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L'armée de l'air en mai-juin 1940

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Ci-joint un lien très intéressant concernant la bataille de France dans les airs


C'est long et ça parle de beaucoup de choses donc j'ai coupé (lorsqu'il y a "...") Se reporter au lien pour la version intégrale.


DURING the Battle of France in May-June 1940, French Army commanders complained that German aircraft attacked their troops without interference by the French Air Force. French generals and statesmen begged the British to send more Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadrons to France. Reporters on the scene confirmed the German domination of the skies, and the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Luftwaffe came to be accepted as one of the principal causes of the French collapse.1


Since the mid-1960s, fragments of information--aviator's memoirs, production reports, aircraft inventories, and Anglo-French correspondence--have come to light. These sources reveal four new facts about the French Air Force.

· The French aviation industry (with modest assistance--about 15 percent-from American and Dutch producers) had produced enough modern combat aircraft (4360) by May 1940 to defeat the Luftwaffe, which fielded a force of 3270

· The French planes were comparable in combat capability and performance to the German aircraft.

· The French had only about one-fourth of their modern combat aircraft in operational formations on the Western Front on 10 May 1940

· The Royal Air Force stationed a larger proportion (30 percent) of its fighter force in France than the French committed from their own resources (25 percent)

These data exculpate the prewar parliamentary regime and the British. They raise questions about the leadership of an air force that had parity in numbers of aircraft, the aid of a powerful ally, the latest radar, and the most advanced aviation technology in Europe, yet lost a defensive battle over its own territory.

The Battle of France:

10 May-25 June 1940

The French faced the German invasion with 4360 modern combat aircraft and with 790 new machines arriving from French and American factories each month  :O.

However, the air force was not organized for battle. The regular air force had only half again as many units as during its peacetime nadir in 1932. As the battle opened, 119 of 210 squadrons were ready for action on the decisive northeastern front. The others were reequipping or stationed in the colonies. The 119 squadrons could bring into action only one-fourth of the aircraft available. These circumstances put the Allied air forces in a position of severe numerical inferiority vis-à-vis the Luftwaffe. (See Table II.) Qualitatively, however, the French pilots and aircraft proved to be more effective than their adversaries.

Table II. Modern Combat Aircraft Deployed on the Western Front, 10 May 1940

Type..............French..........British, Belgian,and Dutch........Combined........German




Totals ...........1125..............485....................................1610...............3270

The fighter units on the northeastern front were equipped exclusively with machines built within the preceding eighteen months. The American-made Curtiss 75A fighter joined French squadrons beginning in March 1939. It was the most effective type in its class in combat over France until the Dewoitine D520 became operational in mid-May 1940. Eight squadrons equipped with the Curtiss 75A shot down 220 German aircraft (confirmed kills), losing only thirty-three pilots. In seven aerial battles in which the Curtiss fighters were engaged with Messerschmitts, the total score was twenty-seven Bf 109Es and six Bf 110Cs destroyed for three of the French aircraft.

The Morane-Saulnier MS 406 equipped eighteen squadrons in France on 10 May 1940. The kill-loss ratio for units flying the MS 406 was 191 to 89. The shortcomings of the Morane fighter compared to the Bf 109E have been the topic of many memoirs, but in the reported battles in which Messerschmitts faced Moranes alone, the French posted a record of thirty-one kills and five losses. Both the Morane and the Messerschmitt were designed to met specifications issued in 1934, prototypes flew in 1935, and quantity production began in 1938. The Messerschmitt design was better suited for evolutionary development, and the Bf 109E-3 model of December 1939 was superior to the Morane. (See Table III.) During the Battle of France, the air staff converted twelve squadrons equipped with Moranes to other types as rapidly as training facilities permitted. This policy marginally increased the efficiency of the individual units, but it acted to decrease the effectiveness of the fighter force as a whole by taking combat-experienced squadrons out of the line at a critical time. Further, it failed to capitalize on new production to increase the size of the fighter force.

