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War in the Mediterranean – part 3 – Italian plane, bad plane?

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On to the Breda Ba.65! There is really no particular reason why I selected this airplane other than a little while back I incidentally saw an article where it was described as probably the most flawed aircraft of WWII. Of course – it is Italian! I knew very little about the Ba.65 and I have no in-depth literature on it. I don’t need it as what information is easily available right away popped a warning sign to me – the obsolete-warning! That is, not obsolete! I shall explain but first some background information. Why not start with copying Wikipedia:

“An evolution of Ba.64, the Ba.65 was designed by Antonio Parano and Giuseppe Panzeri. The Ba.65 was a single-seat, all-metal, low-wing cantilever monoplane with aft-retracting main undercarriage. Like its predecessor, it was intended to undertake aeroplano di combattimento multiple roles as a fighter, attack and reconnaissance aircraft. The Ba.65 carried wing-mounted armament of two 12.7 mm (0.5 in) and two 7.7 mm (0.303 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns, with internal stowage for a 200 kg (440 lb) bombload in addition to external ordnance that could total 1,000 kg (2,200 lb). The prototype, which was first flown in September 1935, like the initial production aircraft, used the 522 kW (700 hp) Gnôme-Rhône K-14 radial engine produced under license by Isotta-Fraschini. Starting from the 82nd aircraft, the more powerful Fiat A.80 RC.41 18-cylinder, twin-row radial with a takeoff rating of 746 kW (1,000 hp) engine was adopted. Production ceased in July 1939 after 218 aircraft were built by Breda and Caproni”.

Here some of the main specifications:

Crew: 1
Length: 9.30 m (30 ft 6.1 in)
Wingspan: 12.10 m (39 ft 8.4 in)
Height: 3.20 m (10 ft 6 in)
Wing area: 23.5 m² (253 ft²)
Empty weight: 2,400 kg (5,300 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 2,950 kg (6,500 lb)
Powerplant: 1 × Fiat A.80 RC.41 radial engine, 746 kW (1,000 hp)

Performance:

Maximum speed: 430 km/h (230 kn, 270 mph)
Range: 550 km (342 mi)
Service ceiling: 6,300 m (20,670 ft)

Armament:

Guns: 2 × 12.7 mm (.50 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns,
2 × 7.7 mm (.303 in) Breda-SAFAT machine guns,
1 x 7.7 mm or 12.7 mm Breda rear-mounted machine gun (when adapted)
Bombs: 500 kg (1,102 lb)

A comment on the specifications above. We right away see a little discrepancy. On the bomb capacity the text states: ….internal stowage for a 200 kg (440 lb) bombload in addition to external ordnance that could total 1,000 kg (2,200 lb), while under performance it says: 500 kg. Further, it is not specified at what altitudes the speeds are calculated, nor on what weights. Also, nothing is mentioned on the best (economic) cruise speed. Rate-of-climb (ROC) is a very important parameter in a combat aircraft – not mentioned. So is the turning rate. After all, its mission was specified as a fighter, too. The best indicator of the turning rate is the wing loading figure. We do not have that but we have the wing area (23.5 sq.m.) so that can be calculated when we have decided what combat weight we are operating at. This is a good way to compare different aircraft types’ turn-rate. Of course, it is only part of that equation, but an important one. Here is where the designer really kicks in.

Frankly, I am a little suspicious on the weight specifications as a whole. With an empty weight of 2.400 kg. and a 500 kg. bomb it is only 50 kg. left for fuel. If the text is to believed it could carry up to 1.000 kg’s internally and externally! Is the empty weight inclusive of fuel? Is there a mixup here with the Ba.64, which it superseded? Or between the two engine types which were used. Obviously the 1.000 hp. engine must have given better performance than the 700 hp. one. The range is given as 550 km. Is this operational range (with fuel for return flight included) or total range (one-way). In the range would normally be included a certain reserve or extra fuel for an alternative return airfield in case of bad weather or combat hazards. Clearly one or more of these figures are not correct as they differ in all sources!

OK, so here are a couple of variables which indicate some weaknesses. Mainly the range/fuel capacity/bomb weight question. But, we can work with this even if it would have been nice to have som specialized documentation on the Breda. We should now do some comparisons with other contemporary aircrafts. There were many! The first that comes to mind are:

Junkers Ju87, Blackburn Skua, Henschel Hs.123, Douglas Dauntless, Fairey Battle, Aichi D3 Val, Curtiss Helldiver, Fairey Barracuda. All these were multi-seated, except for the Hs.123, with rear-mounted machine guns. Initially the Breda was a single-seat but some were modified, other newly-built, with rear-mounted armaments. Several of the mentioned types were built to be fighter-like, self-sustaining combat planes. The Skua and the Dauntless were probably the most efficient in this role. The Skua had two 7.7 mm. forward-firing m.g.’s, the Dauntless had two 12.7 mm. The Breda had two 12.7 mm. and two 7.7 mm. machine guns. Its alternatively rear-mounted m.g. was the 7.7 mm Breda. Compared with its contemporaries the Breda was the best-armed aircraft.

