Military Review

Combat aircraft. The tenacious Bat that saved the rebellion of General Franco

Combat aircraft. The tenacious Bat that saved the rebellion of General Franco

Airplanes have different fates. Were in stories such that were produced in decent series, regularly served, but nothing was noted in history. And there were some that were issued in single copies, but firmly deserved their place on the historic runway. For example, the Pe-8 with its flight of the Pusepp crew to the USA via Great Britain.

Our today's hero belonged to the class of medium bombers. Medium is the best characteristic for him. But despite the fact that he really was a kind of grayish average peasant, there was a remarkable moment in the combat biography of this aircraft, because it was thanks to the "Bat" that the fate of the whole country was changed.

It was SM.81 "Pipistrello" that changed the fate of Spain, having carried out the transfer of a part of Spanish colonial troops from Spanish Morocco in 1936, which actually saved Franco's rebels, who by that time were actually strangled by the troops loyal to the republic.

The SM.81 appeared almost simultaneously with the more famous SM.79, in 1943. They created a bomber without hesitation, based on the successful SM.73 three-engined transport aircraft. Since the design turned out to be simple and technologically advanced at the same time, the SM.81 quickly began mass production and was in service until 1937, when the SM.79 began to replace it.

Simple, cheap and good at that time flight characteristics served as an impetus for a fairly large-scale production of the aircraft at various factories. Because of this, several models were immediately built, which differed primarily in engines.

Alfa Romeo 125 RC.35 (580-680 HP) - 192 aircraft produced
Gnome-Rhone 14K (650-1000 HP) - 96 aircraft
Piaggio PX RC.15 (670-700 HP) - 48 aircraft
Piaggio P.IX RC.40 (680 HP) - 140 aircraft
Alfa Romeo 126 RC.34 (780-900 HP) - 58 aircraft

Different motors, different aerodynamics. Three types of hoods were used for the SM.81. First, a Townend ring was placed with a short chord, then with a long one. On the last series, Magni-NACA tapered hoods were installed.

And one more important difference. Aircraft with Alfa Romeo and Piaggio engines had a total fuel capacity of 3615 liters, while airplanes with Gnome-Rhone engines fit 4400 liters. Six tanks were located in the center section, and two in the outer wing consoles.

In general - a mess and a headache for the technical staff.

However, on the whole, it turned out to be a very decent aircraft for the mid-30s. Mixed construction, steel and wood. In the case of an emergency landing on water, the passenger SM.73 inherited a system of 36 watertight compartments that ensure the positive buoyancy of the aircraft.

The fuselage is welded from metal pipes with mixed (duralumin or canvas) skin. The fuselage consisted of two compartments: the main one began from the docking point of the wings and the fuselage, the second from the wing root to the nose end. The second compartment practically consisted of the cockpit and the engine mount of the medium engine.

The cockpit was two-level. Two pilots sat side by side, behind them were the flight engineer and the radio operator, and the bombardier was located below, behind the engine of the medium engine, in the nacelle.

In the main compartment, of course, there were fuel and oil tanks and a bomb bay. In the bomb compartment, it was possible to place from 1200 to 2000 (overload) kg of bombs. The bombs were placed vertically in the compartment, which did not in the best way affect the accuracy of the bombing, since this method does not allow us to accurately calculate the trajectory of the fall of the bombs.

Typical ammunition was either four 500-kg or 250-kg bombs, or sixteen 100-kg bombs, or twenty-eight 50-kg bombs, or fifty-six 20 or 15 kg bombs.

The defensive armament consisted of five 7,7 mm machine guns. Two towers, semi-retractable into the fuselage, above and below, carried a pair of machine guns. The towers were driven by a hydraulic network. The fifth machine gun was "manually controlled", from which one could simply shoot through the hatches opening in the sides.

The 7,7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns were, to put it mildly, "not a cake". On the account of this company there were very worthy models of automatic weapons, but in terms of this machine gun, everything was very sad. Low rate of fire, low muzzle velocity, disgusting reliability. It is not surprising that the crews of the aircraft, who for some reason wanted to live, began to demand the replacement of these machine guns.

By the time Italy fought back, almost all SM.81s were rearmed with Lanciani Delta turrets with a single machine gun from the same Breda-SAFAT, but the more serious caliber - 12,7 mm. In general, like all Italian aircraft, defensive weapons were scarce.

In parallel with the main version of the SM.81, an interesting twin-engine version of the SM.81bis was developed. The middle engine was removed from the bow compartment, and a glazed cockpit of the navigator-bombardier was equipped in its place. The motors are installed Isotta Fraschini Asso XI RC with 840 hp. everyone.

