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Fiat CR.32 Biplane Fighter

by Jim H

Background on the Fiat CR32

The Fiat CR.32 is a biplane fighter designed by Celestino Rosatelli in 1932 and built at the Fiat Aviazione Italia plant in Turin, Italy. It was a logical progression of the successful Fiat CR.30 and retained the same wing structure. The lower wings covered half the area of the upper wings. This design allowed for better visibility below, a decrease in weight and a higher climb rate. The first Fiat CR-32 prototype, (M.M. 201), flew on 28 April 1933, and series production started the following year. It was an immediate success, and a large order for export quickly followed. Approximately 1,212 units were built, including licensed production in Spain. 

The Fiat CR.32 was a very agile fighter that did well in the Spanish Civil War.

The Fiat CR.32 was a very agile fighter that did well in the Spanish Civil War.

The power plant was the same water-cooled engine used for the CR.30, an in-line V12 Fiat A30 R.A that delivered 600 hp. The armament was initially two Breda-Safat 7.7 mm machine guns. The CR.32s came in four similar variants: the CR-32 and CR-32quater with two machine guns, and the CR-32 bis, with four. The spatted, wide track, fixed undercarriage had hydraulic shock absorbers and pneumatic brakes.

Fiat CR.32 in the Spanish Civil War

The Fiat CR32 arrived in Spain on 14 August 1936.  They formed the backbone of the Aviazione Legionaria and around 376 were operating in the skies over Spain by 1939. They joined the Nationalist fighter units as well as five Italian groups.

By employing superior tactics with this aircraft, the Italian pilots out flew the fighters on the Republican side. Approximately 73 were shot down in the Spanish Civil War, but that figure is not confirmed.

After the war, Hispano Aviación built 100 Fiat CR.32s under the designation HA-132 L. Thirty-one Fiat CR32s became converted into two-seaters. The final examples remained in service until 1957.


The CR.32 in World War Two

The aircraft performed very well in Spain, which unfortunately led Italy to neglect the development of more modern fighters. In 1940, some 294 were still in front line service, primarily in North Africa. However, British Gloster Gladiators easily defeated large numbers of Fiat CR. 32s. The Fiat CR.32 became outdated following the Spanish Civil War.

A number of foreign air forces in Europe and South America bought the CR.32 and prior to World War II, the airplane took part in the defense of Shanghai during the second Sino-Japanese war (Chinese Air Force), the Grand Chaco war (Paraguayan Air Force), Carpathian dispute (Hungarian Air Force) and the Spanish Civil War (Nationalist). Numerically the CR.32 was the most important fighter in the Italian Air Force in the late 1930s. At the time of Italy’s entrance into the war in June 1940, the CR.32 was being replaced as a first-line fighter. However, the CR.32 saw action in early campaigns, especially in Albania, Greece, and North Africa as night fighters and in close support roles. The CR.32 became relegated to training and ancillary duties.

Rear view of the Fiat CR.32.

Rear view of the Fiat CR.32.

Fiat CR.32 Variants

CR.32: Prototype and initial production model. Armed with 2 12.7mm machine guns. Pilots loved its combination of structural strength and great agility. A total of 383 were delivered to the Italian air force between March 1934 and February 1936.

CR.32bis: Close-support fighter version of which 328 were made. Increased armament to two 7.7mm and two 12.7mm machine guns and provision for 220 lbs of bombs. These aircraft were turned over to Spain after the Spanish Civil War.

CR.32ter: Revised CR.32bis with an improved engine, insight, and upgraded instrumentation and strengthened and revised undercarriage. A total of 103 were delivered between July 1937 and December 1937. All were used in Spain.

CR.32quater: Revised CR.32ter with reduced weight and radio added. Definitive model with 395 produced for the Italian air force. The maximum speed was 221 mph at 9,845 ft.

HA-132L: Spanish version, including 40 converted as trainers. They served until 1953.

Fiat CR32 Specifications

Model Fiat CR.32
Crew 1
Length 24ft 6in (7.47 m)
Wingspan 31ft 2.25in (9.5 m)
Height 7ft 9in (2.36 m)
Powerplant V12 Fiat A30 R.A in-line water-cooled engine (600 hp)
Speed 224 mph (360 km/h) at 3,000 m
Weight Empty: 2,921lb (1,325 kg) Max: 4,079lb (1,850.20 kg)
Range 466 miles (750km)
Service Ceiling 28,870 ft (8,800 m)
Armament (2) Breda-SAFAT 7.7 mm MG and (2) 12.7 mm MG
220 lb bomb load
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