An early Macchi C.202 (no radio mast) of 81ª Squadriglia, 6° Gruppo, 1° Stormo CT; this photo appears to have been taken in Libya.
C.202 of Regia Aeronautica 168ª Squadriglia, 54° Stormo CT c.1943
Although a sufficient improvement over the Fiat CR.42 and G.50 to have warranted production as a stopgap fighter, the Saetta was barely a match for the Hurricane and no match for the Spitfire. A closer examination of the C.200’s airframe, however, revealed an essentially clean design with an excellent combination of stability and maneuverability. All it needed was a better engine.
With that in mind, Castoldi privately approached the Daimler-Benz A. G. and purchased a twelve-cylinder air-cooled DB 601Aa engine. He then commenced work on an aerodynamically refined adaptation of the C.200 airframe to accept the German engine, at the same time abandoning the C.201, another project to reengine the Saetta. The result of his efforts, which took to the air at Varese on August 10, 1940, restored the racy appearance of the Castoldi floatplanes to the basic C.200 design, as well as to its performance potential. So successful were its tests that the Ministerio dell’Aeronautica immediately ordered the new fighter into series production—not only at Macchi’s Varese factory but also at Breda’s plant at Sesto San Giovanni, near Milan. While more DB 601 Aas were ordered to power the first production batch, Alfa Romeo acquired a license to manufacture the engine as the R. A. 1000 R. C. 41-I Monsone (Monsoon), which was rated at 1,040 horsepower at 2,400 revolutions per minute. The Macchi C.202 Folgore (Lightning), as the new fighter was designated, had a maximum speed of 372 miles per hour at 18,370 feet, featured self-sealing fuel tanks, a molded armor-plate pilot’s seat, and an enclosed cockpit, although it lacked an armor-glass windscreen. Armament was initially the same as the C.200—two synchronized 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns—but ammunition capacity was increased from 370 to 400 rounds per gun. Later-production series Folgores added two 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT guns in the wings.
The first C.202s were delivered to the 4o Stormo C. T. at Gorizia in July 1941. After accustoming themselves with the new fighter’s characteristics, pilots of the wing’s 9o Gruppo, comprised of the 73a Squadriglia (Fotoricognitori) and 96a and 97a Squadriglie C. T., commenced operations against Malta from their base at Comiso on September 29, 1941. On the following afternoon, Italy’s new lightning bolt struck for the first time when five Hurricane fighter-bombers of No. 185 Squadron, escorted by six other Hurricanes, attacked Comiso. Three C.202s of the 97a Squadriglia scrambled up to intercept them, and in the running fight that followed, Tenente Iacopo Frigerio shot down Pilot Officer Donald W. Lintern, who was last seen bailing out near Gozo Island.
After returning to their base to refuel, five of the Hurricanes accompanied a Fairey Fulmar of the Kalafrana Rescue Flight in a search for Lintern. They never found him, but they did come under attack by the C.202s. Tenente Luigi Tessari and Sgt. Raffaello Novelli were jointly credited with downing an enemy fighter, which they reported to have fallen into the sea and blown up ten kilometers south of Cap Scaramia. Their victim was the Fulmar, but it ditched relatively intact, and its crew, Lt. D. E. C. Eyres and Sub-Lt. Bernard Furlong, were subsequently rescued by a Fairey Swordfish floatplane of their flight. One of the Hurricane pilots, Flt. Lt. Charles G. St. David Jeffries, claimed to have probably downed one of the unidentified enemy fighters, while Pilot Officer Peter J. B. Veitch and Flt. Sgt. A. W. Jolly each claimed to have damaged one; Tessari returned with numerous holes in his fuselage.
The 9o Gruppo carried the fight back to Malta on the morning of October 1, as Capt. Mario Pluda led seven C.202s to escort two C.200s on a reconnaissance mission. At 1150 hours, eight Hurricane Mark IIAs of No. 185 Squadron took off to intercept, but as they reached an altitude of 24,000 feet, thirty miles northeast of the embattled island, they were jumped by the Folgori. Capitano Carlo Ivaldi, Tenente Pietro Bonfatti, and Sergente Maggiore Enrico Dallari claimed two Hurricanes shot down and two probables in their first pass; but only one Hurricane was lost along with its pilot, Squadron Leader P. W. B. Mould—the same “Boy” Mould who, as a member of No. 1 Squadron, had scored the first confirmed Hurricane victory in France on October 30, 1939. Mould’s total account stood at eight, plus one shared, when he became one of the C.202’s earliest victims. The Italians did not get off scot-free, however. Sergeant Ernest G. Knight scored hits on Ivaldi’s main fuel tank, and he only just made it to Sicily before the last of his fuel drained away, force landing on the beach near Pozzallo.
