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Old 17th August 2008, 20:35
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The quality of the D.520 fighter

Originally Posted by FalkeEins View Post
" 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.