Aviation of World War II
Conceived as a lightweight single-seat fighter or aerobatic trainer, the prototype I.M.A.M. Ro.41 showed good data, but failed to attract attention. However, two years later the Italian Air Force ordered this small biplane as an initial training aircraft in single and two-seat versions. In total, the companies I.M.A.M., "Agusta" and AVIS built 230 two-seat (with dual controls) and 480 single-seat Ro.41s in 1936-1943. They were intensively used in military schools; single-seat vehicles were often used for aerobatics training.
The Spanish Civil War took a significant toll on the Italian Air Force, and many single-seat Ro.41s were transferred to first-line fighter squadron bases to replace losses. Inferior to the Fiat C.R.32 fighter in many combat qualities, the Ro.41 biplane had a better rate of climb. The Frankists received 25 training Ro.41s from Italy, and nine more were exported to Hungary. On July 31, 1943, 443 Ro.41 aircraft were still serving in the Italian Air Force, several of which survived into post-war times. In 1949, Agusta produced 13 double and 12 single-seat Ro.41s, which were used for several years as military training and communications aircraft.
The design of the army reconnaissance aircraft Ro.37 served as a good basis for the development of aircraft not only ground-based. A little later than testing the first prototype, IMAM (Meridionali) began developing a naval float reconnaissance aircraft that could be placed on ships and launched from a catapult. The fuselage (borrowed along with the engine installation from Ro.37bis) was altered, now adapted for use in marine conditions, and instead of the usual wheeled chassis, one central and two side floats were installed. In order for the plane to take up as little precious space as possible on the ship, its wing consoles were made to fold back along the fuselage. Testing of the new Ro.43 aircraft began in 1936 and in 1937 it began to be mass-produced at a plant in Naples.
In general, the Ro.43 was nothing new and was not an outstanding aircraft. This then begs the question: why was it necessary to adopt a rather mediocre machine if it would have been easier to buy a license for the production of foreign aircraft or wait for more promising developments to appear. The answer here is obvious. In 1937, none of the major maritime powers simply possessed any special ship-based aircraft. Just remember the attempts of Soviet engineers to create an aircraft capable of replacing the old KR-1 (a licensed copy of the German Heinkel HD-55), which led to the appearance in 1936 of the KOR-1 aircraft, which at the time it was put into service also needed an urgent replacement. In Great Britain, France and Germany, naval reconnaissance aircraft in their performance characteristics were also not far behind the aircraft of the First World War. So it was the Ro.43 that was adopted into service, and not its foreign analogue, moreover, the design of this machine was well developed in production and did not require extra effort and costs.
The Ro.43 was put into service in the same year, 1937, gradually equipping most ships and battleships capable of carrying aircraft. Regia Aeronautica also had several aircraft of this type. After the start of the war, the Italians began to concentrate aviation near the Greek border, where Ro.43 made its first combat reconnaissance missions. A little time passed and the leadership of the fleet aviation remembered that they were in dire need of naval fighters. The Ro.43 was chosen for the role of an aircraft that could temporarily fill this gap, which, together with the Ro.44, became the only float fighters of the Italian fleet. The fighters operated from bases in the Aegean Sea, but they never had the chance to meet enemy aircraft. Now one can only guess how the battle between the Ro.43 biplane and, say, the Bristol "Blenheim" monoplane, which were frequent guests in Greece in 1940-1941, could have ended. The fact that the number of float fighters was very small also played a role. For example, the RA, for the operation against Allied forces in Crete in May 1941, allocated only four fighters of both types.
Even despite this fact, we must pay tribute to the Italian pilots, who managed to protect most of the vehicles during the hottest periods of the war, but combat missions did not always end successfully. As strange as this may sound, it was the crew of one of the Ro.43s from the battleship Vittorio Veneto that caused the brutal defeat of the Italians in a battle with English cruisers at Cape Matapan. If they had not found the British squadron, the Italians would not have entered the battle and would not have lost three of their cruisers.
However, no one was going to judge Ro.43 and its crew. Moreover, naval aircraft from IMAM faithfully served Italy throughout the war and can rightfully be considered one of the best aircraft of this class.
In total, until 1939, 130 (according to other sources - 125) Ro.43 reconnaissance aircraft were assembled.
Italy remained the only European country that used float planes as part of its naval fighter aircraft.
Ro.44 fighters were a logical continuation of the line of the two-seat land reconnaissance aircraft Ro.37, created in 1934. The modification of its design to meet the requirements of naval fighter aviation led to the appearance of Ro.44. FIAT participated in the competition for a float fighter with its prototype ICR.42, as well as a prototype monoplane IMAM Ro.51 with one central and two supporting floats. Due to the fact that the fleet could not order more than 35 aircraft, the choice fell on the Ro.44, since its production could widely use the parts and equipment of the Ro.43 aircraft.
The structure of the wings was strengthened, a Piaggio P-X R-40 engine of 515 kW (700 hp) was installed, between the cylinders of which two synchronized Breda-SAFAT machine guns of 12.7 mm caliber were fired. The wings folded back to facilitate placement on the deck of a ship. The design as a whole remained similar to Ro.43 - mixed. When developing this aircraft, designer Giovanni Galasso did not have any special problems. The company's chief pilot Nicolo Lana lifted its prototype near the Neapolitan port of Nisida. He was pleased with the results, especially noting the good maneuverability and controllability.
IMAM received an order for 35 production aircraft. Due to the similarity with the Ro.43 type, it was possible to release the entire series from February to June 1938, which was a pretty good indicator. The aircraft received serial numbers from MM3691 to MM3725, the serial number of the prototype is unknown. Military and naval aviation received their aircraft in 1939, but did not experience much joy from them. Operating experience has shown that in the cramped conditions of the Mediterranean Sea there is very little need for such aircraft. What other countries understood long ago was confirmed - carrier-based aircraft ensured the interception of targets at considerable distances in wide ocean spaces, for example, in the Pacific Ocean, and in the Mediterranean Sea, ground fighters could easily cope with such tasks. Only the Japanese fleet continued to retain float fighters in its composition, but their combat effectiveness sharply decreased.
The squadrons of the 88th separate group were quickly disbanded or re-equipped with land aircraft. Some pilots transferred to bomber units. In June 1941, the 161st squadron shared this fate, which replaced its aircraft with FIAT CR.42 land biplanes and was transferred to the island of Rhodes. Attempts to use the Ro.44 for reconnaissance were unsuccessful, since the only crew member could not collect information during the flight. Another weak point of the aircraft were the floats, which did not allow it to take off and land when seas exceeded 2 points on the international scale.
The result of this was that during 1941 the Ro.44 began to be used for pilot training, courier service and other non-combat missions. Since 1941, they were also used at the Punticella base near Polo (now Pulai) for pilot training.
By the time Italy surrendered in September 1943, there were only 6 combat-ready Ro.44s left in naval squadrons No.No. 2 and 3. The rest were either written off or lost during operation.