French Air Force

By the end of the First World War the French Air Service had 3,222 aircraft, with 127,630 officers and men. The French Air Force continued to grow in the 1920s but little development took place in the quality of the aircraft being produced.

In 1938 the French Air Force had 5,000 aircraft. Of these, only 1,375 were front-line machines and the vast majority were close to obsolescence. The Chief of Staff, admitted that if France went to war only 580 could be used in battle. The government responded by announcing the Fifth Programme which made provision for the construction of 2,500 modern combat aeroplanes.

When the Second World War broke out in 1939 the French Air Force had only 826 fighter planes. This included the Morane-Saulnier 406, the Bloch 152, the Breguet 691, Dewoitine D502, Aresnal VG-33, and the Caudron C714. The French only had 250 bombers including Farman F222 and the Bloch 131.

By the spring of 1940 the French Air Force had 740 modern fighters and 140 effective bombers. The Royal Air Force reluctantly supplied 350 aircraft but these were nearly all fairly old as the latest Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire were needed to defend Britain. It is estimated that the French lost 757 aircraft during the Western Offensive.

After Henri-Philippe Petain signed the armistice with Nazi Germany on 22nd June, 1942, a few French pilots fled to Britain and joined General Charles De Gaulle and the Free French forces. Others supported the Vichy government and operated from colonial bases. It also kept some bombers in service and they were used to attack the British naval base in Gibraltar.