Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   www.SilverHawkAuthor.com   
 
Axis Warplane Survivors, Joint German-Italian Puppet Independent State of Croatia, Greece and Vichy France

Axis Warplane Survivors,

Joint German-Italian Puppet Independent State of Croatia, Greece and Vichy France.

Independent State of Croatia

On 10 April 1941, the Independent State of Croatia (Nezavisna Država Hrvatska, or NDH) was declared to be a member of the Axis, co-signing the Tripartite Pact.  The NDH remained a member of the Axis until the end of Second World War, its forces fighting for Germany even after NDH had been overrun by Yugoslav Partisans.   The Croatian Home Guard (Hrvatsko domobranstvo) was the official military force of the NDH.  Originally authorized at 16,000 men, it grew to a peak fighting force of 130,000.  The Croatian Home Guard included an air force and navy, although its navy was restricted in size by the Contracts of Rome.  In addition to commanding the Croatian Home Guard, NDH leader Paveli? was the supreme commander of the Ustaše militia, although all NDH military units were generally under the command of the German or Italian formations in their area of operations. Many Croats volunteered for the German Waffen SS.

The Ustaše government declared war on the Soviet Union, signed the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1941, and sent troops to Germany’s Eastern Front.  Ustaše militia were garrisoned the Balkans, battling the Chetniks and communist partisans.  Ustaše never had widespread support among the population of the NDH. Their own estimates put the number of sympathizers, even in the early phase, at around 40,000 out of total population of 7 million.

The Croatian Air Force (Croatian: Hrvatsko bojno zrakoplovstvo), originally the Air Force of the Independent State of Croatia (Zrakoplovstvo Nezavisne Države Hrvatske, ZNDH), was the air force of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH), a puppet state established with the support of the Axis Powers during the Second World War.  The ZNDH was founded under German authority in April 1941.  Its main contribution to the war effort was to carry out anti-partisan patrols over occupied Croatia.  It also supplied a few staffels of pilots to Luftflotte 4 in Russia.[52]

Although it could not be considered a large air arm in the wider context of the Second World War, the ZNDH nonetheless had on its charge at one time or another some 650 aircraft between April 1941 and May 1945, as well as anti-aircraft and paratroop units.  Although it began as a small organization in 1941, the ZNDH was still providing a measure of air-support in the form of fighter, attack and transport aircraft and aircrews until the last days of the Second World War in Europe.

During the middle part of 1941, some of the ZNDH’s man-power capacity was sent to the Eastern Front as part of the Luftwaffe.  This force was known as the Croatian Air Force Legion (Hrvatska Zrakoplovna Legija, HZL; Kroatische Luftwaffen Legion).[53]  Most of the Croatian Air Force Legion’s personnel were back on ZNDH territory by late 1943 and early 1944 to help counter the growing Allied air threat.  A Croatian Anti-Aircraft Legion was also deployed.

The ZNDH maintained a flying school, originally at Rajlovac airfield near Sarajevo and then at Velika Gorica and Pleso airfields in Zagreb.  Its parachute and paratroop school was located in Koprivnica, and its scout (fighter) school was located in Zagreb.[54]

Aircraft types that saw service with the Croatian Air Force included more than 50 Messerschmitt Bf 109G & K fighters, 48 Morane-Saulnier M.S. 406 fighters, more than 30 Fiat G.50 fighters, 18 Macchi C.202 Folgore fighters, four Macchi C.205 Veltro fighters, more than ten Fiat CR.42 fighters, two Messerschmitt Bf 110G-2 fighters, seven Avia BH-3 fighter-trainers, four Ikarus IK-2 fighters, eleven Dornier Do-17K, 30 Do-17E and 21 Do-17Z bombers, eight Bristol Blenheim Mk. I bombers and two Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers, ten CANT Z.1007 bombers, six Fiat BR.20 bombers, one Avia Fokker F.39 bomber, seven Caproni Ca.310 bomber/utility 16 Caproni Ca.311/313/314 bomber/utility, 50 Breguet Bre 19 reconnaissance/utility, 42 Potez 25 reconnaissance/utility, eleven Fieseler Fi 156 Storch utility, 8 to 12 Fieseler Fi 167 utility and two de Havilland DH 80 Puss Moth utility aircraft, one RWD-13 utility, 25 Beneš-Mráz Beta-Minor trainer/utility, 22 Bücker Bü 181 Bestmann trainer/utility, 25 Saiman 200 trainers, two Saiman trainer/utility, 20 AVIA FL.3 trainer/utility, one Rogozarski SIM-XI and one SIM-X trainer, one Ikarus MM-2 fighter/trainer, eleven Rogozarski R-100 fighter/trainer/attack, 46 Bücker Bü 131 Bestmann trainer/utility, ten Bücker Bü 133 trainer/utility, 20 Zmaj Fizir FN trainers, 23 Zmaj Fizir FP-2 trainer/utility, seven Avia Fokker F.VII transports, two Avia Fokker F.IX transports, one Junkers Ju 52 and four Junkers W 34 transports, 15 Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers, and two Airspeed Envoy transports.[55]

Greece

Following the German invasion of Greece and the flight of the Greek government to Crete and then Egypt, the Hellenic State was formed in May 1941 as a puppet state of both Italy and Germany.  Initially, Italy had wished to annex Greece, but was pressured by Germany to avoid civil unrest such as had occurred in Bulgarian-annexed areas.  The result was Italy accepted the creation of a puppet regime with the support of Germany.  Italy had been assured by Hitler of a primary role in Greece.  Most of the country was held by Italian forces, but strategic locations (Central Macedonia, the islands of the northeastern Aegean, most of Crete, and parts of Attica) were held by the Germans, who seized most of the country’s economic assets and effectively controlled the collaborationist government.

The puppet regime never commanded any real authority, and did not gain the allegiance of the people.  It was somewhat successful in preventing secessionist movements like the Principality of the Pindus from establishing themselves.  By mid-1943, the Greek Resistance had liberated large parts of the mountainous interior (“Free Greece“), setting up a separate administration there.  After the Italian armistice, the Italian occupation zone was taken over by the German armed forces, which remained in charge of the country until their withdrawal in autumn 1944.  In some Aegean islands, German garrisons were left behind, and surrendered only after the end of the war.[56]

Aviation Museums in Greece

War Museum, Vassilissis Sophias Avenue, 2 Rizari Street, 106 75, Athens.  www.warmuseum.gr.

Crete War Museum, Chromonastiri.

Hellenic Air Force Museum, Dekeleia – Tatoi Air Base, TGA 1010, Athens.  www.haf.gr/en/history/museum/default.asp.

Elefsis Heritage Park, Elefsis Air Base, Elefsina.

