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Italian Heavy
The Piaggio P.108 B of the Regia Aeronautica

n by Peter Ibes, IPMS Netherlands


This article was first published in ‘Modelbouw in Plastic’ - a magazine of IPMS Netherlands
Used with permission of the Editor.

The Piaggio P.108 B was the only heavy four-engine bomber to see service with the Italian air force (Regia Aeronautica) during World War Two. Due to the lack of production capacity of the Italian aviation industry, too few were built to play a significant role in this conflict. In total Piaggio built only 163 P.108 Bs, but this fact does not make the design less remarkable.

The Piaggio P.108 B (Bombardiere) was an all metal cantilever low-wing monoplane with an retractable undercarriage, driven by four Piaggio P.XII RC 35 18 cylinder radial engines, each producing 1350 hp. The first prototype was finished in October 1939 and had a very advanced defensive armament for its day. Not only had the Piaggio two 7,7 mm machine waist guns, a 12,7 mm machine gun in the lower turret and a similar weapon in the nose turret, but also two remotely-controlled twin gun turrets in outer engine nacelles. The first Allied bomber with a similar armament was the Boeing B 29, which was developed four years later.

The bomb load of the Piaggio comprised of 3.500 kg, all carried internally in the bomb bay. In comparison, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress had a maximum internal bomb load of only 2.200-kg.

The only unit of the Regia Aeronautica ever to fly the Piaggio P.108 B was the 274a Squadrilia Bombardamento a Grande Raggio (B.G.R.), the 274th Long-Range Bombardment Group. This unit was formed in May 1941, around the first machines that came off the assembly lines.

The training of the crews lasted far longer than anticipated. It there took until June 1942 before the 274a B.G.R. became operational. The most spectacular raids with the Piaggio P. 108 B were flown in October 1942, when the Regia Aeronautica launched several night attacks on Gibraltar, from the airfield of Decimomannu on Sardinia.

Several versions were derived from the Piaggio P. 108 B, such as the P.108 A (Artigliere), which had a 102 mm anti-shipping gun in it’s nose, the P.108 C (Civile) airliner and the P.108 T (Trasporto). The latter two versions had a newly designed fuselage of larger diameter, for the transportation of passengers or freight. They were hardly used by the Regia Aeronautica, the main user being the German Luftwaffe. In September 1943, after the Italian armistice, the Luftwaffe had captured all fifteen built P.108 Cs and P.108 Ts. They were used at the Russian front, as part of Luftflotte 2, where they performed sterling duties, among others during the evacuation of the Crimea in 1944.

In 1940 a seaplane version of the P.108 was designed, the P.108 B.I. (Bombardiere Idrovolanti), but this was never developed beyond the stage of a wooden scale model.

Specifications Piaggio P.108 B

Wing span: 32,00 m
Length: 22,30 m
Height 6,00 m
Max. take-off weight: 29.885 kg
Max. speed: 430 km/h
Ceiling: 8.500 m
Range: 3.500 km
Armament: 8 machine guns
Max. bomb load: 3.500 kg
Crew: 6

The model

The only model currently available of the P.108 B is a vacuform from Airmodel, AM-403. The fuselage, wings and tail planes, as well as the engine nacelles are all vacuform parts. The engines, propellers, the cockpit and landing gear are injection molded. Further the kit has a fairly good decal sheet.

To further improve the model, the Italian RCR company makes a resin detail set, to replace the engines, engine cowlings, propellers and wheels from the kit. This set, no. RCR 014, is quite expensive (Lit. 75.000). It is available from Al Soldatino Modelismo, Viale Umbria 41, 20135 Milan, Italy. An alternative would be to use cast resin copies of the engines and propellers of the Cant Z.1007 bis from Supermodel.

For modelers used to building vacuform kits, the Piaggio should not pose a problem. After cutting out and sanding the parts, the fit is fairly good. Some panel lines don’t line up and should be re-scribed and the joining of the tail plane requires some filling with plastic card and putty.

Because of their length the wings have to be strengthened, using balsa wood or plastic tubing. Otherwise they might sag down.

The vacuformed canopy is very clear, but proved difficult to fit properly to the model.

As with all vacuform models, the inside lacks any form of detail. This was added using plastic strip, rod and tubing. 

The life raft in the fuselage was made by making a ‘floor’ of several pieces of plastic rod (0,8 mm diameter) . These were cut to size, after which thicker tubes (3,0 mm diameter) were attached. The outside can be sanded round and ready.

Further details on the model are the open bomb bay doors, moveable propellers and the moveable door in the aft section of the fuselage. Also the gun turrets on the engine nacelles can be turned, by attaching a piece of plastic tube on the underside of the turret and one with a smaller diameter on the bottom of the nacelle.

The model is painted to represent a Piaggio of the 274a Squadrilia Bombardamento a Grande Raggio, as used at the time of the night attacks on Gibraltar. The colors used on the aircraft were Verde Oliva Scuro 2 (dark olive green, Humbrol 91) on the upper surfaces and Nero Opaco (matt black, Humbrol 33) on the underside. Although it would be expected, the striking white fuselage band was not painted out, in spite of the aircraft operating at night

The model was finished with the kit decals, supplemented by decals from Tauro, sheet no. 72-510, Regia Aeronautica, Insegne Nazionali.

References:
  • Il Piaggio P. 108, Giancarlo Garello, Edizioni Bizzarri, Roma, 1973
  • Piaggio P. 108, Le Monografie Aeronautiche Italiane, No. 6/7, Anno II, Maggio-Giugno 1985
  • Colori e schemi mimetici della Regia Aeronautica 1935-1943, II edizione, Umberto Postiglioni – Andrea Degl’Innocenti, Gruppo Modellistico Trentino, Trento, 1994
  • Axis Aircraft of World War II, David Mondey, Chancellor Press, Reed International Books, London, 1996, page 231-232
  • Courage Alone, The Italian Airforce 1940-1943, Chris Dunning, Hikoki Publications, Hants (U.K.), 1998, page 104

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