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  #1  
Old 26th January 2005, 12:57
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Ruy Horta Ruy Horta is offline
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French AF fighter types during the Battle of France

Can anyone say which was the more successful fighter type used by the French air force in 1939/40?

Well the answer is likely to be the the Dewoitine D.520, but I was actually hoping for a broader comparisson.

How did the Morane Saulnier MS 405/6, Curtiss H-75As and Marcel Bloch MB 150/151/152 do in comparison?

Numbers operational, units flying the type, duration of operations, number of sorties, claims, losses.

Is there a source which readily gives these types of statistics?

A number of values can be found in Michelet's publication, but not all of them. Perhaps there is a French specialist who has some ready figures?
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Old 26th January 2005, 15:09
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Hello Ruy, IIRC Curtiss H-75A was the most successful fighter used by Ad'A. I have some stats somewhere, but now I'm going to spend some hours in our War Archive studing the other FAF.

Juha
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  #3  
Old 26th January 2005, 19:41
Laurent Rizzotti Laurent Rizzotti is offline
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Depends what you call the most successfull. Kills or kill ratio or survability of pilots and number of missions successfull.

In several occasions French fighters were unable to escort their recon planes because they were too slow. Don't remind the type but it wasn't D520.

D520 was on paper the best plane but was late and too few on numbers to do any difference.

I will also have to dig for statistics (and don't know if it will be given by plane types. I have them by unit but some units changed during the campain) but I will also bet that the most successfull fighter was the Curtiss H-75A.
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Old 26th January 2005, 20:04
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Ruy
Some books
Mushroom Special,Red Series No 5104 : Fighters over France and the Low Countries ISBN 83-916327-1-7
and an old one PAUL CAMELIO & CHRISTOPHER SHORES Armee de l'Air. A Pictorial History of the French Air Force 1937 - 1945. Squadron/Signal 1976

according to latter 2.9.39 -25.6.40 Adl'A fighters claimed 696 confirmed and 253 probable victories, this doesn't incl Aéronavale and Potez 630 victories.
Of these H75A pilots claimed 230 conf. + 81 prob.
MS 406 pilots 269 conf.
D.520 pilots 114+39
Bloch pilots got nearly all the remainder.

Top scoring units:
CG I/5 85+26 (H75 unit)
GC I/3 51+21 (5+1 on MS 406, rest on D.520)
GC II/4 48+23 (H75)
CG II/5 48+22 (H75)
CG II/7 40+10 (15+9 on MS 406, rest on D.520)

OoBs are too laborious to type here.

HTH
Juha
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  #5  
Old 28th January 2005, 21:38
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1940 French fighters

Hawk-Eye alias Yves Michelet is watching ya with an eagle's eyesight!

Sorry I discovered Ruy's questions only after 2 days.

I feel the replies - if correct and comprehensive - would be very long and complex : a book!

I regret I can't get into any detail right now but all the replies before mine contain correct information. Taken together they already give a fairly good picture.

