Fantasque Time Line (France Fights On) - English Translation

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June 27th, 1940

Hong Kong
- In the Anglo-Chinese port, the activity is as teeming as usual. At the docks, no one pays any attention to the wooden crates that the loading mast of the British freighter Ben Lhomond loads onto the flatcars of a convoy running along the quay where the ship is moored. These crates have a particular shape.
Long and high, with a rather small width, and with a protrusion at one end. Others are lower, almost as long, but even narrower. It would take the eye of an aviation mechanic to spot that they are airplanes... Up close, it's easier, by reading the markings: De Havilland, Hatfield, UK, and the name: DH-82, in other words Tiger Moth. One can count seven boxes of each type, so enough to assemble seven planes.
Where will these planes go?
Not to Kai-Tak, the RAF airport, for this time. The cars with the famous crates will be towed to a large coaster that shuttles between Hong Kong and Haiphong. Once in Indochina, the boxes will be loaded onto a train that will take them to Saigon. But for what reason?
We have to go back to the declaration of war, in September 1939. It stopped all shipments of and personnel from France to Indochina. Yet there were many needs in the colony, both in terms of men and machines. The shadow of the Japanese is gradually looming. Its pilots should be trained on the spot - and despite a subsidy from Governor General Catroux, the local flying clubs proved incapable of being effective.
On December 16, 1939, Georges Mandel, then Minister of the Colonies, took the decision to create an independent Air Force school in Indochina, to train local pilots, both French and Indochinese. The objective was to train 300 civilian pilots per year, civilians who could then be easily converted into combatants. After having informed Catroux, who would have authority over this school, the Minister appointed Major Louis Castex to head the new organization, gave him carte blanche and immediately released six million francs, plus another five million for operating costs.
Castex easily recruited personnel from the Morane school in Melun, and the Navy delegates to him some of its executive instructors. But for the aircraft, it is more complex,
the French aeronautical industry being entirely occupied by the production load imposed by the Ministry of the Air... and by the war in progress. Even simple planes like those for schooling would take an infinite time to be built, without counting the the administrative side of the thing. Go and explain to the civil servants of the Air Ministry that a
school in Indochina is going to be created and that it needs to order planes!
Once again, Castex acted directly and contacted De Havilland, whose Tiger Moths were both famous and in production for the RAF. Positive answer, no useless palaver
the contract was signed on February 7, 1940 for 20 aircraft at a unit price of 225,000 francs. Two mechanics are sent to Hatfield to learn the machine.
On April 20, Castex himself received the first seven biplanes in England, which had been certified three days earlier, in the company of chief pilot Maurice Thouraval. The planes are then prepared for a sea voyage to Hong Kong, where they arrived on June 27th. Now, they are heading for Tan-Son-Nhut, via Hanoi.
June 27th, 1940

Western Mediterranean
- The French bombers maintain their pressure on the large Italian islands. Cagliari is bombed by 27 MB-210 escorted by 18 MS-406 taking off from Corsica. In the sky of Sicily, the LeO-451 (63 missions) are now supported by DB-7s (27 missions), as well as Martin 167s and Potez 631s based in Malta. Also from Malta, the Bloch 174 of the GR II/33 establish a regular surveillance of Taranto, Reggio Calabria, Bari and other Italian naval bases.
June 27th, 1940

- The port of Cagliari, which had previously been considered difficult to defend by the command of the Aeronautics of Sardinia, the port of Cagliari is since the day before almost defenseless against the French raids. Consequently, all the surface ships depending on the Naval Command of Sardinia will anchor there only occasionally, according to their missions, as well as the submarines of the VIIth Group. The latter will operate from Naples. As for the surface ships, as La Maddalena did not appear to be much safer than Cagliari, they find temporary refuge in Olbia and Golfo Aranci.
As the French had not yet targeted them, these twin ports also seem to be able to replace Cagliari as the point of arrival for the (meager) reinforcements and supplies that would be sent to the forces of the big island. Some ships of service will come from La Maddalena to assist the fighting ships.
June 27th, 1940

