|Two CR.42's of 162nd Squadron, 161st "Autonomous Terrestrial Fighter Group", Aegean Islands 1940|
|First flight||23 May 1938|
|Retired||1948 Spanish Air Force|
|Primary users||Regia Aeronautica
Spanish Air Force
|Produced||c. February 1939 - Late 1943|
|Developed from||Fiat CR.32|
The Fiat CR.42 Falco ("Falcon", plural:Falchi) was a single-seat sesquiplane fighter that served primarily in Italy's Regia Aeronautica before and during World War II. The aircraft was produced by Fiat Aviazione, and entered service, in smaller numbers, with the air forces of Belgium, Sweden and Hungary. With more than 1,800 built, it was the most widely produced Italian aircraft to take part in World War II. The Fiat CR.42 was the last of the Fiat biplane fighters to enter front line service, and represented the epitome of the type, along with the Gloster Gladiator.
RAF Intelligence praised its exceptional manoeuvrability, further noting that "the plane was immensely strong", though it stood little chance against faster, more heavily armed monoplanes. It performed at its best with the Hungarian Air Force on the Eastern Front, where it had a kill to loss ratio of 12 to 1.
The CR.42 was an evolutionary design based on the earlier Fiat CR.32, which was in turn derived from the Fiat CR.30 series created in 1932. The Regia Aeronautica had employed the CR.32 during the Spanish Civil War with great success, which led to Fiat proposing a more advanced fighter based around the supercharged Fiat A.74R1C.38 air-cooled radial engine geared to drive a metal three-blade Fiat-Hamilton Standard 3D.41-1 propeller of 2.9 metres (9 ft 6 in) diameter and a robust, clean, sesquiplane design. The rigidly braced wings covered with fabric were constructed from light duralumin alloy and steel. It reached a top speed of 438 km/h (272 mph) at 5,300 m (17,400 ft) and 342 km/h (213 mph) at ground level. Climb rate was 1 minute and 25 seconds to 1,000 m (3,280 ft) and of 7 minutes and 20 seconds to 6,000 m (19,700 ft).
In spite of the biplane configuration, the CR.42 was a modern, "sleek-looking" design based around a strong steel and alloy frame incorporating a NACA cowling housing the radial engine, with fairings for the fixed main landing gear. The CR.42's upper wing was larger than its lower wing, a configuration known as a sesquiplane. The aircraft proved exceptionally agile thanks to its very low wing loading, although at the same time, the CR.42 lacked armour and radio equipment.
During evaluation, the CR.42 was tested against the Caproni Ca.165 biplane fighter, and was judged to be superior, although the Ca.165 was a more modern design which boasted a higher speed at the cost of maneuverability. Although the age of the biplane was coming to an end a number of other air forces expressed interest in the new fighter, and a number of early Falcos were delivered to foreign customers.
Soon after its combat introduction, Fiat developed a number of variants. The CR.42bis and CR.42ter had increased firepower, the CR.42N was a night fighter, the CR.42AS was optimised for ground attack, and the CR.42B Biposto was a two-seat trainer.
The Biposto was the most extensively modified, with a longer fuselage allowing a second seat to be placed in tandem. About 40 aircraft were produced by Agusta and Caproni Trento. Its length was increased by 68 centimeters over the standard fighter, to a total of to 8.94 m; the height was 23 centimeters less. Empty weight was only 40 kilograms (88 lb) more, as the wheel fairings had been removed. Overall weight was 2,300 kg. Top speed was 430 km/h at 5,300 meters, only 8 km/h less. Up to 1945, two machine guns were fitted.
Experimental configurations included the I.CR.42 (Idrovolante= seaplane) and the CR.42DB. Beginning in 1938, Fiat had worked on the I.CR.42, then gave the task to complete the project to CMASA factory in Marina di Pisa on the Tirreno sea coast. The only prototype was built in 1940. Tests started at the beginning of 1941, at the Vigna di Valle base, on Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. Top speed was 423 km/h, range was 950 km while ceiling was reduced to 9,000 m. Empty weight went from 1,720 to 1,850 kilograms (3,790 to 4,080 lb), full weight from 2,295 to 2,425 kilograms (5,060 to 5,346 lb).
