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Regia Aeronautica

On March 28, 1923, the Aeronautica Militare Italiana (Italian Air Force) was founded as an independent service by King Vittorio Emanuele III as the Regia Aeronautica, which equates to Royal Air Force. After World War II, when Italy was made a republic by referendum, the Regia Aeronautica was given its current name.

Italy is one of the nations that can boast some of the oldest traditions in the field of aviation. As far back as 1884, the Regio Esercito, or Royal Army, was authorized to equip itself with its own air component, the Servizio Aeronautico, based in Rome. In 1911, during the Italo-Turkish war, Italy employed aircraft for the first time ever in the world, for reconnaissance and bombing missions.

Late in 1909, Glenn Curtiss visited Italy to attend the Brescia aviation meet in September, where he won the Grand Prize. On September 11, while participating in the passenger-carrying contest, Curtiss achieved a remarkable success in taking up another person in his rather small machine-the passenger being the poet-soldier-author, Gabriele d'Annunzio. The colorful D'Annunzio figures prominently a decade later, when on August 9, 1918, D'Annunzio led seven Sva aircraft of his Serenissima squadron in a flight to Vienna. This record of a pioneer psychological warfare mission, in which the Viennese were warned that they were fighting a losing battle, also contains the message leaflet across which are printed in red the device, "Donee ad melam," D'Annunzio's signature.

As a result of Benito Mussolini, who wanted Italy to become a world power, the Regia Aeronautica was born on March 28, 1923. In Italy, the Italian Air Force had become obsolete following World War I. When Mussolini came into power in 1922, he started to rebuild it. They started with about 100 aircraft and built it up to about 2,600 by the time they entered World War II.

Trends that prevailed under the Mussolini regime deserving of first mention are one of the most influential but controversial books on military air doctrine, General Giulio Douhet's famous "dominio dell'aria. Saggi sull'arte della guerra aerea," first published in Rome in 1921. The book maintains that victory in modern war depends upon command in the air and that the strategic use of air power is dominant over all other forms of warfare. This philosophy, first pronounced by the Italian air strategist in 1910 and fully enunciated in 1930 in his posthumously published work, La guerra del 19. . . (Rome, 1930), had a marked effect on the air policy of Italy and many other nations before World War II.

The Italian Giulio Douhet is the prophet known as the "father of air power." An Italian artilleryman, he evidently never learned to fly although he was chief of his country's air section in 1913 and 1914. His strong ideas about the uses of bombing made many claim that the industrialist and aircraft manufacturer Gianni Caproni was funding him to ensure a future market for Caproni bombers. He published frequently in the Rivista Aeronautica and in 1931, released his book Command of the Air, with a second, more strident, edition published in 1937. It was not translated into English until 1942, although unofficial translations were circulated around the English and American Air Corps. Despite this, top American and British officers claimed never to have seen his writings and maintained that he did not influence their bombing campaigns during World War II.

During the 1930s, the Regia Aeronautica was involved in its first military operation, initially in Abyssinia / Ethiopia in 1935 followed, after a short interval, by the Italian intervention in the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939. In July of 1936, the Spanish Nationalists, led by General Francisco Franco, launched a revolution against the Spanish Loyalistgovernment. Both Germany and Italy provided aid to the Nationalists and used this Civil War to testtheir armies and military tactics. This provided a proving ground for the pilots of the Luftwaffe, and tested many of the German aircraft that were used in World War II.

At the same time a lot of enterprises were accomplished and many records were set. Worth noting are the De Pinedo-Campanelli raid of 1925; the Amundsen-Nobile expedition of 1926; the De Pinedo-Del Prete raid of 1927; the first Atlantic Cruise of 1930, and the second three years later; the Agello speed record of 1933, and the Pezzi altitude record in 1938 of 56,047 feet.

Air Marshal Italo Balbo, one of the most colorful of all Italian airmen, developed the esprit de corps of the Italian Air Service and made aviation popular throughout the nation by organizing famous mass air flights, seemingly in an effort to realize the prophecies of his more doctrinaire colleague, General Douhet. As described by a group of journalists in Passeggiate aeree sul Mediterraneo (Milan, 1929), Balbo took 61 flying boats on a circuit of the Western Mediterranean, stopping in Spain and in France. After two more mass flights to the Eastern Mediterranean in 1929 and to Brazil in 1931, Balbo in 1933 led a flight of 24 Savoia-Marchetti S-55 flying boats from Orbetello to Chicago and back to Rome. This flight was the climax of his career for, upon his return, though he was made Air Marshal, he was also named governor of Libya and removed from active duty with the Air Force, apparently because of Mussolini's resentment at his popularity. He lost his life on June 28, 1940, when the Italian airplane in which he was flying was accidentally shot down by anti-aircraft batteries of the cruiser San Giorgio anchored off Tobruk.

After a period of neutrality, Italy entered World War II on June 10, 1940, alongside Germany, in which the Regia Aeronautica could deploy more than 3,000 aircraft when less than 60 percent were serviceable. The Regia Aeronautica fought from the icy steps of Russia to the sand of the North African desert. The Italians not only fought in the Spanish Civil War, but also against Ethiopia in 1935 - 1936. The Italians were battle tested andready for World War II. Italian pilots suffered heavily while flying inferior aircraft against the Allies in World War II. Although the Regia Aeronautica carried out limited operations over England and the Soviet Union, most of its pilots fought in the Mediterranean region.

After the armistice of Sept.8, 1943, Italy divided into two parts, and the same fate befell the Regia Aeronautica. After the armistice in 1943, some pilots fled north to form the Republican Air Force and continued to fight for Mussolini. The majority of the Regia Aeronautica, however, took up arms against the Axis, flying over 4,000 missions between September 1943 and May 1945. The end of the hostilities on May 8, 1945, opened the gates to the rebirth of military aviation in Italy. A referendum resulted in the proclamation of Italy as a republic on June 18, 1946, and in parallel the Regia Aeronautica was transformed into the Aeronautica Militare Italiana, the title that it holds today.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:01:12 ZULU