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The fascinating Battle of France & its aircraft - some idle imaginings


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A little earlier I made a thread discussing how the Battle of France could have easily lasted several more months than it did historically (the Ardennes breakthrough may well depend on the Mechelen incident involving a Bf-108 crashing while carrying plans, and the evidence suggests that even a two-week delay could have allowed France to fix most of the flaws in her military doctrines). It was fun to discuss.


However, in the resulting discussion I realised how little I knew about the Armée de l'Air and French aircraft... so I got curious and did some reading. The result is this thread. I'm not really trying to lobby the Team Fusion (or anyone else) by this idle daydream... merely share some of the marvels I encountered as a result of this holiday adventure into French history!


That said, it is still also partly a daydream about a possible future simulator... 


To model a battle it is necessary to model the aircraft representative of those that were present in large numbers (which are not always the highest performing aircraft). Generally speaking, if less than 50 aircraft were in service it wasn't considered - so if an aircraft you like is missing - it is likely due to that.


The criteria were considered in the following order:

(1) How many were accepted for service? Was it widespread at the front?

(2) Does the selection capture the diversity and character of the armée de l'air in 1939?

(3) Was it used in North Africa as well?

(4) Would people want to fly it?


Note: For the numbers in service I mainly used the reported strength on 10 May 1940 (at the start of the campaign)... some types were receiving constant replenishment from fresh batches of production, so despite attrition, there are points in the campaign where the numbers in service of some newer types actually increased.






The fighter with the best exchange ratio was the Curtiss H.75C (230 victories, 81 probables, 29 losses) which can also re-use some of the research for the P.40 series. It was also used by Vichy France at Mers El-Kebir, Dakar and Torch. This makes it a fairly obvious choice.


That said, a French designed fighter that was available in significant numbers at the start of the Battle would better represent the French experience.


The MS.406 was by far the most numerous fighter at the start of the conflict with 820 MS.406 (compared to 346 MB.152/138 MB.151, 180 H-75, & a mere 32 for the faster D.520). As a result of its numerical importance, the MS.406 should take priority.


The Bloch MB.152 has a heavy armament, carrying a second 20mm cannon. That said, it was a somewhat temperamental design and didn't serve in as large numbers as the MS.406 and it didn’t serve after the Battle of France. However, it was the second most numerous fighter (with 484 in service if the MB.151 is included).


The Dewoitine D.510 (206 examples) was also still used behind the lines and would give an interesting glimpse into early monoplane fighters. While it is even harder to justify - although it would make a suitable opponent for the CR.42 and Gloster Gladiator.


Conclusion: Priority should go to the Morane-Saulnier MS.406 and the Curtiss H.75...


Heavy fighters and 'Sturmoviks':


Potez 63.11 was the most numerous with 491 in service. This was a three seat reconnaissance aircraft and light bomber (200kg bomb load) and an excellent forward view. Armour was added and it's armament gradually grew from four to ten or even twelve machine guns in an attempt to make it more effective at ground attack and likely to survive enemy fighters. Used in Syria and North Africa (although most North African examples were taken out on the ground).


Potez 630/631, with 251 in service was fairly numerous. It  was similar in role and appearance to the Bf-110 (and suffered from friendly fire as a result). It had a relatively poor top speed which meant that it had trouble intercepting aircraft unless the opponent was at an equal or lower altitude. It could still easily catch Ju-87s or twin-engined bombers before they released their bomb-loads (having a 130 km/h advantage against a fully loaded He-111). It nevertheless ended up being used for ground attack in many cases where its cannon could be put to use. Modelling this design is made easier due to the fact that the wings, engines, and tail are all shared with the Potez 63.11. Furthermore, it was used by both sides in North Africa.


Bréguet 691 was essentially a Sturmovik without the emphasis placed on having armour. An elegant design with good visibility and aimed at strafing with cannon and bombardment with low-altitude bombing. Having been originally designed for a fighter role it was ~40km/h faster than the Potez 630. However, only 62 were listed as serviceable at the start of the conflict (75 if the 691 is included). It would be nice if resources permitted, but cannot be said to be essential.


Conclusion: Priority should go to the Potez 63.11 (numerical importance) and the Potez 631 (use in North Africa, ease of modelling using research from the 63.11)...




Lioré et Olivier LeO 451 is an obvious choice to represent day bombers. It shows that France was able to produce designs with performance that rivaled or surpassed other nations. It was 150 km/h faster than any other mass-produced French Bomber and could outrun all but two French fighters. It had a heavy bomb load and was protected by a 20mm cannon in the dorsal position. It was also produced in large numbers, being the second most numerous French bomber. The Bloch MB. 210 was the most numerous bomber, with 1.5 times the number in service as the LeO 451 - but it is a much more conventional design, almost reminiscent of Italian designs like the Br.20 and it is slower and less well armed.


However, many French pilots flew outdated designs which were largely restricted to night  combat and it would be a good thing to represent them. The Bloch MB.210 and LeO 451 represent about 359 modern aircraft while the older Potez 540, Bloch 200, Bloch 131, and Amiot 143 had about 480 in service (evenly split between these types). The Bloch 131 was phased out early in the conflict as its squadrons upgraded to the Potez 63.11 (see heavy-fighters). I'd venture that the most interesting designs are the Potez 540 and Amiot 143. Both have lower wing loading and interesting features (e.g. the Potez has the engine, landing gear, and wing struts combined into nacelles).


