Source. Flying Review International July 1966
THE STORY OF THE Re.2000
The "Reggiane" concern, the Officine Meccaniche Italiane SA, had been acquired by Count Gianni Caproni in 1935, but it was not until January 1938 that the absorption of the Studi Brevetti Caproni provided the "Reggiane" organisation with its own design department, and Roberto Longhi was instructed to initiate the design of an all-metal high-speed interceptor fighter embodying the latest aerodynamic and structural tech-niques. The aircraft was intended to meet and improve on the requirements of the fighter specification framed by the Air Ministry for the Programma `R' contest, but as the principal contenders for production orders, the Fiat G.50 and the Macchi C.200, were already flying, Longhi proposed to Count Caproni the purchase of a licence for an American fighter as insufficient time was available to design and build an entirely new fighter and still participate in the contest_ This proposal did not meet with approval, however, and after a careful study of existing singleseat fighter designs, work began on the Re.2000, the prototype of which (MM-408) was to be flown at Reggio little more than a year later, on May 24, 1939, with Mario de Bernardi at the controls.
American Techniques Adopted
The Re.2000 introduced to Italian aircraft manufacture the latest US technology, and Longhi was profoundly influenced by American design philosophy arid, in particular, the Seversky P-35, deliveries of which to the USAAC were about to begin. However, by dint of careful aerodynamic refinement Longhi anticipated a superior ail-round performance to that of the US fighter on virtually the same power, his calculations being confirmed by tests with scale models conducted in the Caproni wind tunnel at Taliedo. Longhi elected to use a modified N38 aerofoil section for the semi-elliptical wing of the new fighter, this wing being entirely of Alclad construction and featuring a five-spar structure, with aerodynamically and statically balanced Frisetype ailerons and, unusual for fighters of the period, split trailingedge flaps to increase the maximum lift coefficient. But undoubtedly the most interesting feature of the wing was its integral fuel tankage which, at that time, was considered to be revolutionary. The extremely clean fuselage was a circular-section Alclad monocoque, and the fourteen-cylinder two-row radial air-cooled Piaggio P.XI RC 40 engine, which was rated at 870 hp at sea level and 986 hp at 13,100 ft (4000 m), was enclosed by an NACA cowling and drove a three-blade variable-pitch constant-speed Piaggio-D'Ascanio airscrew. This power plant, which was later to be considered by many as the "Achilles heel" of the Re.2000, was to prove a source of constant dissatisfaction to Longhi who was subsequently to refer to its unreliable performance and to state that in his considered opinion it was incredible that the engine was ever granted an airworthiness certificate! All three members of the undercarriage were fully retractable, and the electrically-operated retraction mechanism turned the main-wheels through 90 deg to lie flat in the wing wells in Curtiss fashion. The main members were fitted with air pressure brakes; the legs, which incorporated oleo-pneumatic shock absorbers, took side loads and bending, the fore and aft loads being accommodated by drag struts, and the tailwheel was steerable.
The Prograrnrna `R' specification had called for an armament of a single 12,7-mm Breda-SAFAT machine gun, but Longhi made provision for the installation of two such weapons over the engine and, foreseeing the likelihood of a demand for greater weight of fire, also allowed for an additional pair of wing-mounted weapons, although these were not destined to be installed. Full R/T and oxygen facilities were provided, a reconnaissance camera or gun camera could be installed, and a small internal bay could accommodate up to 84x4.4-lb (2-kg) incendiary or anti-personnel bombs.
When, in the May of 1939, the prototype Re.2000 was finally pushed out of the experimental hangar at the Reggio Emilia airfield, in the centre of the Po Valley plains not far from Milan, both the Fiat G.50 and the Macchi C.200 had been committed to production. Indeed, the G.50 had already been blooded in action over Spain, but on that February morning, Roberto Longhi had no doubts whatsoever that the "Reggiane" would soon display its superiority over the Fiat and Macchi fighters, and his enthusiasm was fully shared by both the chief test pilot, Mario de Bernardi, and Count Caproni.
De Bernardi was elated by the results of the initial handling trials, and in the weeks that followed only relatively minor modifications to the prototype were called for, such as the extension of the carburettor air intake. During preliminary performance tests conducted at Reggio Emilia, a speed of 336 mph (541 km/h) was clocked in level flight, and this at a time when the Hurricane, with its cleanly-cooled Merlin engine, was barely reaching 324 mph (521 km/h). With the armament of twin 12,7-mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns installed, the prototype was transferred in June to Furbara for armament trials which were completed successfully after some malfunctioning resulting from incorrect alignment of the weapons, and in August the Re.2000 arrived at the Guidonia test centre for official performance trials. At Guidonia the Re.2000 was evaluated by Colonels Tondi and Quarantotti, and displayed remarkable manoeuvrability. Indeed, its powers of manoeuvre were even superior to those of the Fiat CR.42 biplane against which it flew in a series of mock dogfights. Later, it was to be flown in mock combat against the Messerschmitt Bf 109 at Guidonia, and to emerge the victor when flown by both Italian and German pilots.
