WW2 L'armée de l'air -  Supermarine Spitfire
Moore's Aircraft - The French Air Force 1940

WW2 L'armée de l'air - The French Air Force Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane - Moore Aircraft warbird aviation photographs

World War Two Aircraft
My name is Craig Moore. My interest in aircraft came from my uncle who was in RAF WW2 Bomber Command as a rear gunner in Wellington Bombers. He survived two tours of duty the first over Germany and the second flying from North Africa over Italy. I enjoy airshows and watching the displays of modern jet fighters from different air forces as well as cold war interceptors and bombers. The World War One bi-planes and tri-planes are a particular favourite. To see them flying again is inspiring. Each year more war birds are restored to flying condition for us to admire.

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WW2 L'armée de l'air - The French Air Force
In 1935 the French Govenement nationalised all private aircraft manufacturing companies and restructured them on a regional basis. The privately funded modern aircraft designs were stopped. France’s chance of having a combat aircraft that could compete with the Luftwaffe fighters of 1939 were dashed. The one aircraft that was produced in numbers was the Morane-Sauliner M.S.406 but when it met the Bf-109 they were shot down in droves. It was underpowered and lacked strong armament. The Morane-Sauliner M.S.406 was in service with 19 of the 26 l'armée de l'air French squadrons in May 1940 at the beginning of the German Blitzkreg attack on France.

The French Aircraft industry could not produce enough aircraft in time to match the rapid rearmament of Germany. The French Governement looked towards America for help. The P-36 Curtiss Hawk was numerically the most important fighter after the Morane-Sauliner M.S.406, in the French airforce during the German invasion of Western Europe. Negotiations took a long time and time was one thing that the French l'armée de l'air did not have.

On 17th May 1938 the French announced that they were purchasing 100 of the expensive P-36 Curtiss Hawk for delivery by 10th April 1939. By 1st July 1939 the 4e Escadre (4th Squadron) had 54 Curtiss P-36 Hawk 75A-1 fighters on strength and the 5e Escadre had 41. Some were lost in pilot conversion accidents and others in mechanical breakdowns. 100 more P36 Curtiss Hawks designated 75A-2 were ordered. They were upgraded machines having an additional 7.5 mm machine gun in each wing, some structural reinforcement and fittings. An additional 135 P36 Curtiss Hawk 75A-3s were ordered. About sixty Hawk 75A-3s reached France before the surrender, with the rest being diverted to Britain. These had improved performance.

Two Messerschmitt Bf 109Es were shot down, the first Allied aerial victories of World War two, on 8th September 1939 by Groupe de Chasse II/4, operating P36 Curtiss Hawk 75-As. The Messerschmitt Bf 109E fighters were faster and more heavily armed than the Hawk 75-As, but they were not as manoeuvrable and could not take as much punishment. 230 confirmed kills and 80 "probables", were claimed by Armee de l'Air Groupes de Chasse III/2, I/4, II/4, I/5 and II/5 before the surrender with a loss of only 29 Hawks. French Hawks seem to have given better than they got but there were not enough of them.

After the surrender the pro German Vichy Government sent the remaining aircraft of the French l'armée de l'air to North Africa and Syria to fight the RAF and American Carrier based Grumman F4F Wildcats during operation Torch. One of the few occasions when American made planes fought each other. A large number of the French Pilots escaped to Britain and fought the Germans in Spitfire equipped squadrons. This is a picture of a Free French Spitfire.

WW2 Battle of Britain RAF Supermarine Spitfire fighter plane
Aircraft Designer Reginald Mitchell’s Supermarine Spitfire was not the most important British Fighter. It did not win the Battle of Britain, contrary to popular belief that honour belongs to the Hawker Hurricane of which there were many more serving in British RAF squadrons. The Allied Pilot with the highest German kill rate was a Polish Ace flying a Hurricane, not a Spitfire. There were hundreds more Hawker Hurricanes in service with the RAF at the time of the Battle of Britain than Supermarine Spitfires.

