Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Dewoitine D.520 in combat action vs. Me 109 E, Battle of France

Hubert Amédée Charles Henri Vincent Irumberry de Salaberry nicknamed « Bebert ».

Hubert de Salaberry was born on 13 July 1913. He entered military training school at Versailles and passed out with the ranl of Sous-Lieutenant in 1939. Assigned to the 3rd Escadre de Chasse, he first flew a MS 406 at Dijon before being posted on 25 September 1939 to the 2nd escadrille of GC I/3 at Velaine-en-Haye, near Nancy. Between September and December 1939 he flew 15 combat sorties without success. On 7 December his Groupe shifted to Cannes to be re-equipped with the new Dewoitine D.520 fighter while some of the pilots went to Orléans to fly operational trials. The aircraft underwent many modifications and suffered numerous teething problems, so that the first examples were not delivered until January 1940. During this period Sous-Lieutenant Salaberry was assigned chef de patrouille (flight leader). The first combat-ready machines became available during mid-April and the Groupe was entirely re-equipped by 14 May. Following the German invasion the Groupe shifted to Wez-Yhuisy via Suippes. de Salaberry flew D520 n° 115 and achieved his first two victories, a Bf 109 and a He 111 on 14 May. On 21 May he shot down the Bf109E of the Gruppenkommandeur of III./JG 2, Major Erich Mix.

de Salaberry was flying a patrol over the sector Proyart- Athies-sur-Somme on 05 June 1940 accounting for a 4th victim, a 109 that came down in woods near Amiens. The following account is translated from de Salaberry's privately-published 'Récits de Guerre' (translation copyright Neil Page);

“ ..up ahead of me I caught sight of a D.520 on its back with its gear extended, a rather unusual sight at this altitude. It was wreathed in a huge sheet of bright orange flame, blazing from the engine cowl to the tail fin like a huge torch. The cockpit seemed to have disappeared. It was a haunting sight in the bright blue sky. Less than one hundred metres behind it a Bf 109 continued to squirt out burst after burst of fire as if at a fairground shooting range, sporadic flashes of flame dancing along its wing leading edges. I was filled with an overwhelming desire to deal this 109 some of its own medicine. After a quick glance behind to check my rear, I dropped down in behind the ‘Fritz’. He had seen me and understood straight away that the hunter was now the prey. He did what all German fighters do when they are caught napping – he rolled onto his back and dropped like a stone, counting on being able to build up enough speed to put some distance between us. I wasn’t about to let him go. I rolled with him and headed down vertically, my engine screaming with the throttle against the stop. I had full confidence in my aircraft, the Dewoitine was very stable and the engine & prop behaved themselves impeccably... Reeling the 109 slowly in during our headlong dive I unleashed several brief bursts from directly astern. The German pilot didn’t react and continued on down. Suddenly I noticed the sky becoming darker, realised that the ground was rushing up toward us. Crushed by the deceleration as I eased out the dive I lost sight of the German. I orbited the area but could see nothing. Below me the countryside was peaceful and unremarkable...”