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March Journal of the GB I/31

from 17 May 1940 to the Armistice



Source: Mr Roger VERGNET, Son of Chief Warrant Officer Roger VERGNET, Radio in GB I/31.

This March Journal of the GB I/31, has been realized by Mr Roger VERGNET, on the basis of the notes left by his Father, completed by extracts of the special issue of the magazine Aéro-Journal No 5 published in June 2003 "Le Bombardement Français, Tome I -1939 / 1940

May 18th

No activity for GB 1/31

May 19th
At about 6.30 a.m., a formation of German bombers attacked the Persan-Beaumont airfield.
The 1/12 escaped without loss, but one killed in the 2/12 and two others in the GB 1/31
The ground was badly hit, so much so that the planned mission against a tank assembly near Château-Porcien had to be cancelled.
After having proceeded to the installation of two flight strips, the GB 1/31 is untied at the end of the afternoon in Claye-Souilly.
May 20th
Leo 45 No 114 of GB 1/31 took off alone to attack motorised columns at the exit of Saint-Quentin. Attacked by the Flak and by two Messerschmitt 109, it nevertheless managed to return to Claye-Souilly. The pilot, Sgc Ajam, was wounded and on the ground, the mechanics counted 134 hits on the aircraft.
A new mission was ordered for 19 hours.
4 Léo 45s were ordered to bomb motorised columns progressing on the road from Amiens to Albert. One Leo 45, lost because of a heavy fog, was forced to turn back and return with its bombs. Out of the three that carried out the mission, two were intercepted by German fighters:
- No95 hit one of the attackers and took him with it in its fatal fall to Berny- sur- Noye. The four occupants were killed: Capt Moncheaux, Lt Sudres, Sgc Quideau and Sgc Sommesous.
- The No 106, whose engine was burnt by the Flak, was finished off by a group of Messerschmitt 109. It crashed at Lawarde-Mauger, but the crew of Lt Hourtic had time to parachute out. All four men were seriously injured.
On the evening of 20 May 1940, only one Leo 45 remained in GB 1/31.
May 21th
The only plane of the I/31 still on line leaves the Claye-Souilly airfield for Chartres.
May 28th
The No6 Bombardment Group, (composed of 1/12 - 2/12 -1/31 - 2/31 and 1/11) is again launched in the battle.
Leaving Chartres at about 2 p.m., three Léo 45 of the GB 1/31 were attacked by four Messerschmitt 109. These three aircraft managed to get out of the battle without any damage and to regain the ground.
May 29th
For once, the first French bombers took off at 8.40 am. Operating from the Beauce, the GB 1/31 and 2/31 were less affected by the weather conditions. The nine aircraft (attribution not specified) attached to these two groups attacked convoys north of Abbeville.
Note : No128, flat to GB2/31 was hit by Flak, the plane crashed with its bombs a few kilometres from Abbeville. Only the radio man, Sgc Bozon, managed to jump by parachute, before being taken prisoner. The rest of the crew was killed.
May 30th
No activity for GB 1/31
May 31th

At about 4 p.m. two Léo 45s of GB 1/31, on reconnaissance at low altitude over Abbeville, were intercepted by a large formation of Messerschmitt 109s:
- No 189, piloted by Slt Cassegrain, fought for a quarter of an hour. He managed to escape and return to Chartres despite the fact that his aircraft was riddled with bullets,
- No 109 was not so lucky! Although severely burned in the face his pilot, Sgc Verna, managed to bring his plane back into French lines before making a makeshift landing at Angivilliers. If the navigator, Sgt Scavizi was killed on the spot during the attack, the radio (Sgt Desequelles) and the gunner (Sgt Champenois) were very seriously hit. They both died at their posts before the plane hit the ground.

At about 18:45 it was the turn of six aircraft of the GB 2/31 and two Léo 45 of the GB 1/31 to intervene around Abbeville. If the latter two carried out their missions without incident, the aircraft of the 2/31, reduced to five, were intercepted by the German fighters. Three of them were shot down.
At 7 p.m. two Léo 45s (one aircraft of the GB 1/31 and the other of the GB 2/31) carried out a bombing raid on the troop concentrations near Abbeville. In spite of the Flak and a bad visibility, the two aircraft succeeded in their mission and returned to their ground.
Sad result for Group 6: in 16 sorties it lost 9 aircraft and deplored 19 killed - 1 prisoner - 2 seriously wounded.
1st June: no offensive mission is carried out during the day. The various French armies still standing restructured to withstand the shock of the 'battle of despair'. The armies of the North having been destroyed, they are left with only fifty or so divisions, including four armoured divisions (about 300 tanks) to confront the one hundred and thirty German divisions on a front of 540 kilometres.
In twenty days France and the French had gone from the "phoney war" to the truth of a time they had not wanted to see coming.
These few days of respite were used to reorganise a bombing air force that had been put to a severe test!
Note: Group 6 (to which GB 1/31 belongs) is placed under the orders of the 3rd air division of the ZOAE (Zone of Air Operations East). Its units will benefit from an unexpected rest that the hard operations of the day before amply justify.

