The story of the BR.20 begins in 1934, when the Regia Aeronautica issued design specifications for a new bomber aircraft. Almost all Italian aircraft manufacturers submitted their concepts, with 3 being accepted by Regia Aeronautica. Among them was Fiat’s BR.20. Fiat designed and developed the new aircraft with haste, with the design being completed the following year, and the prototype being built and ready for testing in 1936. To the test pilot’s delight, the BR.20 showed favorable in-flight handling during testing. However, what was even more important, was the impressive bombing accuracy that the Stork demonstrated during testing. The Stork managed to drop bombs as accurately as 11m from the target from an altitude of 4,500 meters. This level of accuracy was achieved thanks to the excellent visibility that the bombardier had when aiming the horizontally loaded bombs, contrary to the standard practice of loading them vertically. The performance highly impressed the Regia Aeronautica, which led to them quickly placing an order for the first production models.
After the first models reached their units in late summer of 1936, pilots and maintenance crews were quick to express their concerns about the shortcomings of the aircraft. The primary remark were the unreliable and difficult to maintain Fiat A. 80 R.C. 41 radial engines. Despite this, the aircraft had its baptism by fire during the Spanish Civil War, where it performed well thanks to its speed, durability and defensive capabilities. These qualities attracted much interest for the aircraft from other nations, in particular from Japan, who was looking into replacing their obsolete Mitsubishi Type 93 bomber with a much more modern solution.
Highly impressed by the aircraft’s capabilities, Japan ordered 82 BR.20s for their own air force and redesignated the BR.20 to “I-Shiki Model 100” (nicknamed “Ruth” by allied forces). However, after their first combat missions on the Asian theatre in summer of 1938, Japanese BR.20 crews made several negative remarks about the aircraft, mainly concerning its engine reliability issues and firepower. This in turn lead to the bomber’s quick removal from frontline usage. After it’s final sortie with the Japanese air force in 1939, the BR.20 was then relegated to training duties and subsequently withdrawn from service by the end of 1941.
Unlike the Japanese, the Italians used the BR.20 not only in much greater numbers, but also extensively throughout the War. For the duration of the conflict, the BR.20 was Italy’s primary bomber, which saw action in France, Malta and Northern Africa.
In total, over 500 BR.20 Storks were built, spread over multiple variants, between 1936 and 1943, including the Japanese export models.