The Most Formidable Fighter of World War 2 was not British, German, Japanese, Soviet or American
How many Italian fighters achieved a 33/1 kill loss ratio during the Second World War? If your answer to the second question is 'none': well, you're half right - as we shall see. Designed by Guiseppe Gabrielli, who would later rustle up the pretty G.91 jet for NATO use, the Fiat G.50 was the first Italian monoplane fighter and was fitted with such amazing novelties as a retractable undercarriage and an enclosed cockpit. The latter feature was discarded fairly rapidly, though not, as has often been suggested, due to the highly conservative nature of Italian fighter pilots but rather because it was virtually impossible to open in flight. Even the most forward-thinking and radical fighter pilot is generally in favour of the idea of being able to escape the aircraft in the event of, say, a massive fire. Dangerous canopy notwithstanding, 12 examples of the G.50 were sent to Spain to be evaluated under combat conditions although none actually took part in any fighting so this evaluation could be considered inconclusive at best. Gifted to Spain at the end of the conflict these G.50s would later see combat in Morocco but by that time the Freccia had been in action against both the French and British. A few G.50s were committed to the Battle of Britain but despite flying 479 sorties failed to intercept a single British aircraft. The little Fiat did better with Italian forces in North Africa but its career could hardly be described as spectacular.
Sadly for Italy, the amazing kill-to-loss ratio mentioned above was actually achieved by the Freccia in service with the Finns who operated 33 G.50s from the end of the Winter War, through the Continuation War and on until 1944 when these now quite aged aircraft were withdrawn from the front line. Finnish Fiat pilots shot down 99 Soviet aircraft for the loss of only three of their own, representing the best ratio of victories to losses achieved by any single fighter type in the service of a specific air arm during the war. Despite this amazing achievement Finnish pilots apparently still preferred the MS.406, Hurricane and Brewster Buffalo, not least as the open cockpit of the G.50, whilst pleasant on a Spring day over the Mediterranean was not a particularly attractive place to be in the depths of a Finnish winter - at least they didn't have to worry about opening the canopy to bale out though. After the G.50s were phased out of service they remained operational as trainers until the end of 1946 when the spare parts supply ran out. The G.50 was, in fairness, a fairly lacklustre aeroplane but who could reasonably ignore that insane 33 to 1 success rate?
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The record of this airplane, like that of the Hawk-75 and the Brewster B-239 has everything to do with the quality of the pilots - and of course the training - of the Finnish AF far more than the actual airplane. It also helped that the Finnish front was considered "secondary" by the USSR and thus the "A-team" squadrons with the best aircraft were not the majority there. I-16s were still in front-line service on the Leningrad front in late 1942, thus both aircraft quality and pilot quality of the Red Air Force opposition wasn't overwhelming. When that changed in1944, Finland was quickly out of the war. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.