18 1940, between 1500 and 1530 hours, ten French Air Force Curtiss
H-75s fighters from the Groupe de Chasse (GC) II/4 were escorting
a Potez 63-11 formation on the Rethel Ardennes region sector.
One of the escorting patrol was composed of: Second Lieutenant
Plubeau, Captain Engler, and Lieutenant Girard.
What follows is a personal account of Camille Plubeau's mission.
"Upon our arrival over the sector, I spotted a Henschel 126 which
I reported on the radio. This airplane was known to the French
Airmen as the "Libellule" (Dragonfly), and as the "Mouchard"
(informer) by the French ground troops. The Henschel pilot saw
us and entered a dive towards his lines. Too late, another patrol,
with the call sign of Red Devils went on the attack.
After about ten passes, the Henschel crashed in flames on one
bank of the Aisne river, tumbled, and the burning debris came
to rest on the opposite bank of the river.
While the Red Devils regrouped under our own formation, four Me
109s came out of the clouds about 200 meters from us and to the
North. Apparently without seeing us, they climbed back over the
clouds before we had a chance to attack them."
"I then turned our entire formation towards our lines, and I placed
my element in a protecting position. Once again, we encountered
le 109s and this time the battle took place.
Captain Engler and I sent one of them down in flames. We regrouped
and we searched for our Red Devils friends. Seeing five airplanes
dead ahead, coming at us at a higher altitude, I considered placing
myself under them, thinking they were our buddies. I soon realized
my error. They were Me 109s, they had the altitude advantage,
and it would have been foolhardy to tangle with them. I rocked
my wings to signal my wingmen to follow me, and I entered a shallow
dive beside a cloud. The 109s passed on the other side of the
cloud without seeing us. The next time we will buy them glasses!
I turned behind the cloud while climbing, but… no more Messerschmitt.
Our nerves were on edge, and the tension was high. We now had
to find, and get the upper hand on the bandits while not losing
sight of the airplanes that we were protecting. We also had to
keep track of our wingmen, pay attention to radio communications,
take care of many other duties as rapidly, and as well as we could,
all that while trying to keep calm and lucid. This was sometimes
easier said than done"!
"We finally relocated the Red Devils airplanes and we kept on
climbing. Around 2,500 meters, we spotted a formation of about
thirty HE 111s coming from the West. I let the Red Devils take
care of them while staying back with my own patrol to cover their
After their second pass, still no enemy fighters in sight, so
with my wingmen we joined the Red Devils in the attack. I delegated
Baptizet and his wingmen to provide cover for all of us.
We took on the right section of the Heinkel formation, but I had
some difficulties catching up the bombers. My engine had been
damaged during the first attack and it was not operating at peak
performance. I was now about 250 meters behind the formation,
a bit far, but I fired anyway and I had the satisfaction to see
one of the Heinkel emiting heavy smoke. He left his formation,
and entered a dive.
Now it was the section leader's turn, and he soon encountered
the same fate as his comrade; there could be no doubts, he was
on fire. My wingman and two other Curtisses had also fired on
the Heinkel and he was a goner!"
"We now had to abandon the attack, fuel was running low, we were
short on ammos, and only four of us were left to jump the
Heinkels. And, another large formation of bombers with fighter
escort were coming at us from the Northwest. I rocked my wings,
and yawed my airplane left and right to ascertain that my wingmen
would follow me, but one of the Curtiss was still attacking a
Heinkel. I couldn't leave him alone, it would have meant
certain death for my friend. Finally, he came back to join me,
but too late. The Messerschmitts 109, were coming at us."
"Captain Engler was the first to spot their attack and alerted
me. I broke hard with a steep turn just in time; the ME109s were
there, very close. I was not in a good firing position, but I
still fired a salvo to scare off one of the Jerry who was firing
on Engler. It worked, the Jerry broke away. For whatever reason,
another Me 109 started a turn right in front of me at a distance
of about 150 meters. Was he trying to sucker me in, so that his
buddies could do a number on me? I followed him, and a few short
bursts sent him crashing to the ground in flames.
Meanwhile, Captain Engler also got one of the Me109s.
"We were now separated following the battle, my engine was giving
more signs of troubles, and it was high time to head back to base."
