Morane-Saulnier M.S.406

The M.S.406 was a French Armée de l'Air fighter aircraft built by Morane-Saulnier starting in 1938. Numerically it was France's most important fighter during the opening stages of World War II.

Although sturdy and highly maneuverable, it was under-powered and weakly-armed when compared to its contemporaries. Most critically, it was out-performed by the Messerschmitt Bf 109E during the Battle of France. The M.S.406 held its own in the early stages of the war, but when the war restarted in earnest in 1940, 387 were lost in combat or on the ground for 183 kills in return. The type was more successful in the hands of Finnish and Swiss air forces who developed indigenous models.

In late 1930s a war with Germany was clearly looming, and the Armée de l'Air placed an order for 1,000 airframes in March 1938. Morane-Saulnier was unable to produce anywhere near this number at their own factory, so a second line was set up at the nationalized factories of SNCAO at St. Nazaire converted to produce the type. Production began in late 1938, and the first production example flew on 29 January 1939. Deliveries were hampered more by the slow deliveries of the engines than by lack of airframes.

By April 1939, the production lines were delivering six aircraft a day, and when the war opened on 3 September 1939, production was at 11 a day with 535 in service. Production of the M.S.406 ended in March 1940, after the original order for 1,000 had been delivered to the Armée de l'Air, and a further 77 for foreign users. Additional orders for Lithuania and Poland were canceled with the outbreak of the war.

The MS 406 equipped 16 Groupes de Chasse and three Escadrilles in France and overseas, and 12 of the Groupes saw action against the Luftwaffe. The aircraft was very manoeuvrable and could withstand heavy battle damage, but was outclassed by the Bf 109 and losses were heavy. After the armistice, only one Vichy unit, GC. 1/7, was equipped with the MS. 406.

Germany took possession of a large number of M.S.406s and the later M.S.410s. The Luftwaffe used a number for training, and sold off others. Finland purchased additional M.S.406s (as well as a few 406/410 hybrids) from the Germans, while others were passed off to Italy and Croatia. Those still in French hands saw action in Syria against the RAF, and on Madagascar against the Fleet Air Arm. Both Switzerland and Turkey also operated the type; the Swiss actually managing to down a number of both German and Allied aircraft, 1944-1945. During the Pacific campaign, Vichy authorities in French Indochina were engaged in frontier fighting against Thai forces from 1940 to 1943. A number of M.S.406s stationed in Indochina downed Thai fighters before the French Air Force's eventual abandoning of the theatre in March 1943. Some examples of the M.S.406 were captured by the Thai Air Force.

General characteristics
  • Crew: one pilot
  • Length: 8.17 m (26 ft 9 in)
  • Wingspan: 10.62 m (34 ft 10 in)
  • Height: 2.71 m (8 ft 10 in)
  • Wing area: 17.10 m² (184.06 ft²)
  • Empty weight: 1,893 kg (4,173 lb)
  • Loaded weight: 2,426 kg (5,348 lb)
  • Powerplant: 1 × Hispano-Suiza 12Y31 liquid-cooled V-12, 640 kW (860 hp)

  • Maximum speed: 486 km/h (303 mph) at 5,000 m (16,400 ft)
  • Range: 1,000 km (620 mi)
  • Rate of climb: 13.0 m/s (2,560 ft/min)
  • Wing loading: 141.9 kg/m² (29.1 lb/ft²)
  • Power/mass: 260 W/kg (0.16 hp/lb)

  • 1× 20 mm Hispano-Suiza HS.404 cannon
  • 2× 7.5 mm MAC 1934 machine guns

** Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 - Warbird Fare

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