(Note: c'était d'une rare stupidité de les envoyer à l'entrainement à ce moment là. Un jour suffisait et basta. Pendant ce temps là, il se passait ça: http://www.militaryphotos.net/forums/showthread.php?t=123561 ... ils ont pas vu beaucoup d'avions fr eux non plus  :'(...)

Table III. Comparative Characteristics of Fighter Aircraft in the Battle of France

Country....Type........................Power....Speed (mph).........Ceiling (ft)....Armament

France......Curtiss 75A-3..............1200.....311 at 10,000.........33,700..........six 7.5-mm

France......Dewoitine 520...............910.....329 at 19,685.........36,090..........one 20-mm four 7.5-mm

France......Morane 406...................860......302 at 16,400.........30,840.........one 20-mmtwo 7.5-mm

France......Bloch 152.....................1100......320 at 13,120.........32,800.........two 20-mmtwo 7.5-mm

England.....Hawker Hurricane...........1030.....324 at 16,250.........34,200.........eight 7.7-mm

Germany....Messerschmitt Bf 109E-3.1175.....348 at 14,560.........34,450.........two 20-mmtwo 7.9-mm

Another fighter designed to meet the same specification as the MS 406 was the Bloch MB 150. Though it lost out in the procurement competition to the Morane, the Bloch firm developed the basic design around a more powerful engine. The resulting Bloch MB 152 was faster and more powerfully armed than the MS 406. Twelve squadrons had Bloch fighters on 10 May 1940, and six more became operational with them during the battle. Units while equipped with Blochs shot down 156 German planes and lost 59 pilots.

The first two squadrons equipped with the fast and agile Dewoitine 520 entered the battle on 13 May; eight others completed conversion training and became operational before the armistice. Between them, they shot down 175 enemy aircraft for a loss of 44 aviators. Polish pilots manned two squadrons of Caudron C 714 fighters. The ultralight Caudron (3086 pounds, empty) was capable of 302 mph with a 450-horsepower engine. Becoming operational on 2 June, the Poles shot down seventeen German aircraft and lost five pilots before their unit was disbanded on 17 June.

The French fighter force had available to it during the battle more than 2900 modern aircraft. At no time did it have more than one-fifth of these deployed against the Germans. The operational rate of the fighter force was 0.9 sorties per aircraft per day :O at the height of the battle. (German fighter units flew up to four sorties per aircraft per day.) Yet in spite of committing only a minor portion of its resources at a low usage rate, the fighter force accounted for between 600 and 1000 of the 1439 German aircraft destroyed during the battle.


The air force general staff, dedicated to the strategic bombing mission, had quietly ignored Guy La Chambre's directive to prepare for the ground assault mission. La Chambre had forced the air staff to procure assault bombers in 1938, and the first aircraft arrived in units in October 1939. The instructional manual for assault bomber units did not appear until January 1940, and there never was a manual for the employment of fighters in the assault role. The air staff complied with the letter of ministerial and army demands for a ground assault capability but did not commit intellectual, developmental, or training resources to developing one.

With German armor overrunning France, the air force belatedly sought to improvise an antitank capability. More than 2300 of the 2900 French fighter planes and all of the 382 assault bombers available during the battle carried 20mm cannon capable of penetrating the topside armor of all of the German tanks. The air staff designated Fighter Group III/2 to carry out the first aerial antitank missions. Its MS 406 aircraft carried high-velocity, engine-mounted 20-mm guns, but no armor-piercing ammunition was available. On 23 and 24 May, the unit flew nine sorties, lost three aircraft, and destroyed no tanks. Two weeks later, several fighter units flew a total of forty-eight antitank sorties over a four-day period--again without armor-piercing shells. They lost ten aircraft and did inconsequential damage. Two attacks in mid-June cost an additional three aircraft without seriously damaging any tanks.30 The capability of the armament and the valor of the pilots were wasted because of the absence of intellectual and logistical preparation.