Despite the loss of power and some weighting, the SM.81bis showed quite decent characteristics: with a take-off weight of 10 kg, the aircraft developed a maximum speed of 300 km / h, a cruising speed of 328 km / h, a ceiling of 299 meters and a range of 8000 km.

His twin-engine was not interested, the plane flew somewhat slower and closer to the three-engine version. But he managed to be attached to China. The Chinese were going to build their own bombers under license under the designation SM.81В. But Chinese manufacturers were not ready for such a technologically complex machine. With great difficulty, three cars were assembled, which the Japanese destroyed in 1938 during another conflict.

Baptism of fire "The Bat" received in Ethiopia, in 1935. Considering how and with whom one would have to fight, the old "Caproni" Ca.133 went mainly to fight, and the SM.81 took part in tests.

In Ethiopia, the SM.81 proved to be very effective, acting as both bombers and transport aircraft. In total, two regiments, the 7th and 9th, first participated in the overseas conflict, then others were added. Quite a large number of Italian pilots passed through the "war" in Ethiopia.

Basically, SM.81s were engaged in bombing the infantry and cavalry of the Ethiopian troops with impunity, dropping cargo for the Italian troops by parachute, and reconnoitering the places of concentration of enemy forces.

The military were satisfied with the actions of the SM.81 and the plane went to the units. In addition to the first four regiments, by 1937 the SM.81 was in service with 10 regiments, 9 ground and 30th naval bomber at Poggia Renatico.

At the same time, following the war in Ethiopia, it was decided to create transport units armed with SM.81. And several cars were converted into air transport for VIPs. The armament on these planes was completely removed, and luxurious cabins were equipped inside. One car was intended for the king of Italy, the second for Benito Mussolini, several cars with simpler finishing were received by the chief of the General Staff, commander fleet, Air Force Commander.

These SM.81s were consolidated into a special air squadron "Aviakrylo P". The vehicles were painted regular white and bore the emblem of the respective official on a gold background near the door.

But back to the fighting.

A short time after the war in Ethiopia, it flared up in Spain. And it was the African SM.81s, based in Elmas, that flew to Melilla, where General Franco was gathering his troops for transfer to Spain.

The first 9 machines under the command of Colonel Bonomi became the first unit of the Aviacion del Tercio (Franco Air Force) and played a very significant role in the outbreak of the Civil War.

The transfer of Franco's shock troops, which was carried out by SM.81, turned out to be very important. In practice, such a promptly perfect transfer saved the entire Franco rebellion.

In the future, the Italian bombers significantly complicated the actions of the Republican fleet. The fact is that for the most part the Spanish fleet was on the side of the republic, so if the Francoists could oppose it, it was precisely air strikes.

The "Bats" drove away the Republican cruiser, which was shelling the port of Larachi, practically cleared the Strait of Gibraltar of the Republican ships, escorted (yes, the planes escorted!) Convoys from Morocco to Spain.

Thanks to the bombing strikes of the SM.81, Bilbao and Santadera were captured, more than 20 SM.81 units took part in the battle on the Ebro River, there is generally an Italian aviation played a very significant role.

While the "bats" fought in Spain, work was underway in Italy to analyze the use of aircraft. The result was a torpedo bomber project with two torpedoes. The aircraft was shown at the Milan Aviation Exhibition in 1937, but did not go into production.

In 1936, a tropical modification appeared, intended for operations in Africa. The aircraft were equipped with Gnome-Ron 14K engines with a set of special filters and air intakes.

This plane was Mussolini's personal car. By the way, the leader of the Italian fascists was a pragmatic and rather prudent man. It was Mussolini who came up with the idea of ​​replacing the 7,7-mm machine guns with large-caliber ones. And it was his plane that was the first to be modified in this way.

Benito Mussolini was a good pilot and often piloted his own three-engined limousine, which was named "Turtle".

By 1938, given that the SM.79 went into the army, the SM.81 was obsolete and required a revision of its attitude. Considering that a lot of aircraft were made, but all with different engines, the Italian Air Force command made a truly masterpiece decision.

It was decided to use the SM.81 with Alfa Romeo 126 engines in Italy, with Gnome-Rhone K.14 engines in Libya and Piaggio PX engines in Ethiopia. To maintain and overhaul Piaggio PX engines in Addis Ababa, a branch of the company had to be opened.

Of course, there were a lot of headaches in terms of spare parts, especially for imported engines. Especially the French. The situation was somewhat improved by the fact that "Isotta Fraschini" began to produce engines "Gnome Ron" under license, but this improved the business only quantitatively. The quality of the Italian licensed engines was much worse than the French ones.

On the eve of World War II, it was on the SM.81 that experiments on mass airborne assault were carried out. The Libyan paratrooper battalion was thrown out. The experiment was found to be successful. And already in April 1939, SM.81 landed infantry in Tirana, when the operation to occupy Albania was carried out.

