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  #11  
Old 20th July 2008, 18:48
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40?

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Originally Posted by Grozibou View Post
also the cream of the British Army were beaten too, or even worse than the French.
Hello Yves...
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Old 20th July 2008, 19:46
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Book on French AF 1939-40?

"Eve" ?
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Old 21st July 2008, 22:57
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40?

Hello Hawkeye ...
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Old 21st July 2008, 23:04
Petitpoucet Petitpoucet is offline
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40?

To respond to the first question, i think that Peter Cranwell's book is now the best reference in English, because he used the best french references for his work : Paul Martin's books for the losses and Arnaud Gillet's ones for the claims.
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Old 21st July 2008, 23:09
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40?

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Originally Posted by Petitpoucet View Post
To respond to the first question, i think that Peter Cranwell's book is now the best reference in English, because he used the best french references for his work : Paul Martin's books for the losses and Arnaud Gillet's ones for the claims.

Merci, Petitpoucet

Alex
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Old 21st July 2008, 23:40
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Eye-eye!

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Hello Hawkeye ...
I'll call ya "Eagle's Eye"!
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Old 29th July 2008, 13:53
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40?

I wanted to write Peter CORNWELL.
Sorry !
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Old 29th July 2008, 15:27
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40?

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Originally Posted by Petitpoucet View Post
To respond to the first question, i think that Peter Cranwell's book is now the best reference in English, because he used the best french references for his work


.. great to see the board back.. thanks guys ..

I must admit to being a little perplexed at some of the statements here - namely that the French Air Force was modern and well-equipped in 39-40. When exactly was it modern and well-equipped - with the entry into service of the first D.520s (mid-May 1940 with GC I/3, see Avions Hors série 14, GC I/3 "Les rois du D.520..") or Amiot 354s ? Pilot accounts from this period stress the teething problems - as it was Groupe de Chasse I/3 managed only 75 victories during the campaign May-June 1940, a long way off the top score. ("..C'est la barbe, ces avions inexpérimentés..")

" En Septembre 1939 presque tout son matériel était périmé (OUT-DATED), y compris ses chasseurs les plus récents, les Ms 406 .." ( Bénichou, La Bataille de France, Le Fana No. 228 )

Look at the French bomber force; it comprised -among others - some 300 Amiot 143 and Bloch 200/210s - these types were some 220 km/h slower than the equivalent Luftwaffe bombers... (some 1,600 in service). Chief of Air Staff Vuillemin in September 39 ;
" the poor performance of our bombers will necessitate very prudent operations during the first months of the war.." He went further; of the-then 399 bombers in service only five - LeO 451s - could be counted as 'modern' ....

Cuny and Danel quote 1,310 'front-line' French a/c, 416 RAF ('peu modernes'), 117 Belgian & 124 Dutch aircraft opposing some 5,000 front line Luftwaffe a/c on 10 May 1940. Given the primacy of the French Army in the service hierarchy, the continued subordination of the Air Force to the Army pre-1939 the majority of French combat units (Groupes) were comprised of observation and recce types.. some 41 such Groupes as opposed to 15 fighter groupes and 33 bomber groupes....during the campaign more modern types were coming into service (the "Glen Martins" were criticised for being too new) but some Amiot 354 units didn't receive ANY orders to fly combat sorties until the 23rd or 24th May - the crew tasked with drawing up the type's operating instructions had already crashed and died.(Avions 147 - 'Bombardier dans la tourmente' ).

The French were expecting another static war and French aircraft factories - after the chaos of the mid-30s nationalisations -were managing to produce less than 100 a/c per month during late 38/early 39, hence the huge orders for foreign types in an attempt to catch up; the output from all French aircraft factories in total per month during early 1939 amounted to far less than the output from a single German producer. I think we can just about agree with Jackson that " by August 39 France's fighter aviation was just beginning to shake off the shackles of obsolescence..although the process of modernisation was painfully slow.."

As for the '916' or '730' victories during the campaign - German a/c which weren't available for the Battle of Britain as French commentators like to point out - these correspond to, what, about two month's German production, if not less, which is just one reason why the Battle of Britian started in earnest in August 1940 and not in July..