During the official trials, the Re.2000 was flown with full armament of two 12,7-mm guns with 300 rpg, B.30 radio and 80 Imp gal (3601) of fuel, recorded empty and loaded weights being 4,541 lb (2 060 kg) and 5,732 lb (2 600 kg) respectively. The aircraft took-off within 180 yds (165 m), climbed to 6,560 ft (2 000 m) in I min 41 sec, to 13,120 ft (4 000 m) in 3 min 57 sec, and to 19,685 ft (6 000 m) in 6 min 23 sec, attaining a service ceiling of 37,730 ft (11 500 m). Recorded level speeds were 281 mph (452 km/h) at 6,560 ft (2 000 m), 311 mph (500 km/h) at 13,120 ft (4 000 m), and 320 mph (515 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6 000 m), range at the last-mentioned altitude being 334 miles (538 km) at 292 mph (470 km/h).
RELEASED FOR EXPORT
The Guidonia test pilots' enthusiasm for the new fighter was reflected in an order placed in the following month by the Italian Air Ministry which called for a batch of 12 aircraft for test and evaluation, and instructed "Reggiane" to initiate tooling for a further 188 machines, and the career of the Re.2000 in Regia Aeronaurica service appeared to be set fair. However, the subsequent technical evaluation of the fighter was not to be so successful in outcome as the flight evaluation. The Air Ministry's Technical Department could not be convinced of the desirability of integral fuel tanks which, it considered, offered less protection than orthodox tanks, and the instructions to tool up for quantity production were promptly rescinded. In vain Longhi proposed the complete redesign of the wing as a three-spar structure with conventional fuel tanks, and in the event, even the order for 12 test aircraft was to be cancelled (in April 1940) and replaced by an order for one aircraft with the new three-spar wing structure, this (MM.454) eventually being fitted with a Piaggio P.XIX RC 45 engine as the prototype Re.2002. Thus, it seemed that the Re.2000 had no future insofar as the Regia Aeronaurica was concerned.
Foreign air forces were not so sceptical of integral wing tanks, however, and as soon as the Italian Government had authorised "Reggiane" to solicit export orders for the fighter, demonstration flights were arranged for a number of foreign delegations. War clouds had already burst over Europe, and a number of countries were anxious to strengthen and modernise their fighter defences. The first foreign order came from Hungary, which country, having failed to receive modern replacements for its Fiat CR32 and CR.42 fighters from Germany and envisaging possible action against one or other of the surviving states of the "Little Entente", placed contracts with Caproni on December 27, 1939 for 70 complete Re.2000 fighters, plus spares, and a small number of additional airframes to assist the MAVAG (Hungarian State Wagon and Engineering Factory) in initiating production of the fighter, a manufacturing licence for which had been obtained simultaneously.
December 1939 also saw the arrival of a British Mission in Italy led by Lord Hardwick, the purpose of which was to purchase arms and particularly aircraft. Wing Commander H N Thornton, representing the Air Ministry, visited several of the Caproni factories, including the "Reggiane" works at Reggio Emilia. Negotiations were initiated for the purchase of Isotta Franschini marine engines, a thousand 20-mm cannon, 300 Ca313 light reconnaissance bombers, 100 Ca.311 trainers, and 300 Re.2000 fighters! On December 22nd, pilots Gray and Barnet accompanying the British Mission flight tested the Re.2000, and a month later, on January 26, 1940, the Director of Aircraft Contracts confirmed the British order for the "Reggiane" fighters. Surprisingly, on March 8, 1940, the German government signified its approval to the Italian government of the sale of Italian aircraft to Britain, but within a few weeks, on April 6th, this approval was withdrawn. Nevertheless, on May 15th Count Caproni and Lord Hardwick finalised a scheme whereby the aircraft would be sold to Britain by Portugal, the Caproni group having a Portuguese subsidiary, the Soc Aeroportuguesa. However, on June 10, 1940, Italy entered the war on Germany's side, and thus the devious schemes prepared to evade the German embargo on the sale of Italian aircraft to Britain came to nought.
