Not Just Another Recession
Why the Global Economy May Never Be the Same
IT is commonly thought that France's defeat was due exclusively to the weakness of her air force. This is an exaggeration. France was conquered more by Germany's armored divisions than by her aerial divisions. What is true is that the success of the motorized troops would have been impossible without the work of the German air force. The same thing happened in Poland. Thus the first lesson to be drawn from the war on the Continent is the importance of a close collaboration between the armies on land and the armies in the sky.
Nobody, until now, has seriously studied the reasons of the defeat of the French air force. They were many. But most of them flowed from the mistake of French military leaders in underrating the importance of aviation in modern warfare. Let us begin by examining the factors which made German aviation superior to French aviation.
I. THE PROBLEM OF QUALITY
Germany's superiority in the air derived less from quality than from quantity. All the evidence so far collected seems to establish the fact that every time French aviators met German aviators, one against one, or even one against two, the French were the victors.
This proves, first, that in morale and training the French crews were equal or superior to the German crews. Secondly, it establishes that French matériel was, on the whole, good. At the outbreak of the war we had two excellent types of pursuit and combat planes, the Morane 405 and the Potez 63. These machines became somewhat outclassed in the course of the winter by new German planes. But in the spring we began to receive the Dewoitine 520, the Bloch 17 and the V.G. 33, which, in turn, were somewhat superior to the German machines. Meanwhile, the American planes sold to France did a wonderful job. Our pilots appreciated them particularly because of their motors, which were superior to the French motors and gave a sense of great confidence.
Furthermore, Germany did not enjoy any advantage in the armament of the machines. The French planes were armed with cannon or machine guns. Experience seems to show that in aerial combat the cannon is more effective against bombers, while the machine gun is more effective against pursuit planes. Our cannon were somewhat superior, and our machine guns were somewhat inferior, to the cannon and machine guns of the Germans. As for the explosive capacity of bombs, our French bombs seemed to be more effective than the German bombs of equal weight.
II. QUANTITATIVE INFERIORITY
But in quantity of air forces France was far outstripped by Germany. The two following tables measure the extent of this difference. The first follows the figures given by the French Air Ministry to the Parliamentary Committees; the second is based on figures provided by the French Intelligence Service:
|FRENCH COMBAT PLANES 1|
|Continental France||North Africa||Naval||Total|
|August 30, 1939||1,250||400||350||2,000|
|GERMAN COMBAT PLANES|
|1st Line||1st Reserve||Naval||Total|
|August 30, 1939||6,000||3,000||500||9,500|
|1 1st line and 1st reserve.|
In other words, the French air force was outnumbered almost five to one (six to one if we leave aside formations in North Africa).
But France was not alone. She was able to count on the assistance of Great Britain. It would be more just, then, to compare the air force of the Allies with that of Germany. The French Air Ministry, taking British figures into account, arrived at a figure of approximately three for the Allies against five for the Germans. The ratio appears to have remained constant between September 1939 and June 1940. This was due to a balance between production and losses. During the first ten months of the war both the production and losses of Germany were higher than those of France and Britain. Furthermore, after the outbreak of the war the Polish air force joined the French and English. It was perhaps not very large and was rather mediocre in equipment, but nevertheless this equipment was manned by an extremely courageous and well-trained personnel.
Among the many reasons why it is difficult to compare French and German figures are the following:
1. We lack accurate information as to the volume of German production. In order to impress her adversaries Germany frequently put out figures which were manifestly exaggerated.
2. When we speak of "airplane production," we must differentiate warplanes from all the other various types of airplanes necessary for an army (including training and transport ships), as well as from a country's production of civil aircraft.
3. Furthermore, people usually talk of a monthly production. But unless an average monthly production is based upon a very long period, the figure means nothing. The requirements of mass production on the one hand, and constant advances in aeronautical technique on the other, can result in a powerful aircraft industry producing relatively few planes over a period of several months, its activity being confined to the manufacture of special tools and dies and to the production of detached parts.
