Kingdom of Italy (1935)
Fighter Plane – 774 to 791 Built
During the thirties, Fiat Aviazione was one of the most advanced aircraft manufacturers in Europe. With the advent of new technology at the time, it was obvious that the next stage in the development of the aircraft industry, especially in military aviation, would be centered around all-metal monoplanes. Fiat’s Chief Designer, Ing. C. Rosatelli, had been designing mixed-construction biplanes and even an all-metal bomber. As the demand for a modern, all-metal fighter plane was high, Fiat officials made a decision to hire a young aircraft engineer named Giuseppe Gabrielli, who would later design the Freccia, the first operational Italian all-metal fighter.
Giuseppe Gabrielli’s Work
The history of the Fiat G.50 began in 1931, when Fiat formed a new Aircraft Technical Bureau – Department 2 (Ufficio Tecnico Aviazione – Divisione II). The main purpose of this bureau was designing and building brand new types of modern all-metal planes. The same year, a young Italian engineer, Giuseppe Gabrielli, was hired by Fiat Chairman Senator Angelli to work for the Technical Bureau. Giuseppe Gabrielli had gained some experience in aircraft design while working for Piaggio. When he moved to Fiat, he immediately began working on several non-military aircraft projects. All of his projects were marked by the capital letter ‘G’, his initial. First was the G.2, an all-metal, three-engined plane, then the G.8 biplane trainer, and later the twin-engine passenger plane G.18.
During the thirties, the Italian Ministry of Aviation (Ministero dell Aeronautica) was interested in adopting a new, all-metal monoplane fighter and ground attack aircraft for the Italian Air Force. Some specifications for their request were: to use one radial engine, armed with at least two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) heavy machine guns with at least 300 rounds of ammunition and one 0.7 in (20 mm) gun or 1.45 in (37 mm) gun, and provisions for bombs on the ground attacker. A request was sent out to all domestic aircraft manufacturers. There were several proposals in response, but only the G.50 and the Macchi C.200 would be chosen for production. The others were either rejected (Ro.51 and A.U.T. 18) or built in limited numbers, like the Caproni F.5.
In order to solve the problem of the lack of an adequate fighter design, Fiat officials even considered the acquisition of a license to produce the American Seversky SEV-3, but nothing came of this. In April of 1935, Giuseppe Gabrielli began working on a new low-wing, all-metal plane named G.50. According to his first plans and drawings, it was to be armed with two machine guns, powered by a 550 hp radial engine (with a diameter of 39 in/1 m), weigh around 3,395 lbs (1,540 kg), and equipped with a retractable landing gear. At the same time, Fiat was testing a new FIAT A 74 RC 38 14-cylinder radial piston engine, so it was logical that Giuseppe Gabrielli decided to use it for his work. The A 74, in principle, was a direct copy of the American Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Twin Wasp which powered a large number of US planes, including the Douglas C-47, Consolidated PBY Catalina, Douglas TBD Devastator and Grumman F4F Wildcat. The expected speed of the G.50 with this new engine was around 285 mph (460 km/h) at 11,500 ft (3,500 m).
On 28th September, 1935, Gabrielli submitted his project to the Ministry of Aviation. Military officials were impressed by the design, but ask for some modifications. These included a wingspan of 36 ft 1 in (11 m), a weight of 4,870 lbs (2,210 kg) and a maximum speed of 280 mph (452 km/h). The offensive armament was changed to two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) heavy machine guns located in the fuselage with an additional two 0.3 in (7.7 mm) machine guns placed in the wings. In addition, the G.50 was designed to carrying a bomb load of 220 lbs (100 kg) or, if needed, extra fuel tanks with 23.5 gal (90 l) capacity.
In January 1936, the Ministry of Aviation changed its original request, choosing instead to focus only on the fighter role. The Ministry of Aviation wanted to accelerate the development of the new fighter, and the proposed ground attack role was rejected. Because of this, the bomb load was deemed no longer necessary, and the main armament was reduced to only two 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns with 150 rounds each. The most important requirement was that the new fighter should have the best possible flying performance.
Despite these changes, the Fiat officials decided to proceed with the G.50 project. As Fiat’s production capacities were overburdened, work on this new project was instead moved to the CMASA works at Marina di Pisa, part of Fiat since 1931. Giuseppe Gabrielli was finishing his last drawings and the list of needed materials and equipment in June 1936. In his final drawings, the armament was reduced to two heavy machine guns without the bomb load, and the plane would be powered by the new A 74 c/n engine.
The production of the first operational prototype was scheduled to begin in late summer of 1936. The prototype was finally ready at the beginning of 1937 and was transported to the city of Turin for further testing. This prototype, under registration number MM 334, made its first test flight on 26th February, 1937. The pilot was Giovanniego De Briganti, the CMASA test pilot. During initial testing, the pilot noted several faults and possible problems with the G.50. He especially pointed out the strong vibrations during flight and the aircraft’s tendency to spin.
On 22nd June, 1937, the G.50 prototype was moved to Marina di Pisa for more testing and modifications. After these modifications were completed, the prototype was sent to the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) experimental flight center near Rome. There, the G.50 prototype was tested by several army pilots. They noted that the controls were hard to work with at high speeds and a lack of climbing ability. Before the final order for mass production, Giuseppe Gabrielli was asked to solve these problems. For this reason, another prototype was made, designated MM 335.
