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Early Italian Monoplane Fighter. The Macchi C.200

One day after Italy declared war on Great Britain and France, the Regia Aeronautica launched its first bombing mission against Malta (11 June 1940).

Malta, only 90 km from Sicily and capable of obstructing the shipping routes from Italy to Tripoli and Benghazi (ports that supplied the troops deployed in Libya), was vitally important, and the Italians had prepared a plan to invade the island.

They decided to postpone the invasion since the British and French navies outgunned the Italian Navy at the time. However, they deployed the 2nd Squadra Aerea (eleven Bomber Gruppi and three Fighter Gruppi with 153 bombers and 68 fighters) to start a campaign aimed to neutralize the offensive capability of the island.

The British, wary of a surprise attack, removed its fleet from the island and based its units in Gibraltar and Alexandria (out of reach of Italian bombers). Furthermore, the air units were limited to 6 Gloster Gladiators (an enclosed cockpit biplane that was obsolescent).

The Italians carried out two bombing raids that day. The morning raid consisted of 55 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers and 18 Macchi C.200 monoplane fighters (see the picture). 3 Gladiators rose to intercept damaging an SM.79 and a C.200 while one of its fighters was damaged in return. A second raid with 38 SM.79 bombers in the afternoon was unopposed. Bombing results were negligible. The high-altitude bombing tactics using a Jazza U.2/U.3 vector bombsight caused inaccurate bombing patterns.

Compared with the Hurricane Mk I the C.200 had inferior performance because its 870 hp engine was no match to the 1310 hp of the British fighter. To compensate the Italians reduced weight to the maximum limiting armament and removed radios but it was not enough. Its clean lines helped somewhat, so the C.200 was only slightly slower and could climb faster, but its maneuverability and firepower were poorer.  

However, the 840 hp Gladiator was inferior in all aspects except the turning circle. Alas, the Italian pilots were trained to dogfight instead of using the vertical plane, and in this first encounter, the badly outnumbered Gladiators used their tight turning radius to their advantage.
On 23 June, two Gladiators intercepted 15 SM.79 escorted by C.200 and shot down one fighter after which the C.200 was removed from operations for some months until improvements were implemented. The Italian fighter pilots wanted the fighter to be able to maneuver forcefully but the C.200 tended to spin out of control when pushed close to the envelope. By September, the first modified C.200 reached the squadrons with aerodynamic corrections that prevented the autorotation.

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