The (Free) French Air Force in 1940-1945 (Listing attempt)

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David Lehmann
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The (Free) French Air Force in 1940-1945 (Listing attempt)

Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:10

The (Free) French Air Force in 1940-1945

During WW2 about 150 French fighter pilots became aces (at least 5 air victories). 30 of them were KIA and 17 of them became later generals. The French Air Force ended WW2 with more than 2,700 KIAs and 1,500 MIAs.
All the units are probably not listed in the following tables and there might be small mistakes. The very early FAFL (Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres = Free French Air Force) are hard to track, several ones are probably missing here. The units also changed their names, organization, were disbanded, recreated etc. but these tables give a rather good idea of the French Air Force on the allied side after the Armistice of 1940. Many of these units were created several months before the indicated date but time was required for receiving the new planes, conversion on these planes, training etc.
During WW2, about 150 French fighter pilots became aces (at least 5 air victories). 30 of them were KIA and 17 of them became later generals. The 3 highest scoring aces are Pierre Clostermann (33 confirmed air victories), Marcel Albert (23 confirmed air victories) and Jean Demozay (21 confirmed air victories). In the Soviet Air Force the French "Normandie-Niemen" Regiment scored 273 confirmed kills in 5240 sorties and lost 42 pilots. The French Air Force ended WW2 with more than 2,700 KIAs and 1,500 MIAs. The French were still present in the sky after 1940.

Bomber group "Lorraine" and fighter group "Berry" took e.g. part to D-Day. On June 13, the Spitfires from fighter groups "Alsace" and "Ile de France" landed on the French soil. The bomber groups "Guyenne" and "Tunisie" bombed the Germans during the battle of Caen and in the Falaise pocket. Other French pilots flew on Hawker Typhoon from the RAF and supported the US 3rd infantry division at Avranches against German tanks. During operation Anvil/Dragoon in August 1944, more than 5,000 allied planes took part to the landing in Southern France. About 250 of these planes were French.

Nonetheless, the French did not always serve in the French air units that are listed in the tables. There were also ground troops, engineers, crew members and pilots who served in British units. Pierre Clostermann is probably the most famous example. He is also the highest scoring French ace of WW2 with 33 confirmed air victories. In 1941 Clostermann joined the Squadron 341 (GC III/2 "Alsace"). In 1942 he was transferred to RAF Squadron 602. On March 4, 1945 he joined Squadron 274 on Hawker Tempest. He becomes Flight Commander of Squadron 56 in March 1945. Finally he is transferred to Squadron 3. He has been awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), Distinguished Flying Cross DFC) and received and extra "bar" to his DFC in addition to French, Belgian and US awards.
As other example we could mention Jean Demozay (3rd highest scoring French ace with 21 confirmed air victories). He becomes translator in the RAF where he began to fly on planes. In September 1940, he enlists in the Free French Air Force. In October 1941 he is affected to RAF Squadron 1 (Hurricane) and in June 1941 he joins RAF Squadron 242 (Spitfire). In July 1941 he is transferred to Squadron 91 where he becomes commander of Flight A. He is promoted Squadron Leader on July 1942 and is awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). In December 1942, he is promoted Wing Commander and joins the staff of RAF Group 11. In April 1943 he is attached to the Air ministry in London and in 1944 he takes part to the creation of the FFI "Groupement Patrie" to provide air support to the French partisans.


1) BOMBERS
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:12

* The GB II/20 "Lorraine" is based in Great Britain in 1943 and in France in 1944. From November 8, 1943 to June 21, 1944 this unit is mainly engaged against V1 launching sites.

** The GB I/25 "Tunisie" (LeO.451) is used as transport unit for US troops in Tunisia from January 18 to 29, 1943 (104 tons delivered, 65,000 km flown in 532 hours). In February and March 1943, the unit is again used as bomber unit. In May 1944, it is based in Great Britain and converted in Handley Page Halifax aircraft. The first mission with the new planes is launched on June 1, 1944 against V1 launching sites.
From 1944 to 1945, GB I/25 "Tunisie" made 1,145 sorties (6,157 hours) and launched 4,096 tons of bombs. During the same time, the second group equipped with Halifax bombers (GB II/23 "Guyenne") made 1,308 sorties (7,641 hours) and launched 4,926 tons of bombs. These groups lost 38 planes (104 KIAs, 67 MIAs and 41 POWs).