The second prototype made its first flight on 20th October, 1937. After a series of successful flying tests, an accident occurred. On the 11th (or 8th, depending on the source) November, 1937, while flying the second prototype at high speed, the test pilot Briganti lost control of his aircraft and crashed to the ground. He did not survive the crash. His place was taken by the new chief test pilot, Enzio Guerra.
A combination of the accident and inferior performance that did not meet expectations, along with better overall performance of the Macchi C.200 threatened to shut down the G.50 project. But as the CMASA works were already in process of producing a series of 45 G.50’s, it was deemed a waste of resources to abandon or scrap the tooling equipment needed to produced the G.50 that had already been produced. A second reason for keeping the project running was the fact that it would take too much time for Fiat to prepare for the production of the Macchi C.200. The Air Ministry decided to go on with G.50 production, but insisted that the company correct the shortcomings of the plane by the time of production. Of the 45 ordered, the first 11 were used for many more trials. Two planes, MM 3357 and 335, the salvaged and rebuilt prototype, were sent to the experimental centre in Rome. Seven were stationed at the Pisa S.Giusto airfield and tested there. Two more ,MM 3570 and 3571, were tested by pilots Guerra, Rolandi and Cus. These trials were held in Turin and the main purpose was to investigate possible changes to the design of the G.50. The preliminary tests showed that the fully enclosed cockpit had to be changed before production, and a new design was necessary. This enclosed cockpit had several drawbacks which pilots often complained about. The closed cockpit was hard to open (especially in emergency situations), was made of poor quality plexiglass which was prone to cracking, offered poor visibility and sometimes exhaust fumes accumulated in the cockpit so the pilots were forced to fly with an open cockpit. After some testing and modifications, it was decided to used a partially enclosed cockpit. This solution was not perfect and was uncomfortable for pilots. Despite this, it was decided that all future planes would be built with an open cockpit only. More modification that were deemed necessary were the installation of a new start-up system, a better undercarriage locking system and adding a new oxygen mask for piloting at high altitude.
The G.50 was first showed to the public in October of 1937 at the International Aeronautical Show held in Milan. From 1937 to 1940, when the production was changed to the improved version, some 224 G.50 were built.
The G.50 Freccia, Italian for Arrow, was a single-seat, low-wing, all-metal fighter plane. The main fuselage was made from four angular shaped longerons with 17 metal frames. The wing construction consisted of a center section which was made of a steel tube connected to the lower fuselage and two metal spars connected with ribs. The four flaps were hydraulically actuated and at certain speeds they would automatically retract to their closed position. The fuselage, wing, and tail were covered with duralumin sheets. The only fabric-covered parts were the movable control surfaces in the wings and the tail.
The engine was placed in a tubular shaped mount made of chrome-molybdenum steel that was connected to the fuselage by four bolts. The engine and the cockpit were separated by a fireproof screen in order to protect the pilot from any possible fire outbreak, either due to engine malfunction or damage. The plane was powered by the 840 hp (626 kW) Fiat A 74 RC 38, 14 cylinder radial piston engine. With this engine, the G.50 could reach a maximum speed of 293 mph (470 km/h), with an effective range of 276 mi (445 km) and a service ceiling of 35,000 ft (10,700 m). An all-metal three-blade propeller produced by Fiat was used. One of major disadvantages of using a radial type of engine was the massive drag due to its large cross-section. In order for ground repair crews to have easy access to the engine and the fuselage interior, several access doors were added. The maximum fuel capacity was 83.5 gal (316 l.) There were two fuel tanks located in the wings 11.9 gal each (45 l) and two more in the fuselage, one larger with 26.4 gal (100 l) and a smaller one with 18 gal (68 l) with an additional auxiliary tank 13.75 gal (52 l) also located in the fuselage.
The first G.50 series had an enclosed cockpit design but as this created many issues, it was later changed to an open cockpit. Despite its disadvantages, the enclosed cockpit had an excellent rear view. Many different open cockpit designs were tested before the final design was chosen. The later version with the open cockpit had two smalls door installed to help entering or exiting the plane. The seat was adjustable, so it could be adapted to the pilot’s needs.
In front of the pilot, the dashboard was divided into three sections. On the upper section were the navigation instruments, reflector sight, fuel indicators and engine instruments. The middle section had the ammunition counter, warning lights, the position of the landing gear, compass and oxygen control panel. The lower section had the engine starter, cowling controls and compressed-air system indicator. The radio in the pilot’s cabin was the ARC 1, but the quality of the batteries was poor. A fire extinguisher system was also provided. There was also the possibility of installing one OMI FM62 camera gun.
The G.50 was equipped, like most modern aircraft of the time, with inward retracting landing gear, but the rear tail wheel was fixed. In the G.50 bis version, the rear tail wheel was changed to a retractable type. The landing gear could, if necessary, be manually operated. At first, it was of a Messier type, but it was later replaced with a Magnaghi design. The retracting landing gear was hydraulically operated, and pneumatically during lowering. In case both systems did not work for any reason, it could be manually operated. For easier and more pleasant landing, hydraulic shock absorbers were provided for both telescoping legs.