The story of the French Air Force is one of gallant and competent individual performances that made no perceptible difference in the outcome of the battle. A dozen years of political strife had unraveled the network of trust and confidence through which bravery and professional skill could have an effect. The army and the air force each fought its own battle, weakened by the lack of coordination. The air staff, with its eyes on Berlin, neglected the preparation of command/control/communications systems and thereby denied the French Air Force the ability to integrate the efforts of individual units. The air force was so bitterly alienated from the political leadership that it declined to expand its organization and thereby deprived France of the powerful air force that its industrial base had provided.


Could the French Air Force Have

Seized Command of the Air?

On 10 May 1940, the operational units of the French Air Force committed to the Western Front were heavily outnumbered. The low rate of operations in the French Air Force compared to that of the Germans increased by a factor of four the French inferiority in the air during the first month of the battle. By mid-June, however, the Luftwaffe was exhausted. It had lost 40 percent of its aircraft. Its flyers had been operating above hostile territory without navigational aids and with the certainty of capture in the event their aircraft were disabled. The air and ground crews were working from captured fields at the end of lengthening supply lines. The French, on the other hand, had conducted much less intensive flight operations, were able to recover the crews of disabled aircraft, were falling back on their logistical bases, and were bringing new units on line with brand new aircraft every day. By 15 June, the French and German air forces were at approximate parity with about 2400 aircraft each, but the French were operating from their own turf, and they had the support of the RAF. Mastery of the air was there for the seizing, but on 17 June the French air staff began to order its units to fly to North Africa. The justification put forth by the air staff was that the army was destroyed and could not protect the airfields.

An examination of which units were ordered to North Africa and which were left behind reveals much about the motivation behind the evacuation. The units flown to North Africa were those regular air force squadrons with the most modern and effective aircraft--all of the squadrons equipped with the Curtiss 75A ( 10 ), Dewoitine 520 ( 10 ), Amiot 354 ( 8 ), Bloch 174 ( 18 ), Farman 222 ( 4 ), Douglas DB-7 ( 8 ), and Martin 167 ( 10 ), plus most of those with the Lioré et Olivier 451 (12 of 18 ). Those left behind included all of the air force reserve units--47 observation squadrons and 12 fighter squadrons--and all of the units closely connected with the army (the observation squadrons, the 10 assault bomber squadrons, and 7 night fighter squadrons converted to the ground assault role).


Un exemple à titre d'anecdote:

Maurice Arnoux, petit as aux 2 victoire. A rempilé à 40 ans en tant que volontaire. Se sont battu avec des MS406 avec le canon de 20 mm merdique HS9 alors que ceux équipés avec l'hélice à pas électrique Ratier et le canon HS404 à 600 coups/mn étaient versés .... aux école.

Ils devaient recevoir de Dowetine 520D le 1er Juin, à la veille de la bataille de la Somme soit dit en passant. Changement de programme: les D520 sont versé à l'instruction de la marine dans le Sud!

Le capitaine Arnoux est mort le 6 Juin .... dans son MS406.

En bref, je résumerais à ça: l'industrie a fait un travail extraordinaire et le nombre d'avions sortant des usines chaque mois en 40 est fantastique tant en qualité (Dowetine 520D) qu'en quantité (plus de 700 par mois !!!)

Les pilotes français se sont battus avec bravoure et une très grande compétence

.... mais la bureaucratie a été un énnemi encore plus redoutable que la Lutwaffe et les Panzerdivions! C'est conneries sur conneries. Quelque soit la raison pour expliquer ça.

Malheureusement il n'y a jamais eu de De Gaule pour s'en prendre à l'incompétence crasse de la bureaucratie et si 17000 collabo ont été fusillés en 1945, on a oublié à peut prêt autant de rond de cuir tout aussi criminels et responsables du désastre.

En espérant que l'histoire ne se répête pas de ce côté....

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Article très intéressant.

