Free French Air Force

Operator Profile

History

Narrative Summary

The Free French Air Force (FAFL) 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 flying unit of the FAFL, a mixed roles unit, was established in August 1940. The following year a full squadron manned by exiled French personnel was formed, 340 Squadron Royal Air Force. Another 11 squadrons later followed. 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 FAFL 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 FAFL 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 September 1943 FAFL forces were strongly represented in the liberation of Corsica. June 1944 saw the Allied invasion of Normandy, and within a few weeks, FAFL units were able to operate on home soil for the first time. Operation Dragoon saw the Allied invasion of Southern France in August 1944. Here, FAFL units soon joined up with Forces Francaises de l’Interieur (FFI) units comprised of ex-air force resistance members flying captured aircraft. Several of these spontaneously created squadrons were formed in Southern France. FAFL/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 FAFL/FFI units were transferred to official Armee de L’Air (French Air Force) control. The names and traditions of these units still survive with the modern French Air Force.

Key Dates

17 June 1940    Free French Air Force first established.
29 August 1940    First flying unit formed.
1942    Many new units formed with aircraft supplied by the USA.
November 1942    FAFL units participate in Operation Torch.
September 1943    FAFL units participate in liberation of Corsica.
July 1944    First FAFL units move to metropolitan France.
August 1944    Indigenous FFI units join with the FAFL.
8 May 1945    Free French Air Force becomes the official air force of France.

Current Status

In May 1945 the FAFL became the official French Air Force – the Armee de l’Air.

Future Plans

Not applicable.

Markings

Special Markings

FAFL aircraft operated in a wide varienty of colour schemes. The overall camouflage scheme was usually as specified by the original operator : AdlA, RAF, VVS or USAAF. FAFL 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 Air Force had been disbanded, thus removing any possible source of confusion.

Aircraft Serial Numbers

FAFL aircraft retained the serial number of the original operator. Ex-French aircraft kept the their AdlA numbering, while aircraft supplied by the RAF and USAAF used their own serials, e.g. Baltimore FW565.

Unit/Base Codes

Coding system not used

Aircraft

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

Organisation

Main Headquarters

Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres, Algiers, French Algeria.

Organisational Structure

The FAFL was composed of units manned by French personnel but logistically supported by one of the main Allied air forces, the RAF, USAAF or VVS. As such, many units had dual designations, e.g. 340 Squadron RAF was also Groupement de Chasse IV/2. The French AdlA WW2 practice of forming Groupements (Wings) from 2, 3 or 4 Escadrilles (Squadrons) was also used by the FAFL.

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

Books

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

Magazines

To be added.

Websites

wikipedia; Free French Air Force
FAFL Units
Table of FAFL units

Any further photographs illustrating this air arm would be welcome.

Aircraft Not Used

of the Free French Air Force

This page gives details of some of the aircraft types that were offered or promised to the Free French Air Force but not delivered, cancelled official orders, and types have been falsely reported as being in service.

Northrop P-61 Black Widow
The French Air Force section in Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft for 1945 lists the P-61 as one of the aircraft types operated. The P-61 was never used by the Free French Air Force.

Historical Order of Battle for May 1945

of the Free French Air Force
Unit Type Base
GC I/2 ‘Les Cigognes’ Spitfire IX ?
GC II/2 ‘Berry’ Spitfire IX ?
GC III/2 ‘Alsace’ Spitfire IX ?
GC IV/2 ‘Ile de France’ Spitfire IX ?
GC I/3 ‘Corse’ Spitfire IX ?
GC II/3 ‘Dauphine’ P-47 ?
GC III/3 ‘Ardennes’ P-47 ?
GC 3 ‘Normandie-Niemen’ Yak-3 ?
GC I/4 ‘Navarre’ P-47 ?
GC I/5 ‘Champagne’ P-47 ?
GC II/5 ‘La Fayette’ P-47 ?
GC III/6 ‘Rousillon’ P-47 ?
GC I/7 ‘Provence’ Spitfire IX ?
GC II/7 ‘Nice’ Spitfire IX ?
GT II/15 ‘Anjou’ C-45 & B-25 ?
GCB I/18 ‘Vendee’ D.520 & Spitfire Vb ?
GCB II/18 ‘Saintonge’ D.520 & Spitfire Vb ?
GB I/19 ‘Gascogne’ B-26 ?
GB I/20 ‘Lorraine’ Mitchell III ?
GB II/20 ‘Bretagne’ B-26 ?
GB II/22 ‘Maroc’ B-26 ?
GB II/23 ‘Guyenne’ Halifax B.VI ?
GB I/25 ‘Tunisie’ Halifax B.VI ?
GB I/31 ‘Aunis’ Ju 88A ?
GB I/32 ‘Bourgogne’ B-26 ?
GR I/33 ‘Belfort’ F-5G Lightning ?
GR II/33 ‘Savoie’ F-6C/D Mustang & Spitfire IX ?
GR III/33 ‘Perigord’ Fi 156 Storch & Potez 631 ?
GB I/34 ‘Bearn’ DB-7, Martin 167F, Bf 110 ?
GR II/52 ‘Franche-Comte’ B-26 ?
GB II/63 ‘Senegal’ B-26 ?
GT Artois C-47 ?
GT Picardie C-47 ?

