Ala Littoria: the images, by Andreu Carles López Seguí.

 

The I-BUIE, idrovolante Cant Z 506. (Fig.1)

Out of all the airlines carrying air mail during the Spanish Civil War, the RomePollençaMelillaCadiz line is probably the most studied one. Trying to add even more to so many articles and books written on the subject seems to be destined to failure. Even so, sometimes events decide not to show their deepest secrets at a time.

I don’t pretend with this article to tell the story of the line RomePalmaMelillaCadiz, since it has been told too many times and in very good ways, but to add new documentation I have come across.

Few months ago, I was lucky to find in the hands of a fellow collector – Juan Manuel Bernal – some three-page leaflets detaling timetables and fees used by Ala Littoria during the Spanish Civil War. I realized at once of the importance of the discovery. For the first time, we could have an article written on Ala Littoria with first hand information. And the information was coming directly from the “star” of the story.

 

         

The I-CANT aircraft landing, and a view of the anterior part one of the tri-motors (Fig.. 2)


This documentation is formed by a set of the usual timetables that airlines deliver to their customers and travel agencies. They belong to the period 1937-1938, certainly the best known; however, they still throw some light on and confirm many of the suppositions that have been made so far.

In the first place, regarding the aircraft models used by the airline company, we already knew something about their names and flight frequencies to the Balearics through the data extracted from some original documents that belonged to the Ayudantia de Marina (the office of the navy officer responsible for the harbour) of Alcudia during the Civil War, which are currently kept in my personal files, and were very well explained by Felix Gomez Guillamon in his entry speech to the Hispanic Academy of the Philately and Postal History. In the leaflets I am introducing now, we can have a straight look to the images of the models that were used, and even see them flying between Rome, the Balearic Islands and Cadiz. We had found many written references to the hydroplanes Cant Z 506 as the stars of these flights, but so far we had seen very few images. In the figure 1, we can see the I-Buie, probably in the moment of taking off at Lido, Rome, heading to Majorca. In the figure 2, the I-Cant is possibly in the same location. Next to the previous figure, there is a front image of the tri-motor. Both aircrats are repeatedly registered in the flight records we had mentioned before.

 

Page of the summer 1937 timetable
-April 4th to October 2nd- (Fig. 3)

Page of the summer 1938 timetable 
-March 27th to October 1st.- (Fig. 4)

                                     

                                                                


That documentation leaves very clear that no other models were ever used by this airline, at least during the period we are talking about. We can see, in all the leaflets, that the aircraft model used for the service is mentioned together with other details at the timetables, etc.

 With regard to the colours, pictures are in black and white – obviously the most common in that time – so we must check other sources, more than one, if possible. So we have found two sources, one is oral and the other one is written; both admitting that the colours of the planes were scarlet and white. The oral source is our fellow companion Pere Llabrés i Bofarull, who assured me that, when being a young boy, he came from Barcelona to Majorca just after the end of the war on board of one of these crafts and remembers clearly which its colours were. The written source comes from Georges Bernanos, who says in his book “The big cementeries under the Moon”, when talking about the self-named “Count Rossi”: “One morning, we saw him getting off a scarlet tri-motor”. Regarding the latter statement, it will be interesting to remind the fact that “Count Rossi” arrived to Majorca on August 26th 1936, which confirms once more what we already knew through the newspapers of the time (for instance, Falange): that the start of Ala Littoria flights to the Balearics coincided with the Italian intervention in these islands, regardless of the more or less academic discussion on the date of the official inauguration of the flights, which is now totally solved.

