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Old 2nd October 2019, 16:25
rof120 rof120 is offline
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French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940

The scores of French fighter pilots (not the aces only) are a difficult field of research. A few months ago a TOCH-member, meaning well, honestly posted his version of “French aces’ decimal scores”. Unfortunately this version and similar ones are wrong, often strongly biased (not in this case) with various aims.

The origin of the problem is the decision of the Armée de l’Air to award one full victory to all fighter pilots who took part in the destruction of an enemy aircraft. I suppose that after they returned to base the formation leader decided what members of his formation should be awarded one victory. In most cases all the pilots thus selected had fired at the E/A – possibly without inflicting any serious damage or even without scoring any hits – but having opened fire was not mandatory: pilots who had flown top cover (which demanded good, experienced pilots and was the most dangerous part in the case of an attack by enemy fighters and not as satisfactory as taking part in the destruction of an E/A) were considered just as useful in this air battle as those who had actually scored hits.

This is why presumably hundreds of French fighter pilots were awarded at least one victory, often several ones (in 5-6 weeks), even without having been instrumental in the destruction of the corresponding E/A, from September 3, 1939, through June 24, 1940. The scores of Free-French fighter pilots from July 1940 through May 8, 1945, are an entirely different matter. The two French top-scorers, Clostermann in the West (England-France-Netherlands-Germany) and Albert (they don’t pronounce the t) with the Soviet Air Force, are credited with about 20-23 victories including fractions. Interestingly both Clostermann and Albert (as a Free French) started scoring first 1943. Albert had won one victory 1940. Demozay (more recently “discovered”) is credited with about 20 in the West, slightly behind Clostermann. These scores were calculated according to RAF or Soviet rules. When applying the FRENCH rules even to those pilots who had not fought 1939-June 40 Clostermann’s score reaches 33 + 5 probables but many people dispute a few of his victories (not a massive part – 11-12 less – as the late CJE did). According to this same French system Albert scored 23 + 2, Demozay 21 + 2. Interestingly the 4th highest score of this kind was achieved by Pierre Le Gloan (18 + 3, of which 11 + 1 were won 1939-June 40). But, as already mentioned, victories won entirely or partly after June 1940 are off topic.

I asked the late French general Jean-Mary Accart, one of the greatest Allied fighter pilots, not only a top-scorer but above all an exceptional air force officer and combat leader, why this “multi-victor” rule was adopted. 1939-40 he was a capitaine and led the by very far most successful “escadrille” among the 53 French escadrilles having taken part in the fighting. (A French escadrille corresponded exactly to a German Staffel of 12 and more or less to a British squadron of 16, of which at most 12 flew at the same time. Accart led an “escadrille” of 12 fighters of the type Curtiss H-75 (export version of the Curtiss P-36); a maximum of 9 of these fighters flew at the same time, the 3 others, or more, being in reserve or undergoing maintenance or repairs).

He seemed not to have thought about this question before (presumably because he considered this rule just fair and because he, too, had accepted and applied it at the time) and he tried to find an explanation: he replied “Well… in this way there was no jealousy…”. Obviously he had always found this all right, which is interesting because he was himself “THE” perfect officer, leader and fighter pilot: he never tried to reach – no matter how - even more victories than he did (12, all shared, + 4) but to make his unit as a whole as effective and as successful as possible. He achieved this goal very brilliantly and with great distinction even though he very nearly was killed when he received a German machine-gun bullet exactly between his eyes on June 1st, 1940, fired at close range (about 100 meters or yards) while he once more was attacking a Heinkel 111 with too weak an armament of six light machine-guns which had much too low a punch and range.

This happened exactly after half the French Campaign had elapsed so he missed the fighting, and more victory opportunities, from June 2 through 17 for he was very heavily wounded. The French Campaign ended on June 25 slightly after 00 hours but the French government had ordered all aircraft which had the range to fly to French North Africa in order to avoid capture by the Germans and save the best aircraft. For fighters this meant all units equipped with Dewoitine 520s (about two hundred aircraft) or Curtiss H-75s (about 150).

Interestingly in his big book “The Battle of France Then and Now” (released 2008), aka TBOFTN, Peter Cornwell credits Accart with no less than three (3) more confirmed victories during the “Phoney War” and the French Campaign. Cornwell’s book contains a good alphabetical index which makes it easy to find all mentioned victories won by Accart. I think 2 of these 3 were considered “probables” before. This raises Accart’s score to 15 certain victories, including at least 12 in 3 weeks, making him the 2nd French top-scorer of 1939-1940 and possibly the first one (it would be too long to elaborate on this). This simple example, among many others, shows that French fighter pilots did NOT overclaim in the proportions given by some people but often UNDERclaimed.

I am giving all these details in order to show that Accart, among others, was an expert and knew what he was talking about. By the way, this man was incredibly modest, which is well-known in France. He would never have claimed anything without being sure. Some misguided geniuses, admiring (almost) exclusively the German pilots and their often astronomical scores, laugh at Accart, remarking that he didn’t win one single victory alone. Doing so they just show that they don’t understand much of fighter combat (even though they pretend to do so), especially within the French Air Force 1939-40 and in May-June 1940. OF COURSE these pilots were perfectly able to shoot down an E/A entirely alone if they so wished, like their counterparts in all other air forces, but in most cases they preferred team-work. More on this a little later, right here.

These 3 “new” victories credited by Peter Cornwell on the basis of French and German evidence show that 1939-40 French scores were NOT the result of the wild overclaiming which was usual within the Luftwaffe and the RAF. The latter did not confirm any victories and their pilots could claim whatever they fancied and they did. In my eyes this was a modest reward for very young men who were risking their lives, and often lost them, as soon as they were airborne and sometimes on the ground.

Now, misguided and often hostile persons the names of whom I prefer to forget (I think most of them are poorly informed French people) rushed forward and took the numerous French multi-pilot victories as a welcome pretext to sardonically and gleefully claim that in France all fighter pilots’ scores were added, resulting in a ridiculously inflated grand total of approximately 735, 991 or 1,009 (perhaps 1,005), depending on sources. They never gave any evidence to this claim, which is evidence enough that it is unserious.

