Fiat G.55 Centauro
National origin:- Italy Role:- Fighter Manufacturer:- Fiat Designer: Giuseppe Gabrielli First flight:- 30 April 1942 Introduction:- 1943 Retired:- 1945 Primary users:- Regia Aeronautica, Argentine Air Force, Royal Egyptian Air Force Produced :- 274 (wartime), 75 (postwar) Unit cost: L. 535.000 (L. 1.284.000 for planned 2.400 aircraft) (Nino Arena, FIAT G 55 "Centauro, Modena Edizioni Stem Mucchi, 1994)
The Fiat G.55 Centauro (Italian: 'Centaur') was a single-engine single-seat World War II fighter aircraft used by the Regia Aeronautica and the A.N.R. (Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana) in 1943-1945. It was designed and built in Turin by Fiat. The Fiat G.55 was probably the best type produced in Italy during World War II,  (a subjective claim also frequently made for the Macchi C.205 Veltro) but it did not enter production until 1943. 
During its short operational service, mostly under the Repubblica Sociale Italiana insignia, after the 8 September 1943 armistice, this powerful, robust and fast aircraft proved itself to be an excellent interceptor at high altitude. In 1944, over Northern Italy, the Centauro clashed with British Supermarine Spitfire, P-51 Mustang, P-47 Thunderbolt and P-38 Lightning, proving to be no easy adversary.  Italian fighter pilots liked their Centauro but by the time the war ended, fewer than 300 had been built.  (This is in comparison with, for example, the 34,000 Bf 109s built by the Germans.)
Design and development
By 1939, all the main Italian aircraft factories had begun designing a new series of fighter, with inline engines as opposed to the radial engines that powered the Italian fighters in early World War II. This process brought to the first generation of Italian fighters equipped with the Italian-built copy of the Daimler-Benz DB 601 engine, the so-called Serie 1/2, whose most prominent representative was the Macchi C.202 Folgore. However, the process didn't stop, and already in 1941, designers shifted their attention on the new Daimler-Benz DB 605. Fiat designer Giuseppe Gabrielli, while experimenting a new version of his Fiat G.50 fighter, equipped with the DB 601, started a new design that was to be powered by the Daimler-Benz DB 605.
The first G.55 prototype flew on 30 April 1942,  piloted by commander Valentino Cus, immediately showing its good performance and flight characteristics. It was armed with one 20 mm MG 151/20 cannon, installed in the hub with 200 rounds, and four 12.7 mm (.5 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns, two in the upper engine cowling and two in the lower part, with 300 rpg, in 'Sottoserie O' airframes. This layout soon proved to be troublesome, both for rearming and for the servicing of the lower cowling mounted machine guns: for this reason, the two lower machine guns were removed, and replaced with a 20 mm MG 151/20 in each wing, in the later production series, the Serie 1.
The prototype flew to Guidonia, where it was put into trials against the other fighters of the so-called Serie 5 Macchi C.205V Veltro and the formidable Reggiane Re.2005 Sagittario, all of them built around the powerful Daimler-Benz DB 605 engine. The trials showed that the Centauro was the 2nd best performer overall, and it won the tender set by the Regia Aeronautica. The C.205V was good at low and medium altitudes, fast and with good diving characteristics but its performance dropped considerably over 8,000 m (26,250 ft), particularly in handling. The Re.2005 was the fastest at high altitudes and best in dogfights, but suffered from a vibration which turned out to be a balance problem, this was corrected, but was still the most time consuming and technically advanced of the three to produce. The G.55 was chosen for mass production. The G.55 prototype reached 620 km/h (390 mph) full loaded without WEP (war emergency power), at 7,000 m (22,970 ft), a little less than expected, but had a strong airframe and was the best one regarding handling and stability at every altitude. The only negative assessment noted by G.55 pilots was the pronounced left-hand yawing at takeoff. This was partially remedied by a slight offset positioning of the vertical stabilizer to counteract engine torque.
A Fiat G.55 with Regia Aeronautica livery exhibited at the Museo storico dell'Aeronautica Militare di Vigna di Valle, on Bracciano lake, in Lazio region.
By early 1943, increased Allied bombing raids over Italy had showed that there was no suitable high-altitude fighter to deal with them effectively. The Macchi C.202's performance decreased above 8,000 m (26,250 ft), the typical altitude of the bombers and the MC.202's armament of two 12.7 mm (.5 in) machine guns was hardly adequate to bring down large bombers. Of the Serie 5 fighters, the Centauro showed the best high-altitude performance, due to its large wing surface area. Also its powerful armament, along with the generous ammunition supply (the G.55 had 250 rounds of 20 mm ammunition in the hub cannon as opposed to 120 rounds in the Re.2005) standardized in the production Serie I, was enough to bring down the US bombers.
