Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fiat CR.32quater

The Italian Fiat CR.32 was designed by engineer Celestino Rosatelli, hence the “CR” prefix. The aircraft flew for the first time on April 28, 1933, and it could trace its lineage back to a long series of aircraft designed by Rosatelli. The CR.32 was built of aluminum and steel tubes covered by aluminium and fabric and it was powered by a 600 hp engine giving it a maximum speed of 360 km/h (224 mph). The service ceiling was 8,800 m (28,870 feet) and the range was 781 km (485 miles). The aircraft was armed with two 7.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns, although some versions, primarily used in Spain, carried two additional machine guns.  More than 1,300 CR.32s were in built in four main versions. Besides Italy, the Fiat CR.32 was used by China, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Paraguay and Venezuela.

Before the war, the CR.32 featured in several breathtaking aeronautic displays, and the aircraft was arguably the queen of the skies during the Spanish Civil War when Italian and Spanish pilots faced more modern aircraft of Soviet origin. The experience and training of the Nationalist pilots did prove to be a significant advantage, and any impact of future technology was lost on the Italians. The next air war was assumed to be fought in a series of dogfights similar to World War One, and at the outbreak of the war approximately two thirds of the Regia Aeronautica was equipped with CR.32s. They did enjoy some success over Italian East Africa, but the Italians did eventually encounter high-speed monoplanes in the hands of the Royal Air Force, and the admittedly very impressive aerobatics of the Regia Aeronautica proved to be of little or no advantage. The only remaining CR.32 is preserved at the Italian Air Force Museum.

The kit is the old Supermodel CR.32 that dates back to the early 1970s, and it is the only 1/72 model of this aircraft. Italeri has since re-boxed the kit, but the sprues are the same. This old kit is accurate, although poorly engineered, especially regarding the struts that lack any attachment points, which means that extraordinary patience and superglue is required to attach the wings and the wheels. The model was detailed by an excellent photoetch set from Italian RCR, and since the original decals were unusable, new insignia was provided by the spares box. Italian camouflage is more than a little challenging, and since I do not have an airbrush, the camouflage patterns were drybrushed onto the model.

The model is painted and decaled as an aircraft of the 163° Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia Terrestre that fought in the Balkans.  The 163° Squadriglia was formed in June of 1935, and it was transferred from Ciampino to the Aegean in December that same year. When war broke out, the unit was equipped with both CR.32s and Fiat CR.42s, with the latter being modified for use as fighter-bombers. The Squadriglia was part of the Aeronautica dell’Egeo under command of Generale di Brigata Aerea Umberto Cappa, who commanded a bomber group (39° Stormo Bombardamento Terrestre) with two squadrons, one maritime reconnaissance squadron (161° Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia Marittima) and the 163° Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia Terrestre. The unit was transferred to Maritza on Rhodes on June 10, 1940, the unit supported the disastrous Italian invasion of Greece. On September 4, 1940, CR.32s and CR.42s from the squadron intercepted a strike force of twelve Fairey Swordfish from 813 and 824 Squadrons, Fleet Air Arm, that had launched from HMS Eagle. The intercept started off inauspiciously, as a CR.32 collided with a CR.42, but as the aircraft met over Maritza airfield, the 163° Squadriglia would eventually claim five aircraft destroyed while another three force-landed, one (K8043) at Karpathos. One CR.32 failed to return. Gadurra, Maritza and Kalathos suffered minor bomb damage, with two bombers being destroyed and six damaged.  At least two of the Swordfish were recovered by the Italians, with one (K8403) being based at Guidonia and kept serviceable until mid-1941, and another (K8422) being used as liaison aircraft by the 68° Squadriglia/34° Gruppo Bombardamento, also until mid-1941.

The 163° Squadriglia moved to Gadurro at some point in April 1941, and eight CR.32s participated in the invasion of Crete that same month. The unit was related to training duties after the invasion of Crete, and on June 11, 1941, the 163° Squadriglia joined the 161° Gruppo.

This particular CR.32 carries the insignia of the 6° Stormo "Diavolo Rosso", as it has been suggested that the 163° Squadriglia took over old CR.32s from the Stormo as the latter unit was re-equipped with more modern aircraft. A picture of such an aircraft can be found at this link:

 The cockpit without seat in its photoetched glory..

 Main parts.
 The cockpit painted and ready.

                          A Swordfish captured on September 4, 1940.

Mario D'Agostini of the 163° Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia Terrestre.

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