The Fiat CR.42 Falco was a Italian single-seat fighter designed by Celestino Rosatelli. It was served primarily in Italy’s Regia Aeronautica before and during World War II.
The Fiat CR.42 Falco (Falcon) biplane did not first fly until 1939, however, and such an anachronism is difficult to understand. Employing the same Warren truss system of interplane struts as the 1933 CR.32, from which it was developed, CR.42 was powered by a 626-kW (840-hp) Fiat A74 R 1C 38 radial and had a top speed of 441 km/ h (27 4 mph) . By September 1939 the Falco equipped three stormi and, while the RAF was hurriedly reducing its Gladiator strength, the Regia Aeronautica was increasing its CR.42 inventory, so that when Italy entered the war in June 1940 there were 330 in service with four stormi in the Mediterranean plus two squadriglie in Italian East Africa.
The Falco first saw combat in the brief French campaign, and later 50 aircraft accompanied the Corpo Aero Italiano to bases in Belgium for attacks on southern England at the end of the Battle of Britain, suffering heavily to the guns of RAF Hurricanes. In the Middle East the Falco fared better, however, being more of a match for the widely used Gladiator; during the Greek campaign one group of three CR.42 squadriglie was committed and, except on a few occasions, acquitted itself well; but when Hawker Hurricanes eventually arrived the Italian biplane losses mounted steadily. In East Africa 51 crated CR.42s were received to supplement the 36 aircraft delivered to the 412a and 413a Squadriglie, but in due course they were destroyed in the air or on the ground, although they took a heavy toll of the antiquated aircraft of the RAF and SAAF. In the Western Desert CR.42 fighters were joined by the CR.42AS fighter-bomber version adapted to carry two 100-kg (220-lb) bombs, and these continued in service with the 5°, 15° and 50° Stormi Assalti until November 1942. A total of 1,781 CR.42s was built (some serving in Sweden and Hungary), but at the time of the Italian armistice in September 1943 only 64 remained serviceable.
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. One of the German units to use the CR.42 was Nachtschlachtgruppe 9, based in Udine. Its task was to fight partisans in the region of the Alps, Istria and Croatia.