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Interview with Ezio Vari

Dear Ezio, shall we begin with your start in the Air Force?

Sure, here it is! After completing the Engineer course at Capua in 1942, I was transferred to 11º Gruppo C. in Bologna with the SM 79, which we affectionately called “Sparviero” and the English enviously referred to as the “Damn Hunchback”. After becoming a member of the flying crew, I was sent to Aviano to be trained for night flights and then finally transferred to 36º Stormo, 256º SQ, based at Pisa. Our role was armed recognizance and torpedoing.

After a few missions, the Americans landed in Sicily and all our torpedo bombers were immediately transferred to Galatina (Lecce) and while there a massive enemy bombardment occured.  We quickly sortied to bases further south.

Destiny would have it that our aircrafts were damaged during a bombardment in Bari.  About 10 days later we repaired the aircraft and returned to Galatina, but 30 minutes later we were airborne again to Pisa.

It was 25 July 1943, and after we landed we heard about the end of Fascism and the arrest of Mussolini. It was after the bombardment of Pisa on 31 August 1943, in which approximately 5,000 were killed in 7 minutes, and the armistice of 8 September 1943, that I was discharged to the reserves. It was a very a serious time for all of us. To avoid the German mop up, I walked away…dressed in uniform (who ever had civilian clothes?). . I luckily arrived in Firenze and jumped on a train whose destination I did not know. In this tragedy I was struck by luck on two occasions (we flyers use another term) that saved me from further trouble.  First, the train that I managed to sneak on was going to Rome, my city.  Second, because of the bombardment of the Monterotondo station by the Allies on 8 September, the train actually stopped 500 meters from my home!! When Americans arrived in Rome, I joined them and was sent to
Galatina, 51º Stormo. I did ground maintanance for Spitfire 5, but by the end of the war, and not expecting any chance to go back as a flying crew, I was discharged in July ’46.

I was inactive for 3 years, but in ’49, I inquired and was reassigned to the 46º Stormo Transport base in Centocelle so I tranferred with all the Stormo to Pisa and started flying again (Fiat G12 e Beechcraft C-45) and remained there until my final discharge in ’55. My thirst for flying was not quenched, in fact, I left the Aeronautica only to quickly enter Alitalia to fly on the DC6 and then on the: DC7…DC8-43…DC8-62…B747… and now, even that I’m retired, the thirst continues…

Shall we talk about the mythical “Hunchback”?

Many years have passed, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. Go ahead and ask.

How was the start-up?

By air starter. The legendary Garelli (now called by the american name APU) provided pressure for the starter and for the unlock system of the torpedoes.  My finger is still scarred showing how badly the starting handle was positioned.

Was it noisy inside?

Acceptable. We could speak without the use of a intercom, because we were close, but the rumble was almost pleasant..with it’s own rhythm

And the temperature in the cabin?

Not a problem, especially because we always flew low (and how low!) and normally in cold weather we would put on wonderful suits made of leather.  Normally our flight ceiling was no more than 1500 meters. Obviously with no pressurization or air conditioning!

How many crewmen?

There were 5 of us:
2 Pilots, 1 engineer, 1 radio operator and a gunner. In any case, during combat, we all fired.  We had 5 guns, so while the pilots were shooting with the fixed gun on the hunch, the other members used the one closer to their location.

Aerodynamically how was it?: Streamlined rough??

Soft and fabulous, our pilots can confirm this.

Any troubles with Alfa Romeo Engines?

They were usually the 128-RC 18 (18 means height in mt. x 100 of compressor restoration) that were doing very well.  The only thing to take care of at the end of the day was to remove the Sparks of the lower cylinders in order to drain the leftover oil and avoid start up problems the next day.  The fueling was always performed with hand pumps from fuel cans, also the fuel shift from auxiliary to main tanks during the flight was done manually.

Was it good at taking punishment?

Not bad if it was not hit in vital areas. Just think that our aircraft had 174 holes in it’s wings and fuselage without achieving any major damage.

What were those two strange stub planes protruding from the ventral turret that we can see in many pictures?

Nothing more than fairings for the legs of the gunner, to protect from air flow so when he was firing from the ventral turret he didn’t have to remain with his knees in his mouth. Obviously they were retractable while aircraft was not in combat.

Thank you, Ezio, for this great story. And trust us, we’ll disturb you again!
Article courtesy Ilaria Belli. Reprinted by permission of Ezio Vari of his interview with Veterans & Vintage. Gruppo di interesse aernautico. Translation assistance courtesy Lele