On the summer 1937 timetable (from April 4th to October 2nd), we can see in the same page the times for the lines 333 Rome – Cagliari and 364 Rome – Palma – Melilla – Cadiz. That’s probably a remain of the times when the line stopped over in Cagliari on its way from Rome to Pollença, in the early flights. I still don’t know in what exact date the Cagliari stopover was abolished. The flights were three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for the direction Rome – Cadiz; and Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for the opposite direction. Besides, the addresses of Ala Littoria’s offices at the stopover locations and the timetables of the bus lines carrying the passengers from the offices to the point where the planes were due to leave, are shown too. One year later, on the summer 1938 timetable (from March 27th to October 1st, fig. 4), we can see three enlarged and re-organized lines. The former 364 line has become the number 405, which keeps the same stopovers and flight days in boths directions. Now, the new 405 line works combined with two new ones: the 480, Melilla – Tetuan, and the 481, Malaga – Seville. These latter lines were not served by the Cant Z 506, but by the Savoia-Marcheti S-73 (figure 6). Changes in the administrative organization of the company in Spain are also produced, and it starts having its own offices in almost every destination.

These timetables were made grouping the lines; that means that all the lines do not appear in all the timetables. Anyway, from time to time the airline did more complete timetables. Those leaflets contained more information, including maps, mail fees, images of the airline’s aircrafts and installations, etc. There is another summer 1937 timetable (from April 4th to October 2nd), and it shows a page (figure 5) with a summary of the rules and fees for the air mail.


 

Savoia Marchetti S-73, used for the lines Malaga-Seville and Melilla-Tetuan (Tanger) (Fig. 6)

 

In the fig. 5 we see the fees to be applied to the Italian mail, which will allow us to recognize an envelope carried by Ala Littoria to Spain, although it does not have any other air mail mark, which is something that occurs often with the postcards. The surcharge for Europe, that one affecting Spaniards, is one lira for each 20 grammes, which will be added to the official postage. It is also interesting to note the fact of allowing the use of ordinary mail stamps for postage in Spain and Morocco, in fact virtually all the samples are posted in this way.

 

Letter with a blue label for air mail, in Italian and French sent from Spain. This blue label is one of the most commont models used by Ala Littoria. (Fig. 7)


 

 

One of the models of the “carta leggera especiale” (Fig. 8)

 

Following to this, some instructions of use of the air mail blue labels are detailed. These idenfifying labels were compulsory. Ala Littoria used to give them away at its offices when somebody went to post a letter. Despite the sample shown on the leaflet, which is the most common one, the company used many models, among them ones that included the airline’s logo on the right. These latter ones were widely used in the mail carried by the lines 480 and 481, and that one arrived in Spain from Italy. That failed to comply with the conditions of use of these bilingual Italian-French labels, because they should be in Spanish and French (French is the Universal Postal Union language) since they were departing from Spain (fig. 7).

After that, it talks about the carta leggera especiale. It is the typical envelope used for air mail which would be so popular some years later. These envelopes were made of a very thin paper, but were very convenient as the air mail surcharge depends on the weight and, besides, the Air Mail legend was printed on them. The models printed for Ala Littoria used to have the airline’s logo on the reverse flap. We also know several models, but they were seldom used for the mail with destination to Spain, since, as can be read on the leaflet, they were recommended for longer journeys – Eastern Africa and Overseas (fig. 8).

Finally, it includes a general recommendation for air mail: to post the letter on time. Not to post the letter on time for the departure of the first plane would delay the mail unnecessarily.

Next, we reproduce the map of the airline services on summer 1937 (fig. 9). Regarding to our country, Ala Littoria had only established the line 364 we have mentioned. All the remaining services are clearly an answer to the Italian interest of the moment, and this map is a true example of geo-politics. The thicker lines are Ala Littoria’s services, and the thinner ones represent some collaborations with the German company Lufthansa and, probably, a few with Air France. The line 364 is drawn with a very frequent mistake: Palma appears located in the Bay of Pollença (which is on the opposite side of Majorca), where the hydroplanes actually arrived, despite the line was called RomePalma. The silhouette of the Balearics is generally pretty deplorable, both for omissions (as only the island of Majorca is shown, forgetting about Ibiza, Minorca and Formentera), and for the poor drawing of Majorca itself. In any case, it’s clear that the combination of the lines 364 and Lufthansa’s 22 were of a supreme importance to connect the Nationalist Spain with the rest of the World.