WW1 Planes
An encyclopediae of 1914-18 aircraft types

flag Ansaldo WW1 Planes

The Northern Italian Industrialist

The famous company was funded in 1853 as Gio. Ansaldo & C. S.A.S., renowned Genoese businessmen. The company started to be known in Europe for manufacturing and repairing railway components. By the end of the Century, the company reached 10,000 workers and started to diversify in shipbuilding and mechanical works. The company was bought by the Perrone family, and at the eve of WW1, the company turned to ironworks and weapon-making with a strong vertical integration. By 1900 Anlsado was an Industrial heavyweight, which rivalled FIAT. One of the feats performed by the Genoese Yards was to built the ground-breaking cruiser Giuseppe Garibaldi in 1899, wildly exported an copied worldwide, and the Italian dreadnought battleship Giulio Cesare in 1911. The company also built armoured cars, guns and machine guns during the war. By building gradually a sound network in political and military circles, the company achieved a record capitalization in 1914 with 30 million lire, while its market value was 500 million at the end of the war. After the war, Ansaldo support to the Fascist movement serve it well, until the end of the war. During the cold war it was absorbed by Finmeccanica.

The Balilla, one of the best allied fighter of the war.

The planes of Ansaldo

The firm built three great types during the war: The first was the Ansaldo Baby, basically a single seat biplane reconnaissance floatplane. But the firm is best known for its fighters, the best Italy has to offer during the great war, in particular the A.1 Balilla. It was preceded however by the prolific lineage of the S.V.A. and it all happened in 1917. The SVA was declined into a multitude of versions, the basic model being used for observation, but soon "utility" planes appeared until the SVA 10, and at least one prototype of a light bomber, the SVA 6. The SVA-3 was an attempted fighter, the SVA was to be the main fighter version, but failed, and triggered a complete redesign. In all, Ansaldo would produce about 1597 planes during the war. in the interwar, much more, derived from French models, but that's another story.

SVA con motore Spa modello 1918
SVA con motore Spa modello 1918


Bold: production models.
  • Ansaldo Baby (1915) single seat reconnaissance floatplane (Sopwith Baby)
  • Ansaldo A.1 Balilla (1917) fighter
  • Ansaldo SVA.1 (1917) utility aircraft
  • SVA.2, SVA.5 utility aircraft
  • SVA.3 fighter
  • SVA.4 reconnaissance
  • SVA.6 Prototype bomber
  • SVA.8 prototype utility
  • SVA.9/SVA.10 Two-seat utility

SVA Idro
Ansaldo SVA Idro

Ansaldo Baby (1915)

Ansaldo Baby
The Caproni Baby was very close to the Sopwith Baby (here)

The first plane by the company was the Ansaldo Baby, basically a single seat biplane reconnaissance floatplane. This was in fact a licence-built Sopwith Baby built with minor changes. The original plane was developed from the Tabloid/Schneider, first flown in 1913 and so-called because it participated in the first Schneider cup and were Gnome Monosoupape-powered Schneiders. The Aviazione della Regia Marina received 102 examples from 1917 and used until 1923 (including 2 trials aircraft from the UK). However it's difficult to appreciate the proper Caproni production if not 102.
model - wwi-models.org

Model - Sopwith Baby floatplane in Italian service


-Length: 23 ft (7.01 m) Wingspan: 25ft (7.82 m) Height: 10ft (3.05 m) Wing area: 240 ft² (22.30 m²)
-Empty weight 1,226 lb (557 kg) Loaded weight: 1,715 lb (779 kg)
-Crew: 1
-Powerplant: Clerget rotary engine, driving a two blade wooden propeller, 110 hp (82 kW)
-Performances: 87 knots (100 mph, 162 km/h) at sea level, Service ceiling: 10,000 ft (3,050 m), Rate of climb: 285 ft/min (1.45 m/s), Endurance: 2.25 hrs
-Armament: One Lewis gun, 2 × 65 lb (28 kg) bombs

Ansaldo S.V.A.

SVA Im 5 Historical Museum at Vigna di Valle Air Force
SVA Im 5 Historical Museum at Vigna di Valle Air Force

The fastest allied reconnaissance plane

Ansaldo SVA 5
SVA stands for Savoia-Verduzio-Ansaldo. it was a family of planes, intended for Reconnaissance, but with some fighter variants. Originally conceived as a fighter, this model quickly failed in this attempt, having agility issues. However speed range and operational ceiling were all excellent. It was even by 1917 considered one of the fastest Allied combat aircraft and at least tge fastest observation plane on overall. it was also tried as a light bomber and its total production continued well after the war, with a total production of above 1,245 planes. Minor variants had integrated reconnaissance cameras, or extra fuel tanks. In design, the SVA was conventional, with unequal-span wings but featured Warren Truss-style struts, without transverse bracing wires which simplified maintenance. The fuselage was made in wood, covered with plywood, which made it resistant, with a triangular rear cross-section behind the cockpit morphing into a rectangular cross section forward of the cockpit.

