top of page

Aéronavale French F4U Corsair (*)                               



After the war, the French Navy had an urgent requirement for a powerful carrier-born close-air support aircraft to operate from the French Navy's four aircraft carriers that it acquired in the late 1940s (Two former U.S. Navy and two Royal Navy carriers were transferred). Secondhand US Navy Douglas SBD Dauntless dive-bombers of Flotille 3F and 4F were used to attack enemy targets and support ground forces in the north of Indo-China. Former US Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats and Curtiss SB2C Helldivers replaced the Dauntless in attacking roads, bridges and providing close air support. A new and more capable aircraft was needed.


Early F4U-7 Corsair in flight in black and white with the former flashes of the French Naval Aviation.

French Navy operated 25 AU-1 and 94 F4U-7 from 1954 to 1964









It is at the request of the French Government and within the framework of the M.D.A.P. (Military Defence Program Assistance) that Chance-Vought studied a new and ultimate version of the prestigious bird the F4U-7. This version proved to be a marriage between the F4U-4 and the AU-1.

The 1949's Mutual Defense Assistance Act created the "Mutual Assistance Program" concept - which turned de facto into US "Military Assistance Program" (MAP)- which made mutual security pacts and the concept of security assistance integral and intertwined elements of the western free world's doctrine of containing Soviet expansion. The MAP concept was totally different from the wartime Lend-Lease program in that it never needed refunding from the country that benefits any military assistance.

The last production Corsair was the F4U-7, was built specifically for the French naval air arm, the Aéronavale. The XF4U-7 prototype did its test flight on 2 July 1952 with a total of 94 F4U-7s built for the French Navy's Aéronavale (79 in 1952, 15 in 1953), with the last of the batch, the final Corsair built, rolled out on 31 January 1953. The F4U-7s were actually purchased by the U.S. Navy and passed on to the Aéronavale through the U.S. Military Assistance Program (MAP).

French Corsairs took part in all the operations with which France was mixed since the end with the Second World War. It was the case of the last period of the war of Indo-China where Corsairs took part in many missions of support from bases  in Annam and Tonkin ( 12F ) and also from the  aircraft carriers Arromanches , Bois Belleau and Fayette , in particular with regard to the defence of the fortified camp from Dien bien Phu. They deployed also in the war of Algeria , between 1960 and 1961. The F4U-7 and AU-1 were used with the "flottilles" 12F, 14F, 15F and 17F, operative in Biskra and Télergma.

The "penguins" (nickname of the Naval Aviation pilots) were introduced to Corsair at the Oceana Naval Station in Virginia , October 1952.
The 14F, controlled by lieutenant Pierre Ménettrier, got the first F4U-7 in Karouba , Tunisia. From mid-January 1953 - April 1954, the pilots of the flotilla travelled via their very new planes and trained themselves for the countryside and conditions of Indo-China. They arrived at Tourane (Annan) on April 17, 1954 after having left their Corsair in Tunisia ...

April 18, 1954 : USS Saipan brought twenty-five Corsair AU-1 (which came from Navy VMA-211) into Korea. The planes yielded by the Americans were used; twenty-four were considered to be inalienable the day of their delivery. In the afternoon, 1'enseigne de vaisseau Lanteaume tested the twenty-fifth. Half an hour later, there were no more Corsair in command of flight in all Indo-China. Two working days keen of the mechanics Lieutenant Montpellier and the officer of the crews Nicodémo consequently accelerated the pilot training of the group.

The F4U-7 delivered by the Naval Aviation equipped four groups (12F, 14F 15F and 17F) on board Arromanches and La Fayette. The others were affected at the Bizerte and Hyères Naval Aviation bases. The F4U-7 flew primarily over the Mediterranean and took part in many OTAN operations. The 12F kept its Corsair of June 10, 1953 to August 8, 1963 , whereas the 14F was equipped with it from January 15, 1953 to October 1, 1964 - it was the last group with the F4U. Then both the 12F and 14F received the F-8E Crusader.

The 15F and the 17F were equipped with Etendard IVM during the summer 1964; some Corsair were versed in the group. The 10S (commission of practical studies of aviation) had some F4U-7 among its park of very varied planes. 10S lost two of them - along with its remainder of planes - when, on December 2, 1959 , the aerodrome of Saint-Raphael was covered with a layer of more than one meter of fine mud during the rupture of the barrage of Frejus-Malpasset.

