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Old 28th March 2005, 17:07
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Fighter pilots' guts

Fighter pilots of all countries

In a thread (see below) which now is locked I reported how 1940 French fighter pilots were, and still are, the victims of wholesale insults and libelling : « they were not brave, some of their officers flew away from the combat zone or stole Polish pilots’ victories » etc.

You have to be very mean or very simple-minded indeed not only to SAY but to PUBLISH such ludicrous nonsense. But why is it nonsense? In theory these things are possible aren’t they. I guess that spontaneously everybody will say : « No, I don’t believe such accusations, fighter pilots simply ARE brave and eager to fight », although when the libelling is signed by a Peter Townsend you could hesitate… (May I repeat that he never took part in the French Campaign and had no personal knowledge of it!)

So let us have a closer look at this matter, which could prove interesting for the « rest » of the war until 1945, especially about the Luftwaffe, and even afterwards (Europe (cold war), Korea). I guess – but I have no proof – that before WW II started fighter pilots (FPs) of all countries including for example Japan and the USSR were volunteers, young, fascinated by flying, most of them eager to fight, too. This is part of their character. 1940 there were only very few FPs older than 30, mostly majors / squadron-leaders. Most pilots were aged about 20-25, captains up to 28. There is no doubt that 1939-40 FPs of all European countries, including France of course, were exclusively volunteers and they had to prevail against numerous competitors (not all candidates could be accepted).

Back to the particular case of the French FPs. They all grew up in an atmosphere of legend (and of truth too) about the great French FPs of WW I : Guynemer, Fonck, Navarre and many, many others. There was an almost religious worship for these heroes. Many books were published on them as well as many articles in magazines, not to mention the cinema. « France had won the war » (but not quite alone, far from it, and it was a very costly victory) so French morale was at its peak. French FPs enjoyed superb training in flying and also in aerobatics, which 1940 German FPs often reported, sometimes with surprise or amusement. Some of them added that their French counterparts displayed remarkable abilities in aerobatics but were not so dangerous in combat, which can’t be true. As most of you know the aerobatics practiced by FPs during their training (even when they are confirmed pilots) has the aim of giving them total confidence in their own flying abilities and complete mastery of their aircraft, the type of which may change, in order to have better abilities to master a critical flight situation. Sophisticated aerobatics are not necessary in actual air combat – in most cases.

1940 active French fighter pilots obviously had volunteered several years before, almost all of them AFTER Hitler had come to power in Germany in January 1933. It became plain very soon that a new war was possible, then probable, then inevitable – the latter as early as 1938 or earlier. So whoever had not the stomach to be a fighter pilot, fly in war operations, fight and risk his life had several years at his disposal to quit, or abstain from volunteering, and try to get a less dangerous job, especially flying one of the numerous desks in some office in Paris or even somewhere in the depth of the French territory (1 000 km across, or 620 miles, from the North Sea to the Mediterrenean and from the Rhine to the Atlantic). Nobody ever thought that the German army would invade the whole country, not even a large part of it, so people who didn’t fanatically want to fight could feel safe in the rear.

Conversely those French FPs who stayed with the Armée de l’Air (A.A. ; unfortunately this can result in confusions with anti-aircraft weapons or forces in English, AA) not only accepted to fight but often they – just like their German colleagues - very impatiently waited for the opportunity to do so, to prove themselves, to win victories, decorations and fame, etc., and to teach those bl… Germans, for there certainly was a strong anti-German atmosphere in France, not quite without any reason. Remember for example that the Germans started to massively use poisonous gases against Allied troops during WW I, just as if they, in particular the French, had been vermin like lice and rats. When they invaded neutral, weak Belgium 1914 in order to avoid French defences they behaved with the greatest brutality towards civilians who hadn’t done anything, killing 600 in a particular village, just to « show who’s boss ». Today we call this war crimes and there were many German war crimes during WW I, in France too, and terrible destructions (none in Germany…). So in any case there were strong anti-German feelings in France and those young men who all had VOLUNTEERED to be fighter pilots were eager to teach’em. Chicken? Certainly the exact opposite of this.

