It was in an MB 174, a light twin-engine aircraft much appreciated by pilots for its speed and handling, that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry flew in 1940.
A light twin much appreciated by pilots for its speed and handling. It was after flying in a MB 174 in 1940 that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was inspired to write his novel “Flight to Arras”.
Derived from the Bloch MB 170 AB2-A3 designed by Henri Deplante’s team, the prototype MB 174 first flew on 5th January 1939 at Villacoublay, flown by René Le Bail. The tests demonstrated the fine qualities of the aircraft, and on 1st February 1939, the French Air Ministry placed an order for fifty MB 174 A3 for use by French Air Force reconnaissance units.
Manufactured by SNCASO from November 1939 till May 1940, the MB 174 was assembled in Mérignac. Following improvements to its weapon suite, the first aircraft available were delivered to GR II/33 in March, and on 29th March, Captain Saint Exupéry flew one of the very first wartime missions on an MB 174. He used this experience when writing his famous book “War pilot”. In April, the GR I/52, I/33 and I/36 also received their first MB 174 aircraft. But the German offensive prevented further reconnaissance units from equipping with the aircraft, and they were thus left to fight with their obsolescent Potez 637 and 63/11 alongside the MB 174. The GR II/33 was the only unit to be fully equipped before the armistice was signed.
In the reorganization of the French Air Force which took place in the aftermath of the armistice, only the GR II/33 was able to keep its MB 174. Based in Tunisia, it took up the gauntlet fighting the Axis forces in November 1942, performing many dive-bombing missions using tactics developed during the relative period of inactivity between 1941 and 1942. In June 1943, it returned its MB 174 aircraft and converted to using American aircraft.
The MB 175 was designed at the same time as the MB 174. However, whereas the latter was a long-range reconnaissance aircraft, the MB 175 was intended as a light bomber. The prototype flew on 3rd December 1939, with Daniel Rastel in the cockpit, and the first production aircraft, MB 175 B3 No. 101, was delivered in April 1940.
The GR II/52 was the first unit to equip with the light bomber which was used for reconnaissance purposes, as their Potez 63 and 63/11 were incapable of standing up to the Messerschmitt Me-109 E and Me-110. After equipping with the MB 175, the losses incurred by the GR II/52 were very few, thus confirming the remarkable qualities of this aircraft, which unfortunately arrived too late. After being transferred to North Africa, the GR II/52 was entirely re-equipped with MB 175 aircraft, which it kept until 8th November 1942 when they were almost all lost during an attack by allied forces on the Oran-la-Sénia air base. The GR I/55 which was the last unit to receive the aircraft, received the first MB 176 aircraft available at the same time as it was equipping with the MB 175, before deploying to North Africa. The Germans were very interested in the aircraft and used several tens of them for training purposes.
In 1945, as the French Navy had ordered a hundred of the “torpedo bomber” version of the MB 175, production of the 175 T was launched at Châteauroux-Déols. As the aircraft became available, they were assigned to the 6 F squadron at Agadir. A few aircraft were used by 10 S squadron at Saint-Raphaël for various tests. The last MB 175 aircraft ended their flying careers at the Rochefort training school where the naval section retained their last aircraft until 1960.
The Bloch MB 178 was a prototype under development in the Bloch factory of Courbevoie (West Bank of Paris) in 1940. It was stopped by the arrival of the German forces in June 1940. The aircraft was transported to the German basis of Rechlin.