Luftwaffe and Allied Air Forces Discussion Forum

Luftwaffe and Allied Air Forces Discussion Forum (
-   Allied and Soviet Air Forces (
-   -   1939-45 airpower and professional historians (

Grozibou 17th August 2008 13:26

1939-45 airpower and professional historians
On 2nd August 2008, 19:46
Alter Hase

(old hare - weird isn't it?)
asked the following question in the now-closed thread "Book on French Air Force 1939-40?" (closed on August 10 – you still can find it if you look for this date) :



Hi Grozibou (...)

Are you a professional historian?

- Well, to me this is a rather embarrassing question. I never studied History at University if this is what you mean - but I would have wasted several years on ancient Greece and Rome, on Napoléon (whom I simply can't stand) or on the senile old men of the French IIIrd Republic (it was hardly better in Germany at the time). So I own no university diploma in History whatsoever. Instead I spent 18 years of my adult life WORKING in Germany first as an "Ingenieur-Übersetzer" with the company Siemens (this was how the offered post was named) - a technically highly-qualified translator for... electrical engineering (power-plants, high-voltage transport lines etc.), then the same thing as a free-lancer. The firm Bölkow wanted me too (not as a translator) but unfortunately they were too slow although they were producing comparatively fast light aircraft, helicopters and tactical missiles. Later the Bölkow company (Ludwig Bölkow was still alive) became part of MBB (M being Messerschmitt), which later became one of the founders of today's EADS. During these 18 years I watched German TV (in German only), especially many programs on WW II and I read dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of German books, reviews and magazines on WW II, mainly about airpower and air war. Before this time, during this time and afterwards I never ceased reading the same stuff in French and in English, in particular the excellent and exciting "Flying", RAF's review, of the 1950's and about 1960-62, which many people including English-speaking ones wrongly call "Royal Air Force Flying Review" (no time to explain this error but I am sure Brian can do this). Quite generally I never stopped reading or watching these things. This is why and how I read, among others, "TDIM". What does a student who wants to win a diploma in History? Mainly read such books and reviews (and archive documents etc.). So like many other guys here after having informed myself in three languages for about 40-50 years as a whole I know much more on WW II-airpower than many a “Doctor” with impressive titles and diplomas. It all depends on how seriously you deal with the subject. In particular, almost all English-speaking (or –writing) authors splendidly ignore any books or documents in other languages. Apparently they feel that if something is interesting or important it was published in English. If it’s “only” in French or in German they consider it unimportant or uninteresting or… impossible to read (German! O my God!) but it can hardly be disputed that Germany played a major part in the 1940 French Campaign. As I always use to repeat, OWN THINKING is of paramount importance. You discover lots of things thanks to it. Often the only difference between a professional and a non-professional historian is merely a sheet of paper not knowledge or competence. There are nitwits and good people in both categories – like in any other field of activity.

What is a professional historian? A person owning all possible degrees and diplomas (university, of course), and honours, in History but at the same time a clot unable even to publish correct data on 1940 aircraft almost 60 years later, and committing heavy plagiarism on other authors? Of course I have no objection against diplomas, quite on the contrary, but alas, as we can see, they give no guarantee of competence and quality... I already mentioned the late French Professor Henri Michel, a specialist of WW II, who was a nice man but wrote incredible nonsense in his much-respected books, like for example his explanations on radar, a device which, according to him, detected the noise produced by aircraft. Or is a historian a person dealing intensively with History in his/her spare-time? I think it depends on how much, for how long and how intensively, and... how seriously. Professional or amateur, I feel it doesn't matter just as long as they/we don't publish any nonsense, which is all too easy. Most people still today believe - in spite of my heroic efforts - that the Me 109 E and the Me 110 possessed a for the time (1940) formidable armament, which is nonsense because the German cannon was a VERY mediocre weapon, please try to remember this fact.

Richard Overy is (or 2000 he was) a "professor of History at King's College, London". 2000 he published a booklet : "The Battle of Britain". Here is a quotation from page 52 : << The Me 109 E could be out-turned by both the Hurricane and the Spitfire (though whether this was due to the fact that British aircraft used higher-octane aviation fuel remains open to debate)... >> It never occurred to me that the octane-number, be it 87, 94, 97, 100 or else, could influence the turning radius of an aircraft but I am always eager to learn.

On page 55 we find the usual jewel : “The task the German Air Force was called on to perform [in the Battle of Britain] resembled, at least superficially, the opening days of the campaigns against Poland and France when the enemy air force was swiftly neutralized by concentrated bomber and dive-bomber attacks on airfields and support services.” What really is superficial is to write such nonsense even a.D. 2000, 60 years later! I don’t really know exactly about Poland but I don’t think Overy’s statement is accurate either ; I think the Polish AF was simply much too small, most of their aircraft too obsolete, to resist the all-out onslaught of a big power (Germany was a big power 1939-44) but they were not “swiftly neutralized” and kept operating their few aircraft from their secret bases. Somehow I suspect that some Polish expert is in a position to give us the correct version if he so wishes. As far as France is concerned I am really, physically, on the verge of throwing up when I read such garbage written by a “Professor of History” – Historydiculous, rather. This gentleman now even has been promoted to the rank of WW II-expert for television programs. Well, we all know the value of “historical” TV-programs. If you want to know when the Armée de l’Air was neutralized, or wiped out, by the Luftwaffe, you only need to have a look at Peter Cornwell’s recent book on the 1939-40 fighting : you’ll see that the A.A. was not wiped out on May 10, 1940, and not on May 13 or 14 either, not on 20, 25 or 30 May. Adolf Galland agreed with me to say that LW-losses in Operation “Paula” against the Paris area on June 3 certainhly were of the same magnitude as during a typical day of fighting during the BoB (not the climax days, August 18 and September 15 etc., but the climax of the French Campaign was on May 10, 14, 26 and on June 5 (with very heavy German losses on this day), 8 and 9. French fighter claimed the highest number of victories on June 5 (55 “certain” victories including on Werner Mölders and about 10-20 “probable” ones). Here it doesn’t matter whether these claims were too optimistic or not (I say : no), in any case the number of fighter claims has a direct relation to the actual air battles fought and the aerial activity. This shows that the Armée de l’Air was certainly not “swiftly neutralized” (he certainly was meaning to a large part already on May 10, the A.A. being finished around May 15 or so). This was totally impossible anyway because of a very high aircraft production in France and to a smaller part in the USA (Curtiss P-36, Glenn-Martin 167, Douglas DB-7, later P-38, P-40, B-24) and a very active training of new aircrew in many Air Force schools, both in France and in N. Africa.