Larisa Base Museum, Larisa Air Base, Larisa.

Tanagra Base Collection, Tanagra Air Base, Tanagra.

Thessaloniki War Museum, 4 Grigoriou Lambraki, Pedio Areos 3, Thessaloniki.  www.warmuseum.gr.

P.A.L.I.S. Foundation, Vouliagmenis Avenue & Patriarhou Grigoriou E 1-3, 166 73, Voula.

www.palisfoundation.com.

Vichy France

France and its colonial empire, under the Vichy regime of Marshal Philippe Pétain, collaborated with the Axis from 1940 until 1944, when the regime was dissolved.  The German invasion army entered Paris on 14 June 1940, following the battle of France.  Pétain became the last Prime Minister of the French Third Republic on 16 June 1940.  He sued for peace with Germany and on 22 June 1940, his government concluded an armistice with Hitler.  Under the terms of the agreement, Germany occupied two-thirds of France, including Paris.  Pétain was permitted to keep an “armistice army” of 100,000 men within the unoccupied southern zone.  This number included neither the army based in the French colonial empire nor the French fleet.  In French North Africa and French Equatorial Africa, the Vichy government was permitted to maintain 127,000 men under arms after the colony of Gabon defected to the Free French.  The French also maintained substantial garrisons at the French-mandated territory of Syria and Lebanon, the French colony of Madagascar, and in French Somaliland.

After the armistice, relations between the Vichy French and the British quickly deteriorated.  Fearful that the powerful French fleet might fall into German hands, the British launched several naval attacks, the most notable of which was against the Algerian harbour of Mers el-Kebir on 3 July 1940.  Though Churchill defended his controversial decision to attack the French Fleet, the French people were less accepting.  German propaganda trumpeted these attacks as an absolute betrayal of the French people by their former allies.  France broke relations with the United Kingdom and considered declaring war.

On 10 July 1940, Pétain was given emergency “full powers” by a majority vote of the French National Assembly.  The following day approval of the new constitution by the Assembly effectively created the French State (l’État Français), replacing the French Republic with the unofficial Vichy France, named for the resort town of Vichy, where Petain maintained his seat of government.  The new government continued to be recognised as the lawful government of France by the United States until 1942.

In September 1940, Vichy France allowed Japan to occupy French Indochina, a federation of the French colonial possessions and protectorates roughly encompassing the territory of modern day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.  The Vichy regime continued to administer the colony under Japanese military occupation.  French Indochina was the base for the Japanese invasions of Thailand, Malaya, and Borneo.  In 1945, under Japanese sponsorship, the Empire of Vietnam and the Kingdom of Cambodia were proclaimed as Japanese puppet states.

French General Charles de Gaulle headquartered his Free French movement in London in a largely unsuccessful effort to win over the French colonial empire.  On 26 September 1940, de Gaulle led an attack by Allied forces on the Vichy port of Dakar in French West Africa.  Forces loyal to Pétain fired on de Gaulle and repulsed the attack after two days of heavy fighting.  Public opinion in Vichy France was further outraged, and Vichy France drew closer to Germany.

Vichy France assisted Iraq in the Anglo–Iraqi War of 1941, allowing Germany and Italy to utilize air bases in the French mandate of Syria to support the Iraqi revolt against the British.  Allied forces responded by attacking Syria and Lebanon in 1941.  In 1942 Allied forces attacked the French colony of Madagascar.

There were considerable anti-communist movements in France, and as result, volunteers joined the German forces in their war against the Soviet Union.  Almost 7,000 volunteers joined the anti-communist Légion des Volontaires Français (LVF) from 1941 to 1944, and some 7,500 formed the Division Charlemagne, a Waffen-SS unit, from 1944 to 1945.  Both the LVF and the Division Charlemagne fought on the eastern front.  Hitler never accepted that France could become a full military partner, and constantly prevented the buildup of Vichy’s military strength.

Vichy’s collaboration with Germany was industrial as well as political, with French factories providing many vehicles to the German armed forces.

In November 1942 Vichy French troops briefly but fiercely resisted the landing of Allied troops in French North Africa, but were unable to prevail.  Admiral François Darlan negotiated a local ceasefire with the Allies.  In response to the landings and Vichy’s inability to defend itself, German troops occupied southern France and Tunisia, a French protectorate that formed part of French North Africa.  The rump French army in mainland France was disbanded by the Germans.  The Bey of Tunis formed a government friendly to the Germans.

In mid-1943, former Vichy authorities in North Africa came to an agreement with the Free French and setup a temporary French government in Algiers, known as the French Committee of National Liberation (Comité Français de Libération Nationale, CFLN), initially led by Darlan.  After his assassination, De Gaulle emerged as the French leader.  The CFLN raised more troops and re-organized, re-trained and re-equipped the French military, under Allied supervision.

While deprived of armed forces, the Vichy government continued to function in mainland France until summer 1944, but had lost most of its territorial sovereignty and military assets, with the exception of the forces stationed in French Indochina.  In 1943 it founded the Milice, a paramilitary force which assisted the Germans in rounding up opponents and Jews, as well as fighting the French Resistance.[57]

The Vichy French Air Force (Armée de l’Air de Vichy) was the aerial branch of the armed forces of Vichy.  The Vichy French Air Force existed between December 1940 and December 1942 and largely served to defend Vichy French territories abroad.[58]

The defeat of France did not mean the end of the French Air Force.  The branch was soon split into two camps: those who escaped from France and joined the Free French Forces (Forces Françaises Libres) and those who stayed and flew for the French Armistice Air Force on behalf of the Vichy government.  Initially the Germans wanted to disband the air force completely, and all personnel were to be demobilized by mid-September.  However, on 3 July 1940 the British Royal Navy attacked the French fleet anchored in the Algerian ports of Oran and Mers-el-Kebir.  Angered, the French broke all connections with the British.  The Germans now agreed to the forming of a Vichy French air force.

Initially, Germany ordered military aircraft that had survived the Battle of France, including those now stationed in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, were to be surrendered either in whole or else already disassembled, or destroyed altogether.  These orders changed when the British acted to prevent French Navy capital ships from falling into German hands and becoming adjuncts of the Kriegsmarine (German Navy).

Churchill authorised a plan – codenamed “Operation Catapult“ – for a British naval formation (Force H) based in Gibraltar to sail to the harbor of Mers-el-Kébir, near Oran in French Algeria.  Four capital ships and other vessels were stationed at Mers-el-Kebir, Force H was to persuade Admiral Marcel-Bruno Gensoul to disobey orders from Vichy and take his vessels out of the war in Europe; by sailing to British ports or to French colonies in the Far East or even to the (still neutral) USA.  The overture was soundly rejected, so Royal Navy Admiral James Somerville gave the orders to destroy the French vessels.  More than 2,000 French sailors died in the attack and one French battleship was sunk and two others severely damaged.  The incident discredited the British in French eyes and gave the Germans a golden propaganda tool placing the British as France’s real enemies.   In retaliation, on 18 July 1940, the French air force half-heartedly bombed Gibraltar.  The bombing did little damage.

