Romeo Ro 37 / Ro 45
In the early 1930’s, the Regia Aeronautica put out a requirement for a light reconnaissance aircraft and also a heavier reconnaissance aeroplane. The first should have a 350 km/h (190 knots/220 mph) maximum speed, five hours endurance, three machine-guns and a bomblets dispenser, armour, and the capability to operate from improvised airfields. The heavier one should have a 325 km/h maximum speed, at least 1,300 km (800 miles) endurance, 7,000 m (22,750 feet) ceiling, climb to 5,000m (16,000) in 19 minutes, three crew, five weapons, high wing and other details.
Ro.37 with Fiat A.30 inline engine
IMAM designed a new aircraft, the Romeo Ro.37, which first flew in 1933. The aircraft was an unequal-span single-bay biplane of mixed wood and metal construction. Its design included fixed tailwheel landing gear, all three wheels being provided with spats; a braced tail unit incorporating a variable-incidence tailplane; and accommodation for two in tandem enclosed cockpits, Power was provided by a 522kW Fiat A.30RA Vee engine of 560hp. It reached 300 km/h (162 knots). An improved Ro.37bis was developed subsequently, and this introduced an optional radial powerplant comprising either the Piaggio P. IX or P.X supercharged engine. The better reliability of this engine was considered more desirable and so this was the main version produced.
Both models proved popular for their day, with production of the Ro.37 and Ro.37bis exceeding 160 and 475 respectively. Ro.37 were exported (ten to Uruguay, sixteen to Afghanistan, fourteen to Hungary, eight to Austria, and one to Ecuador) and around 280 were in service with the Regia Aeronautica in 1940 in thirty squadrons.
IMAM also built a successor to the Ro.37, the Ro.45. This was an enhanced Ro.37 that first flew as a prototype on 10 December 1935. The 820 hp Isotta-Fraschini Asso XI.RC40 engine boosted maximum speed slightly to 217mph, increased the ceiling to 26,200 feet, and endurance to 1,398 miles. Destined for long-range reconnaissance and light bombing, it remained a single prototype.
The Ilmavoimat / Maavoimat evaluated both the Ro.37 and the single Ro.45 prototype but considered the design unsuitable for their overall requirement.
Ro.37 and Ro.37bis aircraft were involved in the Spanish Civil War from October 1936, when the first 10 arrived. Another 26 (possibly 58) went to this theatre and were used for many missions and tasks. They were used as assault aircraft, even though they were unarmoured. The results were satisfactory and some were even converted to a single-seat machine for use as attack fighters. The two-seat versions were used as heavy fighters, providing protection for S.81 bombers from Republican I-15s. It is not known if there were any air-to-air victories. They were also used extensively by the Regia Aeronautica during Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia between October 1935 and May 1936 and during the Italian occupation of that country until 1941. Some 275 Ro.37bis aircraft were in service with the Regia Aeronautica when Italy became involved in World War II, and these saw first-line service in the East and North African campaigns and in the Balkans. Some were in service up to 1943 and perhaps even later. They were very vulnerable, but in the war Italy did not have sufficient resources to produce a better observation aircraft, not even the Ro.63, a superior aircraft, similar to the Storch, but with more endurance. After withdrawal from first-line service they found a variety of uses, but all had been retired before Italy's armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943. The aircraft was produced until 1939 with a total of 569 (237 + 332bis) produced.
The remnants of the Ro.37’s sold to Afghanisatan were found northeast of Kabul by the Italian Army’s 132nd Artillery Regiment "Ariete".
Of the 16 Ro.37bis sold to Afghanistan in 1938, 6 relics were recovered by an Italian / US team to the North East of Kabul and one of them is exhibited at Vigna di Valle Museum waiting to be completely restored.
Tom Martin, LTC of the US Army, was the garrison commander at the Kabul Military Training Center and “neighbor” to the Italian garrison at Camp Invicta. Their garrison commander, LTC Mauro D’ Ubaldi, and Martin became friends through mutual security needs and engineer projects. D’ Ubaldi approached Martin and asked if he would help his team come onto our site and remove from the boneyard the a plane. They also recovered wings and there were scraps of material with paint on some of the parts which showed the material and colors.
Engine: Piaggio P.IX RC.40, 560 hp (418 kW)
Maximum speed: 205mph
Range: 696 miles
Service ceiling: 23,620 ft
Armament: three machine guns (two in nose / one flexible mount rear cockpit)
Bombload: 397 lb (180kg) of bombs (twelve x 15 kg bombs) on underfuselage racks