The power of Rafale fighters! How Marcel Dassault Survived Nazi Torture and Created a Powerful Aviation Company
The French Dassault Aviation has established itself as one of the largest aerospace companies in the world. As a “flagship” aircraft, the Rafale continues to gain popularity in the overseas market as Dassault continues to sign new fighter contracts.
Starting from scratch, this aviation giant has come a long way. However, it was the effort of one man that led to the birth of Dassault and France that made huge strides in the aerospace sector.
Marcel Dassault, formerly Marcel Bloch, was a French electrical engineer and aircraft manufacturer. His companies, collectively known as Groupe Dassault, produced some of the most iconic aircraft of the 20th century. In 1990, one of the divisions was renamed Dassault Aviation. The Mirage and Rafale are one-of-a-kind aircraft that aircraft enthusiasts around the world love.
Born in Paris on January 22, 1892, Marcel Bloch was fascinated by new technologies, particularly electricity, from an early age.
“One day, at a recess in the playground, when the weather was rather nice, I looked up at the sky and saw Count Lambert’s Wilbur Wright pass the Eiffel Tower for the first time” , he said. “I had never seen an airplane before, but I knew it had invaded my thoughts and my heart.”
He studied electrical engineering at the end of his secondary studies, then a higher school of aeronautics, from which he graduated in 1913.
He began to contribute to French aeronautics during the First World War. In collaboration with Henry Potez and Louis Coroller, he was sent to the aeronautical laboratory of Chalais-Meudon, where he put his engineering talent at the service of France by developing the Éclair propeller (1916) and the SEA IV two-seater fighter (1918). He was recognized for his contribution to French aviation at this crucial time.
Interlude and resurgence after the First World War
After a break in the 1920s, during which he concentrated on real estate and, to a lesser extent, on the automobile, he returned to driving in 1930 by forming a new team.
“One day, or rather one evening, being at Le Bourget, I saw Lindbergh arrive on the Spirit of Saint Louis which had just crossed the Atlantic. I then understood that something had changed in aviation and that civil aviation was about to be born. As Wilbur Wright’s plane had taken me to the Air Force, the Spirit of Saint Louis took me back,” he later recalled.
Marcel founded the company Société des Avions Marcel Bloch in 1928, and the company produced its first airplane in 1930. Bloch and Henry Potez agreed to buy Société Aérienne Bordelaise, a Bordeaux-based aircraft manufacturer, in 1935.
In 1936, the Popular Front nationalized his company. Its factories and design office were taken over by the Société Nationale des Constructions Aéronautiques du Sud-Ouest (SNCASO).
He had, however, founded the Société Anonyme des Aviones Marcel Bloch (SAAMB) on 12 December of the same year, to retain license rights for Bloch aircraft before nationalization and to build engines and propellers.
When the Second World War broke out, its aircraft contributed to the defense of the skies of France in 1939-1940.
The country’s aviation sector was largely abandoned during the Nazi invasions of France during World War II. The only regular aircraft manufacturing activity was mandatory manufacturing, which was limited to the assembly and servicing of German parts.
After the invasion, Marcel Bloch will refuse to cooperate with the Nazis. Following his defiance, he was arrested and imprisoned in Fort de Montluc, Lyon. Because he was Jewish, he was transferred to the Drancy concentration camp before spending another 8 months in Buchenwald from 1944 to 1945.
Torture and abuse in Nazi concentration camps had left him disabled to the point that he could barely walk. The doctors had given up all hope of recovery. But that didn’t stop Marcel from building planes.
Birth of Marcel Dassault
Although handicapped by a post-diphtheria disease, he resumed his aeronautical activity in 1945, at the age of 53. Marcel Bloch and his family decide to change their name to forget the hard days of the war. In 1949, he adopted the code name Marcel Dassault used by his brother, General Paul Bloch, in the Resistance.
Marcel would later become a senator for the Alpes Maritimes department and a deputy for the Oise department. Meanwhile, Dassault, his brainchild, would become one of the leading aviation companies producing jet aircraft.
The MD-450 Ouragan, the first jet aircraft of the French Air Force, is an example. It entered service in 1949 and was a precursor in the post-war French aeronautical industry.
It also allowed the French to start exporting their technology, particularly to India and Israel. Dassault’s Mystere IV, which debuted in 1954, was one of the company’s early successes. When the United States ordered 255 planes under an agreement with NATO, it would also strengthen the international position of the company. It was also, arguably, the pinnacle of jet design in the 1950s.
Later, the Six Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1967 cemented Dassault’s reputation as a builder of high quality aircraft. Interestingly, Marcel Dassault is also well known for his role in the development of the French strategic nuclear force, which was determined by the French government during the Suez expedition in 1956 under the Mirage IV program.
Dassault would later purchase Breguet in 1971, and Avions Marcel Dassault-Breguet Aviation was born (AMD-BA).
The Dassault Aviation Mirage is the name given to the different types of jet aircraft created and built by the company. This series of aircraft was to be hugely successful, with many different versions produced. The majority of these aircraft were delta-winged supersonic fighters.
The Mirage III was by far the most popular and successful of all aircraft versions. Dassault, along with many other licensed companies, produced and modified Mirage IIIs in large numbers.
The Mirage 2000 was developed and introduced in the early 1980s. For the French, the delivery of this fighter would usher in a new era of advanced computerized weapon systems.
The Rafale would be Marcel Dassault’s last aircraft to be developed under his direct supervision. Since 2006, this aircraft has proven its ability to perform a wide range of operational activities for which it was built. Although it took some time for this aircraft to gain widespread acceptance, it has now become one of the most competitive fighter aircraft in the world.
Marcel Dassault was not satisfied with his accomplishments in aviation, journalism and politics. He was also fascinated by architecture, cinema, banking and the stock market. His service in France earned him the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest civilian honour.
Marcel died on April 18, 1986 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, barely three months before the Rafale’s maiden flight. The French government, senior officials, and the local and international media would praise him.
Marcel’s son, Serge, took over the management of Avions Marcel Dassault, which was renamed Groupe Industriel Marcel Dassault to reflect the company’s broader interests. Dassault Aviation was the name given to the aeronautical branch in 1990.