The main armament consisted of two forward-firing 0.5 in (12.7mm) Breda-SAFAT heavy machine guns, with some 150 rounds of ammunition for each machine gun. The guns were placed behind the engine top and both were synchronised in order not to damage the propeller. It is interesting to note that this gun used oil lubricant for faster firing and thus a lubricant tank was added on top of the engine. Some G.50 planes were armed with bomb racks and used in North Africa.
Modifications and Prototypes
As the war progressed, the Italians realized that they were lacking planes to fulfill the different necessary roles such as fast ground attack or training. In order to save time, the most obvious solution was to try to modify existing models instead of developing new ones. The G.50 would be modified in several ways, some of which demanded major changes to the plane’s design, while others were just minor variations, like the added sand filter for the G.50 S.A.
Trainer G.50 B
As the G.50 was entering production and the first operational units were formed, a trainer was needed for new pilots. As most army pilots were accustomed to flying older biplanes, retraining them for flying the monoplanes was required. For this purpose, in late 1936 the Italian Air Ministry placed an order for Fiat to developed a two seat dual control plane based on the G.50. After the mock-up was built and inspected in March 1938, it was deemed sufficient for production. By April, an order for the first prototype was placed. But due to the constant changes to the design, the production of the first prototype was frequently delayed. It was not until June 1939 when the final design with an enclosed cockpit was chosen. The plane was named G.50 B. The capital ‘B’ stands for ‘bipost,’ the Italian word for two-seater. This version was recognizable by its long glazed canopy with the rear cockpit being open from the top. The first prototype, marked 3615, would be ready in late April 1940 when it was tested by Enzio Guerra.
After only a few test flights, it was deemed adequate and was put into production. The first ten were built in 1940, with the last one built in 1943. In total, some 108 (or 100, depending on the source) G.50 B trainers were built during the war. Production by years was: 10 in 1940, 82 in 1941, 11 in 1942 and 5 in 1943.
The G.50 B was, in essence, a modified single-seat version with a new cockpit and dual controls. The front part of the cockpit was fully enclosed in contrast with the rear which was open. The main armament was removed on the G.50 B. This version was very successful, as it was easy to build and offered almost the same flying performance as the single-seat version.
These were used mostly by the Regia Aeronautica Fighter Schools. Smaller numbers were operated as liaison planes or even in some front based fighter units. After the Italian capitulation, small numbers, possible 20 or more, were used by the National Republican Air Force. At least one was given to the Croatian puppet state in the Balkans. The last G.50 B were used by the Flying School in Lecce for a few years after the war, up to 1948.
The Improved G.50 bis
The final decision for the mass production of the G.50 fighter was not based on its performance, but instead on the fact that CMASA had already begun producing it. The performance of the G.50 was poor compared to the Macchi C.200. In order to justify the production, the Italian Air Force requested that Fiat to improve the G.50’s overall performance. The sought modifications were adding extra fuel tanks, increasing capacity from 83.5 gal (316 l) to around 108.3 gal (410 l), redesigning the rear fuselage and the vertical tail surfaces, better glazing of the cockpit to protect the pilot from air turbulence, the addition of armor plates behind the pilot seat, and the tailwheel to be made retractable. The original ARC 1 radio, with its poor quality batteries, was only changed in October 1941 with the R.B.30.
The new improved version was designated the G.50 bis. According to Italian original plans, the first planes should have been ready by late 1938, but this was never achieved. The whole process was slow and the first aircraft was tested on 13th (or 9th) of September 1940 at Turin. As the main engine was not changed, despite the other modifications, the general flying performance was almost the same. The only improvements were easier maintenance and increased operational range. As these tests were completed, an order for production was given. From 1940 to 1943, around 439 of these versions were built by CMASA and Fiat.
G.50 S.A Ground Attacker
A certain number of planes that were serving in North Africa were modified by adding sand filters and a bomb rack. The landing gear was also modified for easier landing.
G.50 A Ground Attacker
The G.50 A was designed to be used as a fighter-bomber on the “Aquila” aircraft-carrier which was under construction. For this modification, the G.50 B two seater version was reused. The main offensive armament was to be increased to four 0.5 in (12.7 mm) machine guns. The problem was that the wing design did not allow the installation of the new weapons directly in the wings. The solution was to increase a part of the central section of the wings in order to accommodate these guns. Additional bomb racks were also to be added. One prototype, serial number MM 8595, was built and tested in October 1942. The whole concept proved to be problematic and the project was abandoned. The prototype would be used up to 1943 in testing new wing designs. In some sources, this model is designated as G.50 A/N.
G.50 bis “Tuffo” Dive Bomber
This was a dive bomber version designed in 1941 and 42, possibly inspired by the famous German Ju-87 “Stuka.” A bomb load of up to 990 lbs (450 kg) was planned, with two 200 lbs (100 kg) bombs placed under the wings and one 550 lbs (250 kg) under the main fuselage. For this modification, the addition of dive brakes were necessary. There is no information about prototype construction, but there is a great chance that it was never made.
