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  #1  
Old 25 Feb 09, 20:51
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Post Italy’s Participation in the Battle of Britain

Not many people know that around one hundred Italian planes actually participated in the Battle of Britain, as part of an Italian expeditionary air force known as the Corpo Aereo Italiano or CAI. Though not very effective, the CAI’s story is very interesting and typical of a great deal of Italy’s actions during WWII: brave and gallant, but lacking in terms of technology, supplies, armaments, and plain common sense.

Since I always like to share little-known historical tidbits, especially when they deal with Italy’s participation in WWII, I thought that I would post something here for everyone. If you know about the CAI’s story already, great; if not, read on!

Taken from Time-Life Books, “Italy at War,” 1982, Chicago; pg. 83.

Luckless Bombers over Britain

Against the wishes of Adolf Hitler and the advice of his own generals, Benito Mussolini insisted that Italy participate in the Battle of Britain. The Duce feared that the War would end before Italy had a chance to impress its powerful German ally—and win sufficient glory for itself. Thus in September of 1940, seventy-three Fiat BR.20 Stork medium bombers were based in German-occupied Belgium to join the attack on southeastern England. (some Fiat CR.42 Falco and G.50 Feccia (Arrow) fighters were sent as well, to fly escort and CAP missions—Alex)

The Italians soon wished they had remained at home. The bomber crews, miserable in the drizzly Belgian climate, had a hard time learning to fly in the equally soupy weather over the English Channel. The Storks themselves were no match for British attack planes and ground defenses; they were slow, under-gunned and cursed with fabric-covered wings that were easily shredded by enemy fire. And their fighter protection was inadequate.

The results were predictable, and embarrassing. In four months, the Storks flew only two daylight raids and a few night missions. They frequently carried bomb-loads of just 1,500 pounds per plane—and those few bombs fell more often in the sea or in coastal marshes than on their targets. In less than 300 hours of flying time, some 20 Storks—more than one fourth of the Italian force—were destroyed (Note: this is far higher than the 10% loss rate deemed the upper margin of “acceptable” by most air forces during WWII—Alex).
---------

The Stork bombers and Falco and Freccia fighters of the CAI were supported by a small number of CANT Z.1007 Kingfisher medium bombers, which flew recon missions, and Caproni Ca.133 transport planes. It looks like about 50 CR.42 Falcos and 48 G.50 Freccias were sent.

According to Arnold Harvey in his book “Collision of Empires: Britain in Three World Wars, 1793-1945,” pg. 607, the CAI’s bombers flew about 102 sorties, only one of which attained any notable success—their bombing and severe damage of the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s canning factory at Waveny Drive, Lowetstoft on 29 November 1940, which killed three people. After the BR.20 bombers were withdrawn from Belgium in February 1941, the fighters stayed on, and ultimately flew 662 sorties. (Information courtesy of Google Books.)

Here is some more information on the Italian participation in the Battle of Britain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpo_Aereo_Italiano

Excellent webpage giving the OOB and TO&E of the CAI (though for some reason this lists less BR.20 Storks than other places): http://www.comandosupremo.com/Britain.html


Pictures of planes used by the Corpo Aereo Italiano:

BR.20 Stork






Fiat CR.42 Falco




Fiat G.50 Freccia



CANT Z.1007 Kingfisher


Caproni Ca.133



Regards,
Alex
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  #2  
Old 25 Feb 09, 21:03
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CatholicCrusade View Post
Not many people know that around one hundred Italian planes actually participated in the Battle of Britain, as part of an Italian expeditionary air force known as the Corpo Aereo Italiano or CAI. Though not very effective, the CAI’s story is very interesting and typical of a great deal of Italy’s actions during WWII: brave and gallant, but lacking in terms of technology, supplies, armaments, and plain common sense.

Since I always like to share little-known historical tidbits, especially when they deal with Italy’s participation in WWII, I thought that I would post something here for everyone. If you know about the CAI’s story already, great; if not, read on!

Taken from Time-Life Books, “Italy at War,” 1982, Chicago; pg. 83.

Luckless Bombers over Britain

Against the wishes of Adolf Hitler and the advice of his own generals, Benito Mussolini insisted that Italy participate in the Battle of Britain. The Duce feared that the War would end before Italy had a chance to impress its powerful German ally—and win sufficient glory for itself. Thus in September of 1940, seventy-three Fiat BR.20 Stork medium bombers were based in German-occupied Belgium to join the attack on southeastern England. (some Fiat CR.42 Falco and G.50 Feccia (Arrow) fighters were sent as well, to fly escort and CAP missions—Alex)

The Italians soon wished they had remained at home. The bomber crews, miserable in the drizzly Belgian climate, had a hard time learning to fly in the equally soupy weather over the English Channel. The Storks themselves were no match for British attack planes and ground defenses; they were slow, under-gunned and cursed with fabric-covered wings that were easily shredded by enemy fire. And their fighter protection was inadequate.

