Among the non-British pilots, at least 141 were Polish, 84 Czech and 28 Belgian, but only 13 were French and none were Dutch, Norwegian or Danish.

The reasons why there were many Polish, Czech and Commonwealth pilots are clear enough, as are the reasons for the relatively low number of Australian pilots.

The reasons for the lack of Norwegian and Danish pilots can also perhaps be explained: there weren’t many of them in the first place, and reaching England was probably more difficult for them than the French, Belgian, Polish and Czech pilots who fled at the fall of France.

France, however, had Europe’s largest allied air force at the time of the Battle of France (764 fighters), which presumably means they also had far more pilots, yet only 13 or 14 French pilots fought in the Battle of Britain, compared to 28 pilots from Belgium (81 fighters). And what happened to the Dutch (up to 76 fighters)? Of course, some were killed in action before the Battle of Britain, but that was also true for the Poles (about 280 fighters in Set. 1939) and Czechs.

I’m wondering if the formation of Free French Forces destined for North Africa had anything to do with the lack of French fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. However, given that the RAF had more planes than pilots, that surviving French pilots had invaluable combat experience (as did the Poles and Czechs), and that the fall of Britain would have been catastrophic for the allies, surely the Battle of Britain had to take priority over anything else?

Note: All the figures cited for fighter planes refer to operational planes. It seems fair to assume that the number of operational fighters was not hugely different from the number of available pilots.

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    It seems the French formed a bomber squadron in RAF command - since bombers weren't used in the BoB, they wouldn't be listed as part of that action. A handful of French fliers flew in a couple of RAF fighter squadrons.
    – user13123
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 10:14
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    Also, the Free French did form their own Air Force, but the majority of their pilots were over in Africa and not England.
    – user13123
    Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 10:16
  • @HorusKol. Yes, most were stationed outside England but "Initially at least, the Free French forces were drawn mostly from the French colonial empire, rather than from metropolitan France." (from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_France#Composition) - the 'initially' bit is important here. So what happened to all those fighter pilots from metropolitan France? There were far more of them than there were Belgians, yet twice as many Belgians fought in the Battle of Britain. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 13:10
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    It had more to do with French attitudes to the chain of command at that time. Take a look at my answer to a question about a Churchill quote. It's probably worth reading the speech in full to see exactly what he was talking about. Commented Dec 2, 2017 at 14:00

4 Answers 4


In most cases, the respective pilot participations reflected the postures of the respective militaries. For instance, the Netherlands surrendered only five days into the invasion, under the orders of its commander in chief, Henri Winkelman, who won "paroles" for his men. The Belgians fought 18 days and surrendered only at the behest of King Leopold, who had taken personal control of the military. This decision was against the advice of his government, and he also elected to stay in Belgium, unlike Allied leaders who fled their countries. The French surrendered under Marshal Petain, technically a civilian leader, but actually a war hero from World War I. With the notable exception of Charles deGaulle, the rest of the French military was also "defeatist." AS HorusKol noted, deGaulle's Free French used pilots originally based in North Africa, not France.

On the other hand, the Czechs surrendered only under the direction of the civilian authorities (President Benes) with heavy prodding at Munich from Britain's Neville Chamberlain; the Czech military was more than willing to fight. Poland never really surrendered as a nation, although most individual units did. Part of the army survived by going into exile or maintaining the largest underground, resistance force in Europe. (Much of the latter morphed into the Home Army.) All this meant that many who were willing and able to fight were enabled to do so.

The lack of Danish and Norwegian pilots can be explained by their scarcity, as you said. Otherwise, they were opposite cases. Denmark surrendered after a day, Norway held out as long as it could, and its merchant marine actually went over to England.

  • "Never really surrendered except formally..." -- That's the wrong way around. Poland never surrendered formally, but all Polish forces that did not escape to Romania, Hungary or Lithuania did.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 9:35
  • @DevSolar: Changed that to "Poland never really surrendered as a nation, although individual units did." I would say that the elements that went underground and formed the Home Army did not surrender.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 9:39
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    I still find that bit a bit partisan (pardon the pun). It still reads as if only some ("individual") units of the Polish army surrendered, and the rest just "turned" into the Home Army. One, not all Polish resistance was "the Home Army". Two, as far as I can see at a glance virtually all military units that didn't escape, surrendered. You could make the point that this makes any soldiers of those units that "went underground" effectively deserters. That would be too hard, but do you get my angle? And every resistance movement "encourages anyone willing and able to fight"...
    – DevSolar
    Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 9:56

In regards to pilots from Metropolitan France not heading to England - many Czech and Polish forces (including pilots) fled over land borders into then-neutral Hungary and Romania in 1939 and were able to make their way to Britain in plenty of time to start being integrated into RAF and Army Command by the Battle of Britain in August 1940. Even then, it was a little while before they trusted to fly into combat.