This production was never seriously disturbed by LW attacks against French factories, even less against American factories in the USA and assembling facilities in N. Africa or even in France (Bourges). At the end of the fighting the A.A. still possessed about 1,500 modern single-engined fighters (of which 660 were Morane 406s and these were NOT totally hopeless, far from it – just ask their German victims!); the 840 others were more recent and often much better fighters. (During the BoB RAF Fighter Command never possessed so many fighters). They also still possessed about 700 very modern twin-engined bombers, all this in spite of losses, in particular several hundred aicraft which had to be abandoned during the retreat (same thing for RAF aircraft in France) because of the advancing German ARMY – ground troops, tanks etc. These hundreds of abandoned AC were NOT destroyed by the LW, they were captured, for lack of time or pilots to save them, mainly by German infantrymen. Many other AC, though, HAD BEEN evacuated to South France. French Aircraft production was rising all the time and was stopped only by the arrival of the enemy. No less than 437 Dewoitine 520s had been produced on the day of the cease-fire and their production, too, was rising continuously but especially fast. Émile Dewoitine himself said that he could have doubled it without any difficulty. After the armistice the Germans and the Italians counted the French AC which existed in the non-occupied (and smaller) part of France : they found 4,238 AC of all kinds and types including obsolete types and modern trainers (NAA 57 and others), of which 1,739 were modern combat AC. In French North Africa they found approx. 550 modern fighters. Add several hundred modern bombers and recce AC delivered or flown to N. Africa. The grand total should be approx. 2,500 to 2,700 modern combat AC, in spite of losses, without those abandoned during the retreat (several hundred). At the beginning of the German onslaught on May 10 the grand total was about 1,300, perhaps 1,500. The explanation of this “miracle” is the same as in the UK : government had decided (months and even years before) to boost aircraft production as high as possible and this decision was beginning to give some results. Too bad the fighting ceased at this point for the continuation of the air war would have been most interesting : By mid-July the A.A. would have deployed only modern combat aircraft which had been strongly improved as compared to the AC existing on May 10 : Bloch 155, Dewoitine 523, 524, 551 (670 km/h as compared to the Me 109 E’s 570), Arsenal fighters, Bloch 175 light bombers, Breguet 693-695 assault bombers and many more excellent AC. The Luftwaffe was unable to engage any better aircraft before about April 1941 (Me 109 F), except for a few marginal improvements of the old “Emil”, and this would have been much, much too late. As I already mentioned the Ju 88 was a strong improvement in the German bomber force but Allied fighters disposed of it just as they did of the other types so its qualities would not have been very useful in actual combat.

To sum up, Professor Overy talks nonsense and even writes it, which is unacceptable. Anybody, historian or not, he who PUBLISHES such sweeping judgements on such an important subject without at least checking and asking some experts, is simply an unserious fellow. Please Mr. Horta, this is a fully legitimate book review, don’t intervene now to tell me that I am all too mean, vicious and brutal to poor little defenceless victim Overy. He is not a victim, he is a grown-up man and he can defend himself all right. Besides, I only reported FACTS. Who doesn’t want any facts here?

Another British book has won a reputation of excellency, I wonder how : “The Most Dangerous Enemy”, by Stephen Bungay, published 2000 too. Here are a few examples : “The bulk of the French Army waited on the Maginot Line”. This is nonsense. Allied GHQ were convinced that the German army would launch its main offensive through Belgium like 1914 (Schlieffen plan) so that the bulk of the Allied forces were rather facing Belgium, in particular the best, and best-equipped, French and British army units. Here we can clearly see that author S.B. allows hear-say, impressions and rumours to influence him beyond any reasonable doubt : the French relied heavily on their Maginot Line to protect the mobilisation and make any surprise-attack there impossible (this is true and it worked) so according to his brain the bulk of their army must have been there! How naïve, how oversimplistic can you be? Many French people relied much too heavily on the line to protect them from invasion but one of his main advantages was precisely to save manpower so that more forces could be stationed elsewhere. It was bristling of heavy guns.

