René Mouchotte

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René Mouchotte
Rene mouchotte jack charles.jpg
René Mouchotte and Sqn Ldr "Jack" Charles at RAF Biggin Hill in May 1943
Born (1914-08-21)21 August 1914
Paris, France
Died 27 August 1943(1943-08-27) (aged 29)
Pas de Calais, France
Buried Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Allegiance  France
Service/branch  Royal Air Force
Flag of Free France (1940-1944).svg Free French Forces
Years of service 1935–1939
1939–1943
Rank Commandant and Squadron Leader
Unit Escadrille « Versailles »
No. 615 Squadron RAF
No. 341 Squadron RAF
No. 340 Squadron RAF
Battles/wars

World War II

Awards Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur
Compagnon de la Libération
Croix de guerre 1939-1945 (6 palmes)
Distinguished Flying Cross

Commandant René Mouchotte DFC (21 August 1914 – 27 August 1943) was a World War II pilot of the French Air Force, who escaped from Vichy French–controlled Oran to join the Free French forces. Serving with RAF Fighter Command, he rose to command a fighter wing before being shot down and killed on 27 August 1943.

French Air Force[edit]

Born into a wealthy family on 21 August 1914 in Paris,[1] Mouchotte began his military service in October 1935 with the French Air Force at Istres, where he was promoted to corporal (April 1936), master corporal (March 1937) and sergeant (April 1937); he qualified as a pilot in February 1937. In January 1939, he transferred to the reserve and resumed civilian life. Recalled in September 1939, he was posted to training establishments at Salon-de-Provence and Avord as a flying instructor. Despite several requests to join a fighter squadron, he was transferred to Oran in May 1940 for a conversion course to twin-engined aircraft.[2] After the Armistice, the pilots on the base were ordered not to escape to join the Free French and the aircraft were placed under armed guard. Despite this, Mouchotte and five comrades (including Henry Lafont) escaped in a twin-engined Caudron Goéland aircraft, only to find that the controls for the variable-pitch propellers had been disabled, making the take-off hazardous.[3] However they did manage to land in Gibraltar and later transferred to the Free French armed trawler, Président Houduce and sailed to England.[1]

In Britain[edit]

Hurricanes of 615 Squadron land at RAF Northolt in November 1940

After arriving in Britain Mouchotte trained at RAF Old Sarum and RAF Sutton Bridge on Hawker Hurricanes, before being posted to No. 615 Squadron RAF at RAF Northolt in northwest London. He carried out his first operational sortie on 11 October 1940. The squadron moved to RAF Kenley in December 1940 and in August 1941 Mouchotte participated in the shooting-down of a Junkers 88. In November 1941 he transferred to RAF Turnhouse, where the Free French No. 340 Squadron RAF was training on Spitfires; he became a flight commander in February 1942 and subsequently[when?] squadron commander of No. 65 Squadron RAF, the first RAF squadron to be commanded by a non-Commonwealth officer.[citation needed] He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 1 September 1942.

Mouchotte's tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris

Finally he took command of No. 341 Squadron RAF (Groupe de Chasse n° 3/2 "Alsace") with the Biggin Hill Wing. On 15 May 1943, S/L 'Jack' Charles (611 squadron) and Mouchotte both destroyed a Fw 190 of I./JG 2, as the Biggin Hill Wing's 999th and 1,000th kill claim.[4]

He was shot down and killed in combat with Fw 190s of JG 2 during Ramrod S.8, escorting Flying Fortresses on the first daylight raid to Blockhaus d'Éperlecques in the Pas de Calais on 27 August 1943. His body was later washed ashore on 3 September and was buried in Middelkerke, Belgium. After the War in 1949, his body was exhumed, repatriated and buried in the family tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris on 3 November after a memorial service with full military honours conducted at Les Invalides in Paris.

He had accumulated some 1,748 flying hours, including 408 operational hours flying 382 war sorties. He had claimed two aircraft destroyed (with a further one "shared"), one "probable" and one damaged.[4]

Legacy[edit]

After the war, his diaries and flying logs were compiled into a book by Andre Dezarrois which was published in France in 1949 as "Les carnets de René Mouchotte, 1940-1943" and later as "Mes carnets : juin 1940-août 1943". In 1956 it was translated into English by Philip John Stead and published in the United Kingdom under the title The Mouchotte Diaries; by the following year eight editions had been printed. The book was reissued in France in 2000 and in the UK in 2003.[5]

Rue du Commandant-René-Mouchotte in Paris, 2011

In Paris a street Rue du Commandant Rene Mouchotte in the 14th Arrondissement of Paris and a nearby footbridge over the River Seine are named after him. There are two plaques in his memory at Eperlecques.[1] A French Air Force base at Cambrai-Épinoy was named Base Aérienne 103 "Commandant René Mouchotte" in his honour. Cambrai Epinoy is no longer an active establishment, so the French Air Force Training Base at Cazaux was named after Commandant Mouchotte in September 2012.[6] At the Lycée Français Charles de Gaulle in London on 18 June 2013 a vitrine by Yorkshire Air Museum was unveiled in honour of Commandant René Mouchotte & the Forces Aériennes Françaises Libres.[7] The RAF headquarters in Gibraltar was renamed the Mouchotte Building on the weekend of the Battle of Britain Commemorations on 14–15 September 2013.[8]

Mouchotte was the subject of a BBC One television programme by Jan Leeming, shown in the United Kingdom on Inside Out on 28 January 2013 and another version filmed at Elvington in February 2013.[9] Mouchotte's British campaign medals, including the Battle of Britain Clasp, were not presented to his family after the war and were obtained by the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial who presented them to his sister along with footage of her brother taken in 1943, recently discovered by the Museum shortly before she died in June 2012. Later they were officially presented to family members along with the medals of Mouchotte's friend Henry Lafont, in the British Ambassador's Residence in Paris on 13 July 2012.[10]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c "The Airmen's Stories - Adjutant R Mouchotte". Battle of Britain Monument. Retrieved 8 February 2017. 
  2. ^ Rohrbacher, G D. "René Mouchotte - Première partie: de 1935 à l'automne 1940". Ballarini, Philippe. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  3. ^ Bennet, GH (2011), The RAF's French Foreign Legion: De Gaulle, the British and the Re-emergence of French Air Power 1940-45, Continuum International Publishing Group, ISBN 978-1-4411-8978-3 (pp. 24-25)
  4. ^ a b Shores, Christopher (2004), Those Other Eagles: A Tribute to the British, Commonwealth and Free European Fighter Pilots Who Claimed Between Two and Four Victories in Aerial Combat,1939 - 1982, Grub Street Books, ISBN 978-1904010883 (p. 423)
  5. ^ "WorldCat Identities - Mouchotte, René 1914-1943". OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  6. ^ "Il y a 70 ans, le commandant Mouchotte disparaissait en combat aérien". Zone Militaire. 27 August 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  7. ^ "Cérémonies du 18 juin à Londres". Fédération des Associations Françaises en Grande-Bretagne. 18 June 2013. Archived from the original on 28 August 2013. Retrieved 10 January 2014. 
  8. ^ "TYPHOON FLYPAST FOR BATTLE OF BRITAIN TRIBUTE". 13 September 2013. Archived from the original on 14 January 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  9. ^ "BBC News England - Rene Mouchotte: Puzzle of Battle of Britain hero solved". BBC. 28 January 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  10. ^ "RAF News - TV Documentary Unveils French Battle Of Britain Hero". Royal Air Force. 29 January 2013. Retrieved 12 January 2014.