Vichy and Berlin agreed, if reluctantly, that the Armée de l’Air de Vichy (Vichy French Air Force) was still needed in case French interests were to be attacked by the British once again – and, of course, for attacking the British themselves.  Goering ordered that all Vichy French Air Force aircraft would henceforth be identified by special markings on the fuselage and tailplane of each one.  Initially, the rear fuselage and tailplane (excluding the rudder) were painted a bright yellow, although the markings were later changed so that they consisted of horizontal red and yellow stripes.  In all cases, French national markings (roundel on the fuselage and tricolour on the tailplane) were retained as before.  French aircraft on Vichy strength at this time included Bloch MB 155, Bloch MB 174, Breguet Bre 695, Dewoitine D.520, Lioré-et-Olivier LeO 45, Martin 167F, Morane-Saulnier MS.406 and Potez 63.11.

On 23 September 1940, the Vichy air force saw action again when the British tried to take Dakar, the capital of French West Africa (now Senegal).  As at Mers-el-Kébir, after an attempt to persuade the Vichy French to join the Allied cause failed, British and Free French forces attacked the Vichy forces.  However, this time the Vichy French managed to repulse the British torpedo-bomber attacks launched from the carrier HMS Ark Royal during several days of fighting with only light casualties on their side.

On 24 September 1940, in response to the British attack at Dakar, the Vichy air force bombed British facilities at Gibraltar again from French bases in North Africa.  The bombing stopped the following day - the same day that the British withdrew from Dakar - but only after Gibraltar suffered heavy damage.

Syrian-based Vichy air force units saw action against the British from April 1941, when a coup d’état in Iraq briefly installed the nationalist Rashid Ali Al-Gaylani as prime minister.  This was done in order to secure the vital oil supplies at Kirkuk (under British control since 1934) in northeastern Iraq for the pro-Axis nationalists who wanted the British to be expelled from the country.  However, the RAF base at Habbaniya withstood the nationalists, and in May the British, Indian and Commonwealth “Iraqforce” invaded Iraq via Basra.  The ensuing Anglo-Iraqi War ended with Iraqforce defeating the nationalists at the end of May and restoring a pro-Allied government in Iraq.

Allied operations during the Anglo-Iraqi War included attacks on Vichy air force bases in Lebanon and Syria, which served as staging posts for Regia Aeronautica and Luftwaffe units flying to Mosul to support the Iraqi nationalist coup.  Before the campaign in Iraq was over, the Allies decided to attack Vichy forces in Syria and Lebanon and occupy those countries.  The Vichy French air force was relatively strong at the start of the campaign.  In 1940, many of the aircraft stationed in Syria and Lebanon had been sent back to France.  This left the Vichy French with only a number of obsolete models.  However, alarmed by the growing threat of invasion, Vichy dispatched a fighter group from Algeria.  Once the fighting began, three more groups were flown from France and from North Africa.  This brought the strength of the Vichy French air force in Lebanon and Syria up to 289 aircraft, including about 35 Dewoitine D.520 fighters and some new, US-built Glenn Martin 167 light bombers.  This initially gave the Vichy French a numerical advantage over the Allied air units.

The invasion began on 8 June 1941.  RAF and Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) squadrons launched direct attacks on Vichy airfields, destroying many French aircraft on the ground.  D.520s of GC III/6, II/3 and naval escadrille 1AC faced the Allies in air to air combat, where they claimed 31 kills over British and Australian planes, while losing 11 of their own in air combat and 24 to AA fire, accidents, and attacks on their airfields.  However, No. 3 Squadron RAAF, which had just converted to the new Curtiss P-40B Tomahawk Mk. I, claimed five D.520s destroyed for the loss of one P-40 in air combat.  In all 179 Vichy aircraft were lost during the campaign, most having been destroyed on the ground.  In mid-July 1941, after heavy losses, Vichy French forces surrendered Syria and Lebanon to the Allies.

The last major battles against the Allied forces, in which the Vichy French air force took part, took place during Operation Torch, launched on 8 November 1942 as the Allied invasion of North Africa.  Facing the U.S. Navy task force headed for Morocco, consisting of the carriers USS Ranger, Sangamon, Santee and Suwannee, were, in part, Vichy squadrons based at Marrakech, Meknès, Agadir, Casablanca and Rabat, which between them could muster some 86 fighters and 78 bombers.  Overall, the aircraft may have been old compared to the Grumman F4F Wildcats of the U.S. Navy, yet they were still dangerous and capable in the hands of combat veterans who had seen action against both the Germans and the British since the start of the war.

F4Fs attacked the airfield at Rabat-Salé around 07.30 on the 8th and destroyed nine LeO 451 bombers of GB I/22, while a transport unit’s full complement of various types was almost entirely wiped out.  At Casablanca, SBD dive-bombers succeeded in damaging the French battle-cruiser, Jean Bart, and F4Fs strafed the bombers of GB I/32 at Camp Cazes airfield, some of which exploded as they were ready for take-off with bombs already on board, thus ensuring their mission never went ahead.  The U.S. Navy did not have it all their own way, though, as several F4F pilots were shot down and taken prisoner.

The day’s victory tally of enemy aircraft shot down by the French fighter pilots totaled seven confirmed and three probable, yet their losses were considered heavy – five pilots killed, four wounded and 13 aircraft destroyed either in combat or on the ground – when one considers that GC II/5, based in Casablanca, had lost only two pilots killed during the whole of the six-week campaign in France two years before.  In the meantime, F4Fs of U.S. Navy Fighter Squadron VF-41 from the USS Ranger strafed and destroyed (ironically) three U.S.-built Douglas DB-7 bombers of GB I/32, which were being refueled and rearmed at Casablanca, leaving a mere three others undamaged.

Nevertheless, having been reinforced by two other bombers, GB I/32 carried out a bombing mission against the beaches at Safi, where more U.S. soldiers were landing, the next morning.  One of the bombers was damaged and attempted to make a forced-landing, only it exploded upon contact with the ground, killing the entire crew.  Fighter unit GC I/5 lost four pilots in combat that day (9 November) and it was on that same day that Adjudant (Warrant Officer) Bressieux had the distinction of becoming the last pilot in the Vichy French air force to claim a combat victory, in this case an F4F of VF-9.  Shortly afterwards, 13 F4Fs attacked the airfield at Médiouna and destroyed a total of 11 French aircraft, including six from GC II/5.

