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by Philippe Ballarini
translation Mike Leveillard

June 1940: were is the French Air Force ?

4. French wings in the storm.

One of the main problem for the French Air Force beginning on May 11th was its inability to cover the entire front due to the lack of airplanes. As with the RAF, it was used mainly to seal off the German breaches on the front line. Since the airplanes were not adaptable for this type of operations, the courage, and the spirit of sacrifice of the crews was called upon. On May 14th, thirteen obsolete Amiot 143 bombers used for night operations due to their vulnerability, were dispatched during daylight over the German "spearheads" on the Meuse river, accompanied with five LeO 45; only three airplanes came back. They had been preceded by 67 Hurricanes of the RAF, losing 35 airplanes victims of the Flak.

French Air Force bombers did not have the capability to intervene in the ground battle, and this task was assigned to the fighter arm. Already scattered all over the French territory, torn apart in protecting the bombers (action cancelled on May 17th), and providing support for the ground troops, the fighters could not muster the concentrated strength that could have opposed the Luftwaffe in the critical areas. Only on rare occasions was this possible, such as on May 26 when the lost of the German bombers was significant.

Assault aviation, which was so efficient in the Luftwaffe, was composed mostly of Breguet 691s. This airplane designed for low level operations was equipped with engines that delivered maximum power above 3000 meters. High command decided to use this airplane somewhat as a dive-bomber, without fighter protection, and with dire consequences as they fell victim to the Flak.

As the Panzers reached Dunkerque, operation "Dynamo" began, having for objective the evacuation of the British forces back to England since the situation was becoming hopeless. Winston Churchill, aware that the battle of the Somme was lost anyway requested that the RAF return to England to prepare for its defense. The RAF already had suffered heavy loses while in France; more than 1000 airplanes and 1500 crewmembers.
It is deplorable that the propaganda of the Vichy government accused Britain of defection, but it must also be taken into consideration that the French campaign had weakened the RAF in such a way, that at the beginning of the battle of Britain the total amount of airplanes was 800 with only 650 operational to face the 3200 airplanes of the Luftwaffe.

© aerostories, 2001

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The Amiot 143 despite its outdated look was not all that old. Introduced with the French Air Force in 1935, this airplane was a failure. For its aircrews, self-sacrifice were not empty words.
"L'Illustration" Document

Breguet 693: a good airplane if….it had been equipped with engines designed for it's planned missions.
SHAA Document.