TFC’s CR42 stars at Duxford

The Fighter Collection’s stunning Fiat CR42, Fv 2542/G-CBLS, parked close to the Gold Pass enclosure during the Flying Legends show at Duxford. PETER R. ARNOLD

The Fighter Collection’s Fiat CR42 was rolled out in public for the first time on 14 July, the first day of the Flying Legends show. Although it is yet to fly, the freshly painted former Swedish Air Force fighter, Fv 2542/G-CBLS, was indisputably one of the highlights of the event.

Recovered by helicopter from a crash site on a hillside near Tarnatjakko, northern Sweden, in 1983 — 41 years after it crashed in bad weather during a training sortie — restoration work began with a group in Sweden before the machine was acquired by TFC in 1995. It then went to the Rome-based Gruppo Amici Velivoli Storici, which rebuilt the fuselage to airworthy standard alongside the Italian Air Force Museum CR42, ‘MM4653’, which was being restored prior to going on display at Vigna di Valle, just north of Rome. During 2012 TFC’s CR42 was moved to Vintage Fabrics at Audley End, Essex for the installation of electrical and control systems and fabric covering, a task the company had completed on the Vigna di Valle aeroplane in 2004. A total of four Fiat A74 14-cylinder radial engines were sourced for the project, and were despatched to Vintech at Little Gransden for rebuild.

The Fiat has been painted in the markings of MM6976, flown by 85ª Squadriglia pilot Sergente Antonio Lazzari during the largest raid mounted by the Corpo Aereo Italiano against the UK. Operating from Eechlou — since renamed Eeklo — in north-east Belgium, it was one of 22 CR42s that escorted Fiat BR20 bombers on a raid heading for the port of Harwich on the Essex coast. Hurricanes from Nos 46 and 257 Squadrons, and Spitfires of No 41 Squadron, intercepted the raid, one of only three daylight sorties performed by the Italians on Britain. They shot down three bombers, with a further three crashing in France and Belgium on the way home. Just before 14.30hrs, while flying at about 16,000ft, Lazzari dived to attack a group of Hurricanes, and during the ensuing dogfight used the CR42’s excellent manoeuvrability to prevent any of the RAF fighters getting on to his tail. But after finally sustaining hits in the tail, the A74 engine began to vibrate badly when the variable-pitch mechanism for the propeller jammed. Lazzari attempted to make a forced landing in a field, but ended up careering across a railway embankment, tearing off the undercarriage. The fighter ended up on its belly in a ploughed field near Corton railway station, three miles north of Lowestoft. Lazzari — who had shared four Morane-Saulnier MS406 kills in a CR42 in the Cuers area of southern France the previous June — was unhurt, and was taken prisoner by members of the 5th Battalion, King’s Own Rifle Regiment.

Two other Fiats were lost: Sergente Enzo Panicchi from the 83ª Squadriglia was killed when his CR42 was shot down into the sea by a Hurricane flown by Flt Lt Lionel Gaunce DFC, and 23-year-old Sergente Pietro Salvadori of the 95ª Squadriglia made a forced landing on the beach near the Orfordness lighthouse in MM5701 after an oil pipe broke. His intact Fiat was recovered and repaired at RAF Martlesham Heath, before moving to the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough where it gained the serial BT474. It was transferred to the Air Fighting Development Unit at Duxford in April 1941 for testing, being flown by Capt Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown. After the war, Salvadori resumed his career as a fighter pilot, but was killed in a Republic F-84G Thunderjet in April 1953. His old Fiat fared better: it is on display in the RAF Museum at Hendon.