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Breda-SAFAT machine gun: Wikis


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Type Aircraft machine gun
Place of origin  Italy
Service history
Used by Italy
Wars WW2
Production history
Designed 1935
Weight 12.5 kg (7.7 mm)
29 kg (12.7 mm)

Cartridge 7.7x56R (10.1 g)
12.7x81SR (34.2 g)
Caliber 7.7 mm (0.303 in)
12.7 mm (0.50 in)
Rate of fire 800–900 rounds/min (7.7 mm)
700 rounds/min (575 rounds/min synchronized) (12.7 mm)
Muzzle velocity 730 m/s (7.7 mm)
765 m/s (12.7 mm)

Breda-SAFAT was a series of machine guns used on Italian aircraft during World War II. The machine gun came in 7.7mm (0.303-inch) and 12.7mm (0.50-inch) variants. The 7.7mm variant was similar to the M1919 Browning machine gun and could use some types of .303 British ammunition. The 12.7mm version could fire a high-explosive-incendiary-tracer (HEIT) round with 0.8 grams of PETN. It was also provided armor-piercing (AP).

The birth of these weapons came from the desire to have better machine-guns to face the new generation of aircraft, with their higher performance and better armor compared to older aircraft. Breda based their designs on Browning machine-guns, adapted for Italian exigences, in particular with the change of cartridges from 7.62x63mm to 7.7x56R and from 12.7×99 to 12.7×81mm. The latter especially weakened the weapon and the goal of a lighter machine-gun with a high rate of fire proved a failure. In any case, the completed gun saw the concurrence of similar projects from the powerful industrial group Fiat, which proposed new weapons designed by its subsidiary factory, the SAFAT. But Breda/Browning machine guns proved superior, and the heaviest Browning machine gun was five kilograms lighter than the Fiat-SAFAT. Despite attempts by Fiat to sell their design, Regia selected Breda for the contract. Fiat still did not surrender and launched a lawsuit aimed at Breda. But Fiat lost their case and the court ordered it to pay the trial expenses as well. After this failure, Senator Giovanni Agnelli was so irritated that he decided to exit the small weapons industry for the next twenty years, selling SAFAT (Società Anonima-Fabbricazione Armi Torino) to Breda itself. The Fiat predominance on machine-guns ended and began the rise of Breda, then an almost minuscule factory in Brescia.

The muzzle velocity of the Breda 12.7mm was less than other .50 calibre guns because its ammunition was 12.7×81mm and not 12.7×99mm or 12.7×108mm. The Breda's muzzle energy was only 10,000 joules compared to 16,000–17,000 joules of other cartridges. The Breda guns were reliable, but they had the worst power-weight ratio of all machine guns mounted on World War II aircraft. In comparison, the Japanese Ho-103 had a similar 12.7×81mm round but the gun was 6–7 kg lighter and hand a rate of fire of 800–900 rounds per minute with a 34.2 gram projectile. The Japanese gun's rate of fire was at least 20% better, but was still reliable. The Isotta-Fraschini Scotti tried to improve upon the Breda's performance, but it still had a lower rate of fire and was not as reliable. Despite the availability of high explosive shells, Italian pilots preferred in general the armor-piercing and incendiary ammunitions to the weak destructive capability of a mere 0.8 grams of explosives. It is untrue that other countries did not adopt high explosive 12.7–13.2mm caliber rounds. Almost all did so, but they rated this ammunition too weak to justify its cost and did little damage to metal structures. On top of this, they were not effective against armor. But still, high explosive shells were only common with guns in caliber 20mm and over. British experts called the high explosive smaller calibres "ridiculous" and the U.S. only tested a few series of HE 12.7mm ammunition.

Thus, Italy lacked machine guns with the critical qualities of light weight, high rate of fire, good muzzle velocity, good projectile weight, and reliability. While the Russians, Germans, United States, and Japanese had them in the Berezin, MG 131, M2, and Ho-103. Late war Italian aircraft began to adopt the German Mauser MG 151 to give their aircraft parity in firepower with Allied fighters. Aircraft such as the Macchi MC.205, Fiat G.55, and Reggiane Re.2005 had as many as three MG 151s in addition to two cowl mounted Breda machine guns. The last generation of Italian aircraft of World War II were armed with MG 151s only.

The Breda guns, although adequate in 1935 at the time of their design, were inadequate by the standards of 1940. In 1941 the Fiat C.R.42, Fiat G.50, Macchi MC.200, Macchi MC.202, and Reggiane Re.2000 still only had two Breda 12.7mm machine guns and sometimes with two extra wing mounted Breda 7.7mm guns. This was clearly inferior armament at the time, equal to that of CR.32s in 1935. Nevertheless, thousands of Breda machine guns were built in the 1930s and 1940s, arming nearly every Italian fighter and bomber aircraft of that period. Many of these reliable weapons were adapted also for the anti-aircraft role, and remained in service until the 1970s as reserve weapons, even if all the aircraft that they equipped were phased out by that time. The last heavy machine gun used on Italian aircraft was the Browning M3, as used on the Fiat G.91R.


  • Ciampaglia Giuseppe (2006). "Quando la Regia adottò il cannone da 20mm". RID magazine (11). 




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