Swiss Air Force Centre: Morane-Saulnier D-3801

The French designed Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 fighter saw combat in the Battle of France in 1940.  The French were working on an improved version known as the M.S.412 but due to the fall of France in 1940 it was not continued until the Swiss took up the design and developed the D-3801 fighter from it (the Swiss had previously licence-built 84 of the M.S.406 fighter between 1939 and 1940. It was known as the D-3800). The development work was primarily completed by EKW (Eidgenoessisches Konstruktionswerkstaetten or “Federal Constructions Works”).

Swiss Air Force Morane-Saulnier D-3801 J-264 in flight
Swiss Air Force Morane-Saulnier D-3801 J-264 in flight

The Morane-Saulnier D-3801 was powered by a licence-built version of the same Hispano-Suiza 12Y engine as the M.S.406 and armed with a 20mm cannon and 2 x 7.5mm machine guns. 207 D-3801 aircraft were manufactured in Switzerland for delivery to the Swiss Air Force between 1941 to 1945.

A Swiss D-3801 with a sharks mouth
A Swiss D-3801 with a shark’s mouth and underwing neutrality stripes

A beautifully restored Morane-Saulnier D-3801 (J-276) can be seen today at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf (Flieger Flab Museum). Red and white neutrality stripes were applied for easy recognition by both Allied and German pilots.

Swiss Morane-Saulnier D-3801 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf
Swiss Morane-Saulnier D-3801 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf during my visit in December 2015
The Morane-Saulnier D-3801 variant were powered by a licence-built version of the same Hispano-Suiza 12Y engine
The Morane-Saulnier D-3801 variant were powered by a licence-built version of the same Hispano-Suiza 12Y engine (pictured)
Swiss red and white neutrality stripes on a D-3801 fighter
Swiss red and white neutrality stripes
Swiss Morane-Saulnier D-3801 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf during my visit in December 2015
Swiss Morane-Saulnier D-3801 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf during my visit in December 2015
The D-3801 served the Swiss as a fighter from 1941 to 1948, then until 1958 as a trainer and target tug
The D-3801 served the Swiss as a fighter from 1941 to 1948, then until 1958 as a trainer and target tug

The D-3801 fighters were retired from front-line Swiss service when North American P-51D Mustang fighters came into service in 1948 but the last D-3801 was not retired from a training and target-tug role until 1959. Although a small number of interned USAAF P-51 variants were used by the Swiss during World War Two, 130 P-51D’s were officially purchased from US surplus stock and were operated until 1958.

Swiss Air Force North American P-51D Mustang fighters came into service in 1948 and were operated until 1958
Swiss Air Force North American P-51D Mustang fighters came into service in 1948 and were operated until 1958 – pictured here with a Packard Merlin engine (photo taken at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf during my visit in December 2015)

 

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