G.50 B Naval Observer
One plane (MM 6548) was rebuilt for a naval observation role in 1943. It had a larger tail, different wing sections, a camera and an arrestor hook for use on an aircraft carrier. It was also equipped with a B 30T transmitter, B.G.42 direction finder and a A.R.18 receiver. Only one was built, possibly because of the impending Italian capitulation.
This version was based on the G.50 bis and the only difference was the installation of a arrestor hook for aircraft carrier use. Around 16 planes were modified for this role and were in use by the 155th Group Autonomo, mostly for training, in 1943.
Beside these, there were some minor projects that were proposed, but the majority if not all of them were not implemented. On the base of the G.50 B some project were proposed like the: night fighter, land reconnaissance or even a floatplane fighter (G.50 Idro).
Prototypes based on the G.50
During the war, in order to improve the flying performance of the G.50, many new designs and weapon loads and engines were tested.
This was a further development of the canceled G.52 project. The new project, designated the ‘G.50 ter,’ was to be equipped with the same 1000 hp (746 kW) Fiat A 76 engine as the G.52. Even before production of a prototype, the new engine was found to have a number of flaws. The first prototype powered by the new engine was ready by late July 1941. First flying tests were carried out at the Aeritalia airfield, with the plane being piloted by Agostini. During these flight tests, the engine proved to be mechanically unreliable and it could not reach expected performance. More test were held in November 1941, but in the end the project was canceled and only one plane was built.
In late 1939, the Italian Ministry of Aviation made a decision to begin negotiations with the German Daimler-Benz company for a production license of the newest liquid cooled DB 601A engine (1035 hp). It had a much lower frontal area and had much better aerodynamics than the larger Italian radial engines. The license was eventually obtained and Alfa Romeo was put in charge of the production of this engine, but it was never built in any great numbers.
In early 1940, the Italian Ministry of Aviation asked Fiat to build a modified version of the G.50 using this new engine. Two prototypes were to be built by CMASA, and these were marked as G.50 V (the ‘V’ stand for Veloce, which means fast). The first prototype, serial number MM 479, was built and tested in late August 1941 by the test pilot Ezio Guerra. Immediately, the new design proved to have some issues, such as an inefficient engine cooling system and the controls being difficult to operate. By the end of 1941, most these problems were solved and a new series of tests was scheduled.
In December 1941, more extensive flight tests were carried out by test pilot Valentino Cus in order to determine the precise flight performance, in particular the maximum speeds at various heights and the climbing rate. Maximum speed achieved was some 360 mph (580 km/h), and a maximum altitude of 16,400 ft (5,000 m) was reached in 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Mostly due to the introduction of the new FIAT G.55 and the lack of DB 601 engines, the G.50 V project abandoned.
In 1940, it was proposed to equip one G.50 with the new A 75 R engine. Nothing came of this project.
Information about this version differs significantly depending on the source.
According to Piero Vergnano, Fiat worked on improving the performance of the A 74 engine used on the G.50 for quite some time. This lead to the development of the new 1000 hp (746 kW) Fiat A 76 engine. In 1938, Fiat suggested the installation of this engine in the G.50 to the Air Ministry. At first, the request was accepted and an order for two prototypes was placed. By late 1939, the project was canceled due to the acquisition of new German DB 601A engines, and no prototypes were ever built. According to Gianni Cattaneo, the G.52 was in fact just a further development of the G.50 V. Due to the appearance of the new G.55 fighter, this project was abandoned.
This proposal was a combination of the G.50 B powered by the DB 601A engine. It was developed in 1941. It was intended to be used as a fast reconnaissance plane, but the Air Ministry never showed any interest in this proposal and nothing came of it.
First Operational Units
As CMASA began producing the first G.50 planes in late 1938, an experimental military fighter unit was formed for further testing and training. This unit was located at the Ciampino airfield near Rome. The unit was named Gruppo Sperimentale da Caccia (Experimental Fighter Unit/Group). Command of this new unit was given to Major Mario Bonzano, at that time a famous pilot ace from the Spanish Civil War (flying the CR.32 biplane). Pilot training on this new plane lasted until January 1939, when the Italian Air Force High Command decided to send a unit of 12 planes to Spain for real combat testing.
A group of 12 new G.50 fighters arrived in January 1939 in Spain, having been transported by sea. This unit was based at Escalona Airport, some 43.5 mi (70 km) from the capital of Madrid. Starting in March, this unit carried out flight patrols and fighter cover missions for bombers at altitudes between 24,600 to 26,240 ft (7,500 to 8,000 m). By that time, the opposing air force had been almost destroyed and air to air combat was rare. The only combat action that was recorded happened when a lone Soviet-built I-16, possibly flown by a Canadian pilot by the name of Dickinson, was intercepted by a G.50. The Italian aircraft was damaged and the pilot was forced to land. None of the 12 G.50 that were sent were lost in combat during the Spanish Civil War. At the end of this war, 11 operational G.50 fighters were given to the new Spanish fascist regime. These planes were used by the 27 Gruppo Caza (Fighter Group). After 1943, they were sent to Spanish Morocco, to be used by the 2. Regimento Mixto (mixed regiment) together with several German supplied He-112B.