- After a new staff meeting in Supermarina, Vice Admiral Falangola, who commands the staff of the Italian submarine fleet (Maricosom), is considering the options left to him. In fifteen days of war, the situation has deteriorated considerably. Contrary to all hopes, France does not seem to have decided to acknowledge its defeat: on the ground, the Germans had to stop their advance in France (even if this is only temporary) and the Regio Esercito is stalling in the Alps; in the air, the French are conducting an incredible and unexpected campaign against Sardinia, Sicily and Libya, which drains the meager resources of the Regia Aeronautica; finally, on the sea, the aggressive operations of the French in the Ligurian Sea and of the English against Sicily mark the impossibility for the Regia Marina to oppose both the Royal Navy and the Marine Nationale.
The outlook is bleak: the Duce is in a bad mood and Italy has to take the offensive on the sea. However, although the Regia Marina theoretically possesses six battleships, the two modern ships have not yet completed their development and one of the four older ships is still being refitted. The other three can hardly oppose the allied forces, which
in the Mediterranean alone, count six or seven old battleships and two or three battlecruisers. Finally, a certain number of light units are mobilized to try to maintain a link with Italian North Africa.
Thus, the responsibility for offensive operations falls to the submarine fleet, a good way to obtain results without risking the symbolically (and financially) heavy loss of a large ship!
At the beginning of hostilities, Falangola has (on paper) 116 submersibles, of which 54 were deployed in the Mediterranean on June 10th. But these submarines are spread over many different areas of operation. Eight are carrying out important defensive missions in the Gulf of Genoa (4) or south of Sardinia (4), and most of the others are deployed against the Greeks and the British in the eastern Mediterranean [1]. Only fourteen submarines threaten the French fleet in the western Mediterranean [2].
Since then, 26 submarines have returned to their home port, either following the planned end of their mission, or due to technical problems, and several units are presumed lost. Cavagnari and
Mussolini wants Falangola to launch all his units against the French convoys in the western Mediterranean, but it is easier said than done: covering the eastern Mediterranean remained a priority in order to avoid the total isolation of Rhodes and the defensive missions became more complex with the Allied attacks (it was now necessary to cover not only the Gulf of Genoa, but also Sardinia and Sicily).
The poor availability of Italian submarines prevents the rapid return to sea of the units returning from missions and many crews are still insufficiently trained to send them on operations.
Falangola does not manage to exceed the maximum number of 12 submarines simultaneously deployed in front of the ports of southern France and North Africa or around the Balearic Islands, and he expected heavy losses. And he has no illusions: if the strategic trend is not quickly reversed, he will have to definitively abandon any offensive strategy, adopt a defensive posture and devote significant efforts to suppling the ASI.

[1] 1 in front of Malta, 4 on the Greek-Albanian coast, 5 in the Aegean Sea, 4 south of Crete, 6 between Crete and Rhodes, 4 north of Sollum, and 5 off Alexandria.
[2] 5 in front of the French Riviera, 1 in Corsica, 5 in front of Oran and Cartagena, 2 in front of Algiers and 1 in front of Bizerte.
June 27th, 1940

Libya (Tripolitania)
- Thanks to the absence of any Italian fighters, nine Farman 223.3 each carrying 4.5 tons of bombs (and covered by 24 Hawk-75) attack Tripoli in broad daylight. This raid causes serious damage in the port area, where the gunboat Alula, not yet recovered from the bombing of the 22nd, is set on fire by a large-caliber bomb and sinks. But if the military impact of the raid is serious, its psychological effect on the population is too, causing many civilians to flee to the interior or to the east.
However, the greatest effort is made against the Italian border positions, which are attacked by 81 Martin 167s, 105 Potez 63.11s and 18 LN-401/411s (most of the planes flew two missions in one day). This massive air presence (for the time) is necessary to support a series of local attacks, supported by old FT-17 tanks and D1 tanks of the 61st Combat Tank Battalion, armed with a 47 mm SA-34 gun (It didn't take long for the new 61st BCC commander to make his mark...).
In all, the Air Force units in North Africa carried out 412 offensive missions during the day, plus 62 carried out by the Naval Air Arm.
The 33rd Italian Stormo bombing unit tries again to attack the Tunisian territory from Benghazi. But this time, the planes arrive a little too early on their objective, at the end of the afternoon, and the French fighters have time to intervene. Twelve MS-406, quickly joined by six H-75s, fall on the unescorted bombers, which suffer heavy losses. Seven of the 15 SM.79 engaged are shot down and four, heavily damaged, have to crash-land at Tripoli-Mellaha. One MS-406 is shot down by the bombers' gunners and another one is heavily damaged. The bombing, carried out in spite of everything, causes damage on the Memzel field, where a LeO-451 and two MS-406 are destroyed.
June 27th, 1940

