Gladiator vs CR.42 Falco 1940-41
Series: Duel 47
Authors: Håkan Gustavsson & Ludovico Slongo
Artists: Jim Laurier; Gareth Hector
Formats: Softcover; ePub; PDF; Kindle
Length: 80 pages
IntroductionBoth the Gloster Gladiator and the Fiat CR.42 Falco represented the peak in the development of the biplane fighter, which could trace its lineage back to World War I. However, by the time both aircraft entered service in the late 1930s, they were already obsolete. Nevertheless, they gave sterling service on all fronts in the Mediterranean and Africa in 1940–41. Indeed, the CR.42 was the Regia Aeronautica’s staple fighter in both North and East Africa, Greece and over Malta in 1940–41, during which time its pilots routinely fought British and Commonwealth squadrons equipped in the main with Gladiator biplanes. Some bitter dogfights were fought between these two types as the Allies attempted to gain control of the skies over North Africa, Greece and East Africa. Both types were flown in the main by highly experienced pre-war pilots, and this in turn made for some closely fought engagements. The first known combat between the CR.42 and the Gladiator took place on 14 June 1940 over North Africa and the last engagement between the two types occurred on 24 October 1941 over the East African front.
When I learned that Osprey was issuing this Duel
title I was immensely interested. The Gladiator has been one of my more intriguing early war fighters since reading The Ragged Rugged Warriors
and an account of a retired fighter pilot taking a restored Gladiator up against Ki-43s over Burma to cover the evacuation of an Allied aerodrome. My interest in this book also fits into my fascination with “also-ran” combatants in secondary theaters. Authors Håkan Gustavsson and Ludovico Slongo contribute years of research to bring us the story of the one of the sustained biplane fights of World War Two.
Yes, Falcos and Gladiators did fight other biplanes during the war but those clashes were few. No, Falcos and Gladiators did not daily blast away at each other for months like Spitfires and Bf 109s during the Battle Of Britain. They did infrequently meet over Greece and over several colonial hotspots for a year-and-a-half. Using archives, pilot reports, and personal interviews, the authors relate these clashes, frequently in great detail. The murky phenomena of over claiming kills is illuminated as many of those battles are well documented on both sides; I informally tallied RAF over claiming as 5-to-1 and Regia Aeronautica at 3-to-1. Still, many kills are definitively verified. Curiously, in several instances, the authors note that while official RAF records record no Gladiators shot down, the RAF pilots did record their losses in diaries, or RAF records show salvage crews sent out to salvage Gladiators not
indicated as lost.
Who became a kill or victor often came down to pilot skill or tactical position but those clashes often turned into contests between the aircraft. Assessments of the two fighters from the pilots that fought against the other are presented with some interesting observations. The authors submit some interesting correlations between the ultimate performance of the Gloster verses the Fiat, with the records of the Bf 109 versus the Hurricane and the Spitfire.
The authors describe in detail the concepts the aircraft were designed to fulfill. They show armament configurations and cockpit layouts. The types and effectiveness of those weapons and ammunition is analyzed in light of known battles. Design and development of the aircraft is explored. The authors also explain the basics of Italian and British flight training and unit organization. All of these factors are combined into the strategic situation that brought these two fighters into conflict.
Two pilots of these respective biplane fighters are profiled: Capitano Mario Visintini, and Wing Commander Joseph Fraser.
Messer’s Gustavsson and Slongo weave that immense amount of information into Gladiator vs CR.42
and present it to us through 80 pages in 11 sections:
3. Design and Development
4. Technical Specifications
5. The Strategic Situation
6. The Combatants
8. Statistics and Analysis
10. Further Reading
The text is well written, well organized, and easy to follow. There are some typos, such as an illustration identifying a Gladiator as a Mark. I in the plate, yet as a Gladiator II in the caption.
Art, Photographs and Graphics
I am very happy that this book features a detailed map showing the arena over which Gladiators and Falcos
fought, showing respective bases and even which ones changed hands. A full page of descriptions accompanies the map.
Modelers take note! Almost 50 black-and-white support the text. Several are clear although most look to have been exposed by amateur photographers or reproduced from magazine or newspaper images. Many are portraits of pilots. Several provide a great deal of detail of the aircraft and their structure, being shots of Gladiators or Falcos
blown up, crashed, or under maintenance. For instance, a crashed Gloster in a nose-pose reveals great detail of the top of the upper wing. Some images reveal interesting unit markings and personal markings. Many airfield scenes present excellent inspiration for dioramas.
One characteristic beneficial to modelers, yet not mentioned is the color of African Gladiators. All artwork displays the Gladiator in RAF Temperate scheme of dark green/dark earth. No mention is made of whether middle eastern Gladiators were in the tan/brown scheme. Attempting to discern colors from black-and-white photography is risky.
Regardless, several quality full-color illustrations are included by artists Jim Laurier and Gareth Hector:
1. Three-view of Gladiator I N5627/RT-D, No. 112 Sqn, Ioannina, March 1941.
2. Three-view of CR.42 MM6271 of 412° Squadriglia, Asmara, January 1941.
3. Twin cut-away: Gladiator Guns and CR.42 Guns
4. Table: Gladiator I and CR.42 comparison specifications
5. Map of Axis and Allied airfields, with narrative side page.
6. CR.42 Falco cockpit
7. Gladiator I/II cockpit
8. Two-page battle scene: 8 August 1940, Gladiators of No. 80 Sqn clash with Falcos of 9° and 10° Gruppi over Gabr Saleh, Libya.
9. Engaging the Enemy: a CR.42 pilot’s view through the San Giorgio Type B reflector gunsight while engaging two Gladiators in close combat.
10. Twin tables: Gladiator Aces with CR.42 Claims and CR.42 Aces with Gladiator Claims.
ConclusionGladiator vs CR.42
contains a great deal of source material and inspiration for modelers, as well as for historians and enthusiasts of this aspect of the early WW2 air war. It provides plenty of stick and rudder descriptions from the pilots that fought these fighters. It also gives a detailed account of the design, development and deployment of the aircraft. Strengths and weaknesses are illuminated. The authors do a convincing job of using specific and intangible data to support their conclusion of how well matched these two fighters were.
The text is strongly supported by artwork and photographs. That many photographs are not studio quality is gladly overlooked when one considers the dearth of subject matter. I greatly appreciate the map!
The few typos are de minimis. I would like some color commentary but that really isn’t within the scope of this title.
I am thoroughly satisfied with this book. It answers many questions about these two fighters, sharpened my understanding of the air war in their arenas, is an inspirational modeling muse, and satisfies my curiosity about these two aerial opponents. I happily recommend the book.
This book was provided to me by Osprey Publishing Ltd. Please be sure to mention that you saw the book reviewed here - on Aeroscale