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Weapons of World War Two

Savoia-Marchetti SM 79 Sparviero

Savoia-Marchetti SM 79 Sparviero

"After the victory it is time to gird up the armor well", it says an ancient Japanese proverb, meaning that for the warrior it is more dangerous the pleasant relaxation that follows to the certainty of having overcome a danger, than the danger itself, and because of this it is good that he remains watchful. The British mariners who in the night between the 4th and 5th June 1944 were onboard their ships anchored in the roadstead at Gibraltar, probably did not know this proverb, and in that moment they harbored pinkish hopes, truly rather justified.

The wheel of fortune started to turn badly for the Axis, and Italy, already nearly half conquered, had aligned itself with the Allied side. An imminent landing in the continent would soon involve the Germans in the north, and the Russians, chasing the Wehrmacht, were about to attack Finland. Regarding the Mediterranean, it had already become a rather quiet position for the Allied ships, which no longer found in their way an U-Boote, nor Italian submarines and torpedo boats. The danger from the air was also inexistent at that point.

But that same night many were awakened by the clash of the anti-aircraft guns, and some arrived in time to see nine dark silhouettes which flew over the sea almost at water level to later disappear in the dark sky, leaving behind four sunken ships and another two ablaze. It was a torpedo bomber unit of the Italian Social Republic, very known, specially for the British, as "Grupo Buscaglia", after the name of its first commander, which by means of a long approximation flight had managed to take by surprise the ships in the heart of Gibraltar, and now returned to Italy (effectuating a short stopover in the airfield of Istres), without losses. Only two of the aircraft had to land in Spanish territory, but the crews, unscathed, were soon expatriate.

Those which had achieved this brilliant deed were three-engined aircraft of characteristic silhouette which had earned them the nickname "Flying Hunchback", the Savoia Marchetti 79. Initially projected as commercial aircraft, the fast and very robust aircraft, born in 1934, had soon "wore the uniform", taking part in the Spanish Civil War. Then, in 1938 they had effectuated in little less than forty hours an astounding transatlantic travel: from Roma (departing from Guidonia) to Rio de Janeiro. At the outbreak of the Second World War, they had been surpassed by other aircraft as bombers, but they had showed excellent qualities as torpedo bombers, and they were mainly used in this deadly role until the Armistice of the 8th September 1943. Subsequently they operated as torpedo bombers in the North, but in the South this speciality disappeared.

The three-engined SM 79 (as they were generally called) were monoplames of low and flexible wing, and partially retractable landing gear placed in the engine nacelles. The wing structure was totally wooden, while that of the fuselage was metallic, as well as that of the steering surfaces. The coating was a mixed one, this is, of fabric, plywood and light alloys. Over the cockpit emerged the characteristic "hunch" which housed two heavy machine guns which in the model III (depicted in the illustration) would be often replaced by 20-millimeter cannons. The engines, in the initial series models, were Alfa Romeo 126 RC 34 of 780 horsepower, later replaced by Alfa Romeo 128 RC 18 of 860 horsepower.

Docile, maneuverable, rather fast as bomber (somewhat less as torpedo bomber, due to the heavy external load), the "Gobbo" ("Hunchback") was however a great aircraft, robust and "withstander" beyond verisimilitude. Built in 1217 exemplars, it allowed to the Italian pilots, between 1940 and September 1943, to sink 86 enemy naval units and to damage another 94.

Savoia-Marchetti SM 79 Sparviero
First flight: 28 September 1934 (Model I); autumn of 1942 (Model III)

Wingspan: 21.20 meters

Wing area: 61.70 square meters

Length: 15.60 meters (Model I and Model II); 16.20 meters (Model III)

Height: 4.60 meters

Full load/Empty weight: 10500/6800 kilograms (Model I); 10750/ kilograms (Model II); 11400/7700 kilograms (Model III)

Payload/Crew: 3700 kilograms/5 (Model I); /5 (Model II); 3700 kilograms/4 (Model III)

Engines: Three Alfa Romeo 126 RC 34 of 780 horsepower (Model I); three Piaggio PXI RC 40 of 1000 horsepower (Model II); three Alfa Romeo 135 RC 32 of 1350 horsepower (Model III)

Time to reach 4000 meters of altitude: 13 minutes 15 seconds (Model I)

Maximum speed at 4000 meters: 420 kilometers/hour (Model I); 430 kilometers/hour (Model II); 460 kilometers/hour (Model III)

Service ceiling: 7000 meters (Model I)

Defensive armament: Three 12.7-millimeter machine guns and two 7.7-millimeter machine guns (Model I and Model II); two 20-millimeter cannons and two 12.7-millimeter machine guns (Model III)

Drop armament: 1250 kilograms of bombs or two 920-kilogram torpedoes (a) (Model I and Model II); two 920-kilogram torpedoes (a) (Model III)

Operational range: 1900 kilometers (Model I); 2000 kilometers (Model II); 2300 kilometers (Model III)

(a) Generally, the armament of the torpedo bomber version was limited to a single weapon

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