Towards the onset of World War 2, few would have predicted the magnitude of the battles to come. However, many would agree that the Italian Royal Air Force (or the Regia Aeronautica Italiana) and their bomber planes was poised to play a significant, if not pivotal, role in the war to come.
From 1923, the Italian Royal Air Force was established as an independent service of the Royal Italian Armed Forces. It was one of the most experienced air arms going into the war.
The Regia Aeronautica Italiana had seen action in the Ethiopian War in 1935, deploying up to 386 aircraft against the Imperial Ethiopian Air Force, which fielded only 15 transport and liaison aircraft.
In 1936, the Regia Aeronautica took part in the Spanish Civil War, fighting alongside Spanish Nationalist pilots as well as their German Luftwaffe counterparts.
When World War 2 began in 1939, the Regia Aeronautica held more than 33 world records. This was higher than any other air force at the time. Further, the Italian Air Force had a numerical strength of over 3,290 machines.
However, the potential of these numbers was never fully achieved due to maintenance issues, obsolete manufacturing methods, and reliance on outdated machines.
We have previously covered the Italian fighter planes of world war 2, today it is time to take a look at the Italian bombers of the second world war.
1. CANT Z.506 Airone
The CANT Z.506 was a tri-engine floatplane that served as a reconnaissance plane and a torpedo bomber. Initially designed as a transport seaplane, the CANT Z.506 (commonly known as the Airone – Italian for Heron) distinguished itself as a reliable seaplane that was able to operate in rough seas and hardy conditions.
The Airone was initially powered by a trio of 610HP Piaggio Stella P.IX radial engines. Later models came powered by a larger, more powerful 750HP Alfa Romeo 126 RC.34 engine. The fuselage was composed of a wooded structure enclosed in wooded lamellas.
The floats were constructed in duralumin and measured 1-feet. The standard armament consisted of three 7.7mm machine guns mounted in the fuselage and on the vertical position and a 12.7mm machine gun mounted in the dorsal position. The Airone had a crew of five.
For its class, the Z.506A set several records, including achieving a speed of 191.538 mph over 3,107 miles, 200.118 mph over 621 miles, and 198.7 mph over 1,243 miles. It also carried a load of 4,409 lbs. to a ceiling of 25,623 ft.
When the war broke out, the Airone was used extensively in the Greek and North African campaigns. It was also used as an air-sea rescue plane. However, in the Mediterranean Campaigns, the Z.506 was prone to engine failure, and it was often forced to land in Spain. It was also quite vulnerable to enemy fighters.
2. IMAM Ro.57bis
The Ro.57 was designed by the Industrie Meccaniche e Aeronautiche Meridionali (IMAM) in 1939. However, it did not enter production until 1943. It was a twin-engine monoplane designed for use as a fighter/interceptor or a ground attack aircraft.
For the latter, the Ro.57 was fitted with dual 20mm cannons, a provision for 1,100 lbs. of bombs, and a dive brake modification. The result was a potent dive bomber capable of reaching a maximum speed of 311 mph and a cruise speed of 240 mph. The IMAM R0.57bis had a service ceiling of 25,600 ft and a range of 750 miles.
Though it was reliable and effective, the IMAM Ro.57bis entered production too late in the war for its presence to be felt. In total, only around 50 to 60 aircraft were delivered.
3. Junkers Ju 87 Stuka
The Junkers Ju 87 was a formidable German made dive bomber also in service with the Italian Air Force. Designed by Hermann Pohlmann, the Stuka first flew in 1935 and saw combat in 1937 in the Spanish Civil War. It featured inverted gull wings and a fixed spatted undercarriage.
The Stuka enjoyed considerable success in its use as a close air support aircraft. Thanks to its automatic pull-up dive brakes, the Stuka could recover from a dive even if the pilot was unconscious. With its Jericho trumpet wailing sirens, the Stuka became the axis propaganda symbol for air superiority.
