Three-engine SIAI Savoia-Marchetti S.79 “Sparviero” medium torpedo bomber, issued 1941.
By early 1941 the number of “Sparvieros" in the Italian Royal Air Force began to decrease. The more advanced CANT Z.1007 “Alcione”, also a three-engined plane, was replacing the ageing S.79. However, the “Sparviero” soon had another, just as important role as the primary “workhorse” of Italian naval aviation.
In March 1937, one of the S.79s was equipped with a special torpedo sight, and under the fuselage a left-offset suspension rack was installed for an 860kg 450-mm torpedo. In November 1937, the plane passed all flight tests. In March 1938, a new version which carried two torpedoes was tested. This time, results were not so good, since the weight hindered the plane’s controllability. Consequently, the variant accepted was the one-torpedo version. Beginning in late 1939, all S.79 production aircraft were fitted with torpedo mounts.
The S.79 torpedo bombers had virtually the same design as the regular bombers. Their crew was increased by one person: a naval observation officer, who sat between radio operator and mechanic. From 1941 on, the engines were equipped first with extended tailpipes, and then with Wellington flame arresters. Arresters were also installed on the barrels of the machine guns.
In 1942, the Alfa-Romeo 126RC34 engines were equipped with an ethanol injection system, which allowed a short engine output boost to 900 hp, increasing the plane’s speed by 50 km/h. But this reduced the engine’s life span, which was already unsatisfactory.
On July 25, 1940, the first experimental torpedo squadron, containing five aircraft, was founded. It was an S.79 from this group that launched the first torpedo attack on the ships in the Egyptian port of Alexandria on August 15, 1940.
By early 1942, the Italian torpedo bombers had become a major force to be reckoned with. By November 1942 there were 147 S.79 torpedo bombers in service, in nine groups.
In June and August 1942, the Italians persistently attacked British convoys breaking through to Malta with moderate success, but they themselves lost about 50 S.79s, with experienced crews.