The Regia Aeronautica commissioned the production of 1,800 G.55s, later raising that number to 2,400.  A pre-production series of 34 examples was ordered: these aircraft were mostly based on the prototype, with minor changes to improve its flying characteristics. They had a different weapon layout, as stated above, with the two lower cowling machine guns moved into the wings. Only 19 of the 34 commissioned aircraft were built, and six of them were converted to the Serie I standard at the factory.
The production version, named Serie I, had the standard armament of three 20 mm MG 151/20s and two 12.7 mm (.5 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns, plus two underwing racks to bring either two bombs (up to 160 kg/350 lb) or two drop tanks (100 L/26 US Gal). At the date of the Armistice, 8 September 1943, 35 G.55s of all Series had been delivered, including three prototypes. Of these, only one was flown to South Italy to join the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force (a second G.55, MM.91150, was obtained by the Allies in summer 1944, when test pilot, Serafino Agostini, defected with an escaped British POW, an RAF captain sitting on his knees. The aircraft was then taken on charge by the RAF and transferred to the Central Fighter Establishment of Tangmere, Great Britain, on 17 March 1945, with the number VF204 applied, was put in the depot at Ford, then nothing was known anymore of it.  )
From that date on, the Centauro served with the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (ANR), the air force of the fascist state created by Mussolini with the Germans' help in North Italy. It still not exactly known how many 'Centauros' were eventually requisitioned by the Luftwaffe or those acquired by Regia Aeronautica . About 18 aircraft were expropriated by the Regia Aeronautica while 12-20 (but according to some official reports, 42) were requisitioned by the Germans. 
The Fiat factory, in Turin under German control, continued production for about six months and when on on 25 April 1944, Fiat factories were heavily bombed (15 G.55s were destroyed  with some three-engined transport G.12s, BR.20 bombers and CR.42LWs ordered by the Luftwaffe), 164 'Centauros' had been completed, 97 of them being produced after the Armistice and delivered to Regia Aeronautica . Following the advice of Rustungs und Kriegsproduktion Stab (RuK), the German Control Commission, production was dispersed in small cities of Monferrato and production of parts were assigned to CANSA of Novara and AVIA in Vercelli. The parts were then assembled in Turin where the aircraft were to be flown by test pilots Valentino Cus, Rolandi, Agostini and Catella.  Production slowed markedly, and was stopped by the German authorities in September 1944.  A total of 148 G.55s were delivered to the Regia Aeronautica and, when the factory was captured, 37 more examples were ready, while 73 were still on the production line, in various degrees of completion.
The first Centauro to see operational use was the third prototype. On 21 March 1943, the aircraft was assigned to 20° Gruppo (squadron), 51° Stormo (wing) CT, based on Roma-Ciampino, for operational evaluation. In May, the G.55 followed the unit to Capoterra, near Cagliari having its baptism of fire on 5 June 1943, against Allied aircraft attacking Sardinia. The two first pre-production series flew, respectively, on 10 April and in May 1943. In early June they were assigned to 353a Squadriglia (flight) CT based in Foligno, Umbria, were, until August, were transferred nine more aircraft.  Pilots were delighted when they began to receive the new fighter in summer 1943. 
In June, the first Serie I were assigned to Gruppo Complementare of 51° Stormo in Foligno, near Perugia, but in July the 11 G.55 of Gruppo Complementare were transferred to 353a Squadriglia, that already had in charge the 'pre-series' machines, to operate from Roma-Ciampino Sud airfield. The 353a Squadriglia, commanded by Capitano Egeo Pittoni, flew many missions against the American bomber formation, but the flights were stopped when Rome was declared 'Città aperta' (Open City). On 27 August, the Squadriglie 351a and 352a left Sardinia and arrived in Foligno to be re-equipped with G.55. But at the date of the 8 September the G.55 had not been delivered yet. During the first week of September, 12 Centauros had been assigned to 372a Squadriglia of 153° Gruppo in Torino-Mirafiori.  On 8 September 1943, the date of Armistice, the Regia Aeronautica had received 35 G.55s. Only one of them flew to southern Italy, accepting the invitation of Maresciallo d'Italia Pietro Badoglio to surrender to Allied forces.
There still is not exact data about the G.55 captured by Luftwaffe or acquired by Aeronautica Nazionale Republicana. About 18 G.55s were acquired by Regia Aeronautica while 12-20, or even 42, according to some reports, were requisitioned by the Luftwaffe.  The Centauro entered in service with the Regia Aeronautica ; a decision was made to produce 500 G.55s, of which 300 were G.55/I and 200 G.55/II Serie II, armed with five 20 mm MG 151/20s and no machine guns. Only 148 were delivered to the Regia Aeronautica units that, as the number of available G.55s dwindled, were progressively re-equipped with the Bf 109G, of various sub-versions, even though Italian pilots preferred the G.55 with cancellation of production being extremely unpopular. 
