After finishing their basic training at Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina, the free French pilots of Class 44-J (9th Detachment) moved on to Turner-Field, Albany, Georgia for their advanced training before receiving their wings. They left Sumter on the 9th of September 1944 to travel through Savannah and Brunswick en route to Albany.
In Albany, it was Lieutenant Cordier along with Lieutenant Mantoux, who received them. Their chief instructor was the American Captain Griffiths, a former member of the French Foreign Legion. According to the French memoirs of the time, Captain Griffin was a ‘colorful individual who spoke French like the Parisians of the street of the time and who consumed whisky 24 hours of 24. His briefings after a night of carousing were considered to be spectacular as he prepared them for a cross-country, face unshaved, bloodshot eyes, waving his fingers toward the regional map and landing them somewhere in saying, ‘today, we fly ... here.’
The airplane upon which the French trained was known as the "north-American B-25 Mitchell equipped with two powerful motors, "Wright Cyclone" – each having Horsepower of 1750. Although this plane was used mainly in the Pacific (everyone has seen the film "thirty Seconds over Tokyo where a formation of B-25 under the orders of Colonel Doolittle bombed Tokyo), the plane was also used in Europe. Along with the B-26 Marauder, it represents the middle class of bombers used by American aviation of the time. The Model J was equipped with a 75m/m gun in the nose. Other versions of the B-25 carried 4 to six machine guns of 12,7 m/m.
Before using the 100 or so B-25s based at Turner Field, the Free French pilots had been taught to taxi out slowly and in making zigzags. In comparison, taxiing in the B-25 where front visibility is total was done very rapidly. According to the French report of the period, ‘ There is no danger, the plane has very good brakes."
The Free French were training at the same time another group of Americans were training. According to the French, "the rhythm of the flights is always maintained. The respect of the calendar was absolute. We had to regain the time lost to bad weather. It was an exhausting rhythm.
Through the training on the B-25, the pilots were trained in instrument flight, allowing them both day and night flight. Unfortunately, one of the French sergeants could not resist the temptation of buzzing the detachment. He flew so low that he caught some branches of a tree in his plane, which remained there until after his return to the parking place. Needless to say, this Sargent did not receive his wings!
The group, class 44-J received their silver wings in a ceremony the 20th of November. They had 300 hours of flight of which 40 were at night. They received their wings with a legitimate pride and joy.
The French telling of their story at Turner Field is, in itself, colorful and shows the joy and amazement they felt at much they experienced that was American. We are, therefore, including in this Internet page, their story as they told it in French.