On November 1960 Italy ordered the F-104G. That decision fired polemics and discussions that lasted almost 40 years. At that time AMI was searching for a multi-role aircraft to replace F-86E(M) and F-86K in the fighter role, RF-84F in the recce role and F-84F in the strike and attack role. Unfortunately the F-104G wasn't able to do all those missions at best.
Fiat (later Aeritalia) built 199 F-104G in Turin: 50 for the Luftwaffe, 25 for the Klu and 124 for the AMI (one more F-104G was built by Lockheed and delivered to AMI).
Italian F-104Gs were made in 3 different configurations: The CI or interceptor, the CB or strike and the RF or recce.
Maybe the less capable version was the CI. The airframe in this configuration was designed as a pure interceptor with a reduced
armament of just 2 AIM-9Bs. The gun was removed since it was considered useless in an interceptor and it also gave some problems of gas injection if fired at determined angle of attack. The missiles were usually mounted on wingtip launchers since the under fuselage launchers (attached to BL22 stations) largely used by RDAF, KLu and JASDF were never cleared to fly in Italy! The central fuselage pylon was not installed on CI F-104G. Fighter pilots appreciated the speed of the F-104G but they thought that the F-84K was more manoeuvrable and better armed since it had 4 guns plus the very same missiles used by the F-104G.
Interceptors went to 9°Gruppo CI Sqn (from March 1963), to the 10°Gruppo CI Sqn (from 1965) and to the 21°Gruppo CI Sqn (from
Strike F-104Gs kept the Vulcan gun (for ground strafing and auto-defence) and were assigned to the nuclear strike mission armed
with bombs that USAF used to stored in 3 airbases in Italy. Actually the Italian Starfighters never flew with live nuclear bombs and they usually flew with an SUU-21A bombs dispenser under the central fuselage pylon and 2 or 4 fuel tanks.
The strike variant of the F-104G went to the 102°Gruppo (from May 1964), and to the 154°Gruppo CB Sqn (from June 1963).
In these two shots you can see a formation of F-104G/CB from 102°Gruppo. As you can see two of the aircraft have the Squadron emblem painted on the air intake now (photos via P. Maglio).
The last variant was the recce one, again without the Vulcan gun but with a bulge under the fuselage to host the cameras and bulged doors in the front gear doors; these were to the same standard used by Marineflieger and Luftwaffe RF-104Gs. Around 20 RF-104Gs were made in Italy and these went (initially) to 101 °Gruppo CBR Sqn in Grosseto (later to Rimini) starting from autumn 1964.
From February 1965 the newly reformed 20°Gruppo Autonomo Addestramento Operativo (20° Autonomous Operational Training Squadron) also got the first of 24 Lockheed-built TF-104Gs, many years later, in the mid '80s this Sqn also got 6 ex-Luftwaffe TF-104Gs to replace those lost or retired during the years.
Starting from 1969 the AMI got the F-104S to replace the F-104G in many of its Squadrons. Only the 154°Gruppo kept the F-104G in the strike role (until replaced by Tornado ten years later), while all the other Squadrons converted to the new variant. All the remaining F-104Gs and RF-104Gs went to 3° Stormo RT (3rd Recce Wing) in Verona-Villafranca with 3 Squadrons that were: 18°, 28° and 132°Gruppi
RT. These Starfighters were mostly used as recce aircrafts (usually with the Orpheus pod on the central station) so they were called RF-104G even if the most of them had no internal camera. A few more F-104Gs were sent to the 20°Gruppo along the TF-104Gs to give students the opportunity of a solo flight and to keep instructors combat ready.
In this not so good photo you can see a freshly delivered RF-104G that belongs to 101°Gruppo were it replaced F-84F.
Note the bulged front gear door to make room to the Trigometron set of cameras (photo via P. Maglio).
This is an RF-104G flying side by side to a F-86K. The F-104G is from 102°Gruppo/5°Stormo while the F-86K is from 23°Gruppo/51°Stormo. Both units were based at Rimini AB (photo via P. Maglio).
In this photo you can see two fighter bombers based at Rimini during the '60s: the F-84F is from 101°Gruppo while the newly delivered RF-104G is from 102°Gruppo. As you can see the Donald Duck (102°Sqn Emblem) was painted on the fin of the tip tank at that time, later it will be moved to the air intake (photo via P. Maglio).
Colours and markings
About colour scheme: the first F-104Gs delivered to AMI were left in natural metal with the white anti-radiation paint on the wings and the upper part of the fuselage. Large black numbers were to the side of the fuselage to identify the unit and the plane. Later the strike aircraft of the 154°Gruppo were painted with the NATO standard camouflage of green and gray, these two colours were gloss and the numbers still in black. You can find these decals in the first F-104G made by Hasegawa in 1/48th scale.
By the way the similar camouflage adopted by the F-104G of the 5°Stormo (101°CBR and 102°CB Squadrons) was chosen as standard for the entire fleet. The colours were still the NATO green and gray but painted with a flat finish and with the big numbers to the side of the fuselage painted in white. The underside of the fuselage of camouflaged F-104s was painted with an aluminium lacquer protective paint.