On the morning of 10 November 1942, the Vichy French air force units in Morocco had a mere 37 combat-ready fighters and 40 bombers left to face the might of the U.S. Navy F4Fs.  Médiouna was attacked once again and several of the fighters were left burning, while two reconnaissance Potez were shot down, one by an F4F and the other by an SBD over the airfield at Chichaoua, where three F4Fs would later destroy four more Potez in a strafing attack.

Ultimately, the presence of Vichy France in North Africa as an ally of the Germans came to an end (ironically) on Armistice Day, 11 November 1942, when General Noguès, the commander-in-chief of the Vichy armed forces, requested a cease-fire – although that did not stop a unit of U.S. Navy aircraft attacking the airfield at Marrakech and destroying several French aircraft, apparently on the initiative of the unit’s commander.  Once the cease-fire request was accepted, the war between the Allies and the Vichy French came to an end after two and a half years of what was termed “fratricidal” fighting.

“Torch” had resulted in a victory for the Allies, even though it was fair to say that the French had no choice but to engage the Americans, otherwise the Americans would (and did) engage them since they were technically enemies.  As a result, 12 air force and 11 navy pilots lost their lives in the final four days of combat between (Vichy) France and the Allies during the Second World War.  Barely two weeks later, the Germans invaded the then-unoccupied zone of metropolitan France and ordered the complete dissolution of the Vichy French armed forces on 1 December 1942.  Those units then not under Vichy control would then be free to join with their Free French colleagues to fight the common enemy: Nazi Germany. [59]

Arsenal VG-33 

 (Armée de l’Air Photo)

 (Armée de l’Air Photo)

  (Luftwaffe Photo)

The Arsenal VG-33 was one of a series of fast French light fighter aircraft under development at the start of the Second World War, but which matured too late to see extensive service in the Armée de l’Air during the Battle of France.  Somewhat under-armed compared to the Messerschmitt Bf 109, the VG-33 matched it in speed and manoeuvrability and was somewhat faster than the Dewoitine D.520.  In larger quantities, this plane could have shown the Luftwaffe a rough time, but as was the case for most French planes, production problems plagued the VG-33 such that only 160 aircraft were close to completion before the Armistice, with just 19 of 40 produced (?) actually taken on by the Armée de l’Air.  Just two machines ever flew in an active group, the piecemeal GC 1/55 which began life on June 18 and conducted missions for just a week.  After the fall of France twelve VG-33s were confiscated by the Luftwaffe, perhaps for fighter training.[60]

Bloch MB.152

  (Armée de l’Air Photo)

The Bloch MB 150 was a French low-wing, all-metal monoplane fighter aircraft with retractable landing gear and enclosed cockpit developed by Société des Avions Marcel Bloch as a contender in the 1934 French air ministry competition for a new fighter design.

During the Second World War, pilots flying the Bloch MB.152 are credited with destroying at least 188 enemy aircraft while losing about 86 of their own.  They proved tough aircraft, able to stand considerable battle damage, and were a good gunnery platform, but with many problems that included poor agility, poor weapon reliability, poor range (600 km, although at that time the Bf 109E was only slightly better, at around 660 km), and were notably underpowered.

In 1944, several surviving MB.152s were liberated at an airfield in mid-southern France.  After being flight-tested and evaluated, and painting out the balkenkreuzen and swastikas, they were fitted with more powerful American engines and went up against the last remnants of the Luftwaffe with the Free French.[61]

Bloch MB 170

The Bloch MB 170 and its family of derivatives were French reconnaissance bombers designed and built shortly before the Second World War.  They were, by far, the best aircraft of this type available to the Armée de l’Air at the outbreak of the war, with speed and manoeuvrability that allowed them to evade interception by the German fighters of the time.  Although the aircraft could have been in service by 1937, debate over what role to give the aircraft delayed deliveries until 1940.  Too few in number to make any measurable impact on the Battle of France, they continued in service with the Vichy forces after the armistice.

Only 3 examples were lost to enemy fire during the Battle of France.  However, like the majority of the modern equipment of the Armée de l’Air during the campaign, they arrived too late and in insufficient numbers.  At the time of the armistice, most surviving MB.174s and 175s had been evacuated to North Africa.  A few were recovered by the Germans and then used for pilot training.  During the Vichy government rule on the French empire, MB.174s frequently flew over Gibraltar to monitor the British fleet.

In March 1941, German engineers used engines taken from MB.175s (as well as other captured aircraft) to propel the Messerschmitt Me 323 cargo aircraft, some of which actually flew with parts taken from already complete MB.175s.  After Operation Torch, as French forces split from Vichy to side with the Allies, remaining examples of the MB 170 line flew their final combat missions during the battle of Tunisia.  They were replaced by reconnaissance variants of the P-38 Lightning, and used as transports and target tugs.[62]

Breguet Bre 690

The Breguet Bre 690 and its derivatives were a series of light twin-engine ground-attack aircraft that were used by the French Air Force in the Second World War.  The aircraft was intended to be easy to maintain, pleasant to fly and to be able to fly at 480 km/h (300 mph) at 4,000 m (13,120 ft).  The type’s sturdy construction was frequently demonstrated and the armament was effective.  However, French rearmament began two full years later than that in Britain, and all of these aircraft were simply not available in sufficient numbers to make a difference in 1940.

Fewer than 250 Breguet Bre 690 series aircraft were completed.  The Armée de l’air received only 211 examples: 75 Bre.691s, 128 Bre.693s, and eight Bre.695s, but the Germans captured a few dozen complete or near-complete aircraft at the factories.

On 12 May 1940, GBAs I/54 and II/54 performed the Breguet’s first operational sorties, against German motorized columns in the Maastricht Tongeren-Bilsen area.  German anti-aircraft fire was so devastating that only eight of the 18 Bre.693s returned.  The disastrous results of this first engagement forced the French commanders to reconsider their tactics.  Until 15 May, GBA crews performed shallow dive attacks from higher altitude, which resulted in reduced losses, but the attacks had clearly been inaccurate, as the Breguets lacked a bombsight, and they increased vulnerability to enemy fighters.  On the following missions, the GBAs re-introduced low-level attacks, but with smaller formations.  As the battle quickly evolved towards the collapse of the French armies, the assault groups were engaged daily, still enduring losses to the AAA, but also to enemy fighters.

In late June, the Armée de l’Air tried to evacuate its modern aircraft to North Africa, out of German reach, from where many hoped to continue the fight.  Unfortunately, the short-ranged Breguets were not able to cross the Mediterranean.  Unlike other French modern types, the Breguet Bre 690 family saw its combat career end with the Armistice.  At this point in time, 119 aircraft had been lost, including 68 to direct enemy action, and a further 14 were written off as too heavily damaged.  The five GBAs had therefore endured a materiel loss rate of 63%, while crew casualties accounted for nearly 50%.

