Liore-et-Olivier LeO 45 Medium Bomber
One of the most advanced bombers at the time of its inception, the LeO 45 series was simply not available in the numbers required to defend France.
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The French Air Force fielded a variety of capable aircraft prior to World War 2 and its ability to defend itself against the might of the German onslaught was hindered by labor strife, outdated doctrine, and unsuitable numbers of capable war-making goods. The Liore-et-Olivier LeO 45 was one of her best bombers when fielded in the defense of France and proved a capable, heady performer who managed some level of success in the early, short-lived campaign prior to the French surrender. It became one of the few French warplanes of the conflict to see service beyond the war years.
In 1934, the rearming French Air Force put forth a new preliminary requirement for an all-modern, medium-class fast-bomber with a crew of five and maximum speed of 250 miles per hour. As a bombing platform, the aircraft would hold an inherent bomb-carrying capability in the 2,650lb range - all internally. The requirement was then revised in 1935 to include just a four-man crew to limit the manpower commitment and maximum speeds were now pushed to the 300 mile per hour range. During November of 1937, the requirements were formally finalized with the internal bomb load increased to 3,300lbs and a service range out to 560 miles. Defensive armament was to include a rear-firing 20mm cannon to surprise would-be pursuers and this new aircraft would outright replace the aged, outgoing stock of French bombers then in frontline service - this against a back drop of mounting tensions with neighboring Germany.
Among the responders to the French Air Force requirement was the storied concern of Liore-et-Olivier ("LeO") founded in 1912 by Fernand Liore and Henri Olivier. The firm held a long-running affair with the French Air Force through adoption of several of its bombers during the interwar years. With this "large aircraft experience", LeO engineers set about creating a most modern bomber design unlike their early 1930s LeO 25 with its biplane wings, open-air cockpit, and fixed undercarriage
The resulting work produced the "LeO 45" product model which incorporated many of the modern qualities of aircraft appearing in the latter half of the 1930s - an enclosed cockpit, retractable undercarriage, and all-metal construction. The whole ordnance load was held internally as required and self-sealing fuel tanks - a feature eventually commonplace to many famous aircraft of World War 2 - were used to improve crew and aircraft survivability. The LeO design impressed French authorities enough that competing designs from Amiot and Latecore were rebuffed. LeO was nationalized and then absorbed into SNCASE during 1937 but the LeO 45 project progressed nonetheless.
The LeO 45 featured an operating crew of four - a pilot, bombardier, machine gunner, and radioman. Defensive armament included a dorsal 20mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon in a retractable installation with a fixed, forward-firing 7.5mm MAC 1934 machine gun at the front of the fuselage. Another 7.5mm MAC 1934 system was installed at a ventral gondola gun position to protect the vulnerable rear underside of the aircraft. The internal bombload was rated for up to 3,460lbs of ordnance and power was served through 2 x Hispano-Suiza 14AA radial piston engines of 1,120 horsepower.