*** The "Groupement de bombardement n°8" (29 LeO 451s) takes part to the last stage of the Tunisian campaign and makes 97 sorties during 23 missions between March 15 and May 5, 1943 (mainly against the German air bases of Sfax, La Sebala, La Marsa and Tunis el-Aouina).

The B-26 Marauder groups are fist part of the 42nd Bombardment Wing (12th Tactical Air Corps). In September 1944 they are based in France and attached to 9th Air Force. The first mission starting from France is against a bridge over the Rhine. The main targets of the French B-26s will be railways and rail stations. Beginning 1945 they are attached to the "1er Corps Aérien Français" (1st French Air Corps) of General Girardot. In 1946, these B-26s are used for transport missions. The French B-26 bombers flew 627 missions and launched 7,036 tons of bombs. 14 planes were lost and among the crew members there were 58 KIAs, 24 WIAs and 31 POWs.


2) FIGHTERS
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:14

* The pilots from "N°1 French Fighter Flight" are transformed on Hurricane in 1941 and enlisted in RAF Squadron 274

3) RECONNAISSANCE
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:14

4) TRANSPORT, LIAISON AND VARIOUS
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:15

* The N°3 French Communication Flight is transferred to the "Free French" Air Force (FAFL) in 1941. It becomes "section d'avions de liaison air 377" in 1941. Its last plane was still operational in January 1944.


5) COASTAL DEFENSE (Patrols, anti-submarine warfare)
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:16

NOTES ABOUT OTHER PLANES IN THE FRENCH AIR FORCE DURING WW2:
There were several small French Air Force units not indicated here, equipped with or testing only a wide variety of planes including probably the Heinkel He-177 and the Dornier Do-335. The Vultee A35 Vengeance seems to have been used by French forces in North Africa but I could not find in which unit. The Mosquito served also in French services but only after WW2. It saw action in Indochina and was in service until 1950.
The Amiot AAC.1 Toucan is the French version of the Junkers Ju-52 and the Morane Saulnier MS.500 is the French version of the Fieseler Fi.156. The MS.500 is still used as spotter plane in Indochina from 1945 to 1954 and the AAC.1 will even be used as bomber in Indochina. The Junkers Ju-88 was produced by the French under the name AAB.1 (67 planes produced).
The Focke-Wulf 190 was also produced by the French, under the name NC.900 (64 Fw-190 A8/F8 produced) but that happened only in 1946.


6) FRENCH FORCES OF THE INTERIOR (FFI) – Forces Aériennes de l'Atlantique

The FFI "Groupement Patrie" is created to provide air support to the French partisans who will liberate the South-Western part of France and reduce the German pockets in the Atlantic harbors. The creation was already planned and started in July 1944. The "Groupement Patrie" includes: Groupe Dor (GB I/31), Groupe Doret (GC II/18), GCB I/18, GB I/34 and GR III/33. The first operational mission is flown on August 29, 1944. The "Groupement Patrie" is part of the "Forces Aériennes de l'Atlantique" (Atlantic Air Forces), which includes also 2 Fleet Air Arm squadrons operating with the FFI ground troops.
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:17

* The Groupe DOR flew reconnaissance and bombing mission against the German pockets along the Atlantic coast. At first the number of operational Ju-88A is rather low. The French have to found spare parts, engines, oil etc. But the German have left a huge stockpile of equipment behind. There will be a maximum 22 Ju-88As. Nonetheless the French produced the Ju-88 under the name AAB.1. A second squadron was formed with Douglas DB7 and Glenn Martin 167-F planes. This squadron was then sent to North Africa to be transformed on B-26 Marauder but the unit was not ready before the end of WW2.


