A very amazing method to prevent the fighters from any free move...
It's time for me to criticize the geographic anchoring of the main part of the French squadrons during the Battle of France - not only during the peace time, but also during the war time.
Obviously, at war, every thing that is able to fly must be seen as movable.
The anchoring was based on splitting of the expected front line territories into 4 regions christened respectively :
- Zone d'Opération Aérienne Nord (ZOAN),
- Zone d'Opération Aérienne Est (ZOAE),
- Zone d'Opération Aérienne Sud (ZOAS),
- Zone d'Opération Aérienne des Alpes (ZOAA).
Each of these Zones being subdivided in smaller subdivisions or Groupements, each one gathering several groupes de chasse (GC) with 2 to 3 squadrons of 12 fighters each.
At least, a very complicated structure!
The biggest of these Groupements were under the lead of a general, the weakest ones being led by a colonel.
|Personal collection of the author. The 2 most important aerial zones at the May, 10, 1940 - This map was published in Icare - 1939-40 / la Bataille de France, Vol. IV, La Reconnaissance, paper of R. Danel - p 80 / 81|
This geographical organisation was a clear fossil of the artillery organisation at the beginning of 1918, when the observation planes were unable to fly far from their airfield.
On the picture above, you can see the boundaries of the terrestrial armies.
The wide spreading of the French fighters, even far out of France
The largest one (ZOAN) faced the main boundary of Belgium. Verdun was the East most city of this zone
The Groupement 21 (general Pinsard) had 152 single engined fighters, the Groupement 25 had 50 and the Groupement 23 had 183 fighters (general Romatet).
Altogether, these 3 Groupements gathered 385 single engined fighters as also 24 Potez 631 for the Aéronavale and 47 other similar twin-engined fighters for night fighting.
The BEF (British Expeditionary Force) was also embedded in this zone.
The second zone (ZOAE) faced mainly the boundary with Germany and gathered 245 fighters.
Together, these two Zones had 630 single engined, single seat French fighters to which you must add the British fighters.
Significantly less than the forces dedicated by the Luftwaffe to attack the Allied aerial forces.
The third Zone was the Alpes Zone, facing Italy and gathering 145 fighters, among them the only one able to match the Messerschmitt Bf 109E: The GC I/3 with thirty-six Dewoitine D.520!
But, also, 135 other Morane 406 were outside of France, as far as 1500 to 3000 km from the true front line: Some inside North Africa, some inside Lebanon (among them a very good unit, the GC I/7).
These 910 fighters could have been gathered in the French Front zone!
It was the solution the common sense seemed to command.
In such a case, the Luftwaffe - involved also in Poland, near the new soviet boundaries, Norway and Danemark - would have experienced very heavier losses from the beginning of the German offensive and may had some difficulties for backing so efficiently the breakout of the Guderian's Schwerpunkt!
But the problem was not only geographic.
It was worst!
All French fighters, as also the French bombers, were under command of officers who cannot at all have a good and complete situation awareness.
So, they never had any strategic sight, this explaining they did not send all the Allied bombers against the German column at the very morning of the May 12, 1940 in the Ardennes.
Such emergency strikes could have been lethal for the armored divisions of general Guderian.
If the problem was to give jobs to old generals, some alternatives existed...
- hardening the airfields against enemy air strikes;
- training the pilots to efficient firing against nimble target;
- organizing better and easier radio-communications;
- improving the too slow training of young pilots;
- creating quick and reliable communications between all different French forces;
- developing the analysis of all kind of radio-detection systems;
- gathering the data of the alert system and sent quickly the relevant ones to the competent units;
- sending the analysis of the informations given by the recce units to the bombing units;
- organizing the delivery of new planes in airfields not too far from the front;
- organizing a true aerial transport command.
At the end of March 1940, 140 Dewoitine D.520 have been finished by the SNCAM plants.
Indeed, that amount was sufficient to create 10 squadrons, with considerably better punching capacities than the Morane equiped ones, even they were not absolutely complete.
OK, these D 520 were lacking 15 kph of their top speed, but as they were, they flew 70 kph faster than the Morane 406.
That is the reason that makes me angry against the men who, irresponsibly, maintained the fiction of a top speed of 486 kph reached by the Morane fighters.
The real difference of performances with the D. 520 was not 44 kph, but 80 to 90 kph!
I share a great part of the opinions published in 1985 by Lt. Colonel Farris R Kirkland of the USAF.
The defeat of the French Air Force cannot so easily be attributed to the sole Luftwaffe.