The SVA In action

The SVA served actively for reconnaissance over the Nortern Italian front with the Corpo Aeronautico Militare in the last years of the war, 1917-18. Thanks to its fast speed and high ceiling, this was a difficult plane to catch and down. So it was extremely successful, engaging other planes in rare occasions. There is no known ace on it however. On August 9, 1918, 11 of these planes made a remarked propaganda flight over Vienna inspired by Gabriele d'Annunzio by the 87th Squadriglia La Serenissima from San Pelagio. One was an SVA 9 carrying d'Annunzio himself, the other being probably SVA 5 single-seaters. Altough most were used for observation, a few were tailored for performances as fighters, the most impressive being the "Zeppelin killers" fitted with additional oblique-firing machine gun, SVA 3 Ridotto. The SVA 9 was two seats, and had larger wings and was built as a pathfinder for SVA.5 formations and used as trainer long after the war. Its last variant was the SVA 10, more powerful and fitted with single forward firing gun, and a ring-mounted Lewis gun for the rear observer/gunner. They could operate strafing attacks as well, being difficult to shoot down from the ground. The SVA was wildly distributed, to Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, China (West-North Aviation Corps of Warlord Feng Yuxiang - 12 in 1925), Ecuador, Georgia (10 aircraft 1920), Latvia, Paraguay, Poland (80 SVA 9), Soviet Union, United States (tested by the American Expeditionary Force), Uruguay, and Yugoslavia (1).


  • SVA.1: prototype
  • SVA.2: Obervation. 65 built
  • ISVA Idroplane: 50 built (Regia Marina)
  • SVA.3: SVA.4 built by AER
  • SVA.3 Ridotto ("Reduced"): Fast interceptor for anti-Zeppelin defence.
  • SVA.4: Major observation variant, fitted with portside Vickers gun or alternative cameras.
  • SVA.5: final production version
  • SVA.6: bomber version (prototype))
  • SVA.8: Observation (prototype)
  • SVA.9: two-seat reconnaissance version.
  • SVA.10: 250 hp Isotta Fraschini engine

Ansaldo SVA drawing

Specifications (SVA 5):

-Length: 8.10 m (26 ft 7 in), Wingspan: 9.10 m (29 ft 10 in), Height: 2.65 m (8 ft 8 in), Wing area: 24.2 m2 (260 ft2)
-Empty weight: 680 kg (1,500 lb) Gross weight: 1,050 kg (2,320 lb)
-Crew: 1
-Powerplant: 1 × SPA 6A, 150 kW (200 hp) -Performances: Max speed: 230 km/h (140 mph), range 690 km (420 miles) or 3 hours, ceiling: 6,000 m (19,700 ft), climb in 5 m/s (980 ft/min)
-Armament: 2 synchronised .303 Vickers machine gun, up to 90 kg (200 lb) of bombs

Ansaldo A.1 Balilla

From airwar.ru (gavs.torino.com)
From airwar.ru (gavs.torino.com). Arrived too late to see much combat, the legendary "Ballila" was bloodied used by both Poland and the Soviet Union in the Polish-Soviet War.

The A.1 was Ansaldo only true ww1 fighter, and a completely successful one. Its nickname "Balilla" came from a Genoan folk-hero, a boy who throwing a stone at an Austrian official, and kickstarted the revolt of 1746 against the Habsburg occupant in the War of the Austrian Succession. The fighter aircraft resulted from the culmination of tests performned on the S.V.A.5 which had proved unsuitable in this task. Engineer Giuseppe Brezzi revised the SVA.5 design from top to bottom, increasing the size of the lower wing, redesigning the interplane strut arrangement. The transverse Warren strut layout was also dropped, thus, also the flying and landing wires, and a brand new rigging scheme introduced. Although the latter produced more drag, wing stiffness was greatly improved as well as downing the stresses levels of the airframe. At the same time this extra strenght allow to upgrade it with a new engine which developed 150 kW (200 hp). There was also the added luxury of an innovative safety system: The pilot was able to jettison the fuel tank through a ventral hatch, avoiding one of pilot's worst fear of burning alive when the plane catch fire.

