Their very last mission was the defence of Rome just before the Armistice. Post Armistice, any aircraft flown to the northern region of Italy was reformed into the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana in support of the Axis campaign. Any serviceable aircraft sent to the south formed part the Co-Belligerante in support of the Allies away from the Italian mainland to avoid clashes with the ANR. In 1946, the monarchy of Italy was abolished and what aircraft remained formed the Aeronautica Militare Italiana... but that’s another story!


*All historical information on this website has been sourced via wikipedia

and J. Thompson's 'Italian Civil and Military Aircraft 1930-1945'.

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9° Gruppo

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