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Old 17th August 2008, 13:26
Grozibou Grozibou is offline
Join Date: Jul 2008
Location: Switzerland
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Grozibou is on a distinguished road
1939-45 airpower and professional historians

On 2nd August 2008, 19:46
Alter Hase

(old hare - weird isn't it?)
asked the following question in the now-closed thread "Book on French Air Force 1939-40?" (closed on August 10 – you still can find it if you look for this date) :


Hi Grozibou (...)

Are you a professional historian?

- Well, to me this is a rather embarrassing question. I never studied History at University if this is what you mean - but I would have wasted several years on ancient Greece and Rome, on Napoléon (whom I simply can't stand) or on the senile old men of the French IIIrd Republic (it was hardly better in Germany at the time). So I own no university diploma in History whatsoever. Instead I spent 18 years of my adult life WORKING in Germany first as an "Ingenieur-Übersetzer" with the company Siemens (this was how the offered post was named) - a technically highly-qualified translator for... electrical engineering (power-plants, high-voltage transport lines etc.), then the same thing as a free-lancer. The firm Bölkow wanted me too (not as a translator) but unfortunately they were too slow although they were producing comparatively fast light aircraft, helicopters and tactical missiles. Later the Bölkow company (Ludwig Bölkow was still alive) became part of MBB (M being Messerschmitt), which later became one of the founders of today's EADS. During these 18 years I watched German TV (in German only), especially many programs on WW II and I read dozens and dozens, if not hundreds, of German books, reviews and magazines on WW II, mainly about airpower and air war. Before this time, during this time and afterwards I never ceased reading the same stuff in French and in English, in particular the excellent and exciting "Flying", RAF's review, of the 1950's and about 1960-62, which many people including English-speaking ones wrongly call "Royal Air Force Flying Review" (no time to explain this error but I am sure Brian can do this). Quite generally I never stopped reading or watching these things. This is why and how I read, among others, "TDIM". What does a student who wants to win a diploma in History? Mainly read such books and reviews (and archive documents etc.). So like many other guys here after having informed myself in three languages for about 40-50 years as a whole I know much more on WW II-airpower than many a “Doctor” with impressive titles and diplomas. It all depends on how seriously you deal with the subject. In particular, almost all English-speaking (or –writing) authors splendidly ignore any books or documents in other languages. Apparently they feel that if something is interesting or important it was published in English. If it’s “only” in French or in German they consider it unimportant or uninteresting or… impossible to read (German! O my God!) but it can hardly be disputed that Germany played a major part in the 1940 French Campaign. As I always use to repeat, OWN THINKING is of paramount importance. You discover lots of things thanks to it. Often the only difference between a professional and a non-professional historian is merely a sheet of paper not knowledge or competence. There are nitwits and good people in both categories – like in any other field of activity.

What is a professional historian? A person owning all possible degrees and diplomas (university, of course), and honours, in History but at the same time a clot unable even to publish correct data on 1940 aircraft almost 60 years later, and committing heavy plagiarism on other authors? Of course I have no objection against diplomas, quite on the contrary, but alas, as we can see, they give no guarantee of competence and quality... I already mentioned the late French Professor Henri Michel, a specialist of WW II, who was a nice man but wrote incredible nonsense in his much-respected books, like for example his explanations on radar, a device which, according to him, detected the noise produced by aircraft. Or is a historian a person dealing intensively with History in his/her spare-time? I think it depends on how much, for how long and how intensively, and... how seriously. Professional or amateur, I feel it doesn't matter just as long as they/we don't publish any nonsense, which is all too easy. Most people still today believe - in spite of my heroic efforts - that the Me 109 E and the Me 110 possessed a for the time (1940) formidable armament, which is nonsense because the German cannon was a VERY mediocre weapon, please try to remember this fact.

Richard Overy is (or 2000 he was) a "professor of History at King's College, London". 2000 he published a booklet : "The Battle of Britain". Here is a quotation from page 52 : << The Me 109 E could be out-turned by both the Hurricane and the Spitfire (though whether this was due to the fact that British aircraft used higher-octane aviation fuel remains open to debate)... >> It never occurred to me that the octane-number, be it 87, 94, 97, 100 or else, could influence the turning radius of an aircraft but I am always eager to learn.