After the Armistice, the Vichy authorities were allowed to maintain a small air force in mainland France, and its assault bomber pilots flew rare training flights in the Bre.693 and Bre.695.  After the Germans occupied all of France in late 1942 some of the survivors were transferred to Italy for use as operational trainers. [63]

Curtiss Hawk P-75A

The Curtiss P-36 Hawk, also known as the Curtiss Hawk Model 75, was an American-designed and built fighter aircraft of the 1930s and 40s.  It was one of the first of a new generation of combat aircraft, a sleek monoplane design making extensive use of metal in its construction and powered by a powerful radial engine.  Obsolete at the onset of the Second World War, it was used extensively by the French Air Force, both during the Battle of France and by the Vichy French; and was used against French forces in the Franco-Thai War (October 1940–May 9, 1941).[64]

Even before the P-36A entered production, the French Air Force entered negotiations with Curtiss for delivery of 300 aircraft.  The negotiating process ended up being very drawn-out because the cost of the Curtiss fighters was double that of the French Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 and Bloch MB 150, and the delivery schedule was deemed too slow.  The pressure of continuing German rearmament finally forced France to purchase 100 aircraft and 173 engines.  The first Hawk P-75A arrived in France in December 1938 and began entering service in March 1939. After the first few examples, aircraft were delivered in pieces and assembled in France by the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre

Officially designated Curtiss H75-C1 (the “Hawk” name was not used in France), the aircraft were powered by Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC-G engines with 900 hp and had instruments calibrated for the metric system, a seat for French dorsal parachutes, a French-style throttle which operated in reverse from U.S. and British aircraft (full throttle was to the rear rather than to the front) and armament of four 7.5-mm FN-Browning machine guns.  The aircraft evolved through several modifications, the most significant being the installation of the Wright R-1820 Cyclone engine.  This variant, designated as Curtiss H751-C1, saw little operational use due to its late delivery and reliability problems with the new engine.  A total of 416 H75s were delivered to France before the German occupation.

On 8 September 1939, aircraft from Groupe de Chasse II/4 were credited with shooting down two Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Bf 109Es, the first Allied air victory of the Second World War on the Western front.  During 1939–1940, French pilots claimed 230 confirmed and 80 probable victories in H75s against only 29 aircraft lost in aerial combat.  Of the 11 French aces of the early part of the war, seven flew H75s.  The leading ace of the time was Lieutenant Edmond Marin la Meslée with 15 confirmed and five probable victories in the type.  H75-equipped squadrons were evacuated to French North Africa before the Armistice to avoid capture by the Germans.  While under the Vichy government, these units clashed with British aircraft over Mers el-Kébir and Dakar.  During Operation Torch in North Africa, French H75s fought against U.S. Navy Grumman F4F Wildcats, losing 15 aircraft while shooting down seven American aircraft.  From late 1942 on, the Allies started re-equipping the formerly Vichy-controlled French units with the H75s replaced by P-40s and P-39s.[65]

Dewoitine D.520

The Dewoitine D.520 was a French fighter aircraft that entered service in early 1940, shortly after the opening of the Second World War.  Unlike the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406, which was at that time the Armée de l’Air’s most numerous fighter, the Dewoitine D.520 came close to being a match for the latest German types, such as the Messerschmitt Bf 109.  It was slower than the Bf 109E but superior in manoeuvrability.  Because of a delayed production cycle, only a small number were available for combat with the Luftwaffe.

The D.520 was designed in response to a 1936 requirement from the Armée de l’Air for a fast, modern fighter with a good climbing speed and an armament centred on a 20-mm cannon.  At the time the most powerful V 12 liquid cooled engine available in France was the Hispano-Suiza 12Y, which was less powerful, but lighter, than contemporary engines such as the Rolls-Royce Merlin and Daimler-Benz DB 601.  Other fighters were designed to meet the specifications but none of them entered service, or entered service in small numbers and too late to play a significant role during the Battle of France.[66]

By 10 May 1940, when Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, 228 D.520s had been manufactured, but the Armée de l’Air had only accepted 75, as most others had been sent back to the factory to be retrofitted to the new standard.  As a result, only GC I/3 was fully equipped, having 36 aircraft.  They met the Luftwaffe on 13 May, shooting down three Henschel Hs 126s and one Heinkel He 111 without loss.  Four more Groupes de Chasse and three naval Escadrilles rearmed with the type before France’s surrender.  GC II/3, GC III/3, GC III/6 and GC II/7 later completed conversion on the D.520.  A naval unit, the 1er Flotille de Chasse, was also equipped with the Dewoitine.  But only GC I/3, II/7, II/6 and the naval AC 1 saw any action in the Battle of France.  GC III/7 converted to the D.520 too late to be involved in combat.

In air combat, mostly against Italians, pilots flying the Dewoitine 520s claimed 114 air victories, plus 39 probables.  Eighty five D.520s were lost.  By the armistice at the end of June 1940, 437 D.520s had been built with 351 delivered.  After the armistice, 165 D.520s were evacuated to North Africa.  GC I/3, II/3, III/3, III/6 and II/7 flew their aircraft to Algeria to avoid capture.  Three more, from GC III/7, escaped to Britain and were delivered to the Free French.  A total of 153 D.520s remained in mainland France.

One of the most successful D.520 pilots was Pierre Le Gloan, who shot down 18 aircraft (four Germans, seven Italian and seven British), scoring all of his kills with the D.520, and ranked as the fourth-highest French ace of the war.

In April 1941, the German armistice commission authorized Vichy authorities to resume production of a batch of 1,000 military aircraft for their own use, under the condition that 2,000 German-designed aircraft would later be manufactured in France and delivered to Germany.  As part of this agreement, 550 examples of the D.520 were ordered to replace all other single-seat fighters in service.  The plan was to have the Dewoitine eventually equip a total of 17 Groupes with 442 aircraft, three escadrilles of the Aéronautique navale with 37 aircraft each, plus three training units with 13 aircraft.

In 1941, D.520s of GC III/6, II/3 and naval escadrille 1AC fought the Allies during the Syria-Lebanon campaign.  The Vichy French Air Force (Armée de l’Air de Vichy) was already relatively strong, but several units were sent to reinforce it.  D.520s were the only French single-seat fighters capable of making the trip to Syria.  The GC III/6 was sent first.  Flying over mountainous terrain for long distances, of the 168 French aircraft (of all types) sent to Syria, 155 accomplished their mission and successfully arrived.  The Vichy Air force was numerically strong, but with very few ground crew and spare parts, so the operational flying time for the D.520s was very limited.  D.520s of GC III/6 first saw action against British aircraft on 8 June 1941, when they shot down three Fairey Fulmars, losing one D.520 with its pilot taken prisoner).  Over the following days several escort missions were made to protect Martin, LeO and Bloch 200 (3/39 Esc) aircraft from British Royal Navy fighters.  On 9 June, two Hawker Hurricanes were shot down (with another D.520 lost).