Of course the above claim is perfectly wrong. If all the individual scores are added (everybody can do this) we’ll not find about 700-1,000 but approximately 3,000 to 4,000 (this is only a provisional evaluation).
The so-clever critics add, even more gleefully, that those French victories which were won by more than one unit (in this case this means the Groupes de chasse or GC; this abbreviation does NOT mean “Groupes de combat”, as many Englishmen believe) were counted several times, at least twice. They never gave any evidence of this either and it is wrong too; in any case these were only about 20-25 victories as compared to 700-1,000 but I repeat this claim is wrong. Likewise a few victories were won by both British and French fighters fighting side by side. Such victories were so few (only a few ones) that we don’t need to take them into account in our assessment.

Now, how can I claim that they did NOT add all pilots’ scores to know the grand total for the whole French fighter arm? This is simple but possibly hard to understand to people who are accustomed to the German and British systems only and are not used to the French procedure of 1939-40.

French Air HQ obviously took the question of victories and their official confirmation very seriously. They didn’t want, or understand, any funny business here. In order to get an official confirmation for a victory you had to follow a whole meticulous administrative procedure: it was not simple. In fighter units everybody was aware of this (fighter pilots even more) and of the fact that it was rather hopeless to file unserious or unproven claims.

So victories were checked already in the minds of the very pilots who had won them. Oh yes overclaiming did occur “like in all air forces”, as simplistic, poorly informed people use to claim. No the overclaim-rate was not at all the same in all air forces, this is not true. Experts know that there were great differences and that the most reliable claims were Finnish and… French. Well, overclaiming did happen sometimes (not all the time like with the RAF) but the reverse too: detailed, serious studies show that UNDERclaiming did occur too, in particular among French fighter pilots. I guess their claims – in good faith – were lowered by their fear to be considered unserious or an eager overclaimer. Contrary to RAF fighter pilots during the Battle of Britain (many were amateurs and “Sunday fliers”) almost all French fighter pilots were well-trained, experienced PROFESSIONALS and they didn’t fancy be considered unserious and have negative comments in their personal files – they were thinking of their continued career too. On top of this all fighter pilots were very serious about victories and they hated anybody who dared knowingly overclaim. A famous ace told me this.

The next hurdle was the “escadrille” leader (corresponding a Flight Lt with the RAF), almost always a capitaine (sometimes a lieutenant) and a great professional expert. He, too, didn’t fancy be considered unserious. It didn’t fit into his career to be considered unserious in any way, and he disliked overclaiming anyway.

Immediately after the chef d’escadrille (or Flight Lt) came the actual CO of the unit. This unit was the Groupe de chasse or GC with two escadrilles (flights of 12 each) equipped with a total of 24 (more often 26) to 36 fighters, more or less corresponding a German Jagdgruppe or two RAF squadrons. The CO of a French GC was almost always a commandant (corresponding an RAF Squadron Leader) with only two exceptions (capitaines) and, contrary to both his chefs d’escadrilles, he was not expected to take part in the fighting but to organize and lead his unit and see to it that everything was all right: airfield locations, petrol, oil, spare parts, ground crews, replacement aircraft, repairs, the hated paperwork, defence against air and ground attacks etc. In a nutshell, he had the overall responsibility for his groupe.

Most commandants couldn’t resist the temptation – after all they were fighter pilots – and sometimes they did take part in the fighting with corresponding losses: about 30 % were killed in 6 weeks only… Some hateful people still today claim that French fighter pilots would not fight and even flew a course opposite to the course leading to battle. Just look at the REAL number of victories (my evaluation is above 800 mainly in 5 weeks) and of killed pilots (about 160 and over 140 wounded totalling over 300 among 735 pilots, possibly 1,000 including replacements during the campaign). Polish and Czech fighter pilots who fought within the French air force gave a very good account of themselves, which was confirmed by the continuation battle over England, and some of them were killed in action over France.

The COs of GCs fancied even less than their pilots and both their chefs d’escadrilles to look unserious. Obviously they were fully professional officers and they did mind their continued career within the Air Force, even after the war (they didn’t know it would last for 5 more years). The victory claims were filtered and judged by them, and they knew that HQ, which gave confirmations or not, had other sources to do so: AA and Army units, German wrecks etc. It must be admitted that they often simply hadn’t the time to do this paperwork properly but I repeat that this matter was a very serious one within the Armée de l’Air. They did as best they could so, as a whole, French victory claims must be considered very serious albeit not infallible. Most were never confirmed, or much later, because this procedure took at least weeks if not months (same thing in Germany) and the fighting was over after only 46 days (approx. 6.6 weeks). © Nobody nullifies tens of thousands of German victories (1939-1945) just because they still were not officially confirmed by RLM after 2 weeks ! © (the end)

Now- what about French shared victories, shared between 2 to 16 pilots? 16 did happen but this is very unusual. In most cases a victory was shared by 2 to 4-6 pilots. In some cases it was decided that only one pilot would get credit for it even if several pilots had taken part in the fight but the main victor had played a clearly decisive part.

To be continued
Old 3rd October 2019, 12:33
MW Giles MW Giles is offline
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Re: French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940

You seek to cast the mot from my eye regarding French claims but fail to see the beam in your own regarding the RAF and Luftwaffe. Interesting.

Old 4th October 2019, 22:18
keith A keith A is offline
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Re: French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940

I have never understood the French decision to allow a victory for a member of a patrol even if they did not engage the enemy. This happened in WW1 too. I suspect morale was more a factor than accuracy but it was not an addition to air intelligence . The claims regarding the RAF and LW (not the Japanese, USAAF, USMC and USN?) is overstated. By the end of the war the RAF was making much more accurate assessments and endeavoured (for intelligence purposes) to make correct assessments throughout the war.
Old 5th October 2019, 08:02
keith A keith A is offline
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Re: French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940

I should add that the French method of awarding victories nevertheless was far more accurate in WW1 than that used by the British commonwealth. Although the British would argue that their scout/fighters fought most of their combats some distance behind German lines where damaged enemy aircraft could land safely, and therefore credits were awarded on a more loose framework.

