Italy airplanes in World War 2

In between World Wars I and II, Italy established a reputation as an air faring nation.

The Royal Italian Air Force – The Regia Aeronautica – was considered one of the most advanced in the world. The Royal Italian Air Force (hereafter RIAF) won a stunning 96 international aviation awards during this period. Italy airplanes were renowned worldwide. In 1939, before Italy entered the war, it also had the third largest civilian commercial air system, just behind Germany and the UK respectively.

An MC-205, among the best WW2 Italy airplanes

The RIAF also had the most actual combat experience between the great wars of any European nation; only Japan would have had more combat flight hours by World War II. Italy airplanes flew over conflicts in Libya, Ethiopia and Spain. Italy contributed more aircraft to the Nationalist side of the Spanish Civil War than did Germany. In all three theatres, Italian losses totalled more than 1,500 aircraft. Another 925 planes were exported. Theses figures, among other factors led to Italy’s surprisingly poor showing when it entered the in June of 1940.

The RIAF was the most Fascist of the three military branches, and was known to be the favourite of dictator Benito Mussolini. Despite this favour and renown, the Italian air force could not stand up amongst its allies and competitors. The RIAF had enough planes: roughly 1,000 front-line aircraft and about 2,000 second and third-string planes. The problem was that only a small percentage of these planes were of the pedigree that won so many aviation awards. The rest of the air force was full of aging and obsolete aircraft.

Organization was also a problem for the RIAF. The country was divided into three separate air zones, each with a few regional commands, some army-air co-op units and some navy reconnaissance squadrons. The RIAF maintained command of all pilots but the various competing commands and poor co-operation between the three military branches led to the blunting of what should have been a more precise instrument. To add to these troubles the RIAF did not have a modern air-combat philosophy or a proper manufacturing and re-supply program.

Early on, the RIAF fought over France, commandeering some French planes after the country was taken. Mussolini wanted to have his air force fight in the Battle of Britain and some of the RIAF was moved to Belgium. The out-dated RIAF could not compete in this theatre and was withdrawn in short order. The RIAF moved on to the Mediterranean where it conducted airstrikes on places like Malta, Gibraltar and Palestine. British merchant and naval ships were also a target in this theatre although British ships underway proved a much harder quarry than the stationary shipyards of the Spanish Civil war.

The RIAF was effective in the Balkans and in the western desert, especially after developing newer craft with imported German engines. Overall though, the Italian air force was plagued by inefficiency of production. The Italians produced too many different kinds of aircraft in small numbers. The airframes they designed were too complex and long in creating so that each plane took nearly 50% longer to build than comparable German aircraft. Most craft used underpowered radial engines and Italian planes were typically under-armed by simple virtue of cost. Many aircraft did not have radios until 1942. Italian ground-attack planes were so poorly designed that General Amadeo Mecozzi simply scrapped the whole fleet an purchased 159 German Ju-87 Stuka dive-bombers to replace them.

At the time of the Armistice in September 1943, there were two Italian air forces: One for the Fascist north and another which used allied aircraft – for the Allied government in the south.

Caproni-Campini N1 (CC.2)

Caproni-Campini N1 (CC.2)

CRDA/CANT Z.1007 Alcione

CRDA/CANT Z.1007 Alcione

Fiat Br 20 Cicogna

italy airplanes

Fiat G50 Freccia

Macchi C.202 Folgore

Macchi MC.200 Saetta

3 thoughts on “Italy airplanes in World War 2

  1. RB

    The MC202 was a good fighter. Up-engined with the more powerful DB 605 equivalent, it was very good as the MC205 type 5 fighter. Firepower was also improved with Mauser wing cannons. Despite a vicious stall auto rotation performance, it could still out turn Spitfires at the edge of it’s limit. Aerobatics were also enhanced by a very good roll rate. High altitude handling was not as good as at medium levels (like the Luftwaffe’s Fw190A).

    The other 2 Italian type 5 fighters were even better, especially up high. The Re2005 Sagittario was best for speed and high altitude manueverability but was not easy to mass produce. It could dive to over 600 mph but was redlined at 500 mph due to tail vibration. It could do 425 mph maximum level speed at low and high altitudes. Only about 50 were produced. The 417 mph Fiat G55 Centauro was the best overall. Both packed 3 cannons and 2 MGs
    These 2 outclassed the Luftwaffe’s Bf 109G, and the Fw 190A was limited at high altitudes. Both German fighters had a dive redline of only 466 mph.

  2. Roger Eden

    Could anyone tell me what “veltro” means in Italian? It is the nickname of the Macchi MC205 Italian fighter
    plane used during WWII. I speak Italian fluently but have no idea of the meaning of “veltro”. Thank you.

    Roger Eden

  3. Roger Eden

    Regarding my previous question : what does the Italian word “veltro” mean? It means “greyhound”. I knew
    the more common word ” levriero”, but was not familiar with ” veltro”. Ora , il mistero e risolto.


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