Now I'm not saying that the French didn't perform bravely - but I am saying that most were forced to fight with inadequate equipment and under obviously and hopelessly out-moded doctrine - see some of Facon's articles on the SHD site on FAF command structure for more insight into this. As for organisation & infrastructure see Lionel's super H-75 Hawk book - there are some amazing photos depicting the leading French fighter units deployed to forward airfields during the winter of 1939-40, equipped with absolutely NO infrastructure whatsoever ..and buried under three feet of snow. The 'post-campaign' commission of enquiry (Commission G) arrived at the following conclusions; ..." insuffisance numérique..infériorité technique..absence de matériel moderne...inadequate gunnery instruction, lack of combat training." ..etc etc

Having said all of that you wouldn't necessarily expect a country with a population of 40 million to have anywhere like as capable an air force as its neighbour - primed for war, population 70-80 million (that's double!) and an industrial output far out-stripping that of all its neighbours put together..'cheese-eating surrender monkeys' - no of course not (that's an Americanism Peter - I don't know any British accounts/authors that have used that term..) but not 'modern' nor 'well-equipped' either ( whichever date you chose, September 39 or May 40)

Last edited by FalkeEins; 29th July 2008 at 18:08.
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Old 29th July 2008, 21:16
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Book on French AF 1939-40? Continued

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Originally Posted by The_Catman View Post
Hi

Are there any decent books about the French Air Force from Sep 39 until the surrender?

(...)

Alex

The_Catman
Well, my dear fellow, if you’re looking for books in English only (which you added later) you ought to have said so in your first post! (It would have saved me a lot of time) It seems that in your eyes a “decent book” can be written in English only, which is a little bit restrictive. Believe me, a few decent books were written in other languages : the “Holy Bible” for example, to name but one, and of course most books on the air war from September 1939 through June 1940, which took place mainly over France and the French-speaking part of the Benelux-countries. There are lots of books in German, French and Dutch : a vast majority! So it is not at all obvious that all decent books would be in English…

There are only very few and those I know are mere booklets having something like 150 to 220 pages of normal size (not the large A4 which is so fashionable now). English books deal almost exclusively with the operations of the British army and with the retreat to and from Dunkerque, a few deal with the other British retreat, after Dunkerque. In most British eyes the French Campaign ended on the very minute when the last British soldier left Dkq. and sailed back to his mummy in order to be consoled after those horrible German soldiers had shot at him (very nasty!). In fact there was a lot of French-German fighting (a little British-German also), in the air too, after June 1, 1940.

An interesting contribution can be read on the Internet (see URL below) :


The French Air Force In 1940



Was It Defeated by the Luftwaffe or by Politics?



Lieutenant Colonel Faris R. Kirkland, USAF (Ret.)

Quote Kirkland : << DURING the Battle of France in May-June 1940, French Army commanders complained that German aircraft attacked their troops without interference by the French Air Force. French generals and statesmen begged the British to send more Royal Air Force (RAF) fighter squadrons to France. Reporters on the scene confirmed the German domination of the skies, and the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Luftwaffe came to be accepted as one of the principal causes of the French collapse.
The air force was a convenient scapegoat for the French Army generals who dominated the Vichy regime that ruled France under the Germans. By attributing the defeat of French forces to weakness in the air, the army officers diverted attention from their own failures. Moreover, the Vichy leaders were able to strengthen their claim to legitimacy by blaming the parliamentary regime they had supplanted for failing to provide a sufficient number of aircraft. The Vichy leaders also reproached the British for holding the bulk of their air force in the British Isles. Concurrently, the Vichy army officers used the defeat of the air force to justify abolishing the air ministry and the air force general staff, incorporating their functions into the war ministry and army general staff and returning the air force to its former status as a branch of the army. With the army controlling the postwar sources of information, for many years there was no voice to challenge the official position that France had lost the war because the prewar politicians had not equipped the air force adequately.