On page 55 we find the usual jewel : “The task the German Air Force was called on to perform [in the Battle of Britain] resembled, at least superficially, the opening days of the campaigns against Poland and France when the enemy air force was swiftly neutralized by concentrated bomber and dive-bomber attacks on airfields and support services.” What really is superficial is to write such nonsense even a.D. 2000, 60 years later! I don’t really know exactly about Poland but I don’t think Overy’s statement is accurate either ; I think the Polish AF was simply much too small, most of their aircraft too obsolete, to resist the all-out onslaught of a big power (Germany was a big power 1939-44) but they were not “swiftly neutralized” and kept operating their few aircraft from their secret bases. Somehow I suspect that some Polish expert is in a position to give us the correct version if he so wishes. As far as France is concerned I am really, physically, on the verge of throwing up when I read such garbage written by a “Professor of History” – Historydiculous, rather. This gentleman now even has been promoted to the rank of WW II-expert for television programs. Well, we all know the value of “historical” TV-programs. If you want to know when the Armée de l’Air was neutralized, or wiped out, by the Luftwaffe, you only need to have a look at Peter Cornwell’s recent book on the 1939-40 fighting : you’ll see that the A.A. was not wiped out on May 10, 1940, and not on May 13 or 14 either, not on 20, 25 or 30 May. Adolf Galland agreed with me to say that LW-losses in Operation “Paula” against the Paris area on June 3 certainhly were of the same magnitude as during a typical day of fighting during the BoB (not the climax days, August 18 and September 15 etc., but the climax of the French Campaign was on May 10, 14, 26 and on June 5 (with very heavy German losses on this day), 8 and 9. French fighter claimed the highest number of victories on June 5 (55 “certain” victories including on Werner Mölders and about 10-20 “probable” ones). Here it doesn’t matter whether these claims were too optimistic or not (I say : no), in any case the number of fighter claims has a direct relation to the actual air battles fought and the aerial activity. This shows that the Armée de l’Air was certainly not “swiftly neutralized” (he certainly was meaning to a large part already on May 10, the A.A. being finished around May 15 or so). This was totally impossible anyway because of a very high aircraft production in France and to a smaller part in the USA (Curtiss P-36, Glenn-Martin 167, Douglas DB-7, later P-38, P-40, B-24) and a very active training of new aircrew in many Air Force schools, both in France and in N. Africa.

This production was never seriously disturbed by LW attacks against French factories, even less against American factories in the USA and assembling facilities in N. Africa or even in France (Bourges). At the end of the fighting the A.A. still possessed about 1,500 modern single-engined fighters (of which 660 were Morane 406s and these were NOT totally hopeless, far from it – just ask their German victims!); the 840 others were more recent and often much better fighters. (During the BoB RAF Fighter Command never possessed so many fighters). They also still possessed about 700 very modern twin-engined bombers, all this in spite of losses, in particular several hundred aicraft which had to be abandoned during the retreat (same thing for RAF aircraft in France) because of the advancing German ARMY – ground troops, tanks etc. These hundreds of abandoned AC were NOT destroyed by the LW, they were captured, for lack of time or pilots to save them, mainly by German infantrymen. Many other AC, though, HAD BEEN evacuated to South France. French Aircraft production was rising all the time and was stopped only by the arrival of the enemy. No less than 437 Dewoitine 520s had been produced on the day of the cease-fire and their production, too, was rising continuously but especially fast. Émile Dewoitine himself said that he could have doubled it without any difficulty. After the armistice the Germans and the Italians counted the French AC which existed in the non-occupied (and smaller) part of France : they found 4,238 AC of all kinds and types including obsolete types and modern trainers (NAA 57 and others), of which 1,739 were modern combat AC. In French North Africa they found approx. 550 modern fighters. Add several hundred modern bombers and recce AC delivered or flown to N. Africa. The grand total should be approx. 2,500 to 2,700 modern combat AC, in spite of losses, without those abandoned during the retreat (several hundred). At the beginning of the German onslaught on May 10 the grand total was about 1,300, perhaps 1,500. The explanation of this “miracle” is the same as in the UK : government had decided (months and even years before) to boost aircraft production as high as possible and this decision was beginning to give some results. Too bad the fighting ceased at this point for the continuation of the air war would have been most interesting : By mid-July the A.A. would have deployed only modern combat aircraft which had been strongly improved as compared to the AC existing on May 10 : Bloch 155, Dewoitine 523, 524, 551 (670 km/h as compared to the Me 109 E’s 570), Arsenal fighters, Bloch 175 light bombers, Breguet 693-695 assault bombers and many more excellent AC. The Luftwaffe was unable to engage any better aircraft before about April 1941 (Me 109 F), except for a few marginal improvements of the old “Emil”, and this would have been much, much too late. As I already mentioned the Ju 88 was a strong improvement in the German bomber force but Allied fighters disposed of it just as they did of the other types so its qualities would not have been very useful in actual combat.

