The Caproni-Reggiane Re.2000 Falco I was an Italian all metal, low-wing, monoplane with a Curtiss-style retractable undercarriage, used in the first part of World War II. This lightly built and highly maneuverableinterceptor/fighter, similar to the Seversky P-35, flew for the first time in 1939. It proved a technically advanced aircraft, well balanced and extremely aerodynamic, but not without its faults.
Although potentially superior to Italian contemporary fighters (Fiat G.50 and Macchi C.200), the Re.2000 was not considered satisfactory by Italian military authorities. Consequently, the manufacturer built it for export and almost all of the first production served with the Swedish Air Force and Hungarian Air Force, rather than in the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force).
Design and development
The Reggiane Re.2000 was designed by Roberto Longhi and Antonio Alessio in 1938. They took inspiration from the contemporary Seversky P-35 which it superficially resembled. The Re.2000 was the first aircraft designed by Reggiane that employed aluminum stressed skin rather than the wooden or mixed wood and metal structures normally used in contemporary Italian aircraft such as the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79built by Reggiane under license. Reggiane introduced several advanced features: a modern structure, well more advanced than the ones used in Macchi's and other Italian fighters of the time; an elliptical wing, with five spars and integral fuel tanks. Reggiane Re.2000 had no fuselage tanks, but nevertheless, with the entire wing volume devoted to fuel, it had up to 460 kg (640 lt) gasoline, with a 900 1,100 km endurance, far better than Macchis and Fiats. The armament was still two 12.7 mm Breda's (300 rounds each), plus the provision for bomblet-dispensers (spezzoniera).
The Re.2000 prototype's first flight was on 24 May 1939 at Reggio Emilia, flown by Mario De Bernardi,. The Re.2000, with 260 kg fuel (the maximum was 460 kg/640 lt, but RA did not needed it) was quite light: 2,059 kg empty, 2,529 kg loaded. It reached 518 km/h at 5,250 m and 506 km/h/6,000 m, climbed to 6,000 m in 6,5 min, and had 11,500 m ceiling. During test flights the aircraft gave an excellent performance, and on several occasions, it performed better than other fighters then in production. In mock dogfights, it could successfully fight not only the slower Fiat CR.42 biplane, but even the more modern Macchi C.200 and the German Bf 109E.
The Re.2000GA (Grande Autonomia) version, added extra 340 liters fuel tanks. This version should have been used to reach Eastern Africa, but it wasn't ready before the Italian defeat; the only fighter sent to reinforce Regia Aeronautica units were 51 C.R.42s disassembled and transported by the large Savoia-Marchetti SM.82s. Re.2000GAs were heavier and significantly slower than the standard production Re.2000s. At an empty weight was 2,190 kg compared to the Re.2000's 2,080 kg, maximum speed was 520 km/h at 5,300 m. Armament was two 12.7 mm SAFAT with 600 rounds, and provisions for a Nardi dispenser with 88 2 kg bomblets (a typical 'special armament' for Re.2000s). The Re.2000GA was never really reliable (even for Re.2000 standards), especially its troublesome engine.
The Re.2000bis equipped with P XI bis engine was built in small numbers with only nine examples delivered when 377a Sq. was born, in August 1941.
In service, the Re.2000's weak point was the engine, a 986 hp (735 kW) Piaggio P.XI RC 40 radial, which was not altogether reliable. Moreover, it was not as rugged as the Macchi and its fuel tanks were vulnerable (they were not self-sealing). Consequently, theRegia Aeronautica rejected it.
The Reggiane Re.2000 was much more prominent in the Hungarian and Swedish air forces. In fact, 80 percent of Re.2000 production went to these two countries, with Hungary ordering 70 and Sweden 60 machines. Other countries also exhibited interest, but did not place orders.
In December 1939 a British commission, led by Lord Hardwick and Air Ministry representatives, came to Italy to purchase (along with marine engines, armaments and light reconnaissance bombers) 300 Re 2000s. The Director of Aircraft Contracts confirmed the British order in January 1940. The German government approved the sale in March of the same year, but withdrew its approval the following month. The Italian and British governments then decided to complete the contract through the Italian Caproni’s Portuguese subsidiary, but the British order was cancelled when Italy entered World War II on 10 June 1940.
Only five Serie Is served in the Regia Aeronautica, including the prototype. They were organized into the Sezione Sperimentale Reggiane inside the 74a Squadriglia in Sicily. Later it was renamed 377a Squadriglia Autonoma Caccia Terrestre, and received nine further Serie III Re.2000bis; 12 of the 26 Reggianes were later converted to GA standard.
