|The rapid victories of the Luftwaffe over most of Europe were highly publicized by Germany and as the weapon of the Blitzkreig the Ju.87’s capabilities were overestimated. Whether impressed by such publicity or perhaps being unable to produce an indigenious type, the Regia Aeronautica ordered a number of Ju 87B-2s. Between July and August of 1940, a team of Italian pilots and groundcrew performed a conversion training course on the type at Graz in Austria and some of the personnel returned with 15 brand|
|Italian Stukas Over Malta
by Richard J. Caruana
|By August 22, these aircraft were at Comiso, Sicily, after staging through Rome (Ciampino), Naples (Capodichino) and Catania (Fontanarossa). Five more aircraft arrived during the last week of the same month, and the aircraft began to form up into the 236a and 237a Squadriglie of 96° Gruppo.|
|In the afternoon of September 2, the Italian Stukas – nicknamed ‘Picchiatello’ in Italian service – went through their baptism of fire in the Mediterranean when they attacked a naval formation just outside Maltese waters (Operation Hats). The first wave took off from Comiso at 1040hrs but returned to base without making contact, as they could not find their target. Five aircraft performed another sortie, leaving Comiso at 1425hrs led by Commandante Ercolano Ercolani. On sighting the ships, the aircraft went into action, with a hit being observed on one vessel. On their return to base four more Ju 87s took off and attacked another formation of ships – during this attack one Ju 87 was slightly damaged.|
|Malta became a target once again when the 96° Gruppo returned to Sicily on January 8, 1941. A heavily defended Allied convoy was sighted and plans were made to attack it as soon as it came within range. The first action was a nuisance raid over Marsaxlokk Bay on the January 9, when the Ju 87s were escorted by 12 CR 42 biplanes. The following day marked the prelude to a continuous sea chase, in a desperate effort to sink the HMS Illustrious. In the afternoon, Ju 87s from the 237a Squadriglia scored a direct hit on the aircraft-carrier which was forced to leave the convoy formation and head towards Malta for shelter and repairs. During its stay at Malta, Illustrious was subjected to a concentrated attack by the Regia Aeronautica, the likes of which the Island had not witnessed until that time. Malta’s docks, situated in a densely populated area, became prime targets and civilian casualties during these attacks were high. With the arrival of the German air contingent in Sicily (Fliegerkorps X) with orders to “wipe Malta off the map”, the Italian Stukas were once again sent to North Africa and the Greek front.
With Fliegerkorps X’s withdrawal from Sicily towards the end of May, 1941 the Picchiatelli returned making convoys, carrying vital supplies to Malta and Alexandria, their main targets. It was only in August that these aircraft returned to bomb targets over Malta. These operations started on the August 7 and involved night raids by aircraft of the 238a and 239a Squadriglie followed by similar raids on 11, 15 and 16 of that month. Particularly detailed are the units’ operational records for September 2. During a raid over Grand Harbour that day Sergente Maggiore Valentino Zagnoli was credited with the destruction of a tanker. Two of his companions could not complete the raid, as one had engine problems and made a forced landing short of home base while another ran out of fuel and had to turn back. Picchiatelli attacks against Maltese targets continued on and off during September (8, 26, 27).
|The first direct attack on Malta was performed on September 5. Italian reconnaissance reported a large ship in Grand Harbour which five Ju 87s did not find present on arrival. As an alternative target they hit Delimara, where the Ju 87s released their 500kg bombs. But it was on the 15th of that month that attacks against Malta began to weight significantly. Twelve aircraft from both Squadriglie of the 96° Gruppo, escorted by Macchi C 200s of the 6° Gruppo (on their first operational mission), performed a text-book dive-bombing attack on Hal Far airfield, to the south-west of the Island, with significant results. Defending Gladiators and Hurricanes did their best to chase them off after the attack.|
Two days later, during a repetition of this raid (this time, against Luqa), one of the Italian dive-bombers fell to the Hurricanes’ guns while another returned to base with a rear gunner casualty. In time, as in the Battle of Britain, it became apparent that the Ju 87s were vulnerable to defending fighters after the dive-bomber released its load.
|In October 1941, both 236a and 237a Squadriglie turned their attention to the opening operations against Greece. Their place in Sicily was taken over by the formation of two new units flying the same aircraft: the 238a and 239a Squadriglie of 97° Gruppo. After a short operational debut against Allied shipping around Malta on November 28, 1940 this unit was also called away to help in Greek operations.|
|After a short lull, the Picchiatelli returned to night operations against Malta on the nights of October 15 and 16. But a major effort was mounted on November 5, when 13 aircraft from 208a, 238a and 239a Squadriglie attacked naval targets in Grand Harbour. During the ensuing battle two Ju 87s were shot down by anti-aircraft gunners and defending fighters. This cycle of operations by Italian Stukas against Malta ended on the night of November 10.|
|But the aircraft were to reappear in June, 1942. Targets this time were the airfields at Luqa and Hal Far. The raid of June 24 accounted for the loss of the Ju 87 flown by Sottotenente F. Papalia, with two more losses occurring on the 28th. After these raids the Ju 87 units turned their attention again towards maritime supply routes and began an operational cycle flying from Gela and Castelvetrano. Night raids against Malta resumed during the last week of July and towards the end of August the 239a and 209a, revitalised with the arrival of new crews turned their attention towards the radar stations on the Island, although sustaining some losses .|
|The Ju 87 operations from Sicily ended on November 5, 1942 whilst on a training flight the wing of a Ju 87 began to vibrate violently. On close inspection of the aircraft, as well as all others in the Gruppo, it was found that these aircraft were well past their operational life; the wings could not take the strain of sustained dive bombing any longer. The unit returned all its aircraft to Lonate Pozzolo at the end of November where crews converted to the Ju 87 D-3.
By 1943, as the Germans did, the Italians no longer practiced dive bombing.
Although facing strong and determined defenses over Malta, the Regia Aeronautica's Ju 87s caused considerable damage, although sustaining proportional losses.
© Richard J. Caruana – 2005
|new aircraft to Italy on completion of the course.|