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Text: Philippe Decock - Pictures: Philippe Decock & 41° Stormo Italian Air Force (In action part)  © sbap 2015
41° Stormo was formed on july 1st, 1939 as a bomber wing flying the Fiat BR20 bomber from Reggio Emilia air base, near Modena. The wing used the BR20 for a couple of months before replacing them with the Savoia-Marchetti SM79. In september 1939, 41 stormo moved to Gela airfield in the south of Sicily. 41 Stormo then moved to Libya, first to Benina, near the current Benghazi, then to Castel Benito, near Tripoli. The wing returned to Italy in february 1941 and was disbanded in 1943. On october 1st, 1965, 41 Stormo was reactivated at Sigonella air base as a maritime patrol wing flying the Grumman S-2 Tracker. On may 1st, 1971, 41 Stormo was called Athos Ammannato. Athos Ammannato was a 41° Stormo pilot who lost his live in 1941 as he was returning from a mission over the Mediterranean sea. He was the recipient of 4 medals for valor. His sword was given by his familly to 41 Stormo and is displayed in the base CO office. The Tracker was replaced by the Breguet 1150 Atlantic in 1972. Another maritime patrol wing, 30 Stormo, based in Cagliari, Sardinia, disbanded in 2002 and all Atlantics were then based in Sigonella.
Even if the Atlantics of 41° Stormo are involved in the current migration crisis with the support of other NATO aircraft like Portuguese P-3's and Danish Challenger, anti submarine warfare remains of great importance.
The aircraft "Breguet Atlantic 1150" (P-1150A) ensures control of shipping, as part of operations against international terrorism, and the support to activities aimed at controlling the flow of illegal immigration from south of the Mediterranean, thanks to the fact that it is able to independently conduct systematic research across the whole Mediterranean, covering large areas of sea, allowing the timely location of refugees at sea and the warning of the bodies, while ensuring a constant search and rescue in the event of a marine casualty. All of this can be attributed solely to the unique capacities of the Atlantic aircraft in terms of autonomy (also nearly 20 continuous hours of flight without refueling), ability to fly at very low altitude and availability of multiple sensors and communications equipment and allow him to patrol easily very large areas, otherwise non-navigation except with the use of many other vessels and aircraft.
The remaining Atlantics will be replaced from 2016 by four ATR-72 modified for the maritime patrol role. The Italian Air Force has equipped Sigonella also to ensure any missions of UAVs (Predator A and B) normally stationed at Amendola with the 32nd Wing.
Sigonella air base is also used by the US military as NAS Sigonella. The United States Navy began using Sigonella on june 15, 1959. NAS Sigonella is called "Hub of the Med" for the operational and logistical role in supporting NAVCENT, AFRICOM and 5th and 6th fleets. The station houses transport, maritime patrol and tanker aircraft that rotates from the continental US. During my visit, I saw 4 USMC MV-22's and 2 KC-130J's, several C-17's and P-3's, a Gulfstream and a Metroliner but the US did not allow me on the apron.
Sigonella air base is an italian air force base commanded by an italian air force colonel. The USN may use the base as long as the agreement signed by american and italian authorities is respected. Each week, the USN base operations center gives to his italian contrepart the list of the foreseen activities. It is checked by the italian base operations center for approval before beeing transmitted to the base commander for signature. Base security, fire fighting and air traffic control are the responsabilities of the italian air force. Sigonella ATC is not only responsible for the aircraft departing from or landing in Sigonella but is also responsible for the airspace covering the eastern half of Sicily up to flight level 195, approximately 7000 meters above sea level. Sigonella ATC is providing nearby Catania airport and Comiso airport, about 50 kilometers south-west of Sigonella, with approach control, bringing aircraft from the airways to the final approach and also after departure to join the airways.

 

Aermacchi MB-326 located near Catane Airport
A view of the base with Etna volcano in the background A view of the parking at Italian side of the base
Fire brigade
History Sigonella Air Base