The Regia Aeronautica had two Gruppi Caccia terrestre (fighter squadrons), the first was initially equipped with the Macchi C.205, from November 1943 to May 1944, then, re-equipped with the G.55/I in June 1944 until it switched to the Bf 109G starting from November 1944. The 2nd Gruppo was the main unit equipped with the G.55, of which it had 70 examples from December 1943-August 1944, before being progressively re-equipped with the Bf 109G.
The first unit in Regia Aeronautica to be equipped with G.55 was the Squadriglia Montefusco, in November 1943, operating from Piemonte until 29 March 1944, when it was absorbed by the 1st Gruppo and transferred in Veneto. The 2nd Gruppo was formed at Bresso. It was initially commanded by Lt Col Antonio Vizzoto, and later by Lt Col Aldo Alessandrini.  It had three Squadriglie (the 4th, Gigi Tre Osei, the 5th, Diavoli Rossi, and the 6th, Gamba di Ferro). The unit operated near Milan and Varese until April 1944, then it was transferred near Parma and Pavia, then again near the Lake Garda (Brescia and Verona). At the end of May, the 2° Gruppo gave its G.55s to 1° Gruppo and re-equipped with 46 exI./JG 53 and II.JG 77 Bf 109G-6/R6  With the Regia Aeronautica , the G.55s gave a good account of themselves against Allied fighters like the Spitfires and Mustang. 
In December 1942, a technical commission of the Regia Aeronautica was invited by the Luftwaffe to test some German aircraft in Rechlin. The visit was part of a joint plan for the standardization of the Axis aircraft production. In the same time, some Luftwaffe officers visited Guidonia where they were particularly interested in the performance promised by the Serie 5 fighters. On 9 December, these impressions were discussed in a Luftwaffe staff meeting and raised the interest of Hermann Göring himself. In February 1943, a German test commission was sent in Italy to evaluate the new Italian fighters.  The commission was led by Oberst Petersen and was formed by Luftwaffe officers and pilots and by technical personnel, among them the Flugbaumeister Malz. The Germans also brought with them several aircraft including a Fw 190 A-5 and a Bf 109 G-4 for direct comparison tests in simulated dogfights.
The tests began 20 February 1943 with the German commission very impressed by the Italian aircraft, the G.55 in particular. In general, all the Serie 5 fighters were very good at low altitudes, but the G.55 was also competitive with its German opponents in term of speed and climb rate at high altitudes still maintaining superior handling characteristics. The definitive evaluation by the German commission was 'excellent' for the G.55, 'excellent' for the Re.2005 but very complicated to produce and 'average' for the C.205. Oberst Petersen defined the G.55 'the best fighter in the Axis' and immediately telegraphed his impressions to Goering. After listening the recommendations of Petersen, Milch and Galland, a meeting held by Goering on 22 February 1943 voted to produce the G.55 in Germany.
German interest, apart from the good test results, derived also from the development possibilities they were able to see in the G.55 and in the Re.2005. Particularly, the G.55 was bigger and heavier and was considered a very good candidate for the new DB 603 engine, which was considered too large for the Bf 109's airframe. Other visits were organized in Germany during March and May 1943 in Rechlin and Berlin. The G.55 was again tested at Rechlin at the presence of Milch. Gabrielli and other FIAT personnel were invited to visit German factories and to discuss the evolution of the aircraft. The specifications of the German G55/II included the DB 603 engine, five 20 mm guns and a pressurized cockpit. The suggestion of weapons in the wings, limited to one 20 mm gun for each wing, originated the final configuration of the Serie I, while the DB 603 engine was successfully installed in the what became the G.56 prototype. As a concrete results of the German interest in the G.55, the Luftwaffe acquired three complete G.55/0 airframes (MM 91064-65-66) for evaluations and experiments providing three DB 603 engines and original machinery for the setup of other production line of the Italian copy of DB 605. Two of the Luftwaffe G.55s remained in Turin, at the Aeritalia plants, where they were used by German and Italian engineers to study the planned modifications and the possible optimizations to the production process. Later these two were converted to Serie I and delivered to the Regia Aeronautica . The third one was transferred to Rechlin for tests and experiments in Germany. The DB 603 engines were used to build the G.56 prototypes.
The interest in the G.55 program was still high after the Armistice. In October 1943, Kurt Tank, who previously personally tested a G.55 in Rechlin, having nothing but praise for the aircraft, was in Turin to discuss G.55 production. However, war events and the not yet optimized production process were the reasons for which the G.55 program was eventually abandoned by the Luftwaffe. Early production of G.55 required about 15,000 man-hours; while there were estimations to reduce the effort to about 9,000 man-hours, the German factories were able to assemble a Bf 109 in only 5,000 man-hours. The DB 603 were instead to be used in Tank's own Ta-152 C.
