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Servizio Aeronautico della Regia Marina
Aeronautical Service of the Royal Navy

Italian naval aviation began in the early 20th century when some Naval officers studied the uses of tethered balloons, airships and finally with the testing and use of the first aircraft. In this pioneering phase one promiment figure was sublieutenant Mario Calderara was , who in 1909 took flying lessons from Wilbur Wright, during his visit to Italy, gaining a pilot's licence. In 1910 he started the first Italian flight school located at the airport of Centocelle. Another figure of this pioneering phase was Captain del Genio Navale Alessandro Guidoni, whose name is linked to a series of projects.

In June 1913, a Ministerial Decree officially formed the "Servizio Aeronautico della Regia Marina" ["Aeronautical Service of the Royal Navy"] and on 20 July Admiral Paolo Thaon di Revel, a supporter of Naval Aviation, was appointed Chief of staff of the Navy, which gave a major boost to the development and strengthening of the sector.

With the evolution of the development the aircraft it was deemed essential for a more complete conduct of operations at sea. This created a need for specially equipped naval units in order to take advantage of the potential of the aircraft. For this reason, the Regia Marina decided to transform the protected cruiser Elba into a seaplane tender, with the removal of the entire main armament and the construction of shelters to house Curtiss Flying Boat type seaplanes, which would be dropped into the sea for takeoff and recovered at the end of the flight using winches. Other air equipment included a tethered balloon on board. This unit was accompanied by another merchant ship, Quarto, which was purchased by the Navy and renamed Europa, the conversion of which was conducted at the arsenal of La Spezia. This ship was delivered to the Regia Marina near the outbreak of the Great War.

Starting in 1912 the first trials related to the accommodation of aircraft aboard ships with the Curtiss flying boats were carried out on the battleship Dante Alighieri. The Curtiss seaplane Flying Boat, the previous derivation of the model 1912, was joined in early 1914 flight component as well as the battleship Dante Alighieri, the cruisers Amalfi and San Marco and from the seaplane tender Elba.

One purely naval use of aircraft, on which, during the war, much effort was spent, was their use for the carrying and launching of torpedoes. The torpedo has long been one of the chief weapons of naval warfare; it is commonly carried by surface or submarine craft to the place where it can be launched against the enemy. If it could be carried and launched by rapid aircraft, its value would be enormously increased, and the torpedo-carrying aeroplane or seaplane would outrival the submarine as a weapon of offence against enemy shipping. This was very early recognized by those who were concerned in developing naval aircraft. The first experiments are said to have been made in 1911 by an Italian, Captain Guidoni, who made use of a Farman machine, and released from it a torpedo weighing 352 pounds.

The outbreak of the Great War gave a major boost to the development of naval aviation. The 02 September 1916 Royal Decree placed the Naval Aeronautical Service as a military aerialunit under the Ministry of War which provoked the resignation of Admiral Thaon di Revel. But with the cancellation of the decree the Naval Aeronautical Service went back on its position in the Navy. During the conflict the Aeronautical Service lost 121 men getting 405 decorations, including two gold medals of military valor, promising pilot Vessel Joseph Gabriel Garbarino and Eugenio Casagrande.

The airship hangar in Augusta was built to give shelter to airships which had the task of spotting submarines that tried to pass through the Strait of Messina, though this was not completed until 1920, when the conflict was over. After the war, in 1920, King Vittorio Emanuele III officially re-named the Aeronautical Service the Navy Air Force, and granting it the war Flag which was immediately awarded the silver medal for military valor "for the intense activity performed honorably throughout the course of World War I".

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Page last modified: 29-09-2012 18:37:08 ZULU