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Old 17th February 2005, 17:21
lritger lritger is offline
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Seeking *reliable* sources for French AF ops 1936-June 1940

After reading the fantastic book "Strange Victory" by Ernest R. May, I've been trying to get a more detailed picture of air operations of all the combatants involved in the assault on the Low Countries and France, particularly the French AF. I've found a book called "The Forgotten Air Force: French Air Force Doctrine in the 1930s" by Anthony Cain which seems to hold promise, but would be interested to hear others opinions on this book.

The reason I ask for "reliable" sources is that I've seen some rather unflattering depictions of the French Army and AF's actions in May/June 1940 over the years, and May's book indicates that the fall of France centered more on process and leadership failures rather than a lack of initiative or willpower on the part of the troops and airmen. Several passages in "Twelve Days In May", however, give the impression that the French did not "press home their attacks with vigour"... one such allegation was attributed only to "a historian", not a particular eyewitness or combat report. This seems rather out of place in an otherwise well documented book, and this seems to be a theme in other histories of the period as well.

Unfortunately, Belgian and Dutch AF operations are somewhat glossed over in "Twelve Days" as well... so further information on these air forces would also be welcome.

I welcome any suggestions, and would like to avoid stirring any rancor... this topic occasionally stirs emotive responses, and it would be nice to see this discussion kept "above board".

Thanks much in advance for any assistance-

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Old 18th February 2005, 11:37
Graham Boak Graham Boak is offline
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Graham Boak

I have Cain's book, and find it fascinating. However, it is more concerned with organisation and doctrine rather than operations.

There are a number of French books on the subject which unfortunately I do not have to hand: however the magazine Aero Journal has been running a series of articles on French fighter units in turn, which will add up to a complete description. I suggest that you refer to the advertising pages of any of the leading French aviation magazines; start with Avions and AeroJournal.

The passing reference in 12 Days In May is purely a note of the impression created by one unit on one day, and (correct or not) should not be extrapolated to the entire L'Armee de l'Aire effort. There certainly was an impression at the time that the French military (overall) had not fought with the same vigour as their WW1 predecessors. The unfairness of this should be clear to the better-informed today.
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Old 18th February 2005, 15:09
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
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A great in depth insight into AdA is provided by Stefan Łaszkiewicz in his 'Od Cambrai do Coventry' (From Cambrai to Coventry) diary/memoirs. He was a Polish staff officer but in France volunteered to flying duties and was attached to a regular fighter unit.
He notes bitter words of Fonck, general disorder, bad habits, etc. but never called French pilots with whom served - cowards. He believed that if the campaign lasted longer, natural exchange of French pilots would cause significant improvement.
Sadly the book is available only in Polish but it can be translated, of course. Any publishers here?
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Old 18th February 2005, 18:00
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Juha Juha is offline
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Hello Lynn
have You seen Mushroom's Fighters over France and the Low Countries (2002), only 152 pages, but it had chapters on fighter activity of the Dutch, Belgian, French, Polish AFs, of RAF, of LW and on Czech fighter pilots.

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Old 18th February 2005, 22:22
Graham Boak Graham Boak is offline
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The only specific book I can think of in English is the old Ian Allan "Air War over France" by Robert Jackson.

For the Drole de Guerre there is of course Shores et al Fledgling Eagles from Grub Street.

However, I have "Ils etaient la...." by Jacqueline and Paul Martin, which is still available from Aero Journal's publishers, which covers all combat losses. For claims there is the recent work in two volumes Les Victoires de l'Aviation de Chasse Francaise. I don't have this last one, and am not sure that the second volume is yet published.
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Old 19th February 2005, 13:17
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Books etc. on 1939-1940 French Air Force

(Posting repeated under « Reviews »)

Books etc. on 1939-1940 French Air Force

Sorry I can’t give many details : I am about to move… How terrible !

I take it you meant 1939-40 not 1936-40? Nothing special – I mean no fighting – took place 1936-Sept. 1939.

The most comprehensive book I know on the 1939-40 French Air Force is a BRITISH book, or rather booklet, already mentioned by Graham Boak above :

Air War over France 1939-40, by Robert Jackson, Ian Allan Ltd., London, 1974.