The CR.42DB was an attempt to improve the type's performance by installing a Daimler-Benz DB 601 V12 engine of 753 kW (1,010 hp). This prototype, MM 469), was flown by test pilot Valentino Cus in March 1941, over Guidonia Montecelio, near Rome. This variant could reach a top speed of 518 km/h (323 mph), with a maximum ceiling of 10,600 metres (34,777 ft) and a range of 1,250 kilometres (780 mi). The project was cancelled as the biplane configuration did not offer any advantages over contemporary monoplane fighter designs. Although it never went into production, to this day the variant has the distinction of being the fastest biplane ever flown.
It is still not certain how many CR.42s were built. The most likely estimate is 1,819 in total, including the 63 (51 according to some sources) produced under Luftwaffe control and the 140 produced for export.
The Fiat CR.42 entered service in May 1939, with the 53° Stormo, based at Turin Caselle Airport. By the time Italy entered World War II on 10 June 1940, about 300 aircraft had been delivered. The Falchi defended airfields, cities, and Regia Marina (Italian Royal Navy) bases until the Italian armistice with the Allies of 8 September 1943. The Falchi also fought against the British Gloster Gladiator over Malta, and later against the British Hawker Hurricane, sometimes with unexpected success. The manoeuvrability of the Falchi concerned the British. "A RAF Intelligence report in late October 1940 circulated to all pilots and their squadrons, with copies to Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, and the War Cabinet, declared: 'The manoeuvrability of the CR.42s, in particular their capacity to execute an extremely tight half roll, has caused considerable surprise to other pilots and undoubtedly saved many Italian fighters from destruction.'"
When production was stopped in 1942, a total of 1,784 CR.42s had been built. By 8 September 1943, when Italy surrendered to the Allies, only around 60 of the aircraft were in flying condition.
On 13 June 1940, 23 pilots from 23° Gruppo of 3° Stormo escorted ten Fiat BR.20 bombers to the port of Toulon. Meanwhile, 12 Falchi from 151° Gruppo of 53° Stormo attacked the airfield of Fayence, in Provence, causing little damage. Later they attacked Hyères base, hitting on the ground approximately 50 enemy aircraft and destroying at least 20 of them. Italian pilots from 151° Gruppo claimed a French Vought V.156F. On the same day, a CR.42 from 82a Squadriglia (13° Gruppo) took off to intercept a reconnaissance aircraft, but it failed interception and crashed on landing, killing the pilot.
On 15 of June, 67 CR.42s from same units, plus 18° Gruppo (from 3° Stormo), attacked the airfields of Southern France. 27 biplanes from 150° Gruppo machine-gunned the airfield of Cuers-Pierrefou, setting on fire about 15 V-156Fs. Seven of the Fiats giving top-cover were intercepted by Bloch MB.152s (Bloch MB.151s, according to other sources) from A.C.-3 that shot down a Falco and forced another to land. Italian pilots claimed four French fighters. Subsequently, Fiats attacked the airfields of Cannet des Maures and Puert Pierrefin, close to the border. This time the French fighter units reacted and the Fiats were attacked by Dewoitine 520s from G.C.III/6. Regia Aeronautica aviators claimed 8-10 air victories and many aircraft destroyed on the ground. Fiat pilots were credited with three Bloch and five Dewoitine kills, with the loss of five Falchi shot down.
Following the Fall of France an Italian air group of CR.42 and BR.20 bombers operated from Belgium in October and November 1940 and flew some operations in later stages of the Battle of Britain but with a high loss rate. The RAF Museum at Hendon, London, today displays a CR.42 which force-landed in Suffolk with a broken oil pipe. The pilot survived. See survivors (below).
Over Malta, the CR.42 encountered Hurricanes for the first time on 3 July 1940. That day, Flying Officer Waters (P2614) shot down an SM.79 bomber five miles (8 kilometers) off Kalafrana, but he was soon attacked in turn by the escorting Falchi who badly shot up his aircraft. Waters crashed on landing and his Hurricane was written off. The Hurricane pilots soon discovered that the Italian biplanes could easily outmaneuver their aircraft.