Since the mid-1960s, fragments of information--aviator's memoirs, production reports, aircraft inventories, and Anglo-French correspondence--have come to light. These sources reveal four new facts about the French Air Force.
  • The French aviation industry (with modest assistance--about 15 percent-from American and Dutch producers) had produced enough modern combat aircraft (4360) by May 1940 to defeat the Luftwaffe, which fielded a force of 3270.2
  • The French planes were comparable in combat capability and performance to the German aircraft. >>
  • (Etc.) …………………………
http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1985/sep-oct/kirkland.html

Sometimes this author, Kirkland, is all too pro-French, especially about the last days of fighting, which led him to make some wrong statements about the capability of the Armée de l’Air (AA) to prevent defeat :

Kirkland :

<< Could the French Air Force Have
Seized Command of the Air?

(…)

Mastery of the air was there for the seizing, but on 17 June the French air staff began to order its units to fly to North Africa. >>

Of course this last sentence was all too optimistic. The German onslaught could have been be stopped, though, from 10 through 13 May 1940 and also later.

I can only repeat that I recommend an English book very warmly – not for the first time – because it is astoninshingly comprehensive, very informative and very honest ; the few errors are unimportant :

Air War over France 1939-40,
by Robert Jackson
===================================
(see my first reply for details). If you read it entirely – and it is a cheap small book so you need not invest a lot of time or money – you’ll have at least a fundamental, balanced knowledge of this period of air war. It doesn’t include French operations only but all others too : British, Dutch, Belgian and German. It should be fairly easy to find a copy (I purchased a second copy on the Internet for a friend : it was cheap and in excellent condition).

Nonetheless many books dealing with the whole of the French Campaign (10 May-24 June 1940) and often with the “Phoney War” too (3 Sept. 1939-9 May 1940) include airpower and some degree of air operations. If I remember correctly

“To Lose a Battle”, by Alistair Horne, 1969

is quite a decent book and often quoted from, even today. Paperback, approx. Can. $ 10. There are some others, like for example “Blitzkrieg”, by Len Deighton (very cheap in paperback), which certainly includes air operations.

As for “Twelve Days in May”, aka TDIM, published 1995 by Brian Cull (“Brian”) et al, it deals almost exclusively with the fighting performed by the RAF “Hurricanes” based in France before they flew back to mummy too. What you’re looking for is books on the FRENCH Air Force so this once can only disappoint you. In 12 days these RAF Hurricanes claimed 499 victories plus 123 “probables” totalling 622. Not bad (in 12 days only) for a real complement of approx. 100 fighters, taking their losses and replacements into account. This is an average claim of 6.22 victories per existing fighter in 12 days (without the help of radar etc.). At the same rate, during the 83 days of the Battle of Britain from 10 July through 31 September, the fighters of 11 Group – approx. 250 Hurricanes and Spitfires – fighting with the enormous advantages of the radar and radio control system, from airfields which were not threatened by enemy tanks or artillery etc., would have claimed no less than 10,755 victories including the “probables” too (actual German losses were approx. 1,410). In this book the authors lowered the number of actual victories in 12 days over the continent to about 300 “only”. At his rate Fighter Command 12 Group would have won approx. 5,000 (five thousand) actual victories during the same period, July-September.

Chapter IV contains two fairly interesting passages :

[12 May] Page 88 (top of page) ; the Hurricanes attacked very numerous bombers escorted by Me 110s. (…) “To the relief of the fatigued Hurricane pilots, French fighters put in an appearance when Moranes and [Curtiss] Hawks from GC I/5, GC II/2 and GC III/7 supported Hurricanes from 501 Sqn in combating the hordes of German bombers.” Indeed, French fighter pilots were very eager to fight, to win victories for their own personal advantage (glory, promotions, decorations) and, last but not least, to defend their own burning country, which they could clearly see, and their fellow-countrymen against the bombing and machine-gunning hordes. They were quite busy too.

[TDIM too] Page 94 (bottom) : (…) as one historian remarked : “Considering the seriousness of the threat, one does get the impression that the French fighter squadrons, whose pilots were already short of sleep, did not press home their attacks with every ounce of vigour.” [And this after less than 3 days of fighting.]

