Morane Saulnier M.S. 406

The Morane Saulnier M.S. 406 was the most numerous French fighter at the start of the Second World War.  It was the production version of the M.S. 405, which was developed in response to a specification issued in 1934. The first prototype M.S. 405 flew on 8 August 1935, powered by a Hispano-Suiza 12 Ycrs engine, marking the start of a three year development process.

In April 1937 an order was placed for fifty M.S. 406s. These used the Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 engine, which provided 860 hp. It was to be armed with one 20mm Hispano-Suiza cannon in the engine and two 7.5 mm machine guns in the wings. The fourth pre-production M.S. 405, with the new engine, first flew on 20 May 1938. By now the scale of production had increased massively. Eighty had been ordered in August 1937, but in April 1938 that was increased by 825.

Morane Saulnier M.S. 406 of GC I/3
Morane Saulnier M.S. 406
of GC I/3

Production began slowly. At the start of 1939 only twelve had been delivered to the Armée de l’Air. The pace picked up during 1939. By April production had risen to six per day, and at the outbreak of war in September reached 11 per day. In all 1,037 M.S. 406s were completed before the collapse of France in June 1940.

A Morane Saulner M.S.406 Production Line
A Morane Saulner M.S.406 Production Line

At the outbreak of war four Escadres de Chasse, each with three groups of twenty five aircraft, were equipped with the M.S. 406. However, the aircraft was already obsolescent. Between September 1939 and May 1940 three of those groups had already been reequipped with more modern aircraft, although one new group had been given the aircraft, replaced obsolete Dewoitine D.510s. On 10 May 229 M.S. 406s were operational. During the battle of France four more groups were reequipped, two with the D.520, one with the Hawk 75 and one with the Bloch MB 152. At the armistice only just over 70 M.S. 406s were still operational.

The M.S. 406 was roughly equal to the Bf 109D. Unfortunately, that aircraft was being replaced by the much superior Bf 109E when the war broke out. Compared to the Bf 109E the Morane was 50 mph too slow, too lightly armoured and too lightly armed. If the engine mounted cannon jammed, then the pilot would be left with only the two wing mounted machine guns. These guns had a lower muzzle velocity than the MG-17s used by the Germans, giving them a shorter effective range, and were unheated meaning that they often froze at altitude. The Morane also only carried 300 rounds per gun. The only advantage the Morane had was that it could out turn the Bf 109.

During the battle of France 300 Moranes were lost – 100 in aerial combat, 50 to ground fire and 150 to other causes, including accidents and deliberate destruction during the retreat. The M.S. 406 accounted for 269 of the 696 confirmed victories won by French single engined fighters before the collapse. However, considering the numbers of aircraft involved its performance was not so creditable. Half as many Curtiss Hawk 75s accounted for 230 victories, and the small number of Dewoitine D.520s that came into action in May and June accounted for 114. The M.S. 406 didn’t had the firepower, speed or armour needed in the battles of 1940.

Unit

September 1939

10 May 1940

June 1940

III/1

D.510 (*)

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

I/2

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

II/2

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

III/2

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

Hawk 75

I/3

M.S. 406

D.520

D.520

II/3

M.S. 406

D.520

D.520

III/3

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

D.520 (converting)

I/6

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

II/6

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.B. 152

III/6

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

I/7

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

II/7

M.S. 406

D.520

D.520

III/7

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

M.S. 406

* formed from 5 Groupe de Chasse Autonome

Stats

Engine: Hispano-Suiza 12Y-31 V-12 liquid cooled engine
Power: 860 hp
Span: 34 ft 9 ¾ inches
Length: 26 ft 9 ¾ inches
Empty Weight: 4178 lbs
Full Weight: 5600 lbs
Maximum Speed: 302 mph at 16,400 ft
Cruising Speed: 248 mph at 16,400 ft
Speed at Sea Level: 248 mph
Ceiling: 30,840 ft
Initial Climb Rate: 3,543 ft/ minute
Climb to 16,400 ft: 6 minutes
Range: 447 miles
Armament: One Hispano-Suize 20mm cannon with 60 rounds in the engine and two 7.5mm MAC 1936 machine guns with 300 rounds per gun, one per wing.

link to review of French Fighters of WWIIFrench Fighters of World War II, Alain Pelletier. This book tells the story of the French fighter aircraft that attempted to stand up the Luftwaffe in 1940. It covers seven main aircraft and a larger number of minor variants. Each aircraft is taken from development and prototypes through the battle of France and into the period after the armistice. [see more]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 June 2007), Morane Saulnier M.S. 406, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_MS406.html

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