4. The same industrial effort will produce three times as many pursuit planes weighing two tons as it will bombing planes weighing ten tons. In order to compare the results of two industries, or of two periods of production, one must watch tonnage as much as units. Thus in 1937 France produced as many planes as she did in 1936. But the 1937 production amounted to 5,500 tons while that of 1936 amounted to 2,401 tons. As a result, the planes produced in 1936 were able to carry only 296 tons of bombs over Germany, but those constructed in 1937 could carry 880 tons.
If all these factors are taken into consideration, we may say that during the five years preceding the war Germany's production of warplanes was, on an average, approximately 7 times higher than that of France. The proportions seem to have been 7 to 1 in 1935, 1936 and 1937; 9 to 1 in 1938; 7 to 1 in 1939; and 5 to 1 in the spring of 1940. The high point of German production, compared to French production, occurred during the months just preceding and following Munich, because German industry was then in a state of mobilization. By the outbreak of the war France had achieved an average production of 120 warplanes per month, while Germany was producing 800 warplanes a month. In May 1940, the figures were 350 warplanes a month for France and 1,700 warplanes for Germany. To these figures must be added, for each year, equivalent quantities of transport planes, training planes, etc.
We have here a contradiction between the proportion of 7 to 1 for production and 5 to 1 for the front-line craft. In reality, however, there is no inconsistency. Germany had to create her air force after the advent of Hitler; as a result, she used more planes than France for the training of her personnel and in the evolution of her tactics of air warfare. Furthermore, in 1936 and 1937 Germany sent ten times as many planes to Spain as France did.
Having established and analyzed the facts we must now try to find the causes. How was it that France was five times weaker in the air than Germany?
IV. INDUSTRIAL CAPACITY
First, let it be said that France could not dream of producing as many planes as Germany when both countries were putting forth a maximum effort.
France is a country of 40,000,000 inhabitants whose economy is more agricultural than industrial. Germany is a country of 80,000,000 inhabitants whose economy is more industrial than agricultural. This simple fact is sufficient to explain why, even with an equal effort, France could not produce as many planes as Germany. With a good economic policy she would have been able to compensate for this inferiority in part. But the general trend of French policy was the opposite of the German. From 1934 to 1938 the index number of industrial production in Germany moved from 79.8 to 126.2, showing an increase of 80 percent. During the same period the index number in France moved only from 75.2 to 76.1, showing a practically static production. As a result, French industrial capacity, which at the outbreak of the First World War had been about 50 percent inferior to the German, and which still held that relationship in 1934, became at the outbreak of the new World War about four times inferior.
Let us consider, for instance, the output of steel and aluminum, both of them important raw materials for aircraft production. From 1935 to 1938 inclusive, Germany produced 78,808,000 tons of steel and 455,000 tons of aluminum. During the same period, France produced 26,817,000 tons of steel and 128,300 tons of aluminum. The 1939 statistics are not known, but the figures available for the first few months of that year reveal a situation even more favorable for Germany than in 1938, when the ratio of production was 1 to 3.8 for steel and 1 to 4.5 for aluminum. From 1937 to the outbreak of the war, Germany produced three and a half times more steel and four and a half times more aluminum than France.
It would lead us too far afield to look for all the causes of this disproportion. German propaganda, as well as propaganda coming from the Vichy Government, has circulated the rumor that it was the "Popular Front" that disorganized French production and led to the decline of French industrial capacity. Statistical figures disagree with this explanation. French industrial production was 12 percent higher in 1937, when the Popular Front was in power, than in 1935, when Conservative cabinets led by Pierre Etienne Flandin and Pierre Laval were in the saddle. The insufficiency of French industrial production was due to the wrong economic policy of France dating from as far back as 1920, and not to the policy of any one cabinet. When M. Flandin, in 1935, refused to devalue the franc, his decision had worse consequences than the bad application of the forty-hour week. As a matter of fact, each cabinet added its own mistakes to the mistakes of its predecessors.