What’s more, most combat-ready French fighter units were stationed in the potential combat area, in Eastern France, when WW II started on 3 September 1939. Very soon some fierce fighting started between French and German AC, in particular fighters. According to Paul Martin 74 French AC were lost in combat during the Phoney War, including 18 Morane 406s and 11 Curtiss H-75s totalling 29 fighters. The 45 others were close or long-range recce AC (and some bombers used for recce missions). Conversely French fighters alone won 70 victories including 39 Me 109s (mostly 109 Ds but Es too) and 3 Me 110s. There was no French victory unless you could show the corresponding wreck or have equally convincing evidence (like reports from the Army). There were some errors but in both directions, plus or minus. As usual the Luftwaffe claimed an enormous number of victories, mainly on the French (see figures in Prien’s volume n° 2).

French FPs had 13 of their number killed in combat plus 15 wounded and 24 killed and 11 wounded in accidents (mainly due to very poor and hard winter weather) : 37 FPs killed, 26 wounded. 12 were killed in the first month alone – September
(27 days) - so even if there was no wholesale slaughter it was plain that this was a very dangerous business in spite of the mostly low aerial activity, that it would be much worse when the fighting would start in earnest, and that the Germans meant business – which nobody had doubted – even though in the first months the French fighters enjoyed a clear superiority ; this changed when the Luftwaffe engaged the Me 109 E – they became about even.

So those who were chicken, if any, and did not have the guts to fight it out, received ample warning of the danger and they had no less than 8 months and four days to quit and take cover behind a desk or something of this kind. I am absolutely convinced that this did not occur, or perhaps in very few instances like everywhere else, if at all.

Then came the German offensive on 10 May 1940 and the shooting war started in earnest. The total of French fighter victories won during the phoney war, 70, was reached on the 3rd day of the campaign already : 60 in 2 days, 94 in 3 days. Remember that 912 French fighters were deployed in first-line units in France itself (some facing menacing Italy) and the Luftwaffe sent thousands of AC so there was rarely a lack of targets in the first days.

Soon the German army was winning a lot of ground in France, which provided French airmen with one more reason to fight even more fiercely, if possible, on top of all the rest (really disagreeable nazism, German aggressions in Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium – no less than six neutral countries : everybody hated Germany and the Germans!) : from the sky they could see all the destructions caused by the hated « Boches », the misery of millions of refugees (many from Belgium-NL), the burning villages and towns of their country, which they loved so much (at the time this was a normal feeling…). Of course they were enraged and full of the desire to take revenge and kill the bastards who were killing women and children on the roads and in their houses, even machine-gunning roads full of civilian refugees. British FPs in France felt exactly the same, by the way.

By the way, we can read many combat reports written by German FPs or crew members of bombers etc. and they confirm HOW BRAVE French FPs were. German FPs often reported how one single French fighter pilot all alone attacked a whole German formation (even fighters) and sometimes got away with this, sometimes was quickly killed. In the history of the bombing unit KG 27 you can read that a particular German air-gunner had shot down « 3 Moranes » out of an attacking French formation (or so he claims!) but the 4th Morane attacked too, this time before he had managed to replace his empty ammunition magazine, and hit the German bomber heavily with cannon and machine-gun-fire. Some coward ! But it has to be said that many air-gunners had a tendency to be overoptimistic and to overclaim heavily, last but not least the American boys (many really were just boys) who 1943-45, if we believe them, destroyed the whole German fighter arm single-handed. According to Adolf Galland he once lost 2 fighters to American air-gunners, who claimed 104 (or 102, I don’t remember) and a grinning Galland explains for us that yes, if 52 American air-gunners had fired, aiming at one of the 2 lost fighters, the total really is 104. « Aviators‘ mathematics are not so simple », he added.

All these factors make in particular Peter Townsend’s comments extremely ludicrous and shameful. Besides, on 3 June 1940, the day of the fairy-tale on French fighter pilots he told us, no fighter unit was stationed at Villacoublay, the place where he claimed several people saw them eating lunch instead of fighting the German bombers. There were fighters all around Paris but not at « Villa ». So Mister T's story is not true, that's all. On this very day, June 3rd, hundreds of French fighter pilots took off amongst exploding German bombs or under attack by 109s. 17 French fighters were shot down, most of them under these terrible circumstances (one of them, a Potez 631, had a crew of 3). 13 were killed, 5 badly wounded, only 1 pilot escaped unhurt. This is French "cowardice" ŕ la Townsend. These losses are appalling, almost all fighter pilots shot down being killed too.