Libya (Cyrenaica)
- RAF planes begin to systematically attack the Italian positions on the border. Six Martin 167s attack Tobruk, taking the defenders by surprise.
June 27th, 1940

- At dawn, two Farman 222 bombers that had come from Bône during the night land in Alexandria with spare parts for the French planes deployed in Egypt. After the flight of the Camille-Flammarion, the day before, a sustained night traffic begins. In fact, both sides will have recourse to these night flights: the Italian SM.82 will go from Reggio Calabria to Benghazi and sometimes Tripoli, while the Farman 222 or 223.4 will connect Bône to Alexandria.
During the day, Air Marshal Longmore authorizes the deployment of the Sqn 80's Gladiators to the advanced base of Sidi Barani, commanded by F/L Marmaduke Pattle, and of the six French Potez 63.11s.
June 27th, 1940

- Everything is calm.

Centre - After two days of pause which allowed it to reconstitute itself, the 44th ID marches towards Mauriac to protect the left flank of the IVth Army behind the Dordogne. The 53rd DLI organizes the advanced defense of Le Puy-en-Velay on a 30 km arc facing north.
The approaches to the town are blocked and roadblocks are installed at La Chaise-Dieu, Craponne and Allègre. The 53rd DLI is supported by the 10th ID (or its ghost!). Reorganized in two detachments of the value of a battalion each from the debris of about fifty units of all origins, the division of General Aymé is held in reserve, taking position around Saint-Flour.

East - The 1. PzD moves up towards Belfort, flanking the old fortified belt which held the infantry divisions of the 7th German Army at bay. The garrison surrenders at the end of the morning, after having held off not only the infantry of the German 7th Army for several days, but also the vanguards of the XXXIX. AK (mot) since the day before. Immediately, the German tanks attack from the south the last defenders of the Vosges, grouped on the Ballon d'Alsace. Attacked from the east and now from the west and the south, General Laure's VIIIth Army surrenders in turn. But some units manage to escape captivity in Germany by going to Switzerland to be interned, including part of General Daille's 45th CAF and the survivors of the Groupement de la Saône. Among them are many Polish soldiers.
June 27th, 1940

Rhone Valley and Alps
- Since the declaration of war by Italy and the break-up of the front in Champagne, General Olry understands that he is in danger of fighting on two fronts. He therefore charges General Cartier to organize the defense of his rear, without withdrawing a single man from the troops defending the the Italian border, by scraping the bottom of the barrel (troops from the interior formed from depots, units "passing through" to the south...) and by concentrating its forces at points favored by geography, that is to say essentially the crossing points of the rivers. Cartier thus organizes four defensive positions: north of Lyon and on the Rhône, on the Isère, on the Drôme, and finally on the Durance.
The 3. PzD, approaching the north of Lyon by the N.6, pushes the first resistance position of the Army of the Alps. Further east, the leading elements of the 4. PzD reach Bourg-en-Bresse in the afternoon. The town is defended by a marching battalion of Moroccan riflemen which form the head of the De Mesmay group's defensive system, spread out along the D79 to Bellegarde.
The German vanguard moving down the N7 from Roanne is met with unexpected resistance from the 131st depot battalion in Tarare and Pontcharra. The German commander decides to stop for the night and wait for reinforcements. The defenders withdraw to the Rhône during the night.

