Free French Air Force

Operator Profile

Key Facts

Current Title:
Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres
English Title:
Free French Air Force
First Established:
ICAO Code:


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.


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 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

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


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


To be added.


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

Any further photographs illustrating this air arm would be welcome.

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