The French "Fighter Command" in 1940
[I'm sorry to use the British words Fighter Command for any set of fighters (with their crews and staffs) belonging to one Nation whatever she is]
According to the Luftwaffe claims, the French Air Force had lost the mastery of her sky in 10 to 15 days of May 1940.
Even this claim was not really true - many French aircraft were in the sky at least until the June, 15 - a lot of problems occurred to all the Allied Air Forces, which were unable to act efficiently against the German Onslaught.
So you can say that all the Allied Air Forces had lost the mastery of the French sky since the May, 10, 1940.
Many problems were encountered by the French Air Forces:
- Some of these were military (tactical use, transmissions, etc),
- Others came from the administrations,
- Some others were situated in the political field, but had a lot of implications on the technical point of view.
- Some technical problems, related to the poor funding devoid to the electronic development, had huge consequences on all the French alert systems.
So the following posts may help you to understand some of the French strengths and weakness.
The fighters, always and forever, have to play a powerful strategic role (often denied by many authors against any common sense).
Obviously, a normal Fighter Command has to protect all the crucial plants and the parts of the Armies involved in decisive operations against the enemy.
The Allied fighters, during the Campaign of France, failed to fulfill that role, for many reasons I'm determined to explain.
- The French aerial alert system in the late thirties: An amazingly complicated and inefficient system.
- The French (and British) fighters facing the incoming Luftwaffe.
- The jailed French fighters and the tactical consequences for all the Allies.
-- The single-seat French Fighters of the 1932 program:
- The SPAD 510, last French biplane fighter, fast and outstandingly maneuverable. Parsimoniously ordered but intensively used: She was the best among all her contenders of the 1930 contest (see the overview).
-- The single engined single-seat Fighters of the 1934 French fighter contest :
- The Nieuport 161, by far the best French fighter issued from the 1934 program, firstly ordered owing her promising performances, was later forgotten...
- The best French fighter of 1936 until her crashed the September 22, 1936.
- The Nieuport 161 was the only one French fighter of 1936 able to change significantly the balance of the Air Forces in Europe as soon as 1938 and even in May-June 1940.
- The Loire 250 fighter belonged to the same program. She had good performances, almost the same level than her stablemate Nieuport 161 and well above the Morane 406. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- She could have been a very competitive naval fighter for the French Navy. Sadly, she never entered the official CEMA...
- The Morane-Saulnier 406, the worst performer among all the French fighters, ordered after an impressive lobbying:-----
- The Morane 406 in action: Victories, endless pursuits, huge losses, and also, the poor vista of the actual French deciders!
- The contend between the Nieuport 161 and the Morane 405/406, as it was told us by the French aeronautical reviews from August 1935 to the end of 1938. The French journalists had done a very good work to avoid the elimination of the best contender... No more powerful (British or German) engine could have sufficiently enhanced the performances of the Morane 406 to dominate the Messerschmitt Bf 109 E.
- The ANF Les Mureaux 190 lightweight fighter, extremely maneuverable, very fast, very innovative. Stopped for political reasons!
- The Caudron 714 Cyclone, the most maneuverable of all operational French fighters, better than the MS 406, never perfected in time by the CEAM. With few modification, she might play a much more interesting role.
- The Bloch 150, 151, 152, 155, after a long perfecting, the 152 became really maneuverable, efficient, robust with clearly better performances than the Morane and even the Caudron.
- The Curtiss H 75 was a rather easy to fly fighter, very well used by very good pilots and... too much expensive.
These new fighters were delayed by administrative teams which were absolutely not interested to preserve the best possible French technological level.
If these fighters have been ordered when their designers proposed them, they could exert decisive actions in the 1940 battle conditions.
- The Dewoitine 520, an excellent fighter, was one of the great planes of the WW II.
- A fighter to be ordered as soon as possible (at the beginning of March 1939), as she was tested: At war, any wasted time is definitely lost;
- The Dewoitine D.520: The successive scheduled enhancements promised an efficient fighter until 1944;
- Some feeling on the Dewoitine 520, by her pilots;
- The maneuverability of the D. 520, as said by her pilots, even the foreign ones (but one);
- The D.520, a perfect opponent for any encountered enemy fighter.f
- The Arsenal VG 33, a very promising fighter. She was too late to have any significant action, but, among the dozen of fighter delivered to inexperienced French Air forces pilots, several were involved in military actions and none was downed nor crashed.
-------- The single-engined single-seat fighters ordered in secret
Late in 1938, General Vuillemin, French Chief of Staff of the French Air Forces, understood the WW II was about to broke out.
The new system involved the great pilot Michel Detroyat who tested all these fighters.
Among them, two were single engined.
- The Dewoitine 551, with spectacular performances but a questionable armament. The mass construction was quite ready for July / August 1940.
- The CAO (Nieuport) 200, a fast and easily flyable fighter for the end of the Summer of 1940.
-------- The single-seat fighter scheduled to be in service in 1941
- The Bloch 157 : A fighter quite ready to fly at the beginning of July 1940 and scheduled to enter service early in 1941. She was as efficient as her enemies 1944 counterparts!
-- The twin-engined fighters of the 1934-36 program
- The Potez 631, a good fighter, poorly used by unimaginative staffs.
- The Hanriot NC 600, very fast with only 2 x 690 hp radial engines. Ordered secretly...
The French "Bomber Command" at the beginning of WW II
The French bombers in 1939 / 1940 were rather few, especially when compared to the British and the German ones.
It's somewhat disturbing if you had in your mind the phenomenal importance of the Douhetian concept in the French Air Staff from 1931 to 1937.
But it's a clear demonstration than the choice of bad material, even hidden under the cloak of obvious modernity, is very difficult to be overcome... even today.
Some theorists have been the bad wizard of the French bombers.
Nevertheless, a lot of these planes were absolutely excellent.
Unfortunately, used without any knowledge of the German tactics (as it was also the case for the British bombers during the Campaign of France), they faced losses.
- The Amiot 143: Obsolete? May be, but she was efficient for a lot of works.
- The missing link between the old valiant bombers and the up-to-date ones.
- The Amiot 351 / 354: Never perfected, she was ordered to late to have a significant influence on the May-June events.
- The LéO 451, winner of the contest, a really interesting bomber, but a lot of shortcomings never perfected in time.
The eyes of the 1940 French Aviation
The French Air Staff had chosen the Potez 630 for recce instead of the Bréguet 690, because the former was the first to be ready. It was not a wise choice.
The French Naval Aviation (Aéronavale)
-- The shipboard fighters of the Béarn aircraft carrier: The long and difficult way of the French mariners to legitimate their only one aircraft carrier in the operational fleets.
-- Consideration on the sea plane fighters: Focus on the Loire 210, obsolete, nevertheless really usable!
-- The Scouting and Recce Seaplanes on the French Cruisers and Battleships : A neglected asset.
-- The Navy fighter-bombers Loire-Nieuport LN 40, 401, 411, 402 and 42: A short history, but excellent capabilities.
-- French torpedo-bombers from 1918 to 1940 and their star, the Latécoère 298: A long battle of French naval aircraft crews for create a performant weapon system against the enemy Navy. The last floatplane was outstanding but used mainly to attack tank column...