The Italian Air Force celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2023. For this important celebration, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Vatican and Italy have promoted a joint issue of a souvenir sheet (with a nominal value of € 2,80)
This morning at Palazzo Piacentini in Rome, headquarters of the Ministry for Business and Made in Italy, there was a ceremony to present the joint issue. The event was attended by, among others, Minister Adolfo Urso, the Italian Air Force Chief of Staff, General Luca Goretti, together with the Receiver of the Common Treasure Fabrizio Colonna.
“The image that has been chosen for the stamp is particularly significant for the Order of Malta,” said the Receiver of the Common Treasure “it shows three planes flying over the city of Rome and St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. The insignia of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta is clearly visible on the fuselage of the trimotor Savoia-Marchetti SM82s.”
Minister Urso declared that “during its first hundred years of existence, the Air Force has always been seen as a point of excellence of our Armed Forces thanks to its pivotal international role and its logistical support to populations in danger and difficulty during natural disasters and humanitarian events.”
The airplanes of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta
At the end of the World War II, the Treaty of Paris of 1947 established that a large part of the Italian Air Force had to be destroyed. However, 39 transport aircraft of the 36th Squadron managed to escape this fate because Italy ceded them to the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. The only condition was that ‘they were used exclusively for transport’. The Order of Malta, at the time led by Grand Master Ludovico Chigi Albani della Rovere, used them for its charitable purposes and the former warplanes were thus able to continue flying under the Order of Malta’s insignia in numerous humanitarian and emergency interventions.
One of the first flights transported the disabled to the Lourdes pilgrimage, a mission repeated in following years. Between 1949 and 1960, the year the last trimotor was retired, the SM82s also brought aid and relief after earthquakes, floods, famines and epidemics in Italy, Europe and Africa.
When in 1949 Italy became a member of NATO, the restrictions imposed by the Allies came to an end and the SM82s returned to the Italian Air Force, although proudly maintaining the Order of Malta insignia.
The only example of the entire fleet can be seen today in the Museo dell’Aeronautica Militare in Vigna di Valle, north of Rome.
The cooperation between the Italian Air Force and the Sovereign Order of Malta survived the fate of the SM82s. These were replaced by the Hercules C-130s, thanks to which the Order’s Military Corps in 1996 ensured aid to Bosnia, and then in 1999 with the Boeing 707s for assistance to earthquake victims in Turkey. The Italian Air Force provided numerous transport services for Order of Malta pilgrimages with the sick to the major Catholic shrines.