On the subject of the perception of French pilots by their allies, I have not read of British pilots making comments but Jan Zumbach (Polish) was very disparaging of those he met. The times bred strong opinions. The Poles seem to have under-claimed in their brief 1939 campaign, I have no doubt the French may have too by only attributing confirmed kills among several pilots when it may be several enemy aircraft were hit and damaged by pilots but just one confirmed destroyed. British over-claiming in France and the Battle of Britain was heavy but in many instances the result of several pilots claiming the same aircraft oblivious of damage inflicted by another friendly fighter. Irrespective of whatever nationality "Aces" over-claim because the individual wants to enhance their reputation and match it against others. On the subject of reputation Billy Bishop was immensely popular among his squadron-mates in WW1 despite his massive over-claiming, and therefore there are no fast rules on this. Rivals may dislike each other for displaying exactly the same attitude to "kills"as they hold themselves.


Old 7th October 2019, 18:54
rof120 rof120 is offline
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French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940

Hello Keith and all other fascinated readers!
Thanks Keith for your well-balanced, interesting comments. Too bad I am very short of time during the present period (tax office, dentist, you know, all these pleasures of life), but I’ll try to give you some replies which make sense and to continue with my explanations, for the core of the matter has still to come.

4th October 2019, 22:18
keith A

I have never understood the French decision to allow a victory for a member of a patrol even if they did not engage the enemy.

- Well, I feel they did as a matter of fact, but to varying degrees. I think it was not exceptional that some pilot(s) were credited with a victory even if they had ”only” flown top cover (which was very dangerous) and never opened fire (no doubt they would strongly have preferred to use their guns too). From the French point of view of the time all members of the formation (varying from 2 to about 40 fighters, very often 6, 9, 15, 27 and sometimes even about 40; formations of 9 or 27 were very common) were members of a team and it was this team which had the task of destroying enemy aircraft, not at all especially the leader or some other experienced pilot. Often, a fighter pilot, even an NCO, who was known as an experienced man and good in combat, led a formation which included some officer(s); rank was not the decisive element. Accart, again, gave an excellent example of this attitude: he wanted HIS ESCADRILLE to perform well, not necessarily himself. And if his unit proved itself in combat it was good for him too. (He was an outstanding pilot and a much-respected man already within the French AF).

Keith : I suspect morale was more a factor than accuracy

- Both were. Clearly the rule about « collective victories » had the aim of giving even the ordinary pilot – like a young NCO or even a young officer fresh from a training unit – satisfaction and of enhancing or protecting morale. Decorations followed victories quickly, in most cases a « Croix de Guerre » (War Cross) « avec (with) palme ». The Croix de Guerre could be obtained several times, the highest number for 1940 being, I think, 16 for Lieutenant. Edmond Marin la Meslée. They didn’t get one more cross every time but one palm was added instead (like bars to the DFC), hence the long ribbons sporting numerous miniature palms worn on official occasions (together with the other decorations won by the same man). Receiving this decoration, even once only, was certainly effective to boost morale. It corresponded exactly to the German Eisernes Kreuz II. Klasse (Iron Cross), which, too, was awarded to a pilot for one victory (red ribbon on a button of the tunic), but only once I think. Following victories were counted at HQ, a total of 6 or 7 resulting in the award of the EK I. Klasse.

Keith : but it was not an addition to air intelligence

- Here I feel I have to contradict you. All French pilots present on the scene of an air battle knew they would possibly receive the credit for one victory plus a Croix de Guerre, so they opened their eyes even better (if possible) and, anyway, there was always a debriefing after landing and they knew it. In this way several pairs of eyes, or numerous pairs, looked exactly at what happened. ”Zeugen” (”Witnesses”), as the Luftwaffe called them (they were very important for German confirmations).

(...)By the end of the war the RAF was making much more accurate assessments and endeavoured (for intelligence purposes) to make correct assessments throughout the war.

-Oh yes, I am aware of this.Using cameras and film footage says a lot. But it is not true of 1939-1940, possibly 1941 and 1942, so, as my brother used to put it, they had pretensions ”like a drunk woman”. Remember the famous air battle on 11 May 1940 when five ”Hurricanes” of 1 Squadron RAF clashed with Me 110s of ZG 76 if I remember corretly. These British pilots claimed no less than 11 Me 110s shot down : 3 pilots claimed 2 (and this was very unlikely), one claimed 3 (!) and, IIRC, 2 claimed one each. F/O Paul Richey, a very likeable man and aviator, was shot down, baled out and claimed 2 (see his book ”Fighter Pilot”). Today everybody agrees that 2 (two) 110s were lost so the overclaim rate was 5.5, which confirms my own research and conclusion (decades ago) that 1940 RAF fighter pilots overclaimed by a factor of 5. Much later I discovered that a well-known British expert, John Foreman, had come to the same conclusion: an overclaim rate of 5, but he reached this result by another method than mine (see his book ”RAF Victory Claims”). I can’t remember the details and the relevant books are still in a box.

keith A

Keith : I should add that the French method of awarding victories nevertheless was far more accurate in WW1 than that used by the British commonwealth. Although the British would argue that their scout/fighters fought most of their combats some distance behind German lines where damaged enemy aircraft could land safely, and therefore credits were awarded on a more loose framework.

- Yes many victories were won where there could be no official confirmation. French pilot René Fonck reported after the war (and certainly during the war) that he often prowled over and near German airfields and shot down numerous aircraft there but he never got any confirmation (this would have been easy after the war with the help of German documents). So Fonck was by far the actual top ace of WW I, far above famous Richthofen (80), for he scored 75 confirmed victories and survived; he died long after WW TWO.

