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Old 17th August 2008, 18:05
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Unhappy 1939-45 airpower and professional historians

Originally Posted by Vraa84 View Post

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)

Last edited by Grozibou; 19th August 2008 at 11:50. Reason: Just because I'm a horrible guy.