Pilot Officer Jock Barber remembered: "On my first combat, the 9 of July, I attacked the leader of a Squadriglia of Falcos, while [Flight Lieutenant] George Burges attacked an SM.79 bomber. When I shot the CR.42 at a range of 100 yards [91 meters], he did a flick-roll and went spinning down. I found myself engaged in dogfighting with the remaining CR.42s. This went down to about 10,000 feet [3,048 meters]; by then I had used up all my ammunition without much success, although I am convinced I got quite a few strikes on the leader in the initial combat. I realized pretty quickly that dogfighting with biplanes was just not on. They were so manoeuvrable that it was very difficult to get in a shot, and I had to keep diving and turning to keep myself from being shot down. George had by this time disappeared so I stuck my nose down and, with full throttle, was very thankful to get out of the way."
A week later, a dozen CR.42s from 23° Gruppo appeared in the sky over Malta for a reconnaissance. Flight Lieutenants Peter Keeble and Burges scrambled to intercept them, and the resulting action greatly impressed the Malta defenders with the CR.42's maneuvering capability. Keeble attacked one CR.42 - probably the aircraft (MM4368) flown by Sottotenente Mario Benedetti of 74a Squadriglia that crashed, killing its pilot, but then came under attack himself by the Falchi of Tenente Mario Pinna and Tenente Oscar Abello. Keeble tried to dogfight with the Italians, but his engine was hit and his Hurricane dived into the ground at Wied-il-Ghajn, near Fort Rinella, and blew up. He was the first pilot to be killed in action at Malta. This was the first air victory in World War II of the CR.42 against the Hurricane. Shortly after Keeble's loss, a meeting of all the pilots and senior staff was called to discuss the best ways of countering the agile CR.42. A suggestion was made that the Hurricane should put down a bit of flaps as this might enable it to turn with the CR.42, but the only realistic proposal was to climb above these aircraft to be in advantageous position.
The CR.42 was the main night fighter of the Regia Aeronautica, even if it was not equipped with radar and often lacked radio equipment. The first night interception was performed on the night of 13–14 August 1940 by Capitano Giorgio Graffer, when he located and opened fire on a British Armstrong Whitworth Whitley bomber that had been sent to attack Turin. When his guns jammed, Graffer rammed the bomber before bailing out. The bomber had been badly damaged and subsequently crashed into the English Channel whilst attempting to return to its base.
One of the most successful night interceptions took place on the night of 25 August 1942. That day, in an attempt to oppose RAF night intruding missions that were hammering Italian airfields, the 4° Stormo borrowed four radio-equipped CR.42s, by 208a and 238a Squadriglie of the 101° Gruppo Bombardamento a Tuffo, based at Abar Nimeir, to use them as night interceptors.
On 11 and 23 November 1940, CR.42s flew two raids against Great Britain as part of the Corpo Aereo Italiano. Luftwaffe aircraft had difficulty flying in formation with the slower biplanes. Even though slower, with an open cockpit, no radio, and armed with only two machine guns (a 12.7 mm/.5 in and a 7.7 mm/.303 in Breda-SAFAT), the Falchi could easily outturn the Hurricanes and the Spitfires and proved difficult to hit. "The CR 42 turned to fight using all the aeroplane's manoeuvrability. The pilot could get on my tail in a single turn, so tightly was he able to pull round." As the RAF intelligence report stated, the Falchi were hard targets. "As I fired he half rolled very tightly and I was completely unable to hold him, so rapid were his manoeuvres. I attacked two or three more and fired short bursts, in each case the enemy aircraft half-rolled very tightly and easily and completely out-turned me. In two cases as they came out of their rolls, they were able to turn in almost on my tail and opened fire on me."
