'...le jour de gloire est arrivé!' - blocking the Blitzkrieg with the French air force...in a US fighter!
Having enjoyed flying for the Luftwaffe in the 1940 German offensive in the west, courtesy of the CFS3 ETO Expansion, I thought I would swap sides and see if I could stop the enemy tide. None of this comes with stock CFS3, which focuses on the later-war period. But 'Attack in the West 1940' is one of the additional 'eras' that the freeware expansion bolts on, and firing it up, I saw that I had the choice of flying with the Belgians, French or RAF (which latter had an 'Air Component' to the Army's British Expeditionary Force on the continent when the balloon went up in May 1940).
I've always been a fan of the Hawker Hurricane and lapped up the initial scenes of the film 'the Battle of Britain' which have some great footage of Hurris, culminating with their 'lame ducks' being clobbered by a low-level strafing attack by Bf109s. When I say 'low-level', that doesn't do justice to the flying of the Spanish air force pilots operating the Hispano 'Buchons' in Bf109E colours - one of them almost clips a perimeter fence with his prop - totally mad, and no Star Wars CGI anywhere in sight, just great planes and great flying! But I digress...
Despite being a fan of the Hurricane, I decided to fly for the Armee de l'Air, as the French air force was officially called. As a kid I'd built the neat little FROG 1/72 Morane Saulnier 406 and the Revell Curtiss P-36/Hawk 75. Plus I was keen to fly a French fighter of some sort, to add a bit of immersion by giving me some sense of defending hearth and home against the invading enemy hordes.
So I created a French pilot, naming him Clostermann after the famous Free French/RAF fighter ace whose great book, 'The Big Show', is much the most vivid and powerful fighter pilot auobiography I've ever read. Likely because that's how the inbuilt 'Nationality Expansion' pack works, the ETO Expansion actually does describe the 1940 French side as 'Free French'. This didn't become a reality till later, after de Gaulle had rallied the defeated nation from England with his stirring call to arms 'La France a perdu une bataille, mais la France n'a pas perdu la guerre' - a battle is lost but not the war!
My assigned unit - which I don't think was actually named - was allocated the Curtiss Hawk (French designation H75C1). This was one of several US planes the French purchasing commission had obtained from America just before war broke out.
The swift German victories in the west tend to create the impression of overwhelming Luftwaffe superiority but it was a hard fought battle and the Curtiss Hawk was no pushover. In 'WW2 Fighter Conflict' Alfred Price says ''Although its general performance [like the Hurricane's] fell somewhat below those of the British and German fighters mentioned [Spitfire I and Bf109E] the American fighter, with its finely harmonised controls and large mechanical advantage between stick and ailerons, was superior to both of them in its high speed handling'.
There are some nice clips of a preserved P-36 in Armée de l'Air colours on the net, including this one on Youtube, where you can soak up the sight and sound of this gutsy little warplane in flight:
I was shortly to experience my own first flight in the Curtiss, albeit a virtual one. I kicked off the campaign, and was started early on the morning of 10th May, 1940, the day the German western Blitzkrieg kicked off. As usual with CFS3's dynamic campaign, I was offered a campaign map - which showed the front lines as yet aligned with the national borders - and a drop-down list of alternative missions. The first item was an interception, and I accepted this as more appropriate and possibly more fun that a close support sortie. We were based at Etain-Rouvres in NW France, up near the border with Belgium and Luxembourg, where the main weight of the German offensive would fall. In real life anyway: perhaps not so in this more open-ended and simulated campaign, where our target lay well to the south-east.
As usual, I was allocated a flight of eight - this would be effectively a squadron operation, with the player leading in the usual CFS3 style. Here we are, lined up and ready to go in the early morning light. Below that are the orders for the mission.
As you can see, I got much the same weather as in my previous Blitzkrieg mission, flown in the German Bf110: cloudy and failrly steady precipitation. Undeterred, I turned on the 'radar'/Tactical Display/TAC, left its range at the maximum of 8 miles, and - bearing in mind this mission was air-to-air - cycled its displayed target type from 'all' to 'aircraft'.
In the external view, I checked the movement of all flying controls, started up, and lowered my flaps, one notch. Behind me, my squadron was already started up and good to go. Opening her up, I accelerated down the runway, correcting swing with rudder and a touch of differential braking. My men wasted no time and were quickly roaring after me. The ETO Expansion aircraft generally model wingtip vortices and navigation lights at low airspeed and these were visible as I took off. Soon it was 'gear up' and off we went, leaving the rising sun behind us as we formed up and began the climb for height.
The Boche were going to pay for setting foot on the sacred soil of France! Or at least, that was the plan...
...to be continied!