In total, during the Syria campaign 266 missions were flown by the Vichy French Air Force: 99 of them were made by D.520s, nine by MS.406s, 46 by Martin 167s and 31 by LeO 451s.  The D.520s were therefore the most active of the French aircraft in the campaign, where they claimed 31 kills over British and Australian units while losing 11 of their own in air combat and a further 24 to AA fire, accidents and attacks on their airfields..  On 10 July, five D.520s attacked Bristol Blenheim bombers from No. 45 Squadron RAF that were being escorted by seven Curtiss Tomahawks from No. 3 Squadron RAAF (3 Sqn).  The French pilots claimed three Blenheims, but at least four of the D.520s were destroyed by the Australian escorts, including two by F/O Peter Turnbull.  The following day, a Dewoitine pilot shot down a P-40 from 3 Sqn, the only Tomahawk lost during the campaign.  This Dewoitine was in turn shot down by F/O Bobby Gibbes.  The initial advantage that the Vichy French Air Force enjoyed did not last long, and they lost most of their aircraft during the campaign.  The majority of the lost aircraft were destroyed on the ground where the flat terrain, absence of infrastructure and absence of modern anti-aircraft (AA) artillery made them vulnerable to air attacks.  On June 26, a strafing run by Tomahawks of 3 Sqn, on Homs airfield, destroyed five Dewoitine D.520s of Fighter Squadron II/3 (Groupe de Chasse II/3) and damaged six more.

By the end of the campaign, the Vichy forces had lost 179 aircraft from the approximately 289 committed to the Levant.  The remaining aircraft with the range to do so, evacuated to Rhodes.  The known French losses of fighter aircraft were 26 in air combat and 45 in strafing and bombing actions.  Allied forces lost 41 planes, 27 of those shot down by French fighters.  During Operation Torch, GC III/3 (previously known as GC I/3) was engaged in combat with the Allies over Oran.  Flotille 1F saw action versus the United States Navy F4F Wildcat squadron VF-41 (from the carrier USS Ranger), over Casablanca.  One D.520 was among 14 US victory claims, with the only Allied losses being due to ground and friendly fire.  Other Dewoitine-equipped units in North Africa such as GC II/7 or GC II/3 did not to take part in the fighting.  Overall, the known D.520 air strength in North Africa was 173 D.520s (143 combat ready) of GC II/3, III/3, III/6, II/7 and II/5, another 30 were in Senegal with GC II/6.  The Navy had Esc 1AC and 2AC. Many D.520s were destroyed on the ground by Allied bombing.  The French Air Force lost 56 aircraft, among them 13 D.520s.  The Navy lost 19 D.520s aircraft.  Among the 44 kills that the French scored overall, there was an entire squadron of nine Fairey Albacore, from the HMS Furious, all shot down by D.520s of GC III/3.

A very small number of D.520s were briefly operated by Free French Forces for training purposes.  Along with the three examples that had flown to Britain in June 1940, two other D.520s were recovered from retreating Vichy forces in Rayak, Lebanon.  These D.520s were flown by pilots of the Normandie-Niemen unit before the unit was sent to the USSR, where they flew the Yakovlev Yak-1 that had many similarities with the D.520.

In December 1942, as French forces formerly under Vichy sided with the Allies, there were 153 D.520s left in French hands in North Africa.  They flew a few patrols during the Battle of Tunisia, but were considered obsolete, and their radio sets were incompatible with Allied equipment.  From early 1943 on, they were relegated to training duties at the fighter school in Meknes, and progressively replaced by Spitfires and P-39s in combat units.  During the liberation of France, a few D.520s abandoned by the Germans were used by ad hoc units in ground attacks against the isolated German pockets of resistance on the Western coast.

As German forces invaded Vichy’s so-called “free zone” in November 1942, they captured 246 D.520s; additionally, a batch of 62 was completed under German occupation.  The captured Dewoitines were to be delivered to the Axis Balkan Front, although some were used by the Luftwaffe for training purposes while 60 were transferred to Italy and 96, or 120, to Vozdushni Voiski, the Bulgarian Air Force, for use in combat. 

Numerous sources have mentioned use of the D.520 by the Romanian Air Force, but no evidence has ever been provided.  One source claims the so-called Romanian Dewoitines were, in fact, in transit to Bulgaria and only flew over Romania in order to get to their final destination.  This seems the most reliable explanation, viewed against the numbers of Dewoitines actually available.

About 60 D.520s were acquired by Regia Aeronautica.  Italian pilots appreciated the aircraft’s capabilities and Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon, at least by 1940–1941 standards.  The first three D.520s were assigned to 2° Stormo based at the Torino-Caselle airfield, where they were used for the defence of Torino’s industrial area.  Other D.520s were captured in Montélimar, Orange, Istres and Aix-en-Provence.

At the beginning of 1943, the Italian ace Luigi Gorrini ferried D.520s taken as prizes of war to Italy to be used for defence.

Surviving Dewoitine D.520 fighters:

Dewoitine D.520a No. 408 was restored to flying condition in the 1970s.  Delivered in 1940, it fought against Allies in 1942, survived the war and many years later was rebuilt as the N.90, a famous D.520 flown with GC II/3  It was overhauled in 1977-80, and it flew at Le Bourget airshow in 1980.  It performed at various airshows in Europe, but was destroyed in a fatal crash in 1986.

Dewoitine D.520 No. 603 is on display at the Conservatoire de l’air et de l’espace d’Aquitaine in Bordeaux-Mérignac.

Dewoitine D.520 No. 655 is undergoing restoration at the Naval Museum in Rochefort.

Dewoitine D.520 No. 862 is on display at the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace.  It has been repainted as No. 277 used by GC III/6 in June 1940.

