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FIAT CR.42 Falco

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Turning back to the Regia Aeronautica, its first operations in World War II took place after 6/10/40 against France and were effected by the CR.42s of 53° Stormo (150° and 151° Gruppi) and of 3° Stormo (18° and 23° Gruppi). A couple of days after also the 13° Gruppo in Libya started operations against British forces. On the French front, the CR.42s claimed ten victories against five losses, but these must be read as optimistic, a 1:1 ratio should be closer to the truth. In Africa, the most intense operations took place in Somalia and Ethiopia and there, the Comando Africa Orientale Italiana had 36 CR.42s available employing them from 3 to 8/19/40 and obtaining air superiority against the RAF. But the losses and the attrition was great and, notwithstanding the further 51 CR.42s delivered by transporting them dismantled inside the S.82s, the isolation of the AOI begun to be a heavy necessity to be overcome and from 1/41 the aircraft available steadily diminished, going down from 26 on 1/10, to only five by mid-April. The two only surviving CR.42s managed to fight up to 10/41, but by 11/27/41 the AOI was lost, and 87 CR.42s with it.

Another operation that took place by late 1940 was the infamous Corpo Aereo Italiano (C.A.I.). The propaganda operation designed to have Italian aircraft operating against the RAF on the Channel was ill conceived and conducted and showed at full the defects and the approximation of the Regia Aeronautica. The FIAT CR. 42s operating with C.A.I. were fifty, belonging to 18° Gruppo. On 10/19/40 they transferred on to the Belgian airfield of Ursel. The first action took place on 10/29, when 39 CR.42s escorted the Br.20s over Ramsgate. On 11/11 the bombers were escorted over Harwich by 40 CR. 42s but were intercepted by Spitfires and Hurricanes causing the loss of three CR.42s, while another nineteen were forced to crash-land in Belgium due to lack of fuel caused by the combat. The last action of November took place on the 29th between Margate and Folkstone with a combat against Spitfires that caused the loss of two more CR.42s (the British losses are still uncertain, if any). On 1/10/41 the CR.42s began to come back to Italy. Lack of heating equipment, open cockpits, primitive radio sets, in addition to an absolute lack of navigational capacities of the Italian pilots (a specific training was undertaken only after 1942) transformed this operation in a real nightmare for those involved!

A front where the CR.42 operated in better conditions from the start was the North African one. The 127 “Falco” available in 13° Gruppo, 10° Gruppo and 9° Gruppo operated against an enemy equipped with the Gloster Gladiator, an equivalent biplane fighter. The first combat on 11/19/40 involved the Italian units and the Australian 3 Sqn. RAAF and this was followed by other combats on 12/10 and 12/26. Notwithstanding further CR.42s sent from Italy (among them those of 18° Gruppo, coming from C.A.I.), the Italian retreat and the loss of Cyrenaica by 2/41 brought to the loss of over 400 aircraft, many of them destroyed on the ground in front of the enemy advance. With the arrival of German troops and the start of the new offensive, the main task for the CR.42 biplane begun to be the close support to the ground units and when, on 4/41, the first CR.42 AS arrived (AS = Africa Settentrionale), equipped with sand filters and attachment points for two bombs, the switch of role was clear. The enemy had Hurricanes by now and the CR.42 surely was more useful in the ground support role. Thus, used more and more exclusively on this role with 160° Gruppo, 158° and 159° Gruppi (constituting 50° Stormo Assalto), 101° Gruppo Assalto and 15° Stormo Assalto, the CR.42s followed all the North African campaign showing on many occasions the bravery of its pilots and by early 1943 the surviving 82 examples were sent back to Italy from Tunisia.

We have to give a look also at three other important theaters of operations: Greece, Crete and Malta. The operations against Greece involved 46 CR.42s of 150° Gruppo at first against Greek aircraft and later against the RAF. Almost twenty Fiats were lost by the end of the campaign. The operations against Crete in late 5/41 were supported by the biplanes of 162a and 163a Squadriglia used as fighter-bombers. The offensive against Malta started since the first day of war and involved the CR.42s of 17° Gruppo, 9° Gruppo (before going to Libya) and 23° Gruppo. After a full year of war the RAF had claimed 16 confirmed destroyed CR.42s over Malta. 7 additional were claimed as probables and 6 were claimed as damaged. Totally RAF made claims for 106 confirmed, 47 probables and 38 damaged over Malta. It was a wearing war and only by 1942 the CR.42s were fully replaced by the Macchi C.202s and the Reggiane Re.2001s.

Another task undertaken by the CR.42 was the convoy-escort role and, between 1940 and 1942 lots of mission were conducted from Sardinia and Sicily to protect the convoys headed to and from Libya. Last but not least, a few CR.42s were employed also in anti-shipping role with their two 100Kg bombs, dropping them after a dive. Some successes were obtained and the biplanes based in Sardinia took part to “mid-August battle” on 1942 with eight CR.42s. But there was more: the CR.42 was used also as night-fighter. The first attempt was made in Libya by using normal CR.42s in good visibility and with moonlight and five enemy aircraft were downed during 1941. Thus, several CR.42s were modified with shrouded exhausts, complete navigational instruments and radio equipment. Some operated in Sicily with 171° Gruppo from late 1941 but until the end of 1942 no more than seven of them were operational. By late 1942, two N.F. groups, 59° and 60° were based in Northern Italy, 167° Gruppo in Central Italy and several autonomous units in Southern Italy and the islands. A total of about 80 CR.42 CN (CN = Caccia Notturna) was used. Obviously the results were very scarce, due to the improved performance of the enemy aircraft.

The CR.42s were still used by 9/8/43, when the Armistice was signed. From this moment, most of those survived were either seized by the Germans (for their flying schools but not only) or, in small numbers, used both by the Italian Cobelligerent Air Force and by the ANR, but only as liaison planes and as trainers. The Germans instead didn’t consider the operational career of the CR.42 ended: in fact they envisaged for it a role in the Luftwaffe as night attack plane. Several biplanes were thus modified by the Fiat factory and brought up to German standards. They equipped both NSGr.7 and NSGr.9 (Nachtschlachtgruppe = Night Harassment Gruppe), the former operating in the Balkans up to the end of the war and the latter in Italy, namely over the bridgehead of Anzio, until replaced by the more efficient Ju 87 Stuka in 6/44. About forty CR.42s survived to the end of the war and almost twenty of them were used in the late ’40s by the Italian Air Force as trainers (at least eleven were modified as a bi-place) and liaison planes. The career of the Falco thus ended, a sort of monument to a great plane, the last of its era, but also a monument to the inability of the Regia Aeronautica to develop in time a replacement for an aging aircraft representing an already obsolete formula. A total of 1,782 CR.42s were built.

Crew 1
Length 8.25m
Wingspan 9.7m
Horsepower 840
Engine Fiat A.74 RC 38
Max Speed 430 Km/h
Max Ceiling 10,200 m
Range 775 Km
Weapons 2×12.7 mm machine guns, 200 kg of bombs

Article by JDG

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  1. The cr.42 is the best last biplane in world war 2 it was still put up a fight agisnt any monplane by the allies. Thou the it was out gun and speed it but up a fight that is very respteal to all.