Completed in July 1917 the first prototype flew a serie of trials which delayed the acceptance by the air force in December 1917. Initial tests were not that good anyway. Although faster, the A.1 was not not as maneuverable as the French-built Nieuport 17 (also produced by Macchi under licence). A second wave of modifications saw the wings and rudder areas increased, and a 10% increase in engine power. This modified A.1bis was tested with 91 Squadriglia at the front, and although again, test pilots reviews were mixed, the Balilla was still difficult to fly. Nonetheless, the Army air force branch was eager replaced obsolete types and pressed it into service at the beginning of 1918. Production took time to step up to not all squadrons were equipped when the central powers armistice was signed. By July 1918, the first of an original order of 100 planes was just been accepted into service. Profile by the author
Profile by the author. SPA engine

The A1 in service

Despite their better performances compared to the S.V.A. 5, A.1s were kept away from the front lines, tasked with home defence duties and therefore in just four months they scored only one aerial victory, against a reconnaissance aircraft. So its real performances as a fighter could not be evaluated. This had to wait. Nevertheless,Ansaldo tried to promote its new fighter, renaming it "Balilla", flying it over major Italian cities, one been given to Italian aviator Antonio Locatelli for a press spectacle, and eventually the air force ordered another 100. Fortunately they were produced and delivered before the end of the war, so at V-day 186 were operational. 47 of this total were used for training squadrons and at V-day, the remainder were places in reserved and storage.

Postwar career

The Polish A.1

Thing became serious for the A.1 when it was purchased by a polish army committee in 1919, the country being just created and already the threat of a Soviet invasion was looming in the air. An order for ten evaluation aircraft was signed, shipped in January 1920 to the capital. They were flown mostly by American volunteers, enthusiastic about it, finding no default, even in agility. Therefore on May 25, these planes were deployed to the front line, and destroyed during the Red Army counterattack in the Ukraine. Soon 25 aircraft and a production licence for another 100 was purchased. They arrived however too late to participate in the hostilities. By the summer of 1921, the first of 36 licence-built A.1 were delivered by Lublin. These types were 80 kg (180 lb) heavier and had bad welding issues plagging the engine, in addition to reliability problems. There were at least nine fatal accident and so by 1924, the order was curtailed to 80 and later to 57. In 1925 their armament was removed and two years after these planes had been withdrawn from service.

The Soviet A.1

The irony was on the other side, one year later in 1920, a White Russian army ordered thirty A.1 (18 were delivered in April 1922). They fought in the Kharkov area, but unarmed as observation planes, flying unarmed. After capture by the Soviets they served around the Baltic and Black Sea until mid-1928. In winter their train was modified with skis replacing wheels, and painted white.
Polish A.1
Polish A.1 in 1921

The Latvian A.1s

Since in this region Latvia order 13 planes in 1921 despite a previous poor demonstration, the plane crashing. The planes had an additional feature tailored for the harsh winter conditions: An insulation to protect the engine from the cold was added.

Other potential customers

Following the high reception given by the American volunteers for the Polish air force, the company attempted to promote the plane in the USA, as well as South America. Six were eventually sold for evaluation in 1919 at $US 6,000 apiece, but more for private owner than the USAF. Pilots and sport enthusiasts were indeed seduced by the plane's great speed. WW1 ace and celebrity Eddie Rickenbacker bought one and set a national airspeed record in 1920. Another had its engine replaced by a Curtiss D-12 and won the third place in the 1921 US Pulitzer air race. A tour was also organized to Argentina and Uruguay, the company even offering two promotional aircraft and pilots to governments for extra evaluation. It was however in vain. But soon the plane was showcased to Peru, and Honduras, still without order. Only one was purchased by Mexico in 1920. Ansaldo eventually abandoned the A.1 and ran into sever economical difficulties, being eventually absorbed into Fiat.


-Length: 6.84 m (22 ft 5 in), Wingspan: 7.68 m (25 ft 2 in), Height: 2.53 m (8 ft 4 in), Wing area: 21.2 m2 (228 ft2)
-Empty weight: 640 kg (1,410 lb) Gross weight: 885 kg (1,950 lb)
-Crew: 1
-Powerplant: 1 × SPA 6A piston engine, 164 kW (220 hp)
-Performances: Top speed 220 km/h (140 mph), Range: 660 km (410 miles), Ceiling: 5,000 m (16,400 ft), Climb: 2.7 m/s (520 ft/min)
-Armament: 2x synchonized 0.303 Vickers machine guns.