Aviation of World War II
The MC.202 from a structure of 151-st squadron of 20-th group of air force of Italy, the pilot - E.Tarantola, September, 1942.
C.202 in Combat
The first production C.202s, from the Macchi-built Serie II and III, were delivered in July 1941. By that time, Italy had been at war a year, a period of sharp reverses. The 'new' fighters of 1939 simply couldn't hold their own against the D520s, Hurricanes and Spitfires they encountered over France, England, Greece and North Africa. It was only the arrival of Luftwaffe units in North Africa that broke the total RAF air superiority there. The demoralized RA pilots, with their obsolete CR.42s, G.50s and C.200s were assigned to secondary duties: escorting Stukas, convoy protection and point defense.
4-th Stormo, wearing the Prancing Horse of WWI ace Francesco Baracca, had been decimated in Lybia during Wavell's offensive. Still flying C.200s, it then briefly flew over Yugoslavia before being returned to its homefield of Gorizia. There 4-th Stormo's 9-th Gruppo began conversion to the C.202 Folgore (literally Lightning - Italian warplanes were given official nicknames that were rarely, if ever, used by pilots). 9-th Gruppo spent the summer of 1941 becoming accustomed to the new fighter and working out its bugs. At the end of September, it moved down to Comiso, Sicily, where it joined its mate, 10-th Gruppo, still in C.200s, for the attack on Malta.
On 30 September, C.202s drew first blood when Lt. Frigerio shot down one of a flight of Hurricanes strafing Comiso. Later that same day, 12 C.202s escorted a Cant Z.506 floatplane trying to rescue the downed British pilot, encountering seven more Hurricanes, claiming two. Through October and November, 9-th Gruppo fought over Malta in an aircraft that was, at last, superior in every respect to the Hurricane.
8-th Gruppo of 2-th Stormo, a unit that had been assigned to the defense of Libya from prewar days, received six C.202s on 8 October 1941, but one week later turned them over to 1-th Stormo. The unlucky 8-th Gruppo fought on with C.200s until the end of the war. 1-th Stormo's 17-th Gruppo received Folgores on its homefield of Campoformido in Northeastern Italy. Moving down to Ciampino, Rome, its C.202s were fitted with sand filters for desert operations.
While that modification was being affected, the British launched Operation Crusader, 18 November 1941. Two of 9'Gruppo's Squadriglie moved immediately to North Africa without desert modification. 73-th Squadriglia, which stayed in Sicily, pioneered photo-recon use of the Macchi over Malta. In December 1941, both Gruppi of 1-th Stormo, 6-th and 77-th, now both equipped with tropicalized C.202s, finally deployed to North Africa to support 9-th Gruppo. That unit's mate, 10-th Gruppo, moved to Gorizia to convert from C.200s to C.202s late in 1941. Now 7-th and 4-th Stormo, the elite fighter units of the RA, were both flying Macchi's new fighter.
Russian Adventure. After Barbarossa, Mussolini sent Italian ground and air units into Russia uninvited because he was afraid that Italy would be left out when Russia was carved up. Tiny by Eastern Front standards, the Italian air effort comprised, from the spring of 1942, 21-th Gruppo. This unit, formerly part of 57-th Slormo, was composed of three, and later four, Squadriglie of C.200S. When newer Russian fighters such as the MiG-1 and LaGG-1 were encountered, 21-th Gruppo requested better equipment to meet the threat. All that was available was a few Folgores, 12 of which arrived at Voroshilovgrad, on the River Don, in September 1942. Those 12, and two photo-recon models which arrived later, were distributed among all four Squadriglie.
When the Russians attacked along the Don in late Autumn 1942, 21-th Gruppo was forced into action despite terrible weather conditions. By year's end the Italian Armies on the Don had collapsed completely and were in full retreat. Until 17 January 1943, 21-th Gruppo kept up the pressure on the advancing Russains as best it could but, with its bases and supply lines threatened, it was pulled back to Stalino, behind the Donets. Later it fell back again to Odessa and finally, in May, was recalled to Italy. The 202s hadn't been particularly active, only 17 sorties being flown with no claimed victories and no losses. Nine of the Folgores returned to Italy, the other five being abandonned as unserviceable.