We therefore have to look for deeper reasons than the political agitation of February 1934 or the sit-down strikes of May 1936. They are to be found in the differences in social structure and economic system between prewar France and Germany. First, long before Hitler, Germany was more industrialized than France. In 1931, 41 percent of the French gainfully occupied population were independent workers (farmers, artisans, employers, etc.), whereas in Germany the figure was only 17 percent. In 1938, Germany had three and a half times more skilled workers than France. French farmers produced "butter" and German skilled workers produced "guns." Second, France kept her liberal economy, while Germany adopted a centralized economy. Experience has proved that when it comes to mobilizing a country's economic resources, free competition and capitalist monopolies are less efficient than centralized economic control and government leadership. Lacking leadership, the French industrial capacity which could be turned to producing armaments dropped to one-fourth of the German. All France must take the blame for not having paid sufficient attention to the menace of Hitler.
In view of this difference of one to four, France ought to have been able to produce one-fourth the number of planes that Germany produced. Actually she produced one-seventh as many. How is this extra degree of inferiority to be explained?
V. DIFFERENCE IN MILITARY CONCEPTIONS
The explanation for the supplementary difference just mentioned is that in her war preparations Germany attached much more importance to aviation than France did. The two military doctrines may be summarized by the statement that Germany prepared for a war of movement, the Blitzkrieg, and France prepared for a war of position. The modern war of movement is based upon the use of solid masses of aviation and tanks. In contrast, the war of position is based upon the use of "lines," such as the Maginot Line, as well as upon defensive arms such as machine guns and cannon.
Having different military conceptions, France and Germany created two different war machines. Actual preparation for war forces important choices, because the resources of a country, in terms of credits and basic materials as well as manpower, are limited. The Maginot Line and the French Navy were approximately as expensive as the Siegfried Line and the German Navy. By choosing to develop her fortifications and her navy to equal Germany's, France was under a necessity of sacrificing her planes or her tanks. In fact, she sacrificed both. In May 1930, when her air force was one-fifth the size of Germany's, France had two motorized divisions to oppose to ten German "Panzerdivisionen."
Before the war it was possible to argue as to which was the better conception of modern war, the German or the French. Now the facts have spoken. The French General Staff failed to realize that a real revolution had occurred in military science as a result of new industrial techniques, especially through the progress of the internal combustion motor, the soul of the tank and the airplane.
VI. AIR APPROPRIATIONS
The difference in military conceptions was reflected in the appropriations placed at the disposal of the two air forces. Of all the great nations France applied the least part of her effort towards the development of military aviation. This is shown in the following table giving the amount of air force expenditures for France, Britain and Germany from 1935 to 1939, and the percent which those figures represent of the total military expenditures of each country for air, army and navy.
|EXPENDITURES FOR THE AIR FORCES|
|(in millions of dollars)|
|Amount||Percent of total||Amount||Percent of total||Amount||Percent of total|
This table shows that: (1) from 1935 to 1939 the British spent almost twice as much money for their air force as the French, and that the Germans spent almost seven times as much as the French; which explains why both the British and the German air forces were stronger than the French. (2) In this period Britain and France together spent less money than Germany for their air forces; which explains why, according to the French Intelligence Service, their aviation held a ratio of three to five to the German aviation. (3) In this period England and Germany put approximately one-third of their total defense expenditures into their air forces, while France put only one-quarter, this difference being the result of their different military doctrines and policies.
VII. MILITARY PROGRAMS: SOME UNPUBLISHED DOCUMENTS
Additional evidence may be found in the official plans proposed to the Ministry of National Defense by the Air Ministry.
At the end of 1933 the Air Ministry drafted a first program, called Plan I. In 1934 it was adopted by Parliament and put into execution. It envisaged the construction of an air force consisting of 1,000 first-line warplanes, with 200 first reserves. By June 1936 the numbers of planes under Plan I which had been delivered to the air force was 637, representing 50 percent fulfilment. In August 1936 the magnitude of the German effort led to the adoption of a new program. It was called Plan II, and it envisaged the construction of 1,500 first-line warplanes, plus 60 percent first reserves, or a total of 2,500 aircraft. Plan II was to be fulfilled by the end of 1939.
