Ground Attack Aircraft – 215 Built
The Breda Ba.65 was an Italian ground attack plane that first saw action during the Spanish Civil War of the late 1930’s. It was built in both single and two seat configurations, and was exported to various nations during the buildup to the Second World War, but only saw active combat with the Regia Aeronautica in Northern Africa.
According to Italian Colonel Amadeo Mecozzi, a WWI veteran fighter ace, the best use of aerial forces was the fast neutralization of military targets rather than unnecessarily wasting resources by attacking civilians or civil industry. He placed a big emphasis on the development of attack aircraft that could perform several different roles. Per his request, the major Italian aircraft manufacturers were to present their proposed planes that would be used by the Regia Aeronautica (Italian Air Force) in the future.
Two aircraft were selected to test the Mecozzi concept. The Caproni A.P. 1 and Breda Ba.64, which were both ready for use in 1933-34. Both of these monoplanes were relatively modern in appearance. The low performance of the Caproni A.P. 1 in the Spanish Civil War led to withdrawal from the front line, with some 54 – 57 being produced.
The Ba.64 prototype was powered by a Bristol Pegasus radial engine, license-built by Alfa Romeo, but was later replaced by a better new Alfa Romeo 125 RC35 engine with 650 hp. It was armed with four 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT guns in the wings and the bomb load was around 500-550kg. But despite the stronger engine the speed was low for an fighter or an attack aircraft (350km/h). A few were tested in the Spanish Civil War in 1938 but flight performance was disappointing and it was removed from service and replaced with the Ba.65.
The Ba.65 made its first flights in September of 1935. It was designed to be a multi-role aircraft as a light bomber/attack aircraft, reconnaissance, and interceptor aircraft. Ba.65 was a cantilever low-wing monoplane with the main landing gear units retracting rearwards into the underwing fairings. The materials used on the Ba.65 was the chrome-molybdenum steel alloy tubing, covered overall with duralumin sheet, except for some parts of the wing’s trailing edges which were fabric-covered.
The engine used on the prototype was the French Gnome-Rhone K-14 700 hp (522 kW) or 900hp according to some sources. The same engine would be used to equip the first production series of some 81 aircraft. The remaining planes would be built with one 1,000hp (746 kW) Fiat A.80 RC.41 18-cylinder radial piston engine. Maximum speed with the stronger engine was 267 mph (430 km/h) with the effective range of some 342 mi (550 km) and a service ceiling up to 20,700 ft (6,300 m).
The main armament was two 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT heavy machine guns and two 7.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine guns. All were placed in the wings plus a bomb load of around 500kg, with 300kg in the fuselage bomb-bay and 200kg more on the underwing racks. Theoretically it could carry around 1,000kg of bombs, but after some heavy load tests, the result was unsatisfactory and disappointing. The pilot claimed that the plane was impossible to fly with this heavy load. So as a result of this, the weight of the payload was limited to around 500 kg. This improved the flight performance but also reduced the offensive strength and the combat potential of the Ba.65.
Besides the single-seat, a new two-seat version, the Ba.65bis had been developed mostly for export orders and for training and use by the Regia Aeronautica. Besides the pilot, a rear observer/gunner, who used the rear 7.7 machine gun, was positioned in an open cockpit above the trailing edge of the wing. Small numbers were built with a new hydraulically operated Breda L dorsal turret mounting a 12.7mm Breda-SAFAT machine gun, but it was used mostly for export.
First combat action conducted by this aircraft was in the Spanish Civil War from 1936-1939. 13 single-seat aircraft, equipped with Gnome-Rhone engine, were sent by the Italians in order to support the fascist forces. They were attached to the 65a Squadriglia Aviazione Legionaria. The Ba.65 saw heavy action in several battles during the Spanish Civil War such as the Battles of Santander, Teruel and River Ebro. Squadriglia Legionaria was reinforced with 10 new aircraft in 1938, 6 with Fiat engines, and 4 with the older Gnome-Rhone engine. Depending on the source, around 10-12 Ba.65’s survived the Civil War, and were all given to the new fascist regime. The experiences gained during the battles of the Spanish Civil War, had shown that the Ba.65 was capable only in the role of the attack aircraft, a role in which they would serve until the end of the North African Campaign.
By the start of WWII, most if not all Ba.65’s, were involved in the battle for North Africa against the British forces stationed there. The Ba.65 was not used in any other front during the war. Most of the Ba.65’s in Africa were the two-seat versions, with a relatively small number of aircraft equipped with the Breda L turret. Due to difficulty of the desert conditions, low performance and superiority of the enemy’s fighters heavy losses were suffered and almost all Ba.65’s were lost by the end of 1941. Some of the last Italian Ba.65’s were abandoned at Benghazi airfield and were captured by the British on the December of 1941. Few if any survived by the beginning of 1942. Surviving pilots were transferred either to fighter squadrons or to dive-bombing units equipped with German Ju-87B.
Due to the lack of technical capabilities to improve the flying performance of this aircraft and the failing of the Ba.88 aircraft project, Italy was left with no adequate and contemporary attack aircraft, forcing them to use the older Fiat C.R.32, some modified SM.79s, German Ju-87 and later some modified fighter planes for this role.
In addition to the combat units, several B.65 were flown for a short time in flight schools. They were utilized alongside several Ba.64 and A,P.1 to train pilots for attacking and bombing operations.
They were used by Iraq, in the Anglo–Iraqi War during May 1941. All Iraqi Ba.65’s were stationed near Baghdad in the 5th Squadron and saw some limited action against British positions and airfields. Despite some military aid from Germany and Italy, the Iraqis failed to drive the British out, who were set to invade Iraq. On the 31st of May, an armistice was signed ending the Iraqi revolt.
Production and modifications
Production of this aircraft began in 1936, running several production series. First was in 1936 with 81 aircraft produced with the 700 kW engine. The second series ended in July 1939 with a total of 137 aircraft produced, 80 by Breda and 57 by Caproni-Vizzola, equipped with the Fiat A.80 engine. Total production run was 215 operational aircraft. Of the total produced, 55 were sold to Iraq, Chile and Portugal. Few modifications to the original aircraft were ever made:
- Ba.65 – Single-seat version
- Ba.65 – Two-seat trainers version
- Ba.65 bis – Two-seat attack aircraft version (some equipped with a rear gun turret)
- Italy – Utilized mostly the two-seat version and a few with the Breda L turret.
- Iraq – Bought around 25 Ba.65 two-seaters aircraft in 1938. Next to two dual-control trainers, the rest were equipped with the Breda L turret. They were used in limited combat against British in 1941.
- Chile – Bought 17 single-seaters, with Piaggio PXI C.40 engine, in 1938, and 3 dual-control trainers.
- Portugal – In November 1939 had acquired 10 Fiat engined two-seat versions with the Breda L turret.
- China –Planned to acquire some Ba.65, but no deliveries were made.
- Fascist Spain – Used all surviving Ba.65s left by the Italians after the end of the Civil War.
|Wingspan||39 ft 6 in / 12.10 m|
|Length||30 ft 6 in / 9.3 m|
|Height||10 ft 2 in / 3.10 m|
|Wing Area||252.96 ft² / 23.50 m²|
|Engine||1x Fiat A.80 RC.41 18-cylinder (1000 hp)|
|Empty Weight||5291 lb / 2400 kg|
|Maximum Takeoff Weight||6500 lb / 2950 kg|
|Maximum Speed||267 mph / 430 kmh|
|Range||342 mi / 550 km|
|Maximum Service Ceiling||20670 ft / 6300 m|
|Armament||2x 12.7x81mmSR Breda SAFAT
2x 7.7x56mmR Breda SAFAT
|Ordinance||1102 lb / 500 kg of bombs|
Naoružanje drugog svetsko rata-Italija, Duško Nešić, Beograd 2008., The Hamlyn Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II, David Mondey, Aerospace Publishing Ltd 1984, 2006., http://www.comandosupremo.com/bredaba65.html, http://www.airwar.ru/enc/aww2/ba65.html, http://www.historynet.com/world-war-ii-air-war-over-iraq.htm