The few Re.2000 and 2000GA were used over Mediterranean Sea as escort and attack aircraft, sometimes with Macchi 200/202s and C.R.20 two-engine fighters. 377a was based in Sicily, and fought in Malta and Pantelleria, mainly in an escort role and protecting Axis ships almost until Tunisia (with a range up to 300–350 km), well beyond the other RA single seat-fighters; sometimes it was used to attack Malta with bomblets (spezzoni) and machine guns, typically at dawn. It reported a single 'kill' against a Bristol Blenheim. Overall, their service was not remarkable: there was at least one sudden fatal flat spin, while another Re.2000 had fatal engine damage (a piston was literally driven through the cylinder) and crash-landed, overturning, catching fire and almost killing its pilot (rescued by the ground crew). Although the Reggiane had a long range, it was disliked and even feared by ground crew and pilots, for its difficult maintenance and unpredictable engine reliability and handling. The last Re.2000 was sent back to the factory in September 1942.
The final fate of Re.2000 in Regia Aeronautica was to serve with 1° Nucleo Addestramento Intercettori (N.A.I.), based at Treviso, and serving for experimental purposes until the Armistice. The last two serviceable aircraft were demolished by the Germans, with another one destroyed after being captured at Furbara.
The Regia Marina (Italian Navy), however, experimented with a carrier version (Serie II) which was successfully launched by catapult. Lacking a carrier, Italy used a similar system to the British CAM ships equipped with Hurricanes. The first proposal was made in late December 1940, although the program officially began with an order issued in April 1943. The first modified Re.2000 Cat. (taken from the Swedish orders) flew on 27 June 1941, the last on 18 January 1942 (MM.8282-8288), but crashed on 10 September. There was another navalized Re.2000, the MM.471. It flew initially with a lower powered A.74 RC.38 engine, but it was lost too, during the travel from Reggio Emilia to Taranto (12 May 1941). The first launch was performed on 9 May 1942 with test pilot Giulio Reiner.The work to make suitable the Re.2000 Cat., nicknamed Ochetta (little goose) took considerable time and only at the beginning of 1943 were they used aboard the Littorio class, but not more than one for every ship (although capable of holding three aircraft). Initially the Re.2000 Cat. aircraft were issued to Littorio and Vittorio Veneto, while Roma followed only in the summer, after testing had taken place aboard the RN Miraglia.
The Re.2000 Cat. was slower than a standard Re.2000; instead of 515–530 kilometres per hour (320–329 mph; 278–286 kn), the maximum speed was only 505–520 kilometres per hour (314–323 mph; 273–281 kn) at 5,500 metres (18,040 ft) km/h at 5,500 m, and 390 kilometres per hour (240 mph; 210 kn) at sea level compared with 541 kilometres per hour (336 mph; 292 kn) for the Re.2000. The climb to 6,000 m was 7,75 min (vs 6,5-7 min), apparently there was not much difference in ceiling 10,000–11,100 m and endurance, range was 450 km, endurance 1,000 km (at 460 km/h), up to km 1,290 (at m 6,000, full loaded, km/h 430). Weights were 2,120–2,870 or, probably with the complete kit, 2,200–2,970 kg; the engine was the P.XIbis, that had 1,000 hp (750 kW) both at take-off and at 4,000 meters. Differing from the Serie I, both Serie II and III variants were equipped with radios. There was the usual Italian armament (two 0.50 caliber Breda machine-guns with 300 rounds each), and some provisions for external loads (tanks or bombs), apparently never utilized.
The Re.2000 were assigned to Squadriglia di Riserva Aerea delle FF.NN.BB. (air reserve squadron for naval battleships), led by Captain Donato Tondi. This was initially based at Grottaglie, then at Capodichino and finally at La Spezia, as air defence for naval bases. The squadron disbanded on April 1943 and was replaced by the 1° Gr. Riserva Aerea delle FF.NN.BB, led by now Maj. Tondi, with three flights. It had all the eight Re.2000s and several old fighters. Many of them were aboard the battleships: two for Vittorio Venetoand Roma, one for Littorio (summer 1943).
Six Re.2000 Cat.s were still available at the time of the Armistice and four were in service aboard the battleships Italia (Littorio before the fall of Mussolini), Roma and Vittorio Veneto (the normal load was only one, the battleship had up to three aircraft, but smaller than the Re.2000). The two left at La Spezia were demolished after September 1943 (they served with 1a Squadriglia). During the Roma's sinking (9 September 1943) only one was launched, as they were a single mission aircraft (forced to reach a land airfield); therefore, Do 217s attacked facing only anti-aircraft guns. The fate of the four Re.2000s was as follows: the one on Roma was lost with the battleship; the one of Italia was damaged and jettisoned from the ship, after the Fritz-X impact. One Re.2000 was launched from Vittorio Veneto to catch the intruders, but failed and finally crashed while landing near Ajaccio airfield. The last one survived and it is still existent, the only Re.2000 in Italy (another is in Sweden). This is the MM.8287.