Sunday, 19 January 2014

French Spitfire pilots in the RAF - GC II/2 'Berry' 345 Squadron - Pierre Decroo, Jean-Marie Accart

" Silence, on vole " is a rare book of French fighter pilot accounts from the GC II/ 2 'Berry', the RAF's 345 Squadron, part of the 2nd TAF, established during January 1944 and operational from 28 April 1944. The Squadron - although not technically 'Free French' given the date of the unit's establishment - was a disparate grouping of French pilots in the RAF, some of whom were so-called 'évadés d'Espagne', Frenchmen who had escaped France by crossing the Pyrenees on foot to reach England and join De Gaulle's FAFL and French pilots from north Africa such as Joubert des Ouches. The Squadron was based for a time at Deanland in Sussex during August 1944 as the Normandy campaign was reaching its conclusion, prior to moving to Biggin Hill and then Wevelgem in Belgium later that year. CO was Cmdt Jean-Marie Accart - alias "Bernard", a nom de guerre to protect his family back in France. Accart had achieved some 12 victories during the German invasion of France in 1940 flying P-36 Hawks with GC I/5. (Accart's own book of the French campaign was "Chasseurs du Ciel", lit. 'Fighters in the sky' which is very good and really should have been translated by now). Flying elderly Spitfire Vs 'Berry' flew patrols over the Normandy beachheads as part of No. 141 Wing (2nd TAF) encountering very few German aircraft in the air and it was not until September 1944 that they received their first Spitfire IXs.  Subsequently attached to No. 145 Wing, the unit primarily flew ground-attack and escort missions. Among the pilot roster were men like Pierre Decroo- who like many Frenchmen had crossed the Pyrenees on foot to reach England and join De Gaulle's FAFL. Postwar, Decroo became a test pilot at the CEV (Centre d'essais en vol) at Brétigny, losing his life in the crash of the Arsenal VG 90, swept-wing jet interceptor in 1950..

Above; the pilots of GC II/2 'Berry' in front of a Spitfire IX at Shoreham. Cmdt Accart is standing, fourth from the left and Sgt Pierre Decroo is third from left seated. To the right of Accart is his successor as CO 345 Squadron, Cne Guizard..

Below; "Une photo de mon frère Louis, prise en 1944 en Grande Bretagne à l'époque ou il commandait un escadron du groupe de chasse Berry à la croix de Lorraine sur Spitfire-(sous
l'hélice, premier rang, centre)." - a photo of my brother Louis, taken in 1944 in England when he was CO of the French fighter squadron 'Berry' , below the prop front row, centre...

    Capitaine Louis Lemaire (front row centre, below the prop) CO of 'A' flight, 345 Sq taken at Fairwood Common, March 1944. Lemaire was injured in a forced landing in early 1945. Other pilots identified on this image include, Perseval and Tixador (upper right), Fontaayn (fourth from the left) Bataille, (lower left). All of the named pilots here survived the war and were still alive in 2007.

Below; Squadron CO and Accart's successor Cmt Guizard (October 1944 -May 1945). The squadron specialised in ground-attack (Ramrods), armed recce and flak suppression missions.

Below; another image from "Silence, on vole..."  depicting 'Berry' pilots sergent Dromatokis and capitaine Kerourio somewhere in Belgium examining the aftermath of the blast from a V1 rocket on these Spitfire IXs ..coded 'NL' (Alsace). 345 Sq Spitfires were of course coded '2Y'.

Source for this piece 

Below; Spitfire HF Mk.IXe, PT766/2Y-A, flown by Jean-Marie Accart, CO of 345 Squadron, based RAF Deanland, September 1944. Note the Sky spinner, fuselage band and code letters; invasion stripes on lower fuselage and wings; overpainted RAF roundels replaced by French roundels in six positions.

Pictures via "Avions" magazine. Editor Michel Ledet is a good friend of this blog (see three-part article on Accart by Christophe Cony in issues 121, 122, 123...)

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