Potez 63.11

The Potez 63.11 was a three-seat army co-operation aircraft based on the general Potez 63 design, but with a completely crew compartment and nose. The Potez 63.11 was produced in greater numbers than any other member of the family, making up 725 of the 1,115 Potez 63s accepted by the Armée de l'Air before the fall of France.

The Potez 63.11 used the same tail, rear fuselage, wings and engines as the standard Potez 631 or Potez 633 bomber, but with a completely redesigned crew compartment and nose. The slender nose of the standard Potez 63 was replaced by a much larger glazed nose, while the pilot's cockpit was moved back and upwards (moving from a position half way between the leading edge of the wing and the tip of the nose to one in line with the leading edge).

The Potez 63.11 was ordered in large numbers. The first production order, for 145 aircraft, was placed on 18 August 1938. It was followed by pre-war contracts for 70 aircraft on 21 September 1938, 200 aircraft on 16 December 1938 and 150 aircraft on 18 April 1939. This last contract was reduced to one for 60 aircraft for France, ten for Romania and 35 for spare parts in August 1939. Pre-war contracts thus totalled 475 aircraft for the Armée de l'Air. The largest contract, for 800 aircraft, was placed on 12 September 1939, after the outbreak of the Second World War, but this was soon reduced slightly to one for 725 aircraft for France, 10 for Romania and 35 for spare parts, bringing the total on order for the Armée de l'Air up to 1200. Only 723 of these aircraft had been taken on charge by the time of the French armistice in June 1940, although another 80 were complete at the Méaulte factory. Production continued at Les Mureaux during 1941 and a final 120 aircraft were produced for the Luftwaffe.

The prototype Potez 63.11-01 made its maiden flight on 31 December 1938. It had a rounded glazed nose, but the curves in the glass distorted the observers view, and production aircraft had a nose with flat Plexiglas panels.

At the start of the Second World War only five Potez 63.11s had entered service, and none had reached front line units. During the Phoney War period they began to appear in much larger numbers.

The Potez 63.11 had been developed to serve with the Groupes Aèriens d'Observation (Army co-operation squadrons). In August 1939 these units were equipped with a mix of obsolete aircraft, including the Potez 390, Breguet 270, Les Mureaux 116 and Les Mureaux 117, while the new Dewoitine D.720 T3 was not ready for production. Instead the Armée de l'Air was forced to rely on the Potez 63.11. In November 1939 the aim was to have twelve G.A.O.s fully equipped and twenty six partly equipped with the Potez 63.11. Production was a little too slow to allow for this, but a creditable thirty-four G.A.O.s had received some Potez 63.11s by the start of the German offensive (an average of six each). 

The Potez 63.11 was also used to supplement and then replace the Potez 637 in the reconnaissance groups. Seven of these groups had completely converted to the type by May 1940, and another seven were using it alongside older aircraft. On 10 May 1940 a total of 238 Potez 63.11s were available to front line units, 396 had been allocated to units and 691 had been taken on charge.

Sadly this doesn't tell the whole story. On 10 May 70% of the Potez 63.11s with the G.A.O.s were unserviceable, and large numbers were destroyed on the ground. Despite the large number of unallocated aircraft only 92 were available in the reserve during the Battle of France. Losses were also heavy in the air, with most aircraft being shot down by flak. At the end of the battle just under 500 aircraft remained, so around 200 had been destroyed during the campaign. The Potez 63.11 crews had made a valiant attempt to provide the army with its flying eyes, but sadly without having much impact on the course of the battle.

The Potez 63.11 remained in use with the Vichy Air Force. Immediately after the armistice G.R. I/14, II/14 and I/22 retained the type in Vichy France and G.R. II.39 and G.A.O. I/583 used the type in Syria. By the end of 1940 one group had converted to the Potez 63.11 in North Africa, and a second followed in October 1941. In July 1941 Escadrille de Renseignements No.555 on Madagascar had re-equipped with the type.

The Potez 63.11 in Vichy service fought against the Allies on several occasions. G.R. II/39 and G.A.O. I/583 used the type during the Allied invasion of Vichy occupied Syria in the summer of 1941. In May 1942 the British invaded Madagascar to prevent the Japanese from using it as a submarine base. Most of the Potez 63.11s were destroyed during the initial invasion, but one survived and was used to harass the advancing British columns as they slowly occupied the rest of the island, a campaign that lasted until 6 November 1942. 

When the Allies invaded French North Africa in November 1942 two units were still equipped with the Potez 63.11, G.R. I/52 in Morocco, G.R. II/63 at Bamako and the Navy's Escadrille 4BR in Algeria. G.R. I/52 lost all of its aircraft in American bombing raids on the first day of the invasion. G.R. II/63 survived until the French forces in North Africa changed sides. The unit was used to ferry ammunition from 12 December 1942 to 3 January 1943, at a crucial stage in the first attempt to reach Tunisia.

Around 120 Potez 63.11s were completed for the Germans during 1941. They also captured a sizable number of Potez 63.11s after the occupation of Vichy France at the end of 1942. About 100 of them were sent to flying schools to make up for the desperate shortage of training aircraft in Germany, while others were given to the Luftdienstkommandos attached to airfields.

Engine: Gnome & Rhone 14 M4/M5 or M6/M7 engines
Power: 570hp at sea level, 660hp at 16,400ft, 700hp at take-off
Crew: 2 or 3
Wing span: 52ft 6in
Length: 36ft 1in
Height: 11ft 10 1/2in
Normal Loaded Weight: 9,773lb
Max Speed: 264mph (with lighter armament)
Cruising Speed: 186mph
Service Ceiling:
Range: 932 miles
Armament (basic): Three 7.5mm machine guns: one fixed forward firing, one fixed rear firing, one flexibly mounted rear firing.
Armament (maximum): Six forward firing machine guns (two in fuselage, four under wings), four rear-firing machine guns.
Bomb-load (only on aircraft delivered before 1940): 196lb internally (eight 22lb bombs), 440lb under wings (four 110lb bombs)

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 June 2011), Potez 63.11 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_potez_6311.html

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