Aviation of World War II
SM.74 "Millepied" (“centipede”) is a large-capacity transport and passenger aircraft developed by engineer Alessandro Marchetti. Taking into account the Dutch experience in building aircraft, Marchetti designed a similar aircraft, which is a high-wing aircraft with fixed landing gear, but of an all-metal construction. The two-section fuselage was assembled from steel pipes and almost entirely covered with thin duralumin sheets, with the exception of the rear part with fabric covering. The three-spar high wing was mostly borrowed from the transport SM.72: it was made of wood and covered with canvas. The chassis was made non-retractable, covering the main tires with large fairings. The capacity of the SM.74 was quite large. The crew, located in the bow, consisted of a pilot, navigator, radio operator and mechanic. Especially for ease of maintenance, a passage was made in the wing so that the technician had access to the motors directly during the flight. The passenger cabin with three rows of seats could accommodate 20-27 people. For a good view from the passenger seats, instead of cutouts for individual windows, one long window was made. Below was a luggage compartment. The aircraft was equipped with four Piaggio P.X R engines with a power of 700 hp. with three-blade metal propellers.
The first prototype SM.74 (code I-URBE, serial number 21001) took off on March 26, 1935. Tests of the aircraft did not reveal any serious shortcomings and the company could only wait for the signing of a contract for serial production, but this did not happen. Like the Dutch F.XXXVI, the Italian SM.74 was late. Since 1933, deliveries of the famous DC-2 airliner began, and later the DC-3, which could carry the same number of passengers at greater speed over a longer distance. The only advantage of the old aircraft design was the ability to transport large cargo. The only customer of the SM.74 was the airline Ala Littoria (in fact, it was created on its order). Two more aircraft were built, receiving registration codes I-APLE (s/n 21002) and I-ROMA (s/n 21003). The second SM.74 entered testing on May 31, and the third on December 13, 1935. The last aircraft was equipped with British Bristol "Pegasus" III engines (845 hp)
Since July 18, 1936, SM.74 aircraft served the Rome - Paris line. They proved to be quite fast and durable machines, distinguished by ease of use and comfort. But the most positive feature of these aircraft was the ability to fly on just two engines. The following year, the SM.74 engines were replaced with 780-horsepower Alfa Romeo 126RC34s.
Combat use. To consolidate the success, a flight was organized to set a world speed record with maximum load. On December 22, 1937, the I-ROMA aircraft reached a speed of 322.089 km/h with a load of 10 tons, flying along a closed route with a total length of 1100 km. The FAI recognized this fact as a worldwide achievement, after which the aircraft was returned to normal service on January 26, 1938. However, this was the end of the civilian operation of the SM.74. In preparation for war, the Italian Air Force requisitioned its best transport aircraft. The Savoys were sent to Libya, and for some time the planes carried civilian and military registration designations. The planes received military numbers, and their main location was Tobruk. All three aircraft were assigned to the Comando Servizi Aerei Speciali. To streamline the numbering system, SM.74 received new numbers MM.60364, MM.60366 and MM.60365 from April 16, 1940. A whole series of redirects followed. Initially, the SM.74 was transferred to the 616th transport squadron, on June 25 there was an order to send the aircraft to the autonomous transport unit of C.S.A.S. with a base in Rome, and on July 7, 1940 they were again transferred to Libya with 604 Squadron at Berka-Benghazi. Here the SM.74 flew in the interests of the Libyan Aviation Command and received new flight codes 604-8 (I-URBE), 604-9 (I-ROMA) and 604-11 (I-ALPE). The help of large transport aircraft turned out to be very useful. SM.74 crews sometimes flew several missions a day, delivering up to 5 tons of cargo to oases and defenders of the Libyan border. On August 28, they mainly flew to the city of Giarabub, located at a distance of approximately 500 km from the base, and from August 29, SM.74 supplied the garrison of the distant oasis of Kurfa, which was about 940 km away. When the Italian offensive ran out of steam, transport aircraft began to be actively used to transport technical personnel and military personnel from their dangerous areas. On September 25, the first flights to Cyreniaica took place, after which the SM.74 switched to delivering cargo near Giarobuba. Over 30 flights they delivered 106 tons of cargo and various equipment, but this did not help save the Italian units. The only consolation was that the 604th squadron flew off without losses.
During the war, the SM.74 showed its best side, but the general situation of the Italians in North Africa remained difficult throughout the entire period of combat work, which had a very direct impact on the fate of transport aircraft.
On July 30, 1941, aircraft 604-8 found itself in a very difficult situation, transporting 28 military personnel and 1000 kg of cargo to Libya. In the north of Pantelleria, he was attacked by British Blenheim bombers, who considered the heavily laden vehicle a tasty prize. The Italian plane was saved thanks to the skill of the SM.74 pilot. After this incident, from August 1941, transport workers were transferred mainly to night flights. However, on October 2, the Castel Benito airfield, where 604-8 was stationed, was subjected to massive bombing. Among other aircraft, this SM.74 was lost there
The life of aircraft 604-11 ended sadly. On October 23, 1941, a plane with 26 passengers on board collided with a mountain in the vicinity of Lycodia Euboea in low cloud conditions. As a result of this disaster, no one managed to survive.
During the retreat from Benghazi, SM.74 board 604-9 distinguished itself, which evacuated civilian refugees and wounded to Italy. During 9 and 10 April 1941, when the Italo-German offensive began, this aircraft transported fuel and food between Agedabia and El-Mechili, primarily supplying the "Ariete" armored unit. The process of operation was disrupted only by an unpleasant collision with a Z.1007bis bomber from the 59th squadron, after which the aircraft was repaired and put back into service in March 1942. Less than a month had passed before the SM.74, delivering the next batch of cargo, was attacked by a Blenheim bomber right at the Gialo airfield. The plane's commander, Captain Troka, ordered it to be unloaded and, despite one damaged engine, decided to take off. Despite the decisive superiority of the British, the SM.74 gained altitude and landed at Agedabia airfield an hour later. After the death of the remaining aircraft, 603-9 remained the only aircraft of its kind. The last major operation in which he was able to participate was the delivery of 373 paratroopers in 9 flights to Fouquet (near El Alamein). On the way back, SM.74 picked up the wounded. On August 26, the aircraft was heavily damaged by anti-aircraft fire from the British fleet and spent two days undergoing repairs at Bou Amud. Aircraft 604-9 took off for the last time on January 7, 1943, flying from Castel Benito to Rome. Arriving home, SM.74 was assigned to the C.S.A.S. auxiliary group, and on August 19 he was killed by American bombers.