The Breguet 482 strategic bomber is a “what could have been” design of the French air force during WWII. Intended to serve in the same role as the B-17 Flying Fortress, the lone plane of the type which survived WWII went on to quietly serve in the postwar French military during the early years of NATO.
By the 1930s, the French air force’s bomber force was very out-of-date and too small. In December 1936, a requirement was issued code-named “B4”, for a new strategic bomber design.
(The Farman F.223 was an example of the obsolete French bomber force in the late 1930s. Some of these flying dinosaurs actually took part in combat in 1939-1940. Not surprisingly, none survived WWII.)
The Breguet company submitted four designs and Bloch one; of which a two-engine Breguet and four-engine Bloch design were both shortlisted. After some consideration, Breguet tweaked their design to be an enlarged four-engine model.
(The Br-482’s competitor was the Bloch MB.162, of which only one was completed before the German conquest of France. It had been evacuated from Paris to Bordeaux during the fighting and was captured intact there. The Luftwaffe used it as a transport. It was last seen in Finow, Germany in 1944 and presumably destroyed there by Allied bombing.)
This was accepted and an order for two prototypes was placed on 12 May 1938. By September of that year, at the time of the Munich conference, it was clear to the French that they had grossly underestimated how fast the Luftwaffe had rearmed since 1933 and the “B4” bomber project was pushed down in priority behind fighters and tactical bombers. The project languished throughout most of 1939 and construction of the two prototypes did not begin until the outbreak of WWII in August of that year.
The Br-482 was a strategic heavy bomber fitting the niche of France’s situation. Unlike the USA or Great Britain, all of France’s anticipated future possible enemies (Italy, Germany, and Spain) directly shared it’s land borders, so there would be no need for strategic bombing raids to cross oceans or third countries en route to their targets.
The Br-482 measured 61’11” long by 17’1″ tall, with a 79′ wingspan. It was powered by four Hispano-Suiza 12Z liquid-cooled piston engines. Each gave 1,350hp so the Br-482 certainly had adequate engine power.
The Br-482 was of all-metal construction with a four-man crew. The most characteristic feature was the large “glazed” nose area. The plane was fully-enclosed and had retractable main and tail landing gear. There were a number of surprisingly advanced features. The internal wing supports were three spars, the outer two aluminum and the center steel. This gave the overall wings great strength but also good flexion. The wings featured lift-enhancing retractable flaps; so that the Br-482 could use runways intended for smaller aircraft.
(Detail of the Br-482’s glazed nose and the streamlined nacelles for the liquid-cooled engines with their radiators underneath.)
The bombload was 5,500 lbs and the defensive armament was a Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20mm gun firing forward, a twin Reibel 7.5mm machine gun in the dorsal position, and two loose MAC-1934 7.5mm machine guns firing from drop-down belly mounts.
The light defensive fit is partially explained by the Br-482’s excellent (for the time) speed and performance. Obviously it would have been at a disadvantage against top-line single-engine Luftwaffe fighters. But in 1939, it offered remarkable performance for a heavy bomber: for example, it had the same top speed as the Bf-110 twin-engine fighter. Against Italy it was both faster and had better ceiling than Italy’s CR.32 and CR.42; and a better ceiling than the C.200. In all these cases, intercepting the French bomber would have been very hard, especially as neither Germany nor Italy had full radar networks up and running at the start of the war.
Compared to the RAF’s Lancaster, the Br-482 had less then half the bombload and only a third of the British plane’s range, but was almost twice as fast and had a much higher ceiling. Compared to the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Br-482 had about a third less range and a comparable bombload but a higher ceiling.
What “could have been”
If several squadrons of this fine plane had been ready in August 1939, France could have began a strategic bombing offensive.
From airbases south of Paris, the Br-482 could have hit Cologne, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Munich; and obviously all of the Ruhr industrial region; plus the staging areas the German army eventually used in 1940. From airbases near Strasbourg, the Br-482 would have been in range of Berlin. In France’s south, from airbases in the Riviera the Br-482 could have bombed Rome.
The Br-482 during WWII
Because of the surprising lack of urgency exhibited by the French air force, the two Br-482 prototypes were not completed until the spring of 1940. The first was essentially complete, and the second missing some equipment but flyable. Neither had completed the design’s test series.