Keith : On the subject of the perception of French pilots by their allies, I have not read of British pilots making comments

- They hardly fought side by side, each Allied air force having their own sectors and their own missions (except perhaps in the battle of Sedan, especially on May 14, 1940, and probably a few others), so British and French fighter pilots were rarely able to watch each other. I remember one instance, in Brian Cull’s book « Twelve Days in May” I think, where French fighters were escorting some British light bombers which were attacked by 109s « but the French fighters chased the 109s away », or something of this kind (this book, too, is still in a box). Regrettably BC wrote te following too : « As a diplomat (???) said, (The exhausted) French fighter pilots did not push their attacks with the last ounce of energy ». This is perfect nonsense. Dozens of them were killed, and even more shot down – killed or not – by German rear-gunners only, precisely because they were pushing their attacks beyond reasonable (or safe) limits. This is even more valid of French pilots flying the Curtiss H-75 (alias export P-36) for this good fighter carried only 4 or 6 light machine-guns (7,5 mm) which did not have the necessary punch and range so they had to come much too close for comfort. The decision to remove the .50 calibre machine-gun mounted, together with a .303 MG, on the engine-cowling of the 1938-1940 P-36 Curtiss, was taken by French HQ but they didn’t realize it was a disastrous decision for only this .50 gun and the superlative French cannon HS 9 or HS 404 (later adopted by the RAF) had the range to attack German bombers, and other E/A, safely. Air HQ certainly wanted to avoid multiple ammo calibres within the French AF, which was using the excellent Hispano-Suiza 20 mm cannon too, so the .50 gun would have added one more calibre but it would have been a thousand times worth the small effort and burden.

As it was numerous French fighter pilots were killed or badly wounded because of this, including, among others, two very great aces : sergent-chef François Morel (killed by German bullets in his head on May 18 after 10 victories (won alone or not) in 8 days) and famous capitaine Jean Accart, later a top-ranking general, who was almost killed by a bullet in his head already on May 11 (it missed only by a few millimeters (about 1/8 of an inch at most) and made exactly the same experience again, as I explained in my first post here already, on June 1st (11 days later – he had had time to think), receiving a German MG-bullet exactly between his eyes and surviving – after having baled out – by the skin of his broken teeth (he hit the tailplane when leaving his aircraft). These two instances are no exception, there are many others. Well, perhaps Brian Cull’s nameless diplomat was right to a certain extent, when the leader of a French fighter formation chose not to attack bombers because return fire was all too dangerous, and experience proved this decision to be right: it didn’t make any sense to perhaps win one victory at the cost of several fighters and several pilots killed or badly wounded. In such cases it was better to live another day and atack E/A with a vengeance. Some pilots from all countries did not take this into account and attacked in any case, and often paid with their lives.

Keith:… but Jan Zumbach (Polish) was very disparaging of those he met.

- Zumbach was a very good fighter pilot I think.
The Polish pilots were considered very good by the French but strangely some of them – not all of them – really HATE(D) France and the French. Well, I’d say this is their private fun and pleasure and they’d better HATE nazi Germany. I guess they were very disappointed when they arrived in France but were not given Dewoitine D.520s immediately. Not even the best French units had got D.520s yet and the first units fighting with these superb aircraft were GC I/3 on 13 May 1940 (after months of training in Cannes on the Mediterrenean Sea) and II/3 on 15 May, then GC II/7 around June 1st. Polish pilots were members of at least GC II/7. In England they didn’t get any Spitfires before 1941. It is not true that the worst worn-out fighters, mostly Morane 406s coming from fighter schools, were reserved for the Poles but it seems that Zumbach at the start had bad luck in this respect. He flew mainly with various „chimney flights“ which often were hastily improvised units with few pilots and miscellenaous fighters, mostly not the best ones, of different origins (the aircraft factory nearby or some fighter school etc.). I guess if he had flown a Dewoitine 520 with GC I/3 he would have been full of praise for the French and rightly so. At the end he even flew the superlative and very rare Arsenal VG-33 (only 10 were produced before the collapse) but some people are simply rancourous.

I’d like to add that there was an official Polish air force in France 1940 and that fighters flown by Poles displayed a big Polish flag on both sides of the fuselage, replacing the French cocarde! Within the RAF Poland and Polish pilots never enjoyed such privileges. The pilots painted SMALL Polish flags but on the nose of their fighters. They never were allowed to replace the British fuselage roundels by the Polish flag. So if they absolutely want to hate people they ought to choose the British not the French, who just gave them the fighters they had including the best types: Curtiss H-75 and D.520. Many Morane 406s were left (but less than half the fighter strength in May 1940) but most pilots of these were French.

I would be grateful for all information on Jan Zumbach in France 1939-40. I hardly know anything on him except what was published in a few French magazine issues like „avions“.

Keith: (…) I have no doubt the French may have too by only attributing confirmed kills among several pilots when it may be several enemy aircraft were hit and damaged by pilots but just one confirmed destroyed.

- Not quite: in many cases only one E/A was shot down but the rule of one victory credited to several pilots was applied in many cases. Every single E/A s/d was counted.

Keith: British over-claiming in France and the Battle of Britain was heavy but in many instances the result of several pilots claiming the same aircraft oblivious of damage inflicted by another friendly fighter.

- Oh yes, this seems to have been commonplace among fighter pilots of all countries. Frankly, in many cases it was impossible to know that an E/A had been mortally hit already so these claims were filed in good faith. It seems that most French COs (of Groupes de Chasse) were aware of this trap, filtered all the claims and compared them to each other. This certainly avoided a number of such errors. At least 1940 victory claims were not checked and not confirmed within the RAF. This didn’t really matter. What did was to actually shoot down the Huns. The Armée de l'Air did just that very effectively, contrary to what most people believe still today, in France too : they imagine that French fighters were largely ineffective or absent. This is a big, very BIG error.

