In March 1942, the Free French National Committee approached the USSR Government with a proposal to send a group of its pilots and aircraft mechanics to the Soviet-German front. March 31st consent to this was received.
Of the best pilots of the 1st Fighter Air Force of the Free French Air Force, based at that time in Lebanon, on the Rayak air base, on September 1, 1942, Aviation Group No. 3 was formed. Soon it was transformed into a squadron that received the name “ Normandy”.
On November 25, 1942, an agreement was signed on the participation of French Air Force units in military operations in the territory of the Soviet Union. Through Baghdad, the personnel of the Normandy squadron was redeployed to Tehran, from where it flew four transport aircraft to the USSR.
Already on November 29, French volunteers landed at the airfield of the Northern city of Ivanovo. Major J. Puliken and Chief of Staff Senior Lieutenant J. de Pange, as well as pilots J.-. L. Tyulyan, A. Lyttolf, J. Risso, A. Preziosi, A. Poznansky, R. Derville, A. Duran, M. Lefevre, R. de la Puap, I. Bizien, D. Beguin, M. Albert and N. Castelan. The technical team was headed by aviation engineer A. Michel.
Under the command of Major Puliken, training began on the UT-2, U-2 training aircraft and then on the Yak-7 and Yak-1 fighters. For the leadership of the training process, inspectors for piloting the 6th reserve aviation brigade of Captain P.I. Drusenkov, who flew almost all Soviet combat aircraft, as well as some captured German fighters and bombers, were assigned.
By order of the commander of the Air Force of the Red Army of December 4, 1942, the Normandy Fighter Squadron was incorporated into the USSR Air Force. By the beginning of 1943, all the “Normans” were already flying “yaks”, and French mechanics had practical training in operating the Yak-1B.
The French “yaks” were decorated with red stars, but between the screw and the cabin on both sides of each car there were three color bands: blue, white and red – the colors of the French state flag.
In mid-March, an inspection inspection of the squadron’s readiness for dispatch to the front took place at the Severny aerodrome. It was conducted by the head of the French military mission, Brigadier General E. Petit, and the representative of the Red Army Air Force Commander, Colonel S. T. Lewandovich. They recognized the “Normandy” fully operational. On March 22, 1943, the squadron flew over to the front airfield Polotnyany Plant (25 km from Kaluga), where Pe-2 bombers were based, and temporarily joined the 204th bomber aviation division.
March 25 squadron “Normandy” as part of 12 combat aircraft departed to the front as part of the 1st Air Army.
After acquaintance with the combat area, which the French squadron produced from the airfield Mukovnino (Polotnyany Plant), she was subordinated to the commander of the 303rd Smolensk Fighter Division. In its composition, it subsequently conducted its combat activities, based consistently on the airfields: Vasilyevskoye (Masalsk region), Khotenka (Kozelsk region), Spas-Demensk and Monastyrschina (west of Smolensk).
On the morning of March 26, the lieutenants A. Durand and R. Derville were raised in alarm to intercept an enemy aircraft, which was walking at an altitude of 4000 m. The German pilot managed to slip away then, but his attempt to go deeper into our rear was thwarted. Thus, the first two sorties were carried out and the squadron began its combat activities.
The French pilots literally rushed into battle. They considered the day lost if they spent it without departures. Soviet commanders had to restrain their ardor, since the “Normans” had not yet fully mastered the tactics of modern air combat, and this could destroy the squadron. Life prompted that under conditions when the Luftwaffe aircraft operated in large groups, coordination in the actions of our fighters and mutual support were of paramount importance.
French pilots of the squadron “Normandy”, who fought on the Soviet-German front of the Second World War
But here came the long-awaited hour.
On the afternoon of April 4, the commander of the 204th Bomber Aviation Division unexpectedly arrived at the command post of the Normandy, accompanied by staff officers and two regimental commanders. He put the combat mission in front of the French squadron: to cover the bombers that would strike at the enemy’s artillery batteries.