Although the sale of the Re.2000 to Britain was to be frustrated, there had, in the meantime, been no shortage of potential foreign purchasers of the" Reggiane" fighter. Yugoslavia endeavoured to purchase 50 Re.2000s and a manufacturing licence for the type; both Spain and Switzerland expressed interest in purchasing similar quantities, Finland wished to place an order for 100 and, on November 28, 1940, the Swedish government signed a contract for 60 aircraft. The Swedish order was the only one to be endorsed by the Italian government as part of the purchase price was to be paid in chrome-nickel which was vitally needed by the Italian war industry.
Despite the Italian Air Ministry's cancellation late in 1939 of its instructions for tooling up for the quantity production of the Re-2000 fighter, Count Caproni had decided to go ahead with tooling all the same, and thus, in April 1940, less than four months after the placing of the order, deliveries of Re.2000 fighters to Hungary began. Aircraft built against the Hungarian order were known as the Re.2000 Ia Serie, and after factory testing and acceptance trials, they were mostly ferried from Reggio Emilia to Hungary by Italian pilots. The first Swedish Re.2000s began to leave the assembly line early in 1941, these being transported by rail through Germany to the CVM (the Flvgvapnet's Central Workshop) at Malmslätt for assembly, the first aircraft reaching the F 10 Wing at Ängelholm during May. By this time, however, Regia Aeronaurica interest in the Re.2000 had been renewed.
Early in 1941, Viceroy Amedeo di Savoia had sent to Italy a request for modern fighters to replace the CR.32s equipping Regia Aeronaurica units in Italian East Africa which were now faced by appreciably more modern Allied fighters. A few CR.42s had been airlifted to Africa in S.M.82 transports, but di Savoia and his assistant, Commandante Tait, were anxious to obtain fighters possessing sufficient range to fly direct from Italy to East Africa. Several fighters were evaluated, including the Caproni Vizzola F.5 and Macchi C.200, but the only modern Italian fighter that lent itself readily to adaptation for the long-range role was the Re.2000 because of its integral wing tanks. Apart from the under-carriage wells, the greater part of the wing centre section of the Re.2000 was occupied by fuel tanks, total capacity being 141 Imp gal (640 l). Of this, 99 Imp gal (450 I) was housed in the forward or main tank and 42 Imp gal (190 l) in the aft or reserve tank. Longhi found it possible to seal off considerable portions of the outboard wing panels to provide additional integral tankage totalling 187 Imp gal (850 l), thus providing a total fuel capacity of 328 Imp gal ( l 490 I). In the meantime, the commanders of several fighter squadrons had requested permission to test the Re.2000, while the Regia Marina was evincing interest in the fighter as a possible replacement for the elderly R.44 biplane on the catapults of the larger Fleet units. Thus, the Air Ministry commandeered on the Reggio assembly line 20 Re.2000s from the Hungarian order and eight from the Swedish order, replacement aircraft subsequently being built to complete the foreign purchases.
The first five of the commandeered aircraft were delivered to the 377a Squadriglia Caccia Terrestre which, formed on August 1, 1941 at Milo (Trapani) under the command of Capt Gino Cailistri, was initially part of the 23° Grupo of the 3° Stormo. Twelve other commandeered Re.2000s were fitted with new outboard wing panels which, incorporating integral tanks, were manufactured by the "Reggiane" Experimental Department. Designated Re.2000 G.A. (the suffix letters indicating Grande Autonomia, or Long Range), these aircraft were also delivered to the 377 Squadriglia, three of the initial batch of five Serie 1a aircraft originally delivered to the unit being returned to Reggio to have the long-range wing outer panels fitted, and with 12 aircraft on strength the squadron became an autonomous unit, the 377a Squadriglia Autonoma. Joining operations in September 1941, the 377a was employed primarily in the convoy escort and protective patrol roles, operating from Milo, Pantelleria and Comiso.
