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by Philippe Ballarini
translation Mike Leveillard

June 1940: were is the French Air Force ?

5. The outcome.

Without any doubts, the French Air Force could have been more efficient during the ground battles, but it was handicapped from day one of the war. Communications so crucial for the outcome of the battles did not measure up to the situation at hand. Radio communications were poor, with transmissions relying on the telephone service of the Army, and so poor in fact that some units of the Air Force had no communication with the ground forces for which they were supposed to provide reconnaissance and air support.

When we learn that the day after Dunkerque, more than 70% of the airplanes were grounded for technical problems, and that the same situation existed for the armors, we must agree with the comments made by historian Patrick Facon, that
"even before losing the air war, the French Air force had already lost the supply battle."
On June 18th 1940, as France was pleading for armistice, about 60% of the airworthy airplanes were flown from France to North Africa with the objective of continuing the fight from the Colonies. This aviation in exile fell however under the control of the Vichy government, made even more legitimate after the attack of the French fleet by the Royal Navy at Mers-el-Kébir on July 3rd 1940 where 1300 French sailors were killed. The exile nevertheless provided a source of flying personnel and mechanics hardened in the battle of France. Many of them would go on to continue the fight from England with the Royal Air Force, and from Russia with the famous "Normandie-Niemen".

Some exaggerations must now be dispelled, such as an alleged plot by the Army high command to use the French Air Force as a scapegoat during the trial of Riom, this was greatly exaggerated indeed. And, the French Air Force contrary to a persisting legend, never shot down 1000 German planes.

The Vichy government had also started the propaganda that the French Air Force had fought alone; a myth believed by some to this day. The RAF paid a hefty price during the French campaign, and they certainly have the right to claim and share the destruction of 853 Luftwaffe airplanes.

Marshall Kesselring wrote: "The uninterrupted battle of our air force beginning on May 13th had literally spent the personnel and the material. After three weeks of combat, the air force units had fallen to 50 and even 30% below their theoretical effectiveness."

Those airplanes shot down during the French campaign would be greatly missed by the Luftwaffe when Hitler decided to attack England, and it would be wrong to minimize the impact that the battle of France had on the battle of Britain which was to occur shortly thereafter.


©
aerostories, 2001

Commandant Crémont of GC III/6 in front of his Morane. The MS 406, was the French Air Force's standard fighter. In 1935, it was the first airplane to exceed 400 kilometers per hour at sea level. It was maneuverable and easy to fly, but in 1940 it would be outclassed by the Messerschmitt Bf-109. After the armistice, the MS 406s would be used as fighter trainers, or transferred by the Germans to Finland and Croatia.
SHAA  Document

Tula (USSR) 1943: mechanics ready a Yakolev Yak-9 of "Normandie Niemen".
SHAA Document

It is definitely unjust and false to assert that the French Air Force did not fight in 1940 and that it was absent in the sky; the numbers of German airplanes shot down proves otherwise. It is also unjust, when the courage and spirit of self-sacrifice par the French Airmen is taken into consideration.