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Death of the Italian pilot Francesco Volpi, 1914-2019. 236 missions during WWII.

Sid Guttridge

New Member
On 6 January he Daily Telegraph published an obituary of Francesco Volpi.

He had been born under Austro-Hungarian rule in 1914. He learnt to fly in 1935 on a Ca.100 biplane and at one point his commanding officer was Italo Balbo.

At the outbreak of war he was serving with the airline Ala Litoria, which performed commercial and transport duties as far away as South America and Ethiopia. (Whether Volpi flew that far is unclear). He then joined the bomber force.

"In 1941....he was posted to Russia with the 246th Squadron, equipped with three-engined Savoia-Marchetti SM79s and 81s. The following year he was awarded the Bronze Medal for Valour.

He was also given the Iron Cross after flying a group of high-ranking German officers into Stalingrad, then encircled by the Soviets. Volpi vividly recalled landing under fire on a makeshiftt airstrip.

He returned to Italy with more than 20 metal splinters in his body and would fly a total of 236 operational missionms during the war.

Volpi subsequently served in the Mediterranean, tracking British ships off North Africa and later became involved in a secret scheme for a long-range bomber attack on New York. This was forestalled by the Italian forces' exit from the war.

He managed to avoid being rounded up by the Germans at Vicenza station after swapping clothes with a railwayman."

At the time of his death in November 2019, he was believed to be the oldest person still holding a valid pilot's licence. He flew a dual control aircraft every year on his birthday until the year before his death at 105.

It strikes me that a pilot who survived 236 bomber missions in Italy's wartime air force must have been both highly skilled and incredibly lucky!

Does anyone know anything about the proposed Italian air raid on New York?




New Member
Hello Sid,
the plan of a raid on New York was set up during the spring of 1942, but the different options studied and the planes thought to be the most suitable, took a very long time and, at the end, nothing was made.
The planes proposed in the different versions of the plan were:ù
1) Piaggio P23R a three-engine record plane (on 30/12/1938, it gained the record on 1000 and 2000km with 5000 kg payload at 404 km/h), which should be armed with two 1000-kg bombs; after the realease of bombs, it was planned a force-landing in the Atlantic Ocean near an Italian Submarine for the crew recovery. Plan discarded, and the Piaggio was lost in a flight accident on 23/05/1942.
2) CantZ511 and Siai SM95, both four-engines, the former a seaplane; AFAIK, the mission with the CantZ was thought to be more credible, even if the seaplane should make a sea landing to be supplied by a submarine (not enough range for a non-stop flight Europe-America-Europe); another option was a mission with Italian Navy commandos (in fact, Regia Marina also was thinking about a raid into New York harbour, made by a midget-submarine CA-class with a group a Gamma-combat swimmers: the midget submarine should be transported off New York by a modified sumarine; for this aim the "Da Vinci" submarine was modified and a CA-class boat was sent to Bordeaux,base of the Italian Submarine force in the Atlantic Ocean. The tests were successfully performed, including the realease and the docking of the CA boat, but things were worsening and nothing was made).
Even in the case of air raid, nothing was performed, for the same reasons.
All these plans were based on the experience gained in the long-range flights already performed by the Regia Aeronautica during the war, namely:
  • the raids on Gibraltar by S82 and P108 (from July 1940 to October 1942 13 raids, 9 by S82 and 4 by P108, plus one by S79 in June 1943; ANR performed another raid with S79 in June 1944)
  • the raid on Bahrein petrol plants by S82 in October 1940
  • the Rome-Tokio Flight, by a S75RT in July 1942
  • the raids on Asmara (East Africa) by a S75 in May, 1942
  • the raids on Gura and Port Sudan by S75s in May, 1943
Hope this be interesting

Source: G. Garello "Obiettivo: New York" in "Aerei" magazine, september 1974, pages 17-21 (probably there is some more recent reference, but I don't have at hand, in this moment).


New Member
While working for the Defense Dept. DCAS now DCMA, at Agusta Corp. (1987-2000) which has facilities around Malpensa airport, I worked with Italian ministry of defense technical teams headed by Col. Giovanni Gallo. Gianni told me that his father was the squadron leader which led S-79's on the Gibraltar raid late in the war. He explained that the British commander was reprimanded for being caught off guard since this raid at this time was totally unexpected. Col. Gallo said his father told him that all the Gibraltar base lights were on that evening during the bombing run. One of the tech team subordinates under the colonel was I believe a captain who was the nephew of Italian WWII ace Leonardo Ferrulli. In the Caproni model picture background is a picture of the black Madonna statue (post card) found on the site of the original caproni factory in Somma Lombardo which is now Agusta S.p.A during the initial excavation a century ago. She is now the patron saint or guardian of aviators in Italy. Second photo, Aeronautica Ferrulli's nephew, Col. Giann Gallo and me D.oD, QA Rep. Pasqual DiGesu


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New Member
Thank you for the information on Francesco Volpi, I wish I had taken notes from all the old veterans I spoke to who's experience details are often never documented.