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Heavy Bomber


Piaggio P.108, heavy bomber - "flying fortress" in the Italian design. First flight on November 24, 1939.

In many ways similar to the B-17, the Italian "flying fortress" turned out to be more difficult to control and with slightly worse flight characteristics. In general, it was a fairly modern aircraft, made using advanced technology, including electric welding. The design of the bomber was all-metal with duralumin sheathing.

The power plant included four Piaggio P.XI engines, with a total takeoff power of 5920 hp, with three-blade variable pitch propellers. The main landing gear was retracted forward along the flight into the inner engine nacelles.

Armament - eight 12.7 mm SAFAT machine guns. One was in the bow in a special glazed ledge near the bombardier, from the other it was possible to fire under the fuselage from a rifle tower specially extended by hydraulics. Behind there were two more machine guns, each in its own loophole along the sides of the fuselage. Observing the air situation from above from two special blisters behind the wing, the shooters could remotely control two turrets with twin machine guns, placed on the extreme engine nacelles.

Bomb load up to 3500 kg. The bomb bay could hold thirty-four bombs of 100 kg each, or twenty bombs 160 kg each, or seven bombs of 500 kg each. Crew - eight people: two pilots, navigator, bombardier, radio operator and three gunners.

Despite the Douai doctrine, the construction of a massive strategic aviation was not affordable for such a small and rather poor country like Italy. And the leadership of the Italian Air Force made the main bet on medium bombers, and it was supposed to equip only one aviation group with heavy machines. The bombers under construction were intended for a specially created long-range air group, which was to include two squadrons: the 274th and 275th. The commander of the group was appointed Lieutenant Colonel Gary Castellani, a famous pilot who took part in the Marseille-Damascus-Paris air race and the Rome-Rio de Janeiro flight. And the commander of the 274th squadron, officially formed on June 1, 1941, was Bruno Mussolini, the son of the Duce himself. The squadron was based in Pisa, and the first P.108B flew there on 19 July.

On their "flying fortresses" the Italians were going to hang three torpedoes: one in the bomb bay, and two on the outer nodes. However, in the future, Piaggio bombers have never flown with such a combat load. Bruno Mussolini enthusiastically wrote to his father that he would soon become the commander of an active squadron called "Knights of the Ocean", and asked to speed up the delivery of aircraft to his military unit.

Having received the first plane in July, the crews began flight training. Of course, the commander flew the most. On the next flight, Bruno Mussolini, together with his co-pilot De Genaro, went on 7 August. Having torn off their Piaggio with the flaps extended from the runway in Pisa, the crew began to retrace the landing gear. All of a sudden, the pressure in the hydraulic system dropped and the flaps returned to the retracted position. The pilots, deciding to turn around and sit down, tried to put the landing gear back on release. Operating the harvest handle and observing the hydraulic system pressure gauge, the pilots were distracted from control and lost speed. Trying to rectify the situation, the commander increased the speed of the engines too sharply, they choked, and the plane crashed to the ground. Of the eight crew members, three were killed, including Bruno Mussolini.

B-17G P.108
Crew 9 8
Length, m 22.78 22.92
Height, m 5.82 5.20
Wing span, m 31.63 32.00
Wing area, m² 131.92 135.34
Weight, kg
Empty 16,400 17,320
Gross weight 32,659 29,500
Engine 4 × PE R-1920-97 4 × PE Piaggio P.XXII RC.35
Takeoff power, hp 4 × 1200 4 × 1480
Maximum speed, km/h 462 430
Cruising speed, km/h 257 376
Service range, km 2,720 2,500
Service ceiling, m 10,800 8,000
Power load, kg/hp 6.8 5.0
Photo Description
Drawing Piaggio P.108B

Drawing Piaggio P.108B


Piaggio P108C
  • Medium transport aircraft
  • First flight: 1942
  • Piaggio

Piaggio P.108C is a medium military transport aircraft. It is a transport version of the P.108B heavy bomber. The latter was created in the design bureau of the company Societa Anonyma Piaggio under the leadership of J. Casiraggi. The bomber made its first flight on November 24, 1939. Serial production of the P.108B began at the Piaggio plant in Finale Marina in September 1940.

In 1942, on the basis of the bomber, a long-range passenger airliner R.108C with a pressurized cabin for 32 seats was designed. Its prototype first flew on July 16, 1942. However, the laid down series of 5 copies. Even at the factory it was converted into military transport aircraft. The P.108C was a four-engine all-metal monoplane with retractable landing gear and a pressurized cabin with 56 seats. Crew - 5 people. The power plant is four Piaggio P.XII RC.35 engines. No weapons were installed, but the Germans installed four 13-mm machine guns, modifications were carried out in workshops in Mühldorf.

On September 7, 1942, the “real” transport R.108T made its first flight. It differed from its predecessor in an unpressurized cabin with 60 seats, a cargo hatch, a reinforced floor, a modified tail and installed weapons (four 12.7 mm machine guns). Since February 1943, the plant began mass-producing aircraft. Production of the P. 108T ended in 1944. A total of 6 P.108C and 5 P.108T were built.

P.108T Specification
Crew 5
Wing span, m 33.05
Wing area, m² 142.85
Length, m 24.55
Height, m 5.70
4 × PE Piaggio Р.XII RC.35, power hp. 4 × 1,350
Weights, kg
Empty weight 17,200
Gross weight 28,500
Maximum speed, km/h 440
Cruise speed, km/h 378
Service range, km 2,500
Service ceiling, m 6,600
4 × 12.7-mm Machine guns

The R. 108 S/T have been in service in Italy since July 1943, in Germany since November 1943. The Italian Air Force only managed to receive the R. 108C, but used them very little. All these planes were captured in September 1943 by the Germans. They also got the P.108T, which were at the factory at that time. The Luftwaffe used them for transportation on the Eastern Front. They played a special role during the evacuation of troops from Crimea in 1944. Each plane carried 100-125 people. In addition to the R.108 S/T, two disarmed R.108Bs also took part in the transportation. The German Air Force operated Italian aircraft until the surrender.

Photo Description
Piaggio P.108T Piaggio P.108T

Piaggio P.108T Piaggio P.108T

May 03, 2017

The description of the incident given by Sergei Kolov in the article "'Flying Fortress' - Italian version" is impossible to understand. Firstly, on takeoff, with the mechanization released, before retraction of the landing gear, the engine operating mode should be already maximum, or close to maximum.
Judging by the description, a possible reason - leaks in the landing gear retraction scheme and the departure of the hydraulic fluid, led to a drop in pressure in the hydraulic system, but it is unclear how in this case the steering gear worked to retrace the flaps (absence, hydraulic lock malfunction?) ...
Obviously, at low speed, with the mechanization removed, the lift of the wing fell sharply, which, probably, was the cause of the catastrophe. Attempting to extend the landing gear further reduced hydraulic pressure and did not assist in extending the flaps when the switch was set to extend. There are more questions than answers ...