Against British monoplanes, the CR.42s were not always outclassed. "I engaged one of the British fighters from a range of between 40 to 50 metres (131 to 164 ft). Then I saw a Spitfire, which was chasing another CR.42, and I got in a shot at a range of 150 metres (492 ft). I realised that in a manoeuvered flight, the CR.42 could win or survive against Hurricanes and Spitfires, though we had to be careful of a sweep from behind. In my opinion, the English .303 bullet was not very effective. Italian aircraft received many hits which did no material damage and one pilot even found that his parachute pack had stopped a bullet." During the winter, the CR.42s were transferred back to the Mediterranean theatre.
It was in Africa Orientale Italiana (A.O.I) that the nimble Italian biplane performed better. It was flying the Falco that Mario Visintini became the top biplane fighter ace of World War II (with 16 kills) and Luigi Baron and Aroldo Soffritti became the second and third Fiat CR. 42 top scoring aces, with 12 and 8 air victories. Moreover, during that short and difficult campaign, the Fiat fighters destroyed a large number of Royal Air Force and South African Air Force aircraft, both in the air and on the ground, including a number of Hurricanes.
In 1940, three squadriglie stationed in Italian East Africa — Ethiopia, Italian Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland — were equipped with CR.42s. The 412a - the most experienced Squadriglia - was based in Gura (with the 414a Squadriglia) and in Massawa. The 413a Squadriglia was in Assab. Fighting there began in June and lasted until the autumn of 1941. The Italians met mostly British bombers and reconnaissance aircraft, destroying many of them. On 12 June 1940, 412a Squadriglia attacked nine Vickers Wellesley bombers from 47 Squadron above Asmara, and Tenente Carlo Canella claimed the first CR.42 victory in East Africa, a Wellesley that was heavily damaged and forced to crash-land. Two days later, the 412a Squadriglia again intercepted a pair of Wellesleys, this time from 14 Squadron, that were trying to bomb Massawa. Tenente Mario Visintini, for the first of his 16 air victories in East Africa, shot down the Wellesley flown by Pilot Officer Plunkett.
Dogfights usually occurred when enemy airfields were being attacked. Fierce air battles took place at the beginning of November 1940, during the British offensive against the Italian forts of Gallabat and Metemma, along the Sudan border. The Regia Aeronautica was dominant in these fights, sometimes even against more powerful opponents. Losses were also suffered in the air duels in 1940, at least six Fiats were destroyed and about a dozen damaged.
It was "in Africa that this Italian machine performed best". At the beginning of the war in Italian North Africa, there were 127 CR.42 from the 13° Gruppo (2° Stormo) at Castel Benito and from the 10° and 9° Gruppo of 4° Stormo in Benina, including reserve aircraft. Initially, the Falco was pitted against the contemporary Gloster Gladiator and Hawker Hart of the South African Air Force.
Increasingly evident, the Fiat CR.42 was unable to operate effectively against modern aerial opposition, relying only on manoeuvrability and Regia Aeronautica piloting skills. However, on 8 August 1940, in an aerial duel between comparable rivals, 16 Fiat CR.42s from 9° and 10° Gruppi of 4° Stormo were "bounced" by 14 Gladiators of 80 Squadron over Gabr Saleh (about 65 kilometres southeast of El Adem and 35 kilometres east of Bir El Gobi). Four CR.42s were shot down while four more force-landed (later recovered). The Italian pilots claimed five Gladiators in the dogfight (three shared amongst the pilots of 10° Gruppo and two shared by the 73a Squadriglia pilots) and two probables (the 90a Squadriglia’s Diary reported six victories). That air combat highlighted the advantages of the Gladiator over the CR.42, especially radio equipment that could permit coordinated attacks, and the Gladiator's superior low altitude overall performance, with a markedly superior horizontal manoeuvrability over the Falchi. The Gladiator was superior to the Fiat regarding the combat equipment also. The 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT could fire an effective explosive bullet but the Gladiator’s Brownings were able to shoot 2.5 more rounds per second than the synchronized Italian machine guns. However the CR.42 had a superior performance. It was much faster about 3,000 feet (900 m) thanks to its smaller wing area, constant-speed propeller and the superior power of its engine, which could provide up to 960 horsepower (720 kW) for short periods at emergency rating.