After his return to Italy, Major Bonzano made his report of the effectiveness of the G.50. According to him, the G.50 had good maneuverability, effective armament and was easy to operate at altitude. On the other hand, he pointed out that the visibility was poor and the landing gear construction was weak and prone to malfunctioning. His conclusion about the effectiveness of the main armament would prove to have a great negative impact for the G.50 in the future.
In Finnish Service
Because of the likelihood of a Soviet attack in 1939, the Finnish government and Army wanted to equip their forces with modern equipment and weapons. As a result, a Finnish military delegation visited Turin in 1939, where the new G.50 fighters were being tested. The delegation was impressed with the aircraft’s performance, so they placed an order for 35 brand new G.50. Most of the planes sold were of the first series produced by CMASA, with serial numbers 3599 to 3614. These were supplemented by planes from the second productions series (serial numbers 4722 to 4750).
A very interesting fact is the maximum speed achieved by Finnish pilot Tapani Harmaja. As he was testing the flying performance of the G.50 at an airfield near Latina, he managed to reach a speed of 515 mph (830 km/h). He achieved this by diving from a high altitude of 11,480 ft (3,500 m) down to 1,310 ft (400 m). This was the fastest speed reached by any aircraft in Italy at that time.
Due to the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, the transportation of the purchased aircraft was slow and complicated. The planes were disassembled and then transported by train through Italy to the north of Germany and then by ship to Sweden, and from there to Finland. As they were transported in parts, the assembly was done at Gothenburg. When they were completed, the pilots were instructed to fly them to their new stations. The first 14 G.50’s were received in February 1940 and the last in June 1940. While flying en route to their designated airfields, two planes were lost in accidents in February 1940.
The G.50 arrived too late to have any large impact on the Winter War (30 Nov. 1939 to 13 Mar. 1940) but they saw some combat during this period. The first G.50 planes were equipped with the 26th Fighter Wing (Lentolaivue 26 or just simply LeLv or HLeLv) located at Haukkajarvi. They were used to replace the older Gloster Gladiators used by this unit. By 13 March, the Finnish pilots flying the G.50 claimed to have shot down 11 Soviet planes. There is some disagreement between the sources, authors Gianni C. and David M. states that this unit did not participate in the Winter War.
Until the German and Finnish attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, known in Finland as The Continuation War, Finnish technicians and engineers tried to improve the performance of the G.50 fighters. Most Finnish G.50s were from the first series, equipped with the enclosed cockpit. This design was not popular with the Finnish pilots and was replaced with an open cockpit. The vertical stabilizer and rudders were replaced with improved ones. Also, the Finnish tested snow skis taken from Fokker D.XXI’s, for the G.50 allowing them to better land on on frozen airstrips.
At the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, Finland joined the war with a much larger air force than it had in the previous conflict. LeLv 26 was stationed at an airfield near Utti, and was charged with the protection of the area around Lake Ladoga where they saw most of the action they were involved in. The G.50 proved to be an effective fighter in the hands of Finnish pilots. On 25th June 1941, six Finnish G.50 fighters managed to shoot down 10 Soviet bombers with no losses. Later in August, pilots from LeLv 26 managed to shoot down nine Soviet fighters. The most famous Finnish pilot was Oiva Tuominen, who had a total of 23 (33 or 43 according to different sources) air victories, with around 15 while flying the G.50. For his service, he was awarded the Mannerheim Cross, the highest Finnish military medal at the time. By the war’s end, LeLv 26 had around 88 air victories with the loss of 11 G.50s. Only two were shot down by Soviet planes, one was lost to AA fire, and eight more were lost either to accidents or mechanical failures. The Finnish G.50s remained in use up to June 1944, when they were moved to the rear for second-line duties. By the end of the war, there were still some 22 (the exact numbers are not known) operational G.50 fighters and they were used up to 1947.
In Italian Service
According to the Italian military program codenamed “R” (Programme R), the Italian Air Force was to be heavily reinforced with many new units and more modern aircraft designs. With the existing G.50 fighter, it was planned to form and equip one Stormo (Stormo-regiment) and one Fighter Wing/Group (Gruppo).
The first unit to receive the new G.50s was 51° Stormo located at the Ciampino airport near Rome, in November 1939. This regiment consisted of the 20th Group, with 351st, 352nd and 353rd Squadrons, and the 21st Group, with 354th, 355th and 356th Squadrons. Almost all of the squadrons were equipped with the newer G.50 with the open cockpit, and only the 351st Squadron was equipped with the first series with the enclosed cockpits. To more effectively train both experienced and new pilots, military war game exercises were often held by the Italian Army. During one of these games the 51° Stormo would earn its military emblem, a black cat with a green mouse. During one exercises, a group of different fighter planes were tasked with intercepting a group of S.M.79 bombers, marked with the green mouse emblem. The older CR.32 biplane could not fulfill this task, but the new G.50 from the 352nd Squadron accomplished this without any problem. From that point on, the pilots from 51° Stormo began painting the emblem on their planes.
Quite soon, the order was given to form a second unit, 52° Stormo. It consisted of the 22nd Group (357th, 358th and 359th Squadrons) and the 24th Group (360th, 361st and 362nd Squadrons). The 24th Group was equipped with older FIAT CR.32 planes that were soon to be replaced with G.50’s. 52° Stormo operated from two airports, Pontendera and Sarzana. Both of these groups had around 100 brand new G.50s.
