The Chirri was one of the finest biplane fighters ever designed. It proved so good that Italian aviators were reluctant to abandon such craft long after they had become obsolete elsewhere.
In 1932 Italian aircraft designer Celestino Rosatelli unveiled his CR 30, a defining moment in biplane evolution. As a fighter, the CR 30 was breathlessly acrobatic for its day, but Rosatelli was determined to wring out even better performance with continuing refinement. The ensuing CR 32 was a slightly smaller, cleaned-up version of the earlier craft and the most significant Italian fighter plane of the 1930s. Like its predecessor, the CR 32 was a metal-framed, fabric design with a distinctive chintype radiator. The wings were strongly fastened by “W”-shaped Warren interplane struts and trusses throughout. Consequently, the CR 32 could literally be thrown about the sky and was capable of the most violent acrobatics. This rendered it superbly adapted as a dogfighter, a point well taken by Italian pilots. In 1936 CR 32s entered into service and by 1939 a total of 1,212 machines had been built in four versions.
The Chirri, as it became known, was instantly popular with fighter pilots around the world. The Chinese imported several and used them effectively against the Japanese in 1937. Hungary also bought them for its air force, but the most important customer was Spain. CR 32s were flown by both Spanish and Italians during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1938), and they proved formidable adversaries to the Russian-supplied Polikarpov I 15 biplanes and I 16 monoplanes. However, success carried a price. Because of their experience with the Chirri, Italians became so enamored of biplane dogfighters that they continued producing them long after they were obsolete. By the time Italy entered World War II in 1940, the CR 32 and CR 42 biplanes constituted nearly 70 percent of Italian fighter strength. Nevertheless, some CR 32s were successfully employed in East Africa before assuming trainer functions in 1941.