Torpedo fighter G.55 S prototype c. 1945
The Regia Aeronautica employed torpedo bomber with success in the early war years, with the three-engine, SIAI-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero medium bomber inflicting considerable losses on Allied shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. By late 1942 the aging Sparviero was facing continually improving Allied fighters and anti aircraft defences.leading to the General staff exploring the idea of using a fighter aircraft for torpedo attacks. A fighter operating from Italian coasts with an operational range of 300–400 km (190-250 mi), would be capable of delivering a torpedo at high speed and evade enemy fighters or engage them after the attack run.
Fiat was asked to begin studies for a G.55 conversion to carry a 680 kg (1,500 lb) Whitehead torpedo, a shorter and more compact version of the standard weapon used by the SM.79. With the decision to develop a G.57, whose specifications included the capability of carrying torpedoes, all similar work on the G.55 torpedo fighter was suspended. Later, after the G.57 project was dropped, and given the Regia Aeronautica 's continuing need for an aircraft that could replace the SM.79, the Regia Aeronautica engineers undertook the task of converting the Centauro for the torpedo attack role. A production aircraft (military serial number MM. 91086) was modified to carry a 920 kg (2,030 lb), 5.46 m (17.91 ft) long torpedo. The radiator for the engine liquid cooler, positioned in the fuselage belly, under the cockpit area, was split in two, gaining a 90 cm (35 in) slot where two racks were mounted to carry the torpedo. The tailwheel strut was lengthened and equipped with a strengthened shock absorber, and a protective cone was added in front of the tailwheel. The two 12.7 mm (.5 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns were removed, leaving the aircraft with the three 20 mm cannons only as fixed armament. Weight: 2,600-4,100 kg 
The aircraft, designated G.55S, first flew in August 1944 and was successfully tested in January 1945,  piloted by Adriano Mantelli. Despite the cumbersome external load, performance was good and the handling acceptable. The Regia Aeronautica ordered a pre-series of 10 examples and a production series of 100 aircraft, but the conclusion of the war put an end to the project. The G.55S prototype survived the war and, after being converted back to the Serie I standard, it became the first G.55 to be delivered to the newly formed Aeronautica Militare Italiana (AMI).
The Fiat G.56 was basically a Fiat G.55 with a German Daimler-Benz DB 603 engine. Two prototypes were built, flight tests starting in March 1944.  On 30 March, Commander Valentino Cus reached speeds of 690/700 km/h (430/440 mph).  Official maximum speed was 685 km/h (426 mph) and the aircraft was armed with three 20 mm MG 151/20s, one firing through the propeller hub, the other two installed in the wings.  While performance was excellent, the aircraft proving superior to both the Bf 109K and Bf 109G and Fw 190A, outmanoeuvring  all types in testing, production was not allowed by the German authorities. 
After World War II
In 1946, Fiat restarted production of the G.55, using the large stock of partly complete airframes and components remaining in its factories. It was available in two versions, the G.55A, a single-seat fighter/advanced trainer, and the G.55B, a two-seat advanced trainer, whose prototypes flew on 5 September 1946 and 12 February 1946 respectively. 
The AMI acquired 19 G.55As and 10 G.55Bs, while the Argentine Air Force purchased 30 G.55As, and 15 G.55Bs. 
The production of these orders for G.55s for Italy and Argentina caused the available stocks of the Italian licence-built version of the DB 605 engine to run short. As there was still a demand for the aircraft, it was decided to convert the type to use the more readily available Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, with the first conversion flying in early 1948.  The conversion was successful, and the AMI decided to convert its G.55s to Merlin power, these re-entering service at the Lecce flying school in 1950 as the G.59-1A and G.59-1B (single- and two-seat versions).  Syria placed an order for 30 similar aircraft, which by this time, were completely from new production as the stocks of G.55 components had been exhausted. Of these, 26 were single-seaters (designated G.59-2A) and the remaining 4 two-seaters (G.59-2B).  A single G.59-2A was acquired by Argentina for evaluation, but no further orders followed from the South American republic.
The final versions were the G.59-4A single-seater and G.59-4B two-seater, which were fitted with bubble canopies for improved visibility. 20 G.59-4As and ten G.59-4Bs were purchased by Italy. 
G.55 : 3 prototypes.
G.55/0 : 16 pre-production aircraft.
G.55/1 : 15 initial production aircraft.
G.55/2 : bomber interceptor version.
G.55/S : torpedo attack aircraft model.
G.55/A,B : monoplace/twin place trainer versions,developed after the conflict.
G.56 : model with engine Daimler-Benz DB 603A of 1,750 hp.
