A bad idea, poorly done

by Dr. Marshall Michel
86th Airlift Wing historian

***image1***While the French Air Force came out of World War I arguably the strongest in the world, by the late 1920s French defense policy was in disarray, and the air arm was no exception.

One of the consequences was the development of the “multiplace dé combat,” multi-seat, multi-role combat aircraft that would operate as an escort fighter, bomber, and reconnaissance aircraft. The logic was that a long-range bomber could carry extra guns instead of bombs to defend against fighters (a mistake the U.S.
Army Air Force was to make in World War II) or could carry cameras. The idea had been tried in World War I with mixed results, but the clinching argument seems to have been that such an aircraft would be cheaper than a number of different ones.

While such an aircraft would have to have powerful armament and good performance, the aircraft that French designers submitted had neither and there were a mix of World War I and World War II technologies, as well as being extraordinarily ugly.

In 1928, the Amiot 143 was chosen as the winner. It was a twin-engine, all-metal high-wing monoplane  with very thick wings to allow an engineer to access the engines in flight. It had fixed, spatted landing gear, an enclosed pilot’s cockpit and a manually enclosed operated nose and dorsal gun turrets.

The slab-sided fuselage was dominated by a boxy two-tiered underside windowed
gondola, a large glazed ventral balcony housing the bomb-aimer/observer position forward and the ventral gunner’s position at the rear. All four guns were only rifle caliber and it could carry an internal and external bomb load of about 3,500 pounds.
The prototype flew in 1931. But, actual production of the aging design did not begin until 1935, and the first batch of 50 aircraft was delivered in the winter of 1935− by which time it was clearly obsolete.

Nevertheless, production continued for lack of a replacement until March 1937, when the design was already 10 years old and completely out of date.

When World War II began, 87 Amiots were on the front line in four French squadrons. When combat began, as expected, the obsolete 143s were slaughtered when they tried to carry out daylight reconnaissance and bombing missions. So, they switched to ineffective night leaflet drops and attacks on German lines of communications.

The final action for the Amiot 143 was a desperate daylight raid on German bridgeheads near Sedan on May 14, 1940. Twelve of the 13 were destroyed without hitting the targets.

(E-mail questions and comments to marshall.michel@ramstein.af.mil)