|First flight||24 May 1939|
|Retired||July 1945 (Sweden)|
|Primary users||Hungarian Air Force
Swedish Air Force
|Number built||180 + license built|
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 maneuverable interceptor/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.79 built 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, the Regia 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 km/h, the maximum speed was only 505–520 km/h at 5,500 m, and 390 km/h on sea level (Re.2000: 530 and 410 km/h), 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 Cap. Donato Tondi. Firstly based at Grottaglie, later Capodichino, finally La Spezia, as air defence for naval bases. Disbanded on April 1943, it was replaced by 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 V.Veneto and 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 Littorio, Roma and Italia (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 a.a. guns. The fate of the four Re.2000s was as follows: the one on Roma was lost with the battleship; the one of Italia (ex-Littorio) was damaged and jettisoned from the ship, after the Fritz-X impact. One Re.2000 was launched from 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.
The Swedish purchases of various types of Italian warplanes in 1939–41 were an emergency measure resulting from the outbreak of war, as no other nations were willing to supply aircraft to this small neutral country whose domestic production did not become sufficient until 1943. The Swedish Air Force purchased 60 Re.2000 Serie Is, which received the Swedish designation J 20 and were delivered during 1941-43.
All of the J 20s were stationed at the F10 wing, Bulltofta airbase, Malmö, in the southern tip of Sweden in 1941-45. They were mainly used to intercept Axis and Allied bombers that violated Swedish airspace. One J 20 was lost in combat, shot down while intercepting a Luftwaffe Dornier Do 24 near Sölvesborg on 3 April 1945.
The pilots appreciated the type, which performed well under harsh conditions. But its mechanical reliability did not meet Swedish Air Force requirements, with the aircraft having to spend a lot of time in maintenance. At the end of the war, the 37 J 20s that remained in service were so badly worn out that they were decommissioned in July 1945 and subsequently scrapped, while only one was kept for display purposes.
German leaders were reluctant to supply the Royal Hungarian Air Force (Magyar Királyi Honvéd Légierő); MKHL), which was seen to be focused on home defence and the possibility of conflict with Romania. Adolf Hitler expressed this in early 1942 when Hungary requested German-built fighters. "They would not use the single-seaters against the enemy but just for pleasure flights!... What the Hungarians have achieved in the aviation field to date is more than paltry. If I am going to give some aircraft, then rather to the Croats, who have proved they have an offensive spirit. To date, we have experienced only fiascos with the Hungarians."
The MKHL consequently became a significant purchaser of Italian aircraft and was the main operator of the Re.2000. Hungary bought 70 Reggiane Re.2000 Falco Is and then also acquired the licence-production rights for this model to produce a total of 200 aircraft, known as MÁVAG Héja ("Hawk") II built between 1940 and 1942. According to other sources,170–203 aircraft were built. The II series was the same aircraft with a different engine and Hungarian machine guns.
The first aircraft received from Italy were sent to Debrecen to strengthen home defences, as there was danger that the growing crisis over Transylvania could lead to a conflict with Romania. Conflict was avoided and the Reggianes were used in the war against the Soviet Union.
Hungarian Re.2000 fighters were used on the Eastern Front, where combat performance against the Soviet Air Force was satisfactory. The first Hungarian ace of the war, 2/Lt Imre Pànczél, claimed his first air victories while flying the Re.2000, three of them in one sortie, in 1942. In the summer of the same year, Hungarian Air Force contributed with its 1st Repülőcsoport (aviation detachment) to the German offensive Fall Blau. 1/I Fighter Group (1./I Vadász Osztály) was equipped with 13 Re.2000s or Héjas.
However, the Re.2000's flight characteristics were markedly different to the Fiat CR.32, from which Hungarian pilots frequently converted. The Re.2000 was much more prone to handling difficulties, especially stalls and spins, as well as reliability issues. All of the 24 Re.2000s had suffered accidents (minor and major) within a month of combat deployment. Landing and takeoff accidents were common on the rudimentary Russian airfields and due to the Re.2000 not having a rugged landing gear, compared to that of the CR.32. After a steel plate was added behind the cockpit to protect pilots, the shift in the aircraft's center of gravity led to more frequent accidents. In a much publicized accident, István Horthy (the son of the Hungarian regent Miklós Horthy), serving as a fighter pilot with the Hungarian Second Army died flying a Re.2000 V-421 with 1/III Fighter Squadron on 20 August 1943, on his 25th operational sortie. After a pilot flying above asked Horthy to increase height, he pulled up rapidly, stalled and crashed.
