Ancient history

Frenchmen in the Battle of Britain

Last updated:2022-07-25


NEVER IN THE HISTORY OF HUMAN CONFLICT HAVE SO MANY MEN HAVE SO FEW OF THEM.”

With this famous sentence pronounced on August 20, 1940, in the House of Commons, Winston Churchill paid tribute to the fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force who distinguished themselves during the summer and autumn of 1940.

Outnumbered, and piloting aircraft that were sometimes outclassed by those of their adversaries, these pilots, with a determination and bravery that still commands admiration today, stood up to the formations of the Luftwaffe to which Hitler, in his directive number 17, had prescribed:

... the German air force must crush the English air force with all the means at its disposal... the intensified air war can begin on August 6th”.

So, from August 8, and until October 31 - dates on which most historians agree - the thirty-four squadrons (some being in fact only auxiliary squadrons) available to air marshal I Dowding will be under constant pressure.
This fierce struggle which saved England, and probably the whole world, has gone down in history as the Battle of Britain.
A battle which was won by the Roya I Air Force, by English pilots and by a handful of foreign pilots from Poland, New Zealand, South Africa,
Australia , Belgians, Dutch... all serving under the cockades of the R.A.F. What is less known, on the other hand, is that among these foreigners, there were fourteen French pilots (1):Beghin, Blaize, Brière, Bouquillard, Choron, Demozay, Fayolle, Guerin, de Labouchere, Lafont, by Montbron, Mouchotte, Perrin, by Scitivaux.

A genuine surrender

When the armistice was signed, Henri Lafont was at the hunting instruction center at the Oran la Sénia base in Algeria.

Like all his comrades, Henri La Font believed France was invincible. French army to catch its breath to be able to continue the fight in North Africa.
Many believed in this possibility and, on the base, rumors were rife.

This beautiful, somewhat naive enthusiasm was soon to be dampened:on the base, measures were taken a few days after the announcement of the armistice to make the planes unusable.
From then on, there is no longer any hope of seeing France resume the fight.

Far from being the ruse in which we tried hard to believe, the armistice is an authentic capitulation.
And for those who refuse to surrender, only one solution:join as many quickly the country that fights alone against the Germans, I 'Ang leterre.

An acrobatic takeoff

On June 29, at 4 p.m., all the pilots of the training center were summoned to the colonel commanding the Oran base.
But this was not to announce to them the continuation of the struggle. On the contrary, he urges them, in the name of discipline, not to try to continue the fight and especially not to try to rally to the English.
The diehards do not allow themselves to be convinced . They decide to try their luck.
For them who are in North Africa, luck has a name:Gibraltar.

The plane will be a twin-engine "Goéland" and, for navigation, we will be satisfied with a map detached from a class book.
June 30, 04:45. inside the twin engine, six men:Mouchotte, Guérin, Lafont, two second lieutenants belonging to the army and a gunner sergeant. The airmen think of what British sailors they met in the bars of Oran have told them:Gibraltar does not have an airfield.

You will have to "vomit" at sea, or land on a beach. But that is still the future.
The present is Mouchotte busy starting the engines. The right starts with a quarter turn; the left is a bit of a hassle, but not for long.
The "Seagull" having also been the object of the concern of the base authorities (propeller at great pitch; command of disconnected propeller), which the pilot does not know, the takeoff is acrobatic. But succeeded.
Heading south.

In Gibraltar, a good surprise awaits the curious crew:the famous rock has very honest terrain and, contrary to the rumors spread by (involuntarily?) sad spirits, the English welcome is very... British:courteous and understanding since the six escapees are quickly led to the mess where a hearty breakfast is offered to them.

Sentenced to death

The last bite swallowed, the six men are taken to the Admiralty.
They learn that a French general by the name of de Gaulle, launched, on June 18, an appeal inviting his compatriots to join him to continue the fight in England.
On July 13, Henri Lafont and his comrades landed in Liverpool and, the next day, they witnessed the first French taking up arms in the presence of General de Gaulle.
A few days later, the English selected those who would be the first assigned to the British squadrons.

The lucky ones are called:Bouquillard (escaped by boat from Gibraltar), Yves Brière, Maurice Choron (escaped from Port-Vendres on a cargo ship), François Fayolle (he escaped with a comrade from the Oran base in orders for a “Simoun”), Charles Guérin, François de La-bouchère (escaped from Bayonne), Xavier de Montbron, René Mouchotte, Georges Perrin and Henri La font.

First stage:Old Sarum, where the English instructors will test the new recruits from France, before sending them to the O.T.U. (operational training unit).
This is where the French pilots will learn from the newspapers that "all French soldiers declared rebels who have joined a foreign army to continue to fight, will be condemned to death s 'they didn't come back until August 15th.'

Tiger Moth. Hawker “Hector”. The training flights which follow one another at the rate of several per day, quickly make the voluntary exiles forget this detestable warning.

First mission:empty-handed

On August 10, two days after the Germans had launched the first of a series of massive air attacks, the pilots were regrouped at the Odiham base before leaving for training units.
Nine days later, it's time to go to hunting school. After a few hours on "Harvard" (T 6), the French are released on Hurricane. For Henri Lafont, the big day is August 25.
Training is accelerating. Flight hours follow flight hours because it is necessary to try to compensate for losses in operations.
September 10th. The long-awaited moment has arrived, but the assignment to 243 Squadron, stationed in Northern Ireland, disappoints the four "musketeers", Bouquil lard, Mouchotte, Perrin and La font:this is not where they are going. to have

the opportunity to rub shoulders with the Germans.

The disappointment is short-lived since six days later, the four pilots receive the order to join the 615. A squadron which distinguished itself during the campaign in France and at the time of Dunkirk. As he had suffered heavy losses, he had been sent north to allow him to regain his strength. Also, when the French pilots arrive at 615, the squadron is in semi rest at Prestwick.

Mouchotte and Bouquillard are assigned to flight A, La are assigned to flight B commanded by Tony Eyre, a former law student who already has eight approved victories.

On October 21, Henri Lafont performs his first mission as Tony Eyre's number two. He will return empty-handed.
ter October:Bouquillard and Perrin are assigned to 249 squadron, based in North-Weald, in the south of England. Mouchotte and Lafont watch them leave with envy. There, we really fight.
But on October 9, they were sent, with the 615, to Northolt, in the suburbs of London to relieve a Polish squadron.

Operations:interceptions and a priori cover (i.e. sweeping an axis for an hour and a half to wait for a possible attack) began the next day.
But the Battle of England has already been going on for a month and German bombers are starting to become rarer over the British Isles.
Despite their relentlessness, the French pilots will not make any score during the Ba
the size of England and their track record, at the end of 1940, is still virgin.
They had arrived a little later. But they had participated, and the years to come would allow them to give the full measure of their abilities.


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