ISBN 0 7110 0510 9

It also deals with the non-French (mainly British but Dutch and Belgian too) Allied air forces, bomber operations, French naval aviation, local « chimney flights » etc. This book contains a few errors but as a whole I consider it outstanding in spite of the few pages (154) and I think it can still be obtained. On page 112 the story about Mölders being shot down is completely wrong : this happened on 5 June not on 14 May. « Orléans in Southern France » is a bit strong (this famous city is approx. in the centre of France). Please note once and for all : Mölders’ French victor was s-lt. René Pomier Layrargues. Only ONE m, no hyphen, a final s (I met his brother Jean, a rear-admiral). Everybody mutilates this hero’s name, which is not acceptable (he shot down a 2nd 109, then was killed by half a dozen others).

« Blitzed ! », by Victor Bingham, is a good book too but gives the sole RAF all too much credit for virtually all German losses (the usual legend).

« Phoenix Triumphant », by E.R. Hooton, is interesting too.

The by far very best book on the 1940 French Campaign and German politics and armed forces I know is German. This outstanding work ought to be translated (but correctly… !) into all languages :

Blitzkrieg-Legende – Der Westfeldzug 1940 (there was no German Blitzkrieg-strategy, not even the word, at the time ; this word was created in Britain it seems) – by Karl-Heinz Frieser. Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt. Oldenburg, München 1996. ISBN 3-486-56201-0

This is a remarkable historical work at a high academic level but not boring to read, quite on the contrary (exciting). 472 pages, numerous pictures, maps etc. If only all historical books were of the same quality… It deals with all operations, not airpower only. About aviation there are a few errors but this is not serious. Interesting details on Flak and tanks. If you don’t read high-level German try to lay your hands on a translation, if any, but mind the often terrible translating errors and the cuts.

Not surprinsingly most books on 1939-40 French airpower were published in French. Most of the very best ones undoubtedly belong to the Docavia-series published by Editions Larivière in Clichy near Paris, even if these remarkable books were published between about 1972 and 1986. Raymond Danel (not « Daniel ») and Jean Cuny wrote virtually perfect books (in spite of a few unavoidable errors on some AC serial numbers etc.).

« L’aviation de chasse (the fighter arm) française 1918-1940 » is absolutely fantastic. This THE one book you MUST have on this subject : technical descriptions, statistical tables (production, numerical strengths etc.), fighter performance etc. Larivière should reprint it, I mean it ! They also wrote « Le Dewoitine D.520 », a nearly ideal monography (« A 109 diving in front of a D.520 was dead » « In a dogfight the D.520 made the 109 ridiculous. »), and « LeO, Amiot 350 et autres B4 » (on modern French twin-engined bombers). J. Cuny and Gérard Beauchamp published (also a Docavia) « Le Curtiss Hawk 75 », excellent too. All these books contain interesting pages on 1939 and mainly 1940 operations.

For a few years Docavia’s place has been taken by Lela-Presse, which published :

Le Morane-Saulnier MS 406 (by 12 authors) (Collection Histoire de l’Aviation n° 5), 336 large-format pages, hundreds of photographs. Technical description. Day-by-day account of all the Morane-fighting, etc., some color photos and profiles. Highly recommended !

In this same collection, n° 12 is an astounding achievement, a life’s work : « Le Bloch MB-152 » (in fact 150 through 157), by Serge Joanne. 528 (!) large-format pages plus several folding technical drawings, 900 (!) photographs, color profiles etc. Technical description and history of the type(s), unit-by-unit and day-by-day (inside the unit stories) account of the fighting, victories, losses… Color profiles. A fantastic book.

If you read the 4 « Docavias » and the 2 « Lela Presse » you’ll have a fairly good idea of the subject already ! Don’t forget Robert Jackson’s aforementioned, REMARKABLE booklet. I feel even if normally you don’t understand French you’ll be able to extract the most important contents. If you don’t understand the word « Pertes » you’ll understand it means « Losses » very quickly, for example.

There is a new French series of AC monographies now, "Ailes de Gloire" (Wings of Glory) by Patrick Marchand (text) [/b]and Junko Takamori (artwork). 42, 54, 64, 68 pages each : Potez 63, LeO 451 (bomber), Breguet 690 series (light bombers), D.520, MS 406, Curtiss H 75, Bloch 152 series. Technical description, photographs, colour pictures, pilots’ portraits, brief account of the fighting, colour samples for modellers. Very interesting for the price of 10-15 euros (plus p&p). Gabi Schmidt, bookseller in Munich, has got them. They’re certainly worth the money in spite of the very poor French spelling (this is fashionable in France now).