With its 900 hp. engine the Skua could carry one 227 kg. (500 lbs.) bomb or several smaller ones. The Dauntless (SBD-5) carried approx. 1.100 kg. But this was the definitive model, the first ones probably had only the 1.000 hp. Twin Wasp with a lower carrying capacity, or shorter range, than the SDB-5. The Breda could carry 500 or 1.000 kg. bombs, depending on whom to believe. We should throw in the Japanese Aichi Val, too. It was very maneuverable but with its large fixed undercarriage it had a drawback in regard to max. speed. It only carried a bomb-load of 250 kg. but over a very long range. Armament was two forward-firing 7.7 mm. and one rear-mounted m.g. Of these aircraft the Ba.65 seemingly had the shortest range. This does not make it a less efficient fighter or dive bomber, but less adaptable.

Finally, let’s look at the max. speeds of the various types. Please bear in mind that there is little uniformity in the figures, they are quoted without stating weights, altitudes or bomb configurations. Of all the planes only the Breda had the capability of carrying an internal bombload. The Wikipedia figures show the Ba.65 to have a max. speed of 430 km./hr., the Val 430 km./hr., the Skua 360 km./hr., the Dauntless (SBD-5) 406 km./hr. The Barracuda falls somewhat outside the weight class of the others and was also operational much later – 1943. More from Wikipedia:

“The Ba.65 debuted during the Spanish Civil War. Thirteen Series I aircraft, powered by the Gnôme-Rhône engine, equipped the 65a Squadriglia of the Aviazione Legionaria (Italian Legionary Air Force). The unit took part in operations at Santander in August 1937, then at the Battles of Teruel and the Ebro. It proved effective and was compared positively with the German Junkers Ju 87 Stuka. In a unique engagement, on 24 July 1936 (obviously wrong year), one of the Legionary Air Force pilots scored an air-to-air victory when he encountered a lone twin-engine Tupolev SB-2 bomber over Soria and shot it down. Of the 23 Ba.65s sent to Spain, 12 had been lost in the course of the civil war. The Ba.65s flew 1,921 sorties, including 368 ground-strafing and 59 dive bombing attacks. When the Aviazione Legionaria returned to Italy in May 1939, they bequeathed their 11 surviving Ba.65s to the Spanish Air Force”.

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Comments

  1. Great article Frederick. I enjoyed it. I like your style and the fact that you are not taken in by the bull$&% of other writers who, like sheep, bah in unison when it comes to all things Italian military.

    I’m preparing another article, this time a critique of a PhD lecturer ninny who wrote a monograph of the Italian attack on France in June 1940. It is academic gibberish. I hope to show it up for the nonsense it is soon.

    Unfortunately because he has a PhD after his name, people seem very willing to take him at his word. It is amazing what crap people accept if you happen to have three letters after your name.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Thank you for this interesting article and re-assessment of a little-known Italian dive-bomber. Good job!

  3. Div132Ariete says:

    Hi I love this article very well the truth, I’ve been reading the various publications of the supreme command (3 years) and I’d put a few things I have, but I can not figure out how to post what I have and I want to know as public (can you tell me how to do to post something?), please and thank you for all you are doing, your effort to bring the history of Italy to the general public, is an effort that I appreciate and want to thank

  4. Hello Fred,
    Great research, I really enjoyed your article.
    It’s time that the Ba65 got a little repect.
    BTW, little known fact. Adriano Visconti, one of Italy’s top scoring Aces, flew the BA65 in North Africa from June 11, 1940 to January 28 1941.
    He was decorated several times for his heroic actions on missions that involved strafing of enemy lines, tanks, military vehicles, munition dumps, etc.
    He liked flying the Ba65 and at times he got into dog fights with RAF fighters, which he managed to chase away and evade.
    According to his commanding officers and fellow pilots, he was an exceptional flyer and had a keen eye!
    Visconti was part of the 50th Stormo (Wing) Assalto (Assault Air support), which acquitted itself well during Operation Compass.
    The only complaint the pilots had was that there weren’t enough Ba65s and not the quality of the aircraft.
    Imagine if the 50 Stormo had 500 of these planes during Operation Compass!

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