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On the eve of the fall of the Italian empire in east Africa a small trimotor Caproni Ca.148 tried the impossible: to reach Italy. But contrary to the most logical assumptions and with a good dose of courage and fortune, the mission was brought to a successful conclusion. It was an odyssey lasting three months.
From June 1940 to October 1941, the Regia Aeronautica used a number of transport aircraft to keep the links open between the mainland and Italian east Africa. Most of these supply missions were handled by the large three-engined Savoia Marchetti SM82 and long range three-engined Savoia Marchetti SM75 and SM83. On the eve of the surrender of the last Italian strongholds (Amba Alagi, Jimma and Gondar), the Duke of Aosta in Italy allowed the return of all planes still capable of making the journey. There were few that could, less than half a dozen, some of which were worn down due to months and months of continuous activity.
In any case, It was not difficult to find volunteer pilots and specialists, who would rather accept this difficult and almost impossible challenge rather than fall into the hands of the enemy. Earlier, a brilliant escape from Addis Ababa in late winter of ’41, saw three tri-engined Savoia Marchetti SM73 carry more than 40 pilots and specialists to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and eventually to Benghazi, Libya. But now in Ethiopia, there remained only one aircraft that can handle the return. It was an old three-engine Caproni Ca.148 (the I-ETIO) which, shortly before the fall of Jimma, had managed to flee from the last garrison of Italian East Africa: that of Gondar, defended by 40,000 men under the command of General Nasi.
The I-ETIO was the last survivor of a group of six sets of the same type of variant Ca.148. It was a similar, but a structurally improved version of the famous Ca.133, the small but sturdy three-engined all purpose Italian aircraft of the second half of the thirties. The first prototype of Caproni Ca133 was tested in December 1934. It was a successful airplane, designed to transport troops or equipment and also used as a light bomber. Originally, the Ca133 was equipped with three Piaggio P. VII C.16 engines with 430 horses. It could obtain a top speed of 230 kilometers per hour, and had a range of about 1,000 miles. Its normal load was 1,600 kilograms and a maximum weight of 6,700 kilograms. The Caproni Ca133 could reach a maximum ceiling of 5,500 meters and was equipped with an armament of 2 / 4 7.7 mm Lewis light machine guns . The aircraft carried 470 rounds per weapon. Normally, the crew consisted of 2 / 3 men. Mass production of the aircraft began in late September 1935 and Ca133 had its baptism of fire soon after in Eastern Africa, during the outbreak of hostilities between Italy and Ethiopia. The aircraft proved fully capable to do its mission. However, in June 1940, it was already considered obsolete by more recent models.
Worn out from weeks of continuous flights and damaged several times by enemy hits, the old “Caproni” (as she was affectionately called by Italian pilots) obtained permission from General Gazzera to take off from Gondar, just a few weeks before the surrender of Strand . On 7 June ’41, the last Ca.148, filled with spare parts and seats, left Jimma in the company of the last two Fiat CR42. It landed after a flight of several hours at the airport in Gondar, in the midst of an English bombardment. During their short stay at the Presidio (approximately one week), Lusardi and Caputo did not sit idly with folded hands. They performed three reckless actions on restocking the Uolchefit stronghold, now surrounded by British, South African, French and Ethiopian troops. These missions left evidence on the aircraft: about 200 enemy machine-gun bullet holes on the fuselage and wings witness, of the bravery involved in restocking this stronghold.
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