The Stuka was armed with 2 7.92mm MG 17 machine guns in the front and one 7.92mm MG15 machine gun in the rear. It also carried 1 550 lb bomb underneath the fuselage and 4 110 lb bombs underneath the wings. It was powered by a Junkers Jumo 211Da V12 engine that produced 1,200HP. With a maximum speed of 211 mph at sea level and a cruise speed of 130 mph, the Stuka was a formidable dive bomber.
4. Piaggio P.108
The Piaggio P.108 Bombardiere was a quad-engine heavy bomber that entered service with the Regia Aeronautica Italiana in 1941. It was also used as an anti-ship aircraft and as a transport plane.
It was powered by four Piaggio P.XII eighteen-cylinder air-cooled radial engines capable of producing 1,500HP. It had an armament of six 12.7mm and two 7.7mm machine guns. It could carry 7,700 lbs of bombs.
The Piaggio P.108 had a crew of 6, a maximum speed of 270mph, and a service ceiling of 27,900 ft. It was one of the best Italian airplanes in the war. It was also used by the Luftwaffe in troop evacuations in the later stages of the war.
5. Savoia-Marchetti SM.82
The Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 was a bomber and transport airplane that entered service in 1940. It was quite successful in the war, and it was used extensively by the Regia Aeronautica Italiana as well as the German Luftwaffe. After the end of the war, the Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 remained in service with the Aeronautica Militare Italiana until the early 1960s. It was also used by the German Luftwaffe.
The Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 featured a unique construction of welded steel tubes, a metal forward, plywood, wood, and fabric. It was powered by 3 Alfa Romeo 128 R.C.21 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engines capable of producing 949HP each.
This lightweight construction and powerful powerplant made it one of the best performing bombers of the Regia Aeronautica Italiana. It boasted a maximum speed of 216mph, a range of 1,300 miles, a service ceiling of 20,000 feet, and a bomb load of 8,818 lbs.
6. CANT Z.1007
Commonly known as the Alcione (Kingfisher), the CANT Z.1007 was a tri-engine medium bomber operated by the Regia Aeronautica Italiana from 1939. It was easy to control and quite powerful.
Its pilots regarded it as one of the best Italian aircraft of the war. It was, however, prone to weather and climate damage as a result of its wooden construction. This was witnessed in the North African and Russian campaigns.
The Alcione was powered by three Piaggio P.XI R.C.40 fourteen-cylinder radial piston air-cooled engines, each producing 999HP. It had a maximum speed of 285 mph, a cruise speed of 210 mph, and a service ceiling of 24,600 feet.
It was armed with two 12.7 mm and two 7.7 mm machine guns. The Alcione could carry a combined load of 4,900 lbs. It could carry a bomb load of 2,645 lbs internally or 2,200 lbs externally on underwing hardpoints.
7. Caproni Ca.135
The Caproni Ca.135 was designed by Cesare Pallavicino and it entered service with the Regia Aeronautica Italiana in early 1938. It was powered by a pair of Piaggio P.XI R.C.40 radial piston fourteen-cylinder engines, each producing 1,000HP.
It was operated by a crew of four or five and could achieve a maximum speed of 227 mph, a cruising speed of 217 mph, a service ceiling of 21,300 feet, and a range of 745 miles.
Despite these impressive statistics, the Caproni Ca.135’s production and operation were marred by anarchy and politics. This led to all 64 of them leaving the Regia Aeronautica Italiana in 1941 without seeing combat. They were also criticized by Italian pilots. However, the Caproni Ca.135 was used by Peru and Hungary.
8. Fiat BR.20
The Fiat BR.20 Cicogna (Italian for Stork) was a low altitude medium bomber that entered service in 1936. At the time, the Cicogna was arguably the most modern bombing unit in the world. It was powered by a pair of Fiat A.80 R.C.41 eighteen-cylinder radial piston air-cooled engines.
It was operated by a crew of five and could achieve a maximum speed of 270 mph, a cruising speed of 210 mph, a service ceiling of 26,000 feet, and a range of 1,710 miles. It had an armament of three 12.7 mm machine guns, and it could carry up to 3,530 lbs of bombs.
