Douglas DB-7 in French Service

Last revised August 5, 2000


Although the crash of the Model 7B was a setback, the French Purchasing Commission was sufficiently impressed by the Model 7B that they ordered one hundred examples on February 15, 1939. This was the first solid order for the Douglas design, since the USAAC had yet to place any firm order. One month after the outbreak of war in Europe, 170 more examples were added to the French order.

The modified version for the Armee de l'Air was designated DB-7 (which stood for Douglas Bomber 7). The first DB-7 flew on August 17, 1939, and the first deliveries to France were made in October. The first one hundred DB-7s were powered by a pair of 1000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-SC3-G radials with single-speed superchargers. The additional 170 DB-7s ordered in October differed from the earlier batch of one hundred in having two 1100 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-S3C4-G Twin Wasps equipped with two-speed superchargers and Stromberg injection carburetors. However, due to engine shortages, the S3C4-Gs were not readily available and the French agreed to allow Douglas to use the older engines in order to keep the line running. The S3C4-G Wasp did not appear on the DB-7 until the 131st example.

The DB-7s bore the French military designation of DB-7 B-3 (the B-3 meaning "three-seat bomber"). They were operated by the Armee de l'Air starting from January 1940. Late production DB-7s were fitted with self-sealing fuel tanks and included some armor protection for the crew. By the time of the fall of France, about half the DB-7 order had been completed, but many of these aircraft never got to France since they were en route at the time of the collapse. Some sixteen DB-7s from the first production batch were diverted for use by Belgium's Aviation Militare. In the event, France actually only received about seventy DB-7s out of the 270 that it had ordered. Only a very few of these actually saw any combat.

Following handover to the French in the USA, the DB-7s were shipped to Casablanca, where they were reassembled and test flown before being delivered to units in French North Africa and in France. The first DB-7 was accepted on October 31. As delivered by Douglas, the Armee de l'Air DB-7s had natural metal finish and were painted with standard French prewar military markings (known as ) on the wings and vertical red-white-and blue stripes on the tail with the red at the trailing edge. The full designation DOUGLAS DB-7 B-3 appeared on the top of the rudder, with the number of the airplane on the order, as No. 1, No. 2, etc painted immediately below it. Once at Casablanca, the aircraft were painted in French camouflage, which consisted of a mixture of gray, green, and brown top and side surfaces and sky blue undersurfaces. The French did not use the cocarde on the fuselage until after the war started.

The French military serial numbers for the first 100 DB-7s were U-216/U-315, painted in large black figures underneath the wing. The DB-7s after No 100 did not get French serial numbers--Douglas identified these planes with letter U preceding the Douglas line numbers.

Five Groupes de Bombardment (GB I/19, II/19, II/61, I/32, and II/32) had been scheduled to receive the DB-7, but only the first three had fully converted to the type by the time of the German invasion on May 10, 1940. Only 64 DB-7s were in service at the time of the German western offensive. They were immediately rushed from North Africa to France and were committed in a piecemeal fashion in a vain attempt to halt the German advance. The first DB-7 sortie against the Germans was on May 31, 1940, when 12 aircraft attacked enemy columns near St. Quentin. Some seventy sorties were flown against troops and panzer concentrations, supply convoys and depots and road bridges. The French DB-7s did a fairly creditable job against the Germans, but at least eight were lost to ground fire and fighter attacks.

Just prior to the Armistice, all serviceable DB-7s were flown out of France to North Africa, where they were formed into four light bomber squadrons (GB I/32, II/32 in Morocco and GB I/19 and II/61 in Algeria. These units later became part of the Vichy Air Force, which collaborated with the Germans. Vichy machines could be identified by white outlines added to their fuselage cocardes, and a narrow white stripe was added to the full length of the fuselage. By 1942, the Vichy planes carried longitudinal red and yellow stripes on the fixed tail surfaces, on the rear fuselage and on the engine cowlings for further positive identification.

When the British attacked the French fleet on July 3, 1940 to prevent it from falling into German hands, DB-7s from GB 1/32 carried out a retaliatory strike against Gibraltar, but did not do any damage or suffer any losses. In November of 1942, during Operation Torch, US Navy carrier based fighters attacked the DB-7s of GB I/32 on the ground and inflicted severe losses on this unit, preventing it from opposing the Allied landing. This little-known service with the Vichy Air Force makes the DB-7 yet another example of an aircraft which fought on both sides in World War 2.

Shortly afterwards, the North African-based French forces switched over to the Allied side, but the DB-7s were by that time obsolete and were relegated to training and ancillary duties. The Vichy markings were removed and a yellow outline replaced the former white outline on the fuselage *cocarde*. From October of 1944 to April of 1945 a few DB-7s operated by GB I/34 Bearn and I/31 Aunis carried out attacks against German strongholds along the Atlantic coast of France.

The Free French unit, GB I/120 Lorraine, which operated under RAF control as No. 342 Squadron, was reformed at West Raynham, Norfolk on April 7, 1943 with Boston IIIAs. It flew its first mission on June 12, 1943, an attack against a power station in Rouen. As part of No. 137 Wing of the Second Tactical Air Force, the French unit was successively equipped with Boston IIIAs and Boston IVs and carried out numerous bombing raids against targets in occupied Europe.

Sources:


  1. American Combat Planes, Third Enlarged Edition, Ray Wagner, Doubleday, 1982.

  2. McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Since 1920, Vol 1, Rene J. Francillon, Naval Institute Press, 1988

  3. United States Military Aircraft Since 1909, Gordon Swanborough and Peter M. Bowers, Smithsonian, 1989.

  4. A-20 Havoc in Action, Aircraft Number 144, Squadron/Signal Publications, Jim Mesko, 1994.

  5. Famous Bombers of the Second World War, William Green, Doubleday, 1960

  6. Boston, Mitchell and Liberator In Australian Service, Stewart Wilson, Aerospace Publications, 1992.

  7. Jane's Fighting Aircraft of World War II, Military Press, 1989.

  8. Dog of War, Pt. 1, Peter M. Bowers, Airpower Vol 26 No. 1 (1996)