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Breda BA.65

Breda BA.65

The Ba.65 sprang from the concept of a flying military jack-of-all-trades, formulated by Colonel Amadeo Mecozzi as he set about procuring a modern ground-attack plane for the Regia Aeronautica. For Mecozzi, the ideal military airplane was one that would be able to perform a wide variety of functions: fighter, light bomber, army cooperation and photo- reconnaissance. Of the several designs submitted to satisfy that specification, that of the Societa Italiana Ernesto Breda,was ultimately selected. Developed in 1932 from the Breda 27 single-seat fighter, the Breda 64 was completed early in 1933 as a cantilever monoplane. The Ba.64 prototype was powered by a Bristol Pegasus radial engine, license-built by Alfa Romeo, in a long-chord cowling, which was later replaced by an Alfa Romeo 125 RC35 engine rated at 650 hp. The Ba.64′s undercarriage retracted rearward into the wings. The headrest behind the open cockpit was extended as a streamlined fairing all the way down the fuselage upper decking to the tail. Armament consisted of four 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT guns in the wings and up to 880 pounds of bombs in racks under the wings. The basic problem with the Ba.64 was its size in relation to its power plant. With a maximum speed of 220 mph, the new aircraft lacked the performance to be a very effective attack or reconnaissance plane, let alone a successful fighter. The first production Ba.64s were delivered in the summer of 1936 and were a profound disappointment. The Ba.64′s mediocre speed and heavy handling characteristics were anything but fighter like, and its tendency to go into a high-speed stall caused several fatal crashes. In 1937, the Ba.64s took part in a series of well- publicized military maneuvers, but they were withdrawn from service the following year. Modified into two-seaters with a 7.7mm machine gun in the rear, only a small number of Ba.64s were built for the Regia Aeronautica, since Breda was already working on an improved model, the Ba.65. Two Ba.64s were purchased by the Soviet Union in 1938. One was delivered to General Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces in June 1937 and saw brief service during the Spanish Civil War.

Evolved from the Ba.64, the Ba.65 was also a single-seat, all-metal, cantilever low-wing monoplane with aft-retracting main undercarriage. Initially intended as an interceptor and attack-reconnaissance plane the Ba.65 carried wing-mounted armament of two 12.7mm and two 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns, and provided internal stowage for a 440-pound bomb-load in addition to external ordnance that could total 2,200 pounds. The prototype, which was first flown in 9/35, was powered by a Fiat A80 RC41 18-cylinder, twin-row radial engine with a takeoff rating of 1,000 hp. Production of the Ba.65 began in 1936, the initial model having a Gnôme-Rhône 14K 14-cylinder radial of 900 hp. The single-seat Gnôme- Rhône version of the Ba.65, of which 81 were built, attained a maximum speed of 258 mph at 16,400 feet and 217 mph at sea level. Maximum cruising speed was 223 mph at13,125 feet, and range was 466 miles with a 440-pound bomb load. The service ceiling was 25,590 feet.

In 12/36, Mussolini decided to give his military personnel some experience in a real conflict, the Spanish Civil War. His program to assist Franco’s Nationalists included the establishment of a 250-plane aerial contingent, the Aviazione Legionaria. The first installment of that force consisted of four Ba.65s unloaded on 12/28/36, to be joined by eight more on 1/8/37. In March, the attack planes were transported to Cádiz, along with newly arrived Fiat C.R.32 fighters. The last of the Ba.65s arrived on 5/3 and were formed into the 65th Squadron. Teething troubles were soon experienced with the new planes and not until August did the unit begin operations. On 8/24 one of its pilots scored a unique air- to-air victory when he encountered a lone twin-engine Tupolev SB-2 bomber over Soria and shot it down.