Production of licence-built Hejas continued: 98 were completed in 1943 and 72 in 1944 although the variant was regarded as no longer suitable for combat against the latest Soviet fighters. Hungary requested an additional 50–100 Re.2000 airframes made in Italy, as suitable engines and armament could be locally manufactured and other countries expressed interest, including Finland (100 examples), Portugal (50), Spain, Switzerland and Yugoslavia. However, no airframes were available.
By April 1944, the MKHL still deployed four Héja IIs in 1./1 Fighter squadron and four Hejas II in 1/2, all of them based in Szolnok for home defence duties, along with about 40 Bf 109s and Messerschmitt Me 210s. The last sortie for the licence-built Reggiane Re.2000 occurred on 2 April 1944. That day, 180 bombers from the USAAF 15th Air Force, escorted by 170 fighters, bombed the Danube Aircraft Works and other targets in Budapest. The Hungarian fighter control centre in the Géllert hill, near Budapest, scrambled one wing of Hejas from 1/1 Fighter squadron, along with 12 Bf 109G-4/G-6S and a couple of Messerschmitt Me 210Cas-1s from the Experimental Air Force Institute (RK1). The Hungarians reported 11 aerial victories, of which six were confirmed, while USAAF pilots claimed 27 MKHL aircraft shot down. However, later records showed only two Honvéd pilots were killed.
- Initial prototype, one built.
- Re.2000 Serie I
- Production model, 157 built. Serie I had modified windshield and slight equipment changes.
- Re.2000 Serie II
- Ship-borne version, 10 built. Serie II had a 1,025 hp Piaggio P.XIbis engine and arrester gear.
- Re.2000 (GA) Serie III
- Long-range fighter, 12 built. Serie III had redesigned cockpit, increased fuel capacity and option of a 170 l auxiliary fuel tank or a dispenser of 22 2 kg bomblets.
- RE 2000 "Catapultabile"
- Re 2000 aircraft modified for catapult launch from Regia Marina ships. On the day of the armistice, 8 September 1943, 6 Re 2000 "Catapultabile " were in service, with two on the battleship Roma and one each on the Vittorio Veneto and Italia (formerly the Littorio).
- Héja I
- Hungarian designation for Serie I.
- Héja II
- Hungarian designation for modified license-produced Serie I. Héja IIs had a 986 hp WMK 14 engine and two Hungarian 12.7 mm Gebauer machine guns.
Specifications (Re.2000 Series I)
Data from RE 2000...The 'State-of-the-Art' Reggiane 
- Crew: 1
- Length: 7.99 m (26 ft 2½ in)
- Wingspan: 11.00 m (36 ft 1 in)
- Height: 3.20 m (10 ft 5⅞ in)
- Wing area: 20.40 m² (219.6 sq ft)
- Empty weight: 2,090 kg (4,585 lb)
- Loaded weight: 2,839 kg (6,259 lb)
- Powerplant: 1 × Piaggio P.XI RC 40 14-cylinder twi-row air-cooled radial engine, 986 hp (736 kW) (1000 CV) at 4,000 m (13,125 ft)
- Propellers: Piaggion-D'Ascanio P.1001 three-bladed constant speed propeller
- Propeller diameter: 3.10 m (10 ft 2 in)
- Maximum speed: 530 km/h (268 knots, 329 mph) at 5,300 m (17,400 ft)
- Cruise speed: 440 km/h (237 knots, 273 mph)
- Range: 545 km (296 nmi, 340 mi)
- Endurance: 1.25 hours
- Service ceiling: 11,200 m (36,745 ft) (practical ceiling)
- Climb to 4,000 m (13,125 ft): 4 min
- Guns: 2× 12.7 mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Bloch MB.152
- Curtiss P-36
- Curtiss-Wright CW-21
- IAR 80
- Macchi MC.200
- Mitsubishi A6M
- Nakajima Ki-43
- Yakovlev Yak-9DD
- Related lists
- Ethell 1995, p. 72.
