History of the Reggiane Re 2001 Re 2002 Re 2003

When Italy entered WW II  on June 10, 1940, the factory of Caproni's "Reggiane" subsidiary at Reggio Emilia, near Milan, was a hive of activity. Production of the Re.2000 fighter for the Hungarian government was occupying the newly-established assembly line, the finishing touches were being applied to the new DB 601-powered Re.2001 prototype, the future Ariete I, in the experimental shop, and in the drawing office work was already well advanced under the leadership of Roberto G Longhi on yet another fighter, the Re.2002.
Earlier, in April, the Ministero Dell' Aeronautica had cancelled its order for 12 Re.2000 fighters owing to its conviction that Longhi's five-spar wing with integral fuel tanks was impracticable, replacing it with an order for one aircraft featuring an entirely redesigned three-spar wing structure housing what were then considered to be conventional tanks. At this time, Piaggio was bench-running a new two-row 14-cylinder radial air-cooled engine, the P XIX RC 45 Turbine (Whirlwind) B, which offered a sub-stantial increase in power over the P XI RC 40 engine installed in the Re.2000. Longhi elected to install this new engine in the single aircraft ordered by the Ministero, and this finally emerged from the experimental hangar at Reggio Emilia in October 1940 for flight testing as the prototype Re.2002 (MM454).
In the meantime, the first Re.2001 prototype had enjoyed re-markable success during official evaluation trials at the Guidonia test centre, and the Ministero was about to sign substantial pro-duction contracts for the DB 601-powered fighter, but the Re.2002 offered certain advantages over the Re.2001, and the Ministero evinced as much enthusiasm for this new fighter as for its im-mediate predecessor. The Re.2002 made use of an indigenous engine possessing a highly promising performance at low altitude and, what is more, it was a radial air-cooled power plant and there-fore appreciably less vulnerable to ground fire than the liquid-cooled engine of the Re.2001. Thus, Longhi's new fighter pos-sessed considerable potential for the attack role.
The prototype Re.2002 featured a clean, close-fitting long-chord cowling, small blisters enclosing the valve gear, and apart from the new three-spar wing was very similar to the Re.2000. The Turbine B engine was still at an early stage of development, however, and teething troubles plagued the flight test programme which, in December, came to a complete standstill while delivery of a replacement engine was awaited. This duly arrived, and in March 1941 the prototype was ferried to Guidonia for official evaluation. At Guidonia the aircraft was flight tested by many pilots, including Commander Mario de Bernardi, and although trials were constantly interrupted by difficulties with the engine, the aircraft displayed a speed capability closely comparable with that of the DB 601-powered Re.2001 and an even better climb rate.
In the late summer of 1941, the "Reggiane" plant began work on a production prototype (MM7309). This differed from the first prototype in a number of respects. The engine cowling was redesigned, the airscrew spinner was enlarged and a 10 ft 2 in (3,1 m) diameter Piaggio P 2001 three-blade variable-pitch air-screw fitted; the Re.2000-style cockpit canopy was discarded in favour of a canopy similar to that of the Re.2001; a non-retract-able tailwheel supplanted the retractable unit; an anti-dust filter was introduced in the carburetter air intake; a pair of 7,7 mm SAFAT machine guns with 650 rpg were introduced in the wings; a rack was fitted beneath the fuselage for a 441-Ib (200 kg) bomb; hard points were introduced in the wings just outboard of the undercarriage with racks for a pair of 353-Ib (160-kg) bombs, and, a new 1,200 volt electrical generator was fitted.
Completion of the second prototype was seriously delayed owing to Piaggio's inability to deliver the engine and, in the event, the aircraft was not delivered to the Regia Aeronautica until March 1942, but meanwhile, on September 10, 1941, the Min-istero had placed a production order for 200 Re.2002s and manufacture had begun at Reggio Emilia. Modifications de-manded to suit the aircraft for the attack role had resulted in some reduction in overall performance, maximum speed, for example, deteriorating from 342 mph (550 km/h) to 329 mph (530 km/h), but, nevertheless, the anticipated capabilities of the Ariete 11, as the Re.2002 had by now been officially named, were such that a supplementary order for a further 200 aircraft was placed with Caproni's Taliedo plant early in 1942.