Arnaud Gillet published 2 volumes alone (2003 and 2004) : Les victoires de l’aviation de chasse française 10 mai-15 mai 1940 / 16 mai-4 juin 1940. Very interesting documents comparing French claims (often British ones too) and German losses ; photographs etc. Terrible French spelling. When I was a child aged 8 they would have kicked my bottom if I had made only ONE of the hundreds of Gillet’s very serious spelling errors (he holds a high French university degree in law…). Don’t laugh : if you’re unable to be exact in spelling can you be exact in history ? No doubt Gillet’s work is mostly very interesting but it should not be taken at face value and read… « very carefully ». The most important feature is that he is using a document written by two excellent French colonels (Salesse and Accart, the latter probably being one of the best fighter pilots AND LEADERS in the world) in the 1950s ( !!!) as the basis of his reasoning on French fighter victories. In the ‘50s they found appox. 245 which had been officially confirmed by the French Air Force. I consider it absurd to use such a document 50 years later to claim to publish a HISTORICAL work – in spite of the comparison of Allied and German documents, combat and loss reports etc. The existence of this document (at SHAA) certainly is interesting. Nevertheless now the point is the ACTUAL German losses inflicted by the AA (Armée de l’Air) not AdA (by Jove, I was a member of it myself many years ago!). According to myself – and I am a serious researcher not an amateur – the real figure ranges between approx. 600 and 1,000, possibly more. Yes this sounds odd ant it is odd. « More » in my future book (not before 2007), be patient.

A. Gillet is a likeable amateur, his work is commendable but his errors and amateurism, and spelling errors (they improved much in the last volume), are not acceptable. For example he stated that the Potez 631 had a « weak armament ». This is ridiculous for two 20 mm cannon and mostly several machine-guns, a very powerful punch at the time (according to myself one French cannon was worth 3 German ones, assuming a comparison is possible at all, for the rate of fire, the missile velocity and the range of the German MG FF were very poor, which was corrected only 1941 by the MG 151). Gillet also states that the Bloch 152 (two cannon, 2 machine-guns) had a « weak armament » ; same remark as before. He corrected this in his 2nd volume (after I wrote to him), stating that it was « average », which is wrong : it was very powerful (for 1940 standards). Gillet adds that the 152’s engine power was « satisfying ». This is exactly the contrary of what ALL experts say. The power figure was relatively high… but it was a radial engine ! Visibly A. Gillet has no idea of the difference between radial and in-line engines, as far as the necessary engine power is concerned. He probably never heard or read the word « drag ».

He thinks that the Me 109 and 110 cannon had 100 rounds per gun but it was 60 r p g like the French. Exaggeration : 66.66 %.

He also thinks that a fighter having much more machine-gun ammunition has a much higher « fire-power » than another one, armd with one cannon and 2 MGs. This is very serious nonsense. Gillet did not correct this error (and not others either) in spite of my explanations. Translations from German and English into French are very poor : simplistic, word by word, litteral translations like « board cannon » for « Bordkanone » etc. The fact remains that as a whole these works are an interesting contribution, in particular many comparisons between French and German combat reports for the same combats.

A useful point is that he really looked at the German archive and concludes that :

1. In order to find all 1940 German losses you have to look for them until the end of 1941 in the documents (because some losses were registered or corrected belatedly).

2. French fighter claims were much more serious and reliable than German and above all British ones. This is a confirmation of a fact which by now is well-known. The most reliable claims of WW II were Finnish and French.

Gillet published a 3rd volume together with Jacques Sacré, a confirmed aviation writer whose influence is very visible in this volume. Much fewer spelling errors, no horrible nonsense (but I wasn’t able to read it all). This volume deals with the Namur-Cambrai-Troyes-Luxembourg area, 10-18 May 1940, mainly the Sedan battle.

The French magazine « Avions » has published many special issues (Hors séries) on the 1940 air fighting, including one on GC I/3, the first unit equipped with the legendary D.520. The list is too long to reproduce here.
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Old 19th February 2005, 14:23
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French review "Icare"


Sorry I forgot to mention this beautiful series of reviews published by the SNPL, the main French civil aviation aircrew trade-union.

Each issue has a different main feature and looks more like a luxurious album than like a magazine.

