Finmeccanica, a catalyst for companies
of vital national importance

Propeller machining process at the Società Italiana Delta plant in Cornigliano Ligure, Genoa, 1940s. Specialising in the production of alloys, including bronze and brass, the company was absorbed by Ansaldo in 1894. Delta accounted for around 15% of Ansaldo’s workforce in the mid-1930s, maintaining its identity as a heavy industrial company. Courtesy Ansaldo Foundation

On 18 March 1948, on the basis of legislative decree no. 1420/1947 of the President of the Republic, Enrico De Nicola, the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI), the holding company for state shareholdings, founded the Società Finanziaria Meccanica Finmeccanica; a crucial stage, in the post-war climate, for the recovery of the economic and industrial fabric of the entire nation. At the time of its foundation, under the Presidency of Aristide Zenari, the newly formed Finmeccanica controlled fourteen companies, coming from IRI, which counted on over 90 thousand employees, and which represent a fundamental part of the Italian manufacturing asset. These companies included Ansaldo, Alfa Romeo, Odero Terni Orlando (later OTO Melara), San Giorgio Società Industriale, Cantieri Navali dell’Adriatico, Officine Galileo, and Filotecnica Salmoiraghi. Finmeccanica did not simply pursue a policy of reorganisation. From the outset it focused on the sectors of ‘excellence’, such as engineering and aeronautics, and on entering the emerging electronics sector by establishing Microlambda, initially called ‘Società per studi e applicazioni di elettronica’ (company for the study and application of electronics). Following an agreement with the US company Raytheon, in 1951, it was the first Italian company to begin manufacturing in the radar sector, in a very rapid timespan.

Italy was a committed main player in the ‘golden age’ of the world economy. The 1950s saw the rise of Finmeccanica across a range of strategic fields: naval and land artillery with OTO Melara, aeronautics and railways with Aerfer, and the associated industrialisation of the South of Italy. In 1954, Nuova San Giorgio, an electronics pioneer, started manufacturing numerical control systems and automated installations.

On 29 December 1959, a new holding, the Finanziaria Cantieri Navali Fincantieri, brought together twelve companies in the shipbuilding sector that had previously been part of Finmeccanica. For the latter, the transition marked a new beginning with a more homogeneous structure comprising 34 companies, 51 plants and 36,970 employees.

Italian training monoplane produced between 1948 and 1952. The first prototype flew on 25 June 1947. 221 aircraft were produced in single- and two-seater versions


First flight of the G-46 trainer

FIAT Aviazione’s first post-war aircraft, the G-46 was designed by the engineer Giuseppe Gabrielli with an all-metal light alloy construction, shell fuselage and cantilevered monoplane wing. Ordered by the Italian Air Force on 9 March 1946, it was used for basic training until 1958 before enjoying a second lease of life in Aero Clubs.

An undisputed key player in the history of Finmeccanica, Ansaldo was founded in 1853 by mechanical engineer and university lecturer Giovanni Ansaldo, banker Carlo Bombrini, financier Giacomo Filippo Penco and shipowner Raffaele Rubattino. It was Giovanni Ansaldo himself whom Cavour instructed to take over the Italian factory of Taylor & Prandi, which had gone into liquidation. Work began immediately at this site on building boilers, locomotives and cranes, allowing the company to grow in production capacity, workforce and skills. Courtesy Ansaldo Foundation


A film telling the story of Ansaldo

Produced by Ferroni Cortometraggi, directors Aldo De Sanctis and Giampiero Pucci made a short film on Ansaldo’s activities in Genoa: its shipyards, mechanical and railway plants, and its foundry. Founded in 1853 by a group of Genoese entrepreneurs and financiers, Ansaldo was to become the historical heart of Italian capitalism, experiencing first the consequences of militarisation during the war years, then crisis and reconversion in peacetime. The film bears witness to the climate of recovery in which the Finmeccanica project was born.