The rest of this big book is hardly better about the French Campaign and even about other matters. Page 94 (paperback), about aircraft production : “Even though the French production was not of comparable quality, the Luftwaffe still had to defeat them, and suffered attrition in the process.” The part I put in bold characters really is typical (according to my own personal impression) of this typically British, unjustified sense of superiority. Most French aircraft types produced 1940 were of a tremendous quality and often years ahead of everything which existed in other countries – only, Germany had had a head-start (several years) and French aircraft factories were not protected from the German hordes by a sea and the German army invaded the whole territory (see other posts on this). The mass-production of all these superlative French aircraft came just a little too late, something like 4-6 weeks – and French strategy and tactics needed strong changes and these began to be implemented in June, too late but they were effective. Remember that the BoB began in earnest about 13 weeks later than the FC so the British industry had more time to produce fighters. Germany and the UK had only one superlative aircraft each 1940 (Me 109 E and Spitfire) : all other types were obsolete, obsolescent or just fair at best, like the Ju 88, which was an excellent medium bomber but was easy meat for any modern fighter. France on the contrary had designed, and was mass-producing, at least half a dozen, if not a full dozen, of really excellent to incredible AC already in May and June 1940, when production was about in the same rising phase as in the UK (where it was still rising and improving, precisely like in France) but, as I said, France didn’t have the benefit of a few more weeks, which the UK had, to fully develop production and use it in battle. We already discussed the superlative French aircraft types here for some guys, still influenced by the 1940 myths, were quite sceptical; I’ll make it short : belt-fed cannon with 120 r p g instead of 60 both in France and Germany were being introduced on French fighters and some much-improved Bloch 155 fighters even flew a few missions with this equipment, about ONE YEAR ahead of Germany and the UK; the D.520 (see details above) was better than the Me 109 E in actual combat : better in the climb and in the dive, faster at high altitudes. In particular, when German fighter pilots were in trouble and used their standard evasive action of diving away in most cases they didn’t survive for the D.520 dived better and faster and had no trouble following the 109s and shoot them down. I already mentioned that the much-improved D.523 and 524 were already being manufactured (but none had been delivered yet). The French standard recce AC, the Potez 63.11, was a perfect match (5 km/h faster) for its German counterpart the Do 17P but with the French advantage, very soon, of strongly improved armament : up to ten (10) machine-guns, generally 6-7, and of a remarkbale maneuverability. In one instance a Potez 63.11 chased by half a dozen Me 109s shot down 3 of them (!) before succumbing. We wouldn’t even know if French ground troops had not seen it all and reported it. This Potez type was being replaced by another superlative aircraft : the Bloch MB 174, ear-marked for strategic reconnaissance, was as fast as the D.520 and flew very high. For Me 109s it was very hard to catch. The MB 175 was an excellent light bomber and so was the Breguet 693-695. The four-engined strategic heavy bomber Farman 222/2 may have been obsolescent but it was used at night (3 squadrons) and carried up to 5 000 kg of bombs (11,000 bs), something unique in 1940 Europe. The CAO 700 four-engined bomber would have been mass-produced and engaged from 1941 on – it was better (faster, better-armed etc.) than any type of the same category, be it British or US. The Dewoitine D.551 fighter, an entirely new design, very small and nimble, flew over 700 km/h (435 mph) already in November 1939. With all its military equipment it would have reached about 670 km/h (416 mph) and ridiculed any German or British fighter from the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941 on ; Me 109 E : 570 km/h or 354 mph, Spitfire I 560 km/h (348 mph or so). Contrary to British fighters the Dewoitine fighters were excellent (superior) at high altitude. For more details on French AC of all categories including many prototypes see the excellent booklets (two volumes published 2004 and 2005) “L’aviation française de 1939 à 1942, by Dominique Breffort and André Jouineau, in the collecton “Avions et pilotes”, published by “Histoire & Collections” (ISBN 2-915239-22-3 and ISBN 2-915239-48-7)(price 15,50 euros each) as well as the usual French monographs : D.520, MB 174, MS 406, Curtiss H-75, Bloch 152, L’aviation de chasse française. They all mention and describe the types which followed, for ex. D.551, MB 175-176 etc., MS 410 and 450, D-3800 and D-3801 (improved Swiss MS 406s, of which about 300 were produced in Switzerland), Bloch 155 and 157 (the latter able of 700 km/h too) etc.

So it is really in-cre-di-ble that a British “historian” can have published such nonsense on the “inferior quality” of French aircraft production. Their imagined superiority will never change. British aircraft equalled 1940 French quality first 1942-43 with the Mosquito, Spitfire V and IX, Beaufighter, Lancaster, Typhoon. By 1942 or 1943 if France had not been occupied because there was no sea making this impossible it would possibly have produced jet aircraft 800-1,100 km/h fast, and certainly some of the finest aircraft in the world.

Like Richard Overy Stephen Bungay believes that the Armée de l’Air was simply brushed aside – perhaps he just repeated the same remark, found in Overy’s booklet, and so on from book to book since 1940, every “author” having copied whatever nonsense the preceding “author” had published so they “confirmed” each other’s BS for all “experts” wrote the same thing so it must be true :

QUOTE : [After the Allied defeat in Benelux and France] “The Luftwaffe (…) had swept the French air force from the skies, massacred the British bombers and brushed aside the few Hurricanes they found in their path ”. (S. Bungay, page 138, paperback edition).

The remark on British bombers is almost accurate for sadly the very vulnerable “Battles” and “Blenheims” were almost the only RAF bombers engaged directly over the battlefield and near it in the FC (apart from “strategic” bombing performed by Wellingtons etc.) and when Me 109s or 110s met them yes, they butchered these almost defenceless, slow planes and their gallant crews whose sacrifice didn’t make much sense, not to mention the Flak. “Brushed aside the few Hurricanes” is a wild exaggeration for if they suffered appalling losses in air battles the Hurricanes were not simply brushed aside, this is not true. They put up a good fight – at a cost. Many had to be abandoned, like French AC, in the retreat in front of advancing German ground troops. So it seems that this gentleman is as poorly informed on his own RAF as on the A.A. Unfortunately many reviews were very positive. Do critics ever REALLY read the books they are reviewing? I strongly doubt it for there are many examples to the contrary – in France too.

General conclusion : experience, facts show that it does not matter whether or not an author of historical books, or even an Internet contributor, is a genuine professional with university degree etc. Mr. Jochen Prien is a lawyer – or is he STILL a lawyer? In theory yes, he still is. So he is not a professional historian – or does he disagree? In any case his books are very useful to History with a big H in spite of some flaws.

Vraa84 17th August 2008 14:37

Re: 1939-45 airpower and professional historians

I can only agree with you that an "professional" historian does not always know more about a certain subject than a "Amateur" historian (the choice of words is not made to offend anybody, but simply because the need to distinguish). But during studies in history at a university, a student does more than just reading books about history. Quite a bit of time is spent on subject like historical methods and science studies. Therefore, a historian who has studied in a university hopefully has a knowledge about the working progress that otherwise would have taken many years to learn.
This of course does not mean that he/she is always right. And I shall be the first to acknowledge that there is many good "amateur" historians. But hopefully a historian who graduates with a degree from a university, can something more than 5 years sparetime reading can produce.