The Battle of France was lost only a few weeks before the Battle of Britain. The Germans trapped much of the British and French along the coast, and the only land route was Spain, which was neutral but rather unsympathetic to the Allies. In addition, the British-led evacuation (the most famous part of which was centred at Dunkirk) from France prioritised British forces ahead of French. This made it harder for any French servicemen to make it to Britain to join the Free French there by the time of the Battle of Britain.

Further, as TomAU and Sempaiscuba points out, much of the French military stayed with the surrendering government. Whether this was exacerbated by distrust caused by things like the evacuation, or the scuttling of the French fleet is hard to gauge.

Eventually, Metropolitan French pilots did make it to England - but even by 1941, two-thirds of the Free French were in Africa.

  • @HorusKol: The Dunkirk evacuation ABSOLUTELY DID NOT favour British forces over French. Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 22:34
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    @PieterGeerkens - the first evacuations from Dunkirk during Operation Dynamo were on the 28th May, the first French to be evacuated were on the 30th, and most of the French (about 75,000 of the 100,000 which were evacuated) weren't taken until the British rearguard were leaving on the night of the 2nd/3rd. 40,000 French troops were left as a rearguard and surrendered on the 4th June. The early prioritisation of British troops was actually on order from a French Admiral (until Churchill insisted on more equal treatment).
    – user13123
    Commented Dec 3, 2017 at 23:49
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    re. fleeing to neutral countries - aren't neutral countries supposed to intern the fleeing belligerents? avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hague05.asp#art11
    – user69715
    Commented Apr 26, 2018 at 0:49
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    At the beginning, Czech pilots often escaped to France, where they fought during German invasion and only later escaped to Britain. E.g. the BoB ace, Josef Frantisek, fought in Polish AF, then in French AF and then in RAF.
    – Edheldil
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 9:30
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    @user69715: During a May 31 meeting in Paris with Churchill, over 60% of what would be the total evacuation already complete (194k of 338k - "Their FInest Hour" page 115), Admiral Darlan writes: "... the troops holding the bridgehead shall withdraw and embark, The British forces embarking first." (ibid page 111) Churchill had to repeatedly insist, to both the French commanders and government, that the evacuation proceed *bras-dessus, bras-dessus; and still to the end many French units refused. On June 4, the final run to the beach was made solely to evacuate 26k French. Commented Feb 9 at 19:19

The Dutch army surrendered on May 14 1940. The military was not taking into prisoner of war camps, but released on the promise of good behavior. Most Dutch navy units did not surrender, but continued to fight from England. During the battle of The Netherlands most of the air farce, pardon, that should be 'force', was destroyed on the ground or in combat. Much later in the war the Dutch army was required to report to prisoner of war camps.

It wasn't easy to escape the occupied country. People who did were called Engelandvaarders. One Fokker G1 was later during the war flown to England by Fokker (civilian) personnel who fooled the Germans, saying it was a test flight. This plane was not used in combat. It was tested and after that left to rot away.

So most officers were honor bound to remain where they where. Small detachments or individuals were able to join the evacuation of Dunkirk. The Marechaussee (military police) got 200 man out that way. They served during the entire war as palace guard to queen Wilhelmina who was in exile. How many air force officers escaped I don't know, but it can't have been many.

There were 3 Dutch squadrons during the war in RAF service: 320 321 and 322 squadrons. Do mind that the air contribution of the Dutch wasn't great, but the air farce wasn't much to begin with. The Dutch did contribute much more with their navy and merchant marine ships, especially the latter.

With regard to the Dunkirk evacuation: those Dutch MP's had a bunch of Fallschirm jaeger with them. They were taken prisoner of war during the battle for The Hague. German parachute troops tried to capture the royal family and the seat of government, but failed after fierce fighting. Some were taken prisoner and were transported via Dunkirk to England. Later they were sent to Canadian POW camps.


My father Johannes Scheffer, moved to Australia, in 1955, with my mother Vivienne, to have 4 children . My name is Mark Scheffer, and contrary to this claim, Dad flew special missions, dropping operatives in the dark, and training RAF pilots. As , dad could speak both German and Dutch, he was initially treated as a spy by both sides, after he was a German POW...but was decommissioned as a Flight lieutenant in,1955. Your records have gaps , because no-one was interested in keeping War Records after the War.

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    The question appears to be about the Battle of Britain specifically (i.e. between 10 July to 31 October 1940). Was you father in Britain during that period?
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Feb 9 at 10:56

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