The first CFL3 radar transceiver, designed and manufactured in 1949. With X-band technology (9.4 GHz), including a parabolic antenna and a 200 kW transmitter, it was used by the Italian Military Cartographic Institute


The launch of the CFL3: the first radar designed and manufactured in Italy

This radar was the fruit of a partnership between the Microwave Centre Research Institute in Florence and SMA (Segnalamento Marittimo e Aereo), a small Florentine company that produced signalling optics, light buoys and beacons primarily for the Navy, and which became part of Finmeccanica in the mid-1990s. The acronym CFL3 derives from its creators’ surnames: Nello Carrara, director of the Microwave Centre; Lorenzo Fernandez, founder and CEO of SMA; Pietro Lombardini, radar designer.

Workers assembling the Alfa Romeo 1900 in the mid-1950s. The production of the 1900, officially unveiled at the Paris Motor Show on 11 October 1950, also marked the start of a new era for the historic factory in Portello (Milan), which had been bombed during the Second World War. Courtesy Alfa Romeo Documentation Centre, Arese


Alfa Romeo unveils the 1900, its first new design since the war

Designed by Orazio Satta Puliga, the Alfa Romeo 1900 became famous with the slogan: ‘The family car that wins races.’ The new saloon came with a series of firsts and innovations. It was the first Alfa Romeo with a monocoque body integrated into the chassis and a four-cylinder twin-camshaft engine that would feature in production models over the following years. It was also the first to adopt a left-hand drive as standard. These were years of economic upheaval and innovation, the effects of which were also clear in a change to the production process at the Portello factory in Milan with the introduction of the assembly line. On 5 May 1953, Giuseppe Luraghi, the company’s vice-president, discussed ‘Programme ‘53’ with IRI and Finmeccanica, a project to upgrade the industrial plants, assemble a management team, and outline a strategy to enable Alfa Romeo to generate a profit that could be reinvested for market growth.

The Bredino, a Breda scooter for civilian use and a symbol of the company’s post-war (1950s) rebirth, is today on display at the Breda Meccanica Bresciana Museum, Brescia


Breda Meccanica Bresciana and the difficult task of reconstruction

Section VI of Finanziaria Ernesto Breda, which in 1951 became Breda Meccanica Bresciana, was involved in the difficult task of reconstruction. After the many air raids of the Second World War and the subsequent repair of warehouses and machinery, the factory embarked on an intensive period of civil production: motorbikes (the famous Bredino), Crosley refrigerators, and Cotton looms for knitwear under licence. These products illustrate the resilience and entrepreneurial courage that carried the country through the years of the economic boom.

It was considered the flagship of Italia Società di Navigazione shipping company, a true ‘jewel’ of the revival - internationally - of Italian maritime activities. The Andrea Doria was the fruit not just of shipbuilding, interior design, and nautical know-how, but also of outstanding solutions and innovations in contemporary art and design by Ponti, Zoncada, Ramelli, Orestano, Melotti and Paganin. Courtesy Ansaldo Foundation


Launch of the Andrea Doria liner

The Italian liner fleet’s largest and fastest passenger ship was launched on 16 June 1951 at the Ansaldo shipyard in Genoa Sestri Ponente, commissioned by the Finmare group’s Italia Società di Navigazione shipping company. This turbine-powered ship, with a gross tonnage of around 30,000 tonnes, carried 1,241 passengers and a crew of 580. Much admired for her elegance, the ‘Andrea Doria’, nicknamed the ‘Signora del Mare’, was known abroad as the ‘Grande Dame of the Sea’. On 14 January 1953, she set sail from the Port of Genoa for New York. Just over three years after her maiden voyage, she sank off the US coast in an accident involving the Swedish ship Stockholm on the night of 25 July 1956.

