Belgian Air Force
Evere Air base in 1919. The Belgian Air service was
displayed on one of the first occasions since the end of the
war. The aeroplanes on display included a Rumpler of German
origin put back in service by the Belgians
1919 the Aviation Militaire (Belgian Air Force) had eight
squadrons, three of them fighter squadrons, including these
types of aircraft: Harriot H.D.1s, Sopwith Camels, Nieuport
XVIIs, Spad VIIs, and Fokker D. VIIs.
In March of 1920 The Aviation Militaire became the
Aeronautic Militaire, and the flying school at Etampe moved
to Juvisy. After these changes the Aeronautic Militaire
started a build up.
Between 1922-31 SABCA (Societe Anonyme Belge de
Constructions Aeronautique) built an interesting collection
of foreign aircraft. The build up included 30 D. H. 9
(1922-23), 87 Nieuport-Delage 29C-1 (1924-26), 45 Ansaldo
A.300/4 Reconnaissance Bombers (1923-26), 20 Morane-Saulnier
Parasol (1923), 21 Arro 504 K Primary Trainers (1923-27), 15
D.H. 4 (1926), 40 Bristol 17 F2B Mk.IV (1926), 39 Avia B.H.
21 (1927-29), 146 Breguet 19 (1928-31).
Sometime in the 1924-29 period the Aeronautique Militaire
acquired 98 aircraft from foreign sources of similar types.
The Aeronautique Militaire eventually got to 8 groups
containing 29 squadrons (4 Balloon station, 6 observation, 4
Army cooperation, 5 Fighter, 3 reconnaissance, 4 Technical,
and 3 for training). These groups of aircraft were stationed
at Zellick, Goetsenhoven, Evere, and the training school
squadrons moved from As to Wevelgen.
The groups of aircraft turned into 3 regiments in 1926.
Because of severe budget restrictions 1 of the regiments was
decommissioned, 2 more regiments came at the end of 1929.
The first Fiats in Nivelles with a Firefly in the foreground
the Air regiments (still part of the Army) had 1,990
personnel, and 234 first line aircraft (36 of them were
trainers). In 1935 Aeronautique Militaire became one of two
parts of Commandement de la Defense Aerienne du Territoire'
(D.A.T.) (the other the anti-aircraft organization).
Because of the budget the staff decided to upgrade aircraft,
even though 50 Fox IIIC machines were delivered between
1935-37 and 46 Fox IVR reconnaissance planes came in through
Licensed builders (Ateliers Renard in Evere) built 10 R31
prasol-type monoplanes, and 26 others were built by SABCA
between 1935-37. Also, 22 Gloster Gladiators were bought
from Britain in 1938, 2 FOX VII were ordered in September
1938, and in 1938 20 Hawker Hurricane I fighters were
Then in March 1939 80 Hurricanes were license built. The
Belgian Hurricanes were armed with 4 .50 caliber machine
guns, though original British design had 8 .303 caliber
Also the Belgians ordered Brewster Buffaloes from the U.S.
On the day of the invasion the DAT had 11 groups containing
73 squadrons stationed at Deurne, Goetsenhoven, Bierset,
Schaffen, Nivelles, and Evere Air Force Bases.
War" to the end of the Invasion of the Low Countries and
3rd, 1939 the Belgians called for over half a million men in
arms, and took status of strict neutrality. This caused the
Germans to take reconnaissance over Belgian defences for the
upcoming invasion that was supposed to be in the October of
1939. Though sometimes the trespassers were French and
British 'transiting' over Belgium to tract dropping missions
So on September 6 onward, squadron 2/1/2Ae (read this as No.
2 Squadron of No. 1 Group of No. 2 Air Regiment) which flew
Hurricanes of Schaffen was assigned to patrol on the eastern
border of Belgium, and 4/11/2Ae of Nivelles was assigned to
patrol on the western coastline. They flew unarmed planes
and their mission was to radio the intruders to the nearest
The first major incident was on April 19th. A Junkers.52
went from its normal course to photograph Liege defences.
This was not the first time 2/1/2Ae had to intercept planes.
The Junkers.52 was forced to land at Evere Air Base near
Brussels. After inspecting the plane it was let go for
passage to Cologne, Germany.
On Sept. 9, 1939 an intruding flight of Armstrong-Whitworth
Whitley bombers from RAF Squadron 102 were returning from a
tract dropping mission over the Rhur, and were intercepted
by aircraft of two squadrons (4/11/2Ae from Nivelles flying
single seat fighter Fairey Fireflies and 5/11/2Ae flying two
seater Fox VIs from Nivelles also).
The first British bomber was forced to land at Nivelles.
