Italian pilot’s war capture is recalled by historian in Lowestoft

An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter crash-landed in a field at Corton near Lowestoft.

An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter crash-landed in a field at Corton near Lowestoft. - Credit: Archant

It is one of the least known – and most unusual – episodes to unfold during the Second World War.

An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter crash-landed in Corton. Pictures: Submitted

An Italian Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter crash-landed in Corton. Pictures: Submitted - Credit: Archant

But now a researcher has reconstructed the chain of events that led to Suffolk farm workers detaining an Italian combatant, in an incident described as 'the first Tuscan invasion of British soil since the Romans'.

Seventy-five years ago last week, 10 twin-engined Fiat BR 20 bombers – escorted by 22 Fiat CR 42 fighters – set out from bases in German-occupied Belgium for an attack on Harwich harbour.

However, they were soon intercepted by RAF fighters over the sea, with three of the bombers shot down.

One aircraft crash-landed near Woodbridge, with two crewmen dead, and one fighter landed on the shingle beach at Orford Ness.

But an Italian Air Force Fiat CR 42 biplane fighter continued and reached the village of Corton, near Lowestoft, in what aviation historian Bob Collis has described as 'the first Tuscan invader on British soil since the Romans'.

Mr Collis said that pilot, Flight Sergeant Antonio Lazzari, a 23-year-old from Milan, had been escorting the bomber formation at 16,000 feet when he saw Hurricanes taking off in the distance.

Most Read

He was then attacked by three Hurricanes and received damage to the tail unit.

He fired at one Hurricane which dived away and which he thought he had shot down.

After escaping the attention of the British fighters, Fl Sgt Lazzari then flew northwards along the Suffolk coast.

Mr Collis added: 'Flying low past Pakefield cliffs and up the main street in Lowestoft, the Italian fighter was finally forced down, not by British action but by a fault with the variable pitch gear of the propeller.'

Shortly before 2.30pm, after careering over a railway embankment, which tore off the fixed undercarriage, the plane finished up on its belly in a ploughed field near Corton Woods.

The Lowestoft Journal newspaper of November 16, 1940 went on to report how men working in the sugar-beet field where Fl Sgt Lazzari had crashed had 'mounted guard on him until a military escort arrived'.

Mr Lazzari formally surrendered to Lt Way of the 5th Battalion, Kings Own Rifle Regiment, who led him away into captivity.

The CR 42 was too badly damaged to fly again, but was removed to the Royal Aircraft Establishment Farnborough for detailed examination.

One small piece of fabric is still held by a local museum.

Do you have a local aviation story? Email joe.randlesome@archant.co.uk