Sitting Bull’s Warhawks

Casablanca, 9 January 1943.

Official caption: “Line-up of 13 P-40 United States Warhawks which Americans recently presented to the Fighting French air forces at an airport somewhere in North Africa on behalf of the people of the United States.”

Note the Curtiss Hawk 75 and at least two Dewoitine D.520s inside the hangar, still wearing Vichy-French stripes. A C-47 Skytrain is visible in the background. U.S. Signal Corps Photo via LOC LC-USW33-000982-ZC. 

These former USAAF 33rd Fighter Group P-40F Warhawks had (unofficially) been transferred to the Free French Armee de l’Air on 25 November 1942, just weeks after the Torch landings, during which they had arrived on the continent via the escort carrier USS Chenango (CVE-28). Meanwhile, the 33rd FG moved up to P-40L models until they transferred to the Far East in 1944 and moved to P-47s. 

The P-40Fs shown above were the property of the Groupe de Chasse GC II/5, dubbed the Lafayette Escadrille, after the American volunteer group of the Great War era whose distinctive “Sitting Bull” logo they carry. As the French pilots had been flying Hawk 75s previously– a type that was basically the uglier older sister to the P-40– transition was likely easy. 

Commanded by the exiled White Russian Kostia “MadKot” Rozanoff, GC II/5 flew missions against Axis troops in Tunisia in 1942 and 1943, and covered convoys through the Med.

Renumbered Escadron de Chasse 2/4 in 1947, La Fayette went on to see service in Indochina and Algeria and currently has a nuclear strike role (dissuasion nucléaire) in Metropolitan France, flying Rafale Cs out of Saint-Dizier.

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