Finally I am in a position to confirm that the French Air Force, in particular the FPs, in no way felt that they had been beaten when the German-French cease-fire came into effect, quite on the contrary. This is what Danel and Cuny wrote in their superlative book « L’aviation de chasse française 1918-1940 » (Docavia, Larivičre). Those who had escaped to French North Africa eagerly expected orders to fight on and they were devastated when they learned that they had to cease fighting. They were deeply discouraged and disgusted but certainly nobody believed this to be final. They all were trapped either in
France – surrounded by the German army – or in North Africa, from where only a few, the most resolute and the most lucky ones, succeeded in escaping to Gibraltar, at a high risk to themselves and to their comrades who were left on the airfields. The others stayed where they were because they were professional soldiers and THEY OBEYED ORDERS. The strongest reason for staying seems to have been the will not to let down the comrades together with whom they just had been fighting for 5 weeks, not to let down their unit and their leaders, whom they highly respected and admired (at least in most cases).

I can tell you this : in spite of all MANY French FPs and other airmen, even whole units, were on the verge of escaping to Gibraltar when the British Navy – without any valid reason – attacked the French ships (not the whole fleet, which was more than 12 times bigger) at Mers el-Kébir on 3 July, only 9 days after the German-French armistice. After this incredible crime, which is unique in world history, it was impossible to step over the bodies of 1,300 murdered French seamen and join the British to fight side by side with them! Besides, the British force had come from… Gibraltar. Can you imagine the situation? Almost all French escapees who joined the RAF had escaped BEFORE the MeK attack. If they had been forced to wait until after this attack I am convinced that they, too, would have given up this plan. After the attack almost no Frenchmen came to England. They needed months to start again but most of them gave up the idea once and for all. This loss of several hundred remarkable, highly combat-hardened French fighter pilots very nearly brought England defeat in the Battle of Britain (remember « The Narrow Margin » - it was narrow indeed). Besides, those who joined the RAF 1940 were almost exclusively pilots who had not fought in the French Campaign.

Later in the war FPs of certain countries probably avoided combat. I don’t believe they were cowards etc. as Townsend suggested of the French. There were other reasons : I suspect in the USSR they didn’t care much about pilots being volunteers only, and I suspect they just told you where and as a what you had to fight (perhaps Christer can inform us better on this). In his book Rudel reported how he heared the radio traffic of Soviet fighters who were shadowing his Ju 87 without attacking : « This is probably the bastard who destroys the tanks », etc. Finally Rudel escaped unscathed. He was very good but if several fighters had attacked him « with every ounce of vigour » he would not have come back this time.

During the last phases of the air war over Germany it did happen that German FPs did not want to fight but this is fully normal : these young guys, hardly older than 20, maybe 22, hadn’t received the necessary training (for lack of petrol and instructors), they were scared even of their own aircraft, these powerful monsters (imagine flying a FW 190 without being sufficiently good to do so !) and they knew they hardly stood any chance. They were not all volunteers, part of them simply were ordered to become fighter pilots. I know a man in Germany who was supposed to become a FP (1944 I think) but he knew this would mean his certain death and he managed to vanish. When I asked him how (1976) he didn’t reply. I think he still feared the revenge of fanatic nazis. I think it is a fact that in many instances German FPs baled out even before their AC was hit, or as soon as it was. We can’t blame them, they had no chance against a « Mustang » anyway, their AC were lost in any case so what point would there have been in dying stupidly in an AC, like the old-fashioned captain of a ship! Göring was aware of this phenomenon but, strangely, he didn’t force them to fly without any parachute. He probably understood all too well what was going on and he couldn’t blame them either.

