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Old 29th March 2005, 12:13
Posts: n/a
Re: Fighter pilots' guts

Originally Posted by Six Nifty .50s
Regarding the courage of French pilots, I don't know why you are fixated on the opinion of Peter Townsend.
- Simply because he libelled the 1940 - stress 1940, nineteen forty - French pilots, or rather those who fought in May-June 1940 but did not escape to England. To him the Free-French pilots were all right, as if there COULD be any difference. In most cases only chance or luck, or bad luck, decided upon who became a "Free-French" or not, except of course the vast majority who clearly had decided never to join the Britishers after the Mers el-Kébir attack, the British "Pearl Harbor". You know how US people feel about the Japanese after PH. Why on earth should precisely the French have a different reaction!
But Townsend is not the only one, there are others. I won't enhance their glory so I won't give their names here.
After the November 1942 Allied landings in French North Africa - where the Mers el-Kébir attack had taken place - almost all French airmen came under AMERICAN not British command. There was a good reason for this. I am convinced that they bluntly would have refused to fly and fight within the RAF, they'd preferred to become infantrymen with the French Army (which later, by the way, cracked the Cassino nut). They flew almost exclusively US aircraft types. There were some exceptions like commandant (sqn leader or major) Jean Accart, who eventually 1944 led a French Spitfire squadron based in England after he had created it. Accart no doubt was one of the best, most clever and finest fighter pilots and leaders in the world, perhaps THE best one in the world. 1940 he had won 12 confirmed victories in 3 weeks (!), his escadrille of 12 fighters was the by very far top-scoring one of the whole Armée de l'Air , which comprised about 53 escadrilles (thanks to his unique leadership and the exceptional training he had given his pilots). After these 3 weeks of fighting he received a German machine-gun bullet exactly between his eyes when once more attacking a He 111 under unfavourable conditions. He baled out and suffered many other very heavy wounds, survived by sheer luck and... crossed the Pyrénées into Spain as soon as he was able to, together with several of his student pilots, in order to fight again! With all his wounds nobody would have expected him to fight again - the bullet was still there between his eyes for they never dared try to extract it. He, too, was one of those 1940 French fighter pilots insulted by Townsend.
If only they had allowed him to meet the Luftwaffe he would have wreaked havoc in it. This is precisely what RAF's to brass did NOT want and the whole unit hardly got any opportunity to fight German aircraft. This was general Allied tactics : French fighters were NOT allowed to meet the Luftwaffe, Allied HQ did not want them to win any victories, or only a few by pure luck (except the French Normandie-Niémen wing in Russia, for the Russians didn't care about British psychological problems with the French and never prevented them from winning some 283 victories (or so) at a very high cost). Of course this behaviour was not only unfair, it was also idiotic and criminal towards US bomber crews, for many of them were killed BECAUSE the French, in particular Accart's crack squadron, were not allowed to fight the Luftwaffe. This probably cost the lives of a few hundred US bomber crew members even though US fighter pilots were not bad at all and did an excellent job. Accart and his pilots no doubt would have been even better.

Instead Accart's squadron, which was like a fine sword, was used for bombing and ground attack, at a high cost too. This was like using this fine sword for chopping stone slabs : not really clever. Many other RAF squadrons were doing the same job but they were not the Accart squadron, which comprised at least one more 1940 top-ace : Vuillemain, 9 confirmed victories 1940, one "Wellington" in August 1942 (after 3 July 1940 any British aircraft or vessel near French Africa was attacked by the "cowards", reluctantly by most of them for they didn't forget that the main enemy was Germany, England was only 2nd) and one Ju 88 in September 1943. So he was one of the very few French fighter pilots who - purely by chance - had the opportunity to shoot down a German aircraft after 1940... Of course this remark doesn't apply to the Free-French pilots flying with the RAF. They were given the possibility to get involved in air combat.

Thanks for your posting anyway. Yes Maridor's story is interesting and moving. You know, I simply think he had no choice in this situation actually. Of course what he did was a heroic deed but what else could he do? Can you imagine ANY fighter pilot giving up and flying away?