W hen Mussolini recklessly precipitated an unprepared Italy into the Second World War, the Italian Royal Air Force (Regia Aeronautica Italiana) possessed a dive bomber of antiquated design. The Savoia-Marchetti 85 was sufficient for use against Arabs in North Africa and natives in Eritrea, Somalia or Ethiopia, but it was unable to compete in modern warfare. Consequently, the Germans supplied the Italian Air Force with the proven and feared Stuka, JU-87 dive bomber.
This scene for a postcard, published by the Italian Air Ministry, depicts Stuka aircraft of the Italian Royal Air Force.
The first Stukas destined for the Italian Air Force began to arrive in the summer of 1940. Italian Stukas took part in the Greek and Yugoslav campaigns. In addition, flights from Sicily joined with the Luftwaffe in the futile attempt to bomb Malta out of the war.
During the North African battles, they bombed the famous fortress of Tobruk and harassed the British in the desert until they were badly mauled by the Desert Air Force’s modern Spitfires and Tomahawks. The Royal Italian Air Force eventually fielded six air groups consisting of twelve squadrons of Stukas, for which the Germans had supplied 155 Stukas.
After the armistice of November 8, 1943, the Germans seized all of the Italian-manned Stukas in the areas of Italy still under their control. Other squadrons remained loyal to the king and joined the Co-Belligerant Air Force in the south. No Stuka units were ever reconstituted in the Republican National Air Force (Aeronautica Nazionale Republicana) of Mussolini’s German-sponsored government in the north.
DIVE BOMBER WAR ACTION BADGE
On June 27, 1942, the Italian Royal Air Force instituted a series of badges, called “Distinctives for Action in War” (Distintivi per Azione in Guerra). For simplicity, collectors refer to these as “War Action Badges.”
WWII Distintivi per Azione in Guerra 2nd Class in silver for Dive Bomber made in a solid construction with a large crown.
War Action Badges exist in ten aviation categories with three grades in each category: bronze, silver and gold. The badges are pin-back and represent a fretwork design of laurel leaves in a wreath with a Royal Savoy Knot (“a love knot” or “square knot”) at the bottom and a Royal Crown at the top. Each badge is about 50mm high by 35mm wide.
Inside the wreath is a symbol indicating each aircraft category, fighters and interceptors, dive bombers, heavy and medium bombers, transport, rescue, air to ground support, strategic reconnaissance and convoy escort, maritime reconnaissance, aerial observation and torpedo bombers. The badge for dive bombers (Bombardamento a Tuffo) has a lightning bolt between two wings. Dealers with a limited knowledge of Italian militaria have often represented this badge as being for paratroopers, however, no War Action Badge exists for parachute troops.
The symbol within the wreath is bronze for the third class, silver for the second class and gold for the first class. The wreath and the crown is usually silver for all three classes. The third class could be worn only while attached to the unit where earned, while the higher classes were worn permanently on the uniform, no matter where the recipient served.
The award of the third class (bronze) required six operational sorties. For the second class (silver), thirty sorties were required. Finally, for the first class (gold), an airman had to complete sixty sorties. These War Action Badges were worn centered on the left pocket of the uniform jacket and existed only in metal. There was never an embroidered version.
These badges were not awarded, but rather, had to be bought from commercial military supply shops. There was no quality control, which resulted in many manufacturer variations. In some cases, the entire badge is made in the metal of the class designation, but this would be considered as improper, as only the center symbol should be in the class metal, with the wreath and crown in silver. The depiction of the royal crown also shows variations.
Above, the smaller crown version of the WWII 1st Class Distintivi per Azione in Guerra in gold, cast aluminum. It is marked “BOMISA MILANO” on the back of the crown. Next to it is a Republic, postwar version, 2nd Class Distintivi per Azione in Guerra in silver, two-piece construction.
As these badges were authorized for wear by the postwar Italian Republic of Italy, versions can be found with the mural crown of the republic at the top replacing the royal crown and lacking the knot at the bottom. An example in the author’s collection was made as a correct, war-time badge, but after the war, the dealer ground off the royal crown and soldered a mural crown over it. He left the knot at the bottom, however, producing an obviously incorrect badge.
The most prolific manufacturer of the war-time badges was the firm of Bomisa in Milano. Their badges are made of one-piece, cast aluminum with a horizontal pin (most other makers utilize a vertical pin). BOMISA MILANO appears at the back of the crown. The wreath and crown are of black toned silver.