By Clarke, John D.
In 1942, General de Gaulle agreed to send French pilots to fight alongside the Red Air Force against the Germans on the Eastern Front. On 1 September 1942, the Groupe de Chasse III or 3rd Fighter Group 'Normandie' was created, equipped with Yak-3 fighter aircraft. On 5 April 1943..., pilots Preziosi and Durand shared the unit's first 'kill'. Over the next two years, the group became the most highly decorated fighter unit ever to fly for France, and the second highest scoring fighter air group of the Soviet Air Force. Such was their notoriety that in May 1943 an order was signed by the German General Keitel stating that all 'Normandie' pilots were to be shot if captured. The 'Normandie' Group took an active part in the air support of the epic Battle of Kursk and in 1944 Stalin added 'Niemen' to their title in recognition of the help they rendered to the Soviet Army in crossing this river. The first of the Western Allies to capture and occupy German territory, 'Normandie-Niemen' clashed with the crack German fighter group JG51 Molders in the air battle over Konigsberg in March 1945. By the war's end the Group had racked up an impressive 273 confirmed victories and another 36 probables.Read more
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John D. Clarke saw military service in Germany after the Second World War before working as a journalist in Fleet Street. An expert on Soviet gallantry awards on the Second World War. John is the author of 'Men of HMS Victory at Trafalgar' (Naval and Military Press 1999).He lives in Southwold, Suffolk.
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