On December 30, 1936, the Air Ministry realized that Plan II was insufficient. It addressed to the Permanent Committee of National Defense a report which was filed in the archives under the number "10-913 R/EMAA." This report contained a complete study of the air problem and underlined the danger for France of the German air effort. To this report were attached two new plans: Plan III, which dealt with the organization of antiaircraft defense and asked in particular for an increase in antiaircraft guns; and Plan IV, which asked for the doubling of our air force, by creating a fleet of 2,600 first-line planes in addition to 1,500 reserve planes.
These plans were studied by the French military authorities. On February 15, 1937, a report was made on them by the High Military Committee, which included the Minister of National Defense, Marshal Pétain, the Chief of the Army General Staff, General Gamelin, and the Chief of the Navy Staff, Admiral Darlan. The Committee unanimously rejected the proposals of the Air Ministry and decided that "there was no need to extend or modify the plans for the expansion of the air force." Throughout 1937 the Air Ministry did all it could to get this decision changed. It could not break the resistance of the Ministry of National Defense and of the General Staff. And not only did it fail to succeed, but M. Georges Bonnet, Minister of Finance, reduced the appropriations requested for the 1938 budget by more than one billion francs.
In view of these facts, the Air Ministry on December 6, 1937, addressed a report to the Prime Minister and to the Ministry of National Defense. The report, filed in the archives of the Air Ministry under the number 712-C.M/R, protested against the attitude of the Ministry of National Defense as well as against the budget reductions. It may be interesting to cite some extracts from this document:
"During the past eighteen months I have not ceased to warn that the rôle assigned to aviation in our national defense system is too small. . . . In relation to the effort that we are making for national defense, the French Air Force today is the least provided for; its budget represents 22 percent of the national defense budget (1937 budget and projected 1938 budget). The British air budget represents 34 percent (last fiscal year, March 1937 to March 1938). . . . If the Air Force continues to be treated in this manner, it will not be able to accomplish the effort which you deem desirable and the awakening may be terrible. . . . By refusing to develop our aviation in the same proportions as the other European armies, we risk repeating on a much larger scale the errors we committed before 1914 in neglecting machine guns and heavy artillery."
Not till the spring of 1938 did the General Staff realize its mistake. Then the Air Ministry had a new program adopted which was called Plan V. It was a new draft of Plan IV, and it envisaged the creation of an air force of 2,600 first-line warplanes.
The above-mentioned documents (principally Plan III, Report to the Permanent Committee of National Defense of December 30, 1936, and Plan IV, Report of December 1937) have remained unpublished until today. Before the war, and before June 1940, it was impossible, without weakening France, to disclose the conflicts which had existed all through 1937 between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of National Defense. But now they must be known. They exist in several copies in the archives of the Air Ministry, in the office of the Prime Minister, in the Superior Council of National Defense, and in the Ministries of War and the Navy. The Committee on Aviation in the Chamber of Deputies knows about them. The officers of the General Staff who drafted them are still alive. It is impossible to explain how one could have passed from Plan II of August 1936 to Plan V of 1938 without referring to Plan III and Plan IV. The text of the decision of the High Military Committee, and of the opinions given by the Chiefs of Staff of the Air Force, the Army and the Navy which preceded this decision, should be published. Military historians will not fail to do this later, when a free government will give them access to the archives. Only then can the responsibility of everyone be established.
In laying these facts before the American public today I am not motivated by any wish to blame the French military authorities who failed to realize the importance of aviation in modern warfare. I desire only to show that these problems are difficult and complicated.
VIII. THE FRENCH AVIATION INDUSTRY
The question now arises whether the aviation industry of France was capable of undertaking greater production programs. An answer is contained in the report delivered in September 1937 in response to the request of the Committee of Inquiry charged with making a general study of French production. The report on the aviation industry was made by M. Roos, an engineer, and submitted to the Committee of Inquiry. Copies of the "Roos Report" are to be found in the files of the Air Ministry, the Ministry of National Economy and the Ministry of Finance.
