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.
|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.|
The Free French Navy was merged into the official French armed forces in May 1945.
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.
Coding system not used
None – Manufacturers designations used
Current Aircraft Inventory
All-Time Aircraft Used List
Aircraft NOT Used
Aéronavale Française Libre, Forces Navales Françaises Libres, Algiers, French Algeria.
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
Historical Orders of Battle
All-Time Flying Units List
Current Air Bases
All-Time Air Bases Used List
To be added.
French Military Aviation by Paul A Jackson (Midland Counties, 1979)
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