The "Phoney War" to the end of the Invasion of the Low Countries and France

A Fairey Firefly and a MS 230 smashed on a Belgian airfield on the morning of May 10, 1940

A Fairey Firefly and an MS 230 smashed on a Belgian airfield on the morning of May 10, 1940

On September 3rd, 1939 the Belgians called for over half a million men in arms, and took status of strict neutrality. This caused the Germans to take reconnasince over Belgian defenses for the upcoming invasion that was supposed to be in the October of 1939. Though sometimes the tresspassers were French and British 'tansiting' over Belgium to tract dropping missions over Germany.

So on September 6 onward, squadron 2/1/2Ae (read this as No. 2 Squadron of No. 1 Group of No. 2 Air Regiment) which flew Hurricanes of Schaffen was assigned to patrol on the eastern border of Belgium, and 4/11/2Ae of Nivelles was assigned to patrol on the western coastline. They flew unarmed planes and their mission was to radio the intruders to the nearest airfield.

The first major incident was on April 19th. A Junkers.52 went from its normal course to photograph Liege defenses. This was not the first time 2/1/2Ae had to intercept planes. The Junkers.52 was forced to land at Evere Air Base near Brussels. After inspecting the plane it was let go for passage to Cologne, Germany.

On Sept. 9, 1939 an intruding flight of Armstrong-Whitworth Whitley bombers from RAF Squadron 102 were returning from a tract dropping mission over the Rhur, and were intercepted by aircraft of two squadrons (4/11/2Ae from Nivelles flying single seat fighter Fairey Fireflies and 5/11/2Ae flying two seater Fox VIs from Nivelles also).

The first British bomber was forced to land at Nivelles. Tracts instead of bombs were found on the inside, but there were machine guns were fitted on the aircraft. It stayed at Nivelles until it was destroyed in the German onslaught on May 10, 1940.

While intercepting the second British bomber, its tail gunner opened fire on the intercepting planes, missing one but damaging another, a Fox VI. The Fox VI went into an uncontrolable spin and the pilots bailed out. They were lightly injured, but lived to tell the story.

The British authorities were rather annoyed when they heard about this, and kindly offered the Belgian Air Ministry a Boulton-Paul Defiant aircraft as an apology, but the Belgian Air Ministry let the offer down, because of their strict policy of neutraliity.

On November 10, British Flight Lieutenant flying a Hurricane Mk.1 named Horatio Dunn ran out of fuel while engaging a Dornier and crash landed in Belgium. He was released right before the outbreak of war, and eventually would be killed in Yorkshire after a scramble from Air Base Church Fenton.

Then, by far the most deplorable event that happenned in the 'Phoney War' would raise controversy between the Allies now happenned on January 10, 1940. A Messerschmitt ME 109m 'Taifun' was forced to land because of foggy conditions. Shortly after the pilot and the passenger were arrested by the Belgian Gendarmerie, top secret documents were found: the plans for the invasion of the Low Countries. The passenger named Major Reinberger tried several times to destroy the documents, but never succeded.

The matter had high level considering, but the Belgian Ministry re-enforced their army, and stupidly nothing else. It turned out Belgium was invaded on May 10, 1940. A shocking amount of 135 German divisions attacked the Low Countries. The most massive blitzkrieg force was now deployed which crushed the Netherlands and overran it in 5 days, Luxemborg in literally no time at all, and Belgium in 18 days (though Allied forces wouldn't have lost for a long time, but King Leopold unconstitutionly surrendered on May 28th, without conferring with his cabinet or his allies. The Meuse wrote that 'Belgium is betrayed by her King'.) The Belgians could have rejoined their post war position, build up a massive war machine, be ready for the invasion, and stop the Nazi juggernaut.

On March 2nd, 1940 an event happenned that ended the 'Funny War' peroid. A Do.17 was tresspassing over Belgium, and three Hurricanes were sent to radio it to the next airfield. The Dornier opened fire on the the Hurricanes, killing Second Lieutenant Xavier Henrard. The other Hurricane made an unsuccesfull crash landing. This caused the Belgians to arm all intercepting aircraft.

Then on March 12th, orders again were to intercept a Dornier 17. Fierce machine gun fire was exchanged. Two of the Hurricanes made it back to their base, and the third, piloted by Sergeant Pierre Van Strijdonck, made an unsuccessful emergency landing.

On May 6th, 1940 three Belgian Hurricanes ran out of fuel when tresspassing over French territory. Two made it back, but Sergeant Pierre Van Strijdonck was forced to land at St. Omens airfield in France. His plane was fueled up, and he returned to home base.

On April 20 a Heinkel HE.111 was trespassing over Belgian territory. After making it out alive from confrontations by many enemies of different nationalities three Belgian Gladiators were sent to intercept it. It was chased away to Holland and then was hit by Dutch aircraft batteries badly. It was forced to crash land.

The phoney war ended on May 10, 1940 when Germany invaded Belgium. During the first few hours, before just about anyplanes were in the air, almost the entire Belgian Air Force was destroyed on the ground. When the remaining planes moved to different air bases, they were again destroyed on the ground.