Last but not least : Fighters turning away from the bombers they were attacking. In some instances yes, they thought there was no point in suffering heavy losses instead of living to fight another day. These were exceptions, particularly during the 1940 French Campaign, for the defensive armament of German bombers was very weak even though many French FPs reported that it was very impressive to see almost a « carpet » of tracer around them, so intense was the return fire from the bombers. But almost invariably they did attack the bombers and often they suffered some losses when the engine or the pilot was hit.

Nevertheless many air-gunners of all countries, just like AAA soldiers, think and claim that the enemy AC turned back when they saw their heavy defensive fire. As we know the reason was quite different in most cases. When fighters flew away it simply meant – in most cases – that they were short of petrol or ammunition, or both, or that they were under attack by enemy fighters. Bombers were almost never scared away by AAA fire but they HAD to fly back at some point, after having dropped their bombs. In such instances it was mainly the propaganda which claimed that the defensive fire had forced the enemy bombers to fly back to base, or simply scared them.

My conclusion : let us avoid any insulting and any libelling of any fighting men, whether they are/were German, British or «even» French! 60 years and more after 1940 it is really incredible to see some people still ignoring French fighter pilots’ great deeds and their graves, which hardly can be disputed. England ought to be grateful : they destroyed a large part of the Luftwaffe, including hundreds of highly-skilled aircrew, before the Battle of Britain started. Without their bravery – they could have fought but with less determination – the BoB would most probably have ended the other way for over 600 more German bombers (including the damaged ones) and hundreds of Me 109s more in the LW would have made the difference.

Last edited by Hawk-Eye; 29th March 2005 at 00:11.
Old 28th March 2005, 19:06
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Andy Mac Andy Mac is offline
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Re: Fighter pilots' guts

On the sea bed not far from where I live, lie the remains of a mark 9 Spitfire and possibly what is left of the remains of the pilot left in the cockpit. The pilot was a young Free-French lad, and he was betrayed by engine failure on take-off.

That young man fled a country over-run by his enemy, leaving behind his family and everything he knew. He chose to fight again on foreign soil, and there were many like him.

My sons are 9 and 4, and they know all about this pilot. I tell them about him all the time because we are here because of this pilot and his comrades.


That is all we need to know about the glorious Free-French.

Andrew McCallum
Old 28th March 2005, 19:26
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Thanks Andy, I really appreciate.

Nevertheless Free-French airmen and those having taken part in the 1940 French Campaign are two entirely different subjects. Townsend wrote that the 1940 boys were not brave etc. contrary to the Free-French, which doesn't make any sense. As I mentioned, almost none (or none at all?) of the latter escaped to England, in any case 1940. Only 13-14 French fighter pilots took part in the Battle of Britain. Without the Mers el-Kébir aggression they would have been at least 200, possibly 500, some of them within their own, old French units which would have flown to Gibraltar as complete units led by their normal COs. Most of those who became Free-French had been too young to take part in the 1940 fighting. They, too, accepted very high risks and many lost their life. Of course I very much admire and respect all Free-French - and also the Norwegians, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Poles and all others at that.

François de Labouchčre, a Free-French fighter pilot who was killed 1942 after having destroyed two Me 109s and two Do 217s alone, had left France and sailed to England in June 1940 without having been able to fight yet (he had been only a future pilot) and he wrote the following to his sister I think :

"The most difficult thing is not to do your duty but to distinguish it." So he was not so sure either. But of course he did the right thing : fighting a ruthless enemy never is wrong.
Old 29th March 2005, 02:59
Six Nifty .50s Six Nifty .50s is offline
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Re: Fighter pilots' guts

Regarding the courage of French pilots, I don't know why you are fixated on the opinion of Peter Townsend. No. 91 'Nigeria' Squadron had several French pilots, including Jean Maridor. Some comments from Peter Hall's unit history:

February 14th 1942 "...Plt Off J P Maridor, Free French, joined No 91 Sqn from 615 Sqn. A native of LeHavre, he had gained his civilian pilot's licence at the age of 16, and when France fell he escaped to England in a fishing boat and joined the RAF. After months of trying, Maridor was overjoyed with his assignment to No 91 Sqn, for he considered that a posting to this unit offered him the best chance of attacking the Germans! The French contingent was further enlarged on the 20th when Plt Offs J Lambert and H J M de Molenes followed Maridor from 615 Sqn...

