THE PERIOD 1919-1939 : IN-BETWEEN TWO WORLD WARS.


From 1919 onward, with the advent of peace and after a traditional postwar rundown, the Aviation militaire belge went through a series of changes before settling down to a relatively solid structure. The flying units were merged into groups depending on their mission and divided over the various bases built and left behind by the German Luftwaffe. The Army-Cooperation Group was installed at Goetsenhoven airfield. Bierset received the Bomber Group which was equipped with D.H.4s. One section of the Fighter Group settled at Schaffen, whereas the other was to be based at Nivelles. Evere finally was to be the mainstay for the Reconnaissance Group.

Evere airfield 1919. The Belgian Air service was displayed for the first time since the end of the war. The aircraft on display included a Rumpler of German origin put back in service by the Belgians

 April 1919, the Aviation Militaire Belge/Belgische Militaire Luchtvaart organized itself around 8 squadrons comprising 3 fighter squadrons using Hanriot H.D.1s, Sopwith Camels, Nieuport 23s, Spad XIIIs and Fokker D.VIIs, the latter having been carried over from the German Luftwaffe as a war compensation measure. As a member of the Occupation Forces in Germany, a series of duties had to be attended to by the Aviation militaire amongst which was the continuous presence of a reconnaissance squadron in Bockum (Krefeld) and a replacement system was kept up from 1919 through 1924.

In March 1920 on account of extensive changes within the Belgian Army structure, the Aviation Militaire became the Aéronautique Militaire and the squadrons eventually swapped airfields. During the war years training of future pilots had been at first handled by the flying School at Etampes and later switched to Juvisy. The war over it was decided a military flying school should be established at As (Province of Limburg), not withstanding the fact that a private pilot's license had to be obtained from any of the three civilian flying schools prior to being accepted as a prospective military pilot. This scheme would be adhered to till 1932.

In the same year, in an effort to try to standardize the basic air materiel, provision was made in Belgium for local manufacturing of aircraft. The Sociéte Anonyme Belge de Constructions Aéronautique (S.A.B.C.A.) which had been founded in Evere in 1920, started off on a license-construction program of very specific foreign aircraft types. Enumerating the various models constructed by SABCA would ask for a separate study. Between 1922 and 1931 this factory turned out and supplied to the air arm quite an impressive collection of types, including :

    - 30 D.H. 9 (1922-23)

    - 87 Nieuport-Delage 29C-1 (1924-26)

    - 45 Ansaldo A.300/4 Reconnaissance Bombers (1923-26)

    - 27 Avro 504K Primary Trainers (1923-27)

    - 15 D.H. 4 (1926)

    - 20 Morane-Saulnier Parasol (1923)

    - 40 Bristol 17 F2B Mk. IV (1926)

    - 39 Avia B.H. 21 (1927-29)

    - 146 Breguet 19 (1928-31)

From 1924 onward the Aéronautique Militaire took into inventory of the first all-Belgian two-seat trainer Renard-Stampe-Vertongen RSV.32 of which 14 were delivered in the course of 1924-25 with 5 more to follow rather belatedly in 1929. In the same period the Aéronautique Militaire acquired several types of aircraft from foreign sources directly, including :

    - 35 Fokker D VII (1919-21)

    - 21 Nieuport-Delage 29C-1 (1924-25)

    - 6 Breguet 19A (1925) 

    - 31 Bristol 17 F2B Mk. I (1926)

    - 5 Avia BH.21 (1927)

This remarkable effort to obtain an sizable amount of aircraft was the result of a series of re-organiza-tions in June 1921 to bring the Aéronautique Militaire up to an acceptable strength. This resulted in a substantial increase in the number of squadrons, this again entailing a growing need for recruiting of prospective pilots.

The structure eventually took the following form :


Group Total Sqdns Role Equipment by Sqdn. Base
I 4 Balloon station 1Cacquet kite balloon Zellik
II 6 Observation 10 Ansaldo A.300
or DH.9 Biplanes
Goetsenhoven
III 4 Army
cooperation
12 Bristol F.2B or
DH.4 Biplanes
Evere
IV 3 Fighter 5 Spad 13 or
Nieuport-Delage 27C
Schaffen
V 2 Fighter 5 Spad 13 or
Nieuport-Delage 27C
Nivelles
VI 3 Reconnaissance 8 Bréguet BR.14
or DH.4 or D.H. 9
Bierset
VII 4 Technical - Evere
VIII 3 Flying school Mixture of Avro 504K, Caudron GIII, Fokker D.VII, L.V.G..,
Morane-Saulnier MS.35 and DH.9
Asch

Still not satisfied with the build-up yet another regrouping of the units resulted in a 1924 split-up into three groups : one observation, one fighter and one bomber group. The Flying School at As moved to Wevelgem. Eventually the three air groups merged into regiments in 1926.

The Army budget restriction measures brought forth the creation of a "Direction Supérieure de l'Aéronautique". One regiment was disbanded leaving the following two-regiment deployment at the end of 1929 :

Group Role Bases
    1st Regiment 2nd Regiment
  Headquarters Evere Bierset
I Observation Goetsenhoven  
III Bombardment   Bierset
III Observation Goetsenhoven  
  Air combat   Schaffen
V Observation Evere  
  Air combat   Nivelles
  Balloon station Zellik  


 At that time the basic aircraft line-up included DH.4s, DH.9s, Breguet 19s, Nieuport-Delage 29s, Avia BH.21 Fighters and Avro 504K as well as 504Ns and last but not least the indigenous RSV 26 trainer. The Flying School at Wevelgem expanded its services to include a primary as well as an advanced flying training program.

