Color profiles: Janusz Światłoń, captions: Mariusz Łukasik, Tomasz Szlagor
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The air war over the Italian mainland commenced in earnest on 3rd September 1943, when the Allies landed in Reggio di Calabria. On the same day, the Italian government signed an armistice with the Allies, which was publicly declared on 8th September. Deserted by their ally, the Germans continued to fight for the Apennine Peninsula. In northern Italy they created the Italian Social Republic, a puppet state under Benito Mussolini. Its air force, the ANR (Aviazione Nazionale Republicana) was under strict operational control of the Luftwaffe.
The Italian National Republican Air Force (the ANR)
Initially, the ANR fighter force consisted of only two units, which became operational in January 1944. The autonomous Squadriglia Complementare d’allarme Montefusco (later Montefusco-Bonet) was equipped with Macchi MC.205s and Fiat G.55s, and tasked with the air defence of Turin (where a Fiat factory was located). The other unit was the 1° Gruppo Caccia (Fighter Group), with three Squadriglie (squadrons) on strength. After Magg. Adriano Visconti was appointed to command the group the three component squadrons were led by the following officers:
1ª Squadriglia Asso di Bastoni – Ten. Giuseppe Roberto;
2ª Squadriglia Vespa Arrabbiata – Capt. Amadeo Guidi;
3ª Squadriglia Arciere – Capt. Pio Tomaselli.
Following the death of its CO, Capt. Giovanni Bonet, the Squadriglia Montefusco-Bonet was absorbed by the 1° Gruppo ANR. In March the 2° Gruppo Caccia was constituted under Magg. Aldo Alessandrini, and equipped with Fiat G.55s. Its three component squadrons were commanded as follows:
1ª Squadriglia Gigi Tre Osei (Ten. Ugo Drago);
2ª Squadriglia Diavoli Rossi (Capt. Mario Bellagambi);
3ª Squadriglia Gamba di Ferro (Ten. Giuseppe Gianelli).
At the end of May the 2° Gruppo handed over its MC.205s and G.55s to the 1° Gruppo and re-equipped with Bf 109s. In mid-August the 3° Gruppo Caccia ANR was formed, but it never reached operational status. The 1° Gruppo eventually re-equipped with Bf 109s in early 1945. Meanwhile, the ANR’s camouflage schemes evolved. Initially, the Fiat G.55s of the 2° Gruppo featured a two-colour camouflage of Verde Oliva Scuro 2 on the upper surfaces and Grigio Azzuro Chiaro 1 on the undersides, with no theatre recognition markings.
The MC.205s of the 1° Gruppo at first carried the distinctive ‘Macchi camouflage’ of Verde Oliva Scuro 2 ‘smoke rings’ painted over solid Nocciola Chiaro 4 on the upper surfaces, with Grigio Azzuro Chiaro 1 undersides. A white fuselage band supplemented this paint scheme. There followed some experimental schemes made of wide green and brown stripes, as well as three-colour spotted camouflages of sand, green and brown; most of them can be dated to May 1944. They were soon phased out in favour of the more pragmatic German scheme of RLM 74/75/76. Upper surfaces were often camouflaged in only one colour, usually RLM 75. Fuselage sides, and sometimes also propeller spinners, were freely mottled and stippled. Some artistic freedom in the application of camouflage was retained shortly after the ANR converted to Bf 109s, individual aircraft receiving additional over-sprays of green and brown. During that period both ANR and Luftwaffe fighters could be quickly identified in the air by their yellow lower cowlings and white fuselage bands. By the end of 1944 practically all Axis fighters wore the ubiquitous, factory-applied camouflage of RLM 74/75/76.
As for national insignias, German swastikas and crosses, introduced after the Italian armistice, were soon replaced by ANR markings – double fasces on white, black-bordered squares on the wings, and tri-coloured flags bordered by yellow triangles on fuselages and tailfins. This set of markings remained in use until the ANR converted to German-built aircraft. At first, however, Bf 109 G-6s were also painted with full sets of ANR markings. Later, the German Balkenkreuze replaced the wing fasces – or, to be more precise, the crosses were not painted out once the aircraft had been delivered from German factories or handed over by Luftwaffe units. In some sporadic cases the aircraft carried full sets of German crosses, with the ANR flag painted aft of the fuselage Balkenkreuz, with small ANR flags replacing the tail swastikas.
Unit emblems were usually applied on either side of the engine cowlings. In the case of MC.205 outfits the emblems were slightly asymmetrical due to the location of the air intake on the aircraft’s port side. Aircraft individual numbers were often repeated on the landing gear wheel covers or on the front engine cowlings. The manufacturers data markings, applied to airframes at factories, were sometimes lost when aircraft were repainted (even though official orders forbade it). The ANR followed the Luftwaffe’s practice of painting spirals on propeller spinners, or painting one third of the spinner in white. On the other hand, the ANR’s fighters notably lacked staff markings and victory bars, so typical of their Luftwaffe counterparts.