In May-June 1940 German fighter pilots knew better and they feared French fighters much more than British ones. See for example JG 2 and JG 3. I recommend a book very strongly : Kampfgeschwader 27, by Walter (?) Waiss, volume 1 covering the 1940 French Campaign. This book is interesting because I feel 1940 this unit had a typical activity for a German bomber unit (about 80 bombers, He 111s in the case of KG 27). Page after page describes the numerous missions flown over France and how these German bombers often were shot to pieces by French fighters, all the time (but not on all missions). Sometimes „Hurricanes“ were called „Moranes“, the reverse probably occurred too in spite of the very different armament of both types, but were German crews informed at all about such differences? Doubtful.

I wanted to explain (today) why the French victory system was very good and why melting collective victories together to get decimal scores is wrong but unfortunately it’s late now and I have to stop. Perhaps tomorrow. Be good in the meantime all of you.

Last edited by rof120; 10th October 2019 at 15:54.
Old 11th October 2019, 18:08
rof120 rof120 is offline
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END of: French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940


Now, why did I write that this French system of crediting a full victory to all fighter pilots who more or less had taken part was a good system ?

I can only try to guess why it was created in the first place. Possibly we can find the explanation in the French AF archive. My guess is that, as we already mentioned, a morale booster (if necessary) was intended. There was – or so I think – something else: at Air HQ they wanted as many enemy aircraft as possible shot down or at least heavily damaged. « Damaged » was not enough. For the very few marksmen (like in all other air forces) this was no problem, they often opened fire at short range and always scored hits, or they did so even at long range, in both cases hitting something vital like the engine(s), the pilot, the tank, the controls or whatever. But about 97-98 % of all fighter pilots (in all countries) were no marksmen and most missiles were shot all over the place, into the sky or into the ground. I understand only 2-3 % of their bullets or shells hit the E/A. Sometimes they were lucky and caused heavy damage. Besides, the French Air HQ always tried to give their aircraft as massive a firepower as possible: even all modern French bombers (made in France: LeO 45, Amiot 351-354, Breguet 693 etc., not those made in the USA like Douglas DB-7 and Glenn-Martin 167F) carried one cannon, often supplemented by one or two light machine-guns mounted onto the cannon itself (or this was being prepared). Likewise all French-made fighters had one or two 20 mm cannon plus machine-guns, giving them an excellent firepower, which was a great advantage in combat. Bloch 152 fighters had a radial engine which made it impossible to have an axial cannon so they got one in each wing for symmetry, and two light MG in the wings too. Many French fighters (Dewoitine 510 etc.) were cannon-armed already years before WW II broke out so French fighter pilots were used to firing a cannon and, if possible, to score hits with it. The best marksmen before the war were mostly the best marksmen in combat too, like Plubeau (ace n° 2 or possibly 1), Accart and others.

But it seems that HQ people knew that – in many cases - even one or two excellent cannon, in the hands of the ordinary, or average, fighter pilot, wouldn’t be enough to down a bomber. In any case they wanted a maximum of firepower to bear on E/A and this could be achieved only if using the guns of SEVERAL FIGHTERS. It seems that even inflicting heavy damage was not satisfactory, they wanted certain destruction. So before WW II French fighter pilots trained attacks as a team too: several pilots, or all of them if no attack by enemy fighters was to be expected, attacked one after the other and fired. French veterans often used the word „noria“ when describing their fights (a succession of fighters coming in one after the other, then taking the last place in the queue again etc., sometimes several times like this if the German bomber was all too tough.). The whole procedure was repeated as often as necessary, or until they had spent all their ammunition, possibly keeping a reserve in the case of an emergency (109s…). A pilot, including the formation or unit leader or the best marksman, normally did not hesitate to give way and fly to the side and to the end of the queue (or file) so that the next one could have a go too etc., instead of insisting on remaining in attack position and firing until the very last split second. Exceptions were certainly possible. So in many air battles the enemy aircraft was not only attacked by, for example, one Morane firing one cannon and two machine-guns, but by up to nine Moranes using nine cannon and eighteen machine-guns, which made the destruction of this E/A much more likely.

This procedure had several great advantages : every pilot including very green ones increased his combat experience much quicker and with a comparatively low risk, fired his guns in anger at a real enemy and had the chance to increase his proficiency. Several witnesses were able to give details on inflicted damage during debriefing and to confirm that an E/A had been shot down, nobody felt he was at a disadvantage because one or a few primadonnas – the stars, or the commanding officers - wanted all the fun and the glory for themselves (this was the case within the Luftwaffe with its very different system "one man-one Victory" – no collective or shared victories), and the leader was in a better position to watch his pilots in action and see how they fared, which gave him the possibility to give them some good pieces of advice (like « don’t open fire too far away » or « take a better aim and fly steady before you fire », etc.). Inexperienced pilots became much more confident and reliable, they had the joy of shooting at the enemy and often of scoring hits, they felt they were not alone in the sky but were members of a team, a combat team, and they often were credited with victories and received decorations. All this was excellent for morale, « esprit de corps » and solidarity within the unit. There is no reason to laugh at these pilots and their scores, as many Frenchmen, too, use to do because they simply don't understand. War is a serious matter not a toy for stupid children or old youngsters: the aim was to reliably DESTROY enemy aircraft - as many as possible. This aim was achieved.

It remains open to discussion whether French Air HQ were right when insisting on complete destruction of enemy aircraft (no pilot was credited with « damaged » aircraft ; there were only victories and probable victories) but it worked : French fighters claimed « victoires sûres » on 90 Do 17s, 124 He 111s, 13 of the still rare Ju 88s and 12 Do 215s, not including the probables so they claimed certain victories on: 227 twin-engined bombers and 12 other twin-engined AC plus 56 Me 110s and 162 Me 109s (the most frequently shot down aircraft type). Certainly part of the victims were misidentified including Me 110s claimed as Do 17s and conversely but this doesn’t matter much. The total number of « victoires certaines » was 594 according to Paul Martin in the book "Invisibles vainqueurs" (1991). I feel the real number is rather over 800 including, for example, E/A which crashed during their return flight or on landing, or came back to base but had to be scrapped. These figures do NOT include about 70-73 victories won during the « Phoney War » (September 1939 through May 9, 1940, see the book "Fledgling Eagles" by Christopher Shores et al).

