One of the better Osprey books, based on what the Italian torpedo planes really achieved, not on what they claimed.
The first poor results with level bomber attacks against Allied ships forced Italians to form its first experimental torpedo-bomber unit on 25 July 1940, about 1½ month after Italy’s entry to the WWII. The first torpedo attack was made on 15 August 1940. So to my surprise the Italians were definitely a late comer to the torpedo-bomber field. The fact that the Luftwaffe sent its first landplane torpedo-bomber crews to Italy to get torpedo training and the fact that Italians had several successes with torpedo bombers during the WWII had made me to believe that Italians had longer experience with torpedo-bombers.
I was surprised how few planes made most of the early Italian attacks, usually only two or three planes participating. E.g. in December 1941 three Sparvieri attacked a Royal Navy formation of three Anti-Aircraft cruisers and eight destroyers. Not surprisingly they achieved nothing in good visibility. But sometimes those attacks by a couple S-79s were successful. The small formation size was a big contrast to e.g. IJNAF twin-engine torpedo planes attacks, e.g. against the Force Z (consisted of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse and four destroyers) on 10 December 1941. In the spring of 1942 there were the first bigger formation attacks, 9 – 12 planes attacking same time early in 1942 and up to 41 against the Pedestal convoy in August 1942. In early November 1942, a couple days before the opening of the Operation Torch, Italians concentrating 75 S.79 and 25 S.84 torpedo bombers on Sicily and Sardinia. That didn’t mean massive torpedo attacks against the invasion fleets, the biggest S.79 attack consisted 14 torpedo-bombers and usually formations consisted of under 10 planes. They didn’t achieve much, the Allies only lost the sloop HMS Ibis. The effective defense of Allies forced Italians to initiate night attacks, and after they lost from 27 March to 10 April 1943 ten aircrews out of 25 engaged in daytime actions and had sunk only the 9,545-ton freighter Empire Rowan in return, Italians abandoned daytime torpedo attacks altogether.
When the Allies invaded Sicily in July 1943, the S.79 torpedo-bomber force numbered 99 aircraft, of which 41 were airworthy. Their only success was a hit on the fleet carrier HMS Indomitable.
On the page 23 there is an odd claim that a head-on torpedo attack would force the target ship to slow down. In fact the standard evasion maneuver was to turn towards attacking torpedo planes and so to give the smallest target to them. And anyway it takes time to slow down a ship. The attack described seems to have been a variation of the standard “anvil” attack in which one torpedo plane/group of torpedo planes approaches 45deg right off the bow and another 45deg left off the bow. If the target ship turns towards one attacker/group of attackers it gives to the other one clean broadside drop.
I was surprised how effective Blenheim fighters were against Savoia-Marchetti S.79s (meaning that they accomplished something) and how ineffective Beaufighters were (many times they managed only to damage S.79s, I had expected that a fighter armed with four 20mm cannons and six machine guns would have been more effective against rather archaic looking mixed construction three motor) during the early part of the war.
S.79 torpedo-bombers got their last success before Italy’s armistice was achieved on the night of 7 September 1943 when the 1625-ton British LST-417 was torpedoed and forced to run aground on the shore near Termini Imerese on Sicily.
While I have been aware on the German actions against Italian fleet after the Italy’s armistice on 8 September 1943 their actions against Italian planes trying to fly to Allied-controlled areas were new to me. Out of 34 Sparvieri which had set off for Allied-control territory, two were shot down by Bf 109G pilots of JG 77 who also forced three other S.79s to turn back. One crew flew north voluntarily.
After armistice on 8 September 1943
Those Sparvieri which ended under Allied control were principally used as transport and liaison duties. Italians who chose to continue fight alongside Germany joined the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (RSI), in northern Italy, which was created towards the end of September 1943. Between the autumn and winter of that year RSI organized its own air force, the Aeronautica Repubblicana, later redesignated the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR). The first mission against Allies’ Anzio beachhead was flown on the night of 10 March 1943 by six S.79s but it was unsuccessful and one Sparviero was lost. The only success of the ANR Sparvieri occurred on 4 August 1944 when during the attack of three Greece based Sparvieri the 7100- British freighter Samsylarna was torpedoed north of Benghazi and forced to run aground. The last mission of the ANR Sparvieri torpedo bombers was flown on late 5 January 1945 by two Sparvieri crews. Through 1944-45 ANR Sparvieri succeeded in damaging just one freighter for the loss of about 100 airmen. 11 actions were fought, during which 50 torpedoes were dropped.
During the war Sparviero was the most effective antishipping weapon Italy had, the Sparviero units sunk 21 ships (nine warships and 12 freighters) and damaged 17 others (11 warships and six merchantmen).
There are some quotes from Italian combat reports and memoirs on some actions. The big plus is that while Italians’ claims are mentioned they are checked against Allied records and it is clearly mentioned what claims can be verified from Allied reports, same thoroughness is seen in several other Osprey books of this series, e.g. Osamu Tagaya’s Mitsubishi Type 1 Rikko ʽBetty’ Units of World War 2. There are many interesting photos, even some dramatic action photos, but most of the photographs are small. And of course the colour profiles, many of them very interesting as one can predict when Italian planes are in question. There are also 12 unit badges in colour. There are four appendices: S.79 torpedo-bomber units (giving basic facts of the units’ histories), S.79 warships kills 1940-43, S.79 merchant ship kills 1941-44 and S.79 Gold Medal for Military Valour recipients.
Altogether an excellent addition to one’s library.