Free French Spitfire Hero

The Diaries of and Search For René Mouchotte

Dilip Sarkar MBE, Jan Leeming

The TV presenter and newsreader Jan Leeming reveals her journey into Mouchotte's courageous and inspirational story.
Date Published :
January 2023
Publisher :
Air World
Illustration :
50 mono illustrations
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781399040273
Pages : 320
Dimensions : 9.2 X 6.1 inches
Stock Status : Not Yet Published. Available for Pre-Order


René Mouchotte was born on 21 August 1914, at Saint Mande, Paris. He joined the Armée de l’Air for his period of military service in 1934, obtaining his flying brevet.

Though Mouchotte returned to civilian life, he was called up at the outbreak of war in 1939, becoming a Sergeant-Pilot instructor in North Africa. When France capitulated in June 1940, Mouchotte and fellow pilot Charles Guerin decided to make their way to the United Kingdom. Along with four other French pilots, Mouchotte made the short flight to Gibraltar on the morning of 30 June. From there he traveled on to Britain, being accepted into the RAF soon after their arrival.

The Battle of Britain was already several weeks old when Mouchotte was posted to 245 Squadron, then based at Aldergrove, on 11 September 1940. A week later he transferred to 615 (County of Surrey) Squadron at Prestwick. Flying Hurricanes, it was with 615 Squadron that Mouchotte became a flight commander, shot down a Junkers Ju 88, and earned a Croix de Guerre. He moved to Turnhouse as Deputy ‘A’ Flight Commander with 340 (Free French) Squadron. He was promoted to captain in March 1942 and awarded the DFC.

On 18 January 1943, Mouchotte returned to Turnhouse to form and command 341 Squadron, which transferred to Biggin Hill. On 15 May 1943, Mouchette and Squadron Leader E.F.J Charles shared the sector’s 1000th victory. Two days later, Mouchotte destroyed a Me 109.

Mouchotte failed to return from a bomber escort to the proposed V2 launch site at Eperlecques, near St. Omer, on 27 August 1943. He was reported ‘Missing’. Later evidence emerged that his body had been washed up on the beach at Middelkerke, Belgium, on 3 September and that he was buried in the town’s cemetery.

Commandant René Gaston Octave Jean Mouchotte DFC, CdeG – one of ‘The Few’ of the Battle of Britain – became one of the most famous Free French pilots of the Second World War, during which he served alongside such notables as the legendary Group Captain ‘Sailor’ Malan and the Wing Commander Al Deere. It is Commandant Mouchotte’s diaries, written between 1940 and 1943, that form the basis of this book. The diaries are introduced and contextualized by the renowned aviation historian Dilip Sarkar, who also forensically examines the story behind Biggin Hill’s 1000th ‘kill’ and the circumstances of René’s last flight, adding new detail to both events.

The TV presenter and newsreader Jan Leeming also reveals her journey into Mouchotte’s courageous and inspirational story – one that began with sponsoring a name on the Sir Christopher Foxley Norris Wall of Remembrance at the Battle of Britain Memorial, Capel-le-Ferne; leaving a letter in the Mouchotte Family Tomb in the famous Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris; a meeting with René’s 101 year old Sister Jacqueline; the realization that his Battle of Britain Medals had never been forwarded to his family - an omission which was happily rectified. Jacqueline lived long enough to receive the medals which, after her death were presented to the Mouchotte family by the British Ambassador Sir (Lord) Peter Ricketts at the Ambassador’s Residence in Paris. Finally after many years of research and perseverance, Jan had a documentary about her Search for René Mouchotte broadcast in 2013 on BBC South East; BBC South and BBC North. Later that year she was invited to Gibraltar where the RAF HQ was renamed Mouchotte Buildings.

About The Author

A prolific author, DILIP SARKAR has been obsessed with the Second World War for a lifetime. An MBE for ‘services to aviation history’, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, unsurprisingly, for a retired police detective with a First in Modern History, his work has always been evidence-based - often challenging long-accepted myths. Firmly focussed on the ‘human’ experience of war, his many previous works include the authorized biographies of Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader and Air Vice-Marshal ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, the best-selling Spitfire Manual and The Few. Dilip has presented at such prestigious venues as Oxford University, the Imperial War and RAF Museums, and National Memorial Arboretum; he works on TV documentaries, both on and off screen.

In 2007 the well-known former BBC newsreader, TV presenter and celebrity, JAN LEEMING was moved to sponsor a name on the Christopher Foxley-Norris Memorial Wall at the Battle of Britain Memorial. Having French ancestry, Jan decided to sponsor a Free French pilot. She chose René Mouchotte; a decision which launched her on an emotional journey of discovery.

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