Experienced Italian pilots, most of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War, employed the exceptional manoeuvrability of the CR.42 in successful attacks against RAF Gladiators, Hurricanes and Spitfires, forcing their opponents "...to adopt the tactic that Messerschmitt pilots had used against them: to avoid dogfights and to attack them with sudden dives." Nevertheless, on 31 October 1940, the Falchi scored their first confirmed air victories in North Africa against the Hawker fighters. During the air battle over Mersa Matruh Sergente Maggiore Davide Colauzzi and Sergente Mario Turchi from 368a Squadriglia, while escorting SM.79 bombers, shot down the Hurricanes of 33 Squadron that were flown by 26-year-old Canadian Flying Officer Edmond Kidder Leveille (RAF no. 40837) - who was forced to bail out but was killed when his parachute failed to deploy completely and Flying Officer Perry St Quintin (Hurricane P3724), who was forced to make a forced landing at Qasaba with a holed fuel tank.
The Fiat CR.42 was the main Regia Aeronautica front-line fighter when Greco-Italian War broke out. Sixty-four Falcos (out of 179 fighters) were deployed in Albania's air bases: in Drenovë, (Korçë), with 160° Gruppo and in Tirana, with 363a, 364a and 365a Squadriglie of 24° Gruppo. In Greece, on the whole, the fighting was successful for the Falco pilots. The Regia Aeronautica coped with RHAF (Royal Hellenic Air Force) obsolete reconnaissance aircraft like the Breguet Br.19 without any problems, and won victories over Greek fighters PZL P.24s, Bloch MB.151s and Gloster Gladiators. Two days after the start of the war, on 30 October, the first Fiat victories were credited to Fernando Zanni and Walter Ratticchieri. On 4 November 1940, three CR.42s jumped three RHAF (Royal Hellenic Air Force Breguet) Breguet from 2 Mira, sent to attack the 3rd Julia Alpine Division retreating from a mountain pass near Metsovo. A Breguet was shot down, one crash-landed and the third returned to base, though badly shot up. But on 18 November, 20 Gladiators from Royal Air Force No. 80 Squadron landed in Athens. While in Africa, the CR.42 pilots were able to achieve a clear superiority over the Gladiators, in Greece they suffered heavy losses. The superiority of the Gloster was due to its enclosed cockpit, an advantage when operating in Greek cold winter sky, the R/T radio allowing the adoption of more effective tactics that made it possible to ambush the Fiat formations, and the superior quality of the British aces of the No.80 Sqd commanded by Marmaduke Pattle. In contrast, most of the Italian pilots shot down and killed in Greece were new arrivals, fresh from flying schools; they insisted on dogfighting against the more maneuverable British biplanes. However, during the Greco-Italian War, CR.42's pilots claimed 162 kills, for the loss of 29 aircraft. In July 1943, CR.42s still equipped 383a Squadriglia Assalto (Ground Attack Squadron) based in Zara, and, in September 1943, 392a (in Tirana) and 385a Squadriglie Autonome.
In April 1941, Rashid Ali led a pro-Axis coup in Iraq. In response, British Empire troops landed at Basra. Germany and Italy sent Messerschmitt Bf 110s, Savoia-Marchetti SM.79s and CR.42s into action. The Regia Aeronautica sent 155a Squadriglia (named Squadriglia speciale Irak) equipped with the CR.42 Egeo version which had a radio set and a 100-litre auxiliary tank, increasing the operational range (typically 800 km at 380 km/h) up to 1,100 km at economical speed. In Iraq, the Regia Aeronautica was only operational for four days (28–31 May 1941), with their aircraft painted in Iraqi colours.