G.57 : version planeed with engine Fiat A.83RC 24-52 of 1,250 hp
Argentina - Argentine Air Force
Egypt - Royal Egyptian Air Force
Italy - Regia Aeronautica; Italian Social Republic - Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana; Italy - Aeronautica Militare
Syria - Syrian Air Force
Data from 'Centauro - The Final Fling' 
General characteristics Crew: 1 Length: 9.37 m (30 ft 9 in) Wingspan: 11.85 m (38 ft 10 in) Height: 3.13 m (without the antenna mast) (10 ft 3¼ in) Wing area: 21.11 m² (227.23 ft²) Empty weight: 2,630 kg (5,798 lb) Loaded weight: 3,520 kg (7,760 lb) Max takeoff weight: 3,718 kg (8,197 lb) Powerplant: 1 × Fiat R.A 1050 Tifone (license-built Daimler-Benz DB 605A-1) liquid-cooled inverted V-12, 1,085 kW (1,475 hp) Performance Maximum speed: 623 km/h (337 kn, 387 mph (417 mph with WEP)) at 7,000 m (22,970 ft) Rate of climb: 5 min 50 sec at 6,000 m (Dimensione Cielo, Caccia Assalto 3 Edizioni Bizzarri, Roma 1972, pag. 15) (Climb to 7,000 m (22,970 ft): 8.57 min) Range: 1,200 km, or 1,650 km with two 100 l (26 US Gal) drop tanks under wings (545 nmi, 627 mi (or 891 nmi, 1,025 mi with drop tanks ) Service ceiling 12,750 m (41,830 ft) Power/mass: 230 W/kg (.30 hp/lb) Wing loading: 154.0 kg/m² (34.15 lb/ft²) Armament G.55 Serie 0: 1 × 20 mm Mauser MG 151/20 cannon, engine-mounted (250 rounds) 4 × 12.7 mm (.5 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns, two in the upper engine cowling, two in the lower cowling/wing roots (300 rpg) Armament G.55 Serie I: 3 × 20 mm MG 151/20s, one engine-mounted (250 rounds) and two wing-mounted (200 rpg) 2 × 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns in the upper engine cowling (300 rpg) Provision for 2 × 160 kg (353 lb) bombs on underwing racks (N.B. Egyptian and Syrian aircraft used Machine guns in the wings instead of cannon)
The FIAT G.55 'Centauro' Story
The Daimler-Benz 605A and the FIAT RA1050
The so called 'Serie 5' generation of Italian fighters origins its name in the DB 605A German engine, one of the most successful and mass produced aviation engines in WWII. Around this engine, license built by FIAT (Fabbrica Italiana di Automobili Torino – Italian Automobile Factory Turin) were built the last and best performing Italian fighters in WWII: the Macchi MC.205 'Veltro' (Greyhound), the Reggiane Re2005 'Sagittario' (Archer) and the FIAT G55 'Centauro' (Centaur) inspired by the Italian names of the constellations.
The 'Serie 5' fighters
At the beginning of the war the Regia Aereonautica was equipped with fighters still based on old designs: biplanes or monoplanes with underpowered radial engines. The development of a modern fighter with an inline engine was mostly delayed by the absence of a good engine of this type produced in Italy.
The availability of the DB601 engine, license built by Alfa Romeo resulted in a well identified generation of Italian fighters. The Macchi industries built the MC.202, surely the most successfull exponent of the 601 generation, and Reggiane produced the Re2001. FIAT did several experiments: the G.50V and the CR.42/DB, which resulted in flying prototypes, and the G.52 project. All these experiments, while successfull in terms of performances, were later abandoned.
At the end of 1941 the license to build the DB605 was finalized. The availability of this engine was the base for the specifications of a new generation of fighters. The call was extended to Macchi, Reggiane and FIAT. The Macchi MC.205 was a direct evolution of the MC.202, which was already equipped with the Alfa Romeo version of the DB601. The Reggiane Re2005 was the final development of the Reggiane formula initiated with the Re2000 'Falco'. The FIAT G.55, having its origins in the previous G.50 'Freccia' design was based on a former project intended for the FIAT A38 engine, but actually was a completely new design. The code of the FIAT aircraft was made by the project number, 55, and, in the Italian tradition, the initial of its designer: Giuseppe Gabrielli.
The predecessor of the G.55, a G.50bis 'Freccia' of 395a squadriglia, 154° gruppo, Aeronautica Egeo, Regia Aeronautica, based at Marizza airfield, Rhodes, Aegean Sea (Summer 1943)
The first G.55 prototype flew on 30 April. The evaluations were excellent for all the three aircrafts, but the G.55 was the best average performer and won the competition set by the Regia Aereonautica. The MC205 was good at low and medium altitudes but its performance dropped considerably over 8000 meters. The Re2005 was the fastest at high altitudes, but suffered of structural weakness. The G.55 prototype reached 620 km/h full loaded, a little less than expected, but had a strong airframe and was the best one regarding handling and stability at every altitude.
The G.55 was better designed and easier to manufacture than the others Serie 5 aircrafts, but it was completely different from the previous FIAT aircraft, and difficulties in setting up the assembly lines delayed the production. So the MC.205 was delivered first and, at the end of the war, it was built in a greater number (about 260), while about 200 G.55's were produced during the war, but only about 110 were able to be used in war operations. The other Serie 5, the Re 2005 was built in about 30 units which about 20 of them were delivered to the Regia Aereonautica, however, because risks due to flutter and tail section weakness operative use was quite limited and production was definitively stopped after the Armistice (8 September 1943). After this date the MC.205 was still built at Varese until Allied bombing stopped the production. The G.55 was produced mainly after the Armistice, at Aeritalia plants in Turin, until war events induced the German authorities to stop the production in September 1944.
