The Soviet-French agreement on the forming on the U.S.S.R. territory a French air squadron as part of the 303rd air division of the 1st air army to carry out military operations on the Soviet-German front during the second world war was signed sixty years ago, on November 25, 1942. The formation of the 1st detached fighter air regiment Combating France, known as the Normandie-Neman regiment, began in the city of Ivanovo at the end of November 1942.
Personnel of the French squadron Normandie consisting of 15 flyers-volunteers arrived in the U.S.S.R. on November 28, 1942. The squadron was formed mainly from the fighter group based at the French air base Rayak in the Middle East. On December 4, 1942 the Normandie squadron was included in the Soviet Air Force. The members of the first group of French flyers already boasted 19 air victories scored in the skies of France, England and the Mediterranean.
In March 1943 the squadron entered combat operations. The flyers fought on the Yak-1B airplanes of Soviet make. On July 5, 1943, the squadron, having received a regular personnel replacement, was turned into a regiment consisting of French flyers and Soviet technical personnel. The regiment already included 61 flyers and 55 new Yak-9 aircraft.
In 1943-1945 the French flyers made more than 5,000 combat sorties, participated in 869 aerial combats, shot down 273 and damaged 80 German airplanes. They took part in the liberation of Orel, Bryansk, Smolensk, Belarus and Lithuania, and in taking Gumbinen, Insterburg, Koenigsberg and Pilau. The honourable name of Neman was awarded to the regiment for its distinguished services in the battles to liberate Lithuania and in the crossing of the Neman river. As many as 42 French flyers perished in the air-to-air battles. The names of all the flyers who perished are coined in gold letters on the memorial plaque on house 29 in the Kropotkinskaya Embankment in Moscow where the French military mission was seated in the past.
In 1945, after the victory over Nazi Germany, the flyers flew to their homeland on their Yak-3 fighters gifted by the Soviet government to France. The Normandie-Neman air unit continues to exist in the French Air Force at the Rheims air base. The Association of Veteran Flyers operates in France.
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