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.