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Hawk-Eye 19th February 2005 14:19

French books on the 1939-1940 fighting
This reproduces the posting under "Allied... Air Forces".

Books etc. on 1939-1940 French Air Force

Sorry I can’t give many details : I am about to move… How terrible !

I take it you meant 1939-40 not 1936-40? Nothing special – I mean no fighting – took place 1936-Sept. 1939.

The most comprehensive book I know on the 1939-40 French Air Force is a BRITISH book, or rather booklet, already mentioned by Graham Boak above :

Air War over France 1939-40, by Robert Jackson, Ian Allan Ltd., London, 1974.

ISBN 0 7110 0510 9

It also deals with the non-French (mainly British but Dutch and Belgian too) Allied air forces, bomber operations, French naval aviation, local « chimney flights » etc. This book contains a few errors but as a whole I consider it outstanding in spite of the few pages (154) and I think it can still be obtained. On page 112 the story about Mölders being shot down is completely wrong : this happened on 5 June not on 14 May. « Orléans in Southern France » is a bit strong (this famous city is approx. in the centre of France). Please note once and for all : Mölders’ French victor was s-lt. René Pomier Layrargues. Only ONE m, no hyphen, a final s (I met his brother Jean, a rear-admiral). Everybody mutilates this hero’s name, which is not acceptable (he shot down a 2nd 109, then was killed by half a dozen others).

« Blitzed ! », by Victor Bingham, is a good book too but gives the sole RAF all too much credit for virtually all German losses (the usual legend).

« Phoenix Triumphant », by E.R. Hooton, is interesting too.

The by far very best book on the 1940 French Campaign and German politics and armed forces I know is German. This outstanding work ought to be translated (but correctly… !) into all languages :

Blitzkrieg-Legende – Der Westfeldzug 1940 (there was no German Blitzkrieg-strategy, not even the word, at the time ; this word was created in Britain it seems) – by Karl-Heinz Frieser. Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt. Oldenburg, München 1996. ISBN 3-486-56201-0

This is a remarkable historical work at a high academic level but not boring to read, quite on the contrary (exciting). 472 pages, numerous pictures, maps etc. If only all historical books were of the same quality… It deals with all operations, not airpower only. About aviation there are a few errors but this is not serious. Interesting details on Flak and tanks. If you don’t read high-level German try to lay your hands on a translation, if any, but mind the often terrible translating errors and the cuts.

Not surprinsingly most books on 1939-40 French airpower were published in French. Most of the very best ones undoubtedly belong to the Docavia-series published by Editions Larivière in Clichy near Paris, even if these remarkable books were published between about 1972 and 1986. Raymond Danel (not « Daniel ») and Jean Cuny wrote virtually perfect books (in spite of a few unavoidable errors on some AC serial numbers etc.).

« L’aviation de chasse (the fighter arm) française 1918-1940 » is absolutely fantastic. This THE one book you MUST have on this subject : technical descriptions, statistical tables (production, numerical strengths etc.), fighter performance etc. Larivière should reprint it, I mean it ! They also wrote « Le Dewoitine D.520 », a nearly ideal monography (« A 109 diving in front of a D.520 was dead » « In a dogfight the D.520 made the 109 ridiculous. »), and « LeO, Amiot 350 et autres B4 » (on modern French twin-engined bombers). J. Cuny and Gérard Beauchamp published (also a Docavia) « Le Curtiss Hawk 75 », excellent too. All these books contain interesting pages on 1939 and mainly 1940 operations.

For a few years Docavia’s place has been taken by Lela-Presse, which published :

Le Morane-Saulnier MS 406 (by 12 authors) (Collection Histoire de l’Aviation n° 5), 336 large-format pages, hundreds of photographs. Technical description. Day-by-day account of all the Morane-fighting, etc., some color photos and profiles. Highly recommended !

In this same collection, n° 12 is an astounding achievement, a life’s work : « Le Bloch MB-152 » (in fact 150 through 157), by Serge Joanne. 528 (!) large-format pages plus several folding technical drawings, 900 (!) photographs, color profiles etc. Technical description and history of the type(s), unit-by-unit and day-by-day (inside the unit stories) account of the fighting, victories, losses… Color profiles. A fantastic book.