The Lone Attack

The Belgians, despite their air force being mostly destroyed on the ground, bombed three bridges on the Albert Canal. The bombing was done by Fairey Battles of the 5/III/3, the fighter escort was provided by 1/I/2.
On the 11th of may, an attack was launched by following planes on following targets: -An attack on the bridge of Veldwezelt, by :
-Fairey Battle T-60, pilot Adjt. Désiré, gunner Adjt. J.Dome
-Fairey Battle T-58, pilot Adjt. G.Timmermans, gunner 1Sgt. Rolin-Hymans
-Fairey Battle T-73, pilot Kpt. E. Pierre, gunner Lt.L.Cloquette
-An attack on the bridge of Vroenhoven, by:
-Fairey Battle T-70, pilot Kpt. A. Glorie, gunner Sub-Lt. J. VandenBosch
-Fairey Battle T-61, pilot Adjt. F. Delvigne, gunner Sgt. A. Moens
-Fairey Battle T-64, pilot Adjt. A. Binon, Gunner Korp. G.H. Legrand
-And an attack on the bridge of Briegden, by:
-Fairey Battle T-62, pilot Adjt. D. Jordens, gunner Sgt. X. De Ribeaucourt
-Fairey Battle T-68, pilot 1Sgt. G. Wieseler, gunner Adjt. A Deconinck
-Fairey Battle T-71, pilot Adjt. M.Vandevelde, gunner Korp. J. Bergmans
They would have been escorted by six Gloster Gladiators. These came in two waves. The first existed out of:
-Gloster Gladiator G-22, pilot 1Sgt Denis Rolin
-Gloster Gladiator G-19, pilot Sgt Pirlot
-Gloster Gladiator G-31, pilot Sgt Vandenbrouck
The second one existed out of:
-Gloster Gladiator G-27, pilot Kap. Guisgand
-Gloster Gladiator G-25 (or G-34), pilot 1Sgt. Clinquart
-Gloster Gladiator G-32, pilot 1Sgt. Winand
The first wave of the escort was intercepted by Messerschmitt Bf 109E's of the JG1 (8, to be exact). G-22 was shot down, the pilot survived to be a prisoner of war, G-19 was shot down too, and the plane and pilot are still missing, but G-31 escaped. Some minutes later, the second wave of Gladiators was also attacked by the Bf 109's of the JG1. G-27 was shot down, its pilot wounded, G-25 (or G-34) was also shot down, its pilot killed, and again a Gladiator was lucky: G-32 escaped. The attack was also having some troubles: Battle T-60 was intercepted by a Dornier 17, and had to make a belly-landing, its gunner wounded. Battle T-58 was shot down by Messerschmitts of the I/JG27, its crew killed, and only Battle T-73 managed to hit the bridge in Veldwezelt (with 1 bomb). Battle T-70 was hit by flak while attacking its objective: it caught fire, the gunner managed to bail out, but the pilot was killed. 3 of its bombs hit the bridge, without causing damage. Battle T-61 was hit directly by a shell: the crew died. Only T-64 returned from the Vroenhoven bridge, its bombs having missed it. Battles T-71 and T-62 never got near their objective: T-71 was hit by friendly fire and aborted its mission, making it back to the base with a wounded gunner. T-62 was also hit by friendly fire, its crew bailing out of the burning aircraft. Only Battle T-68 reached its target, but its bombs hung up below the plane, and it was hit and had to make a belly-landing. Surprisingly, its bombs didn't explode under the aircrafts weight. The crew managed to get out. Of the 9 Battles and 6 Gladiators, only 3 Battles and two Gladiators returned.

Belgian Scrambles

On the early morning of May 10, the alarm was sounded, and the pilots at Schaffen Air Base went to their planes, thinking it was an exercise. A few minutes later, 50 unidentified aircraft flew over the airfield. Despite his orders, Captaine Max Guisgand, the commander of 1/1/2 Gladiators flew his planes into the air at 0420 hrs while the Hurricanes started their engines. 12 minutes later, three Heinkel 111s were spotted, not troubled by AA fire. The planes in the air were not there when the 111s came, and the 111s strafed the airfield several times. The planes tried to take off through the explosions and fires. A bullet punctured the main wheel of Lt. Wilmonts Gladiator and he rammed a Hurricane. Minutes later 110s and Dornier Do 17 strafed and bombed the airfield. Four Hurricanes were set on fire, and 6 others were damaged. The roof of the hangar fell in and the planes in it were destroyed. Sgt. Libert was burned badly when the fuel tank of his Hurricane exploded. Captaine Van den Hove d'Ertsenrijick and Caparol Jacobs managed to escape from Schaffen. They encountered some bombers but didn't manage to shoot down any, even though helped by Gladiator pilot Sgt. Van den Broecke. The third section of Gladiators from 1/1/2 almost collided with the three 111s and had to break away. The second section (Cpt. Gerard (G-27), Sgt. Henri Winand (G-32) and Sgt. Henri Clinquart (G-34) spotted a formation of enemy bombers and broke it up. During the bombing, other gladiators left Schaffen for Beauvechain. Hurricane pilots Siroux, Lelarge and a lt.) flew three of them. Other reported engagements were when at 0900 10 109s ran in to two Gladiators over Tirlemont. Both were shot down and one pilot bailed out. At 1000 hrs, three Gladiators were shot down by 1/JG27 while trying to intercept escorted Ju87s. During the invasion, these pilots scored kills:

Charles Goffin - 2 victories

Etienne Dufossez - 1 victory

Werner de Merode - 1 victory

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