CR.42s took off from Alghero on 22 May 1941 and flew up to 900 km to Valona (one crashed on landing), Rhodes, Aleppo and Mosul. A total of 11 Fiats flew together with a SM.79 and a SM.81 as "pathfinders" and transport aircraft, while three SM.82s transported weapons for the campaign. The Italian aircraft arrived in Iraq on 23 May. Six days later(on 28 May according to other sources) the Fiat CR.42s, in what was to prove the final air-to-air combat of the brief campaign, intercepted RAF Blenheims, [N 1] claiming two No. 94 Squadron Gladiators, with the loss of one CR.42 shot down by a Gladiator flown by Wg Cdr Wightman, close to Khan Nuqta. Three Fiats were damaged and abandoned in Iraq. The seven survivors were withdrawn with great difficulty, since the SM.79 "pathfinder" was destroyed on the ground by the RAF despite being located at Aleppo airfield, Syria. The Axis effort to reinforce Iraqi insurgents was insufficient and failed, but led to the decision to invade Syria that resulted in a substantial diversion during an already critical moment for the Allies. While retreating, 164a Squadriglia CR.42s were used to defend Pantelleria.
The CR.42's first foreign purchaser was the Royal Hungarian Air Force (MKHL), which placed orders for 52 aircraft in mid-1938. The Hungarians, while aware that the CR.42 was conceptually outdated, considered the rapid re-equipment of their fighter component vital, the Italian government having expressed its willingness to forgo CR.42 delivery positions in order to expedite the re-equipment of Hungarian units. By the end of 1939, 17 CR.42s had reached Hungary, issued to 1. Vadász Ezred (1st Fighter Wing) which began conversion from the CR.32. Its two groups of two squadrons, 1./I Vadász Osztály (Fighter Group) at Szolnok and the 1./II Vadász Osztály at Mátyásföld, Budapest, received their full complement of fighters in mid-1940.
Some CR.42s in Hungarian service were fitted with a 12.7 mm (.5 in) Gebauer GKM Machine Gun 1940.M (Gebauer Kenyszermeghajtasu Motorgeppuska, or "Gebauer Positive-Driven Motor-Machine Gun"); these were fixed twin-barrel guns driven from the aircraft engine's crankshaft.
In total, the MKHL ordered 70 CR.42s but through a barter which included a captured Yugoslavian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79, they received two additional CR.42s in 1941. The Hungarian CR.42s were first used against Yugoslavia, in April 1941. During the short conflict in the Balkans the MKHL lost two CR.42s. 
On 27 June 1941, when Hungary declared war on the Soviet Union, the CR.42s equipped three MKHL units: 1./I Group, based in Szolnok, 1./II Group, at Mátyásföld, of 1st Fighter Wing, and 2./II Group, based in Cluj-Napoca, of 2nd Fighter Wing. On the same day Hungarian CR.42s had their baptism of fire, when 2/3. Squadron escorted bombers against Stanislau. Ensign László Kázár was hit by Soviet anti-aircraft fire while strafing and crash landed behind enemy lines. On the same day, Sergeant Árpád Kertész, from the same unit, claimed the first victory, shooting down a Soviet reconnaissance plane. The 2/3. Squadron flew many sorties until the middle of July escorting bombers and strafing enemy airfields. They claimed six additional kills, losing one plane on 12 July, when 2nd Lieutenant Gyõzõ Vámos collided in a dogfight with a Polikarpov I-16 and bailed out, surviving. On 11 August, Hungarian Fiats escorted six Caproni Ca.135s, commanded by Sen Lt Szakonyi, on their way to bomb a 2 km (6,560 ft) bridge across the Bug River in the city of Nikolayev, on the Black sea. On the way back the Capronis were intercepted by Soviet Polikarpov I-16 fighters. The escorting Hungarian CR.42s shot down five I-16s, with no own losses. After the German 11th Army captured Nikolayev on 16 August the commander of Luftflotte 4, Col Gen Lohr, decorated the successful Hungarian crews at Sutyska. The Hungarian CR.42s were later used in the ground attack role against Soviet forces until December 1941. Although typically outclassed by more modern types, the Hungarian CR.42s scored 25 destroyed, one probable, one damaged (according to other sources they claimed 24 plus two Soviet planes in the air) and one aircraft destroyed on the ground, losing two planes to Soviet fighters. The surviving CR.42s were relegated to training roles. In spring 1944 a night assault CR.42 Squadron was formed. The aircraft were equipped with flame dampers and bomb racks for four 50 kg bombs, but reportedly these planes were not used operationally. Most of CR.42s were lost in training accidents and strafing attacks by U.S. aircraft in 1944. Not a single Hungarian Falco survived the war.
