The first unit to operate the aircraft was 12° Stormo (Wing), 41° Gruppo (Group), on 2 February 1941. Based at Rodi, the first actions of this Group were not successful, and two aircraft landed in Turkey being lost (their crews later returned to Rodi).
36° Wing (108 and 109 Gr) received its SM.84s on 7 May 1941, and was based at Decimomannu airbase, Sardinia, from September 1941. On 27 September 1941, 12 aircraft of 36° Wing took off to attack a British convoy to Malta (Operation Halberd). One aircraft turned back after developing a mechanical fault, but the remainder pressed on with their attack. The first group, led by Arduino Buri, attacked the British ships and Buri managed to torpedo HMS Nelson, putting her out of action for six months. Of the first section, one aircraft was shot down, and the second section had two aircraft shot down out of three. When Seidl went in with his five aircraft, he was shot down together with another two. While the damage to Nelson was a success, the only one this type that Italian torpedo bombers obtained, it was paid with the loss of six aircraft, and almost all the crews, more than 30 men. The next day a merchant ship, Empire Pelican, was sunk by SM.79s with only one loss. The rest of the convoy reached Malta with their supplies.
After these losses, 36° Wing continued in its task to attack enemy ships, and sank the merchant ship Empire Defender in November, and 9 SM.84s badly damaged HMS Penelope on 9 April 1942. 282° Squadriglia was also involved in such missions, with some success.
7° Wing (4 and 5 Gruppos), based in Sicily, used SM.84s to bomb Malta in July 1941. In mid-October 1941, 32° Wing were equipped with SM.84s, one group of torpedo bombers and the other of bombers, to best optimize the attack against ships. This Wing took part in attacks on the Allied landings of Operation Torch, but by the end of December the unit had lost 20 aircraft and was retired from operations.
In June 1942, 14 torpedo bombers of 36° Wing and nine bombers of 4° Gruppo attacked the Malta convoy of Operation Harpoon, with at least two losses to Spitfires, and one downed by Anti-aircraft fire.
During Operation Pedestal in August 1942, 10 SM.84s used special Motobomba circling torpedoes to attack the convoy, losing two aircraft to enemy fighters. Aircraft of 32° and 36° Wing also attacked the convoy. The heavy German and Italian attacks, including those by SM.82s resulting in only five of the fourteen ships of the convoy reaching Malta, however their supplies were fundamental to saving the garrison, after the almost total failure of the previous operation.
While other groups were still receiving the aircraft, 36° and 7° Wing had stopped flying it by October 1942, while 32° went in action against North African targets. It lost 20 aircraft and returned in Puglia to regroup in December 1942. Soon 38° Gr had the new SM.84 Bis (early 1943), this last version was delivered to 8° Stormo (27° and 28° Gruppos). The decline had already started. The use of the aircraft with 8° Stormo to resupply troops in North Africa was a failure: despite having a far higher speed than the SM.82, the useful payload of the SM.84 was too small. The aircraft was gradually phased out, replaced by the Cant Z.1007, and even the SM.79. By 10 July 1943 43° Wing, flying from Gioia del Colle, Puglia, was the only unit still flying the SM.84.
In September 1943, despite the almost extinction of bombers units, there were still 150 SM.84s in available, with over 100 serviceable. Almost all of these were captured by the Germans, though they were rarely used. Some were sent to the Slovenské vzdušné zbrane, and 10 remained with RSI's Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana, but were not used. Seven were used by the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force as transports. Shortly after the end of WWII, the aircraft was phased out of service.
Overall, SM.84 was a failed design (Francesco Pricolo called it a 'wrong aircraft', while Ettore Muti complained in 1941 about its awful handling and take off). It was never liked by its crews and never capable of replacing the SM.79. When the final version of the Sparviero, the SM.79 bis, became available, the SM.84 was withdrawn. In the bomber role it was inferior to the CANT.1007 ter, especially at altitude (the SM.84 was almost impossible to fly above 5,000 m).
Torpedo-bombers were required to be agile and fast in order to engage their targets and many designs experienced problems with higher weights and wing loading than they were designed for. The SM.84 was far heavier than the SM.79 and when the final version the SM.79bis became available, it was preferred to the SM.84. The SM.79bis, with improved engines was still lighter than the SM.84 and a better aircraft (with lower wing loading and better power-to weight ratio) for the role.
Another critical report about SM.84 came from the 43° Stormo B.T. command, in an official document. It reports how this bomber wing performed its task, starting with bombing missions from Gioia del Colle on 13 July 1943. The 41° Stormo commander complained the very small attack force was not enough to saturate the enemy's strong defences, even by night; the small number of pilots trained for night operations and thus the small number of sorties and the very poor performance of the SM.84.
Read more about this topic: Savoia-Marchetti SM.84
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