Battle Of Britain Hero

29 January 2013

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TV Documentary Unveils French Battle Of Britain Hero

A French Hero of the Battle of Britain who died 70 years ago while supporting US forces helping the RAF take the war to Germany has been honoured in a TV documentary on BBC 1.

Commandant René Mouchotte, escaped to Britain from North Africa to join Fighter Command as the Battle of Britain raged over southern England. He was shot down three years later and died while escorting US bombers pounding occupied Europe.

Président Houdouce

Now his story has been made into a short film following the efforts of TV personality Jan Leeming, and was shown on BBC1 last month.

Said Jan; ”Every July the commemoration of the Battle of Britain takes place at Capel le Ferne near Folkestone. I was a guest in 2007 and decided to sponsor one of the names on the Sir Chrisopher Foxley Norris Wall of Remembrance. Being of French descent and not knowing of any one from my immediate family who had flown in the war, I opted for the name of a Free French pilot, of whom there are 13 etched on the wall.

“I discovered that I had ‘adopted’ a French Hero – Commandant René Mouchotte RAF - recipient of the Croix de Guerre, the Legion d’Honneur, the DFC, and the first French pilot to become an RAF Squadron Leader. He later formed the Free French Squadron ‘Alsaçe’ operating from RAF Biggin Hill.”

Born in Paris, Mouchotte’s passion had always been aeroplanes - Rene learned to fly in 1937 and was placed on the reserve list until war broke out in 1939, when he was recalled to train young pilots as the threat of occupation loomed.

As Germany invaded France an estimated 75% of French fighter pilots were lost in the first 3 months of the war against the Luftwaffe. The German pilots had the advantage of modern aeroplanes and recent combat experience in Spain and exacted a huge toll on the French and British airmen.

Severe punishment, even death, threatened those who went on to fight for or join the British, and French combat aircraft were immobilised under orders from the Nazi authorities. By now stationed in Oran, North Africa, on 30 June 1940 Mouchotte and 5 friends escaped to Gibraltar after stealing the station commander’s partly disabled, twin engined Caudron Goéland.

The Mouchotte family tomb at Pere Lachaise, ParisThey sailed to England on board the “Président Houdouce” and on 13th July 1940 he joined the RAF, which was facing its greatest test in the Battle of Britain.

In September 1942 Mouchotte, now Squadron Leader, took command of the high scoring 65 Squadron RAF and became the first non-British Empire airman to lead an RAF Fighter Squadron.

In January 1943, he was given command of 341 Squadron (Groupe de Chasse n° 3/2 "Alsace") which moved to the famous RAF Station at Biggin Hill under the command of Wg Cdr ‘Sailor’ Malan. On 15th May Squadron Leader 'Jack' Charles (611 Squadron) and Rene Mouchotte simultaneously destroyed two Focke Wolfe 190’s as the Biggin Hill Wing's 999th and 1,000th kill. The 1000th enemy aeroplane destroyed carried a significant prize. It was agreed to “share” the honour and a famous party was held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

In January 1943, at the Casablanca Conference it was agreed RAF Bomber Command operations against Germany would be reinforced by the USAAF in a Combined Operations Offensive plan called Operation Pointblank.

On 27 August 1943 Mouchotte led his squadron to escort USAF bombers on Operation Ramrod – the first daylight raid on the V2 rocket sites in the Pas de Calais. They were attacked by large numbers of Luftwaffe fighters and Rene’s last words are “I am alone with the bombers” - he was never heard from again. The loss to the squadron of this charismatic and expert tactician was immense. René Mouchotte had flown 1,748 hours and 382 missions in just 3 years.

His body was washed ashore at Middelkerke in Belgium, was incorrectly identified - his ID disc bore the name of a repatriated French Canadian - and interred in the local cemetery. In 1949 he was correctly identified and repatriated to France. He was given a funeral with full military honours at Les Invalides in Paris and then laid to rest in the family tomb in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery.

Said Jan: “Renée kept diaries during his combat years and his prophetic words written in 1940 were ultimately to become his epitaph and said everything about a man whom both the Armée de l’Air and the Royal Air Force were proud to have had in their ranks, and for the people of Europe to be grateful for his sacrifice.

‘If Fate allows me only a brief fighting career, I shall thank Heaven for having been able to give my life for the liberation of France. Let my mother be told that I have always been very happy and thankful that the opportunity has been given me to serve GOD, MY COUNTRY AND THOSE I LOVE, and, that, whatever happens, I shall always be near her.’

“I left a message in the tomb to see if any relatives of René were still alive and to my delight I received a response from a son-in-law of René’s sister Madame Jacqueline Quentin. We arranged to Madame Jacqueline Quentin Mouchotte receiving her brother René's medals in May 2012 at her home in Paris last year.meet and film an interview the day after her 101st Birthday in December 2011.”

“The date coincided with the funeral of Colonel Henry Lafont at Les Invalides in Paris. Lafont was the last surviving French RAF Battle of Britain pilot who coincidentally had escaped with Mouchotte in 1940.

“At the funeral, it was noticed that the cushion bearing Lafont’s medals lacked his British wartime medals including the coveted Battle of Britain clasp. Mouchotte’s medals also bore the same ommission. This began a trail of correspondence and research, which included the discovery of previously unseen film footage and radio recordings of Mouchotte (who had to remain anonymous to protect his family in France), and the administrative process to obtain the medals from the British Government.

“Having received the medals, I travelled to Paris in May 2012 to give them to Jacqueline Quentin who was in failing health. We were also able to show her the Newsreel film of her brother at the time of the downing of the 1000th enemy plane. She had tears in her eyes as she expressed her great delight at being able to ‘see and hear’ her beloved brother for the first time in 73 years since he left home to go to war. She died 3 weeks later but we pressed ahead with plans for an official presentation of the medals which took place on July 13 2012 at the British Ambassador’s Residence in Paris in the presence of the Ambassador Sir Peter Ricketts, Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton and Chief of the French Air Staff, General Jean Paul Palomèros.”

Editor: Steve Willmot

Photographs:

Président Houdouce.

The Mouchotte family tomb at Pere Lachaise, Paris.

Madame Jacqueline Quentin Mouchotte receiving her brother René's medals in May 2012 at her home in Paris last year.

RAF/MOD Crown Copyright 2013

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