About the Raid on Manama, Bahrain
The raid on Manama occurred on 9 October 1940 when four modified Regia Aeronautica Savoia Marchetti SM.82 bombed English oil refineries in the Persian Gulf.
The Need for Strategic Bombers
During World War Two, the Regia Aeronautica lacked an adequate number of strategic bombers. It was therefore decided to upgrade several transport planes into aircraft capable of hitting targets considered out of reach of Italy’s conventional bomber force.
These modified transport aircraft replaced the four-engine Piaggio P.108 bombers, which although more suited for strategic bombing, were too few in number to be used effectively.
Targets Struck by these Bombers
Between June 1940 and July 1943, SM.82 and SM.75 bombers attacked Gibraltar, Suez, Port Sudan, and Bahrain. They also effectively delivered propaganda for the Italian war effort.
The missions were remarkable, not only because of the damage inflicted on the enemy but also because of the imaginative use of limited technologies to achieve these missions.
Rome to Tokyo Flight
Among the brilliant actions carried out by the three-engine Savoia-Marchetti occurred in late spring 1942 when a modified SM.75 established a new link with Japan in a non-stop flight from Rome to Tokyo.
The first modified SM.82 bombers began their mission on 17 July 1940 when three aircraft took off from Rome-Guidonia to raid the English stronghold of Gibraltar. The bombers dropped 100 and 250-kilogram bombs during this action.
These aircraft had forward/ventral laying devices, a bomb release gear and three Breda-Safat machine-guns.
Other attacks on Gibraltar occurred on 25 July and 20 August 1940. During these raids, the bombers dispatched from the Alghero base in Sardinia. The attack achieved good results. The target was hit even though only a few bombs were utilized. However, some planes perished or obtained damage during this mission.
The Regia Aeronautica chose the English refineries in the Persian Gulf as their first strategic target in the summer of 1940.
Planning the Attack
By October 1940, the Regia Aeronautica decided that five SM.82 bombers of the 41st Gruppo led by Tenente Colonnello Ettore Muti should transfer from Rome-Ciampino to the Gadurrà airport in Rhodes. The transfer took place on 13 October 1940.
The Italian Command planned to dispatch modified SM.82s and bomb British oil plants in the Persian Gulf, specifically Manama, Bahrain. The main goal was to show Great Britain the capability of the Italian Regia Aeronautica.
It would be a long, difficult mission requiring a 4,000-kilometer flight. Ettore Muti and his comrades spent four days working to establish the complex flight plan.
Muti decided against the highly dangerous maneuver of returning to Rhodes on the same route. Doing so increased the chance of getting intercepted by the Royal Air Force based in Cyprus, Palestine, and Iraq. They decided to choose another option.
After bombing the refineries, the planes would head for the southwest, flying over the immense and scarcely inhabited Arabian desert in order to reach the Red Sea and the Italian colony of Eritrea.
On 18 December 1940 at 5.10 pm, both normal and supplementary fuel tanks were filled for each aircraft. Three out of four SM82s carried a payload of 1,500 kg (3,310 lb) of incendiary and explosive bombs weighing 15, 20 or 50 kilograms.
The bombers were ready to take off.
The Crew Members
Tenente Colonnello Muti commanded the first aircraft. Maggiore Giovanni Raina and Capitano Paolo Moci made up the rest of the crew. Moci had previous experience in flying planes overloaded by up to 21 tons.
Tenente Colonnello Fortunato Federici, Capitano Aldo Buzzaca and Tenente Emanuele Francesco Ruspoli manned the second aircraft.
Capitano Giorgio Meyer, Tenente Adolf Rebex and Sergente Maggiore Aldo Carrera manned the third one.
Capitano Antonio Zanetti piloted the fourth plane. The rest of its crew included Tenente Vittorio Cecconi and Sergente Maggiore Mario Badii.
The Bomb Run Begins
After gaining the proper elevation the SM.82s headed east. The maneuver took remarkable effort because of the enormous weight of the aircraft. The bombers flew over Cyprus, Lebanon, and Syria, then bent to the southeast as they flew past Jordan and Iraq until they reached the Persian Gulf.
For security reasons, the commander decided to silence all radio communications. The radio silence left the crew feeling uncomfortable, but it ensured the precious advantage of surprise.
Finding the Target
During the very long flight, the SM.82 piloted by Muti led the squadron as the Pathfinder.
The role of the Pathfinder is to spot the target and release its bombs so that the others could do the same. Two huge white rhombuses had been painted purposefully on the upper side of its wings and lighted by two lamps. This was so other aircraft pilots in the formation can easily follow Muti’s aircraft in the dark.
The only bombardier, Major Giovanni Raina, utilized a rudimentary device to find the target.
Bombing the Refineries
At 2.20 AM on 19 October 1940, just before reaching the Bahrain Islands, Lieutenant Colonel Federici suddenly lost sight of Muti’s SM.82 and dropped his load of bombs on different targets in the vicinity of Manama. The other planes continued on and hit the fixed target.
As bombardier Raina later explained,
The operation of spotting the target was easy thanks to the total illumination of the refinery plants.
As soon as they witnessed the glares of bombs exploding, the Italian planes set course along the escape route. They struck the Dhahran oil fields in Saudi Arabia on their way to friendly air space. They landed at the Zula runway in Eritrea at 8:40 AM.
The Italian formation flew 4,200 kilometers in 15.30 hours, most likely breaking a record for the longest bombing mission in history.
At the Eritrean airport, the pilots found the fifth SM.82, safely arrived from Rhodes. This aircraft acted as a support plane in the event one of the other aircraft had to make an emergency landing in the desert.
After a few days, LtCol Muti’s five SM.82s took off from Zula and successfully landed at Rome-Urbe airport.
The Outcome of Attacking the Manama Oil Refineries
From a military point of view, the raid on the oil refineries of Manama did not cause severe damage. Especially with only a few bombers involved. But Muti’s attack did prove beneficial to Italy. It forced the UK to have to divert essential forces to the region. In fact, after the raid, the RAF moved a squadron of fighters near the refineries along with a couple of battalions and antiaircraft batteries.
Italy intended to conduct a similar bombing of New York City in 1943.