If you read the 4 « Docavias » and the 2 « Lela Presse » you’ll have a fairly good idea of the subject already ! Don’t forget Robert Jackson’s aforementioned, REMARKABLE booklet. I feel even if normally you don’t understand French you’ll be able to extract the most important contents. If you don’t understand the word « Pertes » you’ll understand it means « Losses » very quickly, for example.

There is a new French series of AC monographies now, "Ailes de Gloire" (Wings of Glory) by Patrick Marchand (text) [/b]and Junko Takamori (artwork). 42, 54, 64, 68 pages each : Potez 63, LeO 451 (bomber), Breguet 690 series (light bombers), D.520, MS 406, Curetiss H 75, Bloch 152 series. Technical description, photographs, colour pictures, pilots’ portraits, brief account of the fighting, colour samples for modellers. Very interesting for the price of 10-15 euros (plus p&p). Gabi Schmidt, bookseller in Munich, has got them. They’re certainly worth the money in spite of the very poor French spelling (this is fashionable in France now).

Arnaud Gillet published 2 volumes alone (2003 and 2004) : Les victoires de l’aviation de chasse française 10 mai-15 mai 1940 / 16 mai-4 juin 1940. Very interesting documents comparing French claims (often British ones too) and German losses ; photographs etc. Terrible French spelling. When I was a child aged 8 they would have kicked my bottom if I had made only ONE of the hundreds of Gillet’s very serious spelling errors (he holds a high French university degree in law…). Don’t laugh : if you’re unable to be exact in spelling can you be exact in history ? No doubt Gillet’s work is mostly very interesting but it should not be taken at face value and read… « very carefully ». The most important feature is that he is using a document written by two excellent French colonels (Salesse and Accart, the latter probably being one of the best fighter pilots AND LEADERS in the world) in the 1950s ( !!!) as the basis of his reasoning on French fighter victories. In the ‘50s they found appox. 245 which had been officially confirmed by the French Air Force. I consider it absurd to use such a document 50 years later to claim to publish a HISTORICAL work – in spite of the comparison of Allied and German documents, combat and loss reports etc. The existence of this document (at SHAA) certainly is interesting. Nevertheless now the point is the ACTUAL German losses inflicted by the AA (Armée de l’Air) not AdA (by Jove, I was a member of it myself many years ago!). According to myself – and I am a serious researcher not an amateur – the real figure ranges between approx. 600 and 1,000, possibly more. Yes this sounds odd ant it is odd. « More » in my future book (not before 2007), be patient.

A. Gillet is a likeable amateur, his work is commendable but his errors and amateurism, and spelling errors (they improved much in the last volume), are not acceptable. For example he stated that the Potez 631 had a « weak armament ». This is ridiculous for two 20 mm cannon and mostly several machine-guns, a very powerful punch at the time (according to myself one French cannon was worth 3 German ones, assuming a comparison is possible at all, for the rate of fire, the missile velocity and the range of the German MG FF were very poor, which was corrected only 1941 by the MG 151). Gillet also states that the Bloch 152 (two cannon, 2 machine-guns) had a « weak armament » ; same remark as before. He corrected this in his 2nd volume (after I wrote to him), stating that it was « average », which is wrong : it was very powerful (for 1940 standards). Gillet adds that the 152’s engine power was « satisfying ». This is exactly the contrary of what ALL experts say. The power figure was relatively high… but it was a radial engine ! Visibly A. Gillet has no idea of the difference between radial and in-line engines, as far as the necessary engine power is concerned. He probably never heard or read the word « drag ».

He thinks that the Me 109 and 110 cannon had 100 rounds per gun but it was 60 r p g like the French. Exaggeration : 66.66 %.

He also thinks that a fighter having much more machine-gun ammunition has a much higher « fire-power » than another one, armd with one cannon and 2 MGs. This is very serious nonsense. Gillet did not correct this error (and not others either) in spite of my explanations. Translations from German and English into French are very poor : simplistic, word by word, litteral translations like « board cannon » for « Bordkanone » etc. The fact remains that as a whole these works are an interesting contribution, in particular many comparisons between French and German combat reports for the same combats.

A useful point is that he really looked at the German archive and concludes that :

1. In order to find all 1940 German losses you have to look for them until the end of 1941 in the documents (because some losses were registered or corrected belatedly).

2. French fighter claims were much more serious and reliable than German and above all British ones. This is a confirmation of a fact which by now is well-known. The most reliable claims of WW II were Finnish and French.