June 3rd
The GB 1/31 received the order to join the Châlon-Champforgueil airfield.
In retaliation to the raids against the Paris region, the units reserved for night bombing (so-called transitional planes: Farman 222 - Amiot 143 - Bloch 210) were sent over Germany. However, these night units were not the only ones, since the General Headquarters decided to engage Group 6 over the BMW factories in Münich. This hastily ordered retaliation action was actually three sorties for Group 6:
- one on 1/12,
- the second on 2/12,
- the last one at 1/31. The GB 1/31 had to withdraw as the letter of the day, specifying the beacons to be used, had not been sent to the crews.
June 4th
No activity for GB 1/31
June 5th
With the Dunkirk pocket liquidated, the German armies deployed between the Channel and the Aisne.
Group 6 is left on the sidelines. A sortie was planned for the afternoon but had to be cancelled, the mission order having arrived too late! The second one planned in the evening had to be cancelled for weather reasons.
As for the mission entrusted to GB 1/31, it was completed before it had even begun. Out of the four designated aircraft, one broke down at start-up and the other two during taxiing. The fourth was forced to turn back a few minutes after take-off due to serious mechanical problems.
June 6th
The military situation began to take a turn for the worse. The front gave way during the day between the English Channel and Amiens, and was badly shaken between the Aisne and the Oise. With no reserves, the GQGA (Grand Quartier Général Air) decided to send its bombers to attack the panzers, even though the crews received no mission orders throughout the morning.
Note: in Group 6 it is a bit of panic... ! Of the fifty-eight Leo 45s distributed in the four existing groups, less than half were available. And when these aircraft are put into service, unexplained breakdowns occur suddenly. Thus, out of the twenty-one aircraft in flight condition in Group 6, only fourteen could be deployed around 4 p.m. in the sectors of Chaulnes, Pressoir and Lihons en Santerre.
In 1/31, out of the five aircraft initially planned, only two managed to take to the air. The bombing mission was accomplished without difficulty, contrary to Groups 2/31 and 1/12.
June 7th
Ten aircraft of Group 6 were engaged late in the evening around Ham.
No details on the names of the participating units. Apparently these missions went off without a hitch except for two aircraft:
- No130 ran out of fuel in the open country at St Paterne-Racan,
- No 306, seriously hit by the Flak, lost its navigation instruments. Totally lost, it ended up over Les Sables d'Olonne, before crashing into the sea. Of the four crew members who jumped by parachute, three drowned! Only the gunner, Sgc Renard, was rescued alive.
June 8th
Twelve Leo 45s, belonging to the four groups, intervene at nightfall on the same targets as the day before, namely the various road junctions in Ham. Mission accomplished without a hitch.
June 9th
Group 6 starts its first missions only at 10 pm.
In all, eleven Leo 45s bombed crossroads at Mézières and Signy-l'Abbaye. Hindered by French flak, an aircraft of GB 1/31 got lost and had to return to the field without having been able to carry out its bombing.
June 10th
Group 6 was launched again during the day to carry out a series of bombardments on the right bank of the Aisne. Due to false starts and technical problems, only four Léo 45s of 1/12 and two of 1/31 attacked around 15h15 a column of armoured vehicles reported on the D 26 between Château-Porcien and Avançon west of Rethel.
In spite of the presence of Dewoitine 520 of the Groupe de Chasse 2/7, the Léo 45 No 14 is shot down in flames near Tagnon. All four crew members were killed.
June 11th
No. 6 Group was always faced with breakdowns and damage of all kinds.
Of the eighteen aircraft it had planned to send against the tanks on the Rethel - Neufchâtel, Rethel - Reims and Dormans - Château-Thierry routes, only seven managed to take off. Caught in a violent storm, these seven aircraft were forced to land in Nevers before reaching Châlon-Champforgueil airfield.
June 12th
One day follows another! The 1/12, confronted with multiple technical incidents, did not manage to get three of its planes into the air. As for the five aircraft of 2/12, which managed to take off, they were forced to turn back because of unexplained breakdowns and very bad weather in the area.
The only available aircraft of the 1/31 was also forced to turn back because of a ceiling below 200 metres and very poor visibility.
June 13th
No activity in the 1/31: only one aircraft available.
June 14th
The bad weather did not allow any outings for Group 6.
June 15th
From sunrise, two Léo 45 of GB 1/31 attacked targets on the RN 19 from Romilly to Méry-sur-Seine. At the end of the afternoon, these same Léo 45s attacked again the enemy vanguards near Langres.
At the end of this last mission, the GB 1/31 left the field of Châlon-Champforgueil to join the field of Arles-les-Chanoines.
June 16th
No activity for GB 1/31
June 17th
The GB 1/12 and 2/12 were ordered to be ready to cross the Mediterranean, while the GB 1/31 and 2/31 had to detach ten aircraft, with their most experienced crews, to Istres to carry out delaying attacks against the German vanguards advancing in the Rhone valley. A mission between Briançon and Geneva was even ordered but bad weather prevented its execution.
June 18th
No activity for the GB 1/31. The Air Force redeploys all its groups in the South of France, and for the modern ones in North Africa (Blida - Oran - Sétif - Sidi-Rahal).
June 19th
No activity for GB 1/31
June 20th
It was planned to engage the GB 1/12 and 2/12, reinforced by three Léo 45s of the 1/31, to supply troops encircled in the Vosges. A Léo 45, sent on a reconnaissance mission, was forced to turn back because of bad weather conditions. The mission was cancelled.
June 21th
While most of Group 6 started its transfer to North Africa, six aircraft (each belonging to GB 1/31 and 2/31), plus three aircraft from 2/12, were tasked with attacking various objectives around Lyon-Bron and Bourgoin (armoured columns).
Only two Léo 45 of the 2/31 accomplished their missions, the others having been forced to return prematurely because of the bad weather in the Drôme.
June 22th
No activity for GB 1/31 because of the weather.
In the evening, Group No6 is informed that its transfer to North Africa is cancelled because of the signature of the armistice with Germany.
June 23th
No activity for GB 1/31
June 24th
The GB 1/31 and 2/31 receive the order to join the field of Istres.
June 25th
The French Government decreed a day of national mourning. Five officers and five non-commissioned officers of the two Groups are sent to ISTRES to participate in a ceremony at the War Memorial.