Monday, 29 August 2011

Regia Aeronautica in the Battle of Britain

A selection of Italian types from the following Ebay auction

that appear to be part of the Corpo Aereo Italiano that transferred to Belgium between 27 September and 19 October 1940 to participate in the tail end of the Battle of Britain; eg Cant. Z 1007 of 172 Squadriglia RST (one of five sent to Belgium), Fiat CR.42 of 83 Squadriglia. Similar views appear in Hans Werner Neulen's article in Flugzeug Classic magazine Dec 2010 issue...

" 11 November 1940 - today we have brought down more enemy aircraft than on any previous day. Among them for the first time were at least eight Italian machines. The PM chuckled with joy when I reported this information to him..."  John Colville, Churchill's private secretary.

11 November 1940 was indeed a hard day for the forces of the Regia Aeronautica stationed in Belgium on the North Sea coast. Hoping to participate in the invasion of Britian the Italians had despatched an expeditionary force of some 200 aircraft. Although a comparatively strong force on paper, many of the aircraft had no armour nor functioning radio equipment, pitot tube heating was insufficient to prevent them freezing and the Fiat CR. 42 biplane fighters with their open cockpits were hardly suited to missions over the UK in winter. The Italians were operating from Belgium as the Luftwaffe leadership had refused to allow them to operate from their airfields in northern France, which considerably hampered their radius of action (the endurance of the CR.42 was 775 km and the Fiat G.50 445 km), allowing them barely ten minutes over southern England. In addition, of the 200+ Italian pilots only five had received instrument or blind flying training. Even the transfer from Italy was a total fiasco - as a result of poor weather, lack of fuel or technical faults no fewer than 19 Fiat BR.20 bombers had to make emergency landings while a further four bombers and three Fiat G.50s were posted missing!

On 11 November 1940 the Italians had planned a raid over the UK under the code name 'Cinzano' - a bombing raid on Harwich  by ten Fiat BR. 20s escorted by 40 Fiat CR.42s and G.50s and a diversionary attack on London by the five Canz Z. 1007 bombers in concert with the Luftwaffe. However everything that could go wrong, did go wrong...the G.50s turned for home unable to locate the bombers, the bombers, late for their rendez-vous, arrived unescorted over Harwich and the RAF was able to claim eight Italian machines shot down - in reality three bombers and two Fiat coded '95-13' got lost and put down on the beach at Orford Ness in Suffolk - the aircraft today displayed at the RAF Museum, Hendon..

Below; Fiat BR.20M 242-3/MM22267 lost on 11 November 1940.

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