Swallow’s wings: Ala Littoria SA
(1934 – 1941)

Flavio Riccitelli


The Italian Air Network, at the end of the 1920s, had gradually established itself, alternating phases of expansion with phases of adjustment. After the birth of the first four private companies – SISA, Transadriatica, AeroEspresso and SANA – was followed by Avio Lines Italiane and in 1928 the Mediterranean Air Company (SAM), the publicly owned company SAM, which would later give rise to our company flag.

The SAM, in fact, placed at the center of the concentration and rationalization policy of civil aviation, initiated by the new undersecretary of the aeronautics Italo Balbo, carried out a “large absorption action” against all existing airlines, taking over the operation of the Adriatic, transalpine, Mediterranean colonial lines and expanding its range of action also to the Est Mediterranean, to the point of making the network of Italian services managed by it more complete and organic.

The first company to be absorbed, in 1931, was the Transadriatica, which in addition to a precious wealth of experience, bequeathed a symbol, the Swallow one, destined to represent the fortunes of Italian civil aviation in its years of greatest development.
SAM, which in 1930 had elected Umberto Klinger as its president, brilliantly fulfilled its functions as moderator and regulator of the complex activities of the various airline companies for six years, with improvements in the conditions of the material and in the potential of the aircraft. But at a certain level of development even his name no longer corresponded to the activity that so much dominated and exceeded the initial one. In reality it was not just a matter of name, the Mediterranean limits imposed on SAM were beginning to be inadequate with respect to the future tasks to which it was called. Hence the decision to change the company name.
On October 28, 1934 (day of the twelfth anniversary of March on Rome), the Mediterranean Air Company became “Ala Littoria SA”, a name that Mussolini himself was pleased to suggest. The new company summed up almost all of the Italian air services and, above all, was made more “fascist” and more linked to the national party. At the same time it was also decided to move the offices of the General Management from via Regina Elena to the Littorio airport, where the new headquarters had been built. However, the blue swallow – this time accompanied by a beam – continued to adorn the nacelles of the airplanes of the newly formed state company.

In the meantime, the process of taking over the private airlines continued and in August 1935, through long negotiations, the Eastern Mediterranean services, previously managed by the AereoEspresso company, placed in liquidation, passed to the Ala Littoria. In the same period the operations for the absorption of the North Africa Aviation Company (NAA) – a small company established in 1931, with the support of the Ministry of the Colonies – were also carried out, which with only three Caproni 101s, carried out useful scheduled services on difficult routes of Libya.
Previously, in March 1935, the Ala Littoria had entered into an agreement with the Albanian government, according to which the lines of the Albanian network, managed up to then in the name of Adria Aero Lloyd, were definitively taken over. From this process of concentration, from which only the ALI (Avio Lines Italiane) of Fiat group was excluded, the first Italian national airline was born, at the helm of which Umberto Klinger was confirmed, the man who Balbo had already placed at the helm of the SAM.
The greatest effort that in the immediately following years was imposed on the directors was to merge the corporate cultures and coordinate the various organizational systems that were the basis of the previous management. The goal was to take the best that existed in the absorbed societies and, with appropriate transformations, to create a single vital organism. The organization of the General Management, which was grafted onto the old scheme of the Mediterranean Air Company, remained in fact unchanged and represented the fulcrum around which all the operations and movements in progress took place.
The task was not the easiest, but the results were not long in coming. In addition to the savings of 12 million lire for the Treasury, largely deriving from the lack of subsidies to private companies, there was a strong development of the activity: kilometers flown went from 1,630,830 to 3,570,905. In a short time it went from 17 to 38 stopovers, in all the countries of Europe and Africa and passengers to about 50,000 per year.
The fleet could count on seaplanes and land planes, capable of carrying up to 18 passengers at a speed of 200 km / h. Being three-engine aircraft, the transport took place in complete safety; for international lines, on the other hand, the Ala Littoria had four engines capable of carrying up to 24 passengers at a speed of 300 km / h. The large investments in the modernization of the aircraft fleet were then accompanied by an intense work of propaganda.
1935 represented a turning point for Italian civil aviation, with the airplane beginning to become a formidable competitor of means of transport on land and sea. Among the countless lines inaugurated during the activity carried out by the Ala Littoria, it is enough to recall only a few, which took the Italian flag very far, in Europe and Africa.
On May 7th 1935, with the agreements stipulated with KLM and Deutsche Luft Hansa, the Ala Littoria inaugurated the daily Milan-Frankfurt-Amsterdam connection. The agreement with Air France, signed in September of the same year, allowed the inauguration of the service, also daily, between Rome and Paris via Marseille, with the four-engine Savoia S.74 and a French twin-engine Potez 62.

