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The aircraft was intended to be easy to maintain, pleasant to fly and to be able to fly at 480 km/h (300 mph) at 4,000 m (13,120 ft). The type's sturdy construction was frequently demonstrated and the armament was effective. However, French rearmament began two full years later than that in Britain, and all of these aircraft were simply not available in sufficient numbers to make a difference in 1940.
Design and development
The 690 had begun life in 1934 as Breguet's response to the same strategic fighter aircraft specification as the eventual winner, the Potez 630. Both were twin-engine monoplanes with twin tailplanes, powered by Hispano-Suiza 14AB radial engines of contemporary design and performance. Breguet considered the weight limits of the specification - requiring a twin-engine, three-man aircraft to be lighter than 3,000 kg/6,600 lb (later 3,500 kg/7,700 lb) - to be overly restrictive and ignored them. Instead, the design was advertised as particularly versatile, with reconnaissance, ground attack and level bombing derivatives proposed that required no structural changes. Unsurprisingly, Breguet lost out in the competition to Potez, but confident in the 690's potential, nevertheless began building a prototype on its own funds.
Although it had kept informed about foreign developments with dive bombers in the early 1930s, the French Air Force did not decide to acquire modern ground-attack aircraft before 1937. Engineless for nearly a year, the 690-01 prototype finally flew on 23 March 1938, and displayed such promise that 100 two-seat attack bomber versions known as the Breguet 691 AB2 were ordered in June 1938, an order which was eventually doubled. For the ground-attack role, the 691's equipment included a 20 mm cannon and a pair of 7.5 mm (.295 in) machine guns firing forward, as well as an internal bomb rack that could be used in a shallow dive attack and was typically loaded with eight 50 kg (110 lb) bombs. Rear defense was provided by one flexible 7.5 mm (.295 in) machine gun, while a fixed, rearward-firing weapon of the same type was fitted under the fuselage to discourage low-flying fighters or ground fire from behind. A set of armour plates protected the crew, and the fuel tanks had rudimentary self-sealing capability, but this protection proved insufficient in combat.
Breguet established an assembly line with remarkable speed: the first production aircraft flew less than a year after being ordered, and was in service before the end of 1939.
As with the Potez 630, the Bre 691 was beset with engine difficulties. Hispano-Suiza had decided to concentrate on its V12 liquid-cooled engines and the 14AB engine was unreliable. The French authorities decided to order a new version, the Bre 693 powered by Gnome-Rhône 14M radials. Apart from the changed engines, which were of slightly smaller diameter, the two types were virtually identical. Orders for the Bre 691 were switched to the new type and more than 200 of the latter had been completed by the time of France's defeat.
Late production versions of the Bre 693 introduced propulsive exhaust pipes that improved top speed by a small margin as well as, according to some sources, a pair of additional machine guns in the tail of each engine nacelle. Belgium ordered 32 licence-built copies but none were completed before the Belgian collapse.
French engine makers had even greater difficulties than airframe manufacturers in keeping up with the frantic demands from 1938, and in 1939 the French government decided that all combat aircraft had to be adapted for British and US engines.
Fewer than 250 Breguet 690 series aircraft were completed. The Armée de l'air received only 211 examples: 75 Bre.691s, 128 Bre.693s, and eight Bre.695s, but the Germans captured a few dozen complete or near-complete aircraft at the factories.
A small experimental unit had been experimenting with ground-attack tactics since 1937, initially in outdated biplanes such as the Potez 25, then in ANF Les Mureaux 115 monoplanes. Eventually, the Armée de l’Air concluded that low-altitude level-bombing was more suitable than dive-bombing for engaging enemy vehicles and artillery over the battlefield. The chosen tactic consisted in a nap-of-the-earth approach at maximum speed, followed by a strafing run or the delivery of time-delayed bombs directly over the target. French commanders widely considered this tactic as safe for the attackers, as anti-aircraft weapons then in service would be inefficient. The French Army was not using anti-aircraft autocannons at the time (the 25 mm Hotchkiss and 20 mm Oerlikon cannons were only issued later), but only rifle-calibre machine guns and slow-firing 75 mm (2.95 in) cannons.
In late 1939, two squadrons staffed with volunteers from level bomber units were gathered in the small airfield near Vinon-sur-Verdon, where they began their operational training. As Breguet 691s were not available yet, the crews flew the Potez 633 light bomber. When they were eventually delivered, the little Breguets were popular with their crews, although the unreliable engines in the Bre 691 caused headaches, and undercarriage failures proved especially troublesome. Only in March 1940 were the first combat-worthy Bre. 693s delivered, and there were now five squadrons to equip: GBA I/51, GBA II/51, GBA I/54, GBA II/54, and GBA II/35 (GBA stands for Groupe de bombardement d'assaut - assault bomber squadron), with a theoretical complement of 13 aircraft each.
Because of this late delivery, crews were still working up their new machines and developing tactics when the Germans attacked. On 12 May, GBAs I/54 and II/54 performed the Breguet's first operational sorties, against German motorized columns in the Maastricht-Tongeren-Bilsen area. German anti-aircraft fire was so devastating that only eight of the 18 Bre.693s returned.