To sum up, Professor Overy talks nonsense and even writes it, which is unacceptable. Anybody, historian or not, he who PUBLISHES such sweeping judgements on such an important subject without at least checking and asking some experts, is simply an unserious fellow. Please Mr. Horta, this is a fully legitimate book review, don’t intervene now to tell me that I am all too mean, vicious and brutal to poor little defenceless victim Overy. He is not a victim, he is a grown-up man and he can defend himself all right. Besides, I only reported FACTS. Who doesn’t want any facts here?

Another British book has won a reputation of excellency, I wonder how : “The Most Dangerous Enemy”, by Stephen Bungay, published 2000 too. Here are a few examples : “The bulk of the French Army waited on the Maginot Line”. This is nonsense. Allied GHQ were convinced that the German army would launch its main offensive through Belgium like 1914 (Schlieffen plan) so that the bulk of the Allied forces were rather facing Belgium, in particular the best, and best-equipped, French and British army units. Here we can clearly see that author S.B. allows hear-say, impressions and rumours to influence him beyond any reasonable doubt : the French relied heavily on their Maginot Line to protect the mobilisation and make any surprise-attack there impossible (this is true and it worked) so according to his brain the bulk of their army must have been there! How naïve, how oversimplistic can you be? Many French people relied much too heavily on the line to protect them from invasion but one of his main advantages was precisely to save manpower so that more forces could be stationed elsewhere. It was bristling of heavy guns.

The rest of this big book is hardly better about the French Campaign and even about other matters. Page 94 (paperback), about aircraft production : “Even though the French production was not of comparable quality, the Luftwaffe still had to defeat them, and suffered attrition in the process.” The part I put in bold characters really is typical (according to my own personal impression) of this typically British, unjustified sense of superiority. Most French aircraft types produced 1940 were of a tremendous quality and often years ahead of everything which existed in other countries – only, Germany had had a head-start (several years) and French aircraft factories were not protected from the German hordes by a sea and the German army invaded the whole territory (see other posts on this). The mass-production of all these superlative French aircraft came just a little too late, something like 4-6 weeks – and French strategy and tactics needed strong changes and these began to be implemented in June, too late but they were effective. Remember that the BoB began in earnest about 13 weeks later than the FC so the British industry had more time to produce fighters. Germany and the UK had only one superlative aircraft each 1940 (Me 109 E and Spitfire) : all other types were obsolete, obsolescent or just fair at best, like the Ju 88, which was an excellent medium bomber but was easy meat for any modern fighter. France on the contrary had designed, and was mass-producing, at least half a dozen, if not a full dozen, of really excellent to incredible AC already in May and June 1940, when production was about in the same rising phase as in the UK (where it was still rising and improving, precisely like in France) but, as I said, France didn’t have the benefit of a few more weeks, which the UK had, to fully develop production and use it in battle. We already discussed the superlative French aircraft types here for some guys, still influenced by the 1940 myths, were quite sceptical; I’ll make it short : belt-fed cannon with 120 r p g instead of 60 both in France and Germany were being introduced on French fighters and some much-improved Bloch 155 fighters even flew a few missions with this equipment, about ONE YEAR ahead of Germany and the UK; the D.520 (see details above) was better than the Me 109 E in actual combat : better in the climb and in the dive, faster at high altitudes. In particular, when German fighter pilots were in trouble and used their standard evasive action of diving away in most cases they didn’t survive for the D.520 dived better and faster and had no trouble following the 109s and shoot them down. I already mentioned that the much-improved D.523 and 524 were already being manufactured (but none had been delivered yet). The French standard recce AC, the Potez 63.11, was a perfect match (5 km/h faster) for its German counterpart the Do 17P but with the French advantage, very soon, of strongly improved armament : up to ten (10) machine-guns, generally 6-7, and of a remarkbale maneuverability. In one instance a Potez 63.11 chased by half a dozen Me 109s shot down 3 of them (!) before succumbing. We wouldn’t even know if French ground troops had not seen it all and reported it. This Potez type was being replaced by another superlative aircraft : the Bloch MB 174, ear-marked for strategic reconnaissance, was as fast as the D.520 and flew very high. For Me 109s it was very hard to catch. The MB 175 was an excellent light bomber and so was the Breguet 693-695. The four-engined strategic heavy bomber Farman 222/2 may have been obsolescent but it was used at night (3 squadrons) and carried up to 5 000 kg of bombs (11,000 bs), something unique in 1940 Europe. The CAO 700 four-engined bomber would have been mass-produced and engaged from 1941 on – it was better (faster, better-armed etc.) than any type of the same category, be it British or US. The Dewoitine D.551 fighter, an entirely new design, very small and nimble, flew over 700 km/h (435 mph) already in November 1939. With all its military equipment it would have reached about 670 km/h (416 mph) and ridiculed any German or British fighter from the end of 1940 or the beginning of 1941 on ; Me 109 E : 570 km/h or 354 mph, Spitfire I 560 km/h (348 mph or so). Contrary to British fighters the Dewoitine fighters were excellent (superior) at high altitude. For more details on French AC of all categories including many prototypes see the excellent booklets (two volumes published 2004 and 2005) “L’aviation française de 1939 à 1942, by Dominique Breffort and André Jouineau, in the collecton “Avions et pilotes”, published by “Histoire & Collections” (ISBN 2-915239-22-3 and ISBN 2-915239-48-7)(price 15,50 euros each) as well as the usual French monographs : D.520, MB 174, MS 406, Curtiss H-75, Bloch 152, L’aviation de chasse française. They all mention and describe the types which followed, for ex. D.551, MB 175-176 etc., MS 410 and 450, D-3800 and D-3801 (improved Swiss MS 406s, of which about 300 were produced in Switzerland), Bloch 155 and 157 (the latter able of 700 km/h too) etc.