The "Roos Report" shows two things. It shows first that the productive capacity of the French aviation industry had not declined in 1937 but had grown. It states: "The increase in productive capacity as represented by previous machine-tool purchases since the beginning of the year 1937 varies from 40 to over 100 percent according to the companies." Second, it shows that the aeronautical industry in 1937 was capable of producing more had it been asked to do so. It states: "The productive capacity of the French aeronautical industry can, without further plant expansion, satisfy a much greater demand than that which will exist in the near future." (This means, of course, a demand based upon the execution of the production program of national defense.)
It is not my intention to deduce from the "Roos Report" that the French aeronautical industry was perfect. It was far from being perfect. The fact remains that this serious study emphasizes the development of productive capacity in the course of the year 1937. If the Cabinet had asked for it, and had provided the necessary funds, the French aeronautical industry could have built the planes and engines that the French Army needed.
IX. BOTTLENECKS IN FRENCH PRODUCTION
In every country in the world, including the United States, the aviation industry is the most difficult of all industries to organize. Production programs are usually from 30 to 50 percent behind schedule. This is a general phenomenon, due to the youthfulness of the industry and the incessant progress and changes in technique. From 1935 to 1939 the delay in production in France amounted to about 40 percent. It is interesting to examine the main causes of this delay. What were the chief French "bottlenecks"?
The most important bottlenecks were caused by the frequent changes in the type of machines constructed. Forgetting the French proverb "le mieux est l'ennemi du bien" (the better is the enemy of the good), the French General Staff too often insisted upon the modification of prototypes. Sometimes modifications were even asked for when production was already under way, without consideration for the fact that very often a modification forces the manufacturer to vary his tools. Technological ignorance is a common phenomenon in the General Staffs of most countries. In France the well-known French characteristic of individualism aggravated this ignorance.
Another important source of bottlenecks was the insufficient way in which aircraft construction was organized. An airplane is composed of a body, motor, armaments and numerous accessories (navigation instruments, landing-gear, etc.). Each part was assigned to a. different manufacturer. Thus any delay on the part of one manufacturer led to a delay in the entire production. For instance, from 1934 onwards the production of engines was slower than that of bodies. To overcome this the Air Ministry in 1937 acquired the patent rights on an excellent American motor. But as a result of opposition on the part of French motor manufacturers the Air Ministry in 1938 abandoned the construction of this motor. Similarly in 1937 the air force suffered from delays in the manufacture of its ammunition and machine guns. Even after the war had begun, the production of new planes suffered from delays in the manufacture of landing-gear.
The third cause of delay was the stagnant mentality of the French Government administration. Airplane production suffered especially from the lack of understanding among the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Finance. They applied to aviation the sort of administrative methods that belonged to horse-and-buggy days. For example, in June 1937 the Air Ministry needed the authorization of the Ministry of Finance to order planes to be delivered in 1938. The Air Ministry asked for this authorization urgently. They received it only in October -- and then with a reduction of fifty percent. All Americans who had occasion to deal with the French functionnaires in charge of purchasing war materials found their methods aggravatingly slow. Even after war actually began they stuck to their old habits.
Such were the real bottlenecks that prevented the rapid manufacture of planes. Naturally, there were many other causes for delay, notably the bad organization of French industry as a whole.
Back of all this, and aggravating all the difficulties I have emphasized, was the bad political and social climate which had long existed in France, and especially from 1934 to 1939. France was a house divided against itself. Misunderstanding between employers and workers was aggravated by the opposition between what can roughly be called the Fascists and anti-Fascists, between the adversaries and defenders of democracy. This political fever reached a crisis stage with the famous Paris riot of February 6, 1934, and was intensified up to the time of the general strike in December 1938. It would be childish to imagine that German propaganda did not help create this agitation and did not use it to break down the moral strength of France.
It would lead us too far afield to try to examine here who was responsible for this social situation and for the consequent agitation. What we must try to do is to estimate its economic consequences. There can be no doubt that it hampered industrial production as a whole, including, of course, the manufacture of aircraft. Delays in deliveries of raw materials and tools increased the delays already being incurred in the delivery of engines and completed planes.