Strangely this “one historian” does not seem to have a name. Is he too cowardly to sign this particularly disgusting, dirty and above all inaccurate statement? The above statement is typical of the many unjustified insults hurled at 1940 French airmen. How can we be so sure? This is really simple indeed : just look at their losses. Out of approx. 750 fighter pilots serving with the French Air Force 1940, including Poles and Czechs, about 150 were killed in but 5 weeks (the 6th week was almost completely idle). Everybody is in a position to see for himself in the cemeteries all over France (especially North-Eastern France) and Belgium, and even in the NL and Luxembourg. There is no way you can falsify the number of aircrew killed fighting the nazis. The lists of names and grave locations can be found at the historical dept. and in various books including Peter Cornwell’s very recent monster-book (very big, weight not far from 3 kg or 6 lbs, and very useful). These French losses are exactly the same as RAF losses during the Battle of Britain, taking the duration into account, albeit there were approx. twice as many RAF fighter pilots (the many “few”) as with the French Air Force, which means that the latter’s fighter pilots had a loss rate TWICE the British rate in the BoB. Who is chicken? Who is a coward “preferring to drink his vermouth in elegant bars rather than attacking the German bombers which were destroying the city nearby” and “not attacking with every ounce of vigour”? Let us ignore and forget these ludicrous, dirty, never-proved accusations in decent English books and stick to the facts : number of actual victories, losses, French pilots and hundreds of other French aircrew killed fighting the nazi air force etc.

Page 224 of TDIM contains some interesting information :

“The new commander of 60 Wing, Wg Cdr Harry Broadhurst (…) had arrived (…). His first impressions were not good :

“I found that my predecessor had been invalided home with a nervous breakdown and that the three squadrons on the station were without serviceable squadron commanders. To say that chaos reigned would be an understatement (…).”

I never heard such things about French fighter units or wing commanders. No nervous breakdowns, no chaos, just at least one groupe de chasse (corresponding roughly two RAF Sqns) had not one single capitaine (out of at least four) left after the campaign – they all had been killed, or one or two of them possibly wounded, but I think there was no surviving capitaine (flight lieutenant in the RAF).

Page 309 : “few [RAF] squadron commanders led their squadrons in the air.” This is an astounding admission. Chicken? Contrary to this ALL French (and German, and Belgian) sqn commanders (most of the French ones were capitaines, see above) took part in the fighting very actively and flew most missions, so that 30 % of them were killed in 5 weeks ; at this rate none would have been left by September, when the BoB was still in full swing (RAF Sqn Ldrs were not at all exterminated - as far as I know). French commandants (Sqn Leaders) were NOT supposed to fly and fight but to lead mainly on the ground and take care of all the administrative burden and the hated paperwork. In spite of this 30 % of them, too, were killed in combat.

On some other page (which I wasn’t able to find again today) of this same book, “TDIM” (or was it some other book?), we can read that RAF bombers escorted by French fighters were attacked by German fighters “but luckily the French fighters fended off the attack” (or held the 109s at bay). So it seems that they weren’t cowards after all.

Peter Cornwell’s recently published book (released in February I think) “The Battle (sic*) of France Then and Now” obviously is in English and comes close to what you are looking for/needing. It is an enormous monster : 591 large-sized pages, relatively expensive [look at “After the Battle”’s homepage to learn more] but I think it’s worth it. It is essentially a very long list of aircraft and aircrew losses suffered by all waring parties (Italy too, at the hands of the French) with an incredible wealth of detail – day by day from September 2, 1939, through June 24, 1940. Add 2 long alphabetical indexes of person names and locations, a “Roll of Honour” giving the list of all RAF personel killed (no equivalent for other nationalities, which is a pity, but the names and ranks of those killed or wounded are to be found in the main text), the descriptions of half a dozen RAF airfields in France and general information and explanations for every day : 1/2 to 2 pages including some large photographs, two pages for “The Balance Sheet” (loss statistics, in a chart, for every air force, day by day, aircraft DESTROYED (not the damaged ones) and personnel). The book contains very numerous photographs of all kinds (hundreds and hundreds), often very interesting, mainly RAF and LW-AC as victims of the RAF. In spite of a few errors which are not really serious it is a “must-have” if you’re interested in this period. Besides, it’s difficult to separate the French Air Force cleanly from all the others during this period, and conversely. They often were intermingled. For example on many occasions both French and British fighters fought the same German formations, or French fighters escorted British bombers and conversely. French losses were German victories (sometimes British ones) and French victories were German losses (sometimes a few “Battles” or “Blenheims”)…

