The SM 79 was originally designed by Alessandro Marchetti as a high-speed, eight-passenger transport craft. It was a very streamlined, trimotor machine with retractable landing gear and constructed of steel tubing, wood, and fabric covering. It first flew in 1934 and established several international speed and distance records. Eventually the Regia Aeronautica (Italian air force) expressed interest in it as a potential bomber, and a prototype emerged in 1935. The military Sparviero was outwardly similar to the transport save for a bombardment gondola under the fuselage and a somewhat “humped” top profile to accommodate two gun turrets. Consequently, crew members nicknamed it Il Gobbo (The Hunchback) and several were deployed to fight in the Spanish Civil War. The SM 79 quickly established itself as a fast, rugged aircraft that handled extremely well under combat conditions. Its reputation induced Yugoslavia to import 45 machines in 1938. The following year a torpedo-bomber version, the SM 79-II, was deployed. Italy had helped pioneer the art of aerial torpedo bombardment, so when their efficient weapons were paired with the Sparviero, a formidable combination arose. By the time Italy entered World War II in 1940, SM 79s formed half of that nation’s bomber strength.
Early on, the SM 79 established itself as the most effective aircraft in the Italian arsenal. It performed well under trying conditions in North Africa and gave a good account of itself as a bomber. Sparvieros were also responsible for torpedoing several British warships in the Mediterranean.