The United States Naval Air Facility (NAF), Sigonella, was established on June 15, 1959 and was conceived in the early 1950's, when plans to base U.S. Navy P2V Neptunes at Hal Far, Malta began to outgrow this facility. The first commanding officer of NAF Sigonella was Captain Walter J. Frazier. The Naval Air Facility Sigonella was redesignated Naval Air Station in the 1980's. When there was no room left for expansion at Malta, the U.S. Navy obtained NATO backing to be hosted by the Sicilians. Italy made land available under a temporary agreement signed on June 25, 1957 and six days later Landing Ship Tanks (LST) began to deliver equipment from the Malta base. Ground was broken in September and construction on the administrative area at NAF I was started in 1958. It was built on top of an airfield where damaged fighters and bombers of the German Air Force had once landed during the Second World War. The first Americans arrived for work at Sigonella in March 1959 - six months before any buildings were ready - and so worked for six months in Catania at a large warehouse complex called Magazzino Generale (General Warehouse). By the end of August 1959, the NAF II airfield was available for daylight flights under visual flight rules (VFR). 24 flights were logged by August 31. One of Sigonella's first buildings was what is now the American Forces Network (AFN) building. In 1958, that building was Sigonella's vector (pest) control center where rat poison was stored. The Army Corps of Engineers used the building next for their offices, later sharing it with Special Services now called Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR). Around 1966, AFN came to Sigonella and joined the Special Services, which soon moved out, leaving the building to the broadcasters. On the night of October 10, 1985, NAS II lived tense hours when the Italian Carabinieri, the Italian Air Force and the US Army's Delta Force came close to firing upon one another following the interception by Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters of an Egyptian Boeing 737. This airliner was carrying the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, which had been commandeered by members of the PLO on October 07. The hijackers had killed a Jewish-American citizen Leon Klinghoffer. The F-14's instructed the Egyptian plane to land at Sigonella where the Americans had planned to take the hijackers into custody. The Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi instead claimed the hijackers were under Italian jurisdiction and therefore refused to allow the SEAL's to board the plane, threatening to open fire on the Americans had they made an attempt to do so. This move was supposedly dictated both by security concerns about terrorists targeting Italy if the United States had had it their way and by the Italian tradition of diplomacy with the Arab world. The ensuing stand-off lasted throughout the night until President Ronald Reagan gave the orders for the Americans to stand down. In late 1985, work crews belonging to NMCB 133 were repairing and installing sidewalks in the housing area at NAS I when they uncovered a small stockpile of Luftwaffe anti-aircraft ammunition. The stockpile had apparently belonged to an anti-aircraft position that had been buried during raids in the Allied invasion of 1943. On April 01, 2004, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) opened Defense Depot Sigonella Italy on NAS II to serve as a supply base in the Mediterranean. DLA also provides fuel and property disposal from NAS II. When NATO took military intervention to Libya in 2011, NAS Sigonella played an important role in US operation 'Odyssey Dawn' because of its short distance to the country. As Libya remained unstable throughout 2013, a Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force - Crisis Response unit was formed and an element of this was moved to the base to be within V-22 range of Libya.

Portuguese Air Force Lockheed P-3C Orion Royal Danish Air Force Bombardier CL-604 Challenger Maritime
US Navy P-3C Orion (161012) from VP-47 (Golden Swordsmen)
deployed at Sigonella but normaly based at 
Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay (Hawai)
VP-47 is currently deployed to Sigonella, Sicily; Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti; 
and Souda Bay, Greece, conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area 
of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe.
Lockheed P-3C (158224) also from VP-47 Lockheed C-130T from VR-64 "Condors" from NAS Willow Grove
Boeing C-17A Globemaster III from 62/446 AW Mc Chord Air Force Base Royal Canadian Air Force Lockheed CC-130J from 8 Wing Trenton Air Base
Gate guardians
Lockheed F-104S Starfighter
Grumman S-2F-1 Tracker
Breguet Br 1150 Atlantic (MM40124) 41° Stormo special colours from 2006
The 40-11 in action before retirment (Courtesy 41° Stormo)
41° Stormo
Origin and World War II