Kind regard

FalkeEins 17th August 2008 14:42

Re: 1939-45 airpower and professional historians
" c'est la barbe, ces avions inexpérimentés .."

D.520 pilot GC I/3 mid-May 1940, quoted in Avions Hors Serie 'GC I/3 Les rois du Dewoitine..."

"..These untried machines are a pain in the arse..."

(bit like a certain amateur historian..they just weren't that good)

Graham Boak 17th August 2008 17:58

Re: 1939-45 airpower and professional historians
I found Overy's work unsatisfying too, but as an aircraft performance specialist at one time I can tell you that the sustained turning rate of an aircraft is very much a function of the power. Hence it can be related to the octane rating of the fuel. The attained (maximum) turning rate is normally regarded as a function of the maximum lift coefficient only. There may be a small effect due to power but this can be disregarded for aircraft of this period. Most aerial combats will use turning rates greater than can be sustained but less than the maximum attained value - the fighters would lose too much speed too rapidly.

Just how much operational benefit was gained by the use of 100 octane fuel has not been discussed in any detail, probably because this would be too difficult to measure sensibly. It permitted the limited use of higher boost, and hence higher power, and was therefore a Good Thing. Most of the battle was dependent upon other factors than the extreme performance of the opposing fighters. If you believe in the "Narrow Margin" approach, then use of 100 octane widened that margin. If you believe that the Luftwaffe took on an impossible task with their resources, then it hastened their defeat.

Grozibou 17th August 2008 19:05

1939-45 airpower and professional historians

Originally Posted by Vraa84 (Post 71393)

I can only agree with you (...) But during studies in history at a university, a student does more than just reading books about history. Quite a bit of time is spent on subject like historical methods and science studies. Therefore, a historian who has studied in a university hopefully has a knowledge about the working progress that otherwise would have taken many years to learn.

- Yes, of course I agree. Thanks for your constructive reaction. My post was very long already and I was afraid of deterring potential readers (the police became much too small, I don't know why and I can't change it). I think most people here are - approximately - aware of what a historian educated at University has learned and knows (likewise for physicists and physicians, other scientists and all possible fields of knowledge). Besides, I wrote "mainly" (reading books etc.).


(...) But hopefully a historian who graduates with a degree from a university, can something more than 5 years sparetime reading can produce.
- Certainly! I never meant 5 years of spare-time reading only. This would be MUCH too little indeed. I mean deep, profound knowledge. According to myself you can acquire it only thanks to several decades of studying and research, and of OWN THINKING. Reading only some books published in your own country won't do in such a case with multiple waring parties : you HAVE TO read books, articles and archive documents at least in German, French and English. How many historians are able to do this? Precious few, if any. This may seem very exacting but what do you think all archaeologists and historians working on the ancient Palestina (Jesus etc.), Egypt (pharaos...), Greece and Rome must do? They have no choice for there are no ol' English translations ("decent books", as someone put it here). They even learn to read hieroglyphs and many have learned half a dozen, or a dozen, ancient languages. Besides, academic historians, too, have acquired only the basic knowledge of their trade and after they got their diploma they still have a hell of a lot to learn! The most clever among them are aware of this fact (which is true of any field including translating...).

In my opinion people working on the history of WW II in Europe but having no perfect command of German are quite simply unserious. They can get vital information on Germany, German forces, Hitler, nazism etc. only through English or French translations, or others. This is not good enough. Some French "historians" for example mention the German tanks "Mark II, Mark III" in their books (written in FRENCH) without being aware that "Mark" is a typically-English word, not needed in other languages : Panzer II, char II... Quite revealing!

Sadly it seems that most people - with or without any academic diploma - rely entirely on ONE author the publication(s) of whom they liked. Let us take one of the most controversial topics : the number of actual victories won by French fighters during the 1940 French Campaign (FC). Jean Gisclon, a French author who also had been a fighter pilot with GC II/5 1939-40 (and before), started the big controversy with the phrase "Les mille* victoires de la Chasse française", which he used first as the sub-title on the cover of his first book "Ils ouvrirent le bal" , published 1967, 41 years ago (They Opened the Dance - a reference to the much-admired BoB, which started shortly afterwards), then as the title of a new book which was mainly a 2nd edition of the 1st one. The controversy started by Jean Gisclon, but supported by some figures officially published already 1940 in France, has never ceased to this day, some people more or less confirming the magic figure (slightly over 1,000; 1,005 to be exact), others ridiculing it. Who is right? Wait and see. From 1970 through 2007 the excellent French aviation review "Icare" has published 19 big issues on the 1940 FC air battles (plus 3 on the BoB, 2 on Pearl "Harbour" (sic) etc.). The fundamental historical articles written by the late Raymond Danel in "Icare" and also in "Le Fana" are among the very best in the world, no matter in what language. "Icare", too, published victory totals nearing 1,000 (like 919 or so) but - don't forget this - including the Phoney War (which adds about 70 to 100 victories depending on authors etc.) and adding the "victoires sûres" (the certain ones) and the "victoires probables". Clearly most authors are unable to separate the Phoney War (Sept. 1939-May 9, 1940) and the FC (June 10-24, 1940). They were completely different and I feel the victories and own losses of both periods should not be added to look more impressive.