The results were predictable, and embarrassing. In four months, the Storks flew only two daylight raids and a few night missions. They frequently carried bomb-loads of just 1,500 pounds per plane—and those few bombs fell more often in the sea or in coastal marshes than on their targets. In less than 300 hours of flying time, some 20 Storks—more than one fourth of the Italian force—were destroyed (Note: this is far higher than the 10% loss rate deemed the upper margin of “acceptable” by most air forces during WWII—Alex).
---------

The Stork bombers and Falco and Freccia fighters of the CAI were supported by a small number of CANT Z.1007 Kingfisher medium bombers, which flew recon missions, and Caproni Ca.133 transport planes. It looks like about 50 CR.42 Falcos and 48 G.50 Freccias were sent.

According to Arnold Harvey in his book “Collision of Empires: Britain in Three World Wars, 1793-1945,” pg. 607, the CAI’s bombers flew about 102 sorties, only one of which attained any notable success—their bombing and severe damage of the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s canning factory at Waveny Drive, Lowetstoft on 29 November 1940, which killed three people. After the BR.20 bombers were withdrawn from Belgium in February 1941, the fighters stayed on, and ultimately flew 662 sorties. (Information courtesy of Google Books.)

Here is some more information on the Italian participation in the Battle of Britain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corpo_Aereo_Italiano

Excellent webpage giving the OOB and TO&E of the CAI (though for some reason this lists less BR.20 Storks than other places): http://www.comandosupremo.com/Britain.html


Pictures of planes used by the Corpo Aereo Italiano:

BR.20 Stork






Fiat CR.42 Falco




Fiat G.50 Freccia



CANT Z.1007 Kingfisher


Caproni Ca.133



Regards,
Alex
HaHaHa, after they bombed the CO OP the folks in Southern England had no Baked Beans for weeks!!!
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Old 25 Feb 09, 21:45
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Thanks for the information, did any Italian Pilots bail out and change sides?
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Old 25 Feb 09, 22:42
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Did anybody want to see film of the Italian planes during the battle of Britain?
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Old 26 Feb 09, 08:45
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Did anybody want to see film of the Italian planes during the battle of Britain?
Ummm YES!!! Good thread CC!!
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Old 26 Feb 09, 12:00
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Great tread Alex, I frankly had no inkling of Italy's involvement. It is not surprising to me that Mussolini and his lackey's managed to turn the CAI into a total soup sandwich. My uncle Michele was unfortunate enough to have been deployed to the the Eastern Front with the Italian Army told me that they were sent to Russia wearing boots with cardboard soles. Mussolini and his misguided adventurism did more damage the reputation of Italy's armed forces than anyone before, or since.
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Last edited by Bass_Man86; 26 Feb 09 at 14:54..
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Old 26 Feb 09, 12:33
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Don't take the p*ss out of the Italians. Their pilots were very brave and remarkably chivalrous and their fighters were generally the equal of anything the RAF was flying. At least one Italian pilot is recorded as breaking off from a dogfight and waving when he realised the RAF pilot was out of ammo (between Malta & Sicilly).

Personally I think the average Italian didn't want to fight for Mussolini.... when they turned on the Germans on some of the Greek Islands later in the war they fought damned hard. Much good did it do them.....
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Old 26 Feb 09, 12:44
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Originally Posted by peter_sym View Post
Don't take the p*ss out of the Italians. Their pilots were very brave and remarkably chivalrous and their fighters were generally the equal of anything the RAF was flying. At least one Italian pilot is recorded as breaking off from a dogfight and waving when he realised the RAF pilot was out of ammo (between Malta & Sicilly).

Personally I think the average Italian didn't want to fight for Mussolini.... when they turned on the Germans on some of the Greek Islands later in the war they fought damned hard. Much good did it do them.....
Very well said, Peter. The average Italian soldier was neither enthusiastic about going into the war nor necessarily provided with the weapons to perform it. For many Italians - such as Italo Balbo, one of the top fascist leaders - their sympathies actually lay with Britain, not Germany. Still, even with the weapons they had, many Italian units fought with exceptional bravery. Even Rommel commented on this when referring to several of the Italian units under his command, especially the Bersaglieri and the Ariete division. The main problem for the Italian army was the command and officer echelons which had a tendency for incompetence the further up one went - ending with Mussolini, who consistenly initiated operations without adequate planning.

Bersaglieri in Albania

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Old 26 Feb 09, 12:51
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My dad (a medical doctor) had a mentor when he growing up who lost his leg fighting the Italians in the desert. He always said how decent they were and how the Italian doctor apologised before amputating (which saved his life). From what I've read and heard that was normal conduct for the Italians. Anyone who'll treat their enemy wounded that well is O.K in my book.
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Old 26 Feb 09, 15:14
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Guys, you are echoing what I have been saying for a long time. Italians fought with distinction on both sides of the conflict. GySgt John Basilone, USMC, Congressional Medal of Honor and Navy Cross fought against the Japanese in Pacific; killed in action at the Battle of Okinawa. I find it ironic that most of my fellow Americans seem to believe that the Italians are inept and cowardly fighters, while the views expressed by you Gentlemen seem to be relatively common for Britons.

