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Sergeant Daniel CASTRE


Biography :

Source (Photos and Documents): Mr Hervé CASTRE, the Son of the Sergeant Daniel CASTRE


The career of Sergeant Daniel CASTRE

Benefiting from the development of the Popular Aviation, Daniel CASTRE was certified as a pilot of a touring plane on September 30, 1937 at the age of 18.
He joined the Air Battalion for three years in April 1938 and was certified as a military pilot in August 1938 in Bourges (centre for the improvement of popular aviation)
After a training course in Istres, Daniel CASTRE is confirmed as a bomber pilot and will be assigned in July 1939 to the Groupe Aérien de Reconnaissance GR I/14 based in Mourmelon and equipped with BLOCH 131.
During the "Drôle de Guerre" the Group is transformed on POTEZ 63/11 at Romilly-sur-Seine
Sergeant Daniel CASTRE was shot down during a reconnaissance mission of enemy armoured vehicles in the Wavres area on 15th May 1940 (See next chapter)
Wounded, he nevertheless managed to reach Dunkirk on the 18th May 1940 and to embark for England on the night of the 31st May to the 1st June 1940.
However, he was turned back at Dover, and returned to Cherbourg. By chance, it will find its unit in Caen on 4 June 1940

For his mission of May 15, 1940, Daniel CASTRE will be cited in the order of the Air Force : " although wounded, he managed to land his aircraft seriously hit by enemy fire and thus save his crew " This citation brings the attribution of the 39-45 war cross with palm
In April 1941, he re-enlisted for one year, still with the 1/14 air group. During the missions within this Group, he will be forced to land in disaster on two other occasions
Demobilized at the end of April 1942, Daniel CASTRE joined his family in the "red zone" and then integrated the WO-FOFACH resistance movement as group leader for intelligence
He returned to active service in October 1944 in the air battalion in Lille and did a training course at the transformation school in Tours and at the school for monitors in AVORD
Daniel CASTRE was finally demobilised in May 1946
He was awarded the Military Medal on December 1st 1974


Adventure of Sergeant Daniel CASTRE, air force pilot, from 14 May to 4 June 1940 in the heart of the battle of Dunkirk

In the afternoon of the 14th of May, our GAR (Autonomous Air Group) 1/14 group leaves the CLASTRES airfield, near ST QUENTIN, to land near VALENCIENNES where a rough billet awaits us (lack of sufficient accommodation). Around 4:00 am on the morning of the 15th, the commander of my squadron, Captain FREBILLOT, wakes me up and informs me that I am leaving on a mission, replacing the alert pilot who is not to be found at this time. Quickly informed of the goal of the mission, reconnaissance on sight, search for armoured elements along the axes CHARLEROI-WAVRES-JODOIGNE-EGHEZEE-NAMUR PERWEZ-FOSSE. Return via CHARLEROI-MAUBEUGE. Altitude: 1200 meters. Hunting protection planned from 4:30 to 5:30 am on the front line.

Crew :
Observer : Lieutenant DELAUNAY
Pilot : Sergeant CASTRE
Machine-Gunner : Sergeant BERNET
Airplane : Three-seat twin-engine reconnaissance aircraft POTEZ 63/11

Take-off: 4.50 am
The fog is quite dense on the ground. We take our altitude on our axis of road towards CHARLEROI. The gunner points out to me a formation of 3 Me 109s on the side of COURCELLES at 200 metres. They are not interested in us. Dense fog in the DYLE valley. No apparent traffic on the WAWRES - GEMBLOUX road, east road from WAWRES.
On the LOUVAIN-EGHEZEE road, however, heavy truck traffic, not identified.
Over LATHUY (north-west of JODOIGNE) we are under heavy fire from automatic weapons, the trajectories of tracer bullets surround us, we have to steer to avoid the fire.
Above HUPPAYE, things get worse, the flak welcomes us. A shell explodes nearby. Lieutenant DELAUNAY is hit in both legs. I decide to stop the mission, but a very heavy and deadly fire pursues us, a shell bursts just under the belly of our aircraft which is blown up. The right engine is hit, thick smoke comes out of the shredded engine cowling, a piece of shrapnel scratches the leather of my shoe. I feather the propeller and manage to control the fire in the right engine, we head for the railway junction south of JODOIGNE. The left engine worries me, a drop in speed. We lose altitude.
I recommend to the gunner Sergeant BERNET to jump. I remain at the controls. Lieutenant DELAUNAY, wounded, cannot evacuate the plane, I will try to land the plane on a field east of BRUSSELS (MELSBROCK). The control surfaces do not respond well, some controls are probably damaged.
The landing gear fails, a wheel remains locked, I unlock it immediately, we barely pass an obstacle, the plane slides on the grassy ground losing parts of the cowling, twisted propellers. The brutal contact with the ground resulted in the injured observer being thrown against the nose window of the plane. My harness broke and I hit the firing collimator. With my face bloodied I had the reflex to open my canopy, pull myself up onto the wing and help my observer out. We both slide on the ground and lose consciousness.
After the first aid and having eaten something, as we had not taken anything before our departure, the Belgian military directed us both to the EDITH CAWELL Institute. A captain of the Belgian air force questions us and promises to inform our command (a promise he will forget immediately!!).
Lieutenant DELAUNAY undergoes a first X-ray which detects 4 shrapnel in the left leg and 1 in the right leg. Moreover, he has a serious traumatism on the left ring finger (?) and complains of pains in the kidneys and stomach, following the more than brutal landing.
As for me, I have a deep cut at the base of my nose and a frontal haematoma.
We received a warm welcome from the institute's staff and outstanding care. So much so that a nurse, learning that I smoked a pipe, brought me a packet of tobacco and an excellent briar pipe.
Around 10 p.m., we were taken to Brussels station where we boarded a sanitary train, direction. OSTEND.
Admission with the complementary military hospital where I share a room with an officer of the 18th bicycle regiment which fought with MAASTRICHT and two Belgian non-commissioned officers aviators. We have the visit of high Belgian and French authorities.

On the 17th, in the evening, Lieutenant DELAUNAY was evacuated to England after having given me the mention: "I would like to underline the dexterity and perfect cold blood of Sgt CASTRE and his excellent camaraderie afterwards".

On the 18th, in the morning, I left the hospital, despite the insistence of the major, and went to the headquarters of a French division. On the way I was arrested by the Belgian police who suspected me of being a German parachutist and released me after laborious explanations.
At the end of the day, I took advantage of a link to Dunkirk.

During the night of 18 to 19 May 1940, which I spent near my parents, the first German bombers attacked the oil refineries and the port installations, accompanied by the sinister noise of the sirens of the JU 87s (junkers or stukas). Incendiary bombs wreak havoc all over the city.

The day of the 19th was fairly calm, but the following night, parts of the city were bombed.

Monday 20, