Daily Archives: 28/05/2009

The Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero

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I wrote about the gentleman I talked to in Italy about his experience in the Second World War flying in the Italian Air Force, and I felt that part of my history was missing.

We talked about how he downed two Hurricane aircraft into the sea, and escaped to fight another day. (click to read article).

He talked about The Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero (SM.79) and I searched for more details on the aircraft, hoping that perhaps there may be one in one of the many aircraft museums in the UK, visiting the Imperial War Museum in London and Duxford and RAF Hendon, but nothing.

The Italian Airforce Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero
The Italian Airforce Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero

I then decided that perhaps there maybe a plastic model construction kit I could find, and by building it I would learn more about the aircraft. That was nearly as difficult as finding a real aircraft. But after a lot of searching I found a model shop near to RAF Hendon, North London, with one last kit. The shop Hannants is on a small industrial estate, not really a shop as it does not even have a shop window, but it does have a good range of kits.

From building this aircraft, the SM.79, I felt so much nearer to the history I was told, but no-where in the books I read was there any mention of two Hurricane aircraft being lost to a SM.79. I even asked at RAF Hendon, something I will follow-up in coming months.

It is strange how we are only told we need to know about our history, and this tends to be one sided, that from the viewpoint of the country we are being taught in. Seeing the foot over the British Isle on the world globe on the statute in the Vatican, (click to see here). The history of slavery in America (click to see here).

I am learning to take what I am told with a pinch of salt, an English saying, which means, we are not being told the truth, or only a little of what we need to know.

The three engined Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero, or Sparrowhawk, was designed before the start of the Second World War as a passenger transport and fast postal link airplane, but was modified to become a torpedo and medium bomber with great success. It had a hump behind the cockpit which was able to retract to reveal a two 12.7 mm guns. It was flown by many countries.

The Battle of Britain Operations Room, RAF Uxbridge.

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Discovering past history has led me to be able to visit some historic sites. For example, buildings once home to Hawker Siddeley in Kingston upon Thames, makers of many great aircraft including the Hurricane, Brooklands one of the first airfields in the UK and the famous motor racing track, RAF Hendon in North London the Museum, RAF Duxford, an old RAF airfield and now part of the Imperial War Museum, and many more sites.

Not only have I visited sites, and read many articles and books to research more, but speaking to people who were directly involved with history or who have a greater knowledge base than mine, is helping me even more to understand.

A special person I met was Gianni Golfera’s grandfather who flew with the Italian Air Force during the Second World War in the elegant SM.79, and who shared with me some of his memories.

Another site I visited was the working Royal Air Force (RAF) base at RAF Uxbridge in West London.

RAF Uxbridge has had a remarkable history since being established in 1917, much to write about here. It has never been an airfield, but a base for many departments and RAF organisations, and especially one that fits another piece into my jigsaw, The Battle of Britain Operations Room.

With members of the Rotary Club of Kingston upon Thames, we were invited by prior arrangement, to visit this historic site, from where the air defence of South East England was co-ordinated, especially on September 15th 1940, Battle of Britain Day.

The Ops Room, also known as “The Bunker” or “The Hole”, is an underground facility, some 60 feet or 20 meters below the surrounding buildings, where personnel, mostly Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) members called Plotters and Tellers, would mark enemy and allied aircraft movements on a large sloping table called the Plotting Table, so that Controllers and other personnel, like Operation Clerks, Intelligence Clerks, members of other services like the Army and Navy, and personnel from the Observer Corps, anti-aircraft and searchlight sections would all co-ordinate data.



The Battle of Britain Operations Room entrance, RAF Uxbridge
Pushing marked blocks, containing information of aircraft over the Sectors of the Plotting Table, Controllers who sat high above the Plotting Table at a dais or curved glass fronted rooms or cabins, would have a 15 minute window of an air battle, thanks to information feed to the Plotter’s and Teller’s from aircrew, observers on the ground, and RADAR stations which were said to see the skies as far away as Paris.



The Battle of Britain Operations Room entrance, RAF Uxbridge

Behind the Plotting Table on the rear wall is the Tote Board, (nothing to do with NLP TOTE Model), which showed the readiness of aircraft at the various RAF airfields within 11 Group’s control, the weather situation, cloud hight and coverage, the position of barrage balloons, and a coloured sectioned wall clock which would tell the Ops personnel how up-to-date information was on the Plotting Table.



The Battle of Britain Operations Room Tote Board, RAF Uxbridge
Seen from the Controllers Cabin with readiness lights and coloured segmented clock


Throughout “The Bunker”, in rooms which have been restored to the day of The Battle of Britain, (September 15th 1940), there is a museum containing a historical record of the facility, and is worth extra time exploring.

I had heard that the curator and guide, Hazel Crozier, would be leaving the museum, but I did not realise that RAF Uxbridge would be closing, to be moved to nearby RAF Northolt. I hope that this historic site will be preserved, especially The Battle of Britain Operations Room, as without history, a nation does not exist.