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Dassault Aviation 1917-1940 - Early Years

Marcel Bloch was 22 years' old when the First World War broke out in August 1914. Because of his training as an aeronautical engineer, which was uncommon at the time, he was not sent to the front but was assigned to the Chalais-Meudon aeronautical research Laboratory and thus made his debut within an industry evolving from craftsmanship to series production. With Henry Potez, also a graduate of the Ecole supérieure d'aéronautique et de construction mécanique, he was responsible for co-ordinating and preparing the drawings for the Caudron G 3 aircraft the manufacture of which was distributed between four factories belonging to different aircraft manufacturers.

They undertook the building of an aircraft and, in 1917, they and another friend set up the Société d'Etudes Aéronautiques (SEA) company. With the help of one of Marcel Bloch's classmates, Louis Coroller, they designed the SEA 1 single-engined observation aircraft powered by a 120 hp engine that quickly proved to be unsuitable for the use for which it was intended. While the engine was not powerful enough, the airframe proved to be suitable. The three friends then designed the SEA 2 (single-engine, two-seater reconnaissance and fighter aircraft) and the SEA 3 (three-engine, three-seater reconnaissance aircraft) but, due to the lack of engines providing sufficient power, these aircraft were not manufactured. The emergence of the Lorraine 370 hp engine finally allowed the SEA 4 (two-seater combat aircraft) to be produced which probably made its maiden flight at the end of 1917. The first series model was rolled out on November 11, 1918. Since dawn, the guns on the battlefield had fallen silent and the war was over. Military aviation resumed its peacetime format and the contract for 1,000 aircraft was cancelled. Only a hundred or so aircraft in the process of being manufactured were delivered.

The setting up of the Air ministry in 1928, drew Marcel Bloch back into the aviation business. The engineering and industrial managing director, Albert Caquot, placed an order with him for a prototype for a postal three-engined aircraft program. To manufacturer his aircraft, Marcel Bloch set up the Société des Avions Marcel Bloch company and hired several young engineers.

By 1934, Marcel Bloch understood that the French aviation industry was about to enter a crisis. Anticipating shortcomings in production facilities, he entered into an agreement with Henry Potez, the largest aviation company at the time. In January 1935, they bought the Société Aérienne Bordelaise (SAB) company which then became the Société Aéronautique du Sud-Ouest (SASO) company which produced the M 200 and MB 210 bombers. They also agreed to buy most of the shares of the Société des Moteurs et Automobiles Lorraine (SMAL) company. While the social climate grew tenser in France, Marcel Bloch negotiated with trade-unions and granted a week's paid leave in 1935. When the Popular Front government decided to grant two weeks' paid holidays a year later, Marcel Bloch gave his staff three weeks.

In accordance with its electoral program, the Popular Front government passed a law nationalizing the armament industry, in the Chamber of Deputies on July 17, 1936. The aviation industry was directly concerned. The nationalization of a major part of the airframe sector led to the setting up of six state-owned aircraft manufacturing companies. On January 16, 1937, the Société des Avions Marcel Bloch was fully nationalized, and its factories (Courbevoie, Châteauroux-Déols, Villacoublay, Bordeaux) formed the essential part of the Société nationale de constructions aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest (SNCASO). As the minister for Air, Pierre Cot, had no executives qualified enough to manage it, he asked Marcel Bloch to be its delegated administrator.

Although his factories had been expropriated, Marcel Bloch was left a free hand in running his office and development workshop. He merged his facilities in setting up the Société Anonyme des Avions Marcel Bloch (SAAMB) in Courbevoie in 1936. This company was able to design and develop prototypes that were mass produced by the state-owned companies alone. This independence did not last long, however, and the minister for Air merged the SAAMB's design office with the SNCASO on February 17, 1937, through an amendment to the convention of January 16.

In view of the deteriorating European context, the State embarked on a rearmament policy in 1937. It became urgent to manufacture new aircraft to counter the powerful Luftwaffe being established by Adolf Hitler. SNCASO took up the rearmament challenge and produced the MB 150 series of single-engined fighter aircraft and then a twin-engined bomber, the MB 170 and its offshoots, as well as a four-engined civil transport aircraft, the MB 161.

Marcel Bloch and Henry Potez bought a building in avenue Kléber in Paris where they set up their offices. Marcel Bloch then bought land in Saint-Cloud on which he began to build a new factory, in 1938. Instead of aircraft, he built Chauvière propellers that were fitted to combat aircraft manufactured by state-owned companies, as well as small engines for private planes. In September 1939, to meet increasing production demands, SAAMB bought industrial buildings in Talence, near Bordeaux, that it sold back to the Bordeaux-Aéronautique company, set up in October 1939. Of all the future belligerents of 1940, France was the one that made the greatest efforts to rearm.

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