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Flight Lieutenant Baron Jean Michel Paul Marie Ghislain de Selys Longchamps DFC (31 May 1912 – 16 August 1943), nicknamed The Baron, was a Belgian noble and Royal Air Force fighter pilot who died during the Second World War. He was noted for strafing the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels, in occupied Belgium, in 1943.

CareerEdit

He was born on 31 May 1912, in Brussels, the son of Raymond Charles Michel Ghislain de Selys Longchamps and Emilie de Theux de Meylandt. Commissioned in 1933, de Selys Longchamps did his military service in the 1er Régiment des Guides. He studied business administration at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, but did not graduate, and subsequently worked for the Banque du Crédit Anversois. Recalled on the outbreak of war, he fought for 18 days in the Battle of Belgium, before being evacuated to Britain from Dunkirk. He briefly returned to France before it fell to Germany. After its collapse, he decided to return to Britain, making his way to Glasgow via Marseille, Casablanca, Tangier, and Gibraltar.[1]

On completing his flight training at Heston, de Selys Longchamps was posted to No. 609 Squadron RAF, equipped with the Hawker Typhoon.[1] For a number of weeks, he asked his superiors for permission to attack the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels in order to raise morale among his compatriots. His proposals received support from colleagues, but did not get approval, yet on 20 January 1943 he decided to execute his plan regardless. After completing a routine ground attack sortie with Flight Sergeant Andre Blanco, de Selys Longchamps proceeded alone to Brussels. According to reports, he flew low over the city, making it appear as if he was about to crash. The occupants of the headquarters rushed to the windows, and it was then that he turned his Typhoon's guns on the building. As he pulled away, he opened his cockpit and dropped Belgian and British flags before continuing on at low-level. On the journey home, he dropped some 1000 miniature Belgian flags over a number of villages.[2][3]

Dozens of Gestapo were killed or wounded, among them a British secret agent embedded at the headquarters.[3] His actions resulted in a demotion to pilot officer, but his initiative was nevertheless recognised with the awarding of the Distinguished Flying Cross.[1] Back in Brussels, hundreds of Belgians gathered to witness the damage, much to the annoyance of German troops. Herman Bodson, a member of the resistance, said that the attack had been remarkably precise, with no discernible damage to neighbouring buildings, and recalled:

...the day of the attack was a day of joy. That week, while the news was told around the country, was a week of joy. We were not alone. We were the oppressed, we were the victims, but across the North Sea we had friends, friends who cared and were ready to help.[4]

He died on 16 August 1943, when his Typhoon (serial EJ950) crashed on landing at RAF Manston after a night-sortie over Ostend. He is buried in Minster-in-Thanet, Kent. After the war, a sculpture bearing his likeness was erected outside the former Gestapo headquarters, at the Avenue Louise 453. A commemoration of his life was held on 16 August 2013, on the 70th anniversary of his death, in conjunction with the Royal British Legion.[5]

NotesEdit

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Jean-Pierre GAHIDE, Jean de Selys Longchamps, in: Biographie nationale de Belgique, Supplément, T. XIII, Brussel, 1979, pp. 723-26.
  2. Churchill's guests: Britain and the Belgian exiles during World War II, p. 127.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Typhoon and Tempest at War, p. 93.
  4. Bodson, Herman (2003), Agent for the Resistance: A Belgian Saboteur in World War II, p. 79.
  5. Service for RAF airman Baron Jean De Selys-Longchamps, bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 4 August 2015.

ReferencesEdit

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