All the airplanes engaged in this battle came back, except Captain
Guieu's machine that was damaged during the attack on the bombers.
Captain Guieu managed to land his crippled airplane on a French
airfield occupied by the Royal Air Force.
This was not the case on the German side. Effectively, one or
two 109s - depending on the reporting sources, will be reported
On that particular day, around 1615 hours, the Me 109s of 7./JG
53 entered combat with eight French Air Force Curtisses in the
Rethel sector. Oberfeldwebel Franz Götz, Feldwebel Galubinski,
and Unteroffizier Neuhoff each claimed one individual victory.
But, the Staffel lost his leader Obertleutnant Wolf-Dietrich Wilcke,
who had to bail out of his burning airplane.
According to Wilcke's journal, which is kept in the Freiburg Bubdesarchiv
(number RL 10/277), Franz Götz's airplane was also shotdown, and
those two future renowned Luftwaffe aces were taken prisoner.
They will however rejoin their unit before the end of the French
campaign. This information could not be verified with other sources
such as the Prien's history of JG 53, but it is a well-known fact
in Luftwaffe history.
It is however certain that both ME 109s shotdown on that particular
mission were victims of GC II/4, and in view of the circumstances
of this air battle, it is possible to attribute the downing of
Wilcke to Engler, and the downing of Götz to Plubeau.
On the other hand, the claimed German victories cannot be verified.
Let us recall that Götz,
holder of the Knight's Cross will finish the war as Kommodore
of JG 26 with 63 victories. Wilcke, holder of the Knight's Cross
with oak leaves and swords will be shotdown on the 23rd
of March 1944, he had a total of 162 victories.
The Henschel 126 more than likely belonged to 3.(H)/41 who lost
two airplanes that day in the Northern part of France.
It was not possible to identify the first 109 claimed by Plubeau;
however, one airplane of III./JG 52 was compelled to make an emergency
landing in Merzig, following an aerial battle.
Finally, the Heinkel 111s shotdown were probably those of II./KG
55, which lost several airplanes on that day in the Sedan region.
Camille Adrien Plubeau was born on January 6, 1910 in Auxelles-Haut
(Belfort Territory). He volunteered in the French Air Force in
August of 1929, obtained his pilot license, and was assigned to
the 34th regiment of Dugny-Le Bourget in November.
He was promoted to Sergeant in October 1930.
After a tour with the 37th regiment in Bordeaux, he
was assigned to GC II/4 as the group was in the process of being
formed on Mai16, 1939.
He was now an Adjudant since January, and he was promoted to Second
Lieutenant on March 15, 1940.
He was wounded in aerial combat June 9th over Rethel.
After the armistice and the dissolution of GC II/4, he was detached
to GC II/5 "Lafayette escadrille" for the Tunisian campaign in
Mai of 1943.
As a Captain since September, he took command of the 2nd
escadrille of GC II/9 "Auvergne" on November 20th 1944.
On July 1st 1945, he was made commandant of Groupe
Aerien d'Entrainement et de Liaisons (GAEL) at Le Bourget, and
he was promoted to Major.
On December 30th 1957 he was permanently discharged
from the French Air Force, and he died in 1998.
With 14 confirmed air victories, 8 of which were achieved on an
individual basis, Camille Plubeau is recognized as the top French
ace of the 1939 - 1940 campaign.
24.09.39 (1) Bf 109 Pirmasens [D]
31.10.39 (1) Hs 126 Offenburg [D]
08.11.39 (1) Do 17 Hanviller 
11.05.40 (3) Bf 109 Rambervillers 
13.05.40 (3) Ju 86 Warmériville 
13.05.40 (1) Bf 109 Vouziers 
18.05.40 (2) Bf 109 Rethel 
18.05.40 (6) He 111 Rethel 
18.05.40 (6) He 111 Rethel 
18.05.40 (1) Bf 109 Rethel 
06.06.40 (1) Bf 109 Soissons 
09.06.40 (1) He 111 Pontfaverger 
09.06.40 (2) He 111 Aisne 
09.06.40 (1) Bf 109 Pontfaverger 
(X): total number of pilots participating to the destruction of
the enemy airplane.
[XX]: country or geographical French department.
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