The escadrille school 57S was also equipped with some F4U-7.

In the mid-1950's, the Naval Aviation accepted a complement of AU-1 (approximately five) revived by the American Navy and those were versed in group at the sides of the F4U-7. Some of these planes had been used in Indo-China and had been restored thereafter by the Americans.

French Corsair were stored at Cuers and send to scrap; however, some mad their way to the United States and still fly there. The three identified planes are F4U-7. One flies with the marks of the VMF-312 (No 133693) to the hands of Bob Guilford; another (No 133710) is with the Museum of the U.S. Navy Body in Quantico.

The third (No 133722) was restored and made its first flight in 1978, with delivered which had been that of the 15F at the time of the Suez Canal crisis.  


First Indochina War

Massive support was negotiated with France from 1950 to 1954 when the French Union fought the Chinese and Soviet-backed Viet Minh during the First Indochina War. Support included substantial financial aid, material supply from the US Army, US Navy (aircraft carriers such as Belleau Wood/Bois Belleau, Lafayette), the U.S. Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) (twenty four pilots of the Civil Air Transport) from which two pilot were killed in action during the battle of Dien Bien Phu.

American military support to France's rearmament lasted well into the 1950s.

After the war the French Navy had an urgent need for a powerful carrier air support aircraft to operate from the French Navy’s four aircraft carriers, acquired in the late 1940. The first was a former Royal Navy US built escort carrier, HMS Biter which was returned to the US Navy in April 1945, and was loaned by the United States to the French Navy and was renamed the Dixmude.

The second was the former HMS Colossus, a Royal Navy light carrier commissioned in 1944, but which saw no combat service during the World War 2, she was transferred to the French Navy, renamed the Arromanches. 

The other two aircraft carriers are the Belleau Wood/Bois Belleau and the Lafayette.

                           The French carriers Bois Belleau, Lafayette and Arromanche (*)


Confronted with the Indo-China conflict in October 1952, Aéronavale pilots had been sent to NAS Oceana in the United States to be trained on the F4U Corsair.

Flotille 14F based at Karouba Air Base near Bizerte in Tunisia, became the first Aéronavale unit to receive the F4U-7 Corsair in January 1953, the first Corsair type to see combat action with the French was not the F4U-7 but the AU-1 Corsair. In April 1954, the squadron's personnel were deployed to Da Nang without their aircraft. The USS Saipan delivered 14.F Flotille's new aircraft. 25 veteran Marine AU-1 Corsairs, having formerly seen action during the Korean War, were to be used while the squadron awaited their F4U-7s. Of the 25 AU-ls delivered, only one was considered serviceable. In two days the maintenance personnel had 16 aircraft at Tourarre ready to fly to Bach Mai Air Base.

The AU-1 variant of the Corsair was developed specifically for the Marine Corps for use in the Korean War and first flew at the end of January 1952. Designed as a dedicated ground attack aircraft powered by 2300hp R-2800-83WA Double Wasp, the first of 111 AU-1 Corsair flew at the end of January 1952 and the last being delivered on October 1952.

The AU-1 Corsair was optimised for low-level performance and better suited to airfield rather than carrier operations, when carrying a full weapons load.

The F4U-7 and AU-1 pilots from Flotille 14.F constructed a combat record, dropping over 1.5 million pounds of

bombs, firing over 300 rockers and 70,000 20mm rounds.

In September 1954, F4U-7 Corsairs were loaded aboard the Dixmude and brought back to France in November. The surviving Ex-USMC AU-1s were taken to the Philippines and returned to the U.S. Navy. In 1956, Flotille 15F returned to South Vietnam, equipped with F4U-7 Corsairs.

Algerian War

As soon as they disembarked from the carriers that took part in Operation Musketeer, at the end of 1956, all three Corsair Flotillas, moved to Telergma and Oran airfields in Algeria from where they provided CAS and helicopter escort. They were joined by the new "Flottille 17F", established at Hyères in April 1958.

French F4U-7 Corsairs with some loaned AU-1s of the 12F, 14F, 15F and 17F Flotillas conducted missions during the Algerian War between 1955 and 1962. Between February and March 1958, several strikes and CAS missions were launched from the Bois-Belleau, the only carrier involved in the Algeria War.