Lioré-et-Olivier LeO 45 

Lioré-et-Olivier LeO 45 was a French medium bomber used during the Second World War.  It was a low-wing monoplane, all metal in construction, equipped with a retractable undercarriage and powered by two 1,100 hp Hispano-Suiza engines.  It was a very effective bomber, but it appeared too late to give any substantial contribution to the war effort.  Although designed before the war, it remained in service until September 1957.[67]

At the start of the Battle of France on 10 May 1940, only 54 of the 222 LeO 451 that had been delivered were considered ready for combat, the remainder being used for training, spares, undergoing modifications and repairs or having been lost.  The first combat sortie of the campaign was flown by 10 aircraft from GB I/12 and GB II/12 on 11 May.  Flying at low altitude, the bombers suffered from heavy ground fire with one aircraft shot down and 8 heavily damaged.  Within the next 8 days many of them were shot down.  By the Armistice of 25 June 1940, LeO 451 of the Groupement 6 had flown approximately 400 combat missions, dropping 320 tons of bombs at the expense of 31 aircraft shot down by enemy fire, 40 written off due to damage, and 5 lost in accidents.  There are other numbers, stating about 47 bombers lost (26 to fighters, 21 to flak).  Although the LeO’s were faster than many 1940’s fighters and faster than almost all other types of bombers, unfortunately for them the Luftwaffe was equipped with fighters that were even faster (Bf 109 and Bf 110).

Following the Armistice, LeO 451s continued to fly, now under the Vichy government.  The aircraft were fitted with larger rudders and, later, two additional 7.5 mm machine guns in the rear turret.  Aircraft production had totally stopped with the German occupation, but a 1941 agreement authorized Vichy authorities to have a limited number of military aircraft built.  As a result, 109 additional LeOs were manufactured in 1942.  The most notable of these was LeO 451-359 which was fitted with an experimental degaussing coil for remotely detonating naval mines (some British Vickers Wellingtons and German Junkers Ju 52s also carried a similar device).

Two bomber units equipped with LeO 451s, GB I/12 and GB I/31 were based in Syria when Allied forces invaded on 8 June 1941, at the start of the Syria-Lebanon Campaign.  These were supplemented by GB I/25, which was dispatched from Tunisia.  During this campaign, the LeO 451s flew a total of 855 sorties, losing 29 LeO 451s in the process.  After Operation Torch which began on 8 November 1942, surviving French LeO 451 in North Africa were used primarily for freight duties, although they flew a few bombing missions against Axis forces during the Tunisia Campaign.  They were ultimately replaced in active service by Handley-Page Halifax and B-26 Marauder bombers.

The Germans showed little interest in this aircraft, but on 21 May 1943, Luftwaffe requested Regia Aeronautica to hand over 39 Lioré et Olivier LeO 451, captured by Italians troops in the SNCASE factory in Ambérieu-en-Bugey (Lyon).  The Luftwaffe claimed it had previously bought the Lioré, and gave in exchange a stock of 30 Dewoitine D.520s.  Subsequently, the 451s were converted into transport aircraft for fuel and troops.  Other Lioré were delivered to the Regia Aeronautica and 12 were put in service with a ground attack unit, although they saw almost no active service.  Following the war, the 67 surviving aircraft were mostly used as trainers and transports. The LeO 451 was finally retired in September 1957, making it the last pre-war French design to leave active duty.[68]

Martin Model 167

The Martin Model 167 was an American-designed light bomber that first flew in 1939.  It saw action during the Second World War with France and the United Kingdom, where it was called the Maryland.[69]

Facing German arms buildup and desperate for modern aircraft, the French Air Force purchased US aircraft of numerous types in the late 1930s.  Martin received an order for more than 200 167 Fs which incorporated French-specific equipment such as metric instruments.  French officials expected the deliveries to begin in January 1939 but the type, locally designated Glenn Martin 167 A-3 only entered service in early 1940.  Notably, because of the U.S. embargo on arms exports after the beginning of the Second World War, many planes were impounded for two months before being shipped to Europe.  Approximately 215 Martin 167s were delivered to France.

When the Germans eventually invaded France there were only four Groupes de bombardement (bomber squadrons) equipped.  The Glenns were quickly sent to the frontlines where they performed honorably.  With their sufficient speed and excellent manoeuvrability for an airplane in this class, they sometimes had a chance to avoid enemy fighters.  In more than 400 sorties versus the Germans, they suffered a loss rate of only 4%, which was much better than the 16% endured by LeO 451s and their crews above the same targets.

Immediately before the June 1940 Armistice, units flying the Glenn Martin 167 were evacuated to French North Africa to avoid capture by the Germans.  One of them landed in Spain and was interned, where it was test flown by the Spanish Air Force.  Some examples were transferred to the Aéronautique Navale.  During the Vichy rule over the French empire, French Martins occasionally clashed with British Commonwealth forces, most notably during the Syria-Lebanon campaign of 1941.  As French North Africa got back in the Allied camp in 1943, M.167s were phased out of service and replaced with more modern Allied types, including the Martin B-26 Marauder.[70]

Morane-Saulnier M.S.406

The M.S.406 was a French Armée de l’Air fighter aircraft built by Morane-Saulnier starting in 1938.  Numerically it was France’s most important fighter during the opening stages of the Second World War. 

Although sturdy and highly manoeuvrable, it was under-powered and weakly armed when compared to its contemporaries.  Most critically, it was out-performed by the Messerschmitt Bf 109E during the Battle of France.  The M.S.406 held its own in the early stages of the war (the so-called Phoney War), but when the war restarted in earnest in 1940, losses to all causes amounted to approximately 400 aircraft.  Out of this total some 150 were lost to enemy fighters and ground fire, another 100 were destroyed on the ground in enemy air raids and the remainder was deliberately destroyed by French military personnel to prevent the fighters from falling into enemy hands intact.  In return M.S.406 squadrons achieved 191 confirmed victories and another 83 probable victories.  The type was more successful in the hands of Finnish and Swiss air forces which developed indigenous models.[71]

The Swiss continued development of the MS.412 when French involvement stopped following the June 1940 Armistice.  The Dornier-Altenrhein factory completed a prototype powered with a licence-produced HS-51 12Y engine, generating 1,060 hp (791 kW) together with the fixed radiator and revised exhausts as tested on the MS.411, in October 1940.  The new type retained the armament changes and other improvements introduced on the D.3800.  This series was put into production in 1941 as the D-3801 with continued deliveries until 1945 with 207 completed. Another 17 were built from spares between 1947 and 1948.  Reliability of the new engine was at first extremely poor, with problems with crankshaft bearings causing several accidents.  The engine problems slowed deliveries, with only 16 aircraft produced in 1942 and a single aircraft delivered in 1943.  The engine problems were eventually resolved in 1944.  With 1,060 hp from the Hispano-Suiza 12Y-51, the speed was boosted to 535 km/h (332 mph), roughly equivalent to the D.520 or the Hurricane.  Weights were between 2,124-2,725 kg. After being retired from operational use as a fighter when the North American P-51 Mustang was acquired in 1948, the type remained in service as a trainer and target tug until 1959.

The D.3802 was based on the MS.540, with a Sauer YS-2 (1,250 hp) engine.  The prototype flew in the autumn of 1944.  This aircraft had several shortcomings, but it was capable of 630 km/h.  12 were produced and saw limited use with Fliegerstaffel 17 and some other units.