By the time Italy entered the War in the West, there were some 118 G.50 planes on hand, with 97 operational, and some 21 were ready for delivery to designated units. In an attempt to profit from the fast Allied defeat in Western Europe, Italy declared war on France on the 10th of June 1940. Most G.50s saw some limited action, mostly covering SM.79 bombers during their attack on Corsica on 15th and 16th June. Subsequent attacks followed on 17th and 19th June. The center of operations then moved to the north, in the French Alps on 21st June. Due to a lack of proper training, the G.50 pilots had problems adapting to this type of aircraft, as most of them had flown only on the older biplanes. The G.50 proved to have good flying performance at low speeds, but was hard to control at high altitudes and higher speeds.
Battle for Britain
In order to support the German air raids on Great Britain, a special unit (Corpo Aereo Italiano C.A.I) was formed in late 1940 and was sent to Belgium. For this operation, the 20th Group, with 45-48 G.50’s, was selected under the command of Col. Bonzano. Despite the original planes being planned to reach their base of operations in Belgium by September 1940, this was delayed until October 1940. This delay occurred mostly due to bad weather. During the transfer from Italy to Belgium, two G.50’s were lost to accidents. The first combat actions were carried out in late October 1940, and were mostly bomber support missions. Similar missions were planned for 11th November against Great Yarmount, but they were canceled due to bad weather. From November 1940 to January 1941, the G.50 flew on many surveillance missions but there was no contact with enemy planes. By the end of January 1941, most Italian Air Force units returned home, with the exception of the 20th Group.
The C.A.I had great technical problems during this operation. The G.50 was designed for the Mediterranean rather than the cold climate of the North, and there were problems with freezing and defective instruments, unreliable batteries and fuel problems.
By April 1941, the remaining units were ordered to return to Italy. Missions conducted against Britain were unsuccessful and they did not go well for the Italian pilots, as they did not win any air victories. Italy had lost more than six aircraft with two dead pilots. This operation was a strategic failure for the Italian Air Force, mostly due to poor planning, adverse weather conditions and inefficiency of the planes used.
In the Balkans
Mussolini ordered an invasion of Greece in October 1940. For that purpose, fewer than 80 G.50 fighters based in Southern Italy (33) and occupied Albania (43) were used. Initially, because of the lack Greek air resistance, the G.50 were used as ground attack planes. But, after the arrival of the British forces in November, the first air battles started. Due to the fact that the Italian pilots had some experience during the Spanish Civil War, they managed to achieve some successes against the British. The G.50’s main opponent was the Gloster Gladiator, which had poorer flying performance in comparison. Later, however, more modern Hurricanes appeared, which were much more advanced than the G.50.
During the war in Greece, there were a number of engagements between the British and the Italian Air Forces. During one dogfight on 20th February 1941, some 10, possibly even 12, British planes were shot down in a single engagement by a group of 22 G.50s. The Italians only lost one plane. However, during the same day, British Hurricanes managed to shoot down four G.50s in a different engagement. On the 28th of February 1941, some 12 British planes were shot down at the loss of 27 Italian aircraft. In one unusual case, a collision took place between a G.50 and a Gladiator. Because of the heavy damage, the Gladiator crashed to the ground, while the pilot of the G.50, despite the damage received, managed to fly about 123 mi (200 km) back to his home base and safely land. Due to significant disagreements among sources, there is no accurate data on the losses of both sides. As the G.50 proved to be inferior to the Hurricane, they were gradually replaced with the more advanced Macchi C.200 planes.
During the attack on Yugoslavia, the so-called “April War” in April 1941, the G.50 were used in escort missions. There were very few air battles and, by 17th April, the war was over.
In the Mediterranean and North Africa
During the North African campaign, the first G.50s were stationed near Tripoli by the end of 1940 and early 1941. The first units to operate in Africa were the 151st, 152nd and 358th Squadrons with around 76 to 80 planes. Even before these units saw any action, there were great problems with the maintenance of these planes due to sand. Taking into account that North Africa is dominated by the Sahara desert, it is very strange that the Italian military leaders did not take into account the fact that the desert sand could affect the plane’s engine. Since a certain number of planes were taken out of action by this, the demand for special sand filters was high. There were also problems with the sand getting into the landing gear which caused issues. To solve these problems, the Air Ministry urged CMASA and Aeritalia to provide adequate sand filters and modify the landing gear. The G.50 planes modified in such a way were marked as G.50 A.S (A.S standing for Africa Sahariana).
The G.50 saw heavy fighting in North Africa. Depending on the combat situation, it was used in a standard fighter role, for ground attack, defence missions, or for bomber escort. As the war progressed, the G.50 was mostly used in a ground attack role by equipping them with a 220 lbs (100 kg) bomb load to increase its offensive armament. For this purpose, 50° Stormo was formed. 50° Stormo mostly operated around the Sidi Barrani sector, where it attained some success against the British P-40 and Hurricanes. The pilot Bovoli (from 50° Stormo) shot down six British Blenheim bombers in July 1941.