7) Other units provided by the FRENCH FLEET AIR ARM
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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 20:19

8) FRENCH ARMY's "Aviation d'observation d'artillerie" (Artillery Forward Air Controller)

The French Army had about 80 platoons of artillery forward air controller equipped with Piper L-4 H "Cub" as well as Morane Saulnier MS.500 and MS.502 "Criquet" (French copy of the Fi.156).


Regards,

David Lehmann

PS : All the tables are from a MS Word document I have typed myself.

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Post by Pachy » 06 Apr 2006 22:29

Hi David,

Thanks for the post.

The Vultee A35 Vengeance seems to have been used by French forces in North Africa but I could not find in which unit.

The A-35 was not used in combat by French forces. They trained on it, but the type was considered too problematic for frontline use and eventually was only used for training.

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Post by David Lehmann » 06 Apr 2006 22:37

Hello Pachy,

Thanks for the answer :)

Regards,

David

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Post by Pachy » 07 Apr 2006 09:49

Also (forgive my nitpicking), the designations changed during the 1943 re-organization.

Former Vichy units orginally had no nickname, and got one added like Free French units, and the numerotation scheme changed:

GC I/2 -> GC 1/2 "Cigognes"
GC II/3 -> GC 2/3 "Dauphiné"
GC III/3 -> GC 1/3 "Corse" (was originally GC I/3, but designation had changed as Germans had reqested disbanding of GC I/3 after the defection of several pilots with their D.520s to Gibraltar)
GC II/5 -> GC 2/5 "La Fayette"
GC I/5 -> GC 1/5 "Champagne"

etc, etc.

Regarding Former Free French units, their designations changed too so that they became integrated in the same numerotation scheme.

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Post by David Lehmann » 07 Apr 2006 10:01

Hello Pachy,

Nothing like nitpicking here, thanks for your corrections. It's not very easy to make a table summarizing everything between 1940 and 1945 since there were many changes and reorganization during this time frame ... add to that, that the air force part especially after 1940 is really not my usual field of interest and you have the conditions to increase the error rate :)

I think I will send you the .doc file, you will perhaps have time to have a look :)

I should add a section or just add a note in the existing one e.g. GC I/2 (renamed GC 1/2 "Cigognes" in 1943).

Regards,

David

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II/3 to 2/3

Post by maxs75 » 25 Apr 2006 21:44

When did designations change? I mean, which date?

Max

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Escadre, Groupe, Escadrille

Post by maxs75 » 04 Jun 2006 14:52

David,
can You check if this is the correct spelling?

II/33 was a "Groupe de reconnaissance"
II/5 was a "Groupe de Chasse"
II/52 a "Groupe de Bombardement"

3 "Groupe de Chasse" formed a "Escadre de Chasse".

2 or 3 Escadre formed a "Groupement de Chasse"??? (something like a US Wing/RAF Group)

How does Escadron fits in this scheme?

Thanks in advance
Max

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Post by David Lehmann » 04 Jun 2006 21:21

Hello Max,

Pachy would be better to answer you properly but I will nonetheless try to help a bit, he will correct my mistakes I hope ;)

Around 1934-1936 the "régiments" are replaced by the "escadres".
Each "escadre" is composed by 2 "groupes" consisting in 2 to 3 "escadrilles".

IIRC, originally the numbers are:
- "Escadres de chasse" : 1 to 10 (fighters)
- "Escadres de bombardement": 11 to 20
- "Escadres d'observation": 31 to 40
- "Escadres de reconnaissance": 51 to 60
- "Escadres d'Afrique": 61 to 70

But of course several "escadres" will change their speciality e.g. reconnaissance --> bombing etc.

In 1939, the tactical unit is the "groupe" composed of 2 "escadrilles" (sometimes 3).
The "escadre" containes 2-3 "groupes".

Each "escadrille" would have 9 planes. They are used in different kinds of "patrouilles":
- "Patrouille simple": 3 planes
- "Patrouille simple légère": 2 planes
- "Patrouille double": 6 planes
- "Patrouille double légère": 4 planes
- "Patrouille triple": 9 planes
- "Patrouille triple légère": 6 planes

Regards,

David

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