What I am trying to show here is that some people relied on one single book published by J. Gisclon, others relying on one other author only to demolish or "disprove" it, they think. From 2000 to 2008 a French person named Arnaud Gillet published no less than five (5) fairly big volumes on the 1940 FC, the 5th one (2008) being the first but not the last devoted to RAF fighter victories, the other four to French fighters'. In spite of many correct and useful data, remarks and pieces of information I consider this work very poor and very misleading. This is heavily compounded by the author's very poor own knowledge of basic facts (like fighter armament, firepower etc.) and his very poor French even though he claims to own a university degree in law ("Maîtrise", about the same as the famous German "Doktortitel"). As some of you know some French villages and cities have a name starting with "Le" (The), like Le Havre, Le Creusot, Le Mans, Le Mesnil... (there are many), Le Bourget, Le Lavandou etc. German people foolishly insist on saying "Lé" (Lay) and even on writing it this way. Well, Mr. A. Gillet doesn't even know that in French we don't say or write "à Le..." (at when it is a village or a city) but "Au", like "Au Mans" or "Au Bourget" (example : La course [the race] a lieu au Mans). This is one of the basic rules of the French language so I have some serious doubts about this person's nationality (no nationality in the world is a shame, by the way) and his academic titles but perhaps they are genuine (on n'arrête pas [you can't stop] le progrès); I even doubt that his name is not a pseudo replacing a typically-foreign name but this is only my personal impression.

He also is adament that a fighter's firepower was the number of rounds it carried for its guns so according to him a fighter armed even with four 20 mm-cannon with 120 rpg had a firepower only 17 %, not even one fifth, as high as a "Hurricane" armed with rifle-calibre machine-guns and carrying 2,800 rounds (this is HIS figure but I think it was rather 2,400 rounds). As usual his volumes were received with great enthusiasm by the usual professional critics - very sad indeed. In particular some FRENCH critics and commentators are out of themselves for joy every time some bloody amateur reduces the number of 1940 French victories or calls French airmen cowards and the like. This is something I'll never be able to understand. Many people in France and abroad (to our British and American friends : seen from France "even" the UK and the USA are foreign countries and their inhabitants are foreigners, or "aliens" - incredible isn't it?) now rely mainly, or exclusively, on Gillet's figures and conclusions, which are extremely unreliable to say the least. In his last ("British") volume he quite simply insulted not only French airmen who knowingly died fighting nazism but also any author or general and any historian who dared (in the past including in the 1940s and 1950s) or still dares publish anything which disagrees with his own conclusions and very low figures for French fighter victories. So according to his standards all outstanding Docavia and Lela-Presse books, all "Icare" issues on the FC as well as all "avions" special issues on the 1940 campaign are full of lies and vichyst propaganda and good for the dustbin. "avions" is about to publish (in October) the second and last special issue on 1939-40 French fighter aces (85 names) with a lot of details. I recommend it and of course the special issue N° 1 on aces too. As you know these aces mostly won shared victories and, in most cases, some victories won alone and not shared (French victory system, and it proved pretty effective to destroy enemy aircraft), for example 14 victories, of which 3 were won alone and 11 were "collective victories" awarded to every pilot who had taken part in the fight (2 to 16 pilots, mostly 2-3, often up to 6 or 7). This system is not ridiculous, it is simply different from others, much more reliable, and above all it worked. Of course they did not count for example 197 victories, because of that, if 46 E/A had been shot down. The number of E/A shot down by every fighter unit (GC or escadrille of twin-engined Potez 630/631, or local flight) was the actual number, possibly with a few exceptions (errors) but one downed E/A never was counted as 16, etc. In a few cases (several units having taken part in a fight) one E/A was counted twice (certainly not more than 25 out of 919 or about 2.7 % - most air forces made much bigger errors didn't they...).

Let us have a look at Mr. A. Gillet's figures - no tricks, no funny business :

1st volume : on page 13 he reproduced and commented very prominently, with a big frame etc. smack right in the middle of the page, the total of "about 245" French fighter victories officially confirmed by their own Air Force HQ. This figure already resulted in enthusiastic comments published by Mr. M. Bénichou and others. In the UK they are enthusiastic only about figures, even totally wrong ones, glorifying their own RAF - not so in masochistic France! Obviously A. Gillet at the time triumphantly considered this ridiculously low figure the real score of the French fighter arm (approx. 1,000 modern fighters) in 6 weeks - lower than RAF's score with much fewer fighters (100-250) having fought for a much shorter time, about 3 weeks at best with a few exceptions involving much lower numerical strengths (15-40 or so) (this he stresses on any occasion to "prove" that the RAF was much better - bad luck, in fact it was the reverse). Quote A. Gillet (page 16, 6th paragraph ) : "La puissance de feu du Hawker Hurricane (2 800 cartouches) équivalait à trois Morane." In another thread (closed on August 10) I already explained how totally wrong this statement is. "The Hurricane's firepower (2,800 rounds) corresponded three Moranes." (His style not mine!) According to him (p. 21) the Bloch 152 had a "weak armament". In fact it was armed with two superlative French cannon (Hispano-Suiza HS 404) and 2 light machine-guns. Even 1944-45 the "Spitfire" was rarely more heavily armed than this in the fighter rôle. The French cannon was so good that the RAF chose it - against several good competitors - produced it in the UK in several special factories and kept it on fighters well after WW II! (Meteor, Vampire, Sea Hawk and more). So Mr. Gillet has no idea what he is talking - or writing - about. One of my own claims is this : if a "historian" obviously has no idea of the most basic things (here : airpower) he CANNOT produce anything of value. If he can't write properly it is even worse : A.G. writes "ibidem" all the time instead of "idem", which is quite surprising for an alledgedly highly-educated person who MUST have mentioned numerous authors in his university thesis; translations are of the worst kind, naïve and simplistic, like "Bordkanone = canon de bord" and "Bordschütze" = mitrailleur de bord ("de bord" must be deleted). It's like writing the following nonsense in English : shooting with correction (deflection shooting), "strokes (or hits) per weapon" instead of "rounds per gun", etc. He also uses some shocking words never used by French aircrew (they used other shocking words!), like "ils tirent comme des pourris" - they fire like rotten ones, or like bastards. This makes his volumes even more ludicrous.

