Thursday, February 19, 2015

Italian Camo 6 - Savoia-Marchetti SM 81 Pipistrello

The handsome SM 81 was among the world’s best bombers when it first appeared. Despite growing obsolescence, they appeared wherever Italian troops fought in World War II.

In 1934 the appearance of the successful SM 73 commercial transport led to its development for military purposes. The prototype SM 81 emerged the following year with very similar lines. It was a large, low-wing monoplane in trimotor configuration, and in the course of a very long career a variety of differing engines was mounted. The craft was made of metal framework throughout, covered in fabric, and possessed two large, spatted landing gear. Although intended as a dedicated bomber, its roomy fuselage could also accommodate up to 18 fully equipped troops. SM 81s were rushed into service during the invasion of Ethiopia, where they rendered good service in bomber, transport, and reconnaissance roles. It thereafter served as the standard Italian bomber type until the appearance of the much superior SM 79s in 1937. Mussolini so liked the easy-flying craft that he adopted one as his personal transport, and flew it regularly.

The Pipistrello (Bat) enjoyed an active service career that ranged the entire Mediterranean. They were among the first Italian aircraft to assist Franco’s Spanish Nationalist forces in 1936, performing well against light opposition. In 1940, after Italy’s entrance into World War II, the aging craft flew missions wherever Italian forces deployed. They bombed British targets in East Africa up through 1941, but the lightly armed craft took heavy losses. Thereafter, it became necessary to employ SM 81s exclusively as night bombers throughout the North African campaign. They raided Alexandria on numerous occasions but were subsequently employed in transport and other second-line duties. In 1942 alone, the 18 Stormo Traspori (transport squadron) made 4,105 flights, conveying 28,613 troops and 4.5 million pounds of supplies. A handful of SM 81s survived up to the 1943 Italian surrender, and they found service with both sides until war’s end. Production amounted to 534 machines.

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