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Old 29th March 2005, 20:28
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Ruy Horta Ruy Horta is offline
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Re: Fighter pilots' guts

Peter Townsend
Duel of Eagles
Presidio Press, 1991

Operation Paula was a concerted blow at the airfields and aircraft factories in the Paris region. It was also meant to impress the French public. II KG 2 (Werner Borner was with them in Gustav Marie) bombed Orly. 'The very few French fighters we met,' he said, 'fought bravely.'

It happened that Air Vice Marshal Sholto Douglas and Admiral Sir Geoffrey Blake landed at Villacoublay on a visit to Admiral Darlan and General Vuillemin, Chief of Air Staff. 'We rather expected that there would at least be someone there to welcome us...' said Sholto Douglas. As they got out of the aircraft '...a little man wearing a tin hat with a gas mask bouncing on his backside....shouted at us to take cover.'
Sholto, who had not forgotten the night he dived under the piano at Bertangles, needed no encouragement. He and Admiral Blake bolted for the nearest shelter, 'a not very reassuring mound of sandbags and corrugated iron ...' A second later Luftwaffe bombs were plastering Villacoublay's airfield and hangars.
Sholto had seen three French fighters take off. Of the fifty others parked around the airfield many were blown to smithereens. Sholto wondered why the French fighters did not hurl themselves at the enemy. The British Air Staff had warned the French the day before of Operation Paula.
He entered the mess with Admiral Blake. There they found the French pilots 'sitting down quietly having their lunch ... They were not at all interested in what had just happened.' His thoughts went back to the French aces of his day, Fonck and Guynemer and their generation. It was not until later, 'when I had free French pilots under my command that I found ... Frenchmen who could be as keen and gallant...'

Here are some further quotes from Townsend.

On 10 May the Franco-British air Forces in France were pitifully inadequate against this mighty host...(n)ot even the supreme and selfless gallantry displayed by the allied airmen could make up for such mediocre equipment and meagre numbers.

With disaster now staring them in the face the French High Command called their own and the British bomber forces to make a supreme effort on 14 May against the German bridgehead at Sedan ... (s)oon after noon the few remaining French bombers went in. Their losses were so terrible that further attacks were cancelled.

Gamelin lamented the French inferiority in the air and pleaded for more RAF squadrons, above all fighter squadrons. Among other things, these were needed, he said to stop enemy tanks. (The Généralissime must have been out of his senses. How could fighters with rifle-calibre machine-guns stop tanks?) Churchill reminded him that the fighter's business was to 'cleanse the skies' above the battle.*

Meanwhile forty thousand Frenchmen were fighting doggedly alongside the British, holding the Germans at bay on Dunkirk's perimeter. Loyal allies, the British and French fought valiantly while their comrades were carried to safety in the Navy's ships...

(*Included to demonstrate the lack of support for tactical air support demonstrated by the RAF in the first half of the war, looking at air power in terms of (pre-war) orthodox doctrine. Terraine touches the subject again, with his coverage of the brief Greek campaign. Of course fighter interdiction can be a very effective weapon against tanks, perhaps not directly, but against the support train - fuel trucks etc. The roads were packed with German transports, Hurricanes would certainly have been more effective in ground support and strafing than Battles. But this really is a different subject.)
Ruy Horta
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