The Italian Fiat CR.32 biplane fighter is widely regarded as one of the best of its kind during the inter-war period, specifically the 1930s. The CR.32's design was based on the preceding CR.30 offering which totaled 176 aircraft for various global operators including Italy, Paraguay and the Spanish State. From this framework, a dimensionally-smaller form was worked into a viable gunnery platform possessing good maneuverability and excellent in-the-field survivability.
A biplane winged arrangement was used and the aircraft was crewed by a single operator seated in an open-air cockpit under and aft of the upper wing element (near midships). The upper and lower wings (of unequal span) were joined by parallel strutworks and cabling common to fighter designs of the period. The undercarriage was of a tail-dragger configuration though the main wheels were spatted for aerodynamic efficiency. The tail was of single-rudder design. At front in the fuselage (direct ahead of the pilot's position) was the engine installation and this drove a two-bladed propeller unit at the nose. Armament included 2 x 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns synchronized to fire through the spinning propeller blades though 12.7mm heavy caliber machine guns could be used in their place. A modest bomb load of up to 220lb could also be carried for ground attacks. Internally, a metal understructure was used while skinning was a mix of alloy and fabric covering.
Dimensions included a length of 24.5 feet, a wingspan of 31.2 feet and a height of 7.8 feet. Empty weigt was 3,210lb against an MTOW of 4,350lb.
Power was served from a Fiat A30 RA-bis V12 engine developing 600 horsepower. Maximum speed of 225 miles per hour with a range out to 485 miles and a service ceiling up to 28,870 feet. Rate-of-climb neared 1,822 feet per minute.
A first-flight in prototype form was recorded on April 28th, 1933. China was the initial global operator to commit to the type through a twenty-four strong order. These arrived in 1935 though the order totaled only nine fighters in the end. From March of 1934 until February of 1936, the Italian Air Force became the proud recipient of this homegrown product and took on 282 aircraft. Almost immediately, pilots appreciated the small fighter's capabilities and its impact on the air service was well publicized. Before its combat service began, the CR.32 was a favorite at many of the air displays it attended.
Spain managed to secure a license for local production of the Italian machine which resulted in 100 HA-132-L "Chirri" fighters. These were pressed into service during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) from 1938 onward. The Italians had already been using their CR.32 fighters in the conflict since August 1936 and this marked the series' first taste of combat.
Improved A30 RAbis engines of 600 horsepower output greeted the equally-improved CR.32bis variant delivered to the Italian Air Force by way of a 283-strong order. Armament was mixed with 2 x 7.7mm and 2 x 12.7mm machine guns giving the nimble fighter a better offensive punch. Austria was sold 45 of this standard and an additional 52 were entrusted to Hungary though only 38 of the lot were handed over to the customer.
One hundred fifty more CR.32 fighters were realized as the CR.32ter in 1937 and these carried just 2 x 12.7mm heavy machine guns but were given improved cockpit panels and aiming devices. The CR.32quater (based on the CR.32ter) numbered 337 production units for the Italian Air Force but was also sold to Paraguay and Guatemala. This version was also produced locally by Spain from 1940 until 1943 and forty were reworked as two-seat training platforms. Its major change was a new lightweight design and now a communications set had been added.
The CR.33 made up three prototypes with Fiat AC.33RC engines. Maximum speed was improved to 256 miles per hour but the model was not adopted for serial production.
The CR.40 was a one-off prototype with a British Bristol Mercury IV air-cooled radial piston engine. Like-wise the CR.40bis was a single prototype and the CR.41 followed suit - neither were adopted.
Total CR.32 fighter production reached 1,052 units before its end was seen. It was more or less made obsolete by modern inventions by the time of World War 2 in 1939 but Italian authorities were still convinced of the merits of the CR.32 even against more modern types and the biplane went on to represent over half of the fighter stock available to the Italians as war broke out. As such, these aging biplanes were encountered in the North African campaign and across Italian homeland airspace during the early part of the conflict - certainly into 1940 by which point the fighter was still having a good showing, even against more modern thoroughbreds.
Additional combat actions were seen over Greece but, by 1942, the line was all but marked for retirement. Night time missions were the last taken on by the line. The Spanish Air Force did not retire their lot until 1953.
Other global operators beyond those mentioned included Austria, China, and Nazi Germany. The Austrians committed to 45 of the CR.32bis model while the Chinese fielded the type under the Nationalist Air Force banner. German examples were taken over from the existing Austrian stock.
The Fiat CR.42 biplane fighter (detailed elsewhere on this site) of 1939 was born from this same design.
2 x 12.7mm heavy machine guns
2 x 7.7mm medium machine guns
220lb of conventional drop bombs.
(Not all ordnance types may be represented in the showcase above)
Hardpoint Mountings: 2
CR.30 - Fitted with Fiat A.30 V-12 water-cooled engine of 600 horsepower; 2 x 7.7mm OR 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns.
CR.32 - Fitted with Fiat A.30 RAbis engine of 600 horsepower; armed with 2 x 12.7mm machine guns.
CR.32bis - Close-Support Fighter Model; fitted with 2 x 7.7mm machine guns and 2 x 12.7mm machine guns; provision for up to 100kg of external ordnance.
CR.32ter - "Improved" CR.32bis model
CR.32quater - Based on the CR.32ter model series; improved performance; 337 examples produced.
CR.33 - Prototype Model appearing in 3 examples.
CR.40 - Single Production Prototype; fitted with Bristol Mercury IV radial piston engine.
CR.40bis - Single Production Prototype
CR.41 - Single Production Prototype
HA-132L - Spainish Designation; produced under license by Hispano-Chirri.
Ribbon graphics not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective aerial campaigns / operations / aviation periods.
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