Italian warbirds in China

English: Claire Chennault in his office at Kun...

English: Claire Chennault in his office at Kunming, China, about May 1942 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everybody knows about the Flying Tigers, the American air fighters group in China in WWII. Aside from the movies and all the narrative stuff, that was about a group of American personnel that acted in China, fighting side by side with Chinese against the forces of the Japanese Empire. They learned a lot from the experience made in Spain, where they fought against Italian and German pilots in the civil war that precedeed WWII.

But the Chinese were actively looking for warplanes in the ’30s, knowing for sure that war against Japan will come. So they looked for any option available, including purchasing Italian warplanes. So there was a time when the Kingdom of Italy supplied with machines and personnel and only the political decision to favor the Japanese side. In my country, referring to that years, there was somewhat a technological clash between those who favored a more traditional kind of airplane, biplanes, and those who were looking forward to the monoplane models inspired by American manifacturers.

So we had a wonderful biplane, the FIAT Cr.32, often dubbed as the best biplane ever, and an innovative monoplane, the Breda Ba.27; both types were commercialized to China. This is how a FIAT Cr.32 looked like, with Chinese colors.

fiat cr32 china

This biplane looks dated today, but it was a very manouvreable plane, a real threat in the hands of an experienced pilot. It saw action in WWII and its follower, the FIAT Cr.42, was still dangerous at the end of that conflict. None of the planes sold to China survived to war, all were employed in the first phases of the conflicts between China and Japan (1933-1938).

This is the Breda Ba.27, shown with the same colors. A small number of this planes were sold to China too and also saw action there.

breda ba27 china

As you may see, it’s a very different warbird. It was faster than the FIAT, it could be operative at an higher ceiling and it was far more harder to shot down, given the extensive use of metal in the fuselage. None of this planes survived the conflict, for what I know all of them were destroyed by the Japanese. When the planes were shipped to China, a number of Italian technicians and pilots followed for training the Chinese personnel on site. There was also a plan for a all-Italian unit of fighters, some of them veterans from the Spanish civil war – just like the Flying Tigers.

But what if any of that group of Italian adventurers choose to stay there? Maybe, just maybe, in Shangai, back in the 1936?

Well, this is something you can find out. Check out who’s Felice Sabatini, right here.

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