The “Normandy-Niemen” regiment on an airfield in Stuttgart
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We are in Stuttgart, 1945. Let’s for a moment forget this off-camera shot to explore how this photo pays tribute to the “Normandy-Niemen” regiment, the most decorated fighter group in French aviation history, whose first victories were won in April 1943 and their last exactly two years later.
The entire composition of the picture underscores the extraordinary dynamism of this unit. Formed in August 1942 by General de Gaulle and deployed three months later 250 km north of Moscow to support the Red Army, it represented Free France on this remote front. Honour is thus bestowed on these voluntary conscripts (of which 21 pilots out of 97 would be titled Compagnons de la Libération), but also the military alliance that our regiment illustrated by its name that bound Normandy with the Russian river Niemen, after devastating battles and the crossing of this river westwards, and later Stalin’s will to highlight the courage of these aviators with this new title. The victories therefore united the enlisted French and the YAK, a Soviet plane emblazoned with a star and lightening, a plane selected by the pilots themselves to carry out their missions.
The three soldiers in our photograph assume, through their posture, three distinct functions: the calm pose of the pilot, Lieutenant Robert Marchi, before take-off, and an interesting, almost mechanical, interaction between the two Soviet servicemen busy readying the engine.
The location of the shot, the Stuttgart airfield, also reminds us that the Normandy-Niemen regiment was the first French unit to be stationed on German soil, in November 1944.
The brotherhood in arms finds a beautiful incarnation here, between men and between men and machine too. Stalin congratulated this synergy by presenting the YAKS as gifts to the French pilots on their return to France. “