August 3rd 1944 "...poor weather continued until 2 August, but improved again the next day as Flt Lt Jean Maridor and Section Officer Jean Lambourn were finalising their wedding plans. The Frenchman was still flying operationally, though, and at 1245 hrs he intercepted a 'Diver' over Rolvenden, in Kent. He fired a burst at it, but the V1 did not explode. Instead it glided down towards Benenden School, which at that time housed a large military hospital. Maridor dived down after it, and, at very close range, he opened fire again. The 'Diver' exploded, preventing what would have been an enormous loss of life, but the blast blew off the Spitfire's wing. The aircraft (RM656) fell beside a lake in the grounds of the school, and 'Mari' as he was known in the squadron, was killed -- eight days before he was due to be married. The action was witnessed by many people on the ground, and it was their opinion that Maridor had deliberately fired again, knowing that he stood little or no chance of surviving..."

It was noted that Jean Maridor was much admired by all who knew him. He was credited with four German planes and eleven V1 bombs destroyed.

Last edited by Six Nifty .50s; 29th March 2005 at 03:10.
Old 29th March 2005, 11:13
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Re: Fighter pilots' guts

Originally Posted by Six Nifty .50s
Regarding the courage of French pilots, I don't know why you are fixated on the opinion of Peter Townsend.
- Simply because he libelled the 1940 - stress 1940, nineteen forty - French pilots, or rather those who fought in May-June 1940 but did not escape to England. To him the Free-French pilots were all right, as if there COULD be any difference. In most cases only chance or luck, or bad luck, decided upon who became a "Free-French" or not, except of course the vast majority who clearly had decided never to join the Britishers after the Mers el-Kébir attack, the British "Pearl Harbor". You know how US people feel about the Japanese after PH. Why on earth should precisely the French have a different reaction!
But Townsend is not the only one, there are others. I won't enhance their glory so I won't give their names here.
After the November 1942 Allied landings in French North Africa - where the Mers el-Kébir attack had taken place - almost all French airmen came under AMERICAN not British command. There was a good reason for this. I am convinced that they bluntly would have refused to fly and fight within the RAF, they'd preferred to become infantrymen with the French Army (which later, by the way, cracked the Cassino nut). They flew almost exclusively US aircraft types. There were some exceptions like commandant (sqn leader or major) Jean Accart, who eventually 1944 led a French Spitfire squadron based in England after he had created it. Accart no doubt was one of the best, most clever and finest fighter pilots and leaders in the world, perhaps THE best one in the world. 1940 he had won 12 confirmed victories in 3 weeks (!), his escadrille of 12 fighters was the by very far top-scoring one of the whole Armée de l'Air , which comprised about 53 escadrilles (thanks to his unique leadership and the exceptional training he had given his pilots). After these 3 weeks of fighting he received a German machine-gun bullet exactly between his eyes when once more attacking a He 111 under unfavourable conditions. He baled out and suffered many other very heavy wounds, survived by sheer luck and... crossed the Pyrénées into Spain as soon as he was able to, together with several of his student pilots, in order to fight again! With all his wounds nobody would have expected him to fight again - the bullet was still there between his eyes for they never dared try to extract it. He, too, was one of those 1940 French fighter pilots insulted by Townsend.
If only they had allowed him to meet the Luftwaffe he would have wreaked havoc in it. This is precisely what RAF's to brass did NOT want and the whole unit hardly got any opportunity to fight German aircraft. This was general Allied tactics : French fighters were NOT allowed to meet the Luftwaffe, Allied HQ did not want them to win any victories, or only a few by pure luck (except the French Normandie-Niémen wing in Russia, for the Russians didn't care about British psychological problems with the French and never prevented them from winning some 283 victories (or so) at a very high cost). Of course this behaviour was not only unfair, it was also idiotic and criminal towards US bomber crews, for many of them were killed BECAUSE the French, in particular Accart's crack squadron, were not allowed to fight the Luftwaffe. This probably cost the lives of a few hundred US bomber crew members even though US fighter pilots were not bad at all and did an excellent job. Accart and his pilots no doubt would have been even better.

