Staff Writer (Updated: 7/6/2016):
The Reggiane concern ("Officine Meccaniche Reggiane SpA") operated under the banner of parent company Caproni and was headquartered out of Reggio Emilia in north-central Italy. Founded in 1901, it still maintains operations in the machinery field today (though as "Reggiane Cranes and Plants SpA").
Reggiane Engineers Roberto Longhi and Antonio Alessio were credited with the work that brought about an earlier form of the Reggiane Re.2001 known as the Reggiane "Re.2000". This low-wing monoplane aircraft with enclosed cockpit first flew in May of 1939 and was introduced in 1940 while being produced in over 180 examples. However, the aircraft was deemed unsatisfactory for use by the Regia Aeronautica and therefore originally sold through as export products to both Hungary and Sweden.
Unable to secure the potentially lucrative Italian Air Force government deal , Reggiane engineers set about working on a more improved fighter form. This cause was also furthered by the arrival of the German Daimler-Benz DB 601 series engine which now became available to the Italians. The engine was license-produced locally as the Alfa Romeo RA1000 RC 41-I "Monsone" ("Monsoon") and featured an output of 1,175 horsepower. Within a revised airframe, the aircraft - was now christened as the "Re.2001" - flew in prototype form during July of 1940. Subsequent flight testing proved it an aircraft with exceptional performance gains over the original as well as the maneuverability required for the dogfighting role - it was seen as on par with British Spitfires. Two prototypes were eventually completed.
However, the development cycle of the Re.2001 was fraught with delays brought about by Regia Aeronautica change requests - this also led to an extensive redesign of the wing structure dealing with internal fuel stores. Work on the changes pushed development into 1941 and first production-quality models were not available until June of that year. Operational readiness was further hampered by the limited stock of RA1000 engines and the aircraft proved complex machines to produce. This also led to high procurement costs for supplies and man hours required during assembly. By the end of the year, the total stock of available Re.2001 fighters was just 40 aircraft. Formal service began in December of 1941 as the aircraft deployed across three Italian fighter squadrons.
Production continued at a slow pace and 1942 saw another 100 added to the Italian inventory with the final batches arriving during 1943. Three primary variants ultimately emerged, the first being the Re.2001 "Series I" standard fighter development with 4 x machine gun armament; 100 were built. The second mark was the Re.2001CB fighter-bomber variant which held provisions for a single 220lb or 500lb bomb along the fuselage centerline - these aircraft appeared from 1942 onwards. The third mark became the Re.2001CN dedicated night fighter carrying a pair of 20mm cannons in underwing gun pods. These were produced in 74 examples across Series III and Series IV batches. A modified fighter-bomber form was the Re.2001G/V but these saw little service and limited production. Reggiane continued development of the line but only begat prototypes that were never adopted.
The primary operating airspace of the Re.2001 was in the Mediterranean Theater. Night fighters generally operated over Italy as a defensive measure from Allied bomber attacks. After the Italian surrender in September of 1943, Italian air power was divided into the pro-Allied co-belligerent force and the pro-Axis Republica Sociale Italiana. In either case, the aircraft remained in limited numbers - largely due to production numbers, serviceability, and combat losses already incurred. Eight Re.2001 airframes served with co-belligerent forces and just one with the Italian Social Republic. The Re.2001 was not exported nor did it serve in the German Luftwaffe as other Italian fighters did after the September 1943 surrender.
From published accounts, the Reggiane Re.2001 was a sound fighter aircraft, holding strong handling characteristics and maneuverability which made it comparable to its contemporaries. Its machine gun armament may have limited the type to a certain extent but its performance was certainly serviceable for the early-war period: through its Alfa Romeo engine and its streamlined airframe, the aircraft would reach speeds of nearly 340 miles per hour with a range out to 685 miles. Its service ceiling reached 36,100 feet with a rate-of-climb nearing 2,600 feet per minute.
After the war, only five Re.2001s remained in service. These were given up in the years following.