Cap. Franco Lucchini, the Top Italian Ace with 26 kills and 18 probables fought with distinction throughout the war.

http://www.elknet.pl/acestory/lucchini/lucchini.htm

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Old 26 Feb 09, 23:02
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Yep, The Italian servicemen simply didn't fight for Mussolini the way they did in WWI (which included eleven amazingly blood-soaked battles against the Austrians and Germans along the Isonzo river).

In addition to leadership problems there were material ones too, as Gerhard Weinberg points out in A World At Arms:
... in an army where intelligence and rank were distributed in inverse proportions, nothing but utter disaster could be expected ... Two decades of Fascist rule had left Italy with an army dramatically more poorly led, and equipped, and trained than that of 1915 ...
And motivation was perhaps the biggest problem.

As Weinberg says:
... [most Italians] ... disliked - if they did not hate - the Germans and generally would have been more comfortable fighting alongside their 'enemies' if they had to fight at all ... finding anyone in the country who genuinely believed Italy's future would be served by sending thousands of soldiers to fight on the southern part of the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, or by Italy's declaration of war against the United States, would have been a Herculean task. No analysis of Italy's role and her home front in World War II can overlook the basic fact that, in the eyes of much of the population, the country's entry into the war was a bad idea and that it had picked the wrong side ...
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Old 27 Feb 09, 00:43
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Originally Posted by clackers View Post
Yep, The Italian servicemen simply didn't fight for Mussolini the way they did in WWI (which included eleven amazingly blood-soaked battles against the Austrians and Germans along the Isonzo river).

In addition to leadership problems there were material ones too, as Gerhard Weinberg points out in A World At Arms:
... in an army where intelligence and rank were distributed in inverse proportions, nothing but utter disaster could be expected ... Two decades of Fascist rule had left Italy with an army dramatically more poorly led, and equipped, and trained than that of 1915 ...
And motivation was perhaps the biggest problem.

As Weinberg says:
... [most Italians] ... disliked - if they did not hate - the Germans and generally would have been more comfortable fighting alongside their 'enemies' if they had to fight at all ... finding anyone in the country who genuinely believed Italy's future would be served by sending thousands of soldiers to fight on the southern part of the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, or by Italy's declaration of war against the United States, would have been a Herculean task. No analysis of Italy's role and her home front in World War II can overlook the basic fact that, in the eyes of much of the population, the country's entry into the war was a bad idea and that it had picked the wrong side ...
Yes, you have it about right there mate! Now when I think of it I feel sorry for the poor devils that flew those planes in the Battle of Britain but I must confess that not knowing the eventual outcome of that battle their downfall gave us one of the very few laughs to be had at that time!!
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Old 27 Feb 09, 01:20
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The great tragedy of Italy's involvement in WW2 was the Italians were the most enthusiastic when shedding each other's blood. After the armistice in 1943 partisans and the remaining pro- German fascists fought a brutal civil war in which quarter was neither asked for or granted.
It is often quoted that about 200, 000 Italian military men were killed from 1940- 43. I wonder what the toll was from 1943- 45?
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Old 27 Feb 09, 09:42
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The great tragedy of Italy's involvement in WW2 was the Italians were the most enthusiastic when shedding each other's blood. After the armistice in 1943 partisans and the remaining pro- German fascists fought a brutal civil war in which quarter was neither asked for or granted.
It is often quoted that about 200, 000 Italian military men were killed from 1940- 43. I wonder what the toll was from 1943- 45?
Not just Italy. You also had brutal civil wars in Greece and the Balkans too. The Greek civil war resulted in the deaths or immigration of 1/4 of the population. That was communists v monarchists.
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Old 27 Feb 09, 11:50
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Originally Posted by clackers View Post
Yep, The Italian servicemen simply didn't fight for Mussolini the way they did in WWI (which included eleven amazingly blood-soaked battles against the Austrians and Germans along the Isonzo river).

In addition to leadership problems there were material ones too, as Gerhard Weinberg points out in A World At Arms:
... in an army where intelligence and rank were distributed in inverse proportions, nothing but utter disaster could be expected ... Two decades of Fascist rule had left Italy with an army dramatically more poorly led, and equipped, and trained than that of 1915 ...
And motivation was perhaps the biggest problem.

As Weinberg says:
... [most Italians] ... disliked - if they did not hate - the Germans and generally would have been more comfortable fighting alongside their 'enemies' if they had to fight at all ... finding anyone in the country who genuinely believed Italy's future would be served by sending thousands of soldiers to fight on the southern part of the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union, or by Italy's declaration of war against the United States, would have been a Herculean task. No analysis of Italy's role and her home front in World War II can overlook the basic fact that, in the eyes of much of the population, the country's entry into the war was a bad idea and that it had picked the wrong side ...
Funny that you brought up the Weinberg book, as it is one of the books that I am using for one my current classes. I too have read those two statement, and I found the latter to be particularly perspicacious; many parts of Italy were under Austrian rule for many years, and they were hated as foreign dominators. Additionally, in the eyes of many Italians, it is my opinion that there is no difference between Austrians and Germans. Lastly, as I have mentioned before, I do believe that my maternal grandmother summed up the feeeling towards Mussolini best when she told me "he was a good man; he had the trains running on time, he put the mafia in its place, and then he got mixed up with that crazy German!"
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