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The Morane Saulnier MS406

The MS 406 development was made in great secret in order to answer at the demand of french air army in date of 1934. The fisrt model called MS40 rapidly modified became the MS405.

The new aircraft was less powerfull and less armed than other fighters produced in other european country, but the building of this planes was easy and already possible. At this time other french prototype are yet unavailable.

17 MS405 was built and they give birth to the Swiss D3800 built under licence by Switzerland and used by this country until the post war years.

A particularity of this plane is the construction using light metal alloy "Plymax" sticked on wood, except the rear of fuselage using a classic web construction.

The armament of MS406 consist in one Hispano HS9 or 404 of 20mm gun with 60 shots firing trough the nose, and two MAC 1934 7,7mm with 300 shots per guns in wings. The engine was an Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 ,12 cylinders in "V" liquid cooling developping 860 cv.

In May 1940 19 of the 26 Fighter Groups of french army was equiped with the MS406.

In june 1940 when the french government decide to surrender, 1081 MS 406 have been built.

The Morane Saulnier had the privilege, and perhaps the misfortune, to be the first modern French fighter, i.e., a low-wing monoplane with enclosed cockpit, retractable landing gear, and what was supposed to be appreciably higher performance than what the French Air Force (or Armee de l'Aire) had used before. Aerodynamically a reliable aircraft, the MS 406 evolved from the earlier MS-405 which first flew in August of 1935.

The Morane's fault lay in the fact that the official request that led to its design was not visionary enough, at a time of great and revolutionary changes in fighter design and development. What was cutting edge in 1935 was passe in 1939, unless the airframe had a built in ability to evolve and incorporate new powerplants, armament, and internal systems.

The MS-406 would have given a good account of itself had it gone up against its contemporary, the Bf-109B-D; however, it was fated to be opposed by the much improved Bf-109E - a fighter that was a generation ahead of the Morane - and suffered accordingly.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Morane Saulnier was the most numerous French fighter, followed by the Curtiss Hawk 75, an airplane of similar generation, but with more advanced thinking behind it. Lacking armor plate or self-sealing fuel tanks, the Morane was little more than a maneuverable target for its enemies. The fact that all its systems were pneumatic meant that one bullet in the right place would render the entire aircraft inoperable, not something one should do with an aircraft meant to go in harm's way.

After the collapse of France Germans captured many French planes. There was unknown number of airworthy Morane Saulnier MS 406 and MS 410 fighters (no less than 120 planes) and Germans tried to recover as many as possible. One plane (with German markings) was exhibited in Aviation Museum in Berlin. Other captured planes were transfered to SNACAO plants in Bourges, where, after repairs, they were repainted in typical German camouflage and German markings.

Planes were used mainly for training purposes together with older versions of Messerschmitt Bf 109 (B, C and D) and Focke Wulf Fw 56. In 1941 Germans sold 25 their own MS 406s and MS 410s to Finland. After seizing non-occupied part of France in November 1942, Germans captured another Morane fighters. As many as 46 entered Luftwaffe service.

Transfered to Morane Saulnier plants in Ossun-Tarbes were modified to German standards (i.e. they were equipped with FuG 7 R/T set). Later planes were repainted (camouflage seen in photo below) and sent to operational traning units such as JG 101, JG 103 and JG 105. They were used together with Dewoitine D.520C1, older Bf 109 (B-E versions) and older Fw 190A. Intensive and fast training of many young pilots caused many accidents. Soon only 33 Moranes survived and were sold to Bulgaria and Croatia. Fate of plane exhibited in museum in Berlin in still unknown. Probably destroyed during bombing run or evacuated after this run and is sitll missing.

Despite its shortcomings, the MS 406 served throughout the war with the French and Vichy-French forces in France, North Africa, Syria, and Indochina. The obsolescent fighter was also in the air forces of Turkey and Switzerland. The Luftwaffe used it as a fighter trainer.

Sixty MS-406s were supplied to the Finnish Air Force during the Russo-Finnish Winter of 1939 - 1940, although only a handful arrived there prior to the end of the conflict in March of 1940. The fighters soldiered on with the Finns during the Continuation War and were generally successful against Soviet aircraft and pilots.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

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