French Participation- D-Day role
The following RAF squadrons were manned by French personnel.
329 Sqn – "Les Cigognes" (the Storks) – Spitfire Va - 2nd TAF - No 84 Group, part of 145 Wing. Based at Merston, Sussex on 5 Jun 44. One of 329's pilots, reminiscing about D-Day, recalls:
At 2130 on 5 June we assembled in the Ops Room and learned that tomorrow was to be Jour J. Our Wing, No 145 of 2TAF, Ops officer uncovered the wall map and we were amazed by what we saw. This news, so long awaited by all the pilots, aroused huge delight. Our hopes during four years of waiting were about to be realized: at last to see our families and tread our native soil again. This time the invasion was on. On the map arrows made long tracks across the Channel from the Isle of White to the Normandy coast. The onslaught had been unleashed.
It was difficult to close ones eyes that night.
We flew twice that day over the landing beaches. The first time we took off in the morning we saw that for 180 km an immense convoy of vessels crowded the sea. Thousands of aircraft filled the sky ands we had to keep a sharp lookout for them as well as keep formation.
Christian Martell, who led the wing, had warned us at the briefing: "I don’t want to see pilots watching the ground. Today you’ve got to scan the sky." But the sky remained void of enemy ac that morning, at least four us. We were covering General Crerars First Canadian Army on Sword and Juno beaches. The only danger was of collision with the other aircraft in a small, crowded airspace. The air umbrella was indeed up.
345 Sqn – "Group Berry" - Spitfires - RAF ADGB - 11 Group. Based at Shoreham, Sussex - Escorted gliders across the channel to Caen.
340 Sqn – "Ile de France" - Spitfire IX - 2nd TAF - No 84 Group. Part of 145 Wing. Based at Merston, Sussex on 5 Jun 44.
341 Sqn - "Alsace" – Spitfire IX - 2nd TAF - No 84 Group. Part of 145 Wing. Based at Merston, Sussex on 5 Jun 44. Had the longest association of any French Squadron with the RAF. Carolyn Grace's Spitfire, ML407, was transferred to 341 Sqn in December 1944 becoming the aircraft of Sgt Jean Dabos.
342 Sqn - "Group Lorraine" - Boston IIIA - 2nd TAF - 2 Group. Part of 137 Wing. Based at Hartford Bridge Hants. The Squadron's D-Day task was to spread a smoke screen intended to hide American landing craft and armour from the German guns on Omaha Beach. The Air Officer Commanding 2 Group, Sir Basil Embry, stated:
"On the morning of D-day itself, our Mitchell Squadrons attacked with great accuracy gun positions directly threatening the approach of the great armada to the North Beach Head and our Bostons, flying at sea level, laid the smoke screen over the invasion craft. From now on the task of the Group was to work more closely in unison with the armies which the air forces had helped to land."
On a sad note, the first three French airmen to be brought down during the Normandy landings, at dawn on 6 June, were the crew of a Boston III. The aircraft was lost, and this page is respectfully dedicated to the memory of:
Sgt Boissieux, Pilot, 2nd Lt Canut, Navigator and Sgt Henson, Air Gunner.