Instead Accart's squadron, which was like a fine sword, was used for bombing and ground attack, at a high cost too. This was like using this fine sword for chopping stone slabs : not really clever. Many other RAF squadrons were doing the same job but they were not the Accart squadron, which comprised at least one more 1940 top-ace : Vuillemain, 9 confirmed victories 1940, one "Wellington" in August 1942 (after 3 July 1940 any British aircraft or vessel near French Africa was attacked by the "cowards", reluctantly by most of them for they didn't forget that the main enemy was Germany, England was only 2nd) and one Ju 88 in September 1943. So he was one of the very few French fighter pilots who - purely by chance - had the opportunity to shoot down a German aircraft after 1940... Of course this remark doesn't apply to the Free-French pilots flying with the RAF. They were given the possibility to get involved in air combat.

Thanks for your posting anyway. Yes Maridor's story is interesting and moving. You know, I simply think he had no choice in this situation actually. Of course what he did was a heroic deed but what else could he do? Can you imagine ANY fighter pilot giving up and flying away?
Old 29th March 2005, 14:38
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Escaping to England?

In another thread (« Fighter pilots chicken? ») Alex Smart remarked that « the ONLY French Air Unit to evacuate to the UK from Europe (so once more we see the UK is not in Europe !) was one of the Polish manned units within the French AF ». How naive can you be ?

Sure, I don’t really know (yet), I only know that all Czechs and Poles who so wished – they all did I think – were offered the possibility of sailing, sometimes flying, to England, but this unit A.S. mentioned went to England without its aircraft : they didn’t have the range to fly. As I already mentioned, the French not only did not prevent them from going to England, they helped them as best they could, which was a good thing. They could have closed all borders and harbours…

Fleeing to England was not made easier by the fact that the German invasion of the French territory started in the extreme North (Dunkerque, Arras, Calais, etc.), where the British army had been, and continued south- and westwards, so that all French forces which were not captured or destroyed retreated in the same directions, mainly southwestwards, towards central France and the Atlantic coast near Spain and the Pyrénées (including in the East on the Mediterrenean coast : Perpignan). It was out of the question to fly fighters to England before the end of June for the fighting was going on, French fighters (and AA) flying under orders in organised units were still demolishing a lot of German aircraft and airmen so there was no reason to leave, and it would have been desertion – to an allied country (or was it an allied country?) but nevertheless desertion. Nobody is allowed to leave his unit during the fighting. In any case no French pilot would have dreamed of doing that BEFORE June 17, when Pétain made his disastrous and terrible speech on the radio (« I am telling you that we must cease fighting » - the Germans took more prisoners after that (in 8 days) than before (in 38 days). He was irresponsible for he didn’t mean « cease immediately », he was meaning « after an agreement with Germany » but almost everybody understood the contrary, and marshal Pétain was the by very far most prestigious, most glorious living Frenchman at the time. Stress « at the time »! I strongly resent what he did afterwards, including NOT really retaliating for the Mers el-Kébir aggression : only a few dozen French bombers dropped bombs on Gibraltar, many of them missing purposely. Pétain could at least have had a few British naval ships sunk by the French fleet, which possessed some very fast battleships, including the brand-new Richelieu, and cruisers, not to mention 60 excellent submarines (much more than Germany possessed 1940).

Those French fighter pilots who wanted to escape to England after 17 June couldn’t simply fly their fighters northwards, they didn’t have the range. Many (several hundred) were in North Africa already. Besides, their own units and COs still existed and they had no real, urgent reason to go to England. It is not really simple to leave your country, your family, your units and your brothers in arms, not even knowing if it is the right thing to do. The situation of Poland at the end of September 1939 was entirely different, there is no comparison.
Old 29th March 2005, 14:46
Christer Bergström Christer Bergström is offline
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Re: Fighter pilots' guts

One implied recognition of the French airmen of 1940 can be found in a diary note by Hannes Trautloft (JG 54's commander). When the Soviet fighter pilots in March 1942 started to get better and adopted better tactics, Trautloft's conclusion was:

"We have the impression that French pilots are flying with the Russians now. In the last days we have noticed a completely new tactic adopted by the enemy fighters. . . . And [they] have also grown more aggressive". (Quoted in "Black Cross/Red Star", Vol. 2, p. 94.)

