Free French Naval Aviation

Operator Profile

Key Facts

Current Title:
Aéronavale Française Libre
English Title:
Free French Navy
First Established:
ICAO Code:


Narrative Summary

The Free French Naval Aviation (FNFL) was first established in Britain in June 1940, just as the Government in France was preparing to sign an armistice with Germany. After its invasion in May 1940, the German Army now occupied a large part of northern France. Despite this, the Free French Forces under General de Gaulle vowed to fight on, and the Free French Air Force and Free French Navy were its main means of resistance. With British help, the first Free French squadron was established in November 1941. 340 Squadron Royal Air Force was manned by exiled French personnel, a large number of which were ex-Aeronavale pilots. Unfortunately, French military forces in the French colonies chose to remain loyal to the semi-Fascist puppet government in Vichy, rather than join the fight to free France from occupation. This meant that on occaision French forces fought French forces.

America’s entry into the war speeded up the expansion of the FNFL considerably, with many new units being formed on US equipment from 1942 onwards. In November 1942 French Forces were strong enough to be able to participate in Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were soon liberated and the FNFL later moved its headquarters to Algiers. Another consequence was that other colonies began to side with the Free French, and many more recruits began to arrive to join the fight. In 1943 RAF Coastal Command was able to form two new squadrons composed entirely of ex-Aeronavale personnel.

In September 1943 FNFL forces were strongly represented in the liberation of Corsica. June 1944 saw the Allied invasion of Normandy, and FNFL units were eventually able to operate on home soil for the first time. Operation Dragoon saw the Allied invasion of Southern France in August 1944. Here, FNFL units soon joined up with Forces Francaises de l’Interieur (FFI) units comprised of ex-air force and navy resistance members flying captured aircraft. Several of these spontaneously created squadrons were formed in Southern France. FNFL/FFI units performed very effectively in driving the Germans back, thus speeding the liberation of France. By May 1945, the job had been done, and all FNFL/FFI units were transferred to official Aeronavale (French Naval Aviation) control.

Key Dates

29 August 1940    First Free French flying unit formed.
1942    Many new units formed with aircraft supplied by the USA.
November 1942    Operation Torch – liberation of French North Africa.
September 1943    FNFL units participate in liberation of Corsica.
August 1944    First FNFL units move to metropolitan France.
August 1944    Indigenous FFI units join with the FNFL.
8 May 1945    Free French Naval Aviation becomes the official Naval air force of France.

Current Status

The Free French Navy was merged into the official French armed forces in May 1945.

Future Plans

Not applicable.


Special Markings

FNFL aircraft operated in a wide varienty of colour schemes. The overall camouflage scheme was usually as specified by the original operator: Aeronavale, RAF or US Navy. FNFL were distinguished by the use of the Cross of Lorraine (a cross with two horizontal bars) on a white disc. This marking was displayed on the fuselage sides in place of the normal French roundel, and sometimes also on the wings. By 1945 this marking was little used, as the Vichy French Navy had been disbanded, thus removing any possible source of confusion.

Aircraft Serial Numbers

FNFL aircraft retained the serial number of the original operator. Ex-French aircraft kept the their Aeronavale numbering, while aircraft supplied by the RAF and US Navy used their own serials, e.g. Sunderland DV985.

Unit/Base Codes

Coding system not used


Aircraft Designations

None – Manufacturers designations used

Current Aircraft Inventory

Not applicable.

All-Time Aircraft Used List

All-Time Table of Aircraft Used

Aircraft NOT Used

False reports of aircraft on order or in service


Main Headquarters

Aéronavale Française Libre, Forces Navales Françaises Libres, Algiers, French Algeria.

Organisational Structure

The FNFL was composed of units manned by French personnel but logistically supported by one of the main Allied air forces, the RAF or US Navy. As such, many units had dual designations, e.g. 343 Squadron RAF was also Flotille 7FE. The French Navy practice of classifying units as Flotilles or Escadrilles was retained by the FNFL.

Current Order of Battle

Not applicable

Historical Orders of Battle

Historical Order of Battle for May 1945

All-Time Flying Units List

List of Flying Units

Air Bases

Current Air Bases

Not applicable.

All-Time Air Bases Used List

To be added.

More Information


French Military Aviation by Paul A Jackson (Midland Counties, 1979)


No feature articles known.


wikipedia: Free French Naval Forces
wikipedia: Free French Naval Air Service

Any further photographs illustrating this air arm would be welcome.

One thought on “Free French Naval Aviation

  1. I am about to embarque on some research into the Free French Forces here in Britain. I live at Blackwater, Camberley close to RAF Hartford Bridge (Blackebushe Airport) airfield. During WW2 units of the Free French Airforce were based here. They used Blenheims together with the RAF to lay smoke over the D-Day landing beaches.
    Also there was a Free French Parachute regiment based on the eastern edge of Camberley at a location now called “the Old Dean”.

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