Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1996 2000

Eagle Biography

Marcel Albert

During World War II, Marcel Albert served in three different air forces and fought over Western Europe, North Africa, the Soviet Union, and Germany. Albert was born in Paris in late 1917. His father, a mechanic, had fought in World War I, had been captured by the Germans, and was later repatriated during a prisoner of war exchange. Albert developed an interest in all things mechanical and expected to follow in his father's footsteps as mechanic. After high school, he went to work for Renault building automobile gearboxes. During this period, Albert developed an interest in flying. He applied and was accepted for pilot training in 1938. With the rank of sergeant, he began training at Caudron (near Embere) from May to December 1938. While at Caudron, Albert earned his pilot's badge and flew Caudron and Potez biplanes. After his training at Cuadron,he was sent to Istres for advanced training.

In early 1939, his flying skill led to his selection for fighters, and he was briefly sent to Etamps before being posted to the Centre le Instruction Centrie (fighter school) at Chartres. He flew many aircraft including the French-built Bloch 152 and Morane-Saulnier 406, and the American-built Curtiss Hawk. In February 1940, Albert was posted to an operational squadron near Cannes on the Mediterranean. Escadrille GC I/3 was equipped with France's newest fighter, the Dewontine 520. This fighter was more than a match for the German Messerschmitt Me 109. However, less than 300 of these excellent fighters were available before the fall of France. On 13 May 1940, the squadron was transferred to Wez Thuisy, near Reims, and immediately began operations. On 14 May, Albert shot down his first enemy aircraft, a Dornier 17 bomber, which was confirmed. Later that same day, he shot down an Me-109, but it was not confirmed.

He flew daily until the armistice, claiming another German bomber, which was again unconfirmed. The Vichy French government soon sent Albert's squadron to Algiers. From June 1940, while in northwest Africa, Albert flew missions against his allies of the Royal Air Force (RAF), including raids against Gibraltar. On 14 October 1941, he and two other pilots tricked their commanding officer and flew to Gibraltar, where they surrendered their Dewontine fighters and joined General de Gaulle's Free French Air Force. Albert was placed aboard a French mine sweeper, and it took 1 month and four attempts for him to reach England where, upon arrival, he was mistakenly thrown in jail. After French authorities cleared up the misunderstanding, he joined the RAF, completed refresher training in an operational training unit, and was posted to 340 Squadron, Ile de France, on 14 May 1942.

Albert flew 47 missions with the RAF, damaged a Focke Wulf Fw 190, and helped escort the first raid by USAAF B-17 Flying Fortresses , on 1 August 1942. Late in 1942, Albert, 13 other pilots, and 50 mechanics left Scotland for Russia by way of North Africa and the Middle East. At Ivanovo, the French pilots received brand-new Yakovlev Yak-1 fighters and began operations in April 1943. The French were heavily engaged against the Luftwaffe, and there were many casualties. Albert was soon leading his squadron, while still a second lieutenant. In June 1943, he scored his first victory in Russia, as part of the Normandie Regiment. In July, the squadron switched from the Yak-1 to the newer Yak-9 equipped with a 37mm cannon in the nose. Albert's score steadily rose, as the unit was in continual contact with the Luftwaffe.

In recognition of his success against the Germans and his leadership of the squadron, Albert became one of the few foreign officers ever to receive the USSR's highest award for valor, the Gold Star and title "Hero of the Soviet Union." When the Germans surrendered in May 1945, Captain Albert had 23 victories confirmed during 262 combat missions. After the war, Albert was posted to the test center at L'orrange. During the summer of 1946, while practicing for an air show, his Dewontine 520 crashed on takeoff. Although he did not suffer serious injury, he asked to be posted to a non-flying unit. He was sent to Czechoslovakia, as Air Attaché. In Prague, he met his future wife. In 1948, Albert moved with his wife to the United States, where they managed a chain of restaurants.

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During 1940 and 1941, as British and Free French forces under de Gaulle attempted to topple Vichy French forces in Africa, Albert found himself in combat with his former allies of the Royal Air Force. After escorting French bombers during two raids on Gibraltar, Albert became determined to join the allies, not fight them. On 14 October 1941, Albert escaped with his aircraft to Gibraltar.

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