- Angelucci and Matricardi 1978, p. 214.
- Snedden 1997, p. 53.
- Cappone, Max C.A. "Reggiane RE 2000 Falco (Hawk): The Regia Aeronautica: American". Planes and Pilots of World War Two Retrieved: 23 June 2011.
- Green and Swanborough 1990, p. 57.
- Original trials made at Guidonia by Regia Aeronautica, late 1939.
- 'L'aviazione', De Agostini, Novara 1986, vol 12 p.156
- Sgarlato 2006, pp. 22–25.
- Duncan-Smith 1981, page 174.
- Malizia, Nicola. Il Reggiane RE 2000. Rome: Ateneo & Bizzarri, 1978.
- Harrauer, Franco. "Re.2000 Catapultabile." Aerei nella Storia, W.Ward editions, Parma ago-September 2008, pp. 49–50.
- Henriksson, Lars. "J 20 - Reggiane Re 2000 Falco 1 (1941–1945)." Avrosys.nu. Retrieved: 27 March 2010.
- "A fighter paid with precious metals". www.ww2incolor.com. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
- Neulen 2000, p. 131.
- Neulen 2000, p.121.
- Shores 1983, p. 103.
- Bergström-Dikov-Antipov- 2006, p. 21.
- Neulen 2000, p. 127.
- Neulen 2000, p. 130.
- Sgarlato 2006, p. 16.
- Neulen 2000, p. 136.
- Green and Swanborough 1990, p. 65.
- Angelucci, Enzo and Paolo Matricardi. World Aircraft: World War II, Volume I (Sampson Low Guides). Maidenhead, UK: Sampson Low, 1978. ISBN 0-562-00096-8.
- Bergström, Christer, Andrey Dikov and Vlad Antipov. Black Cross Red Star: Air War over the Eastern Front, Volume 3: Everything for Stalingrad. Hamilton, Massachusetts: Eagle Editions, 2006. ISBN 0-9761034-4-3.
- Cattaneo, Gianni. The Reggiane Re.2000 (Aircraft in Profile Number 123). Windsor, Berkshire, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1972 (reprinted from 1967). No ISBN.
- Duncan-Smith, Wilfred (Grp. Capt ret). Spitfire into Battle. Feltham, Middlesex, UK: Hamlyn Paperbacks, 1981. ISBN 0-7195-3831-9.
- Ethell, Jeffrey L. Aircraft of World War II. Glasgow: Collins and Jane's, 1995. ISBN 0-00-470849-0.
- Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. "RE 2000... The 'State-of-the-Art' Reggiane". Air Enthusiast, Forty-one, Midsummer 1990, pp. 54–69. Bromley, UK: Tri-Service Press. ISSN 0143-5450.
- Longhi, Roberto. "Reggiane and I... A Fighter Designer Recalls". Air Enthusiast, Two, 1976, pp. 214–224. Bromley, UK: Fine Scroll.
- Mondey, David. The Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II. New York: Bounty Books, 1996. ISBN 1-85152-966-7.
- Neulen, Hans Werner. In the skies of Europe: Air Forces Allied to the Luftwaffe 1939–1945. Ramsbury, Marlborough, UK: The Crowood Press, 2000. ISBN 1-86126-799-1
- Punka, George. Reggiane Fighters in action. Carrolton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications, 2001. ISBN 0-89747-430-9.
- Sgarlato, Nico. Reggiane (in Italian). Parma, Italy: Westward editions, 2006.
- Snedden, Robert. World War II Combat Aircraft. Bristol, UK: Parragon, 1997. ISBN 0-7525-1684-1.
- Shores, Christopher. Air Aces, Greenwich, Connecticut: Bison Books, 1983. ISBN 0-86124-104-5.
- Taylor, John W. R. "Reggiane Re.2000 Falco I (Falcon)". Combat Aircraft of the World from 1909 to the Present. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-425-03633-2.
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