Lioré-et-Olivier LeO 451: “Show me what you got”.

The French LeO 451 was the fastest bomber in service at the beginning of WW2. With the slick and extremely clean LeO 451, at last, the French left behind ugliness and mediocrity in their bomber designs. Sadly, only few were in service when it really mattered, at the 1940 Battle of France. Anyway, such a valuable asset could not wasted; they continued to be manufactured in the Vichy France. They enjoyed an interesting operational life in both sides: Vichy, Free France, Germany, Italy and some even by the USAAF. The end of the war didn’t put an end to these peripatetic aircraft either; the French Air Force didn’t retire their last ones until the late 1950’s.
The fastest and one with the largest “sting”. The defensive armament carried by the LeO 451 is of particular interest, being among the very few which carried a 20mm cannon at that time. The dorsal defensive position seen here was fitted with a Hispano HS 404 mounted on an electro-hydraulically powered SAMM Type 170Bis gun carriage. Some punch no doubt, but disappointing. The field of fire was limited and its hefty 30-round magazine proved to be cumbersome to change. Add to that the rest of its uninspiring rifle-caliber defensive armament…., they needed the speed.

In this photo one of those garishly dressed Vichy France “Armée de l’Air de l’Armistice” aircraft. A LeO 451 of the 2eme Escadrille of GB 1/25 while operated from El Aouina (Tunis), 1941. This unit took part later in the Syrian campaign against the Allies and of their 18 Leo 451’s, 12 were lost.

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