Fiat CR.32

Introduction and Development
Combat Record
Export Orders
Variants
Stats (CR.32)

Introduction and Development

The Fiat CR.32 was a refined version of the CR.30 and was the main Italian fighter aircraft during the second half of the 1930s. It was designed by Celestino Rosatelli, and was so succesful that the Italians would order another biplane, the CR.42, into production at the very end of the 1930s.

Rosatelli had designed a series of biplane fighters for the Italian Air Force, starting with the CR.1 of 1924. This was followed into service by the CR.20, before Rosatelli began work on a totally new design, the CR.30. This aircraft retained the Warren 'W' struts of the older designs, but was otherwise new. The most obvious visual differences included rounded wingtips, replaced the square tips of the older designs, streamlined spats around the fixed undercarriage and the placement of the engine radiator in a 'chin' position under the engine, instead of above the engine as on the CR.1 to CR.20. The CR.30 made its maiden flight on 5 March 1932 and lived up to expectations, being faster and more manoeuvrable than the CR.20.

As soon as the CR.30 was completed Rosatelli began work on an improved version. The CR.32 kept most of the design features of the CR.30, but was smaller in every dimension - length was reduced from 25ft 10 1/4in to 24ft 5 ¼in, and wingspan from 34ft 5 1/2in to 31ft 2in. Weight was redistributed to improve manoeuvrability, most significantly by moving the fuel tanks, which now included an auxiliary fuel tank built into the centre of the upper wing.

The prototype CR.32 made its maiden flight on 28 April 1933. As expected it was more manoeuvrable than the CR.30, and despite have the same engine and a similar weight was also faster, with a top speed of 223mph (up from 218mph). The CR.32 was ordered into production in March 1934 and remained in production until 1939. A total of 1,212 aircraft were produced in Italy in four main versions, along with 100 built under license in Spain.

The CR.32 had a conventional structure for its time, with a fuselage made up of duralumin tubes, covered by light metals towards the front and fabric elsewhere. Ailerons were fitted to the upper wings, which also had bench-type boost ailerons above the upper surface. The CR.32 carried a typical armament for its period, with two machine guns mounted in the upper nose decking. Unusually the aircraft could carry either .303in or .5in machine guns.

Combat Record

The CR.32 saw most of its front line service during the Spanish Civil War. The first twelve aircraft arrived at Melilla (Morocco) by sea on 14 August 1936. They were used to equip the first fighter squadron in the Aviacion de Ei Tercio (Foreign Legion Air Arm), and were soon in action in Spain. Their first success came on 21 August 1936 with a victory over a Nieuport 52, while their first losses followed on 31 August 1936 at the hands of the Hawker Fury.

The Aviacion de Ei Tercio had formed three CR.32 squadrons before it was disbanded and its units used to form the Aviation Legion (Aviazione Legionaria). The number of CR.32 units in existence steadily rose, with a mix of all-Spanish, all-Italian and mixed squadrons.

The Republic Air Force was armed with a mix of aircraft, most importantly two Soviet types, the Polikarpov I-15 'Chato' biplane and I-16 'Rata' monoplane. The CR.32 quickly outclassed the I-15, possessing more firepower. The I-16 was potentially more dangerous, with a top speed over 60mph faster than that of the CR.32, but the CR.32 was better armed, with two .5in guns to the four .303in guns of the I-16, had a better turning circle, diving speed and was more manoeuvrable. After a costly first encounter in November 1936 the pilots of the Italian aircraft worked out how to handle the faster Soviet aircraft, and gained an advantage over them.

A total of 377 CR.32s were delivered to Spain during the Civil War, of which 199 were still in service at the end of the war in March 1939. The surviving Italian aircraft were handed over to the Spanish Air Force and their crews returned home.

The success of the CR.32 in Spain masked its increasing obsolescence as new and more powerful monoplane fighters entered service across Europe. This encouraged the Italian Air Ministry to order the CR.42 into production, and when Italy finally entered the Second World War in June 1940 that aircraft was the most numerous in Italian service.

The CR.32 was also still in use when Italy entered the war, with 294 in front line service. These aircraft were scattered across the Italian Empire, with units in East Africa, Libya, Albania, on Rhodes and in Italy itself.

