During WWII, Normandie-Niemen, a fighter squadron of the French Air Force, served on the Eastern front.
It was one of only two western Allied units to serve on the Eastern front during the Second World War. Originally named Normandie – it deployed there in early 1943.
The Formation of the Squadron
The main purpose of this fighter squadron was to support the Soviet Forces on the Eastern front. And the unit fought alongside the Soviet 1st Air Army until the end of the war in Europe.
In December 1941, the Germans occupied France and started their march towards Moscow.
The Soviet army stood firm. It did all it could to stop the Germans from entering and occupying Moscow.
As the ‘Free French’ resistance gained momentum, General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces, met with General Luguet. He was Commanding Officer of the Free French Air Force and at the suggestion of General de Gaulle, agreed to offer aerial support to the Soviets.
The meeting resulted in the formation of the Normandie squadron. Although created in September 1942, Normandie was not operational until March 1943.
On the Eastern Front
On March 22nd, the Normandie squadron deployed to the Soviet front and on April 15th, claimed its first kill – shooting down a FW190.
The Normandie pilots flew Yak3 aircraft from their base at Ivanoso airfield, and became a key part of the Soviet defense.
They proved so successful that in May 1943, German Field Marshal Wihelm Keitel, signed an order stating that any ‘Normandie’ pilot captured would be executed immediately.
By the end of the 1943, the squadron had claimed 72 victories.
On the first day of the Prusse Offensive, Normandie-Niemen pilots downed 29 German aircraft without suffering a single loss of life.
By the end of WW2 and their service with the Soviet 1st Air Army, Normandie-Niemen pilots had 273 confirmed victories and several possibles.
Normandiewas awarded several citations and decorations including the Légion d’Honneur and the Companion of the Liberation by General de Gaulle, on October 17th 1943.
And in 1944, in recognition of their efforts to help the Soviet Army cross the Niemen River, Stalin awarded the unit the Order of the Red Banner and added ‘Niemen’ to the Squadron’s name.
The squadron returned to France in June 1945, with a fleet of Yak 3’s given to them by Joseph Stalin. And on arrival at Le Bourget in the north-east of Paris, the ‘Neu-Neu’ as they were nicknamed, received a hero’s welcome.
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