Cote d'Azur - While the Italian attacks against the fortified sector of the Maritime Alps continue, the French air force intervenes against the Italian preparations for landing: at the end of the day, three Potez 63.11 of the GC I/16 (modified the previous days by the addition of gondolas with machine guns), escorted by a double patrol of MS-406 of the GC III/1 (six aircraft [1])), emerge from the sunset and attack the port of Ventimiglia, where the troops of the San Marco Marine Infantry Regiment start to embark in various fishing boats and other improvised landing craft. Taking advantage of the surprise effect and firepower (20 mm Morane guns, six Mac machine guns by Potez), the French planes cause much damage to the ships and heavy losses to the San Marco. Knowing that the French had been warned and fearing a naval intervention that would result in a massacre of the transported soldiers, the Italians give up their project.

[1] In three pairs and not in two trios: the French start to learn from their winners at the moment.
June 28th, 1940

Western Mediterranean
- Having spotted a cargo ship heading south-southwest off Sardinia, the Italian submarine Diaspro surfaces to attack the vessel with its cannon. It is then that the lookout notices the Belgian flag unfurled at the stern of the ship. It is in fact the Copacabana, en route from Marseille to Oran. The commander of the submarine reports the order to attack and the incident. Supermarina then clarifies the attitude to be taken: Belgian ships should be attacked, as long as they are part of a convoy that includes ships from countries with which Italy is at war, or if they are in the territorial waters of one of these countries. For his part, the captain of the Copacabana radios the incident and its successful conclusion to the Belgian authorities.
June 28th, 1940

- Bad day for the Italian Navy.
In front of Cagliari, the cargo ship Alicantino (1,642 GRT), loaded with supplies for the island's garrison, hits one of the mines laid a few days earlier by the Saphir and sinks.
Further north, the small coaster Alessandro Podestà (633 GRT), going from La Maddalena to Porto Torres, blows on a mine of one of the defensive fields of the area and sinks.
June 28th, 1940

- In an attempt to relieve the pressure on the Italian air force in Libya, SuperAereo orders a "massive" attack against Malta. The 30th and 36th Stormi bombers, based in Calabria, launch 30 SM.79 escorted by 18 Fiat CR.42. The raid is detected by the British air alert system and intercepted by all the available fighter aircraft on the island: 12 D-520s, 6 Potez 631s, plus 3 Gladiators and 2 Hurricanes of the RAF. In spite of acts of bravery from the escort, the results are disastrous for the Regia Aeronautica. The defenders, ideally placed by fighter control, shoot down seven CR.42 and eleven SM.79, to which can be added four CR.42s and nine SM.79s so badly damaged that they will return to their base only to be considered irreparable. The Allied fighters lose two D-520, a Gladiator and two Potez 631 (one of which was deliberately hit by a CR.42); one D-520 and one Potez are severely damaged.
This disaster, added to the daily results of the fighting over the south of France, accelerated the awareness of the Regia Aeronautica staff that the era of biplane fighters is well and truly over.
June 28th, 1940

- The Italian raid on Malta does not prevent the Martin 167s of the B3 and B4 squadrons from attacking Comiso airfield, where they destroy five Fiat CR.42 and seven SM.79. The CR.42 belong to the 9th independent fighter group, which had just arrived from Gorizia and had to go to Libya.
Shortly before sunset, a marauding Martin 167 of the AB3 shoots down an Italian seaplane off the Sicilian coast. It is the first victory in aerial combat of a Martin 167 of the Aéronavale and the prelude to the events to come.
June 28th, 1940

- Arrival of the Normandie, loaded with aircraft (including the B-339s destined for the Béarn) and vehicles: 24 M1 Combat cars, 20 M2A4 light tanks, three M2 half-tracks and three M3 Scouts. Dozens of others follow, on slower transports.