The Folgore quickly demonstrated its inherent mastery over the Hurricane, and by the end of 1941, at least one of the 9o Gruppo’s pilots, Teresio Martinoli, had been credited with five out of an eventual personal total of twenty-two victories (one of them German while flying for the Allies in Italy’s Co-Belligerent Air Force), including Peter Veitch, whom he shot down and killed off Malta on October 4. The C.202’s numbers were too small to have a decisive impact over Malta in the late months of 1941, however. By the time it was available in significant quantities in 1942, Spitfire Mark Vs had arrived to engage the Italian fighters on roughly equal terms. Nevertheless, the C.202 gave a much-needed boost to the confidence of Italian fighter pilots and became the Regia Aeronautica’s fighter mainstay until Italy capitulated on September 8, 1943. A more potent variant with a license-produced version of the DB 605 engine and heavier armament, the C.205 Veltro (Greyhound), would continue to be a formidable fighter thereafter, in the hands of both Allied Co-Belligerent pilots and the diehard Fascisti of the Aeronautica Nazionale Repubblicana.
Variants and production
Like its predecessor C.200, the C.202 had relatively few modifications, with only 116 modifications during its career, most of them invisible, externally. The total series production ordered was 1,454: 900 to Breda, 150 to SAI Ambrosini, 403 to Aermacchi. The amount produced was actually 1,106 and not 1,220 as previous stated. Breda built 649 (Series XVI deleted, Series XII and XV partially completed caused the difference); Aermacchi made 390 examples, SAI only 67.
One of the differences between prototype and series production was the lack of radio antenna and the retractable tailwheel (these differences resulting in a slightly higher top speed); the difference in speed was not so great and so, the series version had the fixed tailwheel and the radio antenna. The support for the engine, originally steel, was replaced with a lighter aluminium structure.
Starting with the Serie VII, the fighter had a new wing with a provision for two 7.7 mm (.303 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns and an armored windscreen (previously, only the armored seat and the self-sealing tanks were provided). Serie IX’s weight was 2,515/3,069 kg with the 7.7 machine guns seldom installed.
Dust filters for operations in North Africa (AS – Africa Settentrionale, North Africa); they little affected the speed and so, almost all Folgores had them and thus were in C.202AS standard; finally, starting with Serie XI there was a provision for two 50, 100 or 160 kg bombs, small bombs clusters (10, 15, 20 kg) or 100 l drop tanks. These underwing pylons were rarely utilized, as Folgores were needed in the interceptor roles.
Underwing hardpoints for bombs or drop tanks (CB – Caccia Bombardiere, Fighter-Bomber)
probably meaning Esperimento Cannoni, it was another link between Veltro and Folgore. One aircraft (Serie III, s/n MM 91974) was fitted with a pair of gondola-mounted 20 mm cannon with 200 rounds each (it flew on 12 May 1943); later it was turned into a C.205V. Another four examples were so equipped, but, despite the good results in the trials (aimed to boost the Folgore’s firepower), there was no further production, because the cannons penalized the aircraft’s performance. There was, in the Folgore, no room to mount them inside the wings or the nose, so the MC.205V/Ns was developed. Nevertheless, the XII series could have introduced a new wing with MG 151 provisions. This is not well documented, as this series was produced by Breda after the Armistice, and was interrupted with the devastating USAAF bombings, together with many other aircraft; among them, also Macchi 205 production and the 206 prototype (30 April 1944; in five days, the USAAF destroyed both Fiat and Macchi facilities, eliminating all of Italy’s fighter production).
Equipped with cameras for photo-reconnaissance missions (R – Ricognizione, Reconnaissance), very few produced, later the recce role was covered by Veltros.
Prototype with a revised radiator, under the nose, similar to the P-40 (s/n. MM 7768)
at least one was modified as “drone director” (coupled with S.79s), and it was planned to use Folgores also as ‘Mistel’, with an AR.4 “radiobomba” (a sort of remote-control kamikaze bomber).
C.202 with DB 605 and other engines
Macchi MC.202 with DB 605 were initially known as MC.202 bis; later as the C.205 Veltro. Macchi C.200, C.202 and C.205 shared many common components. The MC.200A/2 was a MC.200 with Folgore wings (MM.8238). After the Armistice, Aeronautica Sannita or the Co-Belligerent Italian AF began MC.205 modifying C.202s with DB 605s. These aircraft were known also as Folgeltro. Around two dozen were made. Another Folgore was modified with DB 601E-1 (1,350 PS) in summer 1944, but this hybrid with Bf 109F technology crashed on 21 January 1946. The MC.204 was a version with a L.121 Asso (1,000 hp); proposed early in the war (28 September 1940), but all the effort continued only with DB 601 engines. Early Folgores had original DB 601s, while from the Serie VII, RC.41s were available.
After the war, 31 C.202 airframes were fitted with license-built Daimler-Benz DB 605 engines and sold to Egypt as C.205 Veltros, with another 11 ‘real’ MC.205s (with MG 151 cannons in the wings).