The Cicogna had earned a reputation as a solid and reliable performer during the Spanish Civil War. In Japan, the Cicogna was acquired to supplement and ultimately replace the aging fleet of Mitsubishi Ki-1.
It was also used by Hungary, Venezuela, and Croatia. The Cicogna was used by the Regia Aeronautica Italiana in operations over North Africa, France, Britain, Malta, the Soviet Union, as well as Greece and Albania.
9. Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero
The Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero (Sparrowhawk) was a tri-engine medium bomber. It was developed in the early 1930s as a high-speed transport aircraft with a passenger capacity of eight.
It first saw combat in the Spanish Civil War, where it was able to operate without fighter support thanks to its high maximum speed. It was operated by a crew of six and could achieve a maximum speed of 290 mph, a service ceiling of 24,600 feet, and a range of 1,600 miles.
It had an armament of two 12.7 mm machine guns, two optional 7.7 mm laterally mounted machine guns, and it could carry up to 2,645 lbs of bombs.
The Sparrowhawk saw extensive use in the Battle of France, Malta, East Africa, and the North African Campaign. It was also used as a torpedo bomber with slight modification.
Its success and reliability led it to be acquired by the Luftwaffe, the Kingdom of Romania, The Spanish State, the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and the Independent State of Croatia.
10. Savoia-Marchetti SM.81
The Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 was a tri-engine medium bomber that entered service with the Regia Aeronautica in 1935. It was quick, well-armed, and had a long-range. It proved quite effective in the Ethiopian campaign and the Spanish Civil War. It was also used as a transport aircraft. In the later years of the war, the SM.81 remained unchanged and suffered due to advancements in allied aircraft.
The SM.81 was powered by a trio of Alfa Romeo 125 R.C.35 radial piston nine-cylinder air-cooled engines. It was operated by a crew of six and could achieve a maximum speed of 210 mph, a cruising speed of 160 mph, a service ceiling of 23,000 feet, and a range of 930 miles. It had an armament of six 7.7 mm machine guns, and it could carry up to 4,409 lbs of bombs. It was used extensively by Spain, Italy, and the Republic of China.
11. Breda Ba.88 Lince
The Breda Ba.88 Lince (Lynx) was a dual engine, two crew, all-metal monoplane with a high mounted wing. It was designed as a light bomber and ground attack aircraft, but it was found useful as an effective reconnaissance plane.
The Lince was powered by two Piaggio P.XI RC.40 Stella radial piston fourteen-cylinder air-cooled engines. It was operated by a crew of two and could achieve a maximum speed of 300 mph, a service ceiling of 26,000 feet, and a range of 1,020 miles.
It had an armament of three 12.7 mm machine guns, and it could carry up to 441 lbs of bombs. The Lince was unsuccessful in its use as a bomber, and by late 1940, they had effectively been phased out of active duty.
12. Caproni Ca.133
The Caproni Ca.133 was a tri engine bomber/transport operated by the Regia Aeronautica between 1935 and 1948. It was initially developed as a civilian airliner in 1934, and it was constructed with welded steel tubes with metal and fabric coverings.
It was easy and economical to operate and maintain. The Regia Aeronautica Italiana used the Ca.133 extensively in Africa, Spain, and Europe as a bomber, transport, and reconnaissance aircraft.
It was operated by a crew of five and could achieve a maximum speed of 140 mph, a cruising speed of 120 mph, a service ceiling of 18,000 feet, and a range of 840 miles. It had an armament of four 7.7 mm machine guns, and it could carry up to 2,646 lbs of bombs. The Ca.133 was used by Austria, Italy, and Spain.
13. Caproni Ca.311
The Ca.311 was a dual-engine light bomber introduced into the Regia Aeronautica in 1940. It featured a low-wing cantilever conventional design that was directly derived from the Ca.310 bomber. It served in reconnaissance and bombing roles. It was employed by the Air Forces of Italy, Croatia, and Yugoslavia.
It was operated by a crew of three and could achieve a maximum speed of 191 mph, a service ceiling of 24,300 feet, and a range of 1,000 miles. It had an armament of three 7.7 mm machine guns, and it could carry up to 880 lbs of bombs.