Fiat G.55 'Centauro', Sottoserie 0 , M.M.('matricola militare' = serial number) 91059, 'Red 12', 353a Squadriglia 20° Gruppo, 51° Stormo, Regia Aeronautica (Royal Italian Airforce) Ciampino – Rome( July 1943)
In April 1943 the 353rd squadron was the first unit to be equipped with the new fighter. It is skinned as it looked like before the fall of Mussolini´s Fascist regime. After 25 July 1943 the Fascist emblems were subsequently to be removed from wings and fuselage. The unit flew sorties during the struggle for Sardinia, against the Anzio bridgeheads and was intended for the protection of Rome. All serviceable G.55s were confiscated by German authorities one day after the Italian surrender in September 1943 before the pilots, following the order of Superaereo, were able to carry them across the allied lines to Southern Italy.)
The German affair
In February 1943 a German test commission was sent to Italy to evaluate the new Italian fighters. The German commission, not without a certain surprise, was very impressed by the Italian aircraft, the G.55 in particular. In general, all the Serie 5 designs were very good at low altitude, but the G.55 was competitive with its German opponents also in term of speed and climb rate at high altitudes still maintaining superior handling characteristics. The definitive evaluation by the German commission was 'excellent' for the G.55, 'good' for the Re2005 and 'average' for the MC.205. Oberst Petersen defined the G.55 'the best fighter in the Axis' and immediately telegraphed his impressions to Göring. After listening to the recommendations of Petersen, Milch and Galland, a meeting held by Göring on February 22 voted to produce the G.55 in Germany.
The interest of the Germans, apart from the good test results, derived also from the development possibilities they were able to see in the G.55 and in the Re2005. For the Re2005 the German interest resulted in the provision of an original DB605 with the new MW methanole-water injection. This engine and a VDM propeller were installed on the MM495 prototype that was acquired by Luftwaffe and tested in Rechlin. The aircraft reached 700 km/h during a test with a German pilot, but the airframe was not judged sufficiently strong for these performances.
The G.55 was bigger and heavier and was considered a very good candidate for the new DB603 engine. Other visits were organized in Germany during March and May 1943 in Rechlin and Berlin. The specifications of the German G.55/II included the DB603 engine, five 20 mm guns and a pressurized cockpit. The suggestion of weapons in the wings, limited to one 20 mm gun for each wing, originated the final configuration of the Serie I, while the 603 engine was successfully installed in the G.56 prototypes.
A G.55 Serie I with Luftwaffe markings (Autumn/Winter 1943/44) In the early days of Mussolini´s post-armistice Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana (National Republican Airforce) the Montefusco squadron flew its G.55s wearing German markings
As a concrete result of the German interest in the G.55, the Luftwaffe acquired three complete G.55 Sottoserie 0 airframes for evaluations and experiments giving in change three DB603 engines and original machinery for the setup of other production lines of the DB605. Later two of them were converted to Serie I and delivered to the Regia Aeronautica . The third one was transferred to Rechlin for tests and experiments in Germany. The DB603 engines were used to build the G.56 prototypes.
The first operational unit of the Regia Aereonautica to be equipped with the FiatG.55's was the 353rd Squadriglia of the 20th Gruppo of the 51st Stormo. This unit started to receive the Centauros in April 1943 when the third prototype (MM 493) arrived. The unit, being based at Ciampino, near Rome, was equipped with Macchi C.202s and C.205s. In May the 353rd moved to Capoterra, Sardinia, were it was involved in fights against formations of Allied bombers. The airfield was bombed on June 5th and 5 Macchi's were destroyed on the ground. The same day the G.55s participated in their very first war action and were involved in downing one of the B-26 Marauders attacking the Capoterra airfield.
Before the Armistice, a total of 12 G.55's (including the prorotype) was delivered to the 353rd. However few were fully operative, mainly due to stability problems with the tail gear. In July 1943 only one aircraft was in flying condition and at the beginning of August all the G.55's were under repair. The 353rd was again transferred to Ciampino at the beginning of July and was involved in the defence of Rome. In spite of the low serviceability of the first produced Sottoserie 0's, the 353rd was able to obtain the first operational successes of the Centauro:
• 24 June, a P-40;
• 26 August, a P-38;
• 27 August, a B-17;
• 29 August, two P-38.
The day of the Armistice the 353rd still had 9 G.55's, of which only 4 in perfect serviceability. All G.55's were scattered on the north strip of Ciampino airfield and there they were captured by the Germans the day after, before the pilots, following the orders of Superaereo (Air Force High Command), were able to carry them across the front lines to southern Italy.
