The Rise and Fall of the French Air Force...

...French Air Operations and Strategy 1900-1940, from Fonthill Media

Title: The Rise and Fall of the French Air Force
Author: Greg Baughen

Publisher: Fonthill Media
ISBN: 978-1-78155-674-0

 

I have been interested in WW2 and military aircraft for more years than I care to admit these days.  I am always fascinated then when I read a book which tells me so much that I really hadn't known before.  Yes I knew something about some of the aircraft involved but there is just so much more in here.  It tells us the story of the French air force after WW1 and explains what happened when faced with another war in 1939/40, just 21 years later.

What we get is a great level of detail about what led to the failure of the French Air Force to cope with opposing the German Luftwaffe when WW2 broke out.  There are so many factors which each played a part in the story, some of which France shared with the armed forces of other countries.  The theories of the potential power of the bomber and its' ability to devastate the cities of their enemies, and of course vice versa.  There was competition for power/control of the air arm between a separate Air Ministry and the Army.  There were technological advances in bother airframes and engines, as the bi-plane was replace by faster monoplanes.  Considering the predicted dominance of the bomber, then their ability to defend themselves was important and a fixation on the benefits of mounting cannon rather than machine guns added weight to an airframe which the engines at that time struggled with and limited the weight of their bomb load.  If all of that wasn't enough, there was of course the political issue of cost, and a desire to drastically reduce spending on defence.

The story takes us through all these various elements, and adds the questions of fighter use and development along with reconnaissance aircraft.  There is also the change in attitude towards ground attack aircraft, a successful element in WW1 but one that was largely overlooked until it was rather too late.  Add the issues of French domestic aircraft manufacturers, how their own government supported them (or) not and getting to a point at the last minute when France had to look for external suppliers such as the USA and the Netherlands to purchase both fighters and bombers.  It gets into the story of events in 1939 and 1940 when war broke out, and the May invasion by Germany.  Lack of coordination between the Air Force and the Army had important consequences, even though there were occasional successes.  The story even leads us into the question of obsolete aircraft and their remaining potential let alone the aurprise arrival of extra trained pilots from both Czechoslovakia and Poland, a situation which also benefitted the RAF of course.

It is a detailed and quite complex story yet one I found fascinating to read.  If you have an interest in the Blitzkrieg era and the difference between German and Allied tactics, I'd easily recommend this as one to read.

Thanks to Fonthill Media for our review copy.

Robin