It appears that the Potez 540 was mainly used for transport duties whereas the Amiot was deployed as a night bomber during the campaign. The Amiot is also a fascinating design, with a greenhouse gondola carrying three of the crew, and the co-pilot seated under the pilot with a yoke hanging from the roof... it also carried a much larger bomb load than the Potez 540. Furthermore, some Amiot 143s served in North Africa on both sides of the conflict (first for Vichy before deciding to switch sides).


Conclusion: Priority should be given to the Lioré et Olivier 451 as a modern day bomber & it should be contrasted with with an older night bomber with a low wing loading (such as the Amiot 143) ...although an argument could be made for the MB.210 (slightly more numerically significant) or the Potez 540 (as an alternative to the Amiot).


Other aircraft:


Most other military designs served in too small numbers to be relevant. If you see an aircraft missing - that is likely the reason. That said, France had huge numbers of recon, liaison, & spotting aircraft at the start of the war. These included conventional types and strikingly unconventional types (such as the interesting Bréguet 27). These were often mixed in the same squadrons that were flying the Potez 63.11s. Looking at the specifications - the Mureaux 113-117 series is the obvious pick, as it could carry a large bomb load and even a 20mm cannon for use in close air-support, and theoretically, as a night-fighter. However, it is not a very aesthetically pleasing aircraft and its performance would limit it to spotting and to ground attack.


France also operated more than 50 Cierva C.30 auto-gyros as spotters (and England used a few for calibrating its early warning radar systems). This design was actually announced by Oleg Maddox as a planned addition (along with the Westland Lysander - which would be modelled as an emergency beach-head defense craft) to Il-2 Cliffs of Dover. There were even images of the models were shown along with some discussion of the flight performance. However, it is likely too much of a niche aircraft to be a priority.


The ill-fated Fairy Battle was also a historically memorable aircraft during the Battle of France. I know I would enjoy flying it a lot, but its limited relevance to other theatres and reputation as a death trap means that it would be best modelled as AI. A case could also be made for the Lysander (118 were lost during the Battle of France and it was also used in Libya by the Free French).


Conclusion: The Fairy Battle would make a good addition as an AI aircraft.





Recommended Fighters:

- Bloch M.S.406

- Curtiss H-75C


Recommended multipurpose:

- Potez 63.11

- & Potez 630


Recommended Bombers:

- Lioré et Olivier LeO 451

- Amiot 451

- Fairy Battle (AI)


TFS 5.0 is expected to have approximately 12 new aircraft, plus additional variants. The basic list of aircraft for the Battle of France proposed is 5 aircraft (plus one variant that is significantly different and one AI aircraft)... so, assuming research costs are similar, it could be done with about half the budget. This could alternatively be done for BoX but it would require modelling BoB first (to get the early Ju-87, Ju-88, Do-17, Spit, Hurricane, and Wellingtons etc.)... In either case it does seem plausible that such a sim could be made some day.


I also suspect that aircraft like the LeO 451, Amiot 143 and Potez 63.11 look weird and interesting enough that my earlier guess that it'd help to attract players by adding a British or German aircraft is unnecessary.


To me at least - it increasingly seems like the largest obstacle would actually be tracking down detailed plans and references for these aircraft (as many records were destroyed during the war).



Edited by Avimimus
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Excellent review, look at all those yummy, querky , so "french" air ships. I prefer those than the modern planes of Bodenplatt.


A flying Fairy Battle would be good because that would mean a possible Fairy Fulmar for aircraft carrier action ... :D


Don't expect many responses from staff, posts on modelling new aircraft isn't encouraged ... :D 

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6 hours ago, ArchaicWarrior said:

Excellent review, look at all those yummy, querky , so "french" air ships. I prefer those than the modern planes of Bodenplatt.


A flying Fairy Battle would be good because that would mean a possible Fairy Fulmar for aircraft carrier action ... 😄


Don't expect many responses from staff, posts on modelling new aircraft isn't encouraged ... 😄


The perpetual parade of wishlists? :)  A past-time for those of us waiting for the new sims (rather than busy working on them)...! I could definitely see it getting annoying.


I should also say that I'm aware that any BoF expansion would have to be part of TFS 7.0 or later... really a distant possibility.  But it is fascinating to think about, and I figured it is actually less of a nuisance than speculating on TFS 6.0 would be.


Anyway, I agree that a Fulmar would be fun. There is something wonderful about such weird marginal aircraft... relatively underpowered but with a low enough wing-loading to be a suprisingly good dogfighter. There is also an argument for including it in the Mediterranean (along with the Swordfish) for use in Malta and in raids such as Taranto (if we ever get carriers to fly off of...) but I think that is getting even more into speculating about possible aircraft... ;)


Anyway, here is a photo montage I did earlier of the runners-up in my BoF post (usually because they served in smaller numbers or in secondary roles)... There should also really be a picture of a Latécoère 298 (an advanced torpedo floatplane)... but it was left out because they were attached to the Navy and weren't in the orders of battle I was studying...


It is a gorgeous collection eh?


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