The 41 Wing was formed as a bomber unit on July 01, 1939, under the command of Col. GDP. Enrico Pezzi. Deployed on the airport of Reggio Emilia, it is composed of two groups : the 59th (232nd and 233rd Squadron) based on the same airport and the 60th (234th and 235th Squadron) located at Iesi. The main aircraft is the Breda "BR. 20 Stork", but already on September 11 the transition to better performing aircraft Savoia Marchetti "SM. 79 Sparviero (sparrowhawk)" is initiated. On the same date the 60th Group moved to the airport of Reggio Emilia. On June 06, 1940, the command of the Wing is framed into the 3rd Air Division. The Wing leaves Gela Benina (Benghazi) on October 21, with 10 aircraft of the 59th, the 60th and the 11th. A few days later, on October 24, these units were decentralized at the field of Sidi El Magrum (Benghazi). The 41st and the 15th Wing became part of the 9th Brigade "Leo" under the command of Col. GDP. Attilio Biseo on October 28 and moved to Castel Benito (Tripoli) with both groups before redeploying to Tmini. On February 19, 1941 the Wing received the order to return home, completes the transfer from Aviano (UD) on March 02. At that same day the first of the new aircraft, the Caproni "Ca 313" is put into service and started an intensive course of training activities. On May 10 1941, by Royal Decree dated January 09, 1941, the Flag of the Wing was granted the Silver Medal for Valor for acts of war carried out from June 11 to September 30, 1940. The 2nd Air Force Commander, Gen. Sq. Air Felice Porro praised the 41st Wing in conjunction with the 15th Wing for their intense flying activities and the achieved results regarding the training of pilots involved in the switchover to the new aircraft. The 9th Air Brigade "Lion" instructed the 41st Wing on December 23 to start the transfer to the new headquarters in Treviso. The Wing received its second Silver Medal on January 20, 1942 for the activities carried out during wartime in Marmarica between December 13, 1940 and January 04, 1941.
On January 31, 1942, Col. Moscatelli took command of the Wing and on February 15, dissolves the 9th Air Brigade 'Leo' and the 41st Wing takes on the specialty of 'Interceptor' under the command of Command Interceptors "Leo". The Wing is equipped with the Caproni Ca. 313, Fiat Cr. 42 "Falco" and some Macchi MC. 200 "Saetta". A fg. 261/S dated from April 21 , from the Command Interceptors "Leo" stated that the Wing would continue to be made up of the 59th and 60th Group with two squadrons each equipped with the "CR 42", on a strength of 12 aircraft per squadron. On August 8, the 232nd Squadron, on the orders of Command Interceptors (fg. 1232/OP2/3 dated August 05, 1942), moved from Treviso to Venegono (Varese) followed on September 15 by the Command of the 59th Group and 233rd Squadron Interceptors. The 1st Air Force Command in Milan ordered another change (fg. 33839 dated 24/09/1942) on September 24, 1942 with 233rd Interceptor Squadron moving from Venegono to the airport of Caselle Torinese to contribute to the defense of Turin and Milan and on October 15, the Wing Command, (tele 1891 / OP2 / 3 of 10.13.1942 Command interceptors "Leo") is transferred to the airport of Tradate. The Wing's CR. 42 are complemented with the first aircraft Messerschmitt Me. 110 and Dornier DO. 217 from Germany. The 41st Wing is finally dissolved in 1943.

Reborn

The 41st Wing Antisom was reconstituted at Sigonella on October 01, 1965, under provision of the S.M.A. with 87 and 88 Squadron Antisom. In November 1971, in order to free up more space and infrastructure regarding the arrival of the new Bréguet Atlantic, 88 Squadron moved to Fontanarossa. The era of "Atlantic" begins on June 27, 1972 when the first BREGUET 1150 Atlantic landed at Sigonella. The 87th Group Antisom framework was put into place on August 31, 1978 and in that same year, the Wing Command was transferred to Sigonella. The airport was baptized in 1983 and named after Cap. Pil MOVM Cosimo Di Palma. The structure of the Wing remained substantially unchanged until August0 1, 2002, when following the dissolution of the 30th Wing of Cagliari Elmas, the component Antisom was merged within the 41st Wing, resulting in the creation and restructuring of the 86th group C.A.E. for crew training. The US Navy unit operating on the base together with the 41st Wing is a Naval Air Station (NAS) depending operationally from the Commander of the Naval Forces of the US Army stationed in Europe (COMUSMAVEUR) through the Commander of the US Naval Forces in Europe (COMNAVREGEUR).

Missions

The primary task of the 41 Wing was to cope with naval and underwater threat and secondary to carry out search and rescue missions. Due to the characteristics of the aircraft Br1150 Atlantic and the special crew training, the Wing can carry out Antisom support missions for the naval forces or convoys, carry out search missions in various areas, dam in particular areas in collaboration with allied submarines, guide fighter-bombers during attack missions on naval units, shadowing of enemy naval forces, photo reconnaissance, electronic reconnaissance, mine-laying, search and rescue missions, particularly in the maritime environment, with the possibility to release special containers to provide effective and immediate aid to survivors. Moreover, the Wing performed for several years, daily inspections of the migration flow to the Italian coast. Through all these operations, the Br1150 Atlantic protect the main shipping routes and contribute effectively to ensure a free flow of maritime traffic which, for this country, is a major determinant of development and survival.

