A Question of Inter-Allied Relations: The RAF’s ‘Haddock’ Force, France and the Bombing of Italy in June 1940

Another conference paper that I will be giving is ‘A Question of Inter-Allied Relations: The RAF’s ‘Haddock’ Force, France and the Bombing of Italy in June 1940’ at the ‘France and the Second World War in Global Perspective, 1919-45‘ conference that is being held at the University of Strathclyde in conjunction with Global War Studies. This one I have got to go back and do some research on but I first came across the operations in Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Douglas autobiography Year of Command. At the time of the deployment of ‘Haddock’ force, Douglas was Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and involved in the force’s deployment. I have to admit the first thing that drew me to the subject was the name as we Brits have a penchant for naming things in an odd manner and ‘Haddock’ force just drew me in. Then there is the what actually happened with the French attempting to stop the force from taking off by driving trucks on to the airfield. It all makes for an interesting discussion of Anglo-French relations in the crucial year of 1940. Here is the synopsis:

On 10 June 1940, Italy declared war on France and Great Britain in the hope of making easy territorial gains. In anticipation of such a move by Benito Mussolini, the Supreme War Council, on 31 May, agreed that industrial targets in northern Italy would be attacked at the earliest opportunity. Therefore, the French made available two airfields north of Marseille to an RAF force known as ‘Haddock’ Force. The provision of these airfields would enable RAF Bomber Command to target Italy’s manufacturing centres. However, once the bombers had been deployed to southern France, the French high command illustrated a degree of reticence about supporting this force’s operations. Indeed, the Vickers Wellingtons of No. 3 Group that deployed to Salon were unable to take off on the night of 11/12 June as the French drove vehicles onto the airfield to stop them taking off.

Apart from passing references in works such as in Richard Overy’s recent The Bombing War and Peter Gray’s work on the leadership, direction and legitimacy of Bomber Command operations, little has been written about the challenges that faced ‘Haddock’ Force, what they tells us about the France’s defeat in June 1940 and the breakdown of Anglo-French relations. Instead, the historiography has tended to focus on operations in northern France. Therefore, this paper will seek to explore the dynamics that shaped this episode in inter-allied relations by placing ‘Haddock’ Force’s deployment into its strategic context while exploring the shifting priorities of the British and French governments at the this point of the war. It will also consider aspects such as pre-war inter-allied planning for the bombing of Italy and the RAF’s own plans. Additionally, the role of the senior military leaders, who had to cope with the shifting strategic challenges created by the invasion of France, such as General Joseph Vuillemin, Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, Air Marshal Arthur Barratt, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief British Air Forces in France, and Air Marshal Charles Portal, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Bomber Command will be examined. By exploring these interrelated aspects, this paper will seek to further understand some of the contributing factors that led to France’s defeat in 1940.

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