All images courtesy of
June 28th, 1940

Libya (Tripolitania)
- The French Air Force increases pressure on the Italian units.
In broad daylight, Tripoli is heavily bombed, successively by 54 LeO-451s and Farman heavy bombers.
Near the Tunisian-Libyan border, the supply depots and various military installations are attacked all day long by Martin 167s, while DB-7s and Curtiss H-75 harass the airfields. At Mellaha, the four SM.79 damaged the day before are finished, while two CR.42 and one CR.32 which had survived are eliminated.
The Italian positions on the border are again attacked by Potez 63.11 and LN-401/411.
In all, the French Air Force flies 498 offensive missions in Tripolitania during the day.
318 - Death of Italo Balbo
June 28th, 1940

Libya (Cyrenaica)
- Benghazi is attacked by 45 LeO-451s; this bombardment is fatal forthe former gunboat Mario Bianco, which is transferred to the lighthouse service.
At the end of the day, Field Marshal Italo Balbo goes to Tobruk to meet the staff of the Cyrenaica front. As his plane is about to land, it is shot down by trigger-happy flak gunners and all its occupants are killed. Shortly before his death, Balbo sent Mussolini a very virulent message accusing the Duce of having left the Italian forces "in a state of tragic unpreparedness." This message has led some historians to believe that Balbo's death might have been arranged by Mussolini himself. However, this hypothesis was never to be seriously argued. Balbo was known as an opponent of the war and of a close alliance with Germany. He had openly criticized decision to attack France, and he had reacted vehemently, after the French air offensive had begun, to what he described to his staff as "a total absence of support from Rome". But there is no evidence that Mussolini was able to arrange his death, just as there is no evidence that the Marshal was actually on his way to Tobruk for secret talks with British envoys, in order to prepare for the surrender of Italian North Africa.
In any case, his last orders before his death were to request the return of the 1st CC.NN. Division from Cyrenaica to Tripolitania and to send six Ba.65 and nine Ca.310bis of the
50th Ground Attack Stormo from Sorman to Mellaha. Balbo was indeed planning a forthcoming general attack by French troops. But the counter-order sent to the 1st CC.NN., arriving just two days after its arrival in Cyrenaica, was going to provoke a great disorder amidst its ranks.
June 28th, 1940

- The last French units east of the Saône surrender, as well as the old border forts of Joux and Larmont. Only the works of the Maginot line continue to resist.

Rhone Valley - Intense fighting takes place north of Lyon (Chasselay, Neuville, Sathonay) between the French defenders (riflemen, legionnaires and territorials) and the attackers, including the men of the SS-GrossDeutschland regiment. The 155 mm battery of the Corbas fort opens fire on several occasions to stop the attempts to cross the river. At night, the defenders withdraw behind the Rhône, with all the passages from Valence to Bellegarde blown up.

Alps - The Italians manage to advance a little, despite the losses due not only to the artillery fire of the French works, but also to the weather conditions (hundreds of men have to be evacuated due to frostbite). Their vanguards arrive at the edge of the French fortifications whose fire keeps them at a respectful distance.

Provence - The air battles show that the equipment of the Regia Aeronautica is not at the level of that of the Armée de l'Air. The diary of the GC III/6, one of the few units equipped with D-520 units left on the continent, claims 23 aircraft shot down and 14 "probable" for the loss of five planes and two pilots in the period from June 18th to 28th, during the fighting against the raids of the Regia Aeronautica attacking Toulon and Marseille. The best ace of the Group, Warrant Officer (soon to be lieutenant) Pierre Le Gloan, claims eleven victories and five probable in eleven days (in addition to the five Italian planes he shot down on June 15th in a single mission lasting 48 minutes).
June 28th, 1940

Evacuating a country
- The evacuation of the troops from the mainland continues on a massive scale.