Still a part of the Belgian Army, the air regiments now accounted for 1990 personnel, 234 first-line aircraft, exclusive of reserve stock, and 36 trainers.

An initial order of 25 Firefly II M was placed with the British Fairey Aviation Company. Such was the interest for this aircraft with the Air Staff that it was decided to open a branch factory of Fairey's at Gosselies, where an initial production program for 36 machines was envisaged in 1932.
Twenty-six Firefly II Ms were built between 1933 and 1936.

Soon after, the advanced observation and reconnaissance Fairey Fox II M was to be equally manufactured at Gosselies, twelve of these two-seaters having been ordered from the mother factory and delivered in 1932. A second order of 26 Fox II Ms and 2 Fox II S to be supplied in the course of 1933 was placed with the Gosselies plant. In 1934 another 14 locally-manufactured Fox IIIs entered into service.

In June 1934 a two-year flying training agreement was reached between Belgium and Iran, the former arranging for a team to train the future
Iranian pilots in Teheran.

In 1935 the Aéronautique Militaire became one of the two components of the 'Commandement de la Défense Aérienne du Territoire' (D.A.T.), the other being the anti-aircraft organization. From then on a progressive start was made to re-arrange the air arm into three regiments again, each one however controlling three groups.

Severe budgetary restrictions inspired the staff to upgrade the existing equipment rather than to immediately acquire new aircraft, although 50 Fox IIIC machines were delivered between 1935-37 and a further 46 aircraft of the Fox IVR reconnaissance version trickled to the air groups from 1935 onward. Equipped with Hispano Suiza engines, these aircraft soon were being referred to as 'Fox Hispano'-s.

Whilst fifty-two Fox VIC fighters entered the services in the 1935-36 period, two nationally-developed aircraft types were ordered. One was the Renard R31 parasol-type monoplane of which ten were manufactured by Ateliers Renard in Evere, the remaining 26 being built by SABCA between 1935-37. The second type was the Stampe-Vertongen SV.5 used for liaison and training purposes, twenty aircraft being manufactured in 1936. Further limited number acquisitions included the Koolhoven FK.56 trainer, the Fokker F.VII three-engined transport, the Caudron Goëland twin-engined transport and the Potez 33 communications machine. SABCA on the other hand was to deliver 10 Morane 230 and 236 liaison aircraft in 1933 and 31 Avro 504Ns between 1936 and 1939.

A batch of 22 Gloster Gladiators were bought from Britain in 1938 and was to re-equip one squadron. A possible license agreement faltered after lengthy discussions in 1937. 

Following the Munich crisis, war clouds gathered threateningly over Europe and the Belgian Army now reverted to an armed peace-time stand-by. The Tchecoslovakian events urged the D.A.T. staff to search for a rapid modernization of its materiel and to re-equip with more advanced aircraft. Pressed for machines but hampered by an understandable reluctance on the side of foreign nations to export aircraft that were badly needed by themselves, the DAT ordered license-production to be started with the Gosselies plant to obtain 16 Fairey Battle bombers. This aircraft differed from the original British design in that it had an extended nose radiator.

Twelve FOX.VIII were ordered in September 1938. This upgraded version of the dilapidated Fox would prove an inferior machine once in combat. Still in 1938 negotiations were started to buy Hawker Hurricane I fighters leading to an initial delivery of 20 machines originally destined to go to the RAF. In March 1939 a further order for 80 Hurricanes to be license-built at Fairey's in Gosselies was launched. Of this batch only three would be ready by the time of the invasion. The Belgian Hurricane was to have had four .5-in guns, but the ones finished had only two.

Another relatively modern aircraft was the Fiat CR.42 fighter biplane of which 30 were ordered and a substantial number delivered. 


The first Fiats in Nivelles with a Firefly in the foreground
 
As the clouds of war drew nearer Belgium ordered the Brewster Buffalo from the United States and as history would have it some of these aircraft were still crated at the Bordeaux docks at the outbreak of hostilities.

On November 1st, 1939 the DAT was fully deployed to meet the enemy, the structure developing towards its wartime build-up and on May 10, 1940 eventually being the following :

1st Regiment : Reconnaissance and Artillery Observation.
Group Sqdn Base Equipment Emblem
I 1 Deurne Fairey Fox IIM, IIIC Gull
II 3 Goetsenhoven Fairey Fox III Holly Leaf
III 5 Goetsenhoven Fairey Fox III Swallow
IV 7 Goetsenhoven Fairey Fox VI Devil
V 9 Bierset Renard R.31 Blue Sioux
VI 11 Bierset Renard R.31 Red Sioux


2nd Regiment : Air Combat
Group Sqdn Base Equipment Emblem
I 1 Schaffen Gladiator Comet
  2 Schaffen Hurricane I Thistle
II 3 Nivelles Fiat CR.42 Red Cocotte
  4 Nivelles Fiat CR.42 White Cocotte
III 5 Nivelles Fairey Fox VI Blue Eagle
  6 Nivelles Fairey Fox VI Red Eagle


3rd Regiment : Reconnaissance and Bombing
Group Sqdn Base Equipment Emblem
I 1 Evere Fairey Fox Rolls Gold Dragon
  3 Evere Fairey Fox Rolls Silver Dragon
III 5 Evere Fairey Battle Egyptian Falcon
  7 Evere Fairey Fox VIII Winged Arrow







Last Updated : 06/11/11 15:52
  Daniel Brackx
brackxda@gmail.com