346 Squadron and 347 Squadron were the only French Air Force heavy bomber squadron of the Allied air force during the Second World War. They were based at RAF Elvington, York from June 1944 until October 1945 and on 16 May 1944. No. 346 ‘Guyenne’ Squadron RAF was officially formed at Elvington, followed by No. 347 ‘Tunisie’ Squadron RAF on 20 June 1944.
‘Guyenne’ was pronounced operational on 1 June 1944, and attacked the Maisy positions during the night of 5 June, prior to the D-Day invasion. Jean Calmel, then a captain with the unit, wrote the following account of the Maisy attack in his book Night Pilot.
5th Elvington Air Base, York … That evening at Elvington base no one knew for certain of this operation – at least among the crews. Admittedly, at the general briefing the particular precautions which were taken for our flight over England rather surprised us. The intelligence officer had warned us that 50 square miles of the coast would be fringed with searchlights rising vertically half a mile apart. We were absolutely forbidden to enter this square.
As we learnt later this was the zone from which aircraft and gliders carrying parachutists took off. Moreover, the target that night was a special one. We were given orders to bombard a heavy German battery installed at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula.
One hundred and fifty bombers were e specially detailed for this raid. The disparity between the means and the apparent end were obvious. We easily understood the next day when we learnt that this battery, silenced by our mass raid, had allowed the fleet to sail close in to the shore.
The flight went without incident. England was covered with medium cloud which hid the searchlights. The markers were clearly spotted despite a light mist which made them less bright than usual. Brion took off in B for Baker. He had a full bomb-load because the target was so near home. In actual fact we never had the pleasure of having an easy take-off with a lightly loaded aircraft. If the target was near then it was a full bomb-load, if it was a long way away it was a full load of petrol.
For the Frenchmen it was an opportunity to attack the Germans on French soil. This was something that up to this point had been avoided in case the Germans used it for propaganda purposes. Their bombing undoubtedly created mayhem on the ground and would have assisted the Allied approach to the beaches. For the Frenchmen it was the moment they had waited for – D-Day and the start of the liberation of France.
Every year we have the Groupe Lourds veterans, families and members return to Maisy for a ceremony at the memorial in the centre of Grandcamp Maisy, followed by tour and ceremony at the Maisy Battery.
At the Maisy Battery we have proudly shown our monument to tourists for the past 8 years explaining and discussing the courage and bravery of the French Airmen. The monument is displayed alongside our US Rangers monument.