The Normandie-Niemen squadron (Нормандия-Неман) was a fighter squadron of the French Air Force. It served on the Eastern Front of the European Theatre of World War II with the 1st Air Army. The regiment is notable for being the only air combat unit from an Allied western European country to participate on the Eastern Front during World War II.


The unit originated in mid-1943 during World War II. Initially the groupe comprised a group of French fighter-pilots sent to aid Soviet forces on the Eastern Front at the suggestion of Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, who felt it important that French servicemen serve on all fronts in the war.

The unit was the GC3 (Groupe de Chasse 3 or 3rd Fighter Group) in the Free French Air Force, first commanded by Jean Tulasne (the 's' is silent). It fought in three campaigns on behalf of the Soviet Union between March 22, 1943, and May 9, 1945, during which time it destroyed 273 enemy aircraft and received many orders, citations and decorations from both France and the USSR, including the French Légion d’Honneur and the Soviet Order of the Red Banner. Joseph Stalin awarded the unit the name Niemen for its participation in the Battle of the Neman River (1944).

As of 2005 the unit, known as squadron 2/30, flies Mirage F1 CT planes.

Operational history

Six months after the Germans invaded the USSR in June 1941, talks aimed at closer co-operation between Free France and the Soviet Union resulted in setting up a special squadron with an initial core of twelve fighter pilots for service on the Russo-German front. De Gaulle officially promulgated the Groupe de Chasse GC 3 Normandie on September 1, 1942, with Commandant Pouliquen in command. Mechanics, pilots and hardware travelled by rail and air via Tehran (Iran) to Baku (now the capital of Azerbaijan). They completed a period of training on the Yakovlev Yak-7 by end-January 1943, when Commandant Jean Tulasne took command of the groupe, which finally headed for the front on March 22, 1943.

The first campaign of GC 3, equipped with the Yakovlev Yak-1 fighter-plane, lasted until October 5, and encompassed the area of Russia between Polotniani-Zavod and Sloboda/Monostirtchina. From an initial aerial victory over an Fw 190 on April 5, the tally rose dramatically and the squadron became the focus of much Soviet propaganda, so much so that Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel decreed that any French pilot captured would be executed.

Tragedy struck the squadron with the much-decorated Tulasne reported missing-in-action after combat on July 17, requiring Commandant Pouyade to take command. In spite of the loss, GC 3 started to receive many Soviet unit citations and decorations as well as French awards. On October 11, de Gaulle accorded the groupe the title of Compagnon de la Libération. By the time GC 3 relocated to Tula on November 6, 1943, only six pilots remained from the original groupe, which had accumulated 72 aerial victories since joining the fighting.

1944 witnessed the expansion of the groupe to become a régiment, with a fourth escadrille joining its ranks. After completing training on the more advanced Yakovlev Yak-9D fighter-planes at Tula, the new regiment rejoined the front line for its second campaign. This lasted until November 27, and took in the area between Doubrovka (in Russia) and Gross-Kalweitchen (in East Prussia, Germany). During this campaign Joseph Stalin ordered the regiment to style itself Normandie-Niemen in recognition of its participation in the battles to liberate the river of that name. On October 16, the first day of a new offensive against East Prussia, the easternmost part of Germany, the regiment’s pilots destroyed 29 enemy aircraft without loss. By the following month, the regiment found itself based in German territory. By the end of the year, Pouyade had been released from his command of the regiment and he, along with other veteran pilots, returned to France.

January 14, 1945, saw the Normandie-Niemen regiment start its third campaign (from Dopenen to Heiligenbeil), concentrating in the East Prussian part of the German Reich, until the formal announcement of victory in the east on May 9, the day after V-E Day in western Europe. By the end of the war, the regiment had shot down 273 enemy aircraft and had received many citations and decorations. The USSR expressed its gratitude to the regiment by offering 37 of the unit’s Yak-3 fighters to France. The pilots returned to a heroes' welcome in Paris on June 20, 1945.

Its flag bore the testimony of its battle experience, with names such as Bryansk, Orel, Ielnia, Smolensk, Königsberg (later renamed Kaliningrad by the Soviets), and Pillau. It received the following decorations: from France, the Légion d'Honneur, the Croix de la Libération, the Médaille Militaire, the Croix de Guerre with six palmes; from the USSR, it received the Order of the Red Banner and the Order of Alexander Nevsky, with eleven citations between the two orders. Individual pilots Marcel Albert, Marcel Lefèvre, Jacques André and Roland de La Poype were appointed Heroes of the Soviet Union.

The remaining Yak-3 fighter aircraft have now dwindled down to one which is on static display at Le Bourget's Air and Space Museum/Musée de l’air et de l’espace.

Related units

In the Russian Federation there is a regiment, also called Normandie-Niémen (or 18-й гвардейский Витебский дважды Краснознаменный ордена Суворова второй степени истребительный полк ВВС России "Нормандия - Неман" - in Russian). It is deployed near Ussuriysk, a city in the Russian Far East, as part of the 11th Air Army. The regiment maintains the traditions of French-Soviet/Russian combat friendship.

Popular culture

The 1960 Franco-Russian film Normandie-Niémen directed by Jean Dréville and Damir Viatich-Berejnykh, relates the arrival in Russia of the first twenty pilots for intensive training and the formation of the squadron.


  • ;Yakovlev UT-2: Basic training aircraft, used for training between 1 and 18th December, 1942.
  • ;Polikarpov Po-2: Initially Po-2s were used for training (between 1 and 18th December, 1942), later were used for liaison and courier duties.
  • ;Yakovlev Yak-7V: Advanced training aircraft used for operational training between December 1942 and January 25th, 1943. These aircraft were not owned by French unit.
  • ;Yakovlev Yak-1b: Fighter aircraft used between January 19th and March 22nd for advanced and dogfight training, later used as fighter aircraft. Initially Normandie-Niemen received 6 aircraft, next 8 were sent in March 1943 and last 4 at the end of April 1943. Since June 1943 Jak-1bs were used for training of new pilots and remained in Normandie-Niemen till the end of that year.
  • ;Yakovlev Yak-9D: Fighter aircraft used for training in Tula between early June 1944 and late July 1944. Two Yak-9Ds were still used in September 10th, 1944.along such type theirs receiving some examples of Yak-9T,tactical ground support variant in same period.
  • ;Yakovlev Yak-3: Main fighter aircraft of Normandie-Niemen used between end of July 1944 and May 1945. 37 Yak-3s were handed over to French Air Force and were used between June 1945 and April 1947.
  • ;Yakovlev Yak-6: Transport aircraft of Normandie-Niemen.

See also


  • Normandie Niemen, Yves Courrière, Omnibus, 2004 ISBN 2-258-06171-7
  • Un du Normandie-Niemen, Roger Sauvage, Poche, 1971 ISBN B0000DOP3V


External links

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