Overlord'S Blog: France's unknown Hero
Most of the material in this article was originally in French, so I had to use Google translate. This may have allowed errors to slip in, however I do believe its as true as it can be.
Special thanks to Roland Narboux, who helped me fill in some of the blanks. Mr Narboux also published the only book on the subject, which has far more details than contained in the article bellow. The book is however only in French. He's also the author of the Alfred Stanke article I link to later on.
Also thanks to Gauthier Blanc who helped with the French when Google failed me.
Marcel Claude Emile Haegelen was born on 13th of September 1896 in Belfort, France. He is almost utterly unknown, even in France. This is surprising considering his exploits.
Before World War One, Haegelen was a car salesman. He enlisted in the army, and was posted to 27e Régiment d'Infanterie. During his service with this unit he was involved in the precursor fighting and earliest stages to the battle of Verdun, at the bitter back and forth trench warfare at the Saint-Mihiel salient. During less than a year his service earned him three commendations, and the Rank of Corporal.
In July 1915 he started to learn to fly, joining Escadrille F8 (a reconnaissance squadron) at the start of 1916, flying Nieuports. In March 1917 he joined N103 Groupe De Combat. His SPAD carried the emblem of the Squadron, the famous "Les Cigongnes" or Stork.
Haegelen spent allot of his time shooting down observation balloons. But in the last years of the war he found himself mainly fighting against fighters of Jagdgeschwader 1, commanded by Herman Goering.
At the end of the war Haegelen had a total of 22 kills, 12 Balloons and 10 Air craft.
Haegelen left the air force in 1921; he was hired by the French firm Hanriot, initially as an instructor. He had a hand in the company’s move to Bourges in 1928, where he became Chief test pilot. The company set up a factory and aerodrome at this location.
In 1931 and 1932 Haegelen won the Michelin cup, the second time being the world record holder.
In 1936 Hanriot and Farman Aviation were nationalized into SNCAC.
At the outbreak of World War Two, Haegelen was enlisted back into the French air force, and given the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Forming an ad hoc unit made up of 6 Polish pilots and another pilot of unknown nationality, they were stationed at Bourges to protect the SNCAC works. The flight flew Curtis H-75 Hawks that France had purchased in response to the outbreak of war. Haegelen's H-75 carried the Les Cigongnes emblem.
In June 1940 Haeglen intercepted a German air raid attacking the town. Closing on a HE-111, he pursued it eventually shooting it down. In the process his plane took 14 hits, some of the bullets missing Haegelens head by inches. One bullet, however, hit him in the shoulder. He still managed to nurse the plane back to base and land it. At the age of 44, 22 years after his last kill, Haegelen scored his 23rd victory. He became one of only about 6 people to score air victories in both world wars.
Haegelen's unit racked up 30 combat sorties during the battle of France, but it was all for naught. As the Germans approached Bourges, Haegelen received orders to lead his flight to Algiers. Once there he was part of a team testing imported US aircraft until France surrendered. Haegelen was a committed anti-German, and wanted to join the allies and carry on fighting. However he knew his advanced age would hinder that. So he returned to Bourges under the terms of the Armistice. SNCAC in the meantime had been taken over by the Germans, and was building Siebel 204 aircraft.
Haegelen carried on working as SNCAC, but not as a collaborator. Haegelen was actually part of the French Resistance. Obviously the exact details of the Resistance's exploits are little documented. However we do know that Haegelen carried out a detailed reconnaissance of the SNCAC factory and Avord airfield, passing the results on to the allies. When the Allies bombed the airfield in 1944 they smashed Avord, with no casualties or damage to the surrounding town, due largely to Haegelen's work.
Another incident that might have been Haegelen's work at the SNCAC factory has a number of leaflets being distributed early in November. These called for a 3 minutes silence to celebrate the victory over Germany in the First World War. At the designated time the entire staff of the factory downed tools and observed the silence. The Germans were furious, arresting two men and deporting them.
Haegelen himself was arrested on March 15th 1943, by the Gestapo for espionage. Kept in solitary confinement for 33 days, the future looked bleak for Haegelen. Then mysteriously he was released without charge. There is some indication that Goering had ordered Haegelen's release, due to them both being Aces of the great war, and had fought against each other!
After his release Haegelen organised a raid, where he and few other associates broke into SNCAC and emptied the German armoury of weapons. They then handed the truck load of ordnance over to another resistance unit to be used against the Germans.
Although not entirely clear on the details, documents suggest Haegelen had some contact with another incredible man in the area, Alfred Stanke. See the following link for another little known hero:
Google translate or Roland Narboux's article on Alfred Stanke.
Haegelen survived the war, dying on 25 May 1950, and is buried in Pasir-Ris. At the time of his death He was a Grand Officer of the Legion d'Honneur, holder of the Military Medal, the Croix de guerre 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.