Tracts instead of bombs were found on the inside, but there
were machine guns were fitted on the aircraft. It stayed at
Nivelles until it was destroyed in the German onslaught on
May 10, 1940.
While intercepting the second British bomber, its tail
gunner opened fire on the intercepting planes, missing one
but damaging another, a Fox VI. The Fox VI went into an
uncontrollable spin and the pilots bailed out. They were
lightly injured, but lived to tell the story.
The British authorities were rather annoyed when they heard
about this, and kindly offered the Belgian Air Ministry a
Boulton-Paul Defiant aircraft as an apology, but the Belgian
Air Ministry let the offer down, because of their strict
policy of neutrality.
On November 10, British Flight Lieutenant flying a Hurricane
Mk.1 named Horatio Dunn ran out of fuel while engaging a
Dornier and crash landed in Belgium. He was released right
before the outbreak of war, and eventually would be killed
in Yorkshire after a scramble from Air Base Church Fenton.
Then, by far the most deplorable event that happened in the
'Phoney War' would raise controversy between the Allies now
happened on January 10, 1940. A Messerschmitt ME 109m 'Taifun'
was forced to land because of foggy conditions. Shortly
after the pilot and the passenger were arrested by the
Belgian Gendarmerie, top secret documents were found: the
plans for the invasion of the Low Countries. The passenger
named Major Reinberger tried several times to destroy the
documents, but never succeeded.
The matter had high level considering, but the Belgian
Ministry re-enforced their army, and stupidly nothing else.
It turned out Belgium was invaded on May 10, 1940. A
shocking amount of 135 German divisions attacked the Low
Countries. The most massive blitzkrieg force was now
deployed which crushed the Netherlands and overran it in 5
days, Luxemborg in literally no time at all, and Belgium in
18 days (though Allied forces wouldn't have lost for a long
time, but King Leopold unconstitutionally surrendered on May
28th, without conferring with his cabinet or his allies. The
Meuse wrote that 'Belgium is betrayed by her King'.) The
Belgians could have rejoined their post war position, build
up a massive war machine, be ready for the invasion, and
stop the Nazi juggernaut.
On March 2nd, 1940 an event happened that ended the 'Funny
War' period. A Do.17 was trespassing over Belgium, and three
Hurricanes were sent to radio it to the next airfield. The
Dornier opened fire on the the Hurricanes, killing Second
Lieutenant Xavier Henrard. The other Hurricane made an
unsuccessful crash landing. This caused the Belgians to arm
all intercepting aircraft.
Then on March 12th, orders again were to intercept a Dornier
17. Fierce machine gun fire was exchanged. Two of the
Hurricanes made it back to their base, and the third,
piloted by Sergeant Pierre Van Strijdonck, made an
unsuccessful emergency landing.
On May 6th, 1940 three Belgian Hurricanes ran out of fuel
when trespassing over French territory. Two made it back,
but Sergeant Pierre Van Strijdonck was forced to land at St.
Omens airfield in France. His plane was fuelled up, and he
returned to home base.
On April 20 a Heinkel HE.111 was trespassing over Belgian
territory. After making it out alive from confrontations by
many enemies of different nationalities three Belgian
Gladiators were sent to intercept it. It was chased away to
Holland and then was hit by Dutch aircraft batteries badly.
It was forced to crash land.
The phoney war ended on May 10, 1940 when Germany invaded
Belgium. During the first few hours, before just about any
planes were in the air, almost the entire Belgian Air Force
was destroyed on the ground. When the remaining planes moved
to different air bases, they were again destroyed on the
Belgians, despite their air force being mostly destroyed on
the ground, bombed three bridges on the Albert Canal. The
bombing was done by Fairey Battles of the 5/III/3, the
fighter escort was provided by 1/I/2.
On the early morning of May 10, the alarm was sounded, and
the pilots at Schaffen Air Base went to their planes,
thinking it was an exercise. A few minutes later, 50
unidentified aircraft flew over the airfield. Despite his
orders, Captaine Max Guisgand, the commander of 1/1/2
Gladiators flew his planes into the air at 0420 hrs while
the Hurricanes started their engines. 12 minutes later,
three Heinkel 111s were spotted, not troubled by AA fire.
The planes in the air were not there when the 111s came, and
the 111s strafed the airfield several times. The planes
tried to take off through the explosions and fires. A bullet
punctured the main wheel of Lt. Wilmonts Gladiator and he
rammed a Hurricane. Minutes later 110s and Dornier Do 17
strafed and bombed the airfield. Four Hurricanes were set on
fire, and 6 others were damaged. The roof of the hangar fell
in and the planes in it were destroyed. Sgt. Libert was
burned badly when the fuel tank of his Hurricane exploded.