Unfortunately this topic is terribly complex because the Armée de l'Air was precisely changing aircraft types, including fighters, frantically from 1938 on - reequipping with "modern" aircraft (arrival of the first "Curtiss", as the French say, 1938; they kept coming (improved versions) right until June 1940 and eventually equipped 5 groupes totalling approx. 150- 160 AC). Armament too light : 4, then 6 light MGs. The Bloch 150 was never used (prototype only?), about 14O Bloch 151s were produced 1939-40 but considered "not fit for combat" (non bons de guerre) but they did see some action within Bloch 152-units, in "chimney flights" (local fighter units in the deep territory) and also with the Aéronavale, and they were replaced on the production lines by the much-improved Bloch 152, which certainly was able to put up a good fight in spite of still too weak an engine (max speed about 500 km/h like the Curtiss but the Bloch probably was more sluggish). The 152 was quite formidable against German bombers for it had a very powerful armament for the time : 2 excellent cannon and 2 light machine-guns, all in the wings. According to former pilots when they hit an AC it often disintegrated. German AC had very little armor at the time (109s had none). On May 10 the AA possessed a grand total of 363 Bloch 152s (production was continuing, about 500 were produced, then came the even more improved Bloch 155, which saw very little action.) The Morane 406 was a modern AC too but it really was obsolescent and its replacement by the D.520 was an urgent matter (1939 it was clearly better than the Me 109 D). Nevertheless it, too, put up a very good fight and downed hundreds of "Huns". Contrary to the usual legend Morane losses were not appalling. According to Paul Martin's 1991 figures, which are not entirely accurate, 99 Moranes were lost in air battle (and 24 to Flak, mostly in stupidly ordered low-level attacks) during the French Campaign; perhaps a total of 500-800 including replacement AC had been engaged. 67 Bloch 152s (and 2 Bloch 151s) were lost in air battles (about 400 (?) had been engaged) as well as 54 Curtisses and 46 D.520s (figure published by Martin in 2001); perhaps approx. 300 D.520s were engaged all in all, including replacement AC. "There was a war on, remember?". Of course you suffer some losses in a big war and they always hurt but this has been wildly exaggerated. The Morane was NOT the most numerous French first-line fighter any more on 10 May 1940 (it was overall by far the most numerous, especially in the rear, in fighter schools etc.) for more frontline-units were equipped with other types than with the Morane. One more unit to be exact, 3 more on 19 May etc.

Yes the D.520 was a superlative AC. About 100 were engaged on 3 June 1940, approx. 150-200 on 17 June (then they were ordered by the French government, like the Curtisses, to fly to French North Africa to avoid capture by the enemy). The D.520 is too well-known for me to insist now.

When you ask "what fighter type was the best in combat" it's NOT simple at all in this case. The 4 first Curtiss Groupes had been equipped 1938, long before the war started on 3 Sept. 1939, starting with 5th Escadre : GC I/5, GC II/5. Obviously the pilots had had plenty of opportunies to get accustomed to this new AC, which they liked, and to train air combat. A 5th Groupe was equipped with Curtisses in the middle of the campaign : GC III/2. GC does NOT mean "Groupe de combat", as many foreign authors think, but "Groupe de chasse" (chasse = hunting, hunt, fighters) (2-squadron fighter wing would be the closest RAF equivalent). On average they possessed 28 fighters but the actual figure reached 36 for the D.520 groupes.

So the French Curtiss pilots (except GC III/2) knew their AC perfectly well when the shooting started, they were able to get everything they could give. The Curtiss was best in no respect but it was mediocre or bad in no respect either, it was a good allround whole. 1939 it, too, was clearly better than the 109 D. Only the armamment was too light, which most pilots really bitterly lamented (including capitaine Accart although he won 12 confirmed victories but in 3 weeks only and he probably was one of the very best fighter pilots in the world). Morane pilots had the same advantage and even more but their AC was much more sluggish. You know how important it is that fighter pilots control their AC perfectly - most Morane-pilots certainly did and this was an advantage. Of course if they met German pilots who were a match but flying 109 Es they had a lot of problems and simple survival was one of these. Nevertheless Morane units often really triumphed and won many victories including on Me 109 Es (see book "Le Morane 406", published by Lela-Presse). There were some instances of heavy Morane (and Curtiss and Dewoitine...)losses caused by surprise, a tactical disadvantage etc. Such things always happened during WW II - even to Spitfires in the BoB and Mustangs over Germany.

GC I/3 pilots had had the advantage of flying the D.520 for a few months before starting to fight on 14 May. They won many victories but suffered rather heavy losses. Perhaps this was simply bad luck. Other units were re-equipped with D.520s as fast as possible : GC II/3 came back to the front on 19 May. GC II/7 including Werner Mölders' victor René Pomier Layrargues (this is the correct spelling of his name) used its 520s for the first time on 1 June, GC III/3 on 3 June. You can see at what breathtaking pace the small, fast, nimble fighters were being turned out.