The Siai S.74, used on this prestigious and profitable line, was a capable four-engine able to exceeding 300 km /. In its general lines this aircraft was similar to those of Siai S.71, but large, almost a “jumbo” of the time, with a luxurious cabin capable of accommodating up to 24 passengers, equipped with a bar and toilet. Although built in only three specimens, it served until 1943 and was the largest aircraft of the national airline.

1935 was also marked for our country by the preparation of the Ethiopian campaign and the need for rapid connections with Italian East Africa had been the subject of long studies by the Ministry.
The problem had already been addressed within the SAM company and attempts had been made to examine with the two competent ministries (Air Force and Colonies) the possibility of an air service between the East African colonies and the Motherland. While there was no lack of enthusiastic consensus, financial difficulties forced the top management to postpone everything to the moment when air traffic became established and the complex of European and Mediterranean lines settled under a single body, a new organization and new and more modern technical means, accompanied by a wider availability of financial means, would have allowed the Italian civil aviation to try its hand on the great intercontinental lines.
With the departure in February 1935 of the first units of the expeditionary force, the Ala Littoria was invited to urgently examine how to provide for the new needs. An adequate aircraft was not yet available, both for the environmental conditions and for a journey of such length, but the pressure of events and the need to have a rapid system for transporting people, correspondence and goods, led to the inclination towards the only quick solution possible, namely an agreement with Imperial Airways to connect to Khartoum (Anglo-Egyptian Sudan) with the English line had departure from Brindisi for South Africa. The agreement was stipulated on July 7th 1935. Two services of Ala Littoria branched off from the Sudanese capital: the first on the Khartoum-Kassala-Asmara-Massaua line (770 km route);
On July 22nd 1935 the Khartoum-Asmara air service was inaugurated, coinciding once a week with the Imperial Airways flight to and from Brindisi.

The robust Fokker VIII 3m were used for this service. The co-managed service with the English company thus made it possible to quickly connect by mail, passengers and goods between Italy and Eritrea. From Asmara, correspondence was forwarded to other destinations. The line allowed the mail of families to reach the fighters of Africa.

Ala Littoria continued to refine the organization of its African airline and as early as November 11st was able to extend its line from Asmara to Mogadishu, with stopovers in Assab, Djibouti, Berbera, Rocca Littorio, reaching a length overall of 7,500 km.
In the meantime, due to the worsening of relations with Great Britain, but also for economic reasons, the Ala Littoria hastened to cover also the Brindisi-Khartoum section, using the small Caproni “Borea” twin-engined boats, waiting for the domestic industry provided adequate aircraft.

The new service, inaugurated on December 4, 1935, functioned regularly despite the rudimentary organization of the initial routes and the poor characteristics of the aircraft. With these makeshift means and a journey that lasted several days, the company was still able to make the connection with entirely Italian vehicles.
At the end of war, after the proclamation of Italian East African Empire, the line was extended to Addis Ababa. The so-called “Linea dell’Impero” was born, which soon became a great and important intercontinental artery.

Success was immediate and from January 1936 the services were intensified and strengthened. From October 15th 1936, regular biweekly flights began with the capital of the Empire and with the entry into service of the commercial three-engine Siai S.73 – chosen by Ala Littoria as standard aircraft for land connections – flight times were reduced to four days, from Rome to Mogadishu.
The S.73 was an elegant three-engine with low cantilever wing and fixed landing gear, the first of a family of airplanes that became typical of Italian aviation for over twenty years. It was considered, and rightly so, as the fastest three-engined line in the world, capable of reaching 340 km / h. The fuselage was remarkably capable and the pilots had an enclosed cabin, with dual controls placed side by side. The interior design included 18 seats in two rows, with toilet facilities, heating, oxygen for high altitudes and luggage).

After in AOI a wide and articulated network of eleven lines was developed that connected localities of economic and strategic importance. And with the delivery of the first batch of six S.73 aircraft, once the crews, workshop personnel and airport services were assigned, the air communications complex was further improved, until the Rome – Addis Abeba line became quarterly from April 4, 1937. Cant 506.Z seaplanes were used from Rome to Benghazi, then the three-engine S.73 (later replaced by S.75) from Benghazi to Addis Abeba. The results achieved in 1938 were such as to make to declare to Klinger that Italy, for the development of lines, number of devices used, kilometers traveled and loads transported, occupied the first place in Africa.