The 14.F and 15.F Flotillas also took part in the Anglo-French-Israeli seizure of the Suez Canal in October 1956, code-named Operation Musketeer. The Corsairs were painted with yellow and black recognition stripes for this operation. They were tasked with destroying Egyptian Navy ships at Alexandria but the presence of U.S. Navy ships prevented the successful completion of the mission.


On 3 November, 16 F4U-7s attacked airfields in the Delta, with one corsair shot down by anti-aircraft fire. Two more Corsairs were damaged when landing back on the carriers. The Corsairs engaged in Operation Musketeer dropped a total of 25 tons of bombs, fired more than 500 rockets and 16,000 20mm rounds.



The last conflict  and last service in which French Corsair were involved was of short duration. After the nationalization of the Suez Canal by the Egyptian government  and President Nasser on July 26, 1956 , England and France introduced the "Musketeer" operation, devised to re-gain control of the Canal three months later. This named operation "Musketeer" implemented the Arromanches aircraft carriers (ex-HMS Colossus ) and Fayette (ex-USS Samuel P. Langley) with on  board the "flottilles"  14F and 15F (Corsairs F4U-7). These units accepted the order to attack the Egyptian fleet in Alexandria . Corsairs were used in the attack on 1st and November 2, 1956 but had to give up their mission in consequence of the "awkward" presence of ships of the 6th Fleet U.S. coming to take on board the American nationals. The operation worked under the pretext of separating the Israelis and the Egyptians, the Israelis having passed to the offensive following one of the many incidents which opposed these two nations in a state of permanent war. Five aircraft carriers were sent to the Eastern Mediterranean . 

The F4U-7 - with the signature yellow and black tapes typical of the operation - patrolled along the Egyptian coasts in search of targets and sank a torpedo boat. The Egyptian air opposition was practically non-existent due to the majority of their planes having been destroyed on the ground in the first thirty-six hours of the operation.

The campaign lasted a short time - the United Nations imposed a cease-fire on November 7.

During this short interval, French Corsair accounted for 25 per 100 of the Franco-British aviation of assault embarked. Two F4U-7 were lost. One was crashed and the other, piloted by the commander of the 14F, was shoot down by anti-aircraft artillery over Cairo.

This operation of great style ended in a political fiasco for the British as well as for the French, but the Naval Aviation had not failed in its task - Corsair had carried out on average four outs per day during the week of operations.

Corsairs still served some time in France while waiting for the re-equipment of the various "flottilles" with modern material

French experiments

Between their overseas deployments, Aéronavale F4U Corsairs returned to their base at NAS Hyères in the south of France close to Toulon. Apart from the four operational Flotillas, several other shore-based units were equipped with the Corsair.

Escadrille 10S, attached to the Centre d’Experimentation Practique de l’Aeronautique (CEPA) used a few Corsairs based at St Raphael which was an experimental establishment for testing new equipment, two of which were lost when the nearby Fréjus-Malpasset dam broke in December 1959 and flooded the airfield. Others were assigned to Escadrille 57S, a training unit based at NAS Khouribga in north western Morocco.

In early 1959, the Aéronavale experimented with the Vietnam War-era SS.11 wire-guided anti-tank missile on F4U-7 Corsairs.




The 12.F pilots trained for this experimental program were required to fly the missile at approximatively two kilometers from the target on low altitude with a joystick using the right hand while keeping track of a flare on its tail, and piloting the aircraft using the left hand, an exercise that could be very tricky in a single-seat aircraft under combat conditions. Despite reportedly effective results during the tests, this armament was not used with Corsairs during the ongoing Algerian War.

The Aéronavale used 163 Corsairs (94 F4U-7s and 69 AU-1s), the last of them used by the Cuers-based 14.F Flotilla were out of service by September 1964,with some surviving for museum display or as civilian warbirds. By the early 1960s, two new modern aircraft carriers, the Clemenceau and the Foch, had entered service with the French Navy .

(*) : Index - References - Notes - Citations

     : Books - Bibliography

     : External Links

     : Credit Photos to US National Archives,  US NAVY, USMC, Vought, NACA, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives (SDASM), Fleet Air 

       Arm,  IWM (Imperial War Museums), Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia, National Library of New Zealand,Library of Congress.

     : Credit Guillaume Paumier














bottom of page