Wednesday 3 April 2024

Caudron CR. 714 in the Battle for France - GC 1/145 ('Les Polonais de Varsovie')

..the following is based on Grzegorz Slizewski's book  "The Lost Hopes - Polish fighters over France " with some important corrections and additional material from Comas/Ledet 'The Caudron Fighters' published by Lela Presse and the highly recommended book "Les aviateurs polonais en France" (B. Belcarz, Artipresse).

On 17 February 1940 French Air Minister Guy La Chambre signed an agreement with Polish General Sikorsky to establish a Polish fighter Group comprising two escadrilles in the Armee de l'Air. This would naturally be established from the DIAP (Depot d'instruction de l'Aviation Polonaise - Polish air training centre) then based in Lyon. On the opening day of the German offensive in the West, 10 May, the Poles of CG 1/145 were in Lyon with just a handful of Ms 406s and CR. 714s.  'Defence flights' for the city were quickly formed and the aircraft relocated to Mions outside Lyons - from where the air raid warnings sounded from the city could just about be heard (radios were defective). Eager to fight with whatever types the French could supply, the Poles had been accumulating training time on the CR. 714 even before the 'official' establishment of the first 'French' Polish fighter squadron. The first Caudrons arrived at Lyon-Bron during March 1940. But it was not originally envisaged that they would be deployed in combat. The French knew full well that the light-weight Caudron powered by its small Renault engine would be severely outclassed by Luftwaffe types, so had used the type as a cheap 'training' machine. But in the end there were no other types available in numbers. By 21 May some 16 machines had been taken on strength and the Groupe had relocated to Villacoublay, south of Paris (part of the 23rd Groupement de chassse) and close to the Caudron factory at Guyancourt for further deliveries. The French Minister of Air, Guy La Chambre, inspected GC 1/145 ('Les Polonais de Varsovie') on 25 May. The aircraft were being delivered straight from the production line and presented a litany of defects forcing the minister to  suspend all flying on the "Cyclone". He was told about the aircraft's poor climb rate, a weak landing gear and its faulty lowering mechanism, as well as an imperfect propeller pitch-changing device, engine cowling 'ballooning' during dives and unreliable dashboard instruments. While the Minister's reaction was perhaps the proper one, it served to deprive the Polish pilots in France of the only aircraft available to them. The French Air Ministry had originally ordered the Armee de l'Air to equip the Poles with the Bloch 152, aircraft which were not available. Despite Polish pilots having more hours on the Ms 406 they were not offered these aircraft either far less the D.520 - types for which they were probably not considered 'suitable'. The very next day, they elected to continue flying the defective Caudrons. On 2 June the squadron moved to the airfield at Dreux, some 30 km west of Paris. There were no facilities on the field and it was not until the ground echelon arrived that the aircraft could be dispersed and carefully camouflaged around the airfield. Two days later, the Poles finally received the long-awaited radios. Up to that point, they scrambled at the signal of an automobile horn. To beef up GC II/10, on 5 June the squadron was ordered to patrol in the Rouen area. This was done by Flight "B". Half an hour later, Flight "A" was moved to Bretingy-sur-Orge, south of Paris, with the task of defending the French capitol. The next day, the squadron was charged with the same duties.

In the evening of June 6, the squadron was attached to the 42eme Groupement de Chasse, defending a sector of the Seine Valley between Vernon and Meulan.

Two three-aircraft reconnaissance flights on the route Meulan-Magny-en-Vexin-Fleury-sur-Andelle-Vernon and along the Seine were the squadron's only activity on 7 June. The next day found the squadron with twenty-one serviceable aircraft. The remaining thirteen required much attention from the ground crews. Some were being generally checked after forced landings, while multiple tasks were performed on others; changing a stabilizer or rudder, replacing Plexiglas in a cockpit, a carburettor, parts of an electrical installation, and so on. That day "A" Flight was assigned to GC II/10. At 15:54 a section of five aircraft, led by kpt. Wczelik, took off to patrol over the Vernon-Meulan area. South of Rouen, the Poles attacked a group of about twenty Messerschmit 110 Cs of III./ ZG 26 escorting a group of Stukas. After several months of inaction the Poles were spoiling for a fight. They landed at 17:10. Officers Wczelik and Czerwinski claimed victories, but none of the other pilots saw the enemy aircraft crash. Commander Kepinski recognized only one of them as probable but soon after, around the area of that clash, the wreck of a single Me-110 was found, all five Polish pilots receiving a victory share as was usual French practise.

 por. Tadeusz Czerwinski  kpt. Wczelik, ppor. Aleksy Zukowski, ppor. Jerzy Godlewski and kpr. Piotr Zaniewski were credited with one Bf 110 each - for one aircraft shot down.  Belcarz points out that the only Bf 110 losses were over the German-Swiss border zone while in Comas/Ledet one notable French historian argues that the German loss does not appear in most recognised sources (including Vasco and Cornwell) since it was not reported until later in the year. The squadron suffered no losses, but most of the aircraft were shot-up and temporarily unserviceable.

