The Amiot 143 was one of the most numerous French bombers at the outbreak of the Second World War, but was virtually obsolete by the start of the German offensive in the west in May 1940 and the four bomber groups still equipped with the type suffered heavy losses.
The Amiot 143 evolved from the Amiot 140 of 1931. This was a twin-engined stressed skinned all-metal bomber produced in response to a French Air Ministry specification of 1928, and which made its maiden flight on 12 April 1931. The Amiot 140 had the same basic layout as the Amiot 143, with a high mounted wing, distinctive glazed gondola below the fuselage and fixed undercarriage. The first prototype was powered by 650hp Hispano-Suiza 12Nbr liquid cooled inline engines for its maiden flight instead of the 700hp Lorraine 18Gad Orion 18-cylinder engines that it had been designed to use. A second prototype was built, but not flown, and after flight tests that lasted in 1933 the Armée de l'Air decided to order 40 of the new Amiot bombers (23 November 1933). Two new prototypes were to be built first - the Amiot 142 with liquid cooled engines and the Amiot 143 with air cooled radial engines.
Delivery of the Amiot 142 was repeatedly delayed, and it didn't make its maiden flight until January 1935, by which time the Armée de l'Air was on the verge of allocating all liquid cooled inline engines to fighter aircraft, and the project was cancelled.
The prototype Amiot 143 suffered from fewer problems, and made its maiden flight in August 1934. It was powered by a series of Gnôme & Rhône 14 series radial engines mounted in handed pairs, with the port engine rotating clockwise and the starboard engine counter clockwise. For the maiden flight the prototype was give 700hp 14Kars and Kbrs engines, which were soon replaced by 800hp 14Kdrs and 14Kgrs engines and finally by the 850hp 14Kirs and 14Kjrs engines that were used on the production aircraft.
After flight tests at Villacoublay in October 1934 the engines were moved 25cm forward to improve the aircrafts stability. This version was then accepted for production as the Amiot 143M (multi-seat), and the first four production aircraft were delivered in July 1935. Another 73 were ordered in April 1935, with a longer fuselage, and 25 more were ordered late in 1936 when the Amiot 144 was cancelled, giving a total of 138 aircraft.
The Amiot 140 had been armed with four 7.5mm machine guns, one each in open nose and dorsal positions, one mounted in the forward fuselage floor hatch and one on the rear ventral step. On the prototype Amiot 143 the open dorsal position was replaced with a turret, and on production aircraft the same was done at the nose, giving the Amiot 143M two turret mounted guns and two flexibly mounted guns.
The Amiot 143 could carry up to 880kg of bombs in the internal bomb bay (either one 500kg, four 100kg, four 220kg, sixteen 50kg or sixty-four 10kg bombs) and 800kg of bombs on outboard wing racks (four 100kg or two 200kg bombers per wing).
The first unit to receive the Amiot 143M was Groupe de Bombardment III/22 (from the 22nd Escadre or wing), based at Orléans. The aircraft began to arrive in September 1935, and the group began to convert to it in January 1936 (by which time it had been redesignated as GB II/22). By 15 December 1936 72 of the new aircraft were in front line service, and by January 1938 the total had risen to 122. At the outbreak of the Second World War the already obsolescent Amiot 143M equipped six groups - GB I/34 at Abbeville, GB II.34 at Poix, GB II/35 at Pontarlier and three grounds in Tunisia, two of which (GB I/38 and GB II/38) soon returned to France. Sixty seven Amiots were still in front line service on 10 May 1940, equipping GB I/34 at Montdidier, GB II/34 at Roye-Amy, GB I/38 at Troyes-Barberet and GB II/38 at Chaumont-Semoutiers.
The Amiot's first mission came on 15 September 1939 when two aircraft from GB II/34 dropped leaflets along the German border. During the phoney war period the French didn't want to risk provoking a German response, and so the Amiots didn't fly any offensive missions until the night of 10-11 May 1940, after the start of the German offensive in the west. By 1940 the Amiot was virtually obsolete, and they were limited to operating at night. One exception came on 14 May when nineteen Amiots from GB I and II/34 and GB I and II/38 were ordered to make a desperate attack on the bridges over the Meuse at Sedan (along with nine Lioré & Oliver LeO 45s and with an escort of Morane-Saulnier MS406 fighters). Only nine of the Amiots reached their target, where five were shot down by German fighters and the other four damaged, some heavily. This ended the Amiots short career as a day bomber, and for the rest of the campaign they only operated at night.
By the time of the Armistice of 22 June there were still 52 airworthy Amiot 143Ms in France and 25 in North Africa. Some were used as transport aircraft by the Vichy government, but by November 1942, when the Germans occupied the south of France, only three airworthy Amiots remained in France.
Engine: Two Gnôme & Rhône 14K engines (14Kirs port and 14Kjrs starboard)
Power: 850hp each
Crew: Five (pilot, co-pilot/ navigator, nose gunner, radio operator/ ventral gunner and dorsal gunner)
Wing span: 80ft 5in (24.5m)
Length: 59ft 9in (18.2m)
Height: 18ft 8in (5.7m)
Empty Weight: 13,430lb (6,092kg)
Maximum Weight: 21,346lb (9,687kg)
Max Speed: 193mph at 13,123ft
Service Ceiling: 25,919ft
Range: 1,240 miles
Armament: Four 7.5mm MAC 1934 machine guns, one each in nose and dorsal turret and one at each end of the gondola.
Bomb-load: 1,940lb (880kg) inside bomb bay and 882lb (400kg) on wing racks