All-Time Units Listing

of the Free French Air Force

This page lists all the aviation units of the Free French Air Force, since its formation.

Royal Air Force Parented Units
326 Squadron ‘Nice’ (GC II/7)
327 Squadron ‘Corse’ (GC I/3)
328 Squadron ‘Provence’ (GC I/7)
329 Squadron ‘Les Cigognes’ (GC I/2)
340 Squadron ‘Ile de France’ (GC IV/2)
341 Squadron ‘Alsace’ (GC III/2)
342 Squadron ‘Lorraine’ (GB I/20)
343 Squadron ‘Artois’ (Aeronavale 7F)
344 Squadron ‘Picardie’ (Aeronavale 7F)
345 Squadron ‘Berry’ (GC II/2)
346 Squadron ‘Guyenne’ (GB II/23)
347 Squadron ‘Tunisie’ (GB I/25)

Free French Flight No.1
Free French Flight No.2
Free French Communication Flight N° 3
First Fighter Group

Escadrille No.1 de chasse
Escadrille No.2 de bombardement
GC 1 Alsace
GC 2 Ile de France

Soviet Air Force Parented Units
GC 3 ‘Normandie Niemen’ / Régiment Normandie-Niemen

French Parented Units
Detachment du Cameroun
GRB 1 ‘Lorraine’
GCB I/18 ‘Vendee’
GCB II/18 ‘Saintonge’
GB I/31 ‘Aunis nebo Dor’
GR III/33 ‘Perigord’
GB I/34 ‘Bearn’
GB II/63 ‘Senegal’
Le Gaulois
GT Artois
GT Picardie

Groupement Patrie
Groupement Dor
Forces Francaises de l’Interieur

USAAF Parented Units
GC I/3 ‘Corse’ (ex-RAF)
GC II/3 ‘Dauphine’
GC III/3 ‘Ardennes’
GC I/4 ‘Navarre’
GC I/5 ‘Champagne’
GC II/5 ‘La Fayette’
GC III/5
GC II/6 ‘Travail’
GC III/6 ‘Rousillon’
GC I/9 ‘Limousin’
GC II/9 ‘Auvergne’
GT I/15 ‘Touraine’
GT II/15 ‘Anjou’
GT III/15 ‘Maine’
GB I/19 ‘Gasconge’
GB II/20 ‘Bretagne’ ex-RAF
GB I/22 ‘Maroc’ (II/22?)
GB I/32 ‘Bourgogne’
GR I/33 ‘Belfort’
GR II/33 ‘Savoie’
GT I/34 ‘Bearn’
GB II/52 ‘Franche-Comte’
GB I/56 ‘Vacluse’

