Assalto! British Blitzkrieg

Autor: Miroslav Šnajdr 🕔︎︎ 👁︎ 23.871

In the summer of 1940, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini watched with growing dissatisfaction the inaction of Italian troops stationed in Libya. After the death of Marshal Italo Balb ( killed in a S.79 bomber, accidentally shot down by Italian anti-aircraft gunners near Tobruk on June 28 ), Marshal Rodolfo Graziani became the new Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces in North Africa. He tried to gather the necessary forces for the offensive required by Rome against Egypt. Finally, under threat of appeal, he reluctantly launched an attack on September 13, 1940.

In addition to 110 bombers and 135 fighters, it also assembled 45 fighter jets to support Offensive 5 and Squadra Aerea . The basis of the Italian Air Force continued to consist of 50 ° Stormo Assalto , both groups of which operated from Tobacco Airport T.2. The 12 ° Gruppo consisted of 159 and Squadriglie ( Bredy Ba.65 A80 ) and 160 and Sq. ( Fiaty CR.32quater ). 16 ° Gr. had 167 and Sq. ( CR.32quater ) to 168 and Sq. ( Ba.65 K14 ). The pilots had gained a decent combat experience in previous weeks.


An attempt to reinforce 5 and Squadra Aerea by another battle unit before the offensive began ended in debacle. Command for the North African Mission selected 7 ° Gr. Autonomo Combattimento ( 76 a , 86 a and 98 a Sq. ), Armed with new aircraft Breda Ba.88 Linz . This is despite the fact that previous experience with construction has been more than sad. The machines were very faulty, suffered from poor performance and poor flight characteristics. Elegant twin-engine high-altitude planes denied the well-known rule that an aircraft that looks good also flies well.

Fiat CR.32quater from condition 160 and Sq. , Libya 1940

Ba.88 received 7 ° Gr. during 1939. Arrived in North Africa on August 9. His combat experience to date has been limited to a brief participation in the June battles with the French from Sardinia's Alghero Airport. The group was led by Magg. M. Fossetta. Castel Benito Airport near Tripoli became the first Libyan base.

The flight to Libya has already shown the limitations of the type. 7 ° Gr. set off for it from Lonate Pozzolo on August 5 with 20 Ba.88. Four days later, after a staged flight over the Mediterranean, only 13 planes arrived. The others remained scattered along the way due to the failure of the propulsion units. The damaged machines were repaired and four spare machines hurried to Africa to achieve the required condition.

Paper 7 ° Gr. showed on August 11 a total of 32 Ba.88, of which only three ( ! ) were combat-ready. The planes arrived in Libya without the necessary dust filters. These were mounted on site; however, it quickly became apparent that they had a catastrophic effect on the performance of already sub-engineered aircraft. With armaments comprising 250 kg of Ba.88 bombs, they suffered an extremely long takeoff and often failed to take off at all due to the decline in the performance of unreliable engines ( which continued to dangerously overheat )!

Graziani's offensive

The Italians finally set out on September 13 and crossed the Egyptian border. They advanced east along the coast.In the fascist press, the bombastically celebrated Graziani offensive actually ended before there were any real battles with British defenders. On September 16, Italian troops arrived in Sidi al-Barrani, Egypt, after a 100 km advance, stopping there and building a defensive position.

The sad " heroes " of the offensive became the crews of 7 ° Gr . They attempted the initial combat action on September 14, when the group prepared three machines for offensive reconnaissance over Sidi al-Barrani, 250 km away. Each Ba.88 carried a full supply of fuel, 1,500 rounds for machine guns and two 119kg bombs on the outer Nardi hangers under the fuselage. The first plane simply failed to take off. The second ( pilot m.lla. Montanari ) soon returned. The last Line, controlled by the commander of the group magg. M. Fossetta, continued her flight alone. However, the pilot found that his machine simply refused to climb. And not enough. The slings aggravated the already poor flight characteristics to such an extent that when he tried to turn Fossett over the machine, he lost control. So he had no choice but to fly straight to the Egyptian border at low altitude! After a direct, nerve-wracking flight, he finally landed at Libyan airfield in Sidi Rezeh.

Wreck CR.32quater, 50 ° St. , al-Adam, December 1940


Mechanics 7 ° Gr. then tried to improve the miserable characteristics of Ba.88 by dismantling everything dispensable. However, it brought only a slight effect, so Linz did not operate at all in the following days. In mid-September, the unit was dispersed between three bases ( 76 and Sq. Was located at the airport N1 in Derna, 86 and Sq. In Benin and 98 and Sq. On Tobruk T.2 ). Until mid-October, activity remained at 7 ° Gr. limited to only a few patrol flights over Derna, which, however, had no effect, as the type was as unsuitable for fighter tasks as for combat.