An article in the German weekly « Der Spiegel » (The Mirror), some years ago, medntioned a total of almost 1,500 Luftwaffe AC destroyed from May 10 through June 24, 1940, including during the Norwegian Campaign (which was rather a side-show in this respect but losses did happen and most victims – a few dozen – were s/d by British fighters or by AA, a few by SWEDISH AAA defending the country’s airspace and neutrality ; Bofors is a city in Sweden where the firm « Bofors » is to be found, and the world-famous 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun was made there, near the northern shore of the very large lake Vänern in southern Sweden and including roughly 200, mainly Ju 52s carrying paratroopers, destroyed by the wonderful Dutch AAA and field artillery (like at Rotterdam-Waalhaven airport), a few by Dutch fighters. Add the victims of all Allied AA – how many ? This is very hard to say but about 200 should be a reasonable evaluation. Many people claim that the rest, let us say 1,000 to be safe (not 800 as many people claim), was s/d to equal parts by the French and British air forces.

This is nonsense for French fighters shot down many, many more German AC than did British fighters (for the moment we can neglect – without forgetting it – the contribution of all Allied air-gunners flying in bombers etc.).
How dare I contradict virtually everyone including all experts and so-called "experts"? Firstly it is all too easy and oversimplistic to say, "The French and British air forces were there at the same time. Logically, and to be fair, both are to be credited with approximately the same number of victories." This is perfect nonsense. There is a special period however : the Dunkerque evacuation. From June 26 through June 3 RAF 11 Group fighters (based in South-East England) claimed at the time, if I remember correctly, about 400 victories for about 90 German losses. This is not bad at all, taking the difficult conditions into account. See Peter Cornwell’s book TBOFTN (my copy is still buried in some box). During the same period French fighters claimed 53 „victoires sûres“ including 22 onMay 26 (of which 11 were Me 109s), 9 on June 1st and 17 on June 3. My evaluation is rather near 70. On this last day the Dunkerque evacuation was still going on (French troops having been evacuated for a few days at last) but the Luftwaffe launched a powerful attack (with hundreds of aircraft) in the Paris area, which was a relief to the evacuating ships and troops at Dunkerque.

Apart from this very special period at Dunkerque the brunt of fighter operations was carried by the Armée de l’Air. On May 10, 1940 (start of the German onslaught) Britain had 6 squadrons of 16 AC each (including a few dozen « Gladaitor » biplanes for a short time) based in France, totalling 96 fighters. France had 912 fighters in first-line units including 100 lesser twin-engined fighters Potez 630 or 631 (cannon-armed too) which were much too slow because of engines with insufficient power. These Potez fighters shot down about 15-20 German aircraft. Let us concentrate on the (approximately) 810 first-line single-engined fighters of the Armée de l’Air. IIRC this was about 200 more than the whole of RAF Fighter Command, be it in Britain or in France. Clearly this contradicts the usual legend, propagated by incompetent amateurs and by British « historians » who did not even bother to inform themselves before printing nonsense, of a hardly existing French fighter arm. It had been given top priority by government for several years. The much-criticized fighter Morane-Saulnier MS 406 was clearly obsolescent by May 1940 but it was certainly not useless for it shot down several hundred German aircraft. It equipped slightly less than half the French fighter units. Mainly its speed and climbing rate were far from satisfactory and it was handicapped mainly against the excellent Me 109 Es but which other Allied aircraft was not, hey? Apart from the superlative but still rare ”Spitfire” and the superlative (too) Dewoitine D.520 which had just started (in April) equipping first-line units and was being produced in large quantities, ”at the astounding rate of one per hour”, as ”Flying” (RAF Review) put it IIRC. GC I/3 was engaged on May 13 with 34 D.520s and GC II/3 on May 15 with 34 too. GC II/7 followed around June 1st, so that about 100 superlative D.520 fighters were on the rampage about June 1st, a very effective force, taking their qualities into account. Those who triumphantly claim that France had got only 30 D.520s during this Campaign have no idea. The production of D.520s and also of Bloch 152s, then Bloch 155s, rose every day. About 400 D.520 had been delivered at the end of the Campaign and production was still rising all the time. RAF Fighter Command probably hadn't received so many "Spitfires" at the end of June, rather about 200 (I still have to check on the exact figure). To sum up, on May 10, 1940 France had about 8 times more fighters in this country than did the UK so it is perfectly normal that French fighters shot down much more enemy AC than did the RAF. The contrary would be surprising.

Remember the title of a British book published by Brian Cull: ”Twelve Days in May”, which tells the British view of Hurricane operations over the continent in May 1940 with magic numbers of victories (never reviewed, never confirmed). So the "Hurricanes" stayed for 12 days not 46 like the French (almost 4 times longer). More Hurricane squadrons were sent to France a few days after May 10 but they suffered combat losses so high that their total number hardly rose or possibly sank. The French AF suffered high losses too but inflicted the same treatment to the Luftwaffe and aircraft production was becoming high at last (for fighters several times higher than in Germany, same thing for the British production, which was strongly rising too). Two months earlier (at least in France) would have been perfect...

And now what about those collective victories won by several French fighters on one single E/A ? As I already explained each fighter pilot including unit leaders and aces hardly hesitated to give way so that the following pilots in the file could have a go too and so on. They knew they were losing nothing for each pilot having taken part in the victory would be credited with one victory in any case. This was considered more effective than having every German AC attacked by one single fighter, which was true. In particular great aces like Accart, Marin la Meslée or Dorance (and many others) turned away from their victims and came back to attack it again only if it was necessary.

In May-June 1940 the top-scoring French aces won 10-16 victories (plus the probable ones). I don’t think that applying the German rule « one man for one victory » (each victory was credited to one pilot only, no matter how many pilots had scored hits) would have changed these scores significantly. Or rather, they might have been even higher, something like 15-20 victories , all won alone, because the great aces could have concentrated on shooting down E/A instead of helping lesser pilots, often beginners or very young ones, and teaching them how to do that.

