Fiat G.50 Freccia (Arrow)

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Introduction and Development
Combat Record
Overseas Operators
Variants
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Introduction and Development

The Fiat G.50 Freccia (Arrow) was the first all-metal monoplane fighter to enter service with the Italian Air Force, but it was underpowered and under-armed compared to its British and German contemporaries. The G.50 was a very manoeuvrable aircraft, which appealed to the pre-war Italian fighter pilots.

The Fiat G.50 was designed by Giuseppe Gabrielli, a new engineer at Fiat, where most previous military aircraft had been designed by Celestino Rosatelli, the company's chief designer. Gabrielli began work on a monoplane fighter in April 1935, but his design had to be modified to satisfy the requirements of an Italian Air Ministry specification of 1936.

The Fiat G.50 was powered by the same engine as the Fiat CR.42 biplane and the Macchi MC.200 Saetta. The advantage of the monoplane configuration showed in its improved top speed compared to the Fiat biplane, up by 26mph to 293mph, but the Macchi design was another 21mph faster, suggesting that the Fiat G.50 didn't make the best of the available power. Both of the new monoplanes were equally under armed, carrying two 0.5in machine guns. The G.50 only carried 150 bullets for each gun.

The prototypes and first forty five aircraft had a fully enclosed cockpit, with a rearward sliding canopy. This was deeply unpopular amongst Italian fighter pilots, who were used to the open cockpit and manoeuvrability of their biplanes, and so the majority of G.50s were built with a semi-open cockpit.

The G.50 was a low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction apart from the fabric covered control surfaces. It was powered by the 840hp Fiat A.74 RC 38 fourteen cylinder radial engine, which was underpowered compared to its British and German inline contemporaries and had more drag. The two 12.7mm (0.5in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns were carried on top of the fuselage, firing through the propeller arc.

Although the Macchi MC.200 was a generally superior design, its development trailed behind that of the G.50. The Fiat aircraft made its maiden flight on 26 February 1937, and an order for 45 aircraft was placed in the following summer. The MC.200 didn't make its maiden flight until 24 December 1937, and wasn't ordered into production until the results of a competitive evaluation in 1938 were known. By the time the MC.200 was ready to enter production Fiat had already tooled up to build the G.50, and in the circumstances of the time the Italian Air Ministry decided that it couldn't afford to lose six months of production while Fiat prepared to produce the Macchi aircraft.

The first handful of G.50s entered service at the end of 1938, while the MC.200 didn't appear until 1939. Over the next few years the Italian aircraft industry failed to concentrate on any single design, and the Fiat G.50, Reggiane Re.2000, Macchi MC.200 and Fiat CR.42 biplane were all in production at the same time.

The majority of G.50s were built by Fiat's CMASA subsidiary. The first order for 45 aircraft was followed by one for 200 aircraft with open-topped cockpits placed during 1939,

Different source give slightly different production figures for the G.50, but the differences are insignificant. Two prototypes were built by Fiat, followed by 45 pre-production aircraft at CMASA. 212 G.50s were completed, six by Fiat and 206 by CMASA. CMASA was also responsible for 100 two-seat G.50Bs, and possibly for all 108. All sources agree that 421 of the G.50bis were completed, 77 by CMASA and the remaining 344 by Fiat, who had by then taken over production. CMASA built 428 of the around 778 aircraft built in total.

The G.50 was a basically sound aircraft, as demonstrated when most of its fuselage was matched up with a more powerful licence-built Daimler Benz DB 605A engine in the Fiat G.55 Centauro, one of the best Italian fighter aircraft of the war.

Combat Record

The first twelve G.50s were sent to Spain, arriving in January 1939, almost at the end of the civil war. They were used by the Gruppo Sperimentale da Caccia (Experimental Fighter Group), but the war ended before any useful experience could be gained.

Two fighter groups (20th and 21st in the 51st Stormo or Wing) began to receive the G.50 in November 1939, and by June 1940 118 aircraft were in service. Of these 97 were with operational units. They equipped all of the 51st Stormo at Rome and part of the 52nd Stormo in Tuscany. The aircraft saw some limited service during the brief war with France in June 1940.

Forty-eight G.50s formed part of the Italian air corps sent to Belgium during 1940 to take part in the Battle of Britain. Unlike the CR.42, which is known to have taken part in some combat, the G.50 didn't have the range to operate usefully over Britain and no clashes with British fighters are recorded. The G.50 did take part in raids on Ramsgate and Great Yarmouth, but after that were normally used for surveillance flights.