Although Piaggio was never to succeed in completely eradicating the troubles experienced by its Turbine B engine, it was developed to a standard considered acceptable for service introduction, and production tempo gradually built up during the summer of 1942. Late in the year deliveries of the Ariete // to the Regia Aeronautica  began, the first service unit to convert being the 5 Stormo Tuffatori which began to receive its new equipment early in 1943 and comprised the 101` and 102" Gruppi previously operating Fiat CR 42s and Junkers Ju 87s respectively. The task of working up the Ariete II for operational service was allocated to the 102" Gruppo which consisted of the 209' and 239' Squadriglie, the former being transferred for this duty to Reggio Emilia and the latter being based at Lonate Pozzolo, the home of the Regia Aeronautica's Dive-Bombing Training Unit. Difficulties with the engine still disrupted the programme, one major difficulty being the tendency of the Turbine B to overrun in a dive and then promptly cut during the pull-out. Nevertheless, the 102' Gruppo was ordered to Tarquinia for operations during the early summer of 1943, the 101" Gruppo being despatched to Crotone shortly afterwards.
On July 9, 1943, the entire 5` Stormo was gathered at Crotone for operations against the Allied invasion forces, performing its first mission on the afternoon of the following day with an attack on Allied vessels in Augusta Harbour, during the course of which the transport Talamba was sunk but four Ariete II attack aircraft were lost, including that of the Stormo Commander, Col Nobili. On July 13th, 11 Ariete IIs from the 5 Stormo attacked the battleship HMS Nelson, claiming a hit with a 551-lb (250-kg) bomb, but a heavy USAAF attack on Crotone airfield shortly after the Ariete Its returned from this sortie necessitated the with-drawal of the Stormo to Manduria where replacement aircraft were delivered, the unit returning to operations on July 19th with an attack by 15 aircraft on Augusta, six Ariete Its being lost during this sortie. By September 4th, the 5' Storino had lost 19 aircraft in action, but its successes had included the sinking of the cargo vessels Fort Pelley and Fishpool, and it had inflicted heavy damage on HMS Dorsetshire and other vessels. While the 5' Stormo was blooding the Ariete II in action, the 50' Stormo d'Assalto based at Lonate Pozzolo and comprising the 158' and 159` Gruppi was undergoing conversion from the Fiat G 50bis to the Ariete II, but by the time the Armistice was signed only the latter Gruppo had converted. At 08.00 hours on September 7, 1943, the 5` Stormo possessed 24 Ariete IIs of which 12 were serviceable, and the 50' Stormo's 159' Gruppo had ten of which only four were serviceable.
On March 11, 1943, the Ministero dell' Aeronautica had supple-mented earlier orders totalling 400 machines with an order for a further 300 Ariete IIs, although at the time of the Armistice only 147 machines (99 Serie I' and 48 Serie II') had been delivered to the Regia Aeronautica and these against the initial order for 200 aircraft. The remaining 53 aircraft on this order were nearing completion on the assembly line at Reggio Emilia, and the Ger-man authorities immediately ordered "Reggiane" to complete these, together with a further 30 aircraft of which construction had started against the third order (the second awarded the Reggio Emilia plant). Furthermore, the factory was instructed to commence immediate preparations for the production of an initial quantity of 300 examples of a new version of the Ariete II mounting a BMW 801 engine and reverting to the original five-spar wing with integral fuel tankage of the Re.2000.