86º Centro Addestramento Equipaggi (86th Crew Training Center) 88º Gruppo A/S (88th Anti Submarine Squadron) operating Breguet Atlantic
Dashboard of a Breguet Atlantic Macchi MC205V Veltro model from 151 squadriglia / 51 Stormo
The wall of souvenirs
Air Control
The approach control room of Sigonella air base Sigonella approach is responsible for the eastern halve of Sicily
Italian air force air traffic controllers at work
Commandanti Office and Traditions
Il Comandanti di 41° Stormo, Colonel Pil Vincenzo Sicuso Old Italian Atlantic colours for this wonderful model

From left to right:
The first flag received by 41 Stormo when it was created in 1939, 
the list of the 41 Stormo commanding officers and the sword of Athos Annammato

Capitano Pil Athos Ammannato

Savoia-Marchetti S.M.79
235 squadriglia / 60º Gruppo del 41º Stormo
Breda- SAFAT 12.7mm gun retreived near Catania Airport
Breguet Br 1150 Atlantic
The Dassault-Breguet Atlantic is the long-range reconnaissance aircraft of the French Navy. This long-range naval patrol aircraft is a European collaboration, built under the supervision of Dassault Aviation. The Atlantique is the standard sea reconnaissance aircraft and submarine hunter in many NATO countries. Although primarily used for anti-submarine duties, the Atlantic can carry AS-1 2 or Martel missiles for use against surface targets. It is fitted with antiship-missiles, ASW-weapons, sonar buoys and a magnetic anomaly detector [MAD]. This aircraft is remarkable for being the only maritime patrol airplane in the world specially designed for its mission and not just a derivative of a commercial civil aircraft. The Atlantic is an aircraft with a take-off weight of 43.5 metric tons, powered by two Tyne turboprop 5,500 hp engines. Its 12-man crew conducts missions that can last up to 18 hours over flight distances of approximately 8,000 km, covered at a maximum speed of 650 km/h. On December 14, 1956, the members of the NATO Council stipulated that, as a successor to the American aircraft Lockheed P 2V-7 Neptune, they needed a long-range maritime reconnaissance and antisubmarine warplane. In 1958, all 15 NATO countries approved a design for a common maritime patrol aircraft to be manufactured by a multinational consortium. However, the US Navy adopted the Orion instead and the British and Belgians withdrew from the program also. On January 30, 1959, the NATO Armaments Committee unanimously selected, out of the 21 projects presented, the Breguet Br 1150 Atlantic program. Manufacturing work was divided between the four participating countries :

Breguet and Sud-Aviation in France

Fokker in the Netherlands

Dornier and Siebel in West Germany

SABCA, Fairey et Fabrique Nationale (FN) Herstal in Belgium.

The Tyne turboprop engines were supplied by the partner companies Rolls-Royce, Snecma Hispano, FN and MTU, while electronics came from the United States. The assembly line and flight preparation of aircraft were located in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne, France) at Breguet. The official purchase order for the first lot was communicated on June 06, 1963 : 20 aircraft for France, ultimately increased to 40 aircraft, and 20 for West Germany. The final aircraft out of the 60 was delivered at the end of 1968 at the moment that the Netherlands decided to procure 9 of the type. The French Navy immediately sold them four, while the five others would come from a second production series launched in January 1972. On October 25, 1968, Italy decided in turn to purchase the aircraft and became an associate in the European consortium through Aeritalia and Alfa-Romeo. Production was relaunched for 18 aircraft, plus 4 intended to replace those sold by France to the Netherlands. In 1976, the French Navy sold three of its aircraft to Pakistan. By 2005 Italy was operating 13 Br1150 Atlantics and had an additional 5 in store. These aircraft were due to be replaced in 2012, but Italy had not announced how it intended to proceed. In December 2008 the Italian Air Force signed the contract for the supply of four ATR 72MP. These aircraft will carry out tasks of surveillance, maritime patrol and SAR. The new aircraft are due to replace the Breguet Atlantic in service.

The Atlantic in maintenance
40 years Atlantic in Italian service paint scheme
Rolls-Royce Tyne RTy.20 Mk 21 2-shaft turboprops
Inside the Antisom...
The cockpit The nose observer compartiment
magnetic anomaly detector post same but view from other side
Navigation and radar post Tactical coordination post
berths and rest area
The kitchenette


Along the body with the side observator post and the access ramp
41° Stormo in action
Above Ionienne Sea near Etna volcano

For their help in making this report possible, I want to thank:
The Belgian Embassy in Rome,
The Italian Air Force General Staff,
The Commander of the Airport and 41 Wing Antisom Sigonella, Pilot Colonel Vincenzo Sicuso,
The Public Information Officer At the 41st Wing Antisom Sigonella, First Marshal Carmelo Savoca,
My other guides in Sigonella who made my visit a success!

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