Luftwaffe fighter units stationed in Italy were under the overall command of the Jagdfliegerführer Oberitalien Obst. Günther von Maltzahn. The units were occasionally rotated back to Germany for a period of rest and recuperation, or transferred to other theatres of operations, but their core remained largely unchanged: I./JG 4; II./JG 51 ‘Mölders’; the entire complement of JG 53 ‘Pik As’, as well as Stab, I. and II./JG 77 ‘Herz As’ (2. and 3./JG 2 ‘Richthofen’ served only briefly during operations over the Anzio beachhead). In September 1944, Obst. Eduard Neumann was appointed the new Jafü Oberitalien. Around that time the last Luftwaffe fighter units – Stab. and II./JG 77 – left for Germany. Henceforth, the air defence of northern Italy was left to the ANR units, albeit still commanded by the Germans. Throughout their campaign in Italy the Luftwaffe mainly operated Messerschmitt Bf 109 Gs (Focke-Wulf Fw 190 As appeared only briefly with 2. and 3./JG 2).
Generally speaking, all the Luftwaffe fighters were finished in the standard RLM 74/75/76 colour set. Only during the early, transitional period could any major variations be observed, such as desert camouflages, or cases where the standard set of colours was supplemented with freely applied brown patches and stripes, as in the case of JG 4. Nevertheless, minor differences abounded. Fuselage sides were at times toned down with additional colours (e.g. RLM 02). The Bf 109s operated by I./JG 53 could be distinguished by the unit’s predilection for defining the colour demarcations on the upper wing surface (RLM 74 and 75) with a ‘sawtooth’ pattern. This was most likely applied with a spray gun and stencil. Moreover, some elements (fuselages, tailfins) were painted in a manner unique to their manufacturer.
National markings of that period were reduced to white elements on the wings, and fuselage crosses were no longer outlined in black (though some older aircraft featured the old style, high-visibility Balkenkreuze). The Axis Mediterranean theatre markings consisted of a white fuselage band with a yellow lower cowling. In late 1943 some Bf 109 G-6s featured white lower wingtips, like ‘Black 16’ of III./JG 53, presented herein. Other markings, such as unit emblems, victory bars, and pilot individual badges followed fashions known from other theatres of operations.
With the possible exception of the Pacific region, the Mediterranean theatre was the most colourful war zone as far as the allied air force was concerned – in both the literal and the figurative sense. In November 1943 the MAAF (Mediterranean Allied Air Forces) headquarters had under their command a variety of units staffed by pilots of many nationalities: American, British, French, Canadian, Australian, Polish, Greek, Italian (of Aviazione Cobelligerante Italiana), and even Brazilian. As of 8th May 1944, 41 allied fighter squadrons were serving in Italy. They operated a number of different aircraft types: Spitfire Mk Vs, VIIIs and Mk IXs, Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks and Warhawks, P-38 Lightnings, P-39 Airacobras, P-47 Thunderbolts, P-51 Mustangs, and even Macchi MC.205s (flown by the co-belligerent units). Some of the aircraft were veterans of the campaign in North Africa, and their camouflages gave evidence of it. Around that time the USAAF units began to operate aircraft in natural metal finishes, and on some older machines the olive-drab camouflages were removed.
Aircraft attached to RAF units that had participated in the earlier Mediterranean campaigns wore a camouflage of Dark Earth/Mid Stone over Azure Blue. National markings consisted of the standard roundels on the fuselage and wings, with tail fin-flashes. Tactical markings were three-character codes, the first two characters denoting a particular squadron, and the third character identifying an individual aircraft. Pilot and unit badges were relatively inconspicuous (especially when compared to the flamboyant American style); some aircraft sported victory markings. Once in Italy, the RAF reverted to the standard Day-Fighter colour set of Ocean Grey / Dark Green over Medium Sea Grey, but the two paint schemes (Temperate and Mediterranean) continued to co-exist for quite some time. The camouflage used on USAAF aircraft that had participated in the Tunisian campaign followed the same pattern. National insignia included the standard white stars on dark blue discs, with white bars bordered in dark blue in four positions: on either side of the fuselage, on the port wing upper surface, and on the starboard wing underside (Warhawks of the 79th FG continued to carry RAF-style fin-flashes). Aircraft in the ‘continental’ camouflage had Olive Drab upper surfaces, and Neutral Grey undersides. American fighter groups adopted high-visibility, unit-specific colour markings (usually found on the tail assemblies). Quick aerial recognition markings (like those carried by Axis fighters) were not common. Notably, many P-51s and P-47s featured single or double yellow wing bands to distinguish them from Axis fighters. American aircraft were famous for their elaborate ‘nose-art’ – cartoon characters and scantily clad ladies being the most popular themes. Victory and mission markers (the former usually in the form of crosses or swastikas) were usually painted beneath the cockpit.
Fortunately, this intricate subject is well documented in photographs: hence, it will be continued in a second volume of ‘Fighters over Italy’.
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