Gillet published a 3rd volume together with Jacques Sacré, a confirmed aviation writer whose influence is very visible in this volume. Much fewer spelling errors, no horrible nonsense (but I wasn’t able to read it all). This volume deals with the Namur-Cambrai-Troyes-Luxembourg area, 10-18 May 1940, mainly the Sedan battle.

The French magazine « Avions » has published many special issues (Hors séries) on the 1940 air fighting, including one on GC I/3, the first unit equipped with the legendary D.520. The list is too long to reproduce here.

Hawk-Eye 9th April 2005 12:56

Complement : WW II Fighter Conflict (Alfred Price)
I forgot to mention the wonderful little book - a booklet - "World War Two Fighter Conflict", by Alfred Price. For a horrible Englishman this work is a remarkable achievement. It is one of my top favourites although quite naturally French aicraft are very marginal in these pages. The author explains, very clearly, some of the most important aspects of air combat including armament. Although it was not his goal his data on 1939 fighter armament show very clearly that 1939-40 French fighters had a very powerful armament (for the time; armour was not widely used yet on aircraft). Unfortunately Price takes only what he calls the "weight of fire" into account, the weight, in lbs, of projectiles fired by all weapons of every fighter type in a 3-second burst. It is a good criterion already but forgets at least two important factors : the missile velocity and the much higher destructive power of explosive cannon shells as compared to machine-gun bullets.
Even so we can see that the Morane 406 (one cannon, two 7.5. mm machine-guns) had a Price-firepower 20 % higher than that of the "Hurricane" (and "Spitfire") (8 .303 MGs) and only 8 % lower than that of the Me 109 E-3 (two cannon, two 7.92 MGs) - namely 13 lbs as compared to 12 lbs. In particular the French cannon had a very high missile velocity, which resulted in a straight trajectory, short time between firing and impact (an advantage in combat), much better aiming precision and much higher, devastating kinetic energy. All in all the Morane was better armed than the 109. (What counts in my eyes is the effect achieved in combat). Many a 109-pilot could confirm this for you!
So be careful when reading that 1940 French fighters had a weak armament, in most cases this has nothing to do with reality. Only the American-made Curtiss H-75 had 4 7.5 mm machine-guns, later 6. This was too light an armament for the 1940 fighting and French Curtiss pilots lamented this (French HQ had abolished the original heavy machine-gun of the US design, which I absolutely cannot understand) but they were the by far most successful French fighter pilots so the other, general qualities of the "Curtiss" certainly have compensated for the armament. Nevertheless many pilots paid a high price, including their life, because the light armament, with too short a range, forced them to come too close to German bombers and their very dangerous air-gunners.
Anyway, Alfred Price's booklet no doubt is one of the best on WW II from 1939 to 1945 (jets, heavy German 30 mm cannon etc.) including a little 1939-40.

FalkeEins 9th April 2005 13:40

Re: French books on the 1939-1940 fighting
..and how do rate M. Ehrengardt's "Fledgling Eagles"...?

Hawk-Eye 9th April 2005 16:21

1. Fledgling eagles 2. Ils ouvrirent le bal
Fledgling Eagles is very good I think, very detailed (Armée de l'Air and RAF). It had 5 authors including Christopher Shores, who publishd an English edition. I think there is a more recent one in English (?). I was under the impression that the original question was aimed at May-June 1940 (French Campaign).