In 1939 a mission from Belgium's Aéronautique Militaire purchased 40 CR.42s, for a total price of 40 million francs. The first arrived on 6 March 1940, when one aircraft was destroyed in a landing accident. The CR.42s were mainly sent to the Evere Établissements Généraux de l'Aéronautique Militaire for assembly. The first operational squadron, IIème Group de Chasse (Fighter Group) based at Nivelles, south of Brussels, received its full complement of 15 while other units still awaited further deliveries.
The exact quantity of CR.42s delivered to Belgium before the German attack on 10 May is estimated by historians to be between 24 and 27, the last being transported to France and lost in the railway station at Amiens. Photographic evidence suggests that the total number of CR.42s delivered was 30. On 9 May, squadrons operating the Falchi were the 3rd "Cocotte rouge", with 14, and the 4th, "Cocotte Blanche", with 11 aircraft. In addition to those, the aircraft of Major Lamarche and two others (R.21 and R.27) in a hangar at Nivelles were not serviceable, while another was at Airfield Number 41 with mechanical troubles. The Fiat CR.42s were first to be blooded in Belgium but after encountering the vastly superior Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters of the Luftwaffe, the entire contingent of Fiats was soon overwhelmed, although the Belgian pilots fought with great skill. The Belgian CR.42s fought from the first day of the invasion, when they attacked a formation of Ju 52s (from 17/KGzbV 5) in the Tongres area, forcing one to crash-land near Maastricht. The Fiats were then jumped by the escorting Bf 109s from I./JG.1, but thanks to their superior agility managed to come back safely. That day the Belgian pilots claimed four more German aircraft: three Do 17 and a Bf 109, while the Stukas of I./St.2 destroyed no less than 14 Fiats at Brustem airfield.
In a total of 35 missions flown, the CR.42s downed at least five and probably even eight enemy aircraft including a Dornier Do 17, Junkers Ju 52 and the vaunted Bf 109 for a loss of two of their own. The only two confirmed Bf 109E losses were scored by Charles Goffin. After capitulation, the five surviving Fiat CR.42s were brought into a French Air Force depot in Fréjorques, where they were found by the Germans. Their final fate is not known. Overall claims by Belgian CR.42s were: eight Do 17, four Bf 109 and one Ju 52.
The Swedish Air Force purchases of various types of Italian combat aircraft in 1939–41 were an emergency measure caused by the outbreak of war. There were no other nations willing to supply aircraft to a small neutral country and domestic production would be insufficient until 1943. From 1940 to 1941, Sweden received 72 CR.42s, which were equipped with radios, 20-millimetre (0.79 in) armour plate behind the pilot and ski landing gear. The Swedish aircraft were designated J 11.
The J 11s were initially assigned to the F 9 wing, responsible for the air defence of Gothenburg, but were transferred to the newly established F 13 wing in Norrköping in 1943 when F 9 received more advanced J 22 fighters.
The J 11s operating from Kiruna, in the north of Sweden, were equipped with ski undercarriage. In spring 1942, the J 11s of 1. Division were moved to Luleå airfield. The J 11s scrambled several times to intercept German aircraft violating Swedish borders, but usually failed to make contact. The J 11s of 2. and 3. Divisions based in Gothenburg managed to intercept intruders a few times, forcing them to leave Swedish airspace.
During their service in Swedish Air Force, the CR.42 suffered many accidents, sometimes because of the poor quality of materials used by the Fiat factory. By the end of 1942, eight had been lost, and 17 more by the end of 1943. In all, over 30 CR.42s were lost due to accidents and mechanical failures. Swedish pilots appreciated the J 11's formidable close-in dogfighting abilities; however, they complained about low speed, insufficient armament and the open cockpits that were unsuited for the severe climate of Scandinavia.
