Italo Balbo (1896-1940)
Italo Balbo was an instrumental figure in Benito Mussolini's rise to power, but it is in 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. 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 a kind of exile. He moved to Libya in 1934 where he was to remain. Throughout this time, Balbo had expressed concerns about the possibility of the Allies gaining control of the Suez Canal, so he had a long term plan to invade Egypt. It was after Germany's invasion of Poland that Balbo declared his total 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, killing everyone on board. 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 cemetries. Most Balbo memorials have since reverted to their original names or renamed after anit-fascist figures. In 2017, there was a campaign in Chicago to rename Balbo Drive, but another street was renamed Congress Parkway instead.
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'.
The size of the wing roundel was standardised: 0.96m for fighter aircraft, 1.2m for reconnaisance and 1.8m for bombers. Their placement from the wing tip was 0.72m for fighters, 1.0m for reconnaisance and 2.8m for bombers and positioned centrally on the wing chord, but to avoid the aileron surface which meant there were possible variations.
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.
Each country had their own 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, CMASA, CNA, CRDA, IMAM, SAI, SAIMAN and not forgetting FIAT!
The attractive and always tasteful unit artwork was often inspired or designed by its pilots and appeared on nearly all aircraft. Not a saucy nose art to be seen... even kill markings were not allowed. The most widely known has to be the ‘cavallino rampante’, which first appeared on the aircraft of Italy’s WWI leading air ace, Francesco Baracca. Enzo Ferrari was allowed to adopt this device by the Baracca family. Other long lived symbols, such as ‘diavolo rosso’, ‘the archer’, ‘scarecrow' & 'gatto nero' are still seen on modern day AMI aircraft. The ‘vespa arrabiata’ has been adopted by this site. Pacific Coast Models used the ‘gigi tre osei’ symbol as part of their branding.
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. Degl 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 were provided with a large number of aircraft by the Luftwaffe, but they also had quite a few aircraft captured from other air forces including French, RAF, USAF and quite a number from the Yugoslavian air force. They gave the Italians technical solutions to radio technology, folding wings and arrestor hooks. The flame-damper exhaust, which became known as 'tipo wellington', was another successful appropriation. The GAE 'Ali Straniere In Italia' series is a good source of information for any modeller who is keen to expand their Regia Aeronautica themed collection. Suitable aircraft would include: D.520, LeO 451, Hurricane, Blenheim, Beaufighter, Swordfish, Albacore and a series 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 Afirca, aided by and then in support of Rommel. Other operations were Battle of Britain, Malta, Greece & Yugoslavia, the Eastern Front and Sicily. Their very last mission was the defence of Rome just before the Armistice. Soon after the Regia Aeronautica was dissolved. Any aircraft in the northern regions formed the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana, in support of the Axis campaign and any aircraft in the south was to become the Co-Belligerante, in support of the Allies. In 1946, the monarchy of Italy was abolished and what aircraft remained was to become 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'
Click on any of the aircraft company names below for a brief history* and any kits produced.
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