Having received such a responsible mission for the first time, the pilots of the Normandy squadron carefully prepared for its implementation. Early in the morning of April 5, everyone was already at the airport. Not without excitement, mechanics tried engines and carried out a preflight inspection of the aircraft that were on their first joint sortie. Major Tyulyan himself checked the flight maps and pilots knowledge of the order of interaction with the bombers. A few minutes before taxiing to the start, the pilots listened to the latest instructions from their commander.
“When we meet with the enemy, we will attack him immediately with a strike group, which I lead,” minted Tyulyan. – We must be attentive and brave. Fight not to get involved and do not forget about the covered bomber. They should be completely safe. Remember that the honor of “Normandy” will largely depend on this first joint combat flight. “
“By planes!” – ordered Tyulyan when the officer from the meteorological station finished the weather information. The pilots, who had been waiting for this team for a long time, ran to their yaks. A few minutes later, two nines of Pe-2 dive bombers, led by Colonel Andreev and Major Dymchenko, were already heading west under the cover of the Normandy fighter squadron.
Two Yak-1 aircraft, piloted by French pilots, covered the bombers. When the bombers did their work, the fighters noticed the approach of two FV-190s, which flew at an altitude of 3000 m. At the same altitude were both French fighter planes.
Bombers under the cover of two Yak-1 lay on the opposite course. German fighters began to pursue them. The pursuit continued for 6-8 minutes, after which one of the PV-190 attacked Lieutenant Durand to the right horizontally. To get out from under the fire of the PV-190, Lt. Durant made a turn towards the attack. The PV-190 opened fire from a distance of 300 meters and continued to lead him on a bend. At this moment, at a distance of 150-100 meters, Lieutenant Durant met on the bend of the second PV-190 under the angle and opened fire on it.
As a result of this attack, the PV-190 began to smoke and went to the ground. The first PV-190 continued firing at Lt. Durant. Wanting to get out of the fire of the attacking PV-190, Lieutenant Durant laid a turn even steeper and turned into a corkscrew, imitating a fall. The trick was a success, Focke-Wulf stopped the pursuit, Lieutenant Durand began to withdraw from the battle with his left-hand small turn with climb. It passed at a distance of 200–300 meters and slightly above the plane of Senior Lieutenant Preciosios, who at that time was attacking the PV-190 from the bottom of the bend. The fire was opened from a distance of 100 meters and stopped 15 meters from the enemy aircraft.
As a result of this attack, the enemy fighter went over to the bow, then to a sheer peak and fell into the forest in the Lyudinovo area. When it was finished with the second PV-190, Lieutenant Durant joined Senior Lieutenant Preciosios, and both of them safely reached their airfield and landed there.
The Soviet pilots were pleased with the actions of the squadron “Normandy”. Major V.I. Dymchenko, the leader of the second group of bombers, after landing, thanked Major Tyulian for the good cover. That was the beginning of the joint combat flights of Soviet and French pilots.
Pilots Squadron “Normandie – Neman”
Since that time, “Normandy” has become regularly involved in the performance of combat missions.
A week later, covering our troops, she held a second air battle. It occurred in the area of Spas-Demensk on April 13, 1943. Six “yaks” under the command of Major Tyulian fought with nine German fighters.
In battle, three enemy aircraft were shot down. However, this victory went to the French at a high price: the pilots R. Dervil, A. Poznansky and I. Bizien did not return from the combat mission that day. This was the first heavy loss of the squadron “Normandy”.
Losses in the air battle conducted alerted the French pilots. In subsequent meetings with the enemy, they acted more cautiously and carefully. Having strengthened observation of the enemy in the air and having established mutual notification by radio, the French recognized tactical traps of the enemy in time and did not allow him to attack suddenly, especially from the sun or from behind the clouds.
