In one of the most unusual flying careers of the Second World War, French fighter pilot Pierre Le Gloan became an ace fighting against the Axis–and then became an ace fighting against the Allies.
French pilot Pierre Le Gloan and his Dewoitine D.520 fighter, in Vichy livery.
Chief Warrant Officer Pierre Le Gloan was a Flight Leader with the French Air Force, flying the Morane-Saulnier MS-406 fighter, when World War 2 started in September 1939. At the outbreak of the war, Le Gloan’s squadron was based in Chartres and was assigned to defend Paris. Although the MS-206 had been introduced just five years ago, it was already outclassed by the German Messershmitt Bf-109. But Le Gloan proved to be a natural fighter pilot. On November 23, 1939, he scored his first aerial victory, shooting down a German Dornier Do-17 reconnaissance bomber near Paris. On March 2, 1940, he downed another Do-17, and when the Germans invaded France in June 1940, Le Gloan shot down two Heinkel He-111 bombers within a few days.
On June 1, after Italy declared war on France, Le Gloan’s squadron was transferred to an airfield in southern France to defend against any bombing raids by the Italians. Upon arrival, the unit had its MS-406’s replaced with new Dewoitine D.520 fighters. The Dewoitine was slower than the German Bf-109 but more maneuverable. On June 13, Le Gloan’s flight intercepted a group of Italian Fiat Br.20 Cicogna bombers. Le Gloan shot down two of them, giving him “ace” status with 6 victories.
On June 15, Le Gloan and his wingman were scrambled to intercept an incoming flight of 12 Italian Fiat Cr.42 Falco fighters. Le Gloan’s regular plane was undergoing maintenance, and he took off in one of the spare Dewoitines. The Italian biplanes were no match for the newer French fighters, and Le Gloan shot down three of them, while his wingman shot down one before his guns stopped working and he had to leave. On the way home alone, Le Gloan ran into another group of Italian planes, and shot down another Cr.42 fighter and a Br.20 bomber, giving him five aerial victories in just one hour, and bringing his total score to 11. He was now one of the highest-scoring Allied aces.
On June 20, Le Gloan’s squadron was transferred to North Africa, in a bid by France to prevent as much of its forces as possible from falling into German hands, but when France surrendered to Germany on June 22, Le Gloan and the rest of his unit fell under the command of the collaborationist Vichy government. Le Gloan suddenly found himself flying for the Axis as an ally of Germany.
In May 1941, the Vichy French sent Le Gloan’s squadron to Syria, where he found himself in combat with British forces. On June 8, 1941, he shot down his first Allied aircraft, an RAF Hurricane. The next day, he shot down two more. On July 15 he intercepted a flight of Gloster Gladiators and shot one of them down, but in the process was jumped by two more who damaged his plane and forced him to make a belly landing. By the middle of July Le Gloan had shot down a total of 6 Hurricanes and 1 Gladiator, making him an ace for the Vichy and bringing his total score to 18.
In July 1941 Le Gloan’s squadron was transferred to Algeria. When the British and Americans landed in North Africa in November 1942, Le Gloan’s squadron did not fly against them, and when their airfield was captured the squadron joined the Free French forces. They were re-equipped in May 1943 with American P-39 Airacobra fighters. Le Gloan once again found himself flying for the Allies. The outdated P-39 was unsuitable for air combat against German and Italian fighters, however, and despite Le Gloan’s impressive air combat record, the squadron was assigned to routine shore patrol duties.
On September 11, 1943, Le Gloan and a wingman had just taken off for a patrol when his plane developed engine trouble and lost its hydraulics. Instead of bailing out, Le Gloan signaled to his wingman that he would return to the airfield and make a belly landing. However, Le Gloan did not drop his external gas tank–it is not known if the release mechanism had failed or if he simply did not realize it was still attached (the French fighter planes didn’t have belly tanks). The fully-loaded gas tank exploded on contact with the ground, killing Le Gloan.
With 18 confirmed air victories (4 German, 7 Italian, and 7 British), Le Gloan was the fourth-highest-ranking French ace of the Second World War, and the only one who shot down at least five planes from both sides.