|A Fiat BR.20 on the ground just prior to Italy's declaration of war in 1940.|
|Designed by||Celestino Rosatelli|
|First flight||10 February 1936|
|Primary users||Regia Aeronautica |
The Fiat BR.20 Cicogna (
Design and development
In 1934, Regia Aeronautica requested Italian aviation manufacturers to submit proposals for a new
The BR.20 was designed and developed quickly, with the design being finalised in 1935 and the first
The BR.20 was a twin-engine low-wing
The engines were two
Crewed by four or five, the BR.20's two pilots sat side-by-side with the engineer/radio operator/gunner behind. The radio operator's equipment included a R.A. 350-I radio-transmitter, A.R.5 receiver and P.3N
The aircraft was fitted with a
The BR.20's payload was carried entirely in the bomb bay in the following possible combinations: 2 × 800 kg (1,760 lb) bombs as maximum load, 2 × 500 kg (1,100 lb), 4 × 250 kg (550 lb), 4 × 160 kg (350 lb), 12 × 100 kg (220 lb), 12 × 50 kg (110 lb), 12 × 20 kg (40 lb), or 12 × 15 kg (30 lb) bombs. Combinations of different types were also possible, including 1 × 800 kg (1,760 lb) and 6 × 100 kg (220 lb), 1 × 800 kg (1,760 lb) and 6 × 15 or 20 kg (30 or 40 lb), or 2 × 250 kg (550 lb) and 6 × 50 or 100 kg (110 or 220 lb) bombs. The BR.20 could also carry four dispensers, armed with up to 720 × 1 or 2 kg (2 or 4 lb) HE or incendiary bomblets. All the bombs were loaded and released horizontally, improving the accuracy of the launch. No torpedoes were used.
By the time Italy had entered World War II, a new variant, the BR.20M, had been produced and put in service. The BR.20M had a different nose with added glazed sections for the
Cicogna vs. Sparviero
Despite the BR.20 being the winner of the 1934 new bomber competition, the Savoia Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero, a non-competitor which was developed at practically the same time, gained a reputation that overshadowed the Cicogna, partly because of its performance in air-racing. The performance differences between the two aircraft were minimal: both were rated at about 430 km/h (270 mph), with maximum and typical payloads of 1,600 kg (3,630 lb) and 1,250 kg (2,760 lb) respectively for a range of 800–1,000 km (500-620 mi). Both also had three to four machine guns as defence weapons, but almost totally lacked protective armour.
The reasons for the Sparviero
When, at the end of 1936, the 13° Stormo Bombardamento Terrestre (in
The main task of the BR.20 was medium-range bombing. It had many features that were very advanced for its time: with a maximum speed of over 400 km/h (250 mph) and a high cruise speed of 320 km/h (200 mph), it was as fast as aircraft like the
Italy deployed six BR.20s to
While the Cicognas were successful, just 13 examples were sent to Spain compared to at least 99 SM.79s, which meant that the Sparviero was almost the Italian standard bomber, especially on day missions.
In July 1937, when
The fabric-covered surfaces were viewed as vulnerable, even if the main structure of this aircraft was noticeably robust. The aircraft had unsatisfactory range and defensive armament, but the first Ki-21s that entered service were not much better, except for their all-metal construction and the potential for further development when better engines became available (both types initially used two 746 kW/1,000 hp engines).