Staff employed at the new Moto Fides Research Office (1950s). Credits: Whitehead Moto Fides WASS Historical Archive


Studies, research and innovations with the resumption of torpedo production

From 1951, Whitehead Moto Fides coordinated torpedo research and development by USAS - Undersea Weapons Research Office (based in Naples), a body with members that included the Italian Navy and Industrie Meccaniche Napoletane (IMN). Shortly afterwards, following the break-up of USAS and IMN, all of the sector’s engineering forces came together in the Livorno Research Office. This ushered in an era that saw the company’s real post-war revival. It was in these very offices where major research into air-independent propulsion began, as well as experiments on wire-guided torpedoes.

Larry Bell and Domenico Agusta on the airfield at Cascina Costa di Samarate (VA) after testing the first Agusta-Bell Model 47 helicopter, 24 May 1954. The Bell 47, developed in June 1942 by an American design team for Bell Aircraft, made its maiden flight on 8 December 1945. Subsequently, in 1946, the Federal Aviation Administration issued the world’s first certificate of airworthiness for helicopters


Agusta enters the helicopter sector

On 22 May 1952, Agusta signed an agreement with the American Bell Aircraft Corporation to build a new concept helicopter, the Bell 47, under licence for the European market. In May of the following year, Agusta became a joint-stock company with only 66 employees. Exactly two years later, on 24 May 1954, the company’s first helicopter, the Agusta-Bell 47G, flown by test pilot Ottorino Lancia, took off from the runway at Cascina Costa di Samarate (Varese). Orders soon arrived from military and civil customers alike, and, two years later, the company had already delivered 100 helicopters to operators across Europe.

The first issue of ‘Civiltà delle Macchine’, January 1953. Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Flight of Birds’ appears on the cover. The authors writing in the first issue of the magazine included: Giuseppe Ungaretti, Carlo Calosi, Giulio Carlo Argan and the then Editor-in-chief, Leonardo Sinisgalli


Publication of the first issue of ‘Civiltà delle Macchine’ magazine

Edited by Giuseppe Luraghi, a new magazine -the house organ of Finmeccanica - Civiltà delle Macchine appeared. This periodical contributed to the cultural debate of the era, fostering a dialogue between scientific and humanistic culture. Giuseppe Sinisgalli, the poet and qualified engineer who was an admirer of Ungaretti, edited this ‘think tank’ of modernity until 1958. He was succeeded by Francesco d’Arcais until 1979. The pages of the bimonthly magazine welcomed the reflections of both writers and engineers; its famous covers, many of which were commissioned from 20th-century Italian artists of the calibre of Vespignani, Mafai, Capogrossi, Perilli and Afro, became part of the IRI collection.

TPS-1D naval sighting radar, manufactured by Microlambda under licence from Raytheon, at the Fusaro (Naples) factory


First four TPS-1D radars delivered

This was a record order, worth eight billion Lire, for 300 TPS-1D naval sighting radars for the US Navy, which Microlambda manufactured under licence from Raytheon in the workshops of the former Silurificio Italiano (Italian torpedo factory) in Fusaro, near Naples. On 30 April, the first four radars passed stringent tests under the supervision of Franco Bardelli. Over the next two months, with a ramping-up of production, the order was fulfilled well ahead of schedule. The industrial rise and economic recovery of an entire region resumed as a result of this success.

Built in 1952 by Breda Ferroviaria and Breda Costruzioni Elettromeccaniche in the Sesto San Giovanni (Milan) workshops, three ETR 300 models were produced between 1952 and 1959. Grey and magnolia green livery, aerodynamic and harmonious lines, a train equipped with every comfort and with meticulous on-board service. The photo shows the maiden Rome-Naples journey, 1953. Courtesy FS Italiane Foundation Archive


ETR 300 back in service, a luxury journey through a reborn Italy

On 5 April, following an overhaul at Breda and some technical modifications, the ETR 300 - ‘an electric train with seven carriages designed for luxury services’ - returned to service on the Milan-Rome route. Nicknamed the ‘Settebello’ since its construction, it made its maiden journey from Roma Termini to Napoli Centrale on 29 March 1953, providing a very high level of service for the social élite, with waiters, hostesses, escort staff and interpreters (a sign of the international perspective of a state-owned company seeking to show off the country’s beautiful landscapes and architecture). With some controversy over the high ticket prices - 3,780 lire for a first-class ticket on the Milan-Naples route - it became the flagship of the Italian state railways, an icon of an all-Italian style and elegance that looked to the future.