Three Gruppo were equipped with the G.50 in October 1940 at the start of the Italian invasion of Greece, with 43 aircraft Albania and 33 in southern Italy. The G.50 performed well against the Gloster Gladiator, at least once its pilots learnt not to try and dogfight with the more agile aircraft and instead took advantage of its greater speed, but it performed less well against the Hawker Hurricane. The G.50 was withdrawn from the conflict between December 1940 and February 1941 and replaced by the Macchi MC.200.

The G.50bis reached North Africa in late December 1940. It remained in use across 1941, with availability ranging from 20 in February to a peak of 80 in October. The G.50bis was used during the retreat to Tripolitania in the aftermath of the first successful British offensive, and in the first reconquest of Cyrenaica. It achieved mixed results against British Hurricanes and P-40s, and was replaced by the MC.200 and MC.202 at the end of 1941.

After that the G.50 remained in use on secondary fronts, with units posted on Sardinia, in Greece and around the Aegean. The G.50 also saw some limited use during the Allied invasion of Sicily, but only 48 were still in front line service at the Italian Armistice. 

Overseas Operators

Croatia

Nine (or possibly ten) aircraft were delivered to Croatia, but were probably not used.

Finland

Finland ordered thirty five G.50s late in 1939 to use against the Soviet invasion (a first batch of 25 and a second batch of 10). Delivery of these aircraft was delayed by the Germans, who were then acting as loyal Soviet allies. The first two aircraft arrived late in December 1939. Another six reached Stettin, but were then sent back to Italy. The aircraft were then sent by sea, and began to arrive in February 1940, via Sweden. Two were destroyed before reaching Finland, so eventually 33 aircraft were received.

The G.50 was issued to squadron LLv 26, which had been using the Glostor Gladiator. The squadron flew its first mission with the new fighter on 26 February, and achieved two victories. These were the first of eight victories credited to the squadron's Fiat fighters. The last came on 11 March, two days before the end of the war.

The G.50 was used during the 'Continuation War' - the Finnish contribution to the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The G.50 was not well suited to the cold climate of Finland, and suffered from its limited firepower, but ten Finish aces still managed to achieve some of their victories in the type. It remained in front line service until May 1944, although in ever decreasing numbers.

Variants

G.50

The basic G.50 closely resembled the prototypes and pre-production aircraft, but with the closed cockpit replaced by a semi-open version. A total of 212 were built, 206 by CMASA and 6 by Fiat.

G.50bis

The G.50bis was the most common version of the aircraft. It had increased fuel capacity, a new radio, a slightly modified fuselage, a new rudder with increased chord and less height and armour to protect the pilot's seat. The prototype made its maiden flight on 9 September 1940, and a total of 421 were built - 77 by CMASA and 344 by Fiat.

G.50ter

The G.50ter was a single prototype for an improved version of the aircraft to be powered by the 1,000hp Fiat A.76 engine. By the time the prototype made its maiden flight on 17 July 1941 work on the new engine had been abandoned.

G.50bis/A

The G.50bis/A was a two-seat carrier borne fighter bomber version of the G.50 of which at least one prototype was produced. The new version had longer wings, with one extra 0.5in gun carried in each wing. It could also carry either 330lb or 550lb of bombs. It was designed for use on the aircraft carriers Aquilaand Sparviero, neither of which was completed before the Italian armistice. The G.50bis/A made its maiden flight on 3 October 1942, but the project was cancelled after the Italian armistice. 

G.50V

The G.50V was a single prototype powered by the Daimler Benz DB 601A inline engine. It made its maiden flight on 25 August 1941 and achieved a top speed of 360mph. It was to have been the prototype for the Fiat G.52, but work on that version was abandoned in favour of the DB 605 powered G.55.

G.50B

The G.50B was a successful two-seat trainer, designed by CMASA. The guns were removed and a second cockpit with dual controls added. The first one made its maiden flight on 30 April 1940, and a total of 108 were built, at least 100 of them by CMASA. The removal of the guns almost made up for the weight of the second cockpit and the trainee, and the G.50B had a top speed of 283mph, only 10mph down on the single seat version. The G.50B was used by the Italian Fighter School. One survived the war and remained in use until 1948.

Stats
Engine: Fiat A.74 RC 38 14-cylinder radial engine
Power: 840hp
Crew: 1
Wing span: 35ft 11.5in
Length: 25ft 6.75in
Height: 9ft 8.5in
Empty Weight: 4,354lb
Maximum take-off Weight: 5,324lb
Max Speed: 293mph
Service Ceiling: 32,265ft
Range: 416 miles
Armament: Two 0.5in machine guns

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (23 November 2010), Fiat G.50 Freccia (Arrow) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_fiat_g50_freccia.html

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