Nevertheless most Dewoitine-pilots flew a superlative fighter but had had no time to get accustomed to it and were not able yet to get everything of its great possibilities. Some people say that some D.520 pilots flew her for the first time... in combat. The D.520 was faster than the 109 at high altitudes and it was markedly faster in a dive : "A 109 diving in front of a D.520 was dead", a pilot recalled. And this was precisely German pilots' favourite "evasive action" 1940 already, and still 1944-45. With a 520 on their tail some of them never had time to regret it.

All Dewoitine-units had been flying Moranes before.

Because it's all so complicated we can't say what AC was the best French fighter but what units were most successful and on average these were clearly the Curtiss units - in spite of the 6 light machine-guns and top speed of "only" about 500.
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  #6  
Old 29th January 2005, 12:04
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Hello Yves
Thanks for the informative reply to Ruy's question. I have forgot that there was also the 5th H75 Groupe (GC III/2). Not much to comment, I maybe don't have as high regard on D.520 than You, but there is one point I'd like to comment. Finns didn't see MS 406/410 "much more sluggish" than Curtiss Hawk H75A. Finns saw both as very manoeuvrable fighters even if H75 had exceptionally good ailerons. One problem with MS was that it didn't have positive undercarriage up locks and because of that sometimes undercarriage dropped out few cms in thight turns increasing drag which "hurts" because the a/c was already rather badly underpowered. But maybe You only want to indicate with you expression that MS 406 was even more underpowered than H75 and so poorer in vertical plane and in acceleration? If so, I agree. One point more on MS 406, Finns found it difficult to maintain, maybe partly because here up north enviroment was/is harsher during most of the year. Here in Helsinki it's -12 C and lightly snowing, so maybe time to go skiing.

Juha

PS Finns changed 1 or both H75's cowling mg(s) to heavy mg(s) as soon as they got enough heavy mgs. Mainly to pierce the pilot armour of Soviet a/c.
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Old 29th January 2005, 13:37
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Potez 631 and Morane 406, Curtiss armament (reply to Juha)

Potez 631 twin-engined fighter

A beautiful aeroplane !

According to Patrick Marchand (« Les ailes de gloire » n° 9 : Les Potez 63) Potez 631 fighters belonging to AA and Aéronavale shot down 29 German planes, which is not quite negligible. Of course this is unsatisfactory but this relative success was probably the effect of an excellent aircraft design and a powerful armament of 2 cannon under the fuselage (almost the same installation as in the Me 110 but the French cannon was excellent not the German MG FF). Later 4 light MGs were added under the wings of part of the AC. Nevertheless victories could have been much more numerous and losses much lower had this excellent AC been equipped with engines worthy of it. Engines were a permanent problem for the 1940 AA. It would probably have been solved a few months later.

According to Jean Danel and Raymond Cuny in their fabulous book on the French fighter arm (page 182) 199 Potez 631s were on strength (including with the Aéronavale, the French "Fleet Air Arm") on 10 May 1940.
==============
MS 406 - Juha -

Quote : << But maybe You only want to indicate with you expression that MS 406 was even more underpowered than H75 and so poorer in vertical plane and in acceleration? If so, I agree. >>

- YES, this is exactly what I meant. Nevertheles we should not forget that in the first months of WW II Morane 406s (together with their well-trained pilots) proved superior to the Me 109 D. The engine was not precisely weak (power was 860 ch) but the overall design (including the landing gear legs not locked in flight!) was partly obsolete, the fuselage cross section too big (not unlike the contemporary Hurricane), which means too much drag, the AC too heavy for the engine power.

It was mainly a matter of design : the Arsenal VG-33, which was designed several years later, had a top speed of 560 km/h with the same engine as the MS 406 (top speed 485 but often lower). In profile the VG-33 looked much like a rifle bullet.

Maneuverability is something else : the MS 406, like all French AC, was excellent in this respect. It was not good enough in acceleration and climb rate, as you thought.

