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Russian, French scouts to recover WW II fighter plane, pilot’s remains from swamp

The plane was brought down on August 31, 1943
Yakovlev-9 aircraft
Yakovlev-9 aircraft

MOSCOW, August 7. /TASS/. A joint Russian-French expedition is expected to recover a wartime fighter plane from a swamp near the village of Byvalki in Smolensk region in a hope to find the remains of Captain Paul de Forges, a pilot of the Regiment Normandie-Niemen, who was shot down there on August 31, 1943.

"We’d like to find the plane, concealed inside which is the body of Paul de Forges, the Captain of the Normandie-Niemen regiment," French archeologist and historian Pierre Malinowski told a news conference at TASS headquarters. "The plane was brought down on August 31, 1943, and fell into a swamp."

He said the specialists had drawn a conclusion on the location of the pilot’s body inside the plane after archival research and interviews with local residents who said they had seen a pilot inside the Yakovlev-9 fighter.

On August 31, 1943, two planes, including the one piloted by De Forges, did not return from a mission.

Normandie-Niemen fighter regiment had the Yakovlev-9s on its table of equipment.

Excavation at the site of the plane’s collapse will take about seven weeks, Malinowski said, calling it an extremely important venture.

"This find might make history, as we’ll recover the remains of Normandie-Niemen’s leading pilot," he said, stressing the importance of the project for a buildup of Russian-French relations and for public memory about the two countries’ common history.

Malinowski said that De Forges’s two sons were alive and they were amazed by the news that their father’s remains could be recovered and finally taken back home.

Konstantin Dirks, a leading expert at the Russian Defense Ministry’s Expeditionary Center who represents Russia in this project, spoke about the role of the Defense Ministry.

"Reports on the project appeared in May 2018," he said. "Our organization engages in the search and recoveries by extending technological expertise. The 90th Detached Specialized Search Battalion does the exhumations and identifications, while the Expeditionary Center provides technical works."

"The Western Military District has delegated from thirty to forty people to the effort," Dirks said. "A field camp will be put up for the crews of tractor trucks, lifting cranes and excavators."

"Also, the task force includes eight divers and five exhumation experts from the Western military district," he said.

The access roads from the field camp to the site of the plane’s collapse will be laid. The divers operating special equipment will begin to dredge the silt in the swamp after that. Upon completion of these works, the organizers will invite the French side to identification of the remains.

Paul de Forges was born into an aristocratic family at Nantes on June 28, 1912. He entered military service in 1931. He fought on the side of the Free French Forces in the initial stages of the war and joined the Normandie-Niemen regiment in June 1943.

On August 31, 1943, Capt. De Forges engaged in a dogfight with numerous Focke-Wulf fighter aircraft of Luftwaffe 45 km to the southeast of Smolensk. He did not report to the base after it along with the beginning pilot, Jean de Sibour.

Following his non-return, the commanders declared him Mort pour la France [‘Dead for the Sake of France’].