English translation by Fabio Castelvetri
Saturday, June 24, 2017 at the 4th Wing’s home base in Grosseto (airport “Corrado Baccarini”), a ceremony marked the Centennial of five of the Italian Air Force Fighter Squadrons.
Originally part of the at least 25 Groups that served in the then Royal Italian Air Force during World War 1, these were activated in 1917:
· IX Group on April 10, now part of the 4th Wing;
· X Group on April 10, now part of the 36th Wing;
· XII Group on May 10, now part of the 36th Wing;
· XIII Group on November 8, now part of the 32nd Wing;
· XVIII Group on December 24, now part of the 37nd Wing.
A typical example of these elite units’ continuing history and tradition is embodied by the 91st Fighter Squadron, now part of X Gruppo, and widely known as “The Aces Squadron”, established by Francesco Baracca by rounding up the foremost fighter pilots of the time and then uninterruptedly active since 1917.
The Grosseto Centennial Celebration was organized by the Italian Air Force Staff and featured a reunion of active and retired personnel from the five Groups and an air display that took place on Sunday, June 25, above the Marina di Grosseto waterfront.
A few more events with an historic and educational angle completed the Centennial program, such as the photographic exhibition at Palazzo Aeronautica in Rome, and the release of the interesting “A la Chasse” book that describes the dawn of the Italian fighter specialty and traces its evolution up to the current day.
The reunion was without doubt the cornerstone of the Celebration and saw more than 1.500 participants, among which was a robust group of journalists and photographers.
The ceremony was hosted by the AM Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Enzo Vecciarelli, accompanied by Lt. Gen. Franco Girardi, CO of the Squadra Aerea, the topmost governing body of all operational units, including the Fighter groups.
After the customary personnel review, national flag-raising and national anthem, and the commemoration of the fallen in the line of duty, Lt. Gen. Vecciarelli addressed the attendees and after a short speech introduced the Centennial logo, a five-point star with each Gruppo’s logo and activation date inscribed in each of the star’s five arms.
In his address, the Chief of Staff pointed out that “the star is the symbol that Italy’s first Government chose on May 5, 1948 to represent from that point onwards the newly-born Italian Republic, whose logo features infact three elements: the star, the gear wheel, and an oak and olive tree branch. The star is one of the most storied symbols in our iconographic heritage and has longtime been associated with Italy’s personification, on whose head it is featured glowing. That’s how she was pictured during the Risorgimento (Italy’s Resurgence against invaders) and that’s how she was depicted until 1890 in the newly united Kingdom’s great coat of arms.
The steel gear wheel represents the work activity, the very same activity upon which Italy’s Republic is founded according to our Constitution’s 1st article.
The olive tree branch represents peace, while the oak tree branch embodies the strength and dignity ot the Italian People.
This sculpture therefore represents the defense of Italian airspace provided since the beginning and in full integration by the Air Force’s Fighter Groups” (source: WEB TV AM).
Each arm of the star will be entrusted for safekeeping to each Gruppo’s headquarters.
Beyond the presentation ceremony and the formal and symbolic activities, the reunion also featured a much-appreciated aviation-themed display program, both static and in the air, as the following images portray.
Center stage honors were obviously tributed (at long last!) to the controversial F-35A Joint Strike Fighter 5th generation fighter-bomber, belonging to the XIII Gruppo, 32° Stormo, based in Amendola (Foggia).
This was its very first display to a non-restricted audience since its induction in AM service, and what a display it was: all three aircraft currently operational with 32° Stormo were available for the guests to see.
One was displayed on the flightline in special color markings and featuring a prominent Tricolore on both fins, while another (in the same colorful markings) served as backup in case the third aircraft, slated for performing the 5-ship flying display that took place on Saturday over the airfield and on Sunday over the Marina di Grosseto waterfront, should develop any malfunctions.
Besides the distinguished guest of honor, the stars of the show were the four Eurofighter F2000A Typhoons, each representing one of the four centenary Groups, resplendent in their special colors.
This is an increasingly rare occurrence in today’s AM, so much so, infact, that I decided to produce a special report with pictures and historical facts for each Gruppo.
So much for the facts.
Alas, given the profound historical relevance of the event, the spin given to the historical narration, if not the very use that was made of it, was quite disconcerting.
The Grosseto event has been generally dubbed the Centennial Celebration of the Italian Fighter Specialty, or at least of the Italian Fighter Groups; yet, looking at the actual Group activation dates, it is clear that the celebration was either late by two to four years, or ahead of time by at least two years.
The Fighter specialty was born as such in 1914, during World War 1’s first year, while for Italy this happened in 1915, when the Royal Aeronautic Corps accepted its first true fighter planes and the Fighter designation was first adopted for a flight unit.
This designation does not apply to the Gruppi, though: these should be considered as multirole units (as the current definition goes), while it’s their constituting Squadriglie that specialize in specific missions.
In other words, there is no such thing as a Fighter Group, whereas there are Fighter Squadrons.
The description Fighter Group apparently was only first used in the aftermath of the war and the demobilization that ensued.
Furthermore, if we consider which Squadrons formed those five Groups in 1917 and subsequently rotated based on operational needs, we realize that they belonged not only to the Fighter or Defense Command, but also to typically air-to-ground specialties, such as Attack and Reconnaissance.
Especially noteworthy was the case of the XVIII Group, that throughout the war only flew Caproni bombers.
If we were to identify the centenary Groups still active within the AM, then we can trace back to 1913 to find 2° Gruppo, or later to 1915 to find 8° Gruppo.While it’s true that they are currently tasked with transport and support missions, they both boast a distinguished Fighter past.
A final historical note must cover the numbering system adopted for the five Centenary Groups, that quite unusually employed Roman numerals, instead of the regulation Arabic numbers — perhaps a poetic license as a tribute to their origins.
Indeed, in 1917 and for at least 20 more years the Groups were denominated with Roman numerals, while Squadrons and Wings used Arabic numerals. This system was superseded shortly before World War 2 by an all-Roman numerals system.
As an exception to the rule, the history- and tradition-laden 10° Gruppo has Arabic numerals in its crest, but is normally referred to as X Gruppo.
The Aeronautica Militare has always been rightly proud and respectful of its historic heritage, but the latest trend points to a less rigorous, if not altogether improper, use of its aeronautical history.
Surely there must be strong reasons behind such an attitude, and it is quite likely that I might touch on this topic in my upcoming report on the special color Typhoons and the history of the Groups they represent.