X. THE NATIONALIZATION OF THE AVIATION INDUSTRY
Nationalization of the aviation industry was not a cause for delay in production. I would like to emphasize that there was nothing revolutionary about the procedure. The State did not expel the owners and hand the factories over to the workers. Under a law which was passed almost unanimously by the French Parliament, the State bought a majority of the shares in certain industries. In the case of the aviation industry approximately 70 percent of the body manufacturers and 10 percent of the motor industry were so affected. The indemnities due the owners were paid by the Ministry of Finance and not by the Air Ministry. They had been fixed by independent arbitration commissions set up to safeguard private interests.
Nationalization brought some inconveniences. It also brought unmistakable advantages, among them these two:
It permitted the regrouping of the aviation industry. New factories were built, especially in the provinces and away from the large cities, thus assuring the dispersion of the industry. It also enabled the establishment of common purchasing programs (interchange of patents, allocation of key materials, etc.) and the organization of professional training for the workers in different parts of France.
It permitted the State to choose among the industrialists and place the best men at the head of the vital national industries. Experience showed that the choice was good. The proof was negative as well as positive. Beginning with 1938, massive orders again were given to those industries which had been left out of the nationalization, notably the firms of Renault, Breguet and Amiot. The experience of French aviation with these three firms was highly disappointing. All our good planes (Potez, Bloch, Dewoitine) came from the plants which had been nationalized.
The fact is that nationalization was partial industrial mobilization, which put the ablest industrialists in charge of the plants and which permitted the State to undertake a regrouping of the industry and to institute new machine tools. Anyone who knows how outdated French machine tools were in 1936 will approve the efforts made to reorganize French industry under the plans for nationalization.
XI. THE CONDUCT OF AIR WARFARE
In spite of its inferiority the French air force could have resisted the German air force. The British were able to hold their own alone against the Germans after June 22, 1940. What the British air force achieved alone could have been achieved even better in union with the French air force.
As France and Britain lacked numerical superiority, or even equality, they needed a highly perfected aerial strategy. Their most important problem was to distribute the force at their disposal correctly and to use it intelligently. To accomplish this they needed a joint air command and a technical organization permitting rapid concentration and direction of available forces. Because of its mobility an air force lends itself particularly well to such concentrations. But for a thousand airplanes to be assembled at a given point at an hour's notice all the services of command, of liaison and of control have to be prepared in peacetime. In September 1939 these prerequisites did not exist on our side. They had existed in 1936-37, but they had been destroyed in 1938.
In 1936-1937 the General Staff of the French air force contained, under the direction of General Fequant, a brilliant group of young and audacious officers. These young men, among whom 43-year-old General Jauneaud was outstanding, created a small but modern army of the air, organized by air divisions and well adapted to the necessities of French military policy. One year after the publication of the French Decrees which General Jauneaud had inspired, the Germans created the air divisions which later permitted them to act in great air formations in Norway, Holland, Belgium and France.
In 1938 General Fequant was replaced as Chief of the Air Staff by General Vuillemin, a popular officer with the Army because of his pluck in rising from the ranks without ever having gone through one of the great military schools. General Vuillemin was personally a very courageous man, but he disliked the ideas and personality of young, intelligent and ambitious General Jauneaud. He shunted Jauneaud aside into an administrative post, just as General de Gaulle was "disgraced" when he proposed and pressed for the creation of mechanized divisions. At the beginning of 1939 the organisation Jauneaud was suppressed. France gave up the French idea of the air divisions at the very moment Germany began to apply it.
Having committed these peacetime errors of organization, the General Staff needed only to fail in imagination in actual battle in order to ensure defeat.
XII. FAULTY DISTRIBUTION OF AIR UNITS
At the beginning of May 1940 the Germans had about 7,000 first-line planes. They concentrated for the air battle over France and the Low Countries practically all their forces and reserves, leaving in Norway and along their extended eastern frontiers only effectives of small importance. A total of approximately 6,000 planes were actually used in the attack on Holland, Belgium and France. Thanks to Germany's supply of reserve crews and machines, the number did not decrease throughout May and June.
