The Bréguet 690 and its derivatives were a series of light twin-engine ground-attack aircraft that were used by the French Air Force in World War II.
The aircraft was intended to be easy to maintain, forgiving to fly, and capable of 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 none of these aircraft were available in sufficient numbers to make a difference in 1940.
The 690 had begun life in 1934 as Bréguet’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.
Bréguet 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, Bréguet 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 Bréguet 691 AB2 were ordered in June 1938, an order which was eventually doubled.
For ground-attack, 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 defence 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 capacity, but this protection proved insufficient in combat.
Bréguet 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 limit the Bréguet 691’s production run to 78 aircraft, instead of 100.
Orders were placed for another 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 120 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 rear 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 Bréguet 690 series aircraft were completed.
The Armée de l’air received only 211 examples: 78 Bre.691s, 124 Bre.693s and 9 Bre.695s, the Germans captured several complete or near-complete aircraft at the factories.
Bréguet 690 prototype.
Bréguet 691 prototype.
Two-seat twin-engine ground-attack aircraft.
Bréguet 693 prototype.
Two-seat twin-engine ground-attack aircraft.
Prototype intended to be two or three-seat tactical reconnaissance aircraft.
Swedish reconnaissance variant of the export Bre 694.
To be supplied with Swedish equipment and armament.
12 ordered but cancelled due to the war.
Bre 695 prototype.
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.
A two-seat light bomber prototype, which was first ordered and then cancelled in favour of the Bre 693.
Intended as a pre-prototype for the Bréguet 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.