It is useless to calculate 1940 French scores according to RAF rules which were applied years later in the war! A victory won by a French ace together with 3 more pilots is not 1/4 or 0.25 victory, it is 1 (one) full victory. A least the best French fighter pilots were, just like their counterparts from other countries, perfectly able to shoot down aircraft all alone and without any help. It is wrong to consider them lesser fighter pilots because they allowed others to « share » their victories, quite on the contrary. This system yielded excellent results, contrary to what incompetent amateurs claim and clamour. There is no reason to believe that especially French fighter pilots were not as good as British ones (on the contrary: 1940 they were better) or German ones (with reservation for the precious combat experience won by many of them in Spain and in Poland).

I mentioned already that the best evidence for this is the opinion of German fighter pilots, for example of JG 2 and 3. and of German bomber crews, who all feared French fighters very much, and rightly so. As a JG 2 veteran put it, "80 % of our victories were French and 80 % of our losses were inflicted by the French." JG 3 considered British fighter pilots brave sportsmen but rather awkward in combat and they did not fear them much. They did fear the French fighter pilots, often die-hards, who were good and tough, and whose combat formation and tactics were a lot better. These two German fighter units totalled about 200 Me 109s. There is no reason to think that the other JGs, totalling about 800 other Me 109s, made different experiences with enemy fighters.

Calculating hyper-accurate decimal scores like, for example, 7.36 victoires or even 7.3652 is useless nonsense, a pure illusion with a precision of one hundreth of a victory (!!!) and, in this example, a relative precision of one to 736 or 0.001358... . Everybody, even non-scientists, is able to see that this cannot be serious. Giving fighter pilots' scores with a presicion of one hundreth of one Victory is simply not serious (example: compare 7.36 and 7.35 - both pilots are even). I know that in particular people without any scientific education in mathematics and physics - which is not a crime - are unable to underdstand this and the following reasoning, and that they find my statements and my reasoning on victory fractions surprising, shocking, possibly offensive: they always found it very convenient to change shared victoires (RAF) into decimal scores for 1/2, 1/3, 1/4 of one victory etc., obtaining 0.50, 0.33, 0.25 etc., and why not 7.365294543, hey? This precision is even better. So why do I refuse to accept decimal scores for French fighter pilots? Firstly the very number of full victories (no matter who or how many pilots won them) is hardly known exactly because errors are numerous and have various causes (several pilots firing at the same victim, possibly with some time interval, without being aware of this - an enemy aircraft being considered shot down in good faith but in fact it was not, and conversely: enemy AC being considered intact but crashing some minutes later or even one hour late, etc.). So even the very number of victories claimed in good faith is often wrong. Errors can be as high as 20 %, 30 %, 50 % and often 100 % to 500 % so a precision of one HUNDRETH, or even one tenth, of a victory is a pure illusion bare of any real basis in reality even if making such calculations on paper looks very satisfactory. Then the sharing - O my God. Such shared victories were shared all right, among those pilots who had taken part in the shooting down. But how did they know, how did we know today, what exact share each pilot had contributed? Often they could see that they scored hits but how many hits, where exactly and how fatal were they? In some cases this was clear but in most cases they just made assessments about what four pilots (for example) had contributed, "à vue de nez", as they say in France (approximately "seeing with your nose"). Such calculations are even more an illusion about the French (1939-40) because in most cases nobody bothered to know or to notice what share of the destruction each pilot had contributed. This did happen a few times.

I guess (this too is an assessment and it can be changed) that for example a German ace and honest claimer with 120 victories knew his actual score at best plus minus 5 to 10. Making a difference between two RAF pilots with 12.45 and 12.56 doesn't make any sense.

Just because it’s quite interesting let us look at some air battles between French fighters and German fighters or bombers :

On May 12 GC I/5 (Curtiss H-75) met two Stuka-formations (Ju 87). Accart was leading this formation of 6 but, flying together with his wingman sergent-chef François Morel, had separately attacked a Do 17 (or 215) shortly before and he had been slightly wounded, which forced him to fly back to base (he had escaped being killed by the skin of his teeth for a German machine-gun bullet hit the centre of his head-rest and he had ducked just in time). The 5 remaining pilots claimed 6 Stukas shot down. Their CO, commandant (Sqn Ldr) Murtin, reduced the claims to… 1 (one). HQ foolishly credited them with 11 victories (I don’t think such a thing happened again). Today we know that 6 Stukas were destroyed. See P. Cornwell’s TBOFTN (May 12). This example is interesting: the pilots‘ claims were perfectly accurate contrary to RAF 1 Squadron’s the day before with an overclaim rate of 5.5: 11 Me 110s claimed for an actual loss of 2 Me 110s.

On May 22 GC II/3 flying Dewoitine 520s claimed 8 "certain" Ju 87 (Stukas) and I believe them. OnMay 26 GC III/1 (Morane 406) claimed 6 "certain" Me 109s and I believe them too. And so on. There are numerous instances of this kind with multiple victories even though most victories seem to have been isolated ones (only one aircraft shot down).

On June 5, 1940, the by far greatest ace in the World, German Hauptmann (captain) Werner Mölders (14 victories in Spain, 9 during the Phoney War, 16 during the Fr. Campaign totalling 39) was very suddeny shot down in the Compiègne area, his Me 109 being instantly unable to fly (and diving vertically), when it was hit by a full burst of cannon and machine-gun fire coming from a Dewoitine 520 flown by young lieutenant (P/O) René Pomier Layrargues (this is the correct spelling of this difficult name), a member of a small formation of 8 Dewoitine 520s from GC II/7. Mölders was very lucky for he was not wounded but he had to bale out in a hurry and he was taken prisoner by a French artillery unit. Mölders was not a beginner but he was completely taken by surprise. His very honest story of this loss is very clear.

On June 9 some D.520s (twelve it seems) of GC I/3 clashed with II./JG 27. This air battle is especially interesting because both units, French and German, by this time were well-experienced and combat-hardened. The result was 6 (six) Messerschmitt 109s shot down and claimed by the French, with two German pilots killed and one D.520-pilot who had to perform a belly-landing (aircraft repairable). Both Peter Cornwell and even Jochen Prien agree and confirm it.