At Bernay, on 9 June the squadron joined up with Flight "B", to fly a sweep at full strength over the front-line area. Eighteen aircraft took off at 2:30 p.m. Led by maj. Kepinski were Commandant de Marmier, kpt. Laguna, kpt. Wczelik,por. Zdzislaw Zadrozinski, por. Jan Obuchowski, por. Julian Kowalski, ppor. Czeslaw Glowczynski, ppor. Jerzy Czerniak, ppor. Lech Lachowicki-Czechowicz,ppor. Jerzy Godlewski, ppor. Bronislaw Skibinski, sierz. Jan Palak, plut. Andrzej Niewiara, plut. Mieczyslaw Parafinski and kpr. Edward Uchto. Over Vernon, the squadron attacked an enemy formation of about 50 Dornier Do 17s escorted by about 20 Bf 109s. Due to  radio malfunction the attack was poorly coordinated.

 Czeslaw Glowczynski recalled;

 ".. My radio didn't work so I wasn't aware of any warnings. I soon noticed a group of about 30 Bf 109s, some 3,000 feet below. Since our leader didn't react. I come close to him and waggled my wings. I pointed down; he nodded to indicate that he had seen them and continued straight and level. I gave him a sign that I would attack. I thought that at least a part of our group would follow me in this attack, but I found myself alone, with the exception of my wingman, ppr. Czerniak. Our position was advantageous since we attacked from above, with the sun behind us. At top speed, I swept down on the rearmost Bf 109. The swiftness of my attack caused the whole German formation to break up. One of them went down steeply, smoking heavily. Immediately, I went after another one, which, after few bursts, crashed in a forest south of Rouen. I was then shot at from behind. Several bullets came near my head and shattered my instrument panel. I managed to force land on a front-line strip at Evreux. Czerniak got one Bf 109 as well, and he landed with me. It took the whole evening to fix my machine and I returned to the unit the next day.."

 Jerzy Czerniak recalled;

 "... The weather was beautiful and flying in the direction of our assigned zone of operation, we were climbing slowly. At 12 or 15 thousand, we started to look for game. For over thirty minutes, the flight was uneventful, and looking at Czeslaw, I could tell that he was greatly disappointed that there were no Huns around. That's when I saw aluminium flashes  glinting below us. I gave Czeslaw a sign, and we altered our course a little to put the sun directly behind us. Next, Czeslaw dived and I followed him, releasing the safety catch on my armament in case there was a scrap. And there was  one. We closed on the Messerschmitts and Czeslaw coolly positioned himself right behind one of them and opened fire. Others maneuvered themselves behind Czeslaw who continued spraying his wiggling victim. All this time, I flew behind my colleague, observing the scene. One Messerschmitt started to shoot at him and that's when I intervened. I jumped at the German and gave him a burst right in the cockpit. He must have got it since he flipped over, going down. I served him another portion and stayed with him till he crashed into a French farmer's yard.."

(p55 Comas/Ledet - The Caudron fighters)

 Ppor. Glowczynski was credited with one Bf 109 destroyed and one damaged, while ppor. Czerniak got one Bf 109 destroyed. Plut. Parafinski also scored, destroying a Bf 109, while kpt. Wczelik and sierz. Markiewicz shared one Dornier 17 destroyed. Two planes crashed south of Andelys and others near Louviers. This time, the squadron suffered a loss of three pilots. Killed in action were por. Obuchowski, ppor. Lachowicki-Czechowicz and kpr. Uchto. por. Kowalski was slighty wounded, while ppor. Godlewski force landed at Villacoblay. The rest of the pilots landed at 3:50 p.m. A few aircraft were unserviceable. Godlewski tried to join his unit on a new plane but nose-dived during the takeoff. He come out of the accident unscathed, but couldn't catch up with the squadron. The Poles clashed with the Emils of II./JG 27 (some sources state III./JG 26). The pilots from this unit claimed three Moranes shot down. Credited with victories were: Gruppenkomandeur Hauptmann Werner Andres, Feldwebel Karl Witzel and Feldwebel Karl-Heinz Bendert. In reality, the Luftwaffe lost three Bf 109s. Leutnant Hans Bosch ( Hptm. Andres wingman ) and Feldwebel Karl-Heinz Kranich become POWs. Leutnant Hermann Kugler went missing. Slightly wounded, Hptm. Andres force landed near Creil...

Below;  when CG 1/145 evacuated the airfield at Dreux they left behind some fifteen Caudrons. The reverse of the image below - an expired auction - is captioned, 'Dreux 22 July 1940'. Compare with the image on page 180 of  "Les aviateurs polonais en France" (B. Belcarz, Artipresse). First machine visible "1" is the aircraft assigned to plut. Markiewicz.

Above; reproduced on p55 of the Comas/Ledet title and p181 of the Belcarz ' Les aviateurs polonais en France', three 2e escadrille machines at Dreux on 22 June 'white 10 and 'white 13' with 'white 7' in the background. 'White 13' was flown by the future 56th FG ace Boleslaw Gladych. 

1/145 pilots had 12 victories 'officially' confirmed (Bf 110s, Do 17s and four Bf 109s) for the loss of 3 Caudron pilots KIA. Ppor. Jerzy Godlewski -officially MIA- reached England and joined 72 Sqd

"The Caudron fighters - the Cr. 714 and variants" authored by Matthieu Comas and Michel Ledet 

"Les aviateurs polonais en France" (B. Belcarz, Artipresse).

And a rare page-view look into the huge Belcarz book on the Cr. 714 "Cyclone" - details of the cockpit/instrument panel

Dr Belcarz founder of Stratus and Mushroom recently succumbed to cancer RIP