Thursday, 17 March 2016

Italian "piccola cosa" in the Luftwaffe service. Piaggio P.108

Piaggio P.108A
In the Autumn of 1939 the son of Benito Mussolini, Bruno tested great and beautiful plane. From several months, the Italian aircraft factory Piaggio e Società per Azioni  worked on the project  of four-engine  heavy bomber. Final product of this project has earned the P.108 symbol. At the beginning of the WW2 Italian air force (Regia Aeronautica) had very modern and heavily armed heavy four-engine bomber.

The person responsible for the design and implementation of the "baby" was Giovanni Casiraghi. An experienced designer, who nine years (1927-1936) of his professional life in the USA. Based on his experience he created completely new plane. The plane, which seems to have overtaken the world for a little while.
Italian “Minikim” was a development of the earlier underpowered and wooden-structured P.50-II which was unable to take-off at its designed maximum weight. P.108 was all metal cantilever low-wing monoplane with an retractable undercarriage, driven by four Piaggio P.XII RC 35 18 cylinder radial engines, each producing 1350 hp. The first prototype was finished in October 1939 and had a very advanced defensive armament for its day. Not only had the Piaggio two 7,7 mm machine waist guns, a 12,7 mm machine gun in the lower turret and a similar weapon in the nose turret, but also two remotely-controlled twin gun turrets in outer engine nacelles.

                                          Piaggio P.108                    Piaggio P.108B                 Piaggio P.108T

4 x Piaggio P.XI-RC35, 1500 hpa
4 x Piaggio P.XII-RC35, 1500 KM
4 x Piaggio P.XII-RC35, 1350 KM
Wingspan (m)
Wing area(m²)
Weight (kg)
17 320
17 325
17 200
Max. takeoff weight:(kg)
24 885
29 885
30 000
Max. speed (km/h)
Service ceiling (m)
8 500
6 000
6 600
Range (km)

Maximum loads of bomb 3500 kg all carried internally in the bomb bay.

The Piaggio p.108 fly in  only one unit of Regia Aeronautica, was the 274th Long-Range Bombardment Group. This unit was formed in may 1941 and the training of the crews lasted far longer than anticipated and in June 1942 the unit became operational.

Piaggio P.108 had a several versions:

A - Anti-ship aircraft with a 102 mm
B - Bomber, was produced in any quantity before the armistice
C - Airliner with an extended wingspan and re-modelled fuselage capable of carrying 32 passengers
T - Transport version designed specifically for military use

Only one P.108A and 24 P.108Bs were built. The combined total number of all versions (and prototypes) was 35. Most of the P.108Cs were subsequently modified for use as military transport aircraft and could accommodate up to sixty passengers. Nine P.108 Ts were used by Luftwaffe transport units until the end of the war.

P.108 had a large bomb bay which was capable of carrying either:

7 × 250 or 500 kg (550 or 1,100 lb) bombs.
34 × 100 kg/220 lb (true weight: 129 kg/284 lb).
38 × 50 kg/110 lb (true weight: 69 kg/152 lb) bombs.

P.108A Artigliere, "gunship" was developed for anti-shipping duties to supplement torpedo bombers. It was armed with a modified high velocity Cannone da 90/53 gun mounted in a redesigned nose. This was considered the most effective artillery piece in service, and in several versions was used as an anti-aircraft and anti-tank gun by the Army and the Navy.

The founder of the A version was, mentioned earlier son of Benito Mussolini, Bruno and Lt.-Col. Gori Castellani. After a visit to the German unit KG40 in Bordeaux Marignac (June 1941) and interest in the possibilities of the Focke-Wulf Fw200 Condor be used  tto combat maritime, Mussolini made a report, which proposed modifications to the existing version of the Piaggio P.108 to fulfill the tasks of maritime combat ships so commercial and military. Following the report Piaggio e Società per Azioni ordered the plants to modify Piaggio P.108 B to carry torpedoes. The first tests with related to three 450 mm torpedo. They had to be in order to rebuild the bomb bay M.M.22602. In March 1942, a modified version B has been tested at the Scuola Aerosiluranti in Gorizia. In 1943, they tried another innovation, tested the Piaggio P.108 to carrying the radio-controlled torpedoes. Torpedoes were to a larger size, so a modified compartment could accommodate only two torpedoes. Finally, this project was cancelled.
Lt. Colonel Ettore Muti
Lt. Col. Ettore Muti gve idea to mount in a Piaggio P.108 the heavy-caliber marine cannon.
Following extensive discussions, Colonel convinced to the idea commander of 274th LRBG  (unit of Piaggio P.108), decision-makers in plants Piaggio e Società per Azioni and Ansaldo p(roducer of artillery equipment), even  Benito Mussolini. The decision was made. They were selected marine cannon to realized this idea:  90/53 cal. 90 mm.  To be more effective in its new role, the size of the gun was increased from 90 mm (3.5 in) to 102 mm (4 in), a non-standard Italian artillery calibre, and fired shells weighing 13 kg (30 lb) as opposed to the standard gun's 10 kg (20 lb), with a muzzle velocity of over 600 m/s (1,970 ft/s).The gun together with its recoil system weighed 1,500 kg (3,300 lb). Due to it being a re-bored smaller gun, its weight was relatively low for its calibre.

For tests M.M.24318 allocated from the second production run. Shortened front section of the cabin, liquidated or front position gunner / bombardier. In November of 1942. Pontedera rebuilt aircraft then flew on to Albenga for assembly work. Asymmetrically has built over the cockpit and attached to the main fuselage frames. December 16, 1942 modification of the "Minikim” was completed. March 3, 1943 Piaggio P.108 made its first flight. It turned out that the flight characteristics have changed only slightly. The machine was transferred to Furbara for testing weapons. March 30, 1943 began testing in the air. They fired all the ammunition, took place without any damage to the airplane structure. Further tests showed that above 1,700 meters front of the aircraft obscured line of sight and the firing was impossible. May 22, 1943 in Furbabra plane had to present their capabilities a bunch of decision-making staff and for the king of Italy. They fired three missiles on the ground and three in the air, one of them accidentally struck near the bunker from which the test watched Victor Emmanuel III, among the entourage around him erupted panic.
April 22, 1943 after the intervention of Mussolini ordered a series of five machines. Another six to get the title after the reconstruction of standard P.108B. The only existing copy, waiting in Villanova d'Albenga for installation of sighting, where it was took-over by German and send for further tests

P.108T transport. The latter two versions had a larger diameter fuselage for transporting passengers or freight. They were hardly used by the Regia Aeronautica, the main user being the German Luftwaffe. In 9/43, after the Italian armistice, the Luftwaffe had captured all fifteen P.108 Cs and P.108 Ts built. They were used at the Russian front, as part of Luftflotte 2, where they performed sterling duties, among others during the evacuation of the Crimea in 1944.