Eagle Profile

Marcel Albert flew fighters from France, England, and the Soviet Union during World War II. Born in Paris in 1917, he inherited mechanical talent from his father and, after high school, went to work building gearboxes for Renault. He also developed an interest in aviation and applied for military pilot training. In May 1938, he began to fly and earned his pilot’s badge in Caudron and Potez biplanes. Albert went to Istres for advanced training and then earned a post at the fighter instruction center at Chartres. He flew the French-built Bloch 152 and Morane-Saulnier 406, and the American Curtiss Hawk 75. In February 1940, he joined an operational fighter squadron equipped with the new Dewontine 520. When the Germans began their blitzkrieg into France, the squadron moved from its base near Cannes north to a field near Reims. On 14 May, Albert shot down a Dornier 17 bomber and, later in the day, a Messerschmitt Me 109 fighter, which was never confirmed. He shot down another bomber, also never confirmed, before the armistice.

The Vichy French government moved his squadron to Algeria and, in the summer of 1940, air and naval units of the United Kingdom attacked Vichy forces in North Africa. Albert flew escort for Vichy bombers on an aborted raid on Gibraltar and then, on 14 October, he and two other pilots flew to Gibraltar and surrendered their fighters. After four attempts to reach England by ship, Albert was successful. At first, he was thrown in jail but was soon released and joined the Royal Air Force (RAF). After refresher training, he went to No. 340 Squadron and flew 47 missions in the Supermarine Spitfire. In late 1942, Albert and 12 other pilots, along with 50 mechanics, left for the Soviet Union by way of North Africa and Persia. The Normandie group, as they were first called, trained on the Yakovlev Yak-7 and then, in April 1943, entered combat flying the Yak-1.

In June 1943, Albert scored his first victory in Russia. The next month, the Normandie pilots switched to the newer Yak-9. As the Soviets pushed the Germans west, Albert’s victories steadily rose. To recognize his combat and leadership skills, the Soviets awarded Albert their highest award for valor, the Gold Star and title, “Hero of the Soviet Union.” At war’s end, Captain Albert had flown 262 combat missions and had at least 23 victories. Next, he went to a test center, and, in 1946, practicing for an air show, he crashed; fortunately, he was not seriously injured. Sent to Czechoslovakia as Air Attaché, he met his future wife, who worked at the United States Embassy. Albert left the military and, in 1948, moved to the States. He managed a chain of restaurants for some years, then retired with his wife, Freda, in Florida.

Albert was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of Eagles in 1996 and subsequently honored in 2000, respectively.

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1996 Lithograph
2000 Lithograph

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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.

In December 1942, French pilots arrived in Russia and trained in Yakovlev fighters. Entering combat in the spring, they fought in the Battle of Orel in July. They performed well in the Soviet Army's 1943 offensive and in January 1944, became the Normandie Regiment. The French airmen distinguished themselves during the crossing of the Niemen River in 1944 and, in October, became the Normandie-Niemen Regiment. In two years of combat, Albert and his fellow pilots downed 273 enemy aircraft and became the top fighter unit of the French Air Force.