During operations in northern Spain, several Ba.65s were converted to two-seat planes, and one was experimentally fitted with an A360 two-way radio. At the end of the campaign in October, the squadron was transferred and in December the Bredas braved bitter winter weather conditions to take part in the battles for Teruel. After that city fell, the 65th Squadron, bolstered by the arrival of four more Ba.65s, took part in the Aragon offensive, which by 4/15 had succeeded in cutting the Spanish Republic in two. During the Nationalist advance, the Ba.65s harassed retreating Republican troops, attacked artillery batteries and landing grounds, and bombed railway and road junctions. During the Battle of the Ebro in 7/38, the 65th Squadron used its Ba.65s as dive-bombers for the first time, striking at pontoon bridges that the Republicans had thrown across the Ebro River. By 9/38, attrition had whittled the squadron’s complement of aircraft down to eight, but six more Ba.65s arrived, and in 1/39 the squadron was ready to take part in the final offensive against Catalonia. The Ba.65s’ final mission was flown on 3/24. When the war ended five days later, the 65th Squadron had logged 1,921 sorties, including 368 ground-strafing and 59 dive-bombing attacks. Of the 23 Ba.65s sent to Spain, 12 had been lost. When the airmen of the Aviazione Legionaria returned to Italy in May, they bequeathed their 11 surviving Ba.65s to the Spanish Air Force.

While the Ba.65 was being blooded over Spain, a two-seat version, the Ba-65bis, had been developed, and export orders for the Breda assault monoplane had been solicited. Fifteen aircraft with 14K engines were ordered in 1937 by the Royal Iraqi Air Force (RIAF), 13 of which were Ba.65bis two-seat planes equipped with a hydraulically operated Breda L dorsal turret mounting a 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine gun; the remaining two were dual-control trainers. Ten single-seat Ba.65s were delivered to the Soviet Union, and in 1938, 20 Ba.65s equipped with Piaggio P.XI C.40 engines, 17 single-seat attack planes and three dual-control trainers, were delivered to Chile. In 1939, 12 Ba.65bis models with Fiat A80 engines and power turrets were ordered by Portugal for its Air Force. In 6/37, a Ba.65 was experimentally fitted with an American Pratt & Whitney R-1830 engine in anticipation of an export order from Nationalist China that was never placed.

When Italy entered World War II in 6/40, the Regia Aeronautica had 154 Breda Ba.65s in its inventory, including 119 fitted with Fiat A80 RC41 engines and a small number of Ba.65bis two-seaters with a manually operated 12.7mm machine gun in the rear gunner’s pit rather than the Breda L turret. Owing to the unsatisfactory performance of the Fiat A80 RC41 under desert conditions, all Ba.65s with that power plant were re-engined with the Isotta-Fraschini-built Gnôme- Rhône 14K before being committed to North Africa.  In 9/39, Ba.65s equipped the 101st and 102nd Squadrons of the 19th Group of the 5th Stormo, the 159th and 160th Squadrons of the 12th Group, and 167th and 168th Squadrons of the 16th Group, both components of the 50th Stormo. Soon after Italy entered the war on 6/10/40, however, it became clear that the large single-engine attack bomber was as ungainly and vulnerable to enemy fighters as was its British contemporary, the Fairey Battle. During the Italian invasions of France and Greece, Ba.65s were conspicuous by their absence. By mid- 1940, the only Ba.65s in a position to see any combat were those of the 50th Stormo in North Africa, and even they ended up contributing little to Italian operations there. The principal units involved were the 159th Squadron and the 160th Squadron. Usually their missions involved flying about 150 miles to attack British tanks, armored cars and other vehicles from altitudes of about 1,000 feet. Due to a shortage of high-explosive bombs, however, the Bredas usually carried incendiary bombs that caused little destruction on rocky ground or in sand, which tended to contain the fires they caused. Steady attrition, a shortage of spare parts and a realization by the Italian army that the Ba.65s were not really an effective weapon resulted in the replacement of the Bredas in the 160th Squadron with the Fiat C.R.32 quater, a close-support fighter-bomber adaptation of the 1932-vintage C.R.32 biplane fighter. The embarrassing superiority of the C.R.32quater over its supposedly more modern monoplane contemporary was underlined on 8/4/40. Six Ba.65s of the 159th Squadron attacked British vehicles at Bir Taib el Esem, while six Fiat C.R.32s of the 160th Squadron waited 3,000 feet above to follow up their strike. The Bredas were about to make their third and last strafing run when they encountered a Westland Lysander of No. 208 Squadron, escorted by four Gloster Gladiator biplane fighters of No. 80 Squadron. The Gladiators promptly attacked the Bredas downing two of them. At that point, however, the C.R.32s dove on the British fighters, claiming three of the Gladiators. The fourth Gladiator was damaged but returned to its base.