Since 1970 or 72 they published a total of 17 or so issues on the 1939-40, most on the 1940 French Campaign with first-hand accounts, remarkable historical analyses by Raymond Danel (not "Daniel"), many remarkable photographs etc. The 4th issue on French fighters was published 1996. Other issues include the Belgian and the Dutch Air Forces.

Long ago they published 3 issues on the Battle of Britain and 1 or 2 on Pearl Harbor.
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Old 20th February 2005, 01:24
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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« More » in my future book (not before 2007), be patient.
Now that sounds most interesting! What book?

All best,

Christer Bergström
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Old 20th February 2005, 06:38
lritger lritger is offline
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Great information, thanks to all...

...especially Yves for the long list of suggested reading. I've seen enough howlers in Luftwaffe books I've read to know that any itemized history of those turbulent days must be taken with a grain of salt, at best! I do have a basic, working knowledge of French and can get through most German documents (although I keep a couple of dictionaries nearby at all times), so those recommendations will prove very helpful indeed.

And Yves, the timeframe was not a typo... I am also interested in the buildup to the conflict, and was curious if there were other sources besides Cain that might cover this.

Thanks again to all who replied, I'm off to check Amazon and

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Old 20th February 2005, 10:56
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From 1936 on...

Oh, sorry! Actually I guess many "1940"-books cover the period before WW II, often starting 1933 or at least 1935. Obviously this is true of Danel and Cuny's "L'aviation de chasse française 1918-1940" (Docavia, published by Editions (Publishing Cy) Larivière). Most books of this category (Lela Presse too) start with the "prehistory" before 1939 but mostly this part is short. In Serge Joanne's "Le Bloch MB 152" this period is covered too but not in great detail, the subject being a certain aircraft family.

I can't be very specific any more because many of my books are in cardboard boxes already.

There are other Docavia-books I forgot to mention : Emile Dewoitine (a biography) and, if I remember correctly, "Les avions Dewoitine" as well as "Les avions Farman". Most of the Docavias are out of print but can be found 2nd-hand and they are in certain libraries like SHAA's.

There is a book covering exactly what you're looking for but I didn't even think of mentioning it because I find it so terrible : "L'Armée de l'Air dans la tourmente", by Patrick Facon. This fellow holds the highest ranks and honours in official history : he is SHAA's official historian I think, he gives lectures at the French Army and Air Force (Salon) academies and of course he holds the highest university diploma in history. The only snag is that this book contains an enormous quantity of nonsense, horrible errors and also plagiarism. An important and very typical statement on the 1940 French Campaign was fetched directly from my own pages in the book "Invisibles vainqueurs", by Paul Martin (and myself for about 50 %) I published 1991. This passage was re-written but all the same it is like a photocopy of one of my strongly worded remarks, approximately : "Contrary to the widespread legend the Armée de l'Air was certainly not wiped out in a single Luftwaffe blow at dawn on 10 May 1940, quite on the contrary : taking the enormous resources engaged by the LW the results (approx. 70-90 first-line French combat aircraft destroyed) were very mediocre and disappointing, and the LW suffered heavy losses (not only in the Netherlands but also) at the hands of the French fighters (and AA). It is time now to realise and say this at last."

Those who are familiar with my "strongly worded" statements probably know that you can recognise them even if re-written.

At the end of this book there is an appendix on 1940 aircraft (German, British, French...) with many shocking errors, like much too low a top speed for the He 111, wrong armament in several cases, "1 000 kg" of bombs for the Stuka (Ju-87 B2) instead of 500 kg (and officially, according to RLM, it was 250!).

This book has over 300 pages (302, 314 or some) but only about 91 are devoted to the subject given on the (soft) cover : air war, fighting. All the "rest" deals with the "prehistory", starting 1918 and even, I think, 1903 or 1910 but I'm not sure. Of course I KNOW any historical event has its origins and roots in the past but "you have to draw the line somewhere" - and not all too far from your subject. So this book certainly covers the period you're interested in but I never read this part about French internal politics, successive governments, worker strikes, ministries, generals, Air Force successive forms of organisation etc. If its historical quality is as poor as the last 91 pages it'll be very difficult to extract the actual facts and any wisdom from it but you can try. It's not expensive. Publisher is "Economica".

Nevertheless I think you could find all you need at SHAA, which is in Vincennes (same thing as if it were in Paris) : all books, unpublished documents (archive, theses etc.) and SHAA's own publications et reports. But beware : some of these were contributed by Patrick Facon!
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