Endurance trials with the first Re.2000 G.A. conversion were conducted by Col Adriano Mantelli, and a number of wellknown Italian pilots volunteered to ferry aircraft of this type to East Africa, but force of circumstances necessitated the retention of the aircraft for operation over the Mediterranean. Of the remaining Re.2000s requisitioned from export orders, one was completed as the prototype Re.2003 tandem two-seater, and 10 were finished as Re.2000 IIIa Serie "Catapultabile" models for the naval air arm, the Aviazione Ausiliaria per la Regia Marina. The "Catapultabile" model retained the wing of the Re.2000 G.A. but had catapult pick-up points inboard of the undercarriage leg fairings and immediately aft of the wing roots. The decking behind the cockpit was also revised, the transparencies being omitted and the fairing scalloped to provide rear view for the pilot. Initial catapult trials had been conducted in 1941 with one of the first five commandeered Re.2000s at the San Elpidio airfield, Perugia, and early in 1942 a further series of trials were successfully completed from the battleship Italia. The 10 IIIa Serie aircraft were issued to the la Squadriglia Forze Navali which deployed its aircraft on catapults aboard the principal Italian naval vessels. An order for 50 additional "Catapultabile" Re.2000s had been placed in September 1941, on the strength of the initial trials at San Elpidio, but these were cancelled in the following December and replaced by an order for an additional 30 Re.2000 G.A. aircraft which were completed with a similarly modified decking aft of the cockpit to that of the naval model.
The additional Re.2000 G.A. fighters were used primarily to meet the attrition of the 377' Squadriglia which, in the meantime, had been transferred to Trapani Chinisia under Maj Giuseppe David, and, in March 1942, to Boccadifalco airfield, Palermo, from where, with Capt Luciano Marcolini as commander, it operated principally in the intercept role. The Re.2000s were supplemented by a Sezione of CR.42s until, on September 16, 1942 the surviving Re.2000s were withdrawn and the unit standardised on the Macchi C.200. The Re.2000s were ferried from Boccadifalco by 377a pilots to the "Reggiane" Technical Surveillance Service at Reggio Emilia for conversion to the "Catapultabile" model for the Regia Marina. Between September 1941 and September 1942, the 377a Squadriglia undertook 332 operational sorties totalling approximately 600 flying hours. Captain Marcolini (now commander of the Aeronautica Militare's 11 Regione Aerea Commando Operativo with the rank of General) recalls the exceptional manoeuvrability and excellent take-off characteristics of the Re.2000, but comments that the nose was somewhat heavy resulting in the landing characteristics leaving something to be desired. His predecessor, Major David, recalls also the fighter's outstanding manoeuvrability, its lack of vices, and his pilots' appreciation of its exceptional endurance (3 hours). Minor modifications made by the squadron personnel were the deletion of the equipment for dropping anti-personnel bombs, and the introduction of tailwheel locking to eradicate swinging during landing.
IN HUNGARIAN SERVICE
The standard production Re.2000 la Serie fighter for the Hungarian Air Force weighed 4,563 Ib (2 070 kg) empty and 6,349 lb (2 880 kg) in normal loaded condition. Maximum speed ranged from 261 mph (420 km/h) at sea level to 329 mph (530 km/h) at16,400 ft (5 000 m), and range was 714 miles (1 150 km) at 317 mph (5 10 km/h) at 19,685 ft (6 000 in), and 870 miles (1 400 km) at 289 mph (466 km/h) at 16,400 ft (5 000 m). An altitude of 13,120 ft (4 000 m) was attained in 4 min 20 sec, 19,685 ft (6 000 m) in 7 min 20 sec, and service ceiling was 31,170 ft (9 500 m). This performance represented a marked improvement over that of the biplanes previously equipping Hungarian fighter squadrons, although the Heja, as the Hungarians dubbed the "Reggiane" fighter, was not initially popular. In July 1941, six Re.2000s were issued to an experimental unit known as the Heja Flight for evaluation under combat conditions on the Russian Front. The unit flew a number of bomber escort missions, but saw little aerial combat owing to the lack of Russian opposition in the air, and at the end of the year the Heja Flight was recalled. By the end of 1941, all 70 Re.2000s had been delivered to Hungary, and by the following year the fighter element of the Hungarian 2nd Air Force Brigade, the Independent Fighter Group commanded by Lt Col K Csukis comprised the 1/1 Fighter Squadron at Szolnok and the 2/4 Fighter Squadron at Kolozsvar, each with 13 Re.2000s. Air activity progressively increased, and the two Reggiane squadrons destroyed a number of Soviet aircraft, losing only one machine in action, but Luftwafe pilots frequently mistook the Re.2000 for the Russian I-16, and several encounters between German and Hungarian fighters took place, at least two Re.2000s being lost in this way. The Hungarian squadrons were progressively re-equipped with the more potent if less manoeuvrable Bf 109G, and by the end of 1942 only one flight of Re.2000s remained in Russia, and these aircraft were lost during the Russian break-through of January 1943.