All-Time Aircraft Used List
Free French Air Force

Aircraft Type Quantity Service Entry Out of Service Origin
Aeronca L-3 Grasshopper ? 19?? 19?? USA
Airspeed Oxford II 2 1944 1946 UK
Amiot 143M 25 1940 1944 AdlA
Avro Anson I ? 1943 1945 UK
Avro York ? 19?? 19?? UK
Beech UC-45 Expeditor 19 1944 1945 USA
Bell P-39D Airacobra ? 1940 19?? USA
Bell P-39K Airacobra 1 19?? 19?? USA
Bell P-39N Airacobra 98 1943 1945 USA
Bell P-39Q Airacobra 165 1944 1945 USA
Bell P-63A(C?) Kingcobra 300 1945 1945 USA
Bloch 81 SAN ? 19?? 1945 AdlA
Bloch MB.131 ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Bloch MB.174 ? 19?? 1945 AdlA
Bloch MB.175 ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Bloch MB.220 5 19?? 19?? AdlA
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress 1 19?? 19?? USA
Bristol Blenheim Mk.IV 20 1940 1943 UK
Bristol Blenhiem Mk.V 6 1942 1945 UK
Caudron C.270 Luciole ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Caudron C.400 Phalene ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Caudron C.445 Goeland ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Caudron C.600 Aiglon ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Caudron C.630 Simoun ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Caudron C.714 Cyclone ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Cessna UC-78 Bobcat ? 19?? 19?? USA
Consolidated B-24D Liberator 2 1944 19?? USA
Consolidated PBY Catalina ? 19?? 19?? USA
Cunliffe-Owen OA.1 1 1940 1945 UK
Curtiss Hawk 75A ? 19?? 1942 AdlA
Curtiss P-40E ? 19?? 19?? USA
Curtiss P-40F Kittyhawk II 61 1943 1944 USA
Curtiss P-40L ? 19?? 1944 USA
Curtiss P-40N ? 19?? 19?? USA
de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth ? 19?? 19?? UK
de Havilland DH.82 Tiger Moth ? 19?? 19?? UK
Dewoitine D.520 5 1940 19?? AdlA
Douglas A-24B Banshee 50 1943 1946 USA
Douglas C-47 Dakota ? 19?? 1945 USA
Douglas DB-7 ? 19?? 1945 USA
Douglas Boston III/IV 108 (120?) 19?? 1945 RAF
Farman F.221 BN5 1? 1940 1944 AdlA
Farman F.222 BN5 1? 1940 1941 AdlA
Fieseler Fi 156 Storch ? 1944 1945 captured
Gloster Gladiator ? 19?? 19?? UK
Handley Page Halifax B.VI 64 1944 1945 UK
Hawker Hurricane ? 1940 1943 UK
Howard DGA-15 Nightingale 2 19?? 19?? USA
Junkers Ju 88A 22 1944 1945 captured
Liore et Olivier LeO 451 ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Lockheed Model 12 Electra Junior ? 19?? 19?? USA
Lockheed 18 Lodestar 1 1944 1944 USA
Lockheed Hudson ? 19?? 19?? USA
Lockheed F-4A Lightning 6 1943 19?? USA
Lockheed F-5A/B Lightning ? 19?? 19?? USA
Lockheed F-5F/G Lightning ? 1944 1945 USA
Lockheed PV-1 Ventura ? 1944 19?? USA
Martin 167 Maryland 60 1940 1945 AdlA
Martin 187 Baltimore V 10 1944 1945 USA
Martin B-26B Marauder ? 1942 19?? USA
Martin B-26C Marauder ? 1943 1945 USA
Martin B-26G Marauder ? 1944 1945 USA
Messerschmitt Bf 110 ? 1944 1945 captured
Morane-Saulnier M.S.230 ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Morane-Saulnier M.S.315 ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 ? 19?? 1945 AdlA
North American NAA-57 (NA-16) ? 19?? 19?? USA
North American B-25C Mitchell ? 19?? 19?? RAF
North American B-25H Mitchell ? 19?? 19?? RAF
North American B-25J Mitchell III 18 1943 1945 RAF
North American F-6C Mustang 15 1943 1945 USA
North American F-6D Mustang 22 1943 1945 USA
Piper L-4 ? 19?? 19?? USA
Polikarpov Po-2 ? 19?? 19?? USSR
Potez 25 ? 19?? 1945 AdlA
Potez 29 ? 19?? 1945 AdlA
Potez 540 ? 19?? 1942 AdlA
Potez 542 ? 19?? 1942 AdlA
Potez 63.11 ? 19?? 1945 AdlA
Potez 62 1 19?? 19?? ex-civil
Potez 631 ? 1944 1945 captured
Potez 650 ? 19?? 19?? AdlA
Republic P-47D Thunderbolt 446 1943 1945 USA
Supermarine Spitfire LF.VB/VC 70 1941 1944 UK
Supermarine Spitfire VIII 8 1944 1945 UK
Supermarine Spitfire LF.IX 242 1943 1944 UK
Supermarine Spitfire F.XVIe 20 1945 1945 UK
Supermarine Walrus ? 19?? 19?? UK
Universal L-7/Monocoupe Model 90AF 19 (24?) 1943 or 44 1945 USA
Stinson 105 Voyager ? 19?? 19?? USA
Vultee BT-13 Valiant ? 19?? 19?? USA
Vultee A-35 Vengeance 67 1943 1945 USA
Vickers Wellington C.Mk XV ? 19?? 19?? UK
Westland Lysander Mk.II 25 1940 1942 UK
Westland Lysander Mk.IIIA 5 1940 1942 UK
Yakovlev Yak-1/1M 14 1942 1943 USSR
Yakovlev Yak-3 42 1942 1945 USSR
Yakovlev Yak-6 ? 19?? 19?? USSR
Yakovlev Yak-7V ? 1942 1943 USSR
Yakovlev Yak-9/9T 51 1942 1944 USSR

Additional information is welcome