The factory personnel protested that they were unable to pro-duce such wings as they possessed no suitable sealing materials, but the Germans overruled these objections, saying that the necessary materials would be obtained from Sweden. Design of a suitable mounting to adapt the BMW 801 for installation in the Ariete II was completed rapidly, and a prototype mount was con-structed in the experimental shop and transported to Germany where presumably a trial installation was to have been made in an Ariete II airframe. However, Allied attacks on Reggio Emilia put paid to all plans to manufacture the BMW 801-powered Ariete II, and also seriously affected completion of the aircraft already on the assembly line. In fact, only two were handed over to the Luftwaffe in November followed by a further six in Decem-ber, and an Allied attack on the night of January 7-8, 1944 ter-minated production once and for all. What machinery and tool-ing could be salvaged from the Reggio Emilia plant was then transferred to Caproni's Taliedo factory and to another facility at Biella where tooling had already begun for 70 of the Ariete lls of the 300 that had been ordered by the Italian Ministero in March 1943. In the event, only two aircraft were completed at Biella, and of 60 built at Taliedo during 1944, only 25 reached the Luftwaffe.
The Ariete II attack fighters taken over by the Luftwaffe at the time of the Italian Armistice and those delivered subsequently were delivered to hastily-formed Schlachtgruppen in France for operations against the increasingly troublesome French resistance forces, particularly in the areas of Aisne, Vercors and Limoges, some operating from the airfield at Etampes-Mondesir.
On the Allied side, as part of the Italian Co-Belligerent Air Force, the 5' Stormo with 20 Ariete Its on strength began opera-tions against German forces on September 18, 1943, attacking a landing force heading from Igomenizza, Albania, towards the island of Corfu with 220-lb (100-kg) bombs, and breaking up a strafing attack by seven Ju 87s on Corfu airfield. At the end of the month, the 5' Stormo possessed 21 aircraft of which l 1 were serviceable, and with the reorganisation of the Italian fighter force into the so-called Raggruppamento Caccia, or "Fighter Concen-tration", the Ariete Its of the 5' Stormo were formed into a Gruppo Tuffatori for operations in the Balkans, subsequently performing many missions. On January 1, 1944, the surviving Ariete IIs were concentrated in the 102 Gruppo which began operations on January 8th with a strafing attack on the Albanian airfield of Berat, but within a few weeks only the 3298 Squadriglia Tuffatori was still operating the "Reggiane" which was finally withdrawn from first-line service in June, the 15 surviving exam-ples being assigned to the Scuola di Pilotaggio at Leverano, being finally scrapped in the following year.
During 1942, some consideration had been given to the use of the Re.2002 Ariete II as a catapult fighter from warships, and some trials were conducted, and one Re.2002 fuselage was married to an Re.2005 wing with outward-retracting main under-carriage members as the Re.2002bis (MM 7327). A parallel development to the Re.2002 was the two-seat Re.2003 tactical reconnaissance aircraft, development of which had been requested by the Ministero in 1941. The first prototype of the Re.2003 (MM 478) was actually a conversion of an Re.2000 Serie 111" air-frame with tandem seating for the pilot and observer, and re-tained the P Xlbis RC 40 engine. Provision was made for the installation of both panoramic and planimetric cameras.
An order for 200 Re.2003 two-seaters was placed on December 16, 1941, deliveries being scheduled to commence from Septem-ber 1942, although the first prototype was not completed until March of that year. A second prototype (MM 12415) was built, this embodying a number of the features of the Ariete II, including a rather similar engine cowling, although the engine retrained the same as that of the first prototype, and the twin fuselage-mounted 12,7-mm SAFAT machine guns were supplemented by a pair of wing-mounted 7,7-mm weapons, while bomb racks were added beneath the fuselage and wings to provide the aircraft with attack capability. However, it soon became obvious that production of the Re.2003 could only be undertaken at the ex-pense of production of the Re.2001 and Re.2002 Ariete fighters, and in view of the importance being attached to the single-seaters by the Regia Aeronautica, further development of the two-seater was abandoned and the production order cancelled.
Source Flying Review International Sep - Oct 1967