France did the opposite. The French air forces remained dispersed and strung out. A thousand planes were left on the Mediterranean (approximately 600 in North Africa, at the disposal of the land forces, and 350 at the disposal of the Navy) and 400 planes were left in the Alps, facing Italy, not yet a belligerent. Germany attacked us with 80 percent of her total air force. We opposed it with only 40 percent of an already insufficient air force. This bad strategy produced a real catastrophe. The Vichy Government declares that on June 12 only 550 modern planes were left in France to oppose 5,000 German planes. This may be true, for thanks to the lack of prevision of the French General Staff our aviators had to fight one to five and sometimes one to seven against the Germans, when it ought to have been possible for them to fight one against two. To the six thousand airplanes which Germany threw into the Battle of France the French and English could easily have opposed 3,000 airplanes. The British experience at Dunkerque in June and in their own isles in September proved that a proportion of one to two is sufficient for a good General Staff to organize an efficient resistance. We all know that the defensive needs fewer forces than the offensive. But what the British General Staff achieved by careful concentration and skilful utilization of their units the French General Staff was incapable of doing. Comment is superfluous on their decision to leave in North Africa a third of their air forces at a moment when the Nazis were attacking our metropolitan area with all their might.
XIII. PARACHUTE TROOPS
This analysis of French aviation in the war would be incomplete if no mention were made of the parachutists. German parachutists played an important rôle in the conquest of Holland, Belgium and France. But parachute troops could have been even more useful to the French than to the Germans. The German motorized units which rushed far ahead into enemy territory had great difficulties in maintaining liaison with the infantry divisions following after. French parachute troops could have worked havoc with this attenuated liaison. They also would have found ready help among the masses of the French and Belgian civilian population, whereas the Germans had to operate in unknown territory and amidst a hostile people.
The military use of parachutes is a Soviet invention. In 1935 the Red Army tried them out on a large scale (an entire brigade) during manœuvres in the Ukraine. In 1936 France created two groups of parachute troops and used them in the summer manœuvres of 1937. These two groups were commanded by a first-rate officer, Major Geille. It was decided to form three more groups in 1938; and as these were to be transformed into battalions, France could have had five battalions of parachutists (1,500 men) by the end of 1939. But in the course of 1938 a violent campaign was let loose against the idea of parachutists in the pro-Fascist organs of the French press. The parachute organization was ridiculed and the suggestion was made that it was a result of my policy of Franco-Soviet rapprochement. One important air force commander declared that "parachutists are good only for the circus." This became the official doctrine. The French General Staff turned their back on parachute troops just at the time that the German generals were taking the idea up.
During the early months of the war Major Geille and his men were distributed among infantry units. At the last minute, in the month of May, the Air Minister, M. Laurent Eynac, tried to correct the mistake of the French General Staff. It was too late. France, which had had parachute troops before Germany, was unable to reconstruct her units before the final defeat.
In short, the defeat of the French air force is to be considered the result of many mistakes -- political, industrial and military. The most important seem to have been the following:
French industrial capacity and output were inadequate as a result of the wrong economic policy pursued by French governments from 1920 to 1939. France did not have an economic policy commensurate with her foreign policy.
French statesmen and the French General Staff underestimated the importance of aviation in modern warfare. They prepared for a war of position and refused to believe in the Blitzkrieg.
French strategy was unimaginative and hesitating while that of Germany was imaginative and audacious. Specifically in the air, the French Staff never used more than 60 percent of existing French aircraft.
Beyond this, however, let us remember that the collapse of France was not only a military collapse, it was also a political and moral collapse. What has happened in Britain proves that war is not only a matter of planes and of tanks, but that it also is a matter of will and of spirit. Too many people in France refused to fight against Hitler because they had lost their faith in democracy and no longer valued individual and national freedom.
In ending, I would like to pay homage to the courage of France's aviators. Always outnumbered, with too few machines, badly equipped and badly directed, they accomplished real wonders. Their gallantry deserved a better fate.