Old Ba.65 and CR.32 did much better. They supported the offensive by clearing the territory from advancing Italian units and protecting the southern wing of the XXIII. Corps against strikes by British armored vehicles. On the first day of the attack, 50 ° St. aircraft attacked . destinations in space Kabr Abu Fares. 17 Ba.65 and 15 CR.32 of both groups took part. The pilots claimed the elimination of four tanks and seven armored cars.

The initial losses during the Italian offensive occurred on September 14. Returning from the action in the area of Bír al-Kreigat after landing, the rolling CR.32 ( MM.4655 ) from the state of 160 and Sq. to Ba.65 A80 ( MM.75257 ) 159 and Sq. Both aircraft were decommissioned and the pilot of the Fiat Serg. magg. Sarti injured.

The black day came on September 15, when the Italians encountered intense anti-aircraft fire during an attack on ground targets 3 km southwest of Bir al-Kreigat. Ba.65 A80 ( MM.75258 ) ten. A. Visconti of 159 and Sq. collected interventions and the pilot had to land with her on Egyptian territory. The aircraft was lost, the pilot returned to the airport T.2 on the ground. 158 and Sq. after the event she missed two Ba.65 K14 . They also suffered fatal damage from shooting from the ground. One machine ( MM.75154 ) was destroyed during an emergency landing at Sidi Umar. The second ( MM.75148 ) made an emergency landing at the advanced Italian units and the pilot . Burroni, fearing a possible British counterattack, preferred to set the plane on fire.

So a total of 50 ° St. during the support of the short Italian offensive, five completely destroyed aircraft were lost and other machines suffered damage.At its end, it had only 10 Ba.65 and 18 CR.32.

The desert was followed by a period of relative calm, which the Italians devoted to building a series of seven fortified camps, delimiting new front lines near Sidi al-Barrani. The fighters continued to engage in their usual activities, offensive reconnaissance. E.g. September 22 five Ba.65 A80 and six CR.32 12 ° Gr. and four Ba.65 K14 and six CR.32 16 ° Gr. during an armed reconnaissance they attacked a concentration of enemy vehicles. Three fighters were damaged by anti-aircraft fire.

Breda Ba.88 Lince 7 ° Gr. , Castel Benito, August 1940

On October 8, 159 arrived and Sq. about his respected commander. Stork. Antonio dell'Oro led a group of four Ba.65 A80 squadrons into the offensive action. Accompaniment was provided by nine CR.32 160 and Sq. under the command of Cap. Duilia Fanaliho. The Breds attacked armored vehicles south of Sidi al-Barrani. The British defended themselves by firing and hit the cap. dell'Orovu Bredu ( MM.75169 ). The captain received the posthumously high Italian award for the heroism shown, Medaglia d'Oro al Valor Militare .

In its inconspicuous presence on the North African battlefield, 7 ° Gr. On October 14, it had 29 Ba.88, of which only 10 were combat-ready. The day after, the group attempted a second combat deployment of their unpopular Ba.88. A pair of machines 98 and Sq. took off for armed reconnaissance over the battlefield at Sidi al-Barrani. Unknown aircraft quickly attracted the attention of Italian anti-aircraft gunners. The machine . L. Pronera ( Commander 98 and Sq. ) Was shot down during the circling at an altitude of 250 m. Proner died while the deck gunner escaped by parachute.


With this action, the Ba.88 battle track on the North African battlefield definitely ended. Their end was really sad due to the high purchase price: they served, placed at Libyan airports, as deceptive targets for the British Air Force. During three months of service in Africa failed 7 ° Gr. not once to make real combat contact with the enemy. The staff returned to Italy without aircraft in November 1940.

The old planes did much better. On October 18, six Ba.65 K14 168 and Sq. and a total of 15 CR.32 160 a and 167 a Sq. from the advanced El Guasc airport ( to which they were transferred from T.2 the evening of the previous day ). The target was a British desert base in the Siwa oasis, located far beyond the Egyptian border. It served as a stronghold in the raids of motorized patrols into the Italian rear. Although the Breds had to return prematurely ( and one of them, MM.75086, was lost during the landing accident ), the Fiats did attack the target. Their raid surprised the British, but only weakly armed biplanes could not cause any serious damage to the enemy.

The same operation was repeated on November 7. This time, six Ba.65 A80 159 and Sq. and nine CR.32 160 and Sq. , 12 ° Gr. Nine other CR.32 167 and Sq. , 16 ° Gr. After a stopover in El Guasc and a long flight over the Egyptian desert, the Italians launched an attack at 1 p.m. Five Ba.65 dropped six bombs of 50 kg, 420 bombs of 2 kg and fired 1300 rounds of 7.7 mm and 1100 caliber 12.7 mm. After a stopover in El Guasc, the Italians returned to their base at 4.45 p.m.

