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Review: Book on the Breda Ba.65

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  • Review: Book on the Breda Ba.65

    Look what dropped into my mailbox the other day - yes, Garello's bible on the Breda Ba.65. 255 pages where he crushes the negative myths on this aircraft type and points to its real problems - the Italian Air Force's lack of leadership and understanding regarding the fighter-bomber/dive-bomber concept, much of the Italian fighter pilots corps' unwillingness (and lack of specific training) to adapt to a modern aircraft in a new, specialized role and its demise in an environment - the North African Desert - where the particular climatic and maintenance conditions made this modern design particularly vulnerable, if not to the enemy so to its own organization’s lack of preparation for it. A point that, more or less, was valid for all the warring parties and their equipment.

    The author presents an overview of the dive-bomber concept at the time after which come the development story of the Ba.65 and the Breda Company. Also, the proof of the pudding of the Ba.65, its participation in the Spanish Civil War, is told in detail followed by the frustrating rope-pulling of the various parties in the Air Force and the aircraft manufacturing community. While the Ba.65 was sent to Spain during the civil war there to test out the operational side of both the aircraft type and the concept (dive-bombing) it doesn’t seem as if the information collected were properly digested by the responsible persons in Italy. There was a lot of toing and froing, besserwissers and interested parties, more interested in adjusting the type to the established doctrines and type of flying instead of adapting themselves to the provable success of this modern aircraft in Spain.

    Today, an aircraft like this would probably be designated as a “ground attack” aircraft. The Italians called them “Assalto” – which I believe English-speaking readers do not need to have translated to them. The Ba.65, however, was launched more like a fighter-bomber, in power of its relatively fast top speed at the time. With its internal bomb bay (later extended to carry an under-wing load, as well) it could better be compared with the Fairey Battle, SBD Dauntless, Blackburn Skua or the Ju87 Stuka. But its performance and armaments were better than any of those.

    It was therefore not so strange that its main initial missions in Spain were CAP’s – Combat Air Patrols, more specifically protecting the Nationalist Soria airfield against the intruding soviet-built SB-2 bombers flown by the Republican Air Force. These were usually misnamed as “Martins” due to its similarity in appearance to this type of bomber. As it were, the Nationalist Air Force had no fighters that could intercept the high-level bombings by these until the Breda arrived. This took place in the spring of 1937 and it wasn’t long until they also started to fly recce, shallow-dive bombing and strafing missions. This was the initial version with the K14-engine, an Italian license-manufactured French Gnome-Rhone, with somewhat less power output than the final Breda version with the Fiat A80 engine (1.000 hp.).

    The versions eventually sold to Iraq, Portugal and Chile are also described and the book contains some nice fold-out drawings on the various versions and their internal construction together with color plates of the different nationalities.

    But, first of all, there are detailed graphs of performance, hours flown and ordnance used on what sort of missions and a general description of how the type was used both in Spain and North Africa.

    The book is, of course, in Italian, a problem I am slowly working around. Nice touch: The authors visiting card was inside the book.... ....the book was published (printed, anyway) in 1980.

    My interest in the Breda Ba.65 was evoked some time back for much the same reasons as I became interested in the German Operation Sea Lion, I reacted to the wholesale ridiculing and mostly negative critique of its operational history. And what did I find? An extremely modern aircraft for its time, introduced into an Air Force with strong opinions as to how a fighter-like aircraft should behave – what I would like to call the biplane-syndrome. Italian pilots wanted to roll, spin and loop, much like the WW1-generation. Here was an aircraft with a much more business-like approach, like the Stuka - find your target, hit it and get home. Something alike happened when the Fiat G.50 and the Macchi MC.200 were introduced to the Italian Air Force. Whole squadrons refused to swap their CR.32’s and CR.42’s for the new fighters and elected to stay on with the older, less modern types. Some squadrons were happy to get the new types but had their cockpit canopies removed!

    The first indication I found that something was wrong was simply comparing the empty weight of the aircraft and the engine power. Were the Italians bad airplane constructors? No, they were not! Did the Breda factory have a bad reputation? No! So, what was wrong? The hp/weight ratio was as good as, or better, than other similar constructions, Italian or others. When I started looking around for a clue what struck me was the lack of relevant performance information. Speeds were not quoted relative to altitude, actual weights or configuration, same thing with the range figures. What weights, speeds and altitudes flown were these calculated from? Useful load? How was that calculated?

    Well, most of what I found over time is in Garello’s book. In the meantime I have skirted the web, obtained some light literature on it, the better one being the same Garello’s Air d’Italia no. 7, a 55-page mixed Italian/English publication. I downloaded some very nice original technical manuals (also seemingly used by Garello) in Italian, bought a plastic kit in 1/48 scale and a very nice die-cast model in 1/100 scale. Anything helps. A Spanish website gave me the statistics from the Civil War which I now see probably was taken from Garello’s book presently described here.

    My own findings on the Ba.65, as told by Garello, seem to be reasonably on the spot. That I like! After all, he is the specialist….:-)..

    I found one very interesting, and new to me, point in the book. A picture shows a Ba.65 placed on its nose (engine) inside a hangar, below it is a small sand hill and under the belly of the aircraft, in a specially formed semi-enclosure, hangs what looks like a 100-150 kg. bomb. This picture is from 1938 and guess what: This picture is taken in connection with trials on a remotely controlled anti-ship bomb devised by the Italian general Crecco.


    Last edited by leandros; 22 May 13, 10:00.
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