L'effort industriel a été important mais tardif (30 D520 en ligne en mai 1940). Avec quelques mois de plus, On aurait pu pourtant opposer aux Allemands d'excellents appareils en nombre conséquent (D520, VG33, Br 693, LeO 451).

Quand on pense aux centaines d'avions sortis des usines et parkés dans le Sud parce que leur équipement était incomplet (pas d'hélice pour les uns, pas de canon, de collimateur ou de radio pour d'autres)....

Et le sous équipement de certains chasseurs... Beaucoup de Hawk 75-3 n'avaient que 4 mitrailleuses de 7,5 alors qu'ils devaient en emporter 6...

Mais il n'y a pas que la bureaucratie qui est en cause.

L'Etat major a aussi très mal employé les moyens dont il disposait, parfois dans la panique

- Attaque à basse altitude pour les LeO 451, conçu pour pour le bombardement à moyenne altitude (là où il est le plus rapide)

- Bombardement diurne pour les vieux Amiot

- Assaut sans couverture aérienne pour les Br 693, Laté 298, LN 401... sur des objectifs bien défendus

Et il y a les lacunes en DCA: quand on voit les ravages que la Flak a fait, on peut regretter que les 25/37/40 mm aient été si peu nombreux.

Et si en mai juin l'AdA n'a pas eu une activité aussi intense que la Luftwaffe, c'est aussi du fait de la retraite désorganisée par l'avance allemande et des changements fréquents de terrain. La logistique n'a pas pu suivre, comme pour l'AdT (tentatives de contre-offensives avortées par manque de ravitaillement).

Ceci dit, c'est clair que les pilotes français ont eu le sens du sacrifice et ont bien affaibli la Luftwaffe, et les Anglais peuvent d'une certaine manière nous remercier.

Mias bon, nous on était pas prêt.

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sur les résultats de la campagne de France , il y a un article sur feu histoire de guerre" qui indique que la campagne de france n'a pas affaibli la luftwaffe ( les pertes tant en hommes qu'en matériel ont été compensées par les renforts sortis des écoles et des usines ) ........

quant à penser que le 17 juin , nous étions prêt de saisir la supériorité aérienne....... c'est un manque de sérieux , l'armée de terre était en voie de désintégration et le seul moyen d'éviter la capture de l'aviation sur ses bases était effectivement d'envoyer en AFN nos meilleures unités 

en pratique, c'est en mai qu'il aurait fallu contester la suprématie aérienne à la luftwaffe pour obtenir un résultat

un point sur les pertes indiquées par l'auteur car ça n'est pas trés clair dans l'article :

il compare des victoires homologuées ( dont on sait qu'elles étaient surestimées ( phénoméme d'ailleurs normal en temps de guerre )) à des pertes en pilote tués ( à titre d'exemple , bill gunston cite pour les bloch152 86 pilotes tués, blessés et disparus )

l'article souligne par contre bien la production importante de l'industrie française en 1940 ( même situation chez les chars )

il manque un point important, c'est d'étudier la situation des écoles d'entrainement qui constituent souvent le réel goulot ( en quantité eten qualité ) d'une force aérienne , la luftwaffe l'apprendra à ses dépents en 1943/1945

point négatif, les sources de l'auteur sont anciennes avec des sources dont les plus récentes semblent datées des années 70 : il fait l'impasse sur toutes les études récentes sur la question

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il y a un autre point à souligner pour expliquer ces "carences" , la stratégie globale de l'armée française est une stratégie de défense à long terme, on emploie une partie de l'aviation seulement car on se prépare à une lutte de plusieurs années sur le modéle de la grande guerre.........

d'une certaine manière il conviendrait d'analiser aussi les raisons qui ont permis à la luftwaffe de maintenir un tempo d'opération élevé et de comparer les choix faits à ceux de l'armée de l'air

l'avantage de l'attaquant de choisir le moment et l'heure de l'attaque sont à ne pas négliger aussi

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