On November 23, the command withdrew from the T.2 airport back to the rear due to the wear of 12 ° Gr. The unit was waiting for rest and reorganization.

Accident September 14, 1940.Destroyed Fiat CR.32 ( MM.4655 ) from state 160 and Sq. and Breda Ba.65 A80 ( MM.75257 ) 159 and Sq

However, on December 6, an Italian air reconnaissance found a concentration of British troops preparing to launch an attack. Commander 50 ° St. sounded a combat alert. 12 ° Gr. was ordered to prepare to move to A.3 Airport near Amseat, where he was to concentrate all his aircraft. It was not easy, as some of the pilots took leave and most of the ground staff were in remote Benghazi, where they reinforced the staff during the inspection work on the aircraft. The remaining pilots had virtually nothing to fly. E.g. 159 and Sq. although it was formally in the state of 14 Ba.65 A80, of the six located at the airport T.2 were capable only two (the remaining were in maintenance ) and eight others underwent revisions in the rear in Benghazi.

Situation at 50 ° The day before the outbreak of the British offensive ( December 8 ) did not look rosy: of the 28 CR.32 battleships, only 10 were in combat readiness and only 16 were in 25 Ba.65.

British Blitzkrieg

General O'Connor's first British desert offensive ( Operation Compass ) began on December 9, 1940 as a relatively limited attack, scheduled for only five days. However, the Italian resistance at Sidi al-Barrani collapsed like a house of cards, and the time-limited action turned into a truly significant operation. Tanks 7 th Armored Division broke through the Italian lines and the British period known German blitzkrieg launched a blitz approach to the West.

Weakened 50 ° managed to make only six combat sorties on the opening day of the enemy offensive. The launch of the attack hastened the return of 12 ° Gr. into active service. The group's staff moved to A.3 Airport near Amseat, where 16 ° Gr was also located . On December 10, the first three Ba.65 A80 159 and Sq. Arrived at the same base after an accelerated transfer . In the afternoon together with four Ba.65 K14 168 and Sq. , 16 ° Gr. set out on an armed reconnaissance. Fighter protection was provided by CR.42 from 151 ° Gr. CT Battleships encountered a large concentration of enemy vehicles and tanks on the road Enba - Sidi al-Barrani and dropped on the target 50 kg bombs and a large number of 2 kg bombs. The fighter escort had to face British fighters during the action and during the landing in the A3, Bredy was attacked by a pair of Hurricanes . However, they escaped without major damage. Among the Hurricanes shelled machines was also Ba.65 A80 ten. A. Visconti, who had previously dropped two 50kg bombs on the British, 70 light 2kg bombs and fired 690 rounds.

Ba.88 7 ° Gr. during a flight over Corsica, summer 1940

The British advance soon threatened A.3 and the fighters had to be withdrawn to T.2 to Tobruk on 11 December. Four Ba.65 A80 159 and Sq. , 12 ° Gr. in the afternoon it took off from A.3 ( during the takeoff happily stopped the Blenheim raid of the 55th Sq. RAF ), struck British vehicles near Bukbuku and then flew straight to the base T.2.

Ba.65 K14 168 and Sq. On December 10 and 11, they repeatedly attacked the British vanguard. Ba.65 piloted m.llo. A. Gallerani was shot down on December 11 by Hurricane 33rd Sq. Another fighter was damaged in the same action. The evening of the same day 168 and Sq. the only fighting machine left!

Substantially more powerful and heavily armed RAF Hurricanes now posed a great threat to the fighters. 12.December took off for offensive action seven aircraft ( three CR.32 and four Ba.65 ) from both groups 50 ° St. In the Sollúm area, a pair of Hurricanes, most likely from the 33rd Sq. RAF . They sprinkled three machine gunners Bred 159 and Sq . The more agile CR.32 joined the fight, while the cumbersome Bredy sought to hide in the sand clouds low above the ground. To the airport T.2 from the four Ba.65 A80 159 and Sq. returned the only aircraft piloted by the one. F. Montanarim. His colleagues, pilots m.llo. Sagliaschi, serg. magg. Pappalepore and serg. The Zardini had to make an emergency landing during an early return due to Bred's damage, with Pappalepore receiving serious injuries. The three destroyed Ba.65 represented the worst loss of type to date in a single action since the outbreak of war. In the evening, 159 and Sq. only two airworthy machines.

50 ° St. the forces weakened rapidly, especially 16 ° Gr. was almost on the shoulders. On December 13, three Ba.65 K14 168 and Sq. along with three CR.32 against enemy concentration in the Garn El Grein area. The next day, they twice attacked their targets at Sidi Azayz. These were the last Bred Ba.65 K14 events in Africa. 16 ° Gr. then handed over the remaining combat-ready three CR.32 12 ° Gr. ( 167 and Sq. Continued operations at the beginning of January, temporarily included in this group ) and was withdrawn from operational activities.