The last development of this aircraft was the D.3803, with Sauer YS-3 (1,500 hp) engine, and modified dorsal fuselage (with an all-round visibility canopy).  The D.3803 was armed with three HS-404 20 mm cannons (one in the nose, two in the wings), plus up to 200 kg bombs and rockets.  Despite not having a powerful engine, the type reached 680 km/h at 7,000 m.  The performance was impressive, but the last development of this 1935 fighter design had several shortcomings and was not entirely successful.  Its development was halted as P-51D Mustangs became available.

France sent 30 Morane-Saulnier to Finland, between 4 and 29 February 1940.  By 1943 Finnish had received an additional 46 M.S.406s and 11 M.S.410s purchased from the Germans.  By this point, the fighters were hopelessly outdated, but the Finns were so desperate for serviceable aircraft that they decided to start a modification program to bring all of their examples to a new standard.

The aircraft designer Aarne Lakomaa turned the obsolete M-S into a first rate fighter, the Mörkö-Morane (Finnish for Bogey or Ogre Morane), sometimes referred to as the LaGG-Morane.  Powered by captured Klimov M-105P engines (a licensed version of the HS 12Y) of 1,100 hp (820 kW) with a fully adjustable propeller, the airframe required some local strengthening and also gained a new and more aerodynamic engine cowling.  These changes boosted the speed to 326 mph (525 km/h).  Other changes included a new oil cooler taken from the Bf 109, the use of four belt-fed guns like the M.S.410, and the excellent 20-mm MG 151/20 cannon in the engine mounting.  However, supplies of the MG 151 were limited, and several received captured 12.7mm Berezin UBS guns instead.

The first example of the modified fighter, MS-631, made its first flight on 25 January 1943, and the results were startling: the aircraft was 40 km/h (25 mph) faster than the original French version, and the service ceiling was increased from 10,000 to 12,000 m (32,800 to 39,360 ft).

Originally it was planned to convert all the 41 remaining M.S.406s and M.S.410s with the Soviet engine, but it took time, and the first front-line aircraft of this type did not reach LeLv 28 until July/August 1944.  By the end of the Continuation War in 1944, only three examples had been converted (including the original prototype).  Lieutenant Lars Hattinen (an ace with six victories) scored three kills with the Mörkö-Morane.  More fighters arrived from the factory, though, and the Mörkö-Moranes took part in the Lapland War as reconnaissance and ground attack aircraft.  Not all the Mörkö-Morane conversions were completed before March 1945, when the entire re-engining programme was halted.  After the end of the war, the total was brought to 41, which served as advanced trainers with TLeLv 14 until September 1948.  In 1952 all remaining Finnish Moranes were scrapped.

In late 1930s a war with Germany was clearly looming, and the Armée de l'Air placed an order for 1,000 airframes in March 1938.  Morane-Saulnier was unable to produce anywhere near this number at their own factory, so a second line was set up at the nationalized factories of SNCAO at St. Nazaire converted to produce the type.  Production began in late 1938, and the first production example flew on 29 January 1939.  Deliveries were hampered more by the slow deliveries of the engines than by lack of airframes.

By April 1939, the production lines were delivering six aircraft a day, and when the war opened on 3 September 1939, production was at 11 a day with 535 in service.  Production of the M.S.406 ended in March 1940, after the original order for 1,000 had been delivered to the Armée de l'Air, and a further 77 for foreign users (30 for Finland and 45 for Turkey).  Additional orders for Lithuania and Poland were canceled with the outbreak of the war.

The MS 406 equipped 16 Groupes de Chasse and three Escadrilles in France and overseas, and 12 of the Groupes saw action against the Luftwaffe.  The aircraft was very manoeuvrable and could withstand heavy battle damage, but was outclassed by the Bf 109 and losses were heavy (150 aircraft lost in action and 250-300 lost through other causes).  After the armistice, only one Vichy unit, GC. 1/7, was equipped with the MS. 406.

Germany took possession of a large number of M.S.406s and the later M.S.410s.  The Luftwaffe used a number for training, and sold off others.  Finland purchased additional M.S.406s (as well as a few 406/410 hybrids) from the Germans, while others were passed off to Italy and Croatia.  Those still in French hands saw action in Syria against the RAF, and on Madagascar against the Fleet Air Arm.  Both Switzerland and Turkey also operated the type; the Swiss actually managing to down a number of both German and Allied aircraft, 1944-1945.

Before the Pacific campaign proper, Vichy authorities in French Indochina were engaged in a frontier war against Thailand, during 1940-41.  A number of M.S.406s stationed in Indochina downed Thai fighters before the French Air Force abandoned the theatre. Some examples of the M.S.406 were captured by the Thai Air Force.

The M.S.406 had a parallel career in Finland.  In February 1940 the first 30 French fighters were allocated to LeLv 28, commanded by Major Jusu.  These aircraft received the Finnish designations MS-301 to MS-330.  They were used in combat during the Winter War, against the USSR and carried out 259 operational sorties and shot down 16 Soviet aircraft.  In modified form, the M.S.406 were later involved in the Continuation War.  Between November 1939 and 4 September 1944, Lv28 scored 118 aerial victories flying the Morane M.S.406 (the unit flew Bf 109Gs for a time, as well).  The unit lost 15 aircraft.  Total Finnish kills amounted to 121.  The top Morane ace in all theatres was W/O Urho Lehtovaara, with 15 of his 44.5 total kills achieved in Moranes.  The Finnish nicknames were Murjaani (blackmoor), a twist on its name, and Mätimaha (roe-belly) and Riippuvatsa (hanging belly) for its bulged ventral fuselage.[72]

Potez 630

The Potez 630 and its derivatives were a family of twin-engined aircraft developed for the Armée de l’Air in the late 1930s.  The Potez 633 saw only brief operational service with the Armée de l’Air in Europe when aircraft from two units undertook a sortie near Arras on May 20, 1940; two days later the aircraft was withdrawn from front-line service.  The Potez 633 exported to Greece and Romania saw more extensive service, in limited numbers.  The Romanians used them against the USSR and the Greeks against Italy.  A small number of Potez 633 originally destined for China were commandeered by the French colonial administration in Indo-China and saw limited action in the brief French-Thai War in early 1941.

More than 700 Potez 63.11 were delivered by June 1940, of which more than 220 were destroyed or abandoned, despite the addition of extra machine gun armament; the heaviest losses of any French type.  The Potez 63.11 continued in service with the Vichy air force and with the Free French forces in North Africa seeing action with both.  Production was resumed under German control and significant numbers appear to have been impressed by the Germans, mostly in liaison and training roles.[73]