The Supermarine Spitfire, entered service with No 19 Squadron. It was based at RAF Duxford just outside Cambridge. This was nine months after the first Hurricanes had been delivered to RAF Northolt and No 111 Squadron. It must have been like Christmas for the pilots of No 19 Squadron in August 1938 as they exchanged their Gauntlet biplanes for Mk I Spitfires. By the end of 1938 there were only two fully-equipped Spitfire squadrons, both at RAF Duxford. This had increased to nine squadrons by the outbreak of war on 3 September 1939. 306 Mk I Supermarine Spitfire had been delivered. Thirty six of these had already been written off in training accidents. Pilots were not familiar with using the new retractable undercarriage. A number of early accidents were caused by pilots forgetting to lower the plane’s wheels.

Two-bladed, fixed-pitch propeller had been fitted to the first seventy seven Mk I Supermarine Spitfires. The other 229 Mk 1 Spitfires were fitted with three-bladed, two-position airscrews, with fine pitch for take-off and coarse pitch for cruising. The first 77 Spitfires were retro-fitted with the new propellers. The original flat cockpit canopy was replaced by the bulged version to enable taller pilots headroom and provide better vision. An armour-plated windscreen was added along with 6mm armour panels behind the pilots seat and the rear engine bulkhead. At high altitude it was found that the guns froze so heating units were added

The Supermarine Spitfire's advanced design, particularly the elliptical wing nearly caused the Air Ministry to cancel its order due to the slow production time. The considered using Supermarine’s facilities in Southampton to produce the Beaufighter. Lord Nuffield's mass car production experience was turned to good use when applied to the aircraft industry. It also resulted in the building of a second factory at Castle Bromwich. Two Hurricanes of No 56 Squadron were tragically the first aircraft to be shot down by a Spitfire's guns. This happened on 6th September 1939 three days after war had been declared. The first enemy aircraft to be destroyed by Fighter Command, was credited to Squadron Leader Ernest Stevens flying a spitfire 16th October 1939. He shot down a Junkers Ju-88s as it attacked British warships in the Firth of Forth.

Flying Officer 'Shorty' Longbotham proposed using a small, unarmed photographic reconnaissance aircraft, relying solely on its speed to provide protection rather than using the traditionally bomber-type aircraft. The Spitfire was the obvious choice for the task. In October 1939 two Mk I Spitfires were converted. It was stripped of guns, radio and ammunition which increased its speed by 30 mph compared with the standard Spitfire. Supermarine Spitfires first met Messerschmitt Bf-109s fighters and the twin engine Messerschmitt Bf-110s on 23 May 1940. Three Spitfires of 92 Squadron were shot down but two of each type of Messerschmitt were also lost

Sixty seven Spitfires were shot down during the Dunkirk evacuation and the Battle of France. Lessons were learned during these early battles that would help the RAF fighter Pilots in the Battle of Britain. During dog fights experience taught that to kill you had to get close so the Spitfires guns were harmonise to converge at 250 yards rather than 400. The RAF's traditional V formation of three aircraft was found lacking when compared to the German Luftwaffe's tactical formation of the 'finger four'. The octane level of the petrol used by Spitfires was increased from 87 to 100 octane. This increase the planes speed by 34 mph at 10,000 feet and by 25 mph at sea level

The Battle of Britain was fought between 10 July and 31 October 1940. At the beginning, Fighter Command only had 27 squadrons of Hurricanes and 19 of Spitfires at the beginning of the Battle of Britain on 10th July 1939. The Hurricane took part in the lion’s share of the fighting. By the end of the Battle of Britain on 31st October 1940, 565 Hurricanes and 352 Spitfires were lost during that short four-month period.

The Messershmitt Bf-109E was superior in the climb and marginally faster above 20,000 feet, but the Spitfire Mk I possessed a better turning radius at any height. Squadrons of ex-patriate Allied pilots began to be formed. On 7 November 1940 No 340 Squadron was the first to be formed with French pilots. Later other Squadrons were formed including Belgian, Polish, Czech, Dutch and Norwegians squadrons.

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