The list of the dead pilots of the regiment “Normandy-Neman”. Museum in Le Bourget (France)
During their stay on the Soviet-German front from March 25, 1943 to May 9, 1945, the Normandy squadron, and later the Normandy-Neman regiment, went through a glorious military journey from the Kursk Bulge to Konigsberg. French pilots made more than 5,200 sorties, conducted 869 air battles, shot down 273 and damaged 50 fascist aircraft.
Banner Regiment “Normandy – Neman”
The heroic deeds of the regiment by decrees of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of February 19 and June 5, 1945 were marked by awarding him with the Soviet orders of the Red Banner and Alexander Nevsky. 96 pilots who served in the regiment were awarded 112 orders of the Soviet Union, and four were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
By the decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of November 27, 1944, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union was assigned to senior lieutenants Marcel Albert and Rolland de la Puap, and by a decree dated June 4, 1945, to junior lieutenant Jacques Andre and senior lieutenant Marcel Lefevre. By the order of the Minister of Defense No. 160 dated July 1, 1966, Marcel Lefevre was permanently enrolled in the lists of personnel of the 18th Guards Fighter Aviation Regiment.
The French government awarded the regiment with the Order of the Legion of Honor, the Order of Liberation, the Military Cross of 1939–1945, as well as the Military Medal.
On June 20, 1945, French pilots on 41 Yak-3 combat aircraft, donated to the Soviet Union by the Soviet Union, flew home. In France, the Yak-3 fighters from the Normandie-Neman squadron were operated until 1947.
The Yak-3 fighter of the Normandie-Neman air regiment. Exhibition at the air show at Le Bourget
In 1956, a memorial with the names of all the dead pilots was erected in Moscow, and in 1964, a monument to the Unknown Pilot of the Normandy-Neman Regiment was erected at the Vvedenskoye cemetery on the grave of a French pilot.
The site of the graves of the Normandy squadron soldiers
At the initiative of the Association of Russian veterans of the Normandie-Neman air regiment in France and Russia, monuments were erected to the First Separate Fighter Aviation Regiment Normandie-Neman and Pilots 18 Normandy-Neman Air Regiment.
In an open competition, which was held by the Moscow Committee for Architecture together with the Committee for Culture of the City of Moscow and the Russian Academy of Arts, the project of the creative team headed by the People’s Artist of Russia, sculptor Andrei Nikolaevich Kovalchuk, won.
Monument to the pilots of the regiment “Normandy-Neman” in Moscow, Lefortovo district. Photo A. Terentyev
The monument was opened in 2007 in Lefortovo by Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The main and main idea of the monuments – brotherhood in arms of the Soviet and French pilots during the Great Patriotic and World War II – is displayed in the figures of two pilots who march after a successful sortie on the runway of the airfield.
Opening of the monument to the “Pilots of the 18th Normandie-Neman air regiment in 2007
As part of the French and Russian Air Forces until 2000, there were military aviation units named Normandie-Neman.
The French Normandie-Neman fighter group (GC II / 6) was based in the city of Colmar, participated in the colonial war in Indochina (1946-1954), as well as in NATO military operations against Yugoslavia (1999).
July 3, 2009 she was officially disbanded. Part of the aircraft and pilots, as well as the flag of the regiment were attached to the base in Reims (Champagne).
The Russian 18th Guards Assault (until 1993 – fighter-bomber) air regiment “Normandie-Neman” was stationed in the village of Galenki, located in the Primorye Territory. It was disbanded in 2009.
In 2010, servicemen of the Normandy-Neman regiment marched through Red Square in Moscow in the parade of the military parade dedicated to the 65th anniversary of the Victory in the Great Patriotic War.
On September 14, 2012 at Mont-de-Marsan, celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Normandy-Neman regiment took place, during which one of the fighters currently in service with the regiment (Dassault Rafale F3 series) coloring with a big red star.
Material prepared by the Research Institute (military history) of the Military Academy of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation
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