As for Arnaud Gillet I have the strongest reservations about what he published (in French so this doesn’t mean you). His French is terrible and reveals a very poor education level, which is disquieting for historical work. Numerous photographs show sweet little HIM wearing a ferocious camouflaged jungle-hat which undoubtedly makes a tough commando-warrior out of him. He is very firmly convinced that the firepower of a fighter was the same thing as the number of rounds it carried. If we follow him a 0.25 calibre lady pistol with 6 rounds has twice the firepower of a 360 or 406 heavy navy gun with three rounds. He now insists that a “Hurricane” had a firepower (2,800 machine-gun rounds – acording to HIM!) “over four times higher than a Morane 406”. In fact, according to respected UK-expert Alfred Price’s figures, a Morane’s firepower was 20 % higher than a 1940 Hurricane’s or Spitfire’s and 8 % lower than a Me 109’s, but his criterion (missile weight only) doesn’t take the devastating effect of explosive shells, as compared to simple bullets, into account, nor the French cannon HS 404’s very high muzzle velocity and rate of fire, which were great advantages. (The mediocre German cannon, type MG FF, had both a low muzzle velocity and a low rate of fire, two big flaws in actual air fighting). In his last volume (published 2008, a few months ago) he called “liars” and “Vichy-propagandists” all those who (in the past or also today) dared publish any French victory figures not complying with His Supreme and Definitive Very Low Results. I wonder what gives him (a beginner) the right to call other authors names. Most of them are very experienced and/or included numerous first-hand reports and personal accounts from veterans, some of them took part in the 1940 fighting. This person’s results and conclusions are extremely doubtful – I personally deem them squarely erroneous – and ALL known French experts including Jean-Yves Lorant (and others too of course) expressed strong reservations. In one word, I would not rely on what this guy wrote as best he could in his poor French. He did the right thing when he searched the archives in France, Germany and England but, unfortunately, he obviously has not got the right stuff to publish own ideas which make sense. The photographs and original documents (primary sources) are interesting, though.

I regret I was forced to add this negative opinion – contrary to my original plan - by a very positive post above. Too bad : otherwise I wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.

To sum up: what you want is (one) book(s) IN ENGLISH on the 1939-40 French Air Force. They are FEW and FAR BETWEEN. So few! Here is my advice : 1. Air War over France, by Robert Jackson. 2. The Battle (sic) of France Then and Now (2008), by Peter Cornwell, if you can afford it. You can! You’re lucky it’s a very recent work and a good one. 3. Blitzkrieg, by Len Deighton, and To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne (both are cheap paperbacks).

Just my opinion!
====================================
* Actually it deals with the Phoney War (Sept.-May 9) and the French Campaign (May 10-June 24) including the Battle of France (the last phase of the campaign : June 5-24). The Phoney war was, in every respect, an entirely different period of the war. Obviously most of the book is devoted to the FC for aerial activity was much higher : for ex. of 1,814 German aircraft destroyed 1,460 (80 %) were lost during the FC. Many losses suffered by all countries during the Phoney War were accidents caused by bad weather, much less so, in percentage, in May-June 1940.
  #20  
Old 29th July 2008, 22:31
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Re: Book on French AF 1939-40? Continued

..I wondered whether you'd quote from Kirkland and his 'work' - most sensible French commentators wouldn't of course...and while British authors haven't written extensively on the air battle for France, the events that led to Dunkirk have been thoroughly researched - try Sebag-Montefiore's recent large tome for an account of the (French) mismanagement and indecision that led to their Allies bailing out...let's face it, they had even acquired the German war plans, yet failed to take any counter- action! We agree about Jackson's book, but it is about time that more up-to-date research was exploited in English, including Gillet's - which is where Peter's work comes in..

Last edited by FalkeEins; 29th July 2008 at 23:08.
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