That is, as the SM.79 entered the troops, the SM.81 was increasingly assigned the role of a transport aircraft.

When World War II began, the Italian Air Force had 397 SM.81s at its disposal, but by the time Italy entered the war (July 1940), only 304 combat-ready aircraft of this type remained.

147 were in service with units in Italy, the Aegean Islands and North Africa, 59 in parts of East Africa, and the rest served in transport units.

The first SM.81s to enter the war were aircraft based in East Africa, taking part in the bombing of Aden by two stormo (regiments). SM.81 took part in the conquest of Somalia, attacked British convoys, fortunately, with the protection of the British, everything was not very good. Bombs from SM.81 hatches fell on Port Sudan and Khartoum.

But the losses were also heavy. Still, the speed of the SM.81 was already frankly low, and the enemy's air defense and his fighters calmly dealt with the aircraft. And since there was nowhere to take replenishments, the real usefulness of the parts equipped with the SM.81 became lower and lower.

By January 1, 1941, only 26 combat-ready SM.81s remained in East Africa, and a month later, even less - 6. In Western Sahara, 21 SM.81s remained, occupied exclusively in the role of transport aircraft.

When the Italian-British battles began in the Mediterranean, SM.81s were thrown into the crucible of those battles. The first attack on British ships at the Battle of Punta Stilo was carried out by the SM.81. The bombs seriously damaged the British destroyer Havok.

The SM.81, which were in service with the naval storms, carried out raids on Alexandria, Port Said and the Suez Canal facilities.

Two air regiments armed with SM.81 operating in the Adriatic were used in the attempted invasion of Greece, and then transferred to Benghazi, where they contributed to the Italian advance on Sidi Barrani and Sollum.

But at the beginning of 1941, almost all SM.81s were no longer used even as night bombers and were transferred to transport aircraft or converted to ambulance aircraft.

Three such ambulance planes from Benghazi took about 400 wounded directly to Italy, landing on the airfields of Sicily.

From the number of SM.81 aircraft based in the Balkans (Albania, Yugoslavia and Greece), a separate unit was allocated, the 18th group (1 stormo - 3 groups - 3-4 squadrons) was included in the CSIR (Italian Expeditionary Force in Russia) ... One squadron SM.81 was based at Bucharest airport in Romania, while two other squadrons were based at Stalino (now Donetsk) in the USSR.

The tragic winter of 1942/43 for the Italians took away most of the soldiers of the Italian expeditionary corps and the planes also got it in full. Virtually all SM.81s from the two squadrons based in the USSR were destroyed.

Those "Bats" who were lucky to survive in the crucible of the Great Patriotic War, participated in operations in North Africa to transfer the Folgore division to Egypt, and the La Spezia division to the Syrtica region.

The last North African SM.81s were lost at the end of December 1942 as a result of the Beaufighter and Boston raid on Lampedusa airfields.

By that time, "Pipistrellо" ("Bats") were renamed "Lumace" ("Snails") for the already frank slow-moving. Nevertheless, the planes were working properly.

SM.81 took part in the evacuation from Tunisia. In 1942, the aircraft of the 18th Transport Regiment made 4 sorties (105 aircraft hours), and transported 10 soldiers and 860 kg of cargo.

The remains of the "Bats" were recalled to Italy and until the end of the war (1943) continued transport flights to Africa. The SM.81 proved to be the only aircraft of the Italian Air Force capable of flying from the island airfields of Sicily across the sea. It is clear that now the flights were carried out exclusively at night, and during the day SM.81 defended under disguise.

In general, the "Bats" led such an active lifestyle that by the time of Italy's surrender, 4 whole SM.81s remained in the south of the country. A number of SM.81s ended up in the hands of the Germans, who formed two transport groups from them and used them as means of delivering goods to the Eastern Front.

By the time World War II ended, there were literally a few SM.81s left, serving in Allied liaison squadrons in Italy.

In general, not every plane had such a fate: to take part in four wars, change the fate of one European country and two African ones, be "board number 1" of the main fascist of Italy and fly through the entire war.

Despite its archaism, it was still a pretty good plane for the Italian.


Wingspan, m: 24,00
Length, m: 18,36
Height, m: 4,37
Wing area, м2: 93,00

Weight, kg
- empty aircraft: 6 800
- normal takeoff: 10 504

Engine: 3 x Alfa Romeo 126 RC34 x 780 hp

Maximum speed km / h: 336
Cruising speed, km / h: 287
Practical range, km: 2 000
Maximum rate of climb, m / min: 335
Practical ceiling, m: 7 000
Crew, prs: 6

- four machine guns "Breda" 7,7 mm in two turrets below and above the fuselage;
- one machine gun "Breda" 7,7-mm for firing from the side hatches;
- normal bomb load was 1200 (maximum 2000) kg of bombs.