During 1941 and early 1942, despite reinforcements, G.50 losses were increasing. At the beginning of 1941 there were only 20 planes operational, but with reinforcements the number increased to 80 in October and then fell down to 35 in December 1941. Most planes were lost not in air combat but instead during enemy ground and air attacks on airfields, as well as accidents. For example, the 20th group suffered heavy losses when 18 G.50 were destroyed as British armored forces attacked the airfield at Martubi on 19th November 1941. By the end of 1941, the only unit operating the G.50 was the 12th Group stationed at Tripoli. By 1942, most G.50 fighters were either lost or replaced with more modern Macchi C.200 and C.202. The surviving G.50s were relocated to second line airfields in Sardinia (24th Group), Greece (151 Group) and in the Aegean (154th Group). By the time of the Axis defeat in Africa (1943), only the 358th Squadron was still using the G.50.
Despite having poorer flying performance than its main opponents, the P-40 and the Hurricane, the G.50 proved to be a formidable plane in the right hands. The G.50 also proved capable in its new role as a ground attack plane, in which it destroyed a large number of enemy planes on the ground.
The Last Stand
After late 1942, the remaining G.50 fighters that were stationed in Italy serving as trainers and for second line operations. After the defeat in Northern Africa, the Italian army was in disarray and the rapid Allied landing in Sicily in July of 1943 worsened the situation. Many surviving G.50s were used to equip the 158th and 159th Groups. These two groups suffered heavy losses attacking strong Allied positions in Sicily. In a period of only a few days, the two groups ceased to exist.
After Sicily, the Allies landed on the Italian mainland and, on 8th September 1943, Italy capitulated. By that time, there were only around 40 to 48 G.50 airplanes still in service, of which only 17 were operational. A small number of G.50 were used by the new National Republican Air Force (Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana/ANR) in Northern Italy until the end of WW2 as second line and training planes. A few were even used by the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force (Aviazione Cobelligerante Italiana, or ACI) in the southern part of Italy, which had switched over to the Allied side.
In NDH Service
In the middle of 1942, in exchange for raw resources and materials, Italy delivered 10 G.50 (9 single seat and one two-seat trainer) airplanes to the NDH, the independent state of Croatia Air Force (reg. number 3501-3510). These were not newly produced planes, but instead G.50s that returned from the front and were repaired. The planes that were supplied were used alongside French-built MS.406 fighters supplied by the Germans. In 1944, six more airplanes were obtained from Italy, now under German control (reg. number 5686, 5965 and 06186, the rest are unknown) bringing the total number used to around 16 planes, possibly more as the exact numbers are not known. According to Tihomir T. and Darko Č. NDH forces acquired three G.50, after the withdrawal of Italian forces in 1943.
Their participation in the war was negligible and they saw little if any action. On 15th September 1944, only 7 were reported, with none fully operational for service. There were several cases of desertion among Croatian pilots while flying the G.50. On 2nd September 1944, pilot Andrija Arapović escaped to the island of Vis, under the control of the Yugoslav communist Partisans. A second pilot flying a G.50 fled to the Allies stationed in Italy.
Partisan forces put the captured G.50 to use during the war and it would remain in service up to 1946. An interesting fact about Andrija Arapović’s G.50 aircraft (reg. number 3505) is that it still exists today and can be seen in the Belgrade Military Aviation museum near the airport “Nikola Tesla” in Serbia. This is the only surviving example of a G.50 in the whole world, but it is in very bad condition and has been under restoration for years. By the end of the war, the Yugoslav Partisans had captured almost all of the surviving G.50s in Croatian service, but their use was limited due to a lack of spare parts.
G.50 production attempts in China
Italians were for some time trying to negotiate with Chinese authorities about opening an aviation production factory in China. After initial negotiations in June 1934, the Chinese signed a contract with the Aeronautico Italiano per la China (Aerocina). This company was owned by the Italian Government in conjunction with Caproni, Breda, Fiat and SIAI. According to this contract, the Italians were to build the SINAW (Sino-Italian National Aircraft Works) factory in Nanchang. With this agreement, the Italians were to provide tools and machines necessary for the factory to work. The head of the soon-to-be factory was the Italian Luigi Acampora and the Director was General Chu Lin. The production of the first operational aircraft was to begin from July 1937 on and all Italian personnel were to return to Italy after five years of cooperation.
The SINAW officially started production in November 1936 with six Savoia-Marchetti SM.81B bombers. Future plans included production of 30 Breda Ba.65s and 50 Fiat G.50s. The factory was slightly damaged during the Japanese bombing of Nanchang on the 20th October 1937. By November the Italian Government made a decision to discontinue any further cooperation and stopped all future deliveries of equipment and materials. This was done mostly due to Japanese military actions and the poor cooperation of the Chinese. By early December 1937, all Italian personnel returned home, and the deal with the Chinese was abandoned without a single G.50 being built.
Production and Variants
Besides the few prototype planes, a total of 791 (source Piero V.) G.50 and its variants were built during the war. Other authors give different numbers, according to Chris B. some 774 were produced and author Gianni C. quotes the figure of 778 planes. Author Duško N. give a figure of 788 planes.
