Potez 630/631


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Potez 630/631

The Potez 63 was built originally to a French Air Ministry programme calling for a 'Multiplace legere de Defense', literally a light multi-seat defensive aircraft. In practice the specification called for an aircraft to perform the three roles of fighter control (three-seat C3); daylight interception (two-seat C2); and night-fighter (two-seat Cn2). The first prototype flew on 25 April 1936. It was a pleasant-looking all-metal stressed-skin cantilever monoplane with a retractable landing gear. Ten further prototypes were tested before production orders were placed in 1937 for 80 Potez 630s (two 432kW Hispano-Suiza 14 radials) and 80 Potez 631s (Gnome-Rhone 14 Mars radials). The Potez 633 B2 was a light bomber version with a partially glazed nose, 40 of which were ordered by Romania and others by Greece. In the event only 21 of the Romanian aircraft were delivered, the rest retained by France. The Potez 637 A3 was a three-seat reconnaissance version with a ventral gondola for the observer, 60 of which were built. The final production version was the Potez 63-11 with an extensively redesigned fully glazed nose and a new short crew canopy. A total of 702 production aircraft was built.

Potez 630/631s served with day- and night-fighter Groupes and with 'Sections de Commandement' attached to single-seat fighter units from the outbreak of World War II. Armament comprised two forward-firing and one rear-mounted 7.7mm machine-guns. Potez 637s equipped five reconnaissance Groupes and during the battle for France suffered heavy losses. Potez 63-11s were delivered from November 1939 and served with 40 GAO (observation Groupes) and 13 reconnaissance Groupes by May 1940.

* * *

The French Potez 631 night-fighter corresponded in many respects to the RAF's Bristol Blenheim, being very similar in size and performance (though somewhat lighter) as well as being conceived as a variation of a light bomber. The French aircraft was one of a family of design variations of the Potez 63 which had originated in a requirement issued in 1934 for a two/ three-seat 'multi-purpose' aircraft. Although a night-fighter prototype had flown in March 1937 as the Potez 631-0, French re-equipment policies were blurred by lack of purpose (being confused by the likely form of warfare being studied by Germany), with the result that orders for development aircraft included four-general purpose two/three-seat day/night fighters, three two-seat night-fighters, one light bomber, one reconnaissance aircraft and one close-support aircraft. Relatively little importance was placed on the Potez 631 night-fighter, and it was not until June 1938 that production orders totalling 207 were confirmed.

By 1 April 1939 the Armee de l'Air had taken delivery of 88 aircraft, of which 20 were in service; in May two night-fighter units, Groupes de Chasse de Nuit GCN III/l and II/4, and one day fighter unit, GC II/8, were equipped with about 30 aircraft; four other Potez 631s were serving at Djibouti. At the outbreak of war a total of 206 aircraft had been delivered, and the type had also joined GCN 1/13 and GCN 11/13, as well as seven escadres de chasse. Some aircraft were later transferred to the Aeronavale. When the German attack opened in the West the various Potez 631 units were in constant action both by day and night, although lack of radar prevented much success during the hours of darkness. In the first 11 days of the campaign Aeronavale's Flotille F 1C shot down 12 German aircraft for the loss of eight, but the Armee de l'Air night-fighter units were ordered to assume day ground-attack duties, losing heavily to enemy flak. Moreover, losses were exceptionally heavy to Allied guns and fighters as a result of the Potez 631's superficial similarity to the German Messerschmitt Bf 110; it has been estimated that as many as 30 of the French aircraft were shot down in error. In all, Potez 631 night-fighters destroyed a total of 29 German aircraft in the Battle of France, but for a loss of 93 of their own number. Of the remainder about 110 were in the Free French Zone (Vichy France) at the time of the armistice, but their number dwindled quickly because of a chronic lack of spares, although ECN 3/13 moved to Tunisia with a small number of Potez 631s in June 1941.

Potez 630/631

  Take-off weight4530 kg9987 lb
  Wingspan16.0 m53 ft 6 in
  Length10.93 m36 ft 10 in
  Max. speed425 km/h264 mph

Potez 630/631A three-view drawing (1280 x 874)

Paul Scott, e-mail, 14.01.2015 21:02

Classic French aircraft along with the other twin-engined WW2 models


Keith, e-mail, 25.01.2012 01:46

Potez 631 used two Gnome-Rhone 14M6 /7 14-cylinder air coled radial engines, each rated at 660-hp. While that is likely a take-off rating, airborne operational hp at altitude is likely to be @ 5-percent less.


Klaatu83, e-mail, 17.03.2011 22:34

During the late 1930s the Germans, Japanese, British, Soviets and French all tried to develop twin-engine multi-role heavy fighter /reconnaissance light bomber aircraft of a similar concept to this one in the late 1930s (Me-110, Kawasaki Ki-45 "Nick", Blenheim I fighter, Yak-2 /Yak-4, Potez 63 series). Every one of them was a failure. It wasn't that the aircraft in question were necessarily bad, simply that the basic idea behind them was mis-conceived.


Charlie, e-mail, 10.12.2010 21:57

Like the Me-110 and the Bristol Blenhein, the Potez was a product of the late 1930's infatuation with the idea of a "heavy fighter." All of these aircraft were failures in the fighter role because of a lack of speed and manuverability. The idea of a night-fighter before the advent of radar was laughable.


paul scott, e-mail, 08.09.2009 17:31

Neat little aircraft - it's a shame for France's reputation of not having any real fighting prowess, not cowardice, but no effectiveness. (I though we were bad at Singapore) ultimately, they did (As of the mirage later) produce fine aircraft /fighting equipment all the same.


leo rudnicki, e-mail, 05.05.2009 20:41

Engines fitted were under 700hp. Had French engines developed more power, some of their mediocre performers would have been contenders. Had Klimov built Hispano-Suiza copies with output similar to the French, he would have been sent to camp. Gnome- Rhones weren't developed until they were powering Hs-129's and Me-323's. It still wouldn't have changed history since French Generals were mostly obsolete.


Sgt.KAR98, 14.10.2008 05:02

A twist of Bf-110 and Pe-2?


Outcast, e-mail, 17.07.2008 09:16

Very interesting and good-looking aircraft I knew nothing about. The article was a nice starting point for me to look for more info about it.


Dave Crenshaw, e-mail, 28.11.2007 10:29

Nice article, but what were the engine horsepower of the various types?

Thanks, Dave


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