Armistice Day with the Italian Air Force
Pictured: NZ Hospitaller and Honorary Captain (Navy) Bevan Killick, Lieutenant Colonel Marco Sandulli, Italian Honorary Consul and Order Member Belfiore Bologna, Canterbury Officers’ Club President Colonel Peter Fry (Rtd), Major Lorenzo Grugnola and Captain Daniele Gromiero.
Report by Bevan Killick
Armistice Day Commemorations on 11 November were commemorated in Christchurch in a slightly muted fashion due to Covid restrictions. The Order was well represented at a Canterbury Officers’ Club function where officers from the Aeronautica Militare (The Italian Air Force) were hosted. The Italian Officers were visiting as part of the Italian Antarctic Programme. The Canterbury Officers’ Club meet at the Canterbury Club where Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton dined before their journeys to Antarctica. Shackleton’s signed menu can be seen in the background on the right of the photo.
In 1947 Italy was subject to the post-World War II peace treaty restrictions. These forbade Italy to own or operate bomber aircraft and only allowed the Italian Airforce to operate a limited number of transport aircraft. The Italian Air Force opted to transfer some of its Savoia-Marchetti SM.82 aircraft to the Order of Malta, pending the definition of their exact status (the SM.82 were properly long range transport aircraft that could be adapted for bombing missions). These aircraft were operated by Italian Air Force personnel temporarily flying for the Order, carried the Order’s roundels on the fuselage and Italian ones on the wings, and were used mainly for standard Italian Air Force training and transport missions but also for some humanitarian tasks proper of the Order of Malta (like the transport of sick pilgrims to Lourdes). In the early 1950s, when the strictures of the peace treaty had been relaxed by the Allied authorities, the aircraft returned under full control of the Italian Air Force. One of the aircraft transferred to the Order of Malta, still with the Order’s fuselage roundels, is preserved in the Italian Air Force Museum.