So it is really in-cre-di-ble that a British “historian” can have published such nonsense on the “inferior quality” of French aircraft production. Their imagined superiority will never change. British aircraft equalled 1940 French quality first 1942-43 with the Mosquito, Spitfire V and IX, Beaufighter, Lancaster, Typhoon. By 1942 or 1943 if France had not been occupied because there was no sea making this impossible it would possibly have produced jet aircraft 800-1,100 km/h fast, and certainly some of the finest aircraft in the world.

Like Richard Overy Stephen Bungay believes that the Armée de l’Air was simply brushed aside – perhaps he just repeated the same remark, found in Overy’s booklet, and so on from book to book since 1940, every “author” having copied whatever nonsense the preceding “author” had published so they “confirmed” each other’s BS for all “experts” wrote the same thing so it must be true :

QUOTE : [After the Allied defeat in Benelux and France] “The Luftwaffe (…) had swept the French air force from the skies, massacred the British bombers and brushed aside the few Hurricanes they found in their path ”. (S. Bungay, page 138, paperback edition).

The remark on British bombers is almost accurate for sadly the very vulnerable “Battles” and “Blenheims” were almost the only RAF bombers engaged directly over the battlefield and near it in the FC (apart from “strategic” bombing performed by Wellingtons etc.) and when Me 109s or 110s met them yes, they butchered these almost defenceless, slow planes and their gallant crews whose sacrifice didn’t make much sense, not to mention the Flak. “Brushed aside the few Hurricanes” is a wild exaggeration for if they suffered appalling losses in air battles the Hurricanes were not simply brushed aside, this is not true. They put up a good fight – at a cost. Many had to be abandoned, like French AC, in the retreat in front of advancing German ground troops. So it seems that this gentleman is as poorly informed on his own RAF as on the A.A. Unfortunately many reviews were very positive. Do critics ever REALLY read the books they are reviewing? I strongly doubt it for there are many examples to the contrary – in France too.

General conclusion : experience, facts show that it does not matter whether or not an author of historical books, or even an Internet contributor, is a genuine professional with university degree etc. Mr. Jochen Prien is a lawyer – or is he STILL a lawyer? In theory yes, he still is. So he is not a professional historian – or does he disagree? In any case his books are very useful to History with a big H in spite of some flaws.

Last edited by Grozibou; 18th August 2008 at 19:18. Reason: First paragr. : there was an ertror on my career with Siemens HQ.

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