It was the first experimental convertible motor gunboat built after the second world war. In June 1962 it entered the Taranto Military Arsenal shipyard for a radical reconstruction that increased its length and weight, reaching 191 tonnes. It returned to service in 1964 and was decommissioned in 1977


The MC 490 Folgore, first convertible motor gunboat, enters service

Developed experimentally at the Cantieri Riuniti dell'Adriatico in Monfalcone (Trieste) in June 1952, the MC 490 - the first convertible motor gunboat - was launched in 1954 and entered service with the Italian Navy the following year. Its design saw several modifications over the years, especially in the type and size of its weaponry, leading to the production of a series of MC-491-492 gunboats that were later denominated ‘Lampo’ and ‘Baleno’. It reached its peak performance in 1962-63 with more powerful engines. It was denominated the ‘Folgore’ in 1965 and remained in service until 1976, being used in training activities alongside other, more recently built gunboats.

A symbol of OTO Melara’s technological confidence in its 25-horsepower series, the C 25 began production in 1953, featuring a classic front axle. This allowed the wheels to have a larger diameter without compromising stability. Like other models in the same series, there was no differential; the braking and steering system therefore enabled a relatively rapid switchover from tyres to crawler tracks. Photo: front axle assembly operation on an OTO C25 R4 tractor (1950s) Courtesy OTO Melara Historical Archives


Over 1,000 OTO Melara tractors registered in a single year

The newly formed OTO Melara, a company specialising in naval and land artillery production and in the midst of its reconversion period, sold a record 1,032 agricultural tractors in a single year, becoming one of the largest manufacturers of the time along with Same, Landini, OM and Fiat. The engineer Camillo Corradi designed a new line of products that, from 1950 to 1958, involved the production of 20 models, each of which had different versions. In 1957, he presented the C 20, with four wheels, available in pure crawler and transformable crawler versions. As well as grey mechanical parts, a distinctive feature was the absence of a receding bonnet and, unique among OTO products, an unconventional positioning of the brake and clutch pedals compared to other agricultural vehicles of the time. In response to the Ministry of Defence’s request for a renovation of its military vehicles, the company slowly abandoned the production of agricultural vehicles from 1962 onwards. This was the starting point for a new design for its naval and terrestrial self-loading guns.

First flight of the supersonic fighter, Sagittario II, 4 December 1956. This futuristic aircraft was designed by Sergio Stefanutti to have the same engine as the FIAT G.91, which, being still at the design stage at the Bristol company, would be powered by a Rolls-Royce Derwent IX turbojet


The Sagittario II, first Italian supersonic aircraft

Aerfer manufactured this all-Italian experimental light fighter at Pomigliano d’Arco (Naples). Designed by the engineer Sergio Stefanutti for a NATO tender later won by the FIAT G.91, the Sagittario II flew from Pratica di Mare military airport on 4 December 1956 piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Giovanni Franchini, breaking the speed of sound.

The first flight of the Macchi MB.326, from the Venegono (VA) runway, on 10 December 1957. Of a total production of over 800 aircraft, as many as 413 were built under licence in South Africa, Australia and Brazil, contributing to the development of the respective local aircraft manufacturers: Atlas, Commonwealth-Aircraft Corporation and Embraer


First flight of the MB.326 trainer

The MB.326 was Italy’s highest-production jet trainer aircraft, adopted by many air forces worldwide. Designed by the engineer Ermanno Bazzocchi, the MB.326 had innovative features due to the fact that it was a jet designed for military flight schools. It was robust, manoeuvrable, with low operating costs, suitable for the basic and advanced training of frontline aircraft pilots. Renamed ‘Macchino’, it became one of the Italian aeronautics industry’s most important post-war success stories, launching Aermacchi as a world leader in pilot training.

The ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ ocean liner ready for launch, Genoa Sestri Levante shipyard, 1958. Designed to meet new regulations for navigational and human safety at sea, its primary role was to fill the economic void left by its predecessor, the ‘Andrea Doria’. It was designed from scratch in terms of both its engineering and its architecture. After the contract for the project was signed in August 1956, work began on 16 June 1957


Another significant launch: the new ocean liner Leonardo da Vinci

On 7 December, the Ansaldo shipyard in Genoa Sestri Ponente launched a new ocean liner, the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’, for the shipping company Italia Società di Navigazione, to replace the ‘Andrea Doria’ which had sunk in a tragic accident two years previously. In service from 30 June 1960, it was a luxurious and fast ship, designed and built using all the latest engineering advances of the era. Architects such as Luccichenti, Monaco, Zoncada and Pulitzer worked on its sinuous and functional lines, while artists including Casorati, Turcato, Cagli, Vedova and Petrolini were commissioned for its design and furnishings. With a capacity of 1,326 passengers, it was the first ship to boast a private bathroom and air conditioning in every cabin. It was used for scheduled voyages between Italy and the United States before being decommissioned in 1976.

The G.91 took off for the first time from Caselle Torinese Airport (Turin), on 9 August 1956, flown by Riccardo Bignamini. The two-seater ‘T’, a single-engine operational trainer (pictured), was derived from the ‘R’ version. The production run for this family of aircraft totalled 761 aircraft over 20 years


The G.91 wins the NATO tender

Fiat Aviazione (later to merge with Aeritalia) manufactured the Fiat G.91, a single-engine jet and arrow-wing fighter-reconnaissance aircraft from the mid-1950s. It was designed by the engineer Giuseppe Gabrielli for the NATO tender, in December 1953, for the production of a light tactical fighter. The aircraft matched the requirements perfectly: capable of operating from makeshift and unprepared runways, with high speed (the first prototype exceeded Mach 1 at an altitude of 9,000 metres) and carrying offensive loads of at least 450 kg. In 1958 it was named winner of the tender and, subsequently, it mainly saw service with the Italian Air Force (in the R version, including pre-production models, equipping the Frecce Tricolori national aerobatic team from 1964 to 1981 when it was replaced by the Aermacchi MB-339-PAN), the German Luftwaffe and the Força Aérea Portuguesa.

Founded in 1947 by Furio Lauri as Società Meteor Spa, the company immediately specialised in light aircraft manufacture. It was based near the Ronchi dei Legionari Airport in Trieste. In the late 1950s, the company began to take an interest in manufacturing uncrewed aircraft made of composite materials for use as target aircraft for naval and land artillery training. Photo of a Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) test flight, late 1950s


Creation of the first Meteor P.1 Aerial Target System

Meteor, a light aircraft manufacturer founded in 1947, entered a new sector in the late 1950s by developing and producing uncrewed aircraft built of composite materials. These were for use as aerial targets for training land and naval artillery and reconnaissance missions. The role of the Meteor P.1 was therefore to test Italian anti-aircraft weapon systems at the Salto di Quirra Interforce Firing Range in Sardinia. Propeller-powered, with a four-cylinder 120 hp Alfa engine, the Meteor P.1 was controlled from a ground station. It was then picked up by helicopter divers once it had ditched into the sea by parachute. This Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) was the first of several versions that marked the beginning of a tradition of excellence in the sector that Meteor transferred to Finmeccanica on its acquisition in 1988.

Video banner : Compagnia Generale di Elettricità factories, Milan, 1955 - 1956,
Courtesy Fondazione Ansaldo