Sunday, February 26, 2012

Poland - 1920 Ansaldo A.1

Italy's Contribution to the Polish/Bolshevik War

Early days of the Polish Air Service saw a wide range of second hand aircraft filling its ranks. The cash-strapped combative nations involved in the Great War were left with a surplus of military hardware. The newly independent nations fighting fo hold on to their recent independence needed the armament to achieve their goals. Needless to say many countries saw an opportunity to cash in on what was seen as a win/win situation. It was more than economically attractive. Many nations saw the Communist evolution as a threat to the world order. Arming and supporting the nations to the west of Russia was seen as a way to create a buffer zone to contain Soviet expansion.

This example was purchased from the Italians and entered service in July of 1920. The command strip and the number "1" indicate it as the aircraft of the unit commander. It was flown by the American aviator Maj.Fauntleroy.

This was the personal aircraft of kpt.Merian Cooper, Lwow, July 1920. When flying this aircraft M.Cooper fell into Bolshevik hands after he crash on 13th July 1920. The wooden fuselage has not been repainted. The aircraft still has the original Italian factory markings which have been over-painted with a black "5" and Polish s/n number of 16.5.

This was the personal aircraft of kpt. Merian Cooper during July-October of 1920. The wooden fuselage has not been repainted. The aircraft still has the original Italian factory markings which have been over-painted with a black "10" and Polish s/n number of 16.4.

A Brief History of the Ansaldo A.1 Balilla

The Ansaldo A.1, nicknamed "Balilla" after the Genoan folk-hero was Italy's only domestically-produced fighter aircraft of World War I. Arriving too late to see any real action, it was however used by both Poland and the Soviet Union in the Polish-Soviet War.

The A.1 resulted from continued efforts by the Ansaldo company to create a true fighter. Their SVA.5 had proved unsuitable in this role, although it made an excellent reconnaissance aircraft and had been ordered into production as such. Ansaldo engineer Giuseppe Brezzi revised the SVA.5 design, increasing the size of the lower wing, and redesigning the interplane strut arrangement. While this produced more drag, it increased the stiffness of the wing structure and reduced stresses in the airframe. Engine power was increased to 150 kW (200 hp) and a safety system to jettison the fuel tank through a ventral hatch (in case of on-board fire) was installed.

The first prototype was completed in July 1917, but acceptance by the air force did not occur until December. Test pilots were not enthusiastic in their evaluation. While they found a marked increase in performance over the SVA.5, the A.1 was still not as maneuverable as the French types in use by Italy's squadrons. This resulted in a number of modifications, including a slight enlargement of the wings and rudder, and a further 10% increase in engine power. This initially proved satisfactory to the air force, and the modified A.1 (designated A.1bis) was ordered into service with 91 Squadriglia for further evaluation.

Reports from pilots were mixed. While the fighter's speed was impressive, it proved unmaneuverable and difficult to fly. Nevertheless, with a need to clear a backlog of obsolete fighter types then in service, the air force ordered the A.1 anyway.

The first of an original order of 100 machines entered service in July 1918. The A.1s were kept away from the front lines and mostly assigned to home defense duties. In the four months before the Armistice, A.1s scored only one aerial victory, over an Austrian reconnaissance aircraft. It was during this time that Ansaldo engaged in a number of promotional activities, including dubbing the aircraft as Balilla, flying displays in major Italian cities, and in August donating an example to Italian ace Antonio Locatelli as his personal property amidst a press spectacle. (This latter publicity stunt backfired somewhat when one week later a mechanical fault in the aircraft caused Locatelli to make a forced landing behind enemy lines and be taken prisoner). Despite all this, the air force ordered another 100 machines, all of which were delivered before the end of the war. At the armistice, 186 were operational, of which 47 aircraft were ordered to remain on hand with training squadrons, and the remainder were to be put into storage and some were sold to Poland.


  1. From Wikipedia Ansaldo A1 Balilla, ""
  2. Taylor, Michael J. H. (1989). "Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation". London: Studio Editions. pp. 62.


Jon Yuengling said...

These are sharp looking aircraft. I assume it had poor visibility as the pilot seems to be sitting far back.

Was the Soviet use of this aircraft from captured models?

Unknown said...

Thanks Jon. Visibility may not have been as bad as we assume. The cross section of the forward fuselage indicates a very sharp curve allowing a view on either side.

On the Soviet examples the dates for their deployment are after the Polish/Russian War. I have not seen the particulars on these planes. I would assume they were either captured or acquired through defection. Most of the examples I have seen were flown in naval units. I will be posting my versions soon.