One of the French "classics" is "Ils ouvrirent le bal" (They opened the dancing), published 1967 by Jean Gisclon, who was a sergent and a fighter pilot about 1936-45, 1939-40 with GC II/5 flying Curtiss H-75s. I discovered it... in a bookshop in Nürnberg (!) - I was living 10 miles from this city - for it was translated into German, a very exceptional honour for a French aviation book. Exceptionally the translation seems to be accurate except when there were accusations, aimed at German pilots, of having shot parachuted aircrew. It covers French fighters only and their combat, 1939-40, on a chronological basis. It is fairly accurate but contains many errors in details (for ex. some pilot names, killed or not...) too. As a whole it brought a lot of hitherto unknown information on French losses but also on very numerous victories, most of which hardly can be disputed at all. This book has the undertitle "Les mille victoires de la Chasse française", "The 1,000 victories of the French fighter arm". This figure was widely accepted in France for a number of years although 919 is more accurate, including September 1939-May 1940. Gisclon obviously teared and stretched the figures in order to reach the magic figure of 1,000 (1,006 to be accurate, I think). Now there is a big controversy about it in France, some French people trying to ridicule it with the greatest energy. Personally I NEVER supported the figure of 1,000 victories - up till now. Some years later Gisclon published "La grande aventure de la Chasse française 1939-1945", a big heavy thing, and more recently, around 2000, a new book : "Les mille victoires de la Chasse française", which I haven't read for I assumed it would be much the same as his first book. It should be noted that Gisclon is a member of the by far much more numerous French community which all the time will cry, wail and lament that we suffered soooo terrible losses and had got virtually nothing, only our guts, to fight "15,500" German aircraft, etc. A typical example in Gisclon's books could read as follows : "9 Curtiss fighters (often it was 27) take off towards the front zone. They meet 300 German bombers escorted by 50 (or 40 or 200 etc.) Me 109s" (these are typical figures in FRENCH reports; often the proportions are reversed in German stories, where 4 French fighters used to attack one bomber and a JG 3 Gruppe (I. I think) reported that French fighters almost invariably had a heavy numerical superiority. This seems to be a matter of point of view.) "In the ensuing fight they manage to shoot down (here he gives more details) 3 bombers and 4 of the escorting fighters. But alas these victories are dearly paid for, oooooh, how terrible, wail, cry, sob, Lt. Dupont is killed and Sgt. Durand is wounded in his leg." Such people do not accept ANY losses at all. I agree that every loss was one loss too many, every aircrew killed hurts still today, but I know that you can't go to war and expect nil losses. In fact French losses (at least in air combat, excluding Flak) were very reasonable and after the armistice the whole French Air Force had not at all the impression of having been wiped out or beaten, ON THE CONTRARY. They felt they had won and rightly so. Won the air war of course not the campaign as a whole.
For my part I have been fighting this unjustified book and magazine pessimism for 15 years, starting with the book (my title!) "Invisibles vainqueurs", the official author of which was Paul Martin. I contributed half the book and numerous corrections but I couldn't print my name both as publisher and as co-author : the silly French booksellers would have refused to sell the book. I discovered too late that Martin was interested in, and reported, French LOSSES only except in a few tables. Losses did exist but they were less than half the story! In my eyes this was a disaster, which is why I added hundreds of "optimistic" pages in compensation. The result was a rather strange book.
1999 or 2000 "Jacqueline and" Paul Martin published the same stuff again under the title "Ils étaient là...", heavily stressing French losses again, victories being very "small", mainly in a few tables. Publisher C-J Ehrengardt was forced, he too, to add many explanations and comments but he belongs to the "pessimists" about the Armée de l'Air so what he wrote fits much better into Martin's long, dire list of dead airmen and destroyed French aircraft. If you're looking for exact AC serials, aircrew names or names of villages etc. this is a good source.

John Vasco 9th April 2005 21:23

Re: Complement : WW II Fighter Conflict (Alfred Price)

Originally Posted by Hawk-Eye
I forgot to mention the wonderful little book - a booklet - "World War Two Fighter Conflict", by Alfred Price. For a horrible Englishman this work is a remarkable achievement.

Can you explain exactly what you mean in your second sentence.

Hawk-Eye 9th April 2005 22:51

Horrible Englishman
Originally Posted by Hawk-Eye
I forgot to mention the wonderful little book - a booklet - "World War Two Fighter Conflict", by Alfred Price. For a horrible Englishman this work is a remarkable achievement.

Can you explain exactly what you mean in your second sentence.
- This was just an attempt to add a little humour into this severe subject but regrettably it seems I failed pitifully and I humbly beg the pardon of the well-known masters of humour.
PS : horrible Englishmen do not exist.

John Vasco 9th April 2005 23:11

Re: French books on the 1939-1940 fighting
Unfortunately, Hawk-Eye, the problem with a forum is that sometimes humour can be missed, or misconstrued. We English cannot claim to be the masters of humour - humour is universal, and there are horrible people in every country. Alfred Price has written some excellent books, and thereby advanced our knowledge and understanding of WW2 events.

Keep smiling, mate, and never take yourself or others too seriously. There are more important things in life than a Luftwaffe bulletin board.

Best wishes,

John V.

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