Fiat B.R.20 Cicogna
By: Raul Colon
E-mail: rcolonfrias@yahoo.com
PO Box 29754
Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico 00929

On February 10th, 1936, the massive Italian corporation, Fiat; flew for the first time its most advance bomber aircraft design: the Cicogna. The Cicogna followed a long line of designs by brilliant Italian engineer Celestino Rosatelli. The idea for a new advance bomber for the Italian Air Force (IAF), first germinated at the end of the Great War. Profoundly market by the bombing of London by the Germanís Gotha bomber, the Italians knew that in any new conflict the projection of power, demonstrated by the bomber, and could tip the scale of battle in their favor. Rosatelli was selected to design the new aircraft because of his impeccable track record delivering winning concepts to the IAF Such was the regards the Italian high command placed on Rosatelli that the Italian Air Force gave him his own designation mark for his new designs. The Bombardamento Rosatelli or B.R. was the designating letter for any new bomber. Work on the Cicogna commenced in late 1934 and culminated with the B.R.20 maiden flight on February 1936. A remarkable short time from design to production. Even more impressive was the fact that the Cicogna equipped four combat units of the AL by the end of 1936.

The B.R.20 was one of the first all-metal bomber designs adopted by the Italians. The bomber was powered by two 1000hp Fiat A80 engines. They gave the B.R.20 a top operating speed of 273mph. Operational range was 1,709ml. The B.R.20 was able to climb at 19,690ft in twenty five minutes, and possessed a top mission ceiling of 26,250ft. From the beginning, the Cicogna was design to carry the most advance weapons systems of the times; this resulted in an expended take-off weigh which was set at 22,758lb. The length of the fuselage was 54ft 8in with a height of 15ft 7in. The wing area was established at 796.5sq ft with the wingspan at 70ft 8in. The plane defensive armament consisted of three 0.5in machine guns. One located in the nose, and one in each turret (dorsal and ventral).

The B.R.20 was first use in combat by Italyís Aviazione Legionaria during the Spanish Civil War. The type flew alongside Germanyís vaunted Heinkel 111s in close support of Nationalist ground troops. It proved that it can hold its own during major combat operations. The new Nationalist government was so impressed with the Cicogna that it purchases twenty five units for its infant air force. The B.R.20 was also exported to Venezuela and Argentina. The Japanese Empire bought eighty five units for its combat operation in mainland China. But, as the clouds of war engulfed Europe, it was becoming increasingly clear that the B.R.20 was fast becoming obsolete. An upgrade package was developed to the bomber. A new central streamline fuselage, along with reinforce amour plating was installed on the B.R.20 air frame. The new model, designated B.R.20M was to be mass produce by Fiat. In fact, of the 602 Cicogna produced, around three hundred and five were of the M-type.

The Cicogna was well recognized by the British due to its extensive service in the North Africa campaigns. But the role which cemented the legacy of the B.R.20 in Italy was its raid against the British Isles. On the morning on November 1st, 1940; and mostly because the IAF believed the propaganda coming out of Berlin regarding the sorry state of the British Royal Air Force (RAF); ten B.R.20 bombers, escorted by forty CR42 fighters, departed occupy France en route to attack the British commercial docks at Harwich. The sortie was met by a small concentration of RAF fighters. They proceeded to destroy the complete formation before the bombers could reach their targets. The losses were so appalled, that the IAF cancel further bombing operations in England within days of the raid. After the war, the surviving B.R.20 was use mainly as target tug planes. A few samples remain to this day in possession of private owners. No sample is believed to be air worthy anymore.