Normandie-Niemen was a squadron of French pilots, later expanded to a regiment of three squadrons, that served with the 1st Air Army of the Soviet Air Force between 1943 and 1945. It originated from the desire of General Charles de Gaulle that French personnel should serve on all fronts of the war. It was officially formed on September 1, 1942, and the personnel arrived at their first training base at Ivanovo, about 120 miles north-east of Moscow in late November.
After a period of training, the regiment took part in its first operations around Polotniani-Zavod, to the west of Tula. They flew the new Yak-1 fighter and were led by Commandant Jean Tulasne. During the summer of 1943, they participated in the Battle of Kursk and the Orel offensive. Tulasne was killed, and Pierre Pouyade took over as Commandant. After refitting and retraining in late 1943 and early 1944, the group’s second campaign was fought from Doubrovka, near Vitebsk, through Belarus and into East Prussia. At the end of 1944, Pouyade and a number of other veteran pilots returned to France, with Louis Delfino assuming command.
The squadron’s final actions took place in East Prussia in 1945, including the assault on Königsberg in April. The squadron returned to France on June 20, 1945, landing to a heroes’ welcome at Le Bourget airfield.
In total, Normandie-Niemen pilots flew 5,240 combat sorties, accounting for 273 confirmed enemy aircraft destroyed and 37 more probable kills. Forty-two of the unit’s pilots were killed. Four Normandie-Niemen pilots—Marcel Albert, Marcel Lefèvre, Jacques André and Roland de La Poype—were awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.
The inscription on the monument reads “Памятный знак установлен в честь французских летчиков полка Нормандия-Неман, сражавшихся в годы Великой Отечественной Войны против фашистких захватчиков и участвовавших в Восточно-Прусской операции и штурме города-крепости Кенигсберг.” — “Memorial sign erected in honour of the French pilots of the Normandie-Niemen regiment that fought in the Great Patriotic War against the fascist invaders and took part in the East Prussian operation and the storming of the fortress of Koenigsberg.”
The monument stands on the pathway along the bank of the Пруд нижний (Lower Pond) lake, just a few minutes walk from the heart of the city centre. The Kaliningrad History and Art Museum, on the opposite bank of the lake, has an exhibit on the Battle of Königsberg that includes a number of artefacts relating to Normandie-Niemen.