The 12th Sentai was redeployed to the
World War II
The aircraft of the 7°, 13° and 43° Stormo fought in the brief campaign against
Corpo Aereo Italiano
On 10 September 1940, was formed the
The BR.20s of the Corpo Aereo Italiano still bombed Ipswich and Harwich during the nights of 5, 17, 20, 29 November, three times in December and two at the beginning of January, with no loss. On 10 January 1941, the 43° Stormo flew back to Italy, followed by the 13° before the end of the month. During 12 days of bombing missions, the “Cicognas” dropped 54,320 kg; three aircraft were lost to enemy fire, 17 more for other reasons and 15 airmen were killed. Still, almost 200 modern aircraft were involved, weakening the Regia Aeronautica
On 27 February 1941, 14 Cicogne of 98° Gruppo, 43° Stormo, that had been in service with Corpo Aereo Italiano in Belgium, led by commander De Wittembeschi, left Italy bound for
The last use over Africa was when 55° Gruppo aircraft contested
BR.20s were used in the
Attrition remained high, and BR.20 units continued to be rotated to bases on
On 1 May 1942, the 88° Gruppo landed in Castelvetrano with 17 new machines (one crash landed on the Appennini Mountains). The units started operational service on 8 May, dropping 4AR mines. Before the end of August, five aircraft were lost and that same month the BR.20s left Sicily. In the 16 months of their Malta campaign, 41 “Cicognas” were shot down or lost through accidents. The Fiat bombers returned for a short time in 1943 with attacks on Malta.
Several BR.20s were sent to Russia in August 1942, to perform long-range reconnaissance and bombing sortie in support of CSIR, Italian Army on Eastern Front. On 3 August 1941, two BR-20s arrived in Ukraina and were assigned to 38a Squadriglia osservazione aerea (reconnaissance squadron) of 71° Gruppo. Three days later they had their baptism of fire, bombing enemy troops at Werch Mamor, along
During the course of the war, BR.20s were used in
After the first year of war, the limitations of this type were evident. It was highly vulnerable to enemy attacks, as Japanese experience had shown in 1938, and the aircraft was replaced by the
While the main front line task remained that of night bombing, especially against Malta, other roles included reconnaissance and the escort of convoys in the Mediterranean. For escort duties, aircraft were fitted with bombs and possibly depth charges, but with no other special equipment. They were used in this role from 1941, with 37° Wing (Lecce), 13° Wing (end of 1942), 116°, 32 Group (Iesi, from 1943), and 98° (based in Libya) from 1941. One of the 55° aircraft was lost in August 1941 against British
At the time of the September 1943
BR.20 was a good overall design, but it soon became obsolete, and the lack of improved versions condemned it to be only a second-line machine, underpowered and lacking in defensive firepower.
The final production variant was the BR.20bis which was a complete redesign. It had a fully-glazed nose, a retractable tail wheel, and more streamlined fuselage, pointed fins, although the main change was increased engine power from two 932 kW (1,250 hp) Fiat A.82 RC 42 radial engines and improved and heavier armament. The nose held a simple machine gun position rather than the turret used on earlier aircraft and two waist blisters were fitted over the wing trailing edge while the dorsal turret was a Breda Type V instead of the earlier Caproni Lanciani type. While this was considered to be an improvement over the previous versions, planned production was limited, as the Regia Aeronautica had placed large orders for the
Experimental versions included the BR.20C, a gunship with a 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon in the nose and another aircraft was modified with a
Including those sold to Japan, at least 233 standard BR.20s were made, along with 264–279 BR.20Ms being built from February 1940.
- Initial production model, 233 built.
- De-militarised conversion of two BR.20s for air racing.
- Long ranged civil version, one built.
- Improved bomber version with lengthened nose, 264 produced.
- Single aircraft converted by Agusta fitted with 37 mm (1.46 in) cannon in revised nose.
Specifications (Fiat Br.20M)
Data from The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II
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- Massiniello, Giorgio. "Bombe sull'Inghilterra" (in Italian). Storia Militare magazine n.1/2005.
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- Sgarlato, Nico. "Il Disastro del CAI" (in Italian). Aerei nella Storia magazine, June 2007.
- Taylor, M.J.H. (ed). Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation. London: Jane's, 1980. ISBN 1-85170-324-1.
- A Spanish Civil War photo showing an early model BR.20
- BR.20 on Avions legendaires, French language
- Warbirds on Fiat BR.20
- Commando Supremo on BR.20
- Br.20 in Spain (Spanish language)
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