In the third and final volume on French fighter victories (at the top of page 100) we find

254 victories oficially confirmed by French HQ (not "about

245" any more - odd!) and

355 "confirmed" (sic!) by Master Gillet, Esquire.

On page 110 Master Gillet confirms

354,787 (sic) victories.

On page 111 it is

341,29 (sic), don't ask me why.

On page 129 he discusses the "avions homologués", this latter word meaning "officially confirmed by A.A. HQ" :

- Confirmed by SHD (Historical branch of the French defence ministry) :
329 including 5 confirmed as "probables"

- Confirmed according to (by?) A. Gillet :

316,66 including 5 "probables". I think here he means those actually confirmed by the French Air Force but I can't be sure.

On page 133, last paragraph, A. Gillet found
310 victories confirmed before 21 July 1940 (19 were confirmed after this date totalling the aforementioned 329 - can you follow me?).

If you now are totally puzzled and understand nothing I quite understand. I know how you feel (sob, cry, wail)! Please note that I mentioned only the few final results, not the hundreds of other figures, totals and sub-totals. I sincerely fear that nobody is, or will be, able to be sure which figure is the good one. This explains a lot : the usual critics of magazines were totally unable to fight themselves through this jungle of figures contradicting each other so they chose total, blind admiration.

To sum up, A. Gillet mentioned the following totals successively [he used the word "avions" (aircraft) not "victoires" but this doesn't change the results) :

245 (very triumphantly)

Here I replaced the normal decimal comma by the obsolete English decimal dot in the hope of becoming clearer.

Unfortunately Peter Cornwell recently adopted this figure of 310 - I don't know why. Don't worry, this does not make his recent monster-book on the FC entirely wrong (far from it) or uninteresting. I guess he was totally puzzled by all these different totals. You can add all the French victories he reported in his long list and obtain your own total. (Please tell us!)

But now, what is A. Gillet's "official" total, so to speak? I am not quite sure for obviously my intelligence level is far too low but I think this total is to be found on

page 111 : Synthèse de l'activité de l'aviation de chasse française (10 mai-24 juin 1940).

Here we find his total of 341,29 or 341.29 if you prefer.

This very topic was discussed 2 days ago on the French equivalent of this forum (Aérostories). They seemed to agree that A. Gillet's total was 670 or something, to reproduce in some other aviation site (!). I wonder how they found this figure, and where, but it certainly does not correspond Gillet's views.

I discussed Gillet's results in some detail (not "in all nauseating detail", as Miss Moneypenny told 007) because they are the most recent ones from France. For the very first time all French 1940-experts including myself agree on a problem : these results are to be taken with great caution to say the least. Personally I say : they are totally wrong. I use to speak clearly. Mr. Gillet, who is a typical amateur suddenly thinking that he now knows everything and understood everything better than all other people (you know this kind!), forgot several very important factors. Sorry, I can't say more now.

Most of you are going to like the fact that he published the most flattering appreciations on BRITISH 1940 fighter pilots so you are going to find him extremely clever, nice and likeable! The firepower of the Hurricane - according to him - has become even more formidable between 2000 and 2008 : it's not only "three times a Morane" but now "over four times". Can you imagine "over four" Moranes firing simultaneously at the same E/A with their four formidable cannon and eight or sixteen machine-guns? This poor E/A would have been literally shot to ribbons, or pulverised. I never heard that any E/A shot down by a Hurricane suffered such a fate (except in the case of explosion in mid-air). At the same time he quite simply insulted (in his volume on the RAF published in May 2008) French fighter pilots (even those who were killed 1940 fighting nazism), authors and historians, as I already mentioned : liars, (Vichy-) propagandists etc. He seems to be visibly enraged and made even more stubborn by all the resistance and heavy criticism he met, including from me : "So they dare disagree with me? I'll hit'em even harder!". Up till now I knew such behaviour from little boys aged from 1 to 10 years. But of course critics are enthusiastic as usual.

* Mille = one thousand (1,000)

Grozibou 17th August 2008 19:13

Octane, power etc.
Thanks! I simply agree with you. Yes I think that the main advantage of higher octane rating is higher power, all other conditions remaing unchanged. Besides, it seems that during WW II the Allies including France had no problem producing aviation fuels with high octane ratings while the Germans seemed to have difficulties - remember the conspicuous yellow "87" on Me 109s. I wonder why for German chemists always were among the best in the world and this was no witch-business.

Grozibou 17th August 2008 20:35

The quality of the D.520 fighter

Originally Posted by FalkeEins (Post 71394)
" c'est la barbe, ces avions inexpérimentés .."

D.520 pilot GC I/3 mid-May 1940, quoted in Avions Hors Serie 'GC I/3 Les rois du Dewoitine..."

"..These untried machines are a pain in the arse..."

(bit like a certain amateur historian..they just weren't that good)

Firstly, only a person can be "inexpérimenté" (unexperienced), certainly not an aircraft.

You really seem to LOVE this quotation. "a pain in the arse" is too strong. Translation is not that easy my friend. The correct translation reads either "a drag" or "a bore". "a pain in the arse" would be (in French) : ... I can't write these bad words here. ("Wash-your-mouth-words"). They are very fashionable now on French radio and TV but frankly I dislike these dirty words (and dirty people) even though I'll use them sometimes... I was a schoolboy and a soldier too!

