The Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero (Italian: Sparrowhawk) was a medium bomber that was used by Italy during World War II.  The Sparviero saw effective use as a torpedo bomber, and many participated in the airstrikes on Malta and the convoys attempting to reach it during its siege by the Axis.

Description

The first SM.79 Sparviero in the series was the SM.79-I model. This SM.79 had a set of three Alfa Romeo 126 RC.34 engines that were capable of propelling it at speeds of up to 430 kilometers per hour. It also required a crew of four to five men and an armament that consisted of three 12.7mm machine guns and two 7.7mm machine guns, with one firing forward in a fixed position, and the rest being placed in turret position spread around the fuselage. The bombload could consist of either five 250 kilogram bombs or a single 45 centimeter torpedo.

The total weight of the aircraft was around 6,800 kilograms unloaded while the total length was 15.8 meters. The wingspan was around 21.2 meters and the operational range was 2,000 kilometers.[1] Service ceiling was 7,000 meters and climb rate was around 335 meters per minute. Owing to the aircraft's speed and maneuverability, the SM.79 was known as one of the very best torpedo bombers of the war, taking a large toll on Allied freight in the mediterranean. Furthermore, it was also one of the fastest medium bombers of the war, being very useful flying over France.

An SM.79 attacking a British convoy headed for Malta

The SM.79's appearance oftentimes made it look weak and slow, as well as earning it several nicknames by Italian pilots. However, the type's reliability was unquestioned, taking to the desert quite well and having good survivability for aircraft and crew. 

Variants

The SM.79, being one of the best bombers Italy had to field during the war naturally had several variants during the war to improve its combat effectiveness. The first of these variants was the SM.79-II which had the main difference of having its engines replaced with three Piaggio P.XI RC.40 engines for improved performance. Some other slight differences were also made to the air frame to accommodate and a new ability to carry another 45 cm torpedo.

Following would be the SM.79-III with several changes made to armament. It was only capable of carrying a single torpedo once again but now was fitted with four 12.7mm machine guns as defensive armament and a forward firing 20mm autocannon for anti-ship duties. It also had AR.128 engines fitted to increase the maximum speed to 475 kilometers per hour. This variant was also known as the SM.79bis.

The final variant, excluding several transport version was the SM.79B which was fundamentally an export model. It was generally quite downgraded as even with an easier to produce/more cost efficient airframe, it was less reliable, only had two engines, had worsened maneuverability, and was generally just less successful.[2]

Four SM.79s, all belonging to 30º Stormo

History

Designed by Alessandro Marchetti, the SM.79 made its debut as a high speed eight passenger SM.79P commercial aircraft in 1934. Following initial tests, the three 610 hp Piaggio Stella radials fitted to I-MAGO, the first prototype, were replaced by 750 hp Alfa Romeo 125 RC 35s.[3] After obtaining it's Certificate of Airworthiness on July 20, 1935, the SM.79P established two closed circuit records on November 24, recording speeds of 389 km/h with a 453 kg payload, and 379 km/h with a 1,000 kg payload. During 1936, I-MAGO was fitted with 780 hp Akfa Romeo 126 RC 34 engines, and recorded a speed of 428 km/h over a 1,000 km closed circuit course, while carrying a 2,000 kg payload.[4]

However, the type was clearly more suited to military service, and the second prototype was completed as a medium bomber, with a streamlined fairing above the flight deck,[N 3] and a ventral gondola for the bombardier, located on the underside of the fuselage between the wings and the tail unit. Naturally, the first combat operations that the SM.79 took part in where in the Spanish Civil War.[5] Facing against the Soviet aircraft it would eventually fight again, the SM.79 performed quite well and established itself fully as a leading Italian aircraft.

A flight of SM.79 Bombers over Sciacca

By the time the war had started in 1939, all frontline units had been re-equipped with SM.79-IIs. From then on, these types had served largely in the desert war and along the Mediterranean coast, though Romania had been a major user of the type in its combat in the Eastern Front. The SM.79 was so successful in its role of anti-shipping that it had begun to pioneer new tactics in the field. Even as Italy surrendered, the RSI government in Northern Italy and Germany had continued their use until the end of the war. In total, approximately 1,300 examples had been produced during the war.

Notes

  1. One batch were powered by Fiat A.80 RC41 radials, each producing 1,030hp.
  2. One fixed above the cockpit firing ahead, one manually operated from an open dorsal position, and one manually operated from rear of ventral gondola.
  3. This led to the Sparviero being nicknamed 'Hunchback'

References


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