When Germany invaded France on 10 May 1940, both planes were at Velizy-Villacoublay airbase, about 8 miles southwest of Paris. As the front collapsed, both prototypes were evacuated back to the Breguet factory at Anglet in southern France, where the first prototype flew onwards to French Algeria and the second fled to Biarritz, a town on the extreme southwestern end of France’s Atlantic coastline.
The first prototype, in French Algeria, was allowed to remain with the Vichy air force. It took no part in the war and was destroyed on the ground in November 1942.
The second (less-completed) plane remained hangared at Biarritz throughout WWII. The fate of the plane was fairly amazing. The airfield had been occupied by the Luftwaffe in 1940. For whatever reason, the Br-482 was left alone and neither seized nor even studied. The plane sat idle as WWII raged, escaping damage in the 1940 invasion, the Allied bombing raids later in the war, and then the ground fighting and German evacuation in September 1944. When US Army soldiers secured the airfield, they found the Br-482 untouched and undamaged.
The Br-482 after WWII
By the end of WWII in 1945, the stillborn Br-482 was now a seven-year old design which time had passed by. None the less, the re-established Breguet company proposed to immediately start production on 40 planes, to establish a French heavy bomber force. This was refused by the reforming French air force, as the prewar design would now be too big to be a tactical ground attack plane and too small to be a strategic bomber.
None the less, regarding the partially-completed survivor, it was decided to refurbish and retain it as a flying testbed and utility plane. France was critically short of big four-engine planes in 1945. The Br-482 made a good testbed candidate as the glazed nose gave an excellent view for observers, and the speed and ceiling – while no longer as impressive as in 1939 – were still better than other utility planes.
(The surviving Br-482 after WWII.)
Breguet deleted one of the crew positions leaving the Br-482 a three-man plane. The defensive guns, which had not been fitted before France’s 1940 surrender, were never installed and the mounts deleted. The engines were upgraded to the newest and most powerful model of the Hispano-Suiza 12Z with a centrifugal supercharger.
The official “first” flight of the surviving Br-482 took place on 27 November 1947. While technical considerations were of course the main concern, there was probably a bit of pride at seeing a large, four-engined warplane of French design flying again as the skies of Europe were dominated almost exclusively by American- and British-made types in the immediate post-WWII years.
(The November 1947 edition of the French aviation periodical Les Ailes featured the Br-482 on the cover, described as “….the new four-engined type”, seven years after it’s actual debut.)
The Br-482’s first mission was to explore the performance regime of the supercharged upgraded engines. They did not perform as well as expected and the Br-482 was never able to explore the full range of it’s flight envelope. After frequent engine failures the Br-482 was restricted to 84% throttle. Although Spain and Yugoslavia used the supercharged 12Z engine after WWII, the lone Br-482 was the only French plane to use it.
After these tests, it had been planned to use the Br-482 to test the planned 24Z engine and a new contra-rotating propeller design. Both of these projects were cancelled. Likewise, a planned quad gun mount design was cancelled before tests aboard the Br-482 could start.
The leading military aircraft book Jane’s All The World Aircraft listed the Br-482 in it’s 1948 edition, so the plane was apparently quite active that year.
In 1949, some consideration was given to re-engining the Br-482 with Gnome-Rhone 14R radial piston engines. The last design of the Gnome-Rhone firm (which did not survive the occupation), the 14R was built by SNECMA after WWII and was 15% more powerful than the 12Z. There were concerns about the stability of the Br-482 at the increased speed, especially with the weight of the guns, bombsight, and fourth crewman missing. The re-engining was never done. The plane continued in use with it’s original engines as an observation vehicle for early French ballistic missile tests.
Twenty flights in all were done between 1948-1950. At some point in 1950, the Br-482 was transferred out of the French air force’s inventory and given the civil registration F-WFRM.
The Br-482 was discarded on 13 September 1950. The deactivated plane, stripped of it’s engines and equipment, was still in existence as late as 1952 when it was presumably finally scrapped. Breguet was one of the last pre-occupation French warplane companies to stay independent; finally merging with Dassault in 1971.
(The civil-registered plane after it’s retirement, parked with the engines removed.)
That was the end of the Br-482 story. The plane which seemingly had so much potential in 1940 ended up as a forgotten piece of aviation history.