In September, the 168th Squadron, equipped with 14K-powered Bredas, commenced operations alongside the beleaguered 159th. In 12/40 the British went over to the offensive, and the Ba.65s, joined by a few reinforcements from Italy,fought valiantly but vainly to stem the onslaught. At the end of December, the 168th Squadron, its aircraft decimated by foul weather conditions as well as combat losses, was disbanded. At the end of 1/41, the advancing British found six dilapidated Ba.65s lying abandoned at Benghazi airfield. The surviving aircrews of the 159th Squadron were transferred either to fighter squadrons or to dive-bombing units equipped with the Junkers Ju-87B Stuka.

Breda BA.65

The Ba.65′s ill-starred combat career was briefly revived on 5/2/41, when hostilities broke out between British forces in Iraq and that country’s anti-British, pro-German chief of the National Defense Government. Among the Iraqi aircraft that attacked the RAF base at Habbaniya that day were some of the 13 Ba.65bis machines that had been delivered to Iraq in 1938 and assigned to No. 5 Squadron, RIAF. Although three British aircraft were destroyed on the ground in the initial strike, subsequent Iraqi sorties were disrupted by Habbaniya’s defenders. Later that same day, Flying Officer J.M. Craigie, flying a Gladiator of Habbaniya’s ad hoc fighter flight, was about to land when he saw a Ba.65 coming in to bomb the field. Pulling up, he fired at the Breda and forced it to break off its attack, although he failed to bring it down. Over the next few weeks, damage from aerial opposition and ground fire, combined with inadequate maintenance facilities and an insufficient supply of spare parts, eventually grounded all the Iraqi aircraft. Despite some desultory aid from the Germans and Italians, the Iraqis failed to drive out the British, who were soon invading Iraq. On May 31, an armistice was signed ending the Iraqi revolt and the fighting career of the Breda Ba.65.

Specifications
Crew 1 or 2 (Depending on Model)
Horsepower 1,000 HP
Weight 3,490 Kg
War Load Kg. 500/1000m
Engine (1) Fiat A80 RC 41
Max Speed 430 Km/h
Max Ceiling 7,900 (8,300Meters)
Fixed Weapons 2/12,7 Breda Safat (wings), 2 7/7 Breda Safat (wings)(aft)
Range 550/800 Km

Article By JDG, Photo and Specifications courtesy JDG and Alberto Rosselli.

Sources:
The Encyclopedia of Weapons: From World War II to the Present Day
DUST CLOUDS IN THE MIDDLE EAST: The Air War for East Africa, Iraq, Syria, Iran and Madagascar
Fighters over the desert;: The air battles in the Western Desert, June 1940 to December 1942
Complete Book of World War II Combat Aircraft (Documents of History)
Jon Guttman, “Italy’s Breda Ba.65 was not the best ground-attack plane to see action in World War II–it may well have been the worst”
William Green, Warplanes of the Second World War (10 vol.), Doubleday, 1960-68.
Japanese and Italian Aircraft (Military Aviation Library World War II)
Jonathon Thompson, Italian Civil and Military Aircraft 1930-45, Aero, 1960.

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