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    SERGE ANT 3 July 2021 07: 13
    But the losses were also heavy. Still, the speed of the SM.81 was already frankly low, and both the enemy's air defense and his fighters calmly dealt with the planes.
    And they themselves fell, not without this. On June 11, 1940, at night, three SM.81s took off to bomb Aden, but one turned back, and one of the two crashed into a hill near Massawa while trying to land.
    he managed to be attached to China.
    This was the case, although the SM81 was not sold abroad like other modern Italian aircraft and only one single copy was exported in 1937 to China. The reason why the business stalled in the shortage of spare parts, the Italians themselves, this situation improved only when "Isotta Fraschini "began producing engines under license, although the Italian version was less efficient than the French" Gnome-Rhone ". And the plane was very good for its time, the crews of different countries were trained on the SM81 - Austria, Germany, China, Uruguay and Venezuela.
  2. serg.shishkov2015
    serg.shishkov2015 3 July 2021 07: 25
    among WW2 aircraft * Pipistrello * is known, but not * promoted * like others, I received the first data about him only at the beginning of the century from a special issue * Modelist *. This is the most detailed article of those that came across to me, if my memory does not fail, one trophy was used with us
  3. Mooh
    Mooh 3 July 2021 07: 38
    The defensive armament consisted of five 7,7 mm machine guns.

    In general, like all Italian aircraft, defensive weapons were scarce.

    For 1934, more than normal.
    Another cool name. Immediately imagine, you come up to a two-meter GRUSHNIK and start a conversation with the words "hear you, pipistrelo" :)
  4. fa2998
    fa2998 3 July 2021 11: 11
    In Spain, the Italian transport worker worked together with a "classmate" Ju-52, with a similar scheme. The German showed himself much better. hi
  5. Undecim
    Undecim 3 July 2021 11: 29
    The Chinese were going to build their own bombers under license under the designation SM.81В.

  6. Senior seaman
    Senior seaman 3 July 2021 11: 50
    SM.81 appeared almost simultaneously with the more famous SM.79, in 1943 year.

    In xnumx?
    1. bandabas
      bandabas 3 July 2021 12: 52
      Ochepyatka. Nothing wrong smile
      A good article!
  7. Oberleutnant
    Oberleutnant 3 July 2021 12: 31
    Interesting. Thank.
  8. Aviator_
    Aviator_ 3 July 2021 12: 35
    And there were some that were issued in single copies, but firmly deserved their place on the historic runway. For example, the Pe-8 with its flight of the Pusepp crew to the USA via Great Britain.
    Well, the Pe-8, produced in an amount of about 80 copies, can hardly be considered a "one-off". A number of machines survived the war and were used in the Arctic until the early 50s.
    1. serg.shishkov2015
      serg.shishkov2015 3 July 2021 12: 52
      and one Pe-8 was even made five-engine - a flying engine laboratory
      1. Region-25.rus
        Region-25.rus 3 July 2021 14: 39
        Well, as if the fifth engine was internal. And it was intended to pressurize air into engines when flying at high altitudes. A kind of turbo compressor. If you are talking about this fifth engine)))
        1. serg.shishkov2015
          serg.shishkov2015 3 July 2021 15: 10
          Not! This is the first two - the central pressurization unit! And this is after the war, if memory serves, the ASh-82 in a new modification was put in place of the bow turret. About 25 years ago there was an article about the Pe-8 in * Wings of the Motherland * - there is such a * five-headed * shown!
          1. Region-25.rus
            Region-25.rus 3 July 2021 16: 56
            hi thanks for the clarification! Did not know! soldier
    2. Alf
      Alf 3 July 2021 18: 13
      Quote: Aviator_
      Well, the Pe-8, produced in an amount of about 80 copies, is hardly worth considering as a "one-off"

      This is when compared with the B-17.
  9. Castro Ruiz
    Castro Ruiz 3 July 2021 15: 57
    This is the equivalent of Ju-52 with all the vitekayushchies.
  10. Constanty
    Constanty 3 July 2021 19: 55
    The remains of the "Bats" were recalled to Italy and until the end of the war (1943) continued transport flights to Africa

    Their usefulness in this role led to the resumption of production of the transport version (designated SM.81 / T) in 1943. Before the ceasefire on September 8, 1943, about 80 vehicles were produced.
  11. fa2998
    fa2998 3 July 2021 21: 46
    Quote: Aviator_
    80 copies can hardly be considered "single".

    80 (and put 60 for the military) in that war did not solve ANYTHING. If up to 1000 units participated in the raids. Yes, and the losses per day, too, dozens. hi