Fiat G.55 'Centauro', Sottoserie 0 , M.M.91059, 'Red 12', 353a Squadriglia 20° Gruppo, 51° Stormo, Regia Aeronautica (Royal Italian Airforce), Foligno-Rome (August 1943)
This variant is painted as it looked like after the fall of Mussolini´s fascist regime. After 25 July 1943, when the 'Duce' was taken under arrest and secret peace negotiations with the allies were started by the new government, the Fascist emblems were subsequently removed from wings and fuselage as an obvious sign of this change. Therefore the aircraft show only the white Savoia Rudder Crosses as national markings; the fascist roundels have been overpainted. At this time the unit was intended to fly sorties for the protection of Rome. Being declared as an open and liberated city this was precluded.
All serviceable G.55s were confiscated by German authorities one day after the final Italian surrender in September 1943. After the Armistice the Sottoserie 0's delivered to the Regia Aereonautica and confiscated by German authorities were shipped to Northern Italy and afterwards delivered to Mussolini´s 'Aviazione Repubblicana' (AR, later in 1944 the name changed in 'Aviazione Nazionale Repubblicana', or Regia Aeronautica – National Republican Airforce). In the meanwhile, the production of the aircraft of Serie I had started in Turin under the control of the German authorities. In November 1943 the completion of 128 G.55's was authorized and the delivery of the new aircraft to the units of the AR was started.
The interest in the G.55 program was still high after the Armistice, the Germans managed to seize all available aircraft and in October 1943 Kurt Tank, who previously personally had tested a G.55 in Rechlin, was in Turin to discuss about the Centauro production. However, war events and the not yet optimized production process were the reasons why the G.55 program was eventually abandoned by the Luftwaffe. Early produced G.55's required about 15000 manhours; while there were estimations to reduce the effort to about 9000 manhours. In comparison the German factories were able to assemble a Bf109 in only 5000 manhours.
The Regia Aeronautica , concerning fighters units, was organized in two Gruppi Caccia (Fighter Groups), each comprising of one Nucleo Commando (Staff Flight) and three Squadriglie (Squadrons): 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the Ist Group, and 4th, 5th and 6th in the IInd Group. There also existed a Squadriglia Complementare d'Allarme (Complementary Scramble Squadron) and a Squadriglia Scuola Caccia (Fighter School Squadron). A third Gruppo Caccia was planned but never constituted.
The first Squadriglia to be equipped with G.55's was the Squadriglia Complementare d'Allarme. This Squadriglia was named 'Montefusco' (obviously named after Cap. Mario Montefusco, Regia Aeronautica commander of 351st squadron, of high esteem, KIA July 1941 in Libya, otherwise a little town in South of Italy, known for wine production), and was based at Venaria Reale, near Turin, were it operated in defence of the city and its industries, among which there were the FIAT/Aeritalia plants for the G.55 production. The Montefusco squadron was equipped with Sottoserie 0's captured by Germans after the Armistice and new produced Serie I's. The Montefusco started its operations in January 1944 flying their planes with crudely overpainted German insignia. Among the successes of the Squadriglia there was a B17 on 29 March, the same day the Commander of the Squadron, Capt. Giovanni Bonet, was killed in action. After that day the name of the Squadriglia changed in 'Montefusco-Bonet'. In May 1944 the Squadriglia was redeployed at Reggio Emilia and later in June it was incorporated into the Ist Gruppo Caccia.
FiatG.55 'Centauro' Serie I, Aviazione Nazionale Repubblicana 'Yellow 3'
This skin depicts the FiatG.55 MM 91060 of the Squadriglia Complementare d'Allarme 'Montefusco-Bonet', March/April 1944. Capitano Giovanni Bonet was the commander of the 'Montefusco', after his death in combat, the squadron adopted his name and signature as insignia. This squadron was based at Venaria Reale (Province of Turin). Some photos show Sergente Maggiore Ennio 'Banana' Tarantola (10 kills) applying his parachute in front of this particular plane. Having received its planes from Luftwaffe booty stocks the squadron´s (7 Fiat G.55, 2 Macchi C.205) task was the protection of the Turin FIAT aircraft industry against increasing allied bomber attacks. Note the early 'ANR-fasces' insignia and roughly overpainted traces of previous German markings. The lictor´s bundles of the Regia Aeronautica fasces had been reduced from three to two, because originally the three of them were standing for 'God, King and Fatherland', but King Vittorio Emmanuele had fled to allied-held Southern Italy. Attacking 117 intruding B-24 Liberators Tarantola was shot down by one of the 40+ P-47 escorts on April 25th 1944. Being put to hospital he survived the war with severe burns and fractures. He was allowed to serve in the post-war Italian Air Force, finally reaching the rank of maresciallo. He died in his Adriatc home town of Cesenatico in June 2001. His plane was finally recovered in February 2003. Knowing of the plans to salvage his plane he had desired to 'touch his beast' only once again. One prop blade of his salvaged plane was posted on his grave.
