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The French Air Force of the armistice.

by Philippe Ballarini
translation Mike Leveillard

1. Vae victis!

Too bad for the vanquished! The price of defeat came at a high price for the French Air Force, because not only was it subjected to the humiliation of losing, it also became a "scapegoat" during a humiliating trial, and it had to endure a campaign of mockeries which lasted for decades despite the courage and sacrifices of its aircrews.

(Please refer to the article "1940: where is the French Air Force?")

When the armistice negotiations began on June 15th 1940, orders were given that all airworthy airplanes and all personnel were to evacuate to Africa (despite the fact that many airplanes did not have the range for such a flight). By mid June 1940, the entire French military forces were in a state of total shamble. A "make do" mentality prevailed over organization, but every airplane that was battle worthy left for North Africa leaving behind those in bad conditions. This "exodus" sometime occurred under dramatic conditions, and in an indescribable state of disarray. Some pilots that delivered their airplanes in Algeria came back by Air France to pick up other airplanes. Elsewhere, reconnaissance groups left without orders.

For many in the French Air Force milieu, it seemed evident that the battle would continue from those bases in the rear. Also, in other parts of the French Colonial Empire; Indochina, Syria, Madagascar, Equatorial Africa, Western Africa, the strength of the French Air Force was still intact. In North Africa alone (Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia), nearly 640 airplanes were available. It consisted of H-75s, D-520s, MS-406s fighters, Glenn Martin, LeO-45, DB-7s, Amiot 351s bombers, and miscellaneous airplanes such as the Potez 63-11s, and MB-174s. Therefore, it was thought that the air battle was far from over.

Certain facts must however be brought up. A large number of miscellaneous airplane types have never constituted an Air force. Furthermore, it is legitimate to ask how a totally disorganized Air Force could have effectively become operational in a few days. The groups were incomplete, support personnel, maintenance supplies, mechanics and other specialists had been left behind in France. How could they have rejoined the bases in North Africa? As for the situation in the other Colonies, the few and mostly obsolete airplanes available could not have been seriously considered for a counter attack. And, among the airplanes that had been sent to the Colonies, some of them were not equipped for combat; no armament and/or no gunsights!

Despite the above facts, some elements of the French Air Force in the Colonies still believed that the fight could resume.
On June 22nd and 24th 1940, armistices were signed with Germany and Italy. On June 17th Marshall Pétain had announced to the French people: "It is with a heavy heart that I must tell you today that we must stop the fight…"
Elsewhere, another voice had resounded on June 18th and 22nd: "I am inviting the Officers, soldiers, and sailors of the French armed forces, wherever they are at the present, to rejoin me so that we may fight on".  (It was the voice of General de Gaulle on the BBC).

The conditions of the armistice were harsh for the French Air Force. It was to be dismantled, and all the airplanes were to be delivered to the victors. This clause was however rescinded on the intervention of General Bergeret. The personnel were to be demobilized on September 15th 1940 at the latest, and all flights were to be suspended on June 25th.

©
Aerostories, 2001.

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The vast expense of the French possessions overseas had given hope that the fight would start again from the colonial empire. On this map of Africa extracted from an Atlas dating back before World War two, the French territories in Africa are colored in purple (Morocco and Tunisia protectorates not included). The demarcation line between A.O.F. and A.E.F. has been colored green by the author.

J. Ghémard Collection                       Click

Although the victors had temporarily tolerated the French Air Force's limited survival after the 1940 defeat, they none the less confiscated material and airplanes, either for their own use, or for their allieds from Finland, Hungary, or Croatia. This is a picture of a Morane-Saulnier MS 406 with the Luftwaffe colors. It soon will wear the swastika from Finland.

S.H.A.A. Document                   Click

The Potez 25 had been extensively used in Indochina. Originally built to set world records, this airplane was assigned to the territorial surveillance, and also participated in combat missions during the Levant campaign. This is the picture of a Potez 25 taken in Laos in August 1939.

S.H.A.A. Document          Click