The remaining J 11s of the F 13 wing were decommissioned for good by the Air Force by 14 March 1945. A total of 19 aircraft were sold to a civilian contractor, Svensk Flygtjänst AB, who used 13 of them as target tugs for one season, although the type was not well suited for the role. Another six J 11s were delivered to Svensk Flygtjänst AB as a source for spare parts. The aircraft were given Swedish civil registrations. The last J 11 was removed from the register in 1949.
One surviving Swedish "Falco" was preserved. It was stored at the F 3 wing; the aircraft was "hidden away" for a future museum. Number NC.2453, marked as 9 9, is today on a permanent static display in the Swedish Air Force Museum (Flygvapenmuseum) in Linköping.
After the Italian armistice the Luftwaffe took over the majority of Regia Aeronautica aircraft. Among these aircraft were a number of CR.42s. German Rüstungs-und-Kriegsproduktion Stab took control of Italy's northern aircraft industry, and ordered 200 CR.42LW (LW=Luftwaffe) from Fiat for the Luftwaffe, to use in night harassment and anti-partisan roles. Some of the captured Fiats were allocated to training divisions as well. The CR.42 was nicknamed "Die Pressluftorgel" or "the Pneumatic Organ" by Luftwaffe trainee pilots, presumably because of its profusion of pneumatic systems.
One of the German units to use the CR.42 was Nachtschlachtgruppe (NSGr.) 9, based in Udine. Its task was to fight partisans in the region of the Alps, Istria and Croatia. The 1. Staffel received its Falchi in November 1943 and in January 1944 the unit was transferred to the airfield at Caselle near Turin to operate against partisan units in the Southern Alps. On 28 January, the 2. Staffel too was equipped with the CR.42. The training of Germans pilots took place at a school in Venaria Reale.
In February 1944, after the Allies had landed at Anzio, 1.Staffel and 2.Staffel, based at Centocelle Airport in Rome, attacked Allied units in southern Latium, mostly in moonlit night raids. NSGr9 attacked enemy troops in the Monte Cassino area. The CR.42 proved to be useful as a light bomber at night but subsequently NSGr9 began to be equipped with the Ju 87D. 2.Staffel kept using the Fiat biplanes until mid-1944. On 31 May, the unit still had 18 Falchi, 15 of which were operational.
Due to Allied raids over the Fiat factory in Turin, only 150 CR.42LWs were completed, with 112 becoming operational. Another unit to use them in Southern Italy and the Balkans was Jagdgeschwader JG 107 which flew them as night fighters, fighter-bombers and fighter-trainers.
The CR.42LWs equipped to the newly formed 3./NSGr 7 in Zagreb, Croatia, in April 1944. By September 1944, 2. Staffel was transferred in Croatia too (at Pleso) and the Fiats later equipped 1. Staffel also, in Graz, Austria. On 8 February 1945, ten Luftwaffe CR.42LWs of Stab and 2. Staffel' of Nachtschlachtgruppe 7, took off from their base in Agram-Gorica, Croatia, bound to strafe the airfield of Grabovica, used by partisan forces. But at the last moment they were sent to attack partisans northwest of Sisak. They were attacked by P-38 Lightnings of the 14th Fighter Group. The American fighters shot down three Fiat biplanes, but two P-38s did not return to base. One of them was claimed by a German pilot but not confirmed. The unidentified German pilot's claim is the last claimed victory of a biplane. The 14th Fighter Group's unit history does not record any losses on this date by the 37th Fighter Squadron, which reported the engagement with the biplanes. The two aircraft which failed to return to base were reported as lost to ground fire during a ground sweep near Vienna, and were assigned to the 48th Fighter Squadron.
Capt. Eric Brown, CBE, DSC, AFC, RN, Chief Naval Test Pilot and C.O. Captured Enemy Aircraft Flight tested the Falco of Sergente Pietro Salvadori that had landed on Orfordness beach, on 11 November 1940. He reported the CR.42 was "remarkably fast" for a biplane, with a top speed of 270 mph (434 km/h) at 12,500 (3,810 m). The Falco had a "marginal stability which is the mark of a good fighter". Moreover, it was "brilliantly manoeuvrable, an acrobatic gem, but under-gunned and very vulnerable to enemy fire".
Four CR.42s are known to exist:
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