After the Montefusco, also the IInd Gruppo Caccia started to be equipped with G.55's (the Ist Gruppo Caccia was equipped with MC.205's). The II Gruppo Caccia organization was as follows:
• Nucleo Comando 'Diavoli Rossi' ('Red Devils', nose art with white background);
• 4th Squadriglia 'Gigi tre osei' ('Louie with three birds');
• 5th Squadriglia 'Diavoli Rossi, sfondo scuro' ('Red Devils', nose art with dark background);
• 6th Squadriglia 'Gamba di ferro' ('Iron Leg').
Note that about numbers of the Squadriglia's some sources use absolute numbers (as in the above list) while others use numbers relative to the Gruppo Caccia, so, for instance, the 'Gigi tre osei' can be also referred as the 1st Squadriglia of the II Gruppo Caccia.
FiatG.55 'Centauro' Serie I - Sottoserie 0, Aviazione Nazionale Repubblicana 'Yellow 1'
This skin depicts the FiatG.55 'Centauro' Sottoserie 0, MM 91058 of the IInd Gruppo 2nd Squadriglia 'Diavoli Rossi' ('Red Devils'), flown by Sergente Pilota Rolando Ancillotti, April 1944. This squadron was based at Bresso (near Milan). The 'yellow 1' is one of the most portrayed Centauros, as it was used to take the pictures for a report in the Italian wartime aviation magazine 'Ali' ('Wings'). This aircraft was not delivered to Regia Aeronautica but remained at Fiat/Aeritalia; after the Armistice the plants went under control of the German authorities and it was factory-marked with 'Italian-style' Luftwaffe insignia overlaying the Regia Aeronautica white tailband and Savoia cross on the rudder. When MM91058 was delivered to the Regia Aeronautica new insignia (Italian flag and three fasces instead of three)were crudely over-painted with a layer of thinned 'Verde oliva scuro' (dark olive green).
This skin depicts a Fiat G.55 'Centauro', Serie 1, of the IInd Gruppo Caccia 1st Squadriglia 'Gigi tre osei' (Louie with three birds), Aviazione Nazionale Repubblicana.
The aircraft has the individual number '7 nero''black 7', flown by Capitano Ugo Drago, but its serial number was hidden by the application of the splinter camo. This squadron was based at Cascina Vaga (Province of Padua) April/May 1944. The 1st Squadriglia was the first to begin the transition to Bf 109G. By the end of June all the G.55's of the 1st were delivered to other squadrons to reintegrate the losses.
The gruppo being raised at Bresso (Province of Milan) in March 1944, these aircraft were painted in a short-lived experimental, obviously German-inspired splinter camouflage system and yellow engine lower sides being applied over the Italian 'verde oliva scuro' (dark olive green) before adapting a German-style camo system. The original green colour is still visible around the squadron´s badge. Originally this unit introduced an Italian-style numbering system for some weeks prior to adopting the shown German-style tactical markings. All original images of '7 nero' are in black and white, the camo was applied on the field and we cannot be sure of the colours that were used. The proposed skin refers to the available photos and to the profiles of A. Brioschi. Interesting is the continual loss of independence concerning the relationship to the German 'ally'.
The Squadriglia's of the II Gruppo Caccia were initially based at Bresso (near Milan), then they moved to Villa Masone (near Reggio Emilia) and then to Cascina Vaga (near Pavia). The II Gruppo Caccia was equipped with G.55's until July 1944. Due to FIAT low production rates that caused shortcoming of spare parts in May 1944 the II Gruppo Caccia begun the transition on German Bf109G
On 4 August 1944 Maresciallo Serafino Agostini, test pilot of Aeritalia, using one of the ready-for-delivery G.55's (MM91156), picked up an allied agent, Tenente Francesco Gentile of Italian origin, who had parachuted behind German lines two months before in Piedmont, in the narrow G.55 cockpit and escaped to Piombino beyond the front line. The aircraft, already being expected, was then taken over by the Allied and shipped to England to be used for evaluations. This episode was relevant for the German authorities to finally decide the stop of the Aeritalia production that definitively ended in September 1944.
Production of Serie I G.55's continued until August 1944. During this period about 50 G.55's were delivered to the Regia Aeronautica . In April 1944 an Allied raid over Turin delivered heavy damage to the Aeritalia plants, destroying several G.55's, some near to completion in the assembly lines and others standing on the factory airfield ready for delivery. In August, after the MM91150 episode, the German authorities stopped the G.55 production and ordered the scrapping of all aircraft in the factory. In September all Aeritalia activities ended officially.
Magazine References: +
Web References: +
Editor for Asisbiz: Matthew Laird Acred
Please help us to improve these articles with any additional information or photo's.
If you should encounter any bugs broken links, or display errors just email us.
If you love our website please add a like on facebook or follow us on Google+
Please donate so we can make this site even better !!