We could go on like this for quite a while. My conclusion : every time we are able to have certainty on the result it confirms the French version, in some cases with French overclaiming or underclaiming. Lowering the grand total of French victories to 245 or even 355 (for about 900 fighters and 700-1,000 pilots, may I remember you – about 300 pilots were killed or wounded and, just like within the RAF, new pilots replaced them.).

You can find more details and more information if you read this specialised chapter of a more general blog (Chapter « La Chasse française en 1940… », The 1940 French fighter arm… ») - all texts are in French but can be easily understood by aviation enthusiasts and the pictures have no language :

If interested in Adolf Galland you’ll find a lot of text and numerous private photographs (most of them in colour, shot 1985, 1987 and 1992 at the celebration of his 80th birthday together with 300 guests including about 15 great Luftwaffe aces like Günther Rall, Steinhoff, Trautloft, Krupinski and more) here :

(the photographs are copyrighted © )

and here, too, many photographs showing Galland 1985 and 1987 too):

Numerous miscellaneous aircraft photographs of all kinds are to be found here (more will be added):

Last edited by rof120; 17th October 2019 at 15:43.
Old 12th October 2019, 14:28
rof120 rof120 is offline
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... and the RAF pilots 1939-1940

I think perhaps I was not clear enough on the following point: RAF pilots including fighter pilots were as brave as any, which doesn't exclude "even braver". They obeyed orders, they did their "job" and often paid with their life.

They had big flaws for which they were hardly responsible: most of them were very young and inexperienced (easy preys to German fighters), squadron leaders and possibly flight lieutenants (in French: capitaines) lacked experience, sometimes even lacked experience of flying monoplane fighters or AC with retractable landing gear. Some Sn Ldrs had nervous breakdowns (some, not all of them). The ordinary pilots were in no way responsible for all this. Worse still perhaps, their tactics, devised by RAF HQ, were hopeless. German fighter pilots who met them first in the Dunkerque battle called their combat formation "Idiotenreihe" (an idiots' row, or line). One of their wings was painted white on the underside, the other wing black for better identification by British ground troops etc. but this was very useful to the Germans. The normal formation of RAF elements of fighters was the "tight vic of three", all three fighters flying extremely close to each other. Both wingmen were terrorised by the fear of being criticized by their leader and they had to concentrate on staying in the "right" position and looking at their leader's aircraft instead of watching the sky and their tails. So they were heavily handicapped by factors they were not able to change.

Undoubtedly they (as a whole) overclaimed heavily. If you don't believe me (overclaim rate: 5) perhaps you'll believe John Foreman, who wrote just that in his book "RAF Fighter Command Victory Claims" (overclaim rate: 5). Actually this is NOT really terrible for, overclaim or not, they did shoot down many German aircraft, according to myself about 200 during the French Campaign in May-June 1940, including operation "Dynamo" (the Dunkerque évacuation). This is a very decent, satisfying result, taking the often appalling conditions into account. Possibly this overclaiming had a real drawback, though: it could mislead RAF HQ into believing that German losses were much higher than they actually were and draw wrong conclusions on Luftwaffe potential when attacking the UK, but HQ didn't quite believe the fighters' fantastic and triumphant figures, in any case not during the Battle of Britain, but perhaps they were influenced and were too optimistic. Well, I don't know. During the BoB RAF figures were accepted at face value (no denials) in order to strengthen pilots' and population's morale.

QUESTION: can someone tell us who devised these tactics including the black and white wings (undersides)?

Last edited by rof120; 13th October 2019 at 20:40.
Old 12th October 2019, 16:27
Leendert Leendert is offline
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Re: French fighter scores, mainly 1939-1940

Perhaps this article (in French) is worth reading:


Old 12th October 2019, 17:57
rof120 rof120 is offline
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Originally Posted by Leendert View Post
Perhaps this article (in French) is worth reading:
Thanks Leendert. I discovered this article several years ago. It is almost a perfect copy of the late CJE's theories and opinions. Its worth is about nil. Of course you'll almost always find something correct in any text, however terrible it may be.

Last edited by rof120; 13th October 2019 at 13:29.
Old 13th October 2019, 13:51
rof120 rof120 is offline
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A question about the air battle between GC I/3 and II./JG 27 on June 9, 1940

I mentioned this air battle in my post # 6 in this thread. Dewoitine 520s (12 it seems) fought II./JG 27, resulting in the loss of 6 Me 109s destroyed and 2 German pilots killed (a total of 6 were missing including Gruppenkommandeur Hautptmann Werner Andres but 4 came back later), with one D.520 damaged (belly-landing). "German" details found in the history ("Dokumentation"...) of JG 27 published in German by Hans Ring and Werner Girbig (Motorbuch Verlag publishing company, Stuttgart) - 7th editon or rather printing batch 1991 (pages 46-47), and also in Jochen Prien's volume 3 of "Die Jagdfliegerverbände..." and Peter Cornwell's TBOFTN. "French" details from several authors using the French archive, like Paul Martin, "avions" authors of "Les as français", and also P. Cornwell. A remark: even II./JG 27's Gruppenkommandeur Hauptmann Andres was shot down by the "hopeless" French fighters. Andres was certainly not a beginner nor a poor fighter pilot (not Werner Mölders either - shot down by the French on June 5, 1940).

What I don't know is the numerical strength of the German formation (anything is possible from 8 to 12 or 24-28 at most I think). I have got a copy of the book "Jagdgeschwader 27" by (IIRC) Ring and Girbig. They report this air battle too but without telling us how many 109s were involved. JG 27's morale, or at least II./JG 27's, was shattered by these heavy losses. Jochen Prien mentions this event (JFV N° 3) but with no details at all except in the loss list : pilots' names etc.

Who knows more or can give a pointer to the missing information? My heartiest thanks in advance.

Last edited by rof120; 17th October 2019 at 16:00.
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