The Re.2000 was the first of a series of Italian fighter aircraft produced by the Reggiane subsidiary of the Caproni group. The Re.2000 arrived too late to compete in the 1938 contest to find a new fighter for the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force), and only a very small number entered Italian service.
It had originally been intended that Reggiane would concentrate on licensed production of American aircraft. Instead it was decided to produce a semi-original aircraft, heavily based on the Seversky P-35. This was a single seat fighter powered by the 1,050hp Twin Wasp engine, capable of reaching 305 mph.
The Reggiane design retained the fuselage and wings of the P-35. It was powered by the Piaggio P.XI RC.40 14-cylinder air-cooled radial engine, providing 986hp. Despite the less powerful engine, the Re.2000 was still faster than the P-35, with the prototype reaching a top speed of 320mph.
The new design had two great disadvantages in the 1938 contest to find a new fighter aircraft. First, the prototype did not fly until May 1938, some six months later than its best rival, the Macchi C.200 Saetta. Based around a new engine from an untried supplier, and with war looking ever more likely any delay could be disastrous. Second, it carried its fuel in a vulnerable position in its wings, where they could easily be hit by enemy fire. The fuel tanks also tended to leak in normal conditions. This second problem caused the cancellation of an Air Ministry order for 188 production aircraft.
The Re.2000 was more manoeuvrable than its Italian rivals, and had an impressively high service ceiling for 1938. Reggiane won a number of export orders for the Re.2000, selling 70 to Hungary, 60 to Sweden and even 300 to Great Britain (although none were delivered before Italy entered the war). Another forty aircraft were completed, including 24 of the long range Re.2000 G.A., designed to be able to reach Italy’s East African empire.
The main Italian user of the Re.2000 was the 23rd Gruppo Autonomo (Independent Group). One of its three squadrons received a number of Re.2000s in the spring of 1941. At the same time an experimental section was formed to test the Re.2000 under operational conditions. In their hands the Re.2000 was used to drop light bombs on British positions on Malta. In July 1941 the experimental section was upgraded to full squadron status as the 377th Squadriglia Autonomo Caccia Terrestre (Independent Land-Based Fighter Squadron), equipped with thirteen Re.2000s. This unit operated the aircraft from Sicily and North Africa until September 1942.
The seventy aircraft sold to Hungary saw the most active service. As a German ally, Hungary joined in the invasion of Russia, sending a number of Re.2000s (known as the Héja in Hungarian service) to the front. They were operational between August 1941 and January 1943, when the last operational aircraft were overrun during a Russian advance.
Although not a great success itself, the Re.2000 was a fundamentally sound design. When combined with the more powerful Daimler Benz DB 601A-1 engine, built under license in Italy, it became the basis of the much improved Re.2001 Falco II.
Engine: Piaggio P.XI RC.40 14-cylinder two row radial air cooled
Horsepower: 1,000 at take off
Span: 11.00m (36ft 1in)
Length: 7.99m (26ft 2.5in)
Max Speed: 320mph at16,400ft (armed prototype)
Ceiling: 10,500m (34,448 feet)
Range: 840 km (521 miles)
Armament: Two 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT MC.12.7 machine-guns