Meanwhile, on July 1st 1936, Italy had also signed an agreement with Greece, thanks to which the Ala Littoria was authorized to continue the operation of the Rome-Brindisi-Athens-Rhodes and Brindisi-Tirana-Thessaloniki lines and the Hellenic company obtained to operate the Athens-Brindisi-Rome-Naples lines and those with destination Marseille and Monaco, crossing our country.
Particular attention was also given to the Adriatic routes, lines inherited from SISA and then from SAM (Ancona-Zara-Lošinj-Pola-Trieste; Trieste-Venice; Fiume-Pola-Venice; Trieste-Pola-Lussino; Trieste-Brindisi ), where the Macchi C.94 seaplane was used, replacing the archaic Cant. 10 and Cant. 22.

The seaplane C.94, capable of reaching 290 km / h and carrying up to 12 passengers, immediately proved to be a safe and comfortable vehicle, soon becoming an appreciated means of communication and connection in the heterogeneous Adriatic community. Particular attention was paid to the cabin fittings, with seats upholstered in leather (no longer wicker baskets), individual lights and individual air vents.

From July to December 1936 the first six specimens were delivered, all used in the area and starting from 1937 also on the Trieste-Brindisi-Haifa route, the terminus of which had been subsequently moved from Trieste to Rome, to accommodate another significant slice of traffic.

On April 7th 1937, the important line between Italy and Palestine was inaugurated: the Brindisi-Rodi-Haifa. The line coincided with the Trieste-Brindisi line and the Rome-Brindisi line. Starting from April 13, 1939, the same line was extended to Baghdad-Basrah.
New lines were opened to traffic and with the support of an increasingly advanced aeronautical industry, the Italian Civil Aviation, and in particular the Ala Littoria, was able to face its greater development. Size of company were increasing in tandem with traffic increment, with users always increasing, even among a less sophisticated and professional public. In 1937 Ala Littoria had managed up to 42 regular lines and a large part of this network covered the Mediterranean basin, the natural seat of Italian interests, already the primary objective of SAM.
Considering such size reached, it became necessary adapting the organizational structure of company, with creation of six network departments (Rome Lido, Rome Airport del Littorio, Trieste, Bengasi, Spain, Addis Ababa) and 3 main airports, the most important of which was that of Tirana, where the entire Albanian network was headed.

In 1938 the development continued unabated and the intense activity placed Ala Littoria in first place in Africa, even before Air France. In Europe, new capitals were reached with the Venice-Klagenfurt-Bratislava-Prague and Rome-Belgrade-Bucharest lines. Line services were also ensured in Spain at war.
The political and military needs connected with the Italian intervention in Spain gave impetus to the opening of Italian airlines. The first to be opened was the one between Rome and Pollensa, on the island of Mallorca, starting from October 12, 1936. After the line was extended to Melilla and Cadiz (December 7th, 1936).

On the Rome-Pollensa-Cadiz line, already inaugurated in December 1936, the two new lines Melilla-Malaga and Tetuan-Malaga-Seville intersected starting from January 1938, both with daily frequency. With the extension of the latter to Lisbon, starting from April 25th 1938 it was possible to fly from Lisbon to Rome, via Seville-Malaga-Melilla-Palma de Mallorca. The network reached its maximum development in 1939, reaching 37,110 km, with an air fleet of 101 aircraft of various types.
Once the national and European network had been organized in the best possible way, thanks to a lot of experience, Ala Littoria began to focus its attention across the Atlantic. Several Atlantic initiatives were presented between 1937 and 1938, some of which had clear competitive connotations. The one that more than others approached the prospect of a regular service was carried out within the Ala Littoria, on March 20, 1938, with a Cant Z 506 seaplane, registered I-ALAL, connecting Italy and Latin America, on the route Rome-Cagliari-Bathurst Gambia) -Bahia-Rio de Janeiro-Buenos Aires.

On board the Cant Z 506 seaplane, equipped with three Alfa Romeo engines, was the pilot commander Carlo Tonini and the president of the company Umberto Klinger himself. The flight, which had as its purpose the technical study of the itinerary and of material needed for the new line, was carried out with the utmost regularity for all the 24,000 km of route, at an average speed of 300 km / h. As we know, for the exercise of this line a new company was subsequently formed, LATI, which in any case can be considered a subsidiary of Ala Littoria, having used its organization.
On the eve of Second World War, the Italian commercial aviation represented a very important reality in the world air connections sector, also equipped with machines up to date and crews with good technical-professional background. The Ala Littoria fleet at the beginning of 1940 consisted of 132 aircraft of various types. Volume of traffic ranked Italy in fifth place in the world, after the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany and Great Britain.
The war, despite our initial state of non-belligerence, soon destroyed everything. At the outbreak of hostilities, the Air Force General Staff issued the provisions for the militarization of civil aviation, which passed under the command of Special Air Services Command (CSAS), which had been created for purpose.