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.
|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.|
In May 1945 the FAFL became the official French Air Force – the Armee de l’Air.
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.
Coding system not used
None – Manufacturers designations used
Current Aircraft Inventory
All-Time Aircraft Used List
Aircraft NOT Used
Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres, Algiers, French Algeria.
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
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)
To be added.