Captaine Van den Hove d'Ertsenrijick and Caparol Jacobs
managed to escape from Schaffen. They encountered some
bombers but didn't manage to shoot down any, even though
helped by Gladiator pilot Sgt. Van den Broecke. The third
section of Gladiators from 1/1/2 almost collided with the
three 111s and had to break away.
section (Cpt. Gerard (G-27), Sgt. Henri Winand (G-32) and
Sgt. Henri Clinquart (G-34) spotted a formation of enemy
bombers and broke it up. During the bombing, other
gladiators left Schaffen for Beauvechain. Hurricane pilots
Siroux, Lelarge and a lt.) flew three of them. Other
reported engagements were when at 0900 10 109s ran in to two
Gladiators over Tirlemont. Both were shot down and one pilot
bailed out. At 1000 hrs, three Gladiators were shot down by
1/JG27 while trying to intercept escorted Ju87s.
in the RAF (and Squadron 219)
In August 1940, a part of the Belgian Air Force arrived in
the UK. The young Belgian future aviators were trained on
modern machines and were sent to front units quickly. Albert
Custers was the first of the Belgians to fly in the Coastal
During a war mission, his plane crashed in the sea. Luckily
the crew was rescued. The Belgians then feared to fly over
Albert Custers became an instructor (in 1943), and at that
time many French and Belgian volunteers had arrived in
England and had to be trained again. Albert Custers could
speak English and French, so he could teach many pupils.
Albert Custers trained to fly a Mosquito (a British bomber,
though there was a reconnaissance, fighter-bomber, and
fighter/night fighter version. He flew the night fighter
one.) His crewmate was Irish.
The Belgian-Irish crew began their first flights at Hunston
airbase. There were many boring missions with no
interceptions. On Sept. 6, 1944, the Belgian crew of Walter
Henri/Henri Huyen came. Huyen, as his pilot, was born around
Liege. He flew before the war, and his squadron was equipped
with Fairey Battles. He was a gunner. At age 39, he decided
to escape from occupied Belgium, and after many adventures,
got to England in 1943.
In October, 219 moved to the mainland, to the French
airfield of Amiens-Glisy. A fourth Belgian flier comes in.
His name was Ferdinand Vandenheuvel. He was in the Belgian
land army in May 40, and got to England from Dunkirk. He
entered in the Belgian Armoured Troops, but in 1942 he
volunteered for the RAF. As a Navigator, he was with F/Lt
On 19 November, some more Belgians land at Glisy. His name
was Albert Petrisse and was a policeman until 1941 when he
escaped from Belgium via Spain. In Chimay he met a student
that he had been trained with in Canada. His name was
Faurice Laloux. They then decided to fly together.
The Belgian fliers will learn the common life of a night
fighter in 1945. German raiders are scarce and patrols are
disappointing. About every time the saw another aircraft it
turned out to be another night fighter, or a bomber coming
back from a late night mission. Surprisingly on 2 January,
1945 the crew Vandenheuvel/Reynolds shot down a
Messerschmitt Bf 110.
In about February, another Belgian crew comes in. One was
Alexis Besschops. He left occupied Belgium with his family
and went to the Belgian Congo. In 1941 he volunteered for
the RAF and left the Congo. He was a friend of Albert
Petrisse and were trained together in Canada. So he asked to
be in the same squadron with Petrisse.
The other was Richard Delbrouck who was born in Liege. He
was an engineer and lived in Antwerp. He married a young
But then came tragic losses from 219. When Reynolds suffers
from engine stoppage while taking off, he crashes. Reynolds
and Vandenheuven both were killed.
About two weeks later, Squadron 219 was moved to an airfield
in the Netherlands. Then the crew Henri/Huyen failed to make
it back from a mission. They were hit badly by flak near
Cologne and crashed in the Netherlands. They were buried by
there crashed plane.
Then on 18 April, Petrisse and Laloux don't make it back.
Again the cause was flak. They crashed at Visselhovede.
Their bodies were buried at Wehenson cemetery (near Soltau).
The Final Weeks
Custers was now the sole survivor of the Belgian crews. On
12 March he finished his tour but decided to remain with his
squadron. Squadron 219 was reinforced with 3 more Belgians.
First came Jean Pirson in the end of March. And then came
Robert "Bob" Nyssens and Henri "Coco" Lenoard came in the
beginning of April. These pilots weren't heavily engaged
because the war was almost over.
The last casualties were on 3 September, when Besschops and
Delbrouck's twin engine crashed and exploded on a mountain.
11 Belgians were in Squadron 219. 5 were killed before VE
Day (Victory in Europe Day). The Belgians lost around 65%
losses. The only non Belgian in the unit was the Frenchmen
Commandant Claisse. He was a test pilot before the war and
survived the conflict.
In September 1946, the Squadron 219 was disbanded for the