The production of the G.50 fighter began in 1937 and ended in 1940, with a total 244 planes. The production totals by years were: two prototypes in 1937, 14 planes in 1938, 75 in 1939 and 153 in 1940. The improved G.50 bis was produced from 1940 to 1943 with a total of 439 planes built (421 according to some sources). 71 planes were built in 1940, some 253 in 1941, 113 in 1942 and the last 2 were built in 1943. If we compare these production numbers with other modern fighters of the time, the G.50 was built in relatively small numbers. The G.50 and its modifications and prototypes were produced by CMASA and Fiat during the war.
The Fiat G.50 was the first Italian all-metal fighter plane to enter operational service in significant numbers. In the early stages of the war, it proved to be an effective fighter, but as the war progressed, it became obvious that it was outdated in comparison with other modern fighters like the Hurricane. The G.50 was easy to control at lower speeds and had good maneuverability. The negative side was the lack of engine power and the overall design of the radial engine which affected the aerodynamics of the G.50. There were problems with cockpit visibility, but the most notorious issue was the lack of effective offensive armament, which consisted of only two heavy machine guns. Despite all this, with a good pilot the G.50 proved that it could be an effective fighter and it was responsible of downing of a significant number of Allied planes during the war.
- G.50 prototype – Two prototypes built, the second was lost in an accident.
- G.50 – Production aircraft.
- G.50 bis – Improved version.
- G.50 A.S – A number of G.50 planes that were used in North Africa were modified with sand filters and improved landing gear.
- G.50 A – One plane was modified with an increased offensive armament of four 12.7 mm machine guns in October 1942. Only one was constructed and used up to 1943 for testing different wing designs.
- G.50 B – Two-seat trainer version, around 100 to 108 built.
- G.50 bis “Tuffo”– Dive bomber version, none built.
- G.50 B naval observation – One G.50 was modified to be used by the Italian Navy in 1943.
- G.50 O/R – Based on the G.50 bis, some 16 were built and used for training in 1943.
- G.50 ter – Equipped with a stronger 1000 hp (746 kW) FIAT A.76 engine, only one built.
- G.51– In 1940, it was proposed to equip one G.50 with the new A 75 R.C.53 engine, none built.
- G.52 – Proposed project, none built.
- G.50 V– Equipped with a German Daimler-Benz DB 601 engine, one built.
- G.53 – Proposed project based on the G.50 B and powered by the DB 601, none built.
- Kingdom of Italy – Operated around 720 G.50 aircraft, starting from the Spanish Civil War until the Italian Armistice.
- Croatia (NDH) – Used at least 16 G.50 aircraft during the war (supplied by the Italians and Germans).
- Finland – Operated 35 G.50’s during the Winter War and the Continuation War.
- Fascist Spain – Used some aircraft given to them by the Italians at the end of the Spanish Civil War and after.
- SFR Yugoslavia – Captured some G.50 fighters from NDH during the war. Their use was very limited.
- National Republican Air Force (Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana/ANR) – Operated a small number of G.50s, mostly as trainers.
- Co-Belligerent Air Force (Aviazione Cobelligerante Italiana, or ACI) – Operated limited numbers.
- Nazi Germany – A few were captured and saw limited use with the Luftwaffe.
- China – There were plans to produce 50 G.50 aircraft in China but nothing came of this.
|G.50 Freccia Specifications|
|Wingspan||35 ft 11 in / 10.9 m|
|Length||26 ft 3 in / 8 m|
|Height||10 ft 7 in / 3.28 m|
|Wing Area||196.5 ft² / 18.25 m²|
|Engine||One 840 hp (626 kW) Fiat A.74 RC.38, 14 cylinder radial piston|
|Empty Weight||4,353 lbs / 1,975 kg|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight||5,324 lbs / 2,415 kg|
|Fuel Capacity||316 l|
|Maximum Speed||292 mph / 470 km/h|
|Range||267 mi / 445 km|
|Maximum Service Ceiling||35,100 ft (10,700 m)|
|Climb speed||Climb to 19,700 ft (6,000 m) in 7 minutes and 30 seconds|
Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji
- Nešić, D. (2008). Naoružanje Drugog Svetsko Rata-Italija. Beograd.
- Gianni Cattaneo, The Fiat G.50, Profile Publications number 188
- Piero Verganano (1997), Fiat G.50,, La Bancarella Aeronautica – Torino.
- Mondey, D. (1984). Concise guide to Axis aircraft of world war II, Aerospace Publishing Ltd.
- Vojislav V. Mikić, (2000) Zrakoplovstvo Nezavisne Države Hrvatske 1941-1945, Vojno istorijski institut Vojske Jugoslavije.
- Tihomir L. and Danko Č. (1998) The Croatian Air Force In The Second World War, Nacionalna Sveučilišna Zagreb.
- Bishop, C. (1998). The encyclopedia of weapons of World War II. New York: Barnes & Noble Books.
- Lennart A. (2008) A History Of Chinese Aviation Encyclopedia Of Aircraft And Aviation in China Until 1949, AHS of ROC.
- Magazine Avijacija, No.6 and No.7 from 2004.
- Illustrations by Haryo Panji https://www.deviantart.com/haryopanji
- Colorizations by Michael Jucan
- Edited by Stan L. & Jason