In the summer of 1940, pilots from France and North Africa who refused to throw in the towel and to comply with the June 22 Armistice, which they considered insulting, thronged into England, which had decided to continue fighting.
A good number of them had already scored some victories with their MS or MB.
A pilot is meant to fly !
Those who had never taken to the skies, but who had the “flying spirit” were upon arrival, after the personality assessment, led to an Initial Training Unit (ITU) where they were given theoretical lessons on a wide variety of subjects such as meteorology, mathematics – using English measurements - armament, the Morse code and air navigation. Since most of the French pilots had already had flight experience during operations in the first phase of the war, they immediately passed to the EFTS (Elementary Flying Training School). The outstanding ones were sent to the SFTS (Service Flying Training School). This equipped them with the “wings” needed for air manoeuvres. From then on, the selected ones had to acquaint themselves with RAF’s "thoroughbred", Spitfire V, goaded by instructors with much experience in air combat. They were transferred to the Operational Training Unit (OTU). All of them having taken part in the Polish and French campaigns, their dream at breakfast, at lunch and during the evening drink was nothing other than piloting fighter aircrafts. The training soon took the dimension of a real warfront scenario. Spitfire? Easy! Come on, hop in! A pilot must fly! Let’s go. In the evening, one literally had to stand up erect, amid the waltz of beer mugs which these veterans sang at the top of their voices.
Those who went through it successfully were capable of piloting during operations, though they had not yet received the real baptism of fire. This, of course, came to pass sooner than later as the war was in full swing. The average age of these young pilots was barely 25 years. Some of them were only 19 (*) such as TABURET Gaël who was credited with 8 victories at Normandy-Niemen, BLETON Pierre - 7 victories, BON Maurice - 6 victories and his buddy, MIQUEL Charles - 6 victories. What about the student pilot Roland de la POYPE, 19, who scored 16 victories? Also aged 19, and credited with 11 victories, was Sergeant RISSO Joseph, who had a Cadolive (Bouches du Rhône) sing-song accent. He returned to France with his Yak, as a present from Stalin, like the others. This sergeant, who subsequently rose to the rank of general, escaped from North Africa to England in June 1940. He was transferred to the night fighters unit in August 1941, within Squadron 253, where he had to pilot a Hurricane. In July 1942, he was sent to Normandy-Niemen.
Sergeant BOUDIER Michel, 19, who aligned 8 black crosses on his fuselage, flew at 340 and 341. The ace of aces, Sergeant Pierre CLOSTERMANN, 18, with his 33 officially recognized victories, was the champion of exceptional pilots. He ended the war on Tempest, with the rank of Flight Commander, within Squadron 3.
A volunteer does not accept defeat
Prior to the breakout of hostilities, Lieutenant Maurice CHORON, an instructor at the Bastia flying club, met with an English officer – Michael ROBINSON – who was into touristic aviation, and a solid lifetime friendship was born. When the war broke out and Choron could not withstand the whiff of defeat, he took off on board a D 520 from Toulouse and headed for England. After a brief stay at the OTU 5, he was posted as a warrant officer to Sqn 64 equipped with a Hurricane Mk 1. There he met a Wingco (Wing Commander) whom he knew very well: Michael ROBINSON, who had become the commander of Sqn 340 at Tangmere.
On April 12, 1942, W/Co ROBINSON took off with Lt CHORON and Second Lieutenant de SCITIVAUX for an escort mission. They stumbled on the “Abbeville Boys” - GALLAND, MUNCHEBERG, EBERSBERGER and LINDEMAN. During the confrontation that ensued, W/Co ROBINSON and Lieutenant CHORON were killed, while Second Lieutenant de SCITIVAUX, who had succeeded to jump, was taken prisoner and was only released in April 1945. The two pre-war friends remained together till their last day. It should be recalled that Warrant Officer CHORON, on November 1, 1940, was the first Frenchman to have shot down two Luftwaffe aircrafts, while flying a Hurricane Mk1, with Warrant Officer Xavier de MONTBRON.
* The reference year for the ages given is 1939.
NB: Biographies, bird’s-eye views, and other pictures are the property of Frenchaces, which has authorized FNCV aviation to reproduce them free of charge.