The first clashes with the RAF came in North Africa. On 11 June two Blenheims were shot down over Tobruk, while the first Italian losses came on 14 June when a CR.32 was shot down by a Gloster Gladiator. Most aircraft in North Africa were CR.32quaters, with bomb racks under the wings. They were used as ground attack aircraft during the brief Italian offensive that opened the ground war, but when the British counterattacked in December the Italians were routed, and the remaining CR.32s destroyed.

The CR.32 was the most important Italian fighter in Italian East Africa, where they equipped the 410th and 411th Squadriglia. The 410th squadron claimed fourteen victories during this campaign, and two Hurricanes were probably shot down by them, but by mid-April only one CR.32 remained operational.

The CR.32 had been withdrawn from frontline service by May 1941, often in favour of the CR.42. The surviving aircraft were used as fighter trainers from then until the Italian armistice in September 1943.

Export Orders

Austria

Austria ordered 45 CR.32bis aircraft in 1936, and used them to equip Jagdgeschwader II at Weiner Neustadt. After the Anschluss with Germany of March 1938 the CR.32s were taken over by the Luftwaffe, and Jagdgeschwader II became I.Gruppe/ Jagdgeschwader 138. This was a short-lived experiment, and the surviving 36 aircraft were soon sold to Hungary.

China

China was the first overseas country to order the CR.32. Twenty-four were ordered in 1933, but only sixteen were delivered. Problems with spare parts and the aircraft's fuel stopped China from ordering more aircraft. Those that did arrive were used against the Japanese, performing better than the more common Curtiss Hawk biplanes.

Hungary

Despite gaining her independence after the war, Hungary was seen as one of the defeated powers of the First World War, and like Germany and Austrian was forbidden to have an air force. Just as in Germany the Hungarians eventually began to create an air force in secret, ordering a number of Fiat CR.20s in 1931. In 1935 Italy and Hungary signed the Rome Protocol. This was followed by an order for either 52 or 76 CR.32s, armed with two .303in machine guns. Another 36 aircraft were gained from Austrian in 1938. The Hungarian CR.32s saw action in the brief campaign against Slovakia in 1939, which saw Hungary gain Ruthenia and during the Hungarian involvement in the invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941. They were also scrambled four days after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, but failed to intercept the attacking bombers. After that the surviving aircraft were used for training duties.

Paraguay

Paraguay ordered ten CR.32quater aircraft in 1937, but only four arrived.

Spain

The Spanish Nationalist directly owned sixty CR.32ter and twenty seven CR.32quater aircraft, delivered in 1937 and 1938 respectively. At the end of the Civil War the Spanish were given the surviving Italian aircraft. Spain also gained a licence to produce the aircraft, and Hispano built 100 between 1939 and 1942, as the HA-132-L. The last aircraft remained in use as the C.1 aerobatic trainer until 1953.

Venezuela

Venezuela acquired ten CR.32quater aircraft during 1938-39.

Variants

Fiat CR.32

The basic CR.32 was the original version of the aircraft, armed with two fuselage guns. These could be either .303in or .5in guns, but the larger guns were preferred. A total of 383 aircraft were built.

Fiat CR.32bis

The CR.32bis replaced the standard CR.32 in 1935. It could carry two .303in machine guns in the lower wings as well as the standard two .5in guns in the fuselage. The CR.32bis also got a more powerful Fiat A.30 RAbis engine. The extra guns added to the weight of the aircraft, and were sometimes removed to improve performance. Around 328 of the CR.32bis were produced.

Fiat CR.32ter

Next onto the production line was the CR.32ter of 1937. This eliminated the wing guns, keeping only the .50in guns in the nose. Either 100 or 103 CR.32ters were produced between July and December 1937.

Fiat CR.32quater

The CR.32quater was the final version of the aircraft to enter production. It carried the same two .5in guns as the CR.32ter, and could carry one 200lb bomb under each wing. It was also the lightest version of the aircraft. Either 398 or 401 aircraft were produced.

Stats (CR.32)
Engine: Fiat A.30 RA bis 12-cylinder V inline engine
Power: 600hp
Crew: 1
Wing span: 31ft 2in
Length: 24ft 5 1/4in
Height: 8ft 7 1/2in
Empty Weight: 2,921lb
Maximum take-off Weight: 4,079lb
Max Speed: 223mph
Service Ceiling: 28,870ft
Range: 422 miles
Armament: Two fixed forward firing Breda-SAFAT machine guns

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (16 November 2010), Fiat CR.32 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_fiat_cr32.html

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