The C.202 was a capable, yet not so well known fighter. It was the most important fighter of the Regia Aeronautica, the Italian Air Force, from 1942-43.
After the jump, we’ll look at a less known, but still successful weapon.
Italy was the third member of the Tripartite Pact that defined the Axis powers of World War II, yet their involvement in the war is the least known by a wide margin. Italy never quite made the total industrial and economic commitment to the war that other combatants did. Getting in to the how and why of it would be a bit more than I’m ready to tackle here. But Italy did have plans and strategies. Broadly speaking the plan was for a re-made Roman Empire. That meant the Mediterranean, and that meant a campaign for oil.
So North Africa would be the early focus of Italy’s war. In the early years of the war, that campaign would wage back and forth across the continent. Italian deficiencies would lead to German forces, the famous Afrika Korps under Irwin Rommel, bracing up the Italians. But the Italian military was always numerically the most important.
Among the Italian problems in the war, was that they had modernized heavily in the late 1930’s, and driven themselves to near economic exhaustion doing so. So in the early 1940s, their equipment was often a generation behind. One such example was the Macchi C.200. It was a very maneuverable fighter, of the sort so often popular with peace time stunt pilots. But it was under-powered, under-armed and under-armored. In an attempt to develop a fully modern fighter, Alfa Romeo arranged to produce the outstanding Daimler-Benz DB601 engine under license. Macchi mounted this engine on the C.200 air frame and came up with the much improved C.202 Folgore (Thunderbolt).
The resulting fighter had performance nearly as good as a Bf 109F or Spitfire Mk V. It did still have some serious deficiencies. It was still under-armed; two 12.7 mm machine guns in the cowling (roughly the same size as the .50, but lower rate of fire and prone to jamming), later two 7.7 mm guns were added to the wings (very marginal upgrade). The radios and oxygen system were particularly troublesome, and the pilot armor was still very light.
Improvements and tweaks would be made during the production run that ended in 1943, after slightly over 1100 units had been built. After Italy surrendered summer of 1943 surviving Folgores served with both the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force (flying with the allies) and the ANR (partnered with the Germans).
This example is from the Hasegawa kit. It represents an aircraft based in North Africa summer of 1942.
Up Next: North American Mustang Mk IV
It is funny that Italy’s role in the war is so often overlooked, other than earning them a poor reputation as soldiers. The truth is that Italy was still years away from the sort of industrial economy of nations like Great Brittan and Germany when the war started. They were still for the most part an agrarian economy. Because of that their military was woefully equipped and only marginally mechanized at the start of the war.
I have to admit that I’ve never really looked in to Italy’s military much, but it doesn’t surprise me that they could, given time, make a world-class fighter.
A lot of their equipment was very good, or at least promising. They even sold quite a bit on the world market, especially Fiat was busy in the late 30s.
But, as you mention, they weren’t quite fully industrialized. At least not like the major powers were. They seemed to treat aircraft more like they were all high performance sports cars, and not mass produced commodities.
And Mussolini had spent a lot of money “modernizing” in the mid 1930s. So what economic and industrial power they had was running lean by the time the actual war started. One thing I’ll get in to more about this was with their aircraft engines. They had a number of excellent radials in the 700-800 hp range. But then designs were locked and they mass produced engines that were too small by 1940. They just didn’t have quite the depth and strength to upgrade and produce new designs.
One explanation I read about the deficiencies of their military mentioned that their leadership and officer training, were all British patterned and influenced. And the bulk of their enlisted personnel (like their citizenry) ALL had family in the United States. So then their fascist government decided fighting Britain and the U.S. was a good idea. No wonder they had a morale problem…
Then to back that up, Italy had a small number of politically radical, elite infantry and light armor divisions that actually fought VERY well. Two of Rommel’s favorite divisions in North Africa were elite Italian units. So there’s no doubt when properly led and motivated the Italian army could fight as well as any. But by and large, the Italian populace simply wasn’t interested in fighting alongside the Germans.
I’ve read accounts that Mussolini knew they weren’t ready for war, and had not planned on going to war before 1943, but then it looked to him that the war would be over soon so he pushed Italy in to war “to get a seat at the negotiating table” (I’m probably paraphrasing.)
Yeah I think that’s mostly accurate. He knew he was at a low ebb when he declared war on France and Britain. I just finished a book on the Italian contribution to the Battle of Britain, and it really is just painful how unprepared they were in 1940. I’m not sure just how realistic their appraisal ever was about being ready later. They did have new weapons and technologies in the pipeline, but economically they were so far behind.
Italian designs were never good enough for mass productions,
I don’t think I would put it that strongly. The C.202 was basically a solid design and a good performer. Italy had some some problems; both in terms of industry/economy and at an military operational level. All those things impacted their hardware. There are design issues Germany or the US would have handled differently to make the C.202 a better subject for mass production. But it was basically a sound design that could have been made to work on a much larger scale than it did.
Germany had some of it’s own mass production issues with the Tiger and King Tiger. I believe the main manufacturer was a company more used to building locomotives than mass producing cars. The American industrial strategy relied on companies used to mass production assembly lines.
Russia and Great Britain also took a fairly rational approach to their mass production issues.
The German Tigers are a funny example. It also points towards the German tendency to keep making everything bigger and more complex. Not only were massive resources (time, material, money) spent on huge and complicated tanks; they did the same with the V1, V2, Me 262 and others. Including several that never deployed. The waste is staggering. The V2 was the most expensive weapons project of the war (more expensive than B-29 or the Manhattan Project) and it was just the tip of that iceberg. All for very little effect.
I would have expected, among Italian manufacturers, that at least Fiat could have put in a good performance. Although I’m not sure if they were as big then as they later became.
I think the biggest issue is just that after the major growth of the 1930s, there was no money to retool and modernize, yet again.
It is kind of tough to understand the German thinking at times, but then they were led by a group of people with some very weird ideas, so that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Yeah no doubt!
It’s like a combination of kids wanting all the best toys, and desperation.
I saw something the other day on “major” aircraft production orders, and there were something like 75 (?) listed for the Germans, and 18 for the US. But of course total number, we out built them like three to one.
Part of it could be that they realized they couldn’t outbuild the allies so they needed to build something capable of closing the gap by destroying our faster than we could build them (which we were doing to them). Good luck with that.
Like Webster said, “What were you thinking?”
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