The Curtiss' armament was a permanent problem at the time. Originally (in the USA) there were one heavy and one light machine-guns under the engine cowling. The French preferred a standardized armament comprised only of light MGs, which certainly was an error, but probably because the French AF didn't use ANY heavy MG, the French Army only few. Perhaps 3 different categories of fighter armament would have been a bit much for logistics (?). Except the very marginal Caudron CR.714 ("Non bon de guerre", not suited for combat!) all French fighters were SYSTEMATICALLY given as heavy an armament as possible including at least one cannon. So I'm unable to understand the Curtiss exception. Of course they couldn't have a cannon under the cowling but a total of up to 3 heavy MGs and 3 light ones would have been possible - a great improvement in firepower and, last but not least, RANGE. Capitaine Accart really lamented the insufficient firepower and even more the range of his armament. So to speak they had to risk their head (quite literally) to compensate for this when attacking German bombers : they had to come much too close for comfort and quite a few were shot down by the excellent German air-gunners because of that. Great ace Morel was killed after a week (on 18 May) by a bullet in his head, Accart very nearly had the very same fate already on 11 May 1940 (!) and he did get a MG-bullet between his eyes on 1 June while attacking a German bomber once more. He survived, very heavily wounded, only by chance and sheer luck. BEFORE WW II started he had asked for bullet-proof windscreens in due time... This proposal was not criticized but it was never implemented.
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Old 29th January 2005, 13:58
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French fighters : direct, short reply to Ruy

By Hawk-Eye (alias Y. Michelet) : the most successful French fighter?

In order to answer your question in a short and direct manner - I think you meant what AC was best independently of pilots, experience, circumstances etc. - obviously it was the Dewoitine D.520. Yes Juha it was REALLY good. Look at Danel and Cuny's book "Le Dewoitine D.520" very closely! It was much faster and climbed better than the Curtiss, and had one deadly cannon (Werner Mölders confirmed this when he reported how he was shot out of the sky by a 520, which he mistook for a "Morane").

The Curtiss was excellent actually but IIRC it was designed several years earlier than the D.520. France had already massively ordered the P-36's successor, the P-40, which was quite good by 1940 standards. Deliveries would have started 1940.

So the different French fighter types didn't quite belong to the same generation. It is even visible on the D.520, the horizontal stabilizer of which had NO struts contrary to both MS 406 and Me 109 E. CLearly aircraft design was making progress.

The D.520 was a more recent design and it was the best French fighter. More than 400 had been produced when the French Campaign ended (427 it seems) and several hundred were left, especially in North Africa, where they had been sent by Government order.
============================
Too bad we can't take into account the French fighter types which were "in the pipe" already but couldn't reach the first-line units in time, or just in time but too late (this was the case of the much-improved Bloch 155 : armored windshield, two belt-fed cannon, more powerful engine etc.). If the French territory could have been preserved like the British territory was, these superlative fighters would have cut the Luftwaffe to pieces already 1940 : Arsenal VG-33, 36 and 39 (I have no doubt that they would have proved themselves in combat), Dewoitine D.523, 524 and 551 (prototype flew at a speed of 702 km/h in 1939) and others. It has to be stressed that very fast, simple mass-production had already been planned and organised, especially at Dewoitine's, which was in a position to turn out D.520s, 523s and 524s (they got more and more powerful engines up to 1,200 ch and were faster and faster) at an "astounding rate", as a British author wrote about the 520 production. The D.520 had an engine power of 930 ch.
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  #9  
Old 29th January 2005, 20:37
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Hello Yves
thanks for the info on Potez 631 victories, it confirmed the info I had from one net site (17 for Adl'A and 12 for the Aéronavale). In my old Profile there isn't that piece of info.

Juha
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Old 29th January 2005, 23:51
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Actually the Les Ailes de Gloire series is very nice, combined with Docavia and Avions/Jet they give a nice coverage, but compared to the latter they are very affordable.
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