Douglas DB-7 B-3 (France)

Introduction

The Douglas DB-7 was one of a number of American aircraft ordered in large numbers by France during 1939 in a vain attempt to reequip the Armèe de l’Air before the outbreak of war with Germany. Very few DB-7s actually took part in the fighting in France in 1940, but many of the aircraft went on to serve with the RAF as the Boston bomber and Havoc night fighter.

Variants

DB-7

Douglas DB-7 under construction
Douglas DB-7 under construction

It was the first French order of 15 February 1939 that was responsible for the development of the original DB-7. Although the French Purchasing Commission had been impressed with the performance of the Douglas Model 7B, they wanted an aircraft with that could carry more bombs and over a longer range. Douglas responded by redesigning the fuselage of the Model 7B, making it narrower but taller. This gave more room for bombs and fuel, but did make it hard to move around the aircraft. The DB-7 was powered by two 1,000hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3-G radial engines with single speed superchargers. It carried six 7.5mm machine guns – four forward firing, one dorsal and one ventral rear firing gun. The interchangeable nose of the Model 7B was replaced by a partly glazed bombardier’s nose, with room for the forward firing guns. Most of the DB-7s to reach France came from this first order.

A second order for 170 aircraft powered by the 1,100hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4-G with a two stage supercharger was placed in October 1939. Very few of these aircraft actually reached France, and most were later taken over by the RAF, where they were briefly known as the Boston II, before becoming the Havoc I (Night Fighter).

Of the 270 DB-7s ordered 116 were accepted by the French before the armistice, while another 5 arrived afterwards. They were assembled at Casablanca before being ferried to metropolitan France. 99 aircraft reached the ferrying unit, of which 67 reached operational units. Another 16 were diverted to Belgium, although it is not clear at which stage of the process this happened, and given Belgian neutrality before 10 May it may even have occurred after the start of the fighting.

DB-7A

The third French order, of 20 October 1939, was for 100 improved DB-7As. These aircraft were to be powered by the 1,600hp Wright R-2600-A5B Twin Cyclone, giving them much more power than the DB-7. Other minor changes were also made, amongst them the use of a more pointed engine nacelle and of a larger vertical stabiliser and rudder. None of these aircraft reached France, but instead went to the RAF, where they became the Havoc II, with serial numbers AH430-AH529, arriving in the summer of 1941.

DB-73

The fourth and all later French orders were for an aircraft very similar to the British DB-7B. To avoid confusion the French gave their aircraft the designation DB-73. 480 of these aircraft were ordered on 18 May 1940, far too late to have any chance of reaching France. Instead the production capacity was used to produce Boston IIIs for the RAF.

1940

Although Douglas completed the first 100 DB-7s by the end of 1939, they were not able to begin shipping them to France until October, when the United States arms embargo was lifted. The aircraft could not be ferried across the Atlantic under their own power, and so had to be shipped to Casablanca, where they were assembled before being sent on to their units.

Five Groupes de Bombardment were to be equipped with the DB-7 – I and II/19, I and II/32 and II/61. By May 1940 only 64 aircraft had reached their squadrons, and none of the squadrons was yet fully operational. GB I/19 and II/19, with 23 DB-7s were soon thrown into the battle, flying their first sortie on 31 May. Three of the twelve aircraft involved were lost in this first mission, the first of eight aircraft to be lost in just over seventy sorties during seven similar sized attacks. Finally the surviving DB-7s were withdrawn to North Africa just before the armistice of 25 June 1940.

Vichy

In the last days before the French armistice the surviving DB-7s were evacuated to North Africa. The Vichy government was allowed to retain an air force to protect the French Empire. 95 DB-7s were available in North Africa, enough to maintain four full squadrons. GB II/19 was disbanded, and the remaining four groupes split between Morocco and Algeria. They were soon in use against their former allies, launching an attack on Gibraltar in revenge for the British attack on the French fleet at Oran.

On 8 November 1942, at the start of Operation Torch, the DB-7 equipped GB I and II/32 in Morocco and GB I/19 and II/61 in Algeria. One DB-7 was shot down by Royal Navy fighters off Algiers on the first day of fighting, while a number of other DB-7s were destroyed on the ground.

After the end of Operation Torch the French groupes in North Africa swapped sides. The DB-7 was replaced quite quickly in most units, but was still in use with GB I/31 “Aunis” as part of the French Forces of the Interior in 1945 (alongside French Martin 167 A-3 “Glenns” and rather bizarrely the Junkers Ju 88A!)

 

DB-7

DB-7A

Engine

Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3-G

Wright R-2600-A5B Double Cyclone

Power

1,050hp take off
900hp at 12,000ft

1,600hp take off
1,400hp at 10,000ft

Crew

3

3

Width

61ft 3in

61ft 3in

Length

46ft 11.75in

47ft 0in

Empty Weight

11,400lb

13,674lb

Maximum Weight

17,031lb

19,322lb

Maximum speed

280mph at sea level
305mph at 9,650ft
295mph at 13,000ft

344mph at 12,500ft or
323mph at 12,800ft

Cruising speed

-

275mph

Ceiling

25,800ft

27,680ft

Climb Rate

To 12,000ft in 8 min

2,420ft/ minute

Range

462 miles with 2,080lb bomb load

490 miles

Guns

Six 7.5mm

Eight 7.5mm

Bomb load - Maximum

2,080lb

1,764lb

Normal bomb load

1,441lb

1,441lb

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (5 September 2008), Douglas DB-7 B-3 (France) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_douglas_DB-7_France.html

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