(This was one year before the first French fighter pilots appeared on the Eastern Front.)

Taking the very strong opposition they were up against, the accomplishment of the French Normandie-Niemen fighter regiment really is impressive. All their victories were achieved in an environment where the cream of the Luftwaffe veterans operated. I can imagine the rate of destruction the Normandie-Niemen veterans could have caused if they would have been set loose against the rookies in the Luftwaffe's "Western" fighter units.
All the best,

Christer Bergström

Last edited by Christer Bergström; 29th March 2005 at 14:48.
Old 29th March 2005, 19:28
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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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And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller between life and death;
Old 29th March 2005, 20:38
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Re: Fighter pilots' guts

Ah, I forgot to add an interesting quote from Paul Richey, who wrote the following on page 87 of this classic book Fighter Pilot:

The French CO was a tall, hard-looking man, bursting with efficiency and quite undisturbed by the numerous delayed action bombs scattered around the airfield. 'Oh, those!' he said contemptuously, they've been going off all night. One gets used to anything in time...'

Seen against this light, perhaps old Sholto Douglas was misinterpreting French cool nonchalance for inaction?

Main thing I'm trying to explain is that if there is any critique, it should be of Sholto Douglas, however to say that he had no right to judge or have an opinion on what he'd witnessed, as a senior officer, is not fair nor realistic.
Ruy Horta
12 O'Clock High!

And now I see with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveller between life and death;
Old 30th March 2005, 00:20
Posts: n/a
Re: Fighter pilots' guts

Thanks Ruy for both postings.

Quote :
<< Main thing I'm trying to explain is that if there is any critique, it should be of Sholto Douglas, however to say that he had no right to judge or have an opinion on what he'd witnessed, as a senior officer, is not fair nor realistic.>>

Yes but Townsend did all the harm when he PUBLISHED his book, which was quite successful in the whole world and published in French too. Both the English and the French edition were published in... France. Incredible isn't it. I insist that his whole story must be forged - until I'm PROVEN wrong. No fighter unit what stationed at Villacoublay on 3 June 1940, this is a fact. Some fighter units were based there for short periods of time but NOT on this day. Villa is too close to the central target area : Paris. About 250 fighters were concentrated around Paris, a few dozen miles away (20-30 km or more) : at Chantilly, Lognes etc. This airfield (Villa) was used mainly for flight-testing new series aircraft produced by nearby factories, Breguet 693s and LeO 451s I think (no warranty). Besides, the French were informed of the German attack well in advance, much earlier than one day before, but French HQ were such fools that they spoilt everything and they had probably no advantage at all, rather disadvantages, from this knowledge. It cost the lives of about 8 good fighter pilots too many. In any case, this top conference either was not on 3 June or not at Villacoublay, or it never existed. It could - could! - rather have taken place at Dunkerque, but earlier, or even in Paris, for clearly it involved both the Air Forces and the Navies of both countries so the obvious guess is the Dunkerque evacuation. If this is correct it must have been much earlier than that.

Perhaps I can explain the error about "pilots". As you know RAF pilots (proudly) wear their "wings" on their battle-dress. They are made of some textile material. In the French AF EVERY MAN wears similar wings on his battle-dress, even the lowest ranks (ordinary soldiers). I ought to know : I was such an ordinary soldier (deuxičme classe) before I became an officer. I forgot what you call them in the RAF. The colour of these wings is gold for officers and NCOs, orange below the rank of sergent. All this has nothing special to do with pilots but it is not surprising that a foreign general mistook the French wings for pilots' insignia.

The French pilot badge, exactly like the German one, is made of metal and is comprised of two horizontal wings inside a circle of laurel leaves, with a golden star which every member of the flying personnel wears.

Anyway nobody has the right to draw such drastic conclusions, on a foreign airfield, about a situation which he has no chance to understand if nobody explains it for him.

Last edited by Hawk-Eye; 30th March 2005 at 10:48.
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