Destroyed Ba.65 A80 at Benghazi Airport, January 1941

Only 12 ° Gr. The combat capability of the squadron was very limited despite the included aircraft, originally belonging to 16 ° Gr. , and the delivery of five new Ba.65s from Italy ( during the transport of one of them, the pilot m.llo. De Vivo died in an accident on the Libyan coast on 26 December ).

On December 29, 12 ° Gr. declared a separate group ( Gruppo Autonomo ) and placed under the control of the Air Command in Tobruk.

On January 5, the strength of the Italian Air Force in Africa fell to four Ba.65 A80 159 and Sq. and five CR.32 160 and Sq. Despite the predominance of the RAF, both squadrons continued to attempt battles against advancing enemy columns, but without much effect.

The situation at the front was really catastrophic for Italy. On January 5, the British took control of Bardia. January 6 12 ° Gr . evacuated Tobru Airport T.2 and retreated to base D.1 in Derna. Two days later, in anticipation of another retreat, the group moved the combat-ready aircraft further to the rear, to Benin and Berka airports.

During the action of two Ba.65 and six CR.32 heading to the Acroma area ( southwest of Tobruk ) on January 7) he had to . Barbetta make an emergency landing at the already evacuated Z.1 airfield in al-Ghazal. He picked it up here with a three-engine S.81 one. Montanari. The damaged Ba.65 was set on fire by the Italians so that it would not fall into enemy hands. The situation repeated itself on January 9. Nine Ba.65 and CR.32 under the protection of Fiat G.50 2 ° Gr. CT attacked British tanks at Acroma. According to the Italians, eight tanks were immobilized, but one CR.32 and G.50 each had to make an emergency landing on a vacated Z.1. The pilots were picked up again . Montanari s S.81.

The British attack picked up a truly lightning pace and resulted in the almost complete destruction of the Italian 10th Army and the crushing of the 5th and Squadron Aerea . The Italians had to gradually clear one airport after another. January 10 12 ° Gr . retreated from the Dern dern to R ( Maraura ) airport. During hasty retreats, Regia Aeronautica had to leave otherwise repairable aircraft ( by January 12, from the beginning of the offensive, this fate befell eight CR.32 and six Ba.65 ). The combat activity of the Italian Air Force has now dropped dramatically. The air clearly belonged to the RAF.

Tobruk fell on January 22. The Italians retreated to the Derna-Berta-Mechili defense line.Two days later 12 ° Gr. at the airport R ( Maraua ) had five Ba.65 A80 and seven CR.32quater. On the night of January 27, the group continued to retreat and retreated to Benin. On January 29, four Ba.65 and five CR.32 flew further west to Zuara. On the same day performed 12 ° Gr. the last combat action in Libya, when four CR.32 ( ten. Giacomello, ten. D'Alessio, serg. magg. Sarti and serg. magg. Molteni ) attacked British mechanized units at Ummi Selim in the afternoon. The Italians demanded the destruction of three vehicles and a fuel depot. They landed without loss in Benin at 4.45 pm.


As of January 30, already 12 ° Gr. it had practically no combat-ready aircraft and on 14 February began its return to Italy ( 16 ° Gr. and the staff of 50 ° St. were withdrawn to their homeland at the beginning of the same month ). The planes, now in the form of mere wrecks, remained scattered in the sands of North Africa.

Map of the Cyrenaic and Egyptian battlefield

During eight months 12 ° Gr. made 542 combat sorties, the enemy hit 15 aircraft ( nine Ba.65 and six CR.32 ). Another 13 machines, including six CR.32s, were lost for other reasons.

At the end of January 1941, the combat pilgrimage Ba.65 and CR.32 , as well as the Italian Air Force as a whole in North Africa, definitively closed. The role of the main tactical weapon here on the side of the Axis troops has now been taken over by the dive Junkers Ju 87 , controlled by the Italian and, above all, well-trained and experienced crews of the German Luftwaffe .

TTD Breda Ba.88

Span: 15.40 m
Length: 10.75 m
Height: 3.00 m
Bearing surface: 33.34 m 2
Weight of empty aircraft: 4650 kg
Take-off weight: 6750 kg
Max. speed ( at an altitude of 4000 m ): 490 km / h
Ascent to 3000 m: 7 min. 30 s
Access: 8000 m
Range: 1460 km
Sources (selection):
Flights 31, 32/1995;
Dunning, Ch .: Courage Alone. Aldershot 1998;
Garello, G .: Breda Ba.65. Turin 1997;
Gustavson, H., Slongo, L .: Desert Prelude. Sandomierz 2010;
Gustavson, H., Slongo, L .: Desert Prelude, Operation Compass. Sandomierz 2010

Published with the kind permission of the author.
Published in Military revue 6/2012 by Naše Vojsko .

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