Atlantic ports - On the Atlantic coast, Operation Aerial continues. Under the operational command of Admiral James (commander of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth), who directs the Channel and supported by Admiral Sir Martin Dunbar-Nasmith (commander of the Western Approaches in Plymouth) for operations in the Bay of Biscay, a great many warships but also several dozen liners, cargo ships, ferries or even English, French and Belgian trawlers take turns to embark the troops gathered in French ports.
British and Allied troops are evacuated from Brittany (Cherbourg, Saint-Malo, Brest, Lorient) and then, as the Germans advanced, from the Loire estuary (Saint-Nazaire) and the Charente (La Pallice, Rochefort, La Rochelle).
At the beginning of Aerial, as escorts were lacking to organize convoys, a continuous flow of ships of all kinds circulated between the French ports and England, while the available escorts patrolled their route. Unable to intervene in force, the Luftwaffe had to content itself with dropping mines in front of the ports.
In Gironde, evacuations were hampered from June 18th onwards by German magnetic mines, the Navy then ordered the evacuation of Bordeaux and the ports of the Garonne estuary. After minesweeping, most of the ships left the Gironde in two convoys, on June 21st and 25th. The last ones took more than 3,000 Antwerp dockworkers who had taken refuge in Bordeaux, who were very active in helping their French comrades before leaving for England, where they would be a valuable addition to reduce the congestion threatening British ports. Only a few demagnetized freighters came to load in Bordeaux in the last days of June and the first days of July.
Since the beginning of the evacuation of the ports of the Loire and Charente estuaries, a real system of escorted convoys has been set up, ensuring continuous rotations.
The British made a major effort by mobilizing several dozen large ships including fifteen or so troop transports and large liners (capable of evacuating 20,000 men in each rotation); many Belgian ships were also put to work. The French merchant ships flocked to the threatened ports, taking on board as many personnel as possible and some of them made several rotations between England and the Atlantic coast of France before heading to North Africa.
It is not until the second half of July that the number of men awaiting embarkation in the ports (those of the Basque Country, at that time) will decrease noticeably. Ships coming from England will sometimes leave without having filled up with passengers.

Mediterranean ports - In the Mediterranean, the maritime transfers of the Grand Déménagement are organized under the authority of Admiral Esteva (Amiral Sud).
In the continuity of the measures taken since the beginning of June in fear of the Italian declaration of war, navigation between the two shores of the Mediterranean was organized in convoys. These convoys were formed in Marseille (often by integrating ships that had left from Toulon), then moved westward (integrating ships from Sète or Port-Vendres along the way)) to escape the Italian air threat before heading south to Oran (and, for some ships, to continue towards Algiers). Escorted by torpedo boats and avisos, but especially by auxiliary patrol boats, they grouped together large cargo ships and sailed at 8 to 10 knots; they often take between 7 and 8 days to make a complete rotation (round trip Marseille - Oran - Marseille). To avoid congestion in Algerian ports, ships from the Atlantic ports or from England and which joined the Grand Déménagement in the Mediterranean operated from Casablanca to Port-Vendres or Sète, with rotations of about 9 to 10 days.
Four large escorted convoys left Marseille for Oran (convoy 5P, Marseille 14/06 - Oran 16/06; convoy 6P, Marseille 17/06 - Oran 20/06; convoy 7P, Marseille 19/06 - Oran 22/06; convoy 8P, Marseille 22/06 - Oran 26/06). These convoys formed in Marseille also included several ships coming from Toulon (where they had loaded men and equipment from the Navy) and were joined en route by ships from Sète and Port-Vendres. Upon arrival in Oran, each convoy had 20 to 30 merchant ships, with oil tankers and a majority of cargo ships loaded with both weapons, ammunition and military vehicles, but also men.
Each of these convoys, after having unloaded in Algeria, took the same route in the opposite direction. The following ones circulated almost regularly, at two or three day intervals.
For their part, the fast ships (liners and banana boats) usually sailed without escort on direct routes to Algerian ports. They have been making three- or four-day rotations
since mid-June.
Finally, trawlers and various small boats made rapid round trips between the secondary ports of Provence and Corsica: each crossing only allowed the evacuation of a handful of soldiers, but these rotations took place in less than two days and gradually involved a significant number of evacuees. Two small liners from the Fraissinet lines then organized the second part of the journey between Corsica and Algiers.
Note the specific treatment reserved for Belgian ships in the Mediterranean, due to the political situation of their country, which was not in a state of war with Italy. They could not mix with Allied convoys, and they could not embark Allied troops. They were exclusively assigned to the evacuation of Belgian troops, recruits and civilians.
In order to avoid the congestion of certain ports, they are nevertheless required to follow the assignment to ports of embarkation and disembarkation defined by the Amiral Sud (essentially Sète and the small ports of Languedoc for embarkation, Oran and the small neighboring ports for landing). From the declaration of war by Belgium to Italy on July 13th, the Belgian ships were integrated, like the others, into the Allied operations in the Western Mediterranean, under the command of Amiral Sud.
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