Don't give all too great an importance to one single negative statement, possibly made under conditions of great stress, tiredness, anger etc. The D.520 had in fact been systematically "tried" for several months at Cannes precisely by GC I/3, who had received this mission and ironed out hundreds of small or big flaws, which was normal for a new design and a new mass-production in industrial factories. GC I/3's CO (commandant Thibaudet - major or Sqn Ldr) was very strict on this and demanded corresponding modifications. This postponed the use of the D.520s in combat and deliveries but they were much better and the modifications were introduced on all other produced AC. They still had some instances of trouble, like the heating system of the machine-guns which caused explosions of their ammunition (the CO was fed-up and gave the order to disconnect the heating system) and some explosions of the cannon when firing - and its rear part was protruding in the cockpit (nobody was killed for one shell exploded inside the closed breech, and the barrel was open at its end). This was due either to communist sabotage or - much more likely - to small errors in the manufacturing of the cannon, which was state-of-the-art too (factories producing such weapons were carefully watched for saboteurs). I can confirm that a microscopic cause can result in jamming an automatic weapon quicker than you bargained for.

Yes they were good - even better. As a whole all pilots having flown the D.520, including 1940-45 and even later, were full of praise for this aircraft. I am not aware of any SERIOUS criticism but, as I said, I am always eager to learn. Its test pilot, famous champion Marcel Doret, aware of its excellent reputation within the French Air Force, compared the D.520 and the new D.551 in his book : "The D.520 was like a plough-horse, the D.551 was a thoroughbred". This says a lot on what could have been achieved if only... All pilots confirmed that in actual combat the D.520 had the edge over the Me 109 including at high altitudes and in the dive.

I have got a copy of "avions" special issue N° 14 "GC I/3 Les Rois du Dewoitine 520". This title is clear enough : if they were "The Kings" of the D.520 this fighter must have been outstanding. Please tell us EXACTLY where you found the passage you quoted, I was unable to find it and I can't screen a whole magazine for it. Besides, it expresses impatience and anger at some technical flaws - this unit had flown the MS 406 before they got the 520s so it seems that the "Morane" was not THAT hopeless either for the pilots were not used to trouble with these AC which, admittedly, had much lesser performance than the D.520.

On June 14 in the Sedan cauldron GC I/3 had their second air battle on D.520s. They won one probable victory (Me 110) and ten (10) certain ones : 4 Me 110s, 2 Me 109s (totalling 6 fighters), 2 Do 17s, 2 He 111s. One of the Do 17s and one of the He 111s were shot down, respectively, together with some Moranes and (the He 111) with some Hurricanes. Two GC I/3-pilots were killed in the initial surprise attack by German fighters but their comrades reacted fast and effectively.

On June 9 GC I/3's D.520s gave II./JG 27 a terrible licking, shooting down six (6) Me 109s (2 pilots killed) at the cost of one belly-landed D.520 (repairable). II./JG 27 was a very experienced and alert unit which meant business but they could do nothing, or not much, with their ol' 109s against this superior fighter (Adolf Galland had just left JG 27). Even J. Prien admits all these losses, which is exceptional.

I wouldn't say that these examples show any inferiority of the type. As we already discussed, GC I/3 ranked N° 4 among all GCs, with 75 victories of all categories, but N° 2 and 3 won 77 and 76 so they all can be considered even, the more so for, as I already remarked, GC I/3 went into battle first on May 13, having lost 3 or the most active days of battle : May 10, 11, 12. Without this delay they would have won rank N° 2 by a wide margin, with about 95 victories. 24 GCs took part in the French Campaign.

All pilots who fought flying a 520 were very satisfied with it even if some of them criticised some odd flaws - no combat aircraft at the cutting edge of technology is entirely flawless. In June and July 1941 over and off Syria pilot Le Gloan proved once more that his D.520 was vastly superior to the 1941 Hurricane, of which he shot down at least 6 (2 of these shared) plus a Gladiator. 1941 the RAF was still using biplane fighters.

FalkeEins 18th August 2008 12:40

Re: 1939-45 airpower and professional historians
....there is no controversy over Gisclon's book - and his 1,000 victories - his claims are just ridiculous ! And I must say you don't need to be a 'serious' historian to work that out...just check one date, 6 November 1939 (le combat des '9' contre '27') to see how he grossly inflates French a factor of two no less. Besides he can't even get his own score right - he maintains that he was an ace, although M. Lorant at the SHD (SHAA) only gives him four victories..

It is obvious that you don't like Gillet because he doesn't say what you want him to say - and it is pointless discussing the subject with you.. how did you put it in your last message - with no sense of irony - amateurs who think they know it all...? I know of no other translator who would add pages of text to a leading fighter pilot's memoir to balance the 'story'

As for Peter Cornwell's latest work - it seems to be based on the latest (French) research for claims from what I can tell - in other words, Gillet's ....that must be difficult for you...

Grozibou 18th August 2008 14:20

Victory numbers : some precisions on precision
In my long post N° 5 in this thread I mentioned half a dozen various (very low) totals of 1940 French fighter victories given by A. Gillet - written by me in red and bold characters - but I forgot to give the necessary explanation on the amazing "precision" of several of these figures (now I'll use the English way of writing numbers - with a decimal dot) :

354.787 (sic) victories.

On page 111 it is

341.29 (sic), don't ask me why.



These are, according to A. Gillet, the numbers of actual victories NOT just claims filed by the pilots.

For details please see post N° 5 above. As you all know - I presume - total numbers of victories are almost always very uncertain, be it for a whole air force and a whole battle or even for WW II, for a German "Geschwader" (100-160 fighters during different periods) even only during the French Campaign or the BoB, for an RAF wing or squadron, a French Groupe de chasse or even for individual aces having claimed, for example, from 8 to 25 victories, later up to... 352.

