Thursday, March 12, 2015

Saetta on the Eastern Front

The Macchi C.200 Saetta (also variously identified as the MC.200) (Italian: Thunderbolt) was a World War II fighter aircraft built by Aeronautica Macchi in Italy, and used in various forms throughout the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force). The MC.200 had excellent manoeuvrability and general flying characteristics left little to be desired. Stability in a high-speed dive was exceptional, but it was underpowered and underarmed for a modern fighter.

From the time Italy entered war on 10 June 1940, until her surrender on 8 September 1943, the Macchi C. 200 flew more operational sorties than any Italian aircraft. The Saetta ranged over Greece, North Africa, Yugoslavia, across the Mediterranean and Russia (where it obtained an excellent kill to loss ratio of 88 to 15). Its very strong all-metal construction and air-cooled engine made the aircraft ideal for ground attack and several units flew it as a fighter-bomber. Over 1,000 were built by the time the war ended.

In August 1941, the Italian air force command sent one air corps, formed of 22º Gruppo Autonomo Caccia Terrestre with four squadrons and 51 C.200s to the Eastern Front with the Italian Air Force Expeditionary Corps in Russia (Corpo Italiano di Spedizione in Russia). Together with C.202s, they claimed 88 to 15 victory/loss ratio. The first Macchis arrived in Tudora, near Odessa, on 13 August 1941, commanded by Major (Maggiore) Giovanni Borzoni and deployed in 359a, 362a, 369a and 371a Flights (Squadriglias). Macchi pilots carried out their first operations from Krivoi Rog, on 27 August 1941, achieving eight aerial victories over Soviet bombers and fighters. For a short time the 22° Gruppo was subordinated to Luftwaffe V.Fliegerkorps. Subsequently, they took part in the September offensive on Dnjepr River, as the offensive went on, they operated sporadically from airstrips in Zaporozhye, Stalino, Borvenkovo, Voroshilovgrad, Makiivka, Oblivskaja, Millerovo and the most eastern location, Kantemirovka. The Italians moved to Zaporozhye late in October 1941. In December 371a Squadriglia was transferred to Stalino but replaced two days later by 359a with 11 Macchis. On 25 December, the C.200s flew low-level attacks against Soviet troops that had beleguered the Black Shirt (Camicie Nere)Legion Tagliamento, at Novo Orlowka. And on 28 December, pilots of 359a claimed nive Soviet aircraft, including six I-16 fighters, in the Timofeyevka and Polskaya area, without loss.

During February 1942, the C.200 was employed in attacking Russian airfields at Kranyi Liman, Luskotova and Leninski Bomdardir. On 4 May 1942, the 22º Gruppo Autonomo Caccia Terrestre, that had reached its operational limit, was replaced by the newly formed 21º Gruppo Autonomo Caccia Terrestre, composed of 356ma, 382ma, 361ma and 386ma Squadriglia. This unit, commanded by Maggiore (Major) Ettore Foschini, brought new C.202s and 18 new Macchi C.200 fighters. During the second Battle for Kharkov (12–30 May), the Italians flew escort for the German bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. In May, the Macchi's pilots received praise from the commander of the German 17th Army, mostly for their daring and effective attacks in the Slavyansk area.[34] During the German advance, in summer 1942, 21° Gruppo Autonomo C.T. transferred to Makeyevka airfield, and then to Voroshilovgrad and Oblivskaya. Increasingly, the Macchis were tasked to escort German aircraft and on 25 and 26 July 1942, five C.200s were lost in aerial combat.

The following winter, the Soviet counter-offensive resulted in a retreat of the Axis forces. By early-December, only 32 Saettas were still operating, along with 11 Macchi C.202s. The losses grew in the face of a more aggressive enemy flying newer aircraft. The last major action was on 17 January 1943: 25 Macchis strafed enemy troops in the Millerovo area. The aviation of the ARMIR was withdrawn on 18 January, bringing 30 Macchi C.200 and nine C.202 fighters back to Italy and leaving 15 unserviceable aircraft behind. A total of 66 Italian aircraft had been lost on Eastern Front - against, according to official figures, 88 victories claimed during 17 months of action in that theater.

The summary of Corpo Italiano di Spedizione in Russia operations included: 2,557 offensive flights (of which 511 with bombs dropping), 1.310 strafing attacks, 1.938 escort missions, 15 Saettas lost in combat. The top scoring unit was 362a Squadriglia commanded by Captain (Capitano) Germano La Ferla, that claimed 30 Soviet aircraft shot down and 13 destroyed on the ground.

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