Thread: Fulmar claims
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Old 10th November 2019, 17:10
rof120 rof120 is offline
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Fulmar claims against Vichy French AC

Nick : I understand what you mean but I am trying to explain why French aircraft, although they did not belong to a ”major enemy” of the UK, no doubt attacked British ones off North Africa, given the opportunity, after the MeK shelling. Without these explanations it’s impossible to understand why ”Fulmars” and French AC could have fought each other.

Hello Keith,

Too bad I know nothing on the "Fulmar" but I wouldn't call the Vichy Air Force a major enemy. It could have been but Germany watched residual French forces, especially the air force, very closely and, among other things, limited the number of flying hours very severely.

I understand only the reaction of French fighters based in the vicinity of the big French fleet base of Mers-el-Kébir near Oran (West Algeria), when the Royal Navy performed its incredible, extremely brutal attack on July 3, 1940, saved the French Air Force from total disappearance on German orders (9 days after the end of the fighting in France and exactly one month after the end of the common Dunkerque evacuation, in which French troops and vessels of all kinds had strongly contributed - suffering heavy losses in men and in ships - to the overall success of the evacuation of British and French troops) - a British attack on French ships moored in harbour (their main guns pointed in the direction of land, their boilers cold, so that they were unable to move or to fire back). This was a kind of "Pearl Harbor" 1 year and 5 months before the Japanese one but with British aggressors and French victims: a few capital ships, and others, were destroyed or damaged and virtually 1,300 good men of the French Navy were killed. Everybody knows what the USA did to Japan after PH and a terribly concerned (!) Churchill wondered for at least one whole day whether he now was at war with Germany and France at the same time (the UK would not have survived) – he should have thought over this BEFORE killing his friends. As you possibly know even a small naval incident was considered a casus belli and so could trigger a full-blown war. At Mers-el-Kébir the naval incident was not small.

This absolutely incredible aggression was, most probably, the main factor making Pétain popular in France (he was very popular 1940-42 or so) and French retaliation of all kinds was very costly to the treacherous UK. Hundreds and hundreds of battle-hardened French aircrew were about to join the RAF (flying first to Gibraltar), including hundreds of top-class, very experienced French fighter pilots including, again, dozens of aces. If they had taken part in the Battle of Britain they would have suffered some losses but saved hundreds of British lives in the air and thousands in the cities. Conversely if Pétain had decided to retaliate in kind there is little doubt that the RAF would have succumbed quickly under German-French air attacks flown by state-of-the-art French bombers (LeO 45, Amiot 351-354) and fighters (Dewoitine 520 and the much-improved 523 from August on, clearly better than any British or German fighter), etc. Pétain chose not to hit back because he felt his country had suffered enough already (including in 1914-18) and, besides, he didn’t really like Germany and German soldiers even though he had no other choice than accepting German occupation (he went much too far but this is another story and off topic here).

(c) Copyright from now on. This British attack on July 3, 1940 was very stupid. I understand only 8 % of the French combat fleet were at Mers-el-Kébir including 2 or 3 capital ships but the Royal Navy (battleships plus an aircraft-carrier) was not even able to destroy them all, far from it. They did use their biggest guns, though, against their allies from 9 days earlier, in order to be sure that nobody would survive: they did not contend with using smaller guns to disable the ships without slaughtering their friends. It was obvious that using the biggest naval guns on ships moored in harbour would possibly kill thousands of seamen. So clearly they wanted to KILL as many as possible, not only make warships unusable. I understand, too, that they kept firing after their main attack and sent carrier-borne aircraft to finish the wounded and kill those swimming in a mixture of sea water and heavy fuel-oil (just what the Japs did at PH, too). "If" Pétain had joined the Germans to fight the UK the latter would have lost: the "rest" of 92 % of the French fleet was mainly in other French bases like Bizerte (Tunisia), Toulon, Dakar (Senegal) and more, and many ships were seized by surprise in “friendly” British ports, their crews often being the victims of mistreatment (!). The French Navy had more than 60 ocean-going submarines, Germany had about 20 at best and they were quite a nuisance already 1940-1941… French battleships (Richelieu and Jean-Bart, two state-of-the-art ships with 8 x 360 mm main guns) and cruisers were very fast, mostly faster than the British ones. A German-French naval war against British shipping would have changed everything (to the worse).

No wonder this operation “Catapult” was not really popular in France, even less within the French Navy and among its crews. It started, or renewed, strong, lasting hate for everything British. “You never can trust them” is the most frequent opinion still today. I was surprised when I discovered, a few years ago, that this event is still present in the memories of most French people including much younger generations than those of 1940, and this will certainly go on for many centuries to come just like for other events of a similar nature. (c) Copyright, end.

Needless to say, of the hundreds of precious, combat-hardened French aircrew who had decided to join the UK in its fight against Germany almost everybody quickly gave up any idea of this kind after the British had – literally – murdered 1,300 French seamen in the direct vicinity. It was hardly possible to step over these bodies to join those who had killed them without any valid reason. So almost all French aircrew stood where they were and almost never lost any opportunity to shoot down any British aircraft which foolishly flew within range of the French fighters (they included about 200 Dewoitine 520s…). Fairey “Fulmars” could have been among the victims too but I don’t think that they flew close enough to North African coasts (in fact I don’t know). The British navy was wise enough not to come back in the region before the American-British landings of operation “Torch” in November 1942, and, because of the British presence, all French forces put up a short but violent fight against these landings: French navy, army and air force. French ships, army units and airfields were viciously attacked without any warning (and without any right to do it) and hundreds of good men died on both sides. French human losses once more amounted to about 1,300 killed (roughly 1,350). French fighters including D.520s, even more Curtiss H-75s, were clearly obsolescent then and suffered heavy losses inflicted mainly by modern US fighters sporting US stars even if their pilots were British… Very brave as usual the French fighter pilots took off against overwhelming odds, suffered heavy losses but inflicting rather significant ones too. Many good French and American pilots died – what for? But no Frenchman could forget the Mers-el-Kébir attack.

A short explanation on the obsolescent French fighters: they were the same types as those used 1940, and many had logged numerous flying hours. Germany strictly forbade and prevented any modernisation or renewal of French combat aircraft and even more the design and production of new, much improved types (they were strongly in the pipe in June 1940). French factories had to produce a number of German or even French AC types for Germany, and a small part for France.

I feel that Fairey “Fulmar” looks like the twin brother of the very ill-fated Fairey “Battle”. I don’t think it ever fought any French aircraft but honestly I have to admit that I don’t know but I hope I made it clear why French aircrew would have destroyed any “Fulmar”, given the opportunity. It could have been some skirmishes at most, like similar skirmishes which did take place, not making France a major enemy either, for Pétain did not want this. Victories won by « Fulmars » on French AC is an even more remote possibility, not quite impossible but almost so.

Last edited by rof120; 10th November 2019 at 20:26.
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