Why are these totals so uncertain? The most important explanation obviously is already the uncertainty about very numerous victories, or claims, as many people nowadays prefer to call them, which is a strong indication that many people doubt every single claim (or victory) or at least want to see some solid proof. Today some people claim that the average overclaim rate during WW II was 2 : 1. So total claims would have to be reduced by half (it has still to be proven that this applies to the fighter forces of all countries). This uncertainty is caused by multiple sources of errors made in good faith, sometimes (much more rarely) on purpose to claim some victories which never were real. At least at the beginning (during the Phoney War only?) Allied pilots draw wrong conclusions when a Me 109 dived steeply, leaving a trail of black smoke. They didn't know (yet) that very often the 109 had not been hit and the black smoke was produced when the pilot applied full throttle, his fuel then not being quite perfectly burned, leaving a rest of carbon particles etc. In numerous instances an enemy aircraft was shot down by a fighter and fell down or its pilot dived more or less steeply to make a belly-landing but another fighter pilot, not being aware of this, shot it down again. In theory the same AC could be shot down several times, resulting in 2-5 victory claims (mostly 2 in such instances) for one single actual victory.

Of course we should not exaggerate the effects of these errors. They did occur but not as massively as some people think. Nowadays we have got a lot of information from the "receiving side", be it the Allied air forces or the Luftwaffe having suffered these losses, to cross-check the claims and the actual losses... which were registered and this is part of the problem for apparently part of the losses - for whatever reason like air attack (on the ground), destruction of some documents in battle or lack of time, or otherwise - were never put down in writing and officially registered, at least within the Luftwaffe.

It often happened, too, as we all know, that fighter pilots and rear gunners claimed some victories in good faith but were wrong, whatever the reason again. In the book on KG 27 we can read the story of a German rear-gunner who said his bomber was attacked by four Morane fighters. He shot down three, he claimed, but the fourth shot down the German bomber while this super-gunner was replacing his empty ammo drum (75 rounds) and couldn't fire. Nothing is impossible but I have some doubts about these three victories won in a few seconds by one single rear-gunner with his light machine-gun. Besides, this story proves, once more, that contrary to what Brian Cull reported in his book "TDIM", French fighters DID "press home their attacks with every ounce of vigour". This is at least what GERMAN (not British) aircrew remember (those who survived).

So I would say that already if a British squadron, a French GC or even half a GC (escadrille or flight) or a German "Staffel" (squadron of 12 in theory) claimed, for example, a total of 45 victories this total could always correspond 30-55 actual victories or something of this kind. Let us not forget that often an E/A was damaged and was not claimed as destroyed but it crashed shortly before landing back at base or, after landing, it was considered u/s and scrapped or used for cannibalisation, if at all. This was a real victory but the victors didn't know so these reservations work both ways. Even individual pilots' scores -as you know - sometimes were too high by several AC or even several dozens.

To sum up, inevitably precision was very poor when counting victories or claims.

Now Mr. A. Gillet comes and publishes grand totals, for the entire French fighter arm, of, for example, 354.787. Everybody having the slightest idea of errors and precision in science and technology knows that such a figure is just an illusion. Every single air battle could already result in an error of 1 to 5 victories (for example), giving a claim error of - for example - 2 to 6 or 33.33 % (sometimes more, sometimes less). When adding all these claims in order to obtain the grand total for the FC it hardly becomes better for the many errors, or possible errors, hardly compensate for each other. They rather are added to each other. So if we take "354.787" the real figure could be 299 or 506 as well, we just don't know and even the official confirmations awarded from some desk at HQ don't help much. Already giving ONE figure after the decimal point is very illusory - naïve. Giving three is sheer madness.

Here we bump into the permanent problem of many purely literary-educated people, who quite simply can't understand such a reasoning. Let us try in a slightly different way : "354.787" is just an illusion because the real figure (hidden by many errors) could be anything between 200 and 500 so it is just useless to give the total with an accuracy of one thousandth of a victory, like here (...7 not ...6 or ...8)! In fact here the illusory relative (proportional) precision is one to 354,787 or better than one third of a millionth, which is possible only for the most sophisticated scientific, possibly technical, measurements including fundamental nuclear research in particle accelerators (CERN etc.) or in space technology and time measurement (which can be extremely accurate thanks to nuclear methods). Electronic devices for ex. are often very precise. A precision of 1 % on the values of their components is already excellent : usually it is rather 10 % as far as I know (perhaps it improved recently), 5 % at best, rarely 1-2 %, for example for resistors (how many ohms?), capacitors (how many micro or picofarads,) etc. 1 % is considered excellent.

One particularly amusing example of illusory precision is Formula 1 car races and all comparable car or motorbike-races : they often give the speed of a vehicle as being something like "302.986 km/h". It is very illusory and naïve because the actual length of the road, or whatever, never is known with such a high precision - by far not - and even less the real trajectory, or path, followed by the vehicle so 303 km/h instead would be fair enough, possibly too acurate. Time, on the other hand, can be measured with great precision (nowadays) but they don't go beyond one hundreth of a second for a time per lap of about 85 seconds, giving lap times like 84.97 seconds - a precision MUCH lower than A. Gillet's for actual victories, below one ten thousandth!

Totals with "only" two figures after the decimal comma are very illusory too, just ten times less for they are ten times less (seemingly) accurate.

To make it short, victory totals with any figure right of the decimal dot (or comma) are an illusion for at least all the figures beyond the decimal dot are devoid of any connection to reality. On the other hand they give amateurs a very comforting impression and illusion of being highly scientific and accurate. Nope!

edwest 19th August 2008 06:12

Re: 1939-45 airpower and professional historians

Consider how many people don't even know about this web site. My French is terrible and my German is getting a little better. How does one even begin to locate true professional historians on the internet aside from occasional sites like this and LEMB?

Is there some way to solve these problems? A kind of clearing house for researchers? I know part of the problem is that some collect photos and documents and keep them away from everyone else aside from a priviledged few. Some simply want things handed to them. Others are willing to help, but once again, how to find the people with the relevant details?

It would be nice if there was a way for prospective authors to get some guidance before they publish. And then there may be a need to examine the financial considerations of getting some help depending on circumstances.

It might help prevent situations like this.


All times are GMT +2. The time now is 18:57.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.7.2
Copyright ©2000 - 2017, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.
Copyright ©2004 - 2007,