Licence manufacture of the Re.2000 by the MAVAG plant on the Kobinyai Road, was slow in starting owing to shortages of machine tools and other equipment, and the first aircraft was not assembled until 1942. Hungary had purchased the production licence for the Re.2000 at a cost of Lire 2 million covering the first 30 aircraft and then four per cent of the contractual price of the aircraft without engine for the 31st and subsequent aircraft. Hungarian experience with the Piaggio P.XI RC 40 engine installed in the aircraft imported from Italy had left much to be desired but, in any case, from the outset it had been decided to install the Manfred Weiss-built Gnôme-Rhône 14Kfs Mistral-Major fourteen-cylinder two-row radial which, known as the WMK-14B in Hungary, had a maximum rating of 930 hp at 14,860 ft (4 530 m) and drove a three-blade Hamilton Standard airscrew. Of slightly smaller overall dimensions than the original Piaggio engine, the WMK-14B engine was also lighter, and the engine bearers had to be lengthened to maintain the cg, overall length thus being increased by 1 ft 3.75 in (40 cm). However, the smaller diameter of the engine resulted in improved pilot vision, and the Manfred Weiss product offered few maintenance problems and was preferred by the pilots and ground staff alike. The Breda-SAFAT machine guns were replaced by Gebauer weapons of similar 12,7-mm calibre, although by the time the MAVAG-built Hija attained service status this armament offered a totally inadequate weight of fire. Maximum speed at 301 mph (485 km/h) at 13,780 ft (4 200 m) was somewhat below that of the Italian-built fighter, landing speed at 74 mph (120 km/h) slightly higher, and endurance at 2 hr 30 min generally similar.
After assembling one Re.2000 in 1942, MAVAG produced 86 in 1943 and a further 105 in 1944 before production finally terminated, but as the Heja was already considered obsolescent in 1943 when only one home defence unit based at Ferihegy was still operational on the type, and this converting to the Bf 109G in the autumn of that year, the bulk of MAVAG production found its way to the fighter training schools, although a number of Hijas drawn from training units were flown operationally against the Russians during the last weeks before Hungary's final capitulation.
IN SWEDISH SERVICE
The Flygvapnet was committed to a major re-equipment programme with US fighters at the beginning of the Second World War, but when, on October 18, 1940, the US government requisitioned 60 Republic EP-106 (P-35A) fighters built to Swedish contracts, it became necessary to find a replacement as quickly as possible, and six weeks later, on November 28th, the Swedish government placed an order with the Caproni group for 60 Re.2000 fighters at a total cost of Sw Kr 18.7 m, a proportion of the purchase price to be paid in chrome-nickel.
Designated J 20 by the Flygvapnet, the Re.2000 entered service from May 1941 with F 10 at Ängelholm, supplanting the Gloster Gladiator. The Re.2000 soon made itself extremely popular with its Swedish pilots, manifesting markedly superior speed, climb and manoeuvrability over the Republic EP-106, and was considered a pilot's aircraft in every respect. But the Italian fighter was by no means popular with Swedish maintenance personnel who subsequently referred to the Piaggio P.XI RC 40D as a nightmare. The Piaggio P.1001 airscrew also presented its share of problems, and trouble was experienced with the synchronization mechanism of the machine guns.
The P.XI RC 40D engine as installed in Swedish Re.2000s was rated at 1,040 hp, but official performance figures for the fighter as tested by the Flygvapnet are somewhat lower than those quoted by the manufacturer, and empty and loaded weights at 4.828 lb (2 190 kg) and 6,39316 (2 900 kg) are somewhat higher. Flygvapnet figures quote maximum speed as 310 mph (500 km/h) at 16,400 ft (5 000 m), and time to 19,685 ft (6 000 m) as 8 min. Nevertheless, the Re.2000 was the fastest fighter in Flygvapnet service and virtually the only one capable of intercepting the large numbers of German and Allied aircraft crossing into Swedish air space. Being based in southern Sweden, F 10 had the unenviable task of endeavouring to turn intruders out of Swedish skies or force them to land at Swedish airfields, and Allied pilots frequently mistook the Re.2000 for a Force-Wulf Fw 190, while their Luftwaffe counterparts no less frequently mistook the Swedish flown Italian fighter for a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt. Thus, intruders opened fire on F 10 fighters, and several Re.2000s were lost in this way, including one that was shot down as late in the war as April 3,1945 by a Dornier Do 24 north of Simrishamn.
In August 1945 the last Re.2000 was withdrawn from service with F 10, and the career of the fighter that, six years earlier, had been considered too advanced by the air arm of the country in which it was conceived, had come to a close. The "Reggiane" fighter could lay little claim to fame on the strength of its operational career-although a descendant, the Re.2005, was subsequently considered by
Reggiane Re. 2000