The disastrous results of this first engagement forced the French commanders to reconsider their tactics. Until 15 May, GBA crews performed shallow dive attacks from higher altitude, which resulted in reduced losses, but the attacks had clearly been inaccurate, as the Breguets lacked a bombsight, and they increased vulnerability to enemy fighters. On the following missions, the GBAs re-introduced low-level attacks, but with smaller formations. As the battle quickly evolved towards the collapse of the French armies, the assault groups were engaged daily, still enduring losses to the AAA, but also to enemy fighters.
In late June, the Armée de l'Air tried to evacuate its modern aircraft to North Africa, out of German reach, from where many hoped to continue the fight. Unfortunately, the short-ranged Breguets were not able to cross the Mediterranean. Unlike other French modern types, the Breguet 690 family saw its combat career end with the Armistice.
At this point in time, 119 aircraft had been lost, including 68 to direct enemy action, and a further 14 were written off as too heavily damaged. The five GBAs had therefore endured a matériel loss rate of 63%, while crew casualties accounted for nearly 50%.
After the Armistice, the Vichy authorities were allowed to maintain a small air force in mainland France, and its assault bomber pilots flew rare training flights in the Bre.693 and Bre.695. After the Germans occupied all of France in late 1942, some of the survivors were transferred to Italy for use as operational trainers.
- Bre 690.01
- Breguet 690 prototype.
- Bre 691.01
- Breguet 691 prototype.
- Bre 691
- Two-seat twin-engine ground-attack aircraft.
- Bre 693.01
- Breguet 693 prototype.
- Bre 693
- Two-seat twin-engine ground-attack aircraft.
- Bre 694.01
- Prototype intended to be two or three-seat tactical reconnaissance aircraft.
- Bre 695.01
- Bre 695 prototype.
- Bre 695
- A conversion of a Bre 693, was not particularly successful, the larger, heavier and higher-drag Pratt & Whitney R-1535 Twin Wasp Junior engines reducing visibility and providing only a minor performance improvement at lower altitudes. Only a few 695s were operationally used before the armistice.
- Bre 696.01
- A two-seat light bomber prototype, which was first ordered and then cancelled in favour of the Bre 693.
- Bre 697
- Intended as a pre-prototype for the Breguet 700 C2 heavy fighter. Powered by Gnome-Rhône 14N-48/Gnome-Rhône 14N-49 engines which offered 50% more power than the 14M, the Bre 697 prototype displayed a sensational rate of climb, and was as fast as a Bf 109E. The Bre 700 was expected to offer even higher speed and would have been very heavily armed.
- 23x15px Belgium
- None received before surrender
- 23x15px France
- French Air Force
- Vichy French Air Force
- 23x15px Italy
- Italian Air Force
Specifications (Bre.693 AB.2)
Data from General characteristics
- Crew: 2
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- Wingspan: Script error: No such module "convert".
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- Wing area: Script error: No such module "convert".
- Empty weight: Script error: No such module "convert".
- Max takeoff weight: Script error: No such module "convert".
- Powerplant: 2 × Gnome-Rhône 14M-6 / Gnome-Rhône 14M-7 14 cyl. handed air-cooled radial piston engines, Script error: No such module "convert". each
- Propellers: 3-bladed variable-pitch propellers
- Maximum speed: Script error: No such module "convert". at Script error: No such module "convert".
- Cruising speed: Script error: No such module "convert". at Script error: No such module "convert".
- Range: Script error: No such module "convert".
- Service ceiling: Script error: No such module "convert".
- Rate of climb: Script error: No such module "convert".
- Time to altitude: Script error: No such module "convert". in 7 minutes 12 seconds</ul>Armament
- Guns: 1 × fixed, forward-firing 20 mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon
- 2 × fixed, forward-firing 7.5 mm (.295 in) MAC 1934 machine guns
- 1 × flexible, rearward-firing 7.5 mm (.295 in) MAC 1934 machine gun in rear cockpit
- 1 × fixed, rearward-firing 7.5 mm (.295 in) MAC 1934 machine gun in ventral position
- Bombs: 460 kg (1,014 lb)
- Related development
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Related lists
|40x40px||Wikimedia Commons has media related to Breguet aircraft.|
- Ehrengardt 2002, p. 8.
- Green 1967, p. 136.
- Ehrengardt 2002, p. 10.
- Taylor and Alexander 1969, pp. 76–77.
- Green 2010, pp. 136–144.
- Ehrengardt, C. J. "'Voyage au bout de l'enfer: les Breguet au combat." Aéro-Journal, no. 28, 2002.
- Green, William. Aircraft of the Third Reich. London: Aerospace Publishing Limited, 2010. ISBN 978-1-900732-06-2.
- Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War: Volume 7, Bombers and Reconnaissance Aircraft. London: Macdonald, 1967.
- Jackson, Robert. Air War Over France 1939-40.
- Ledermann, O. and J-F. Mérolle. "Le Sacrifice: Les Breguet 693 de l'aviation d'assaut dans la Bataille de France." IPMS France, Paris, 1994.
- Notice descriptive et d'utilisation de l'avion Breguet 691 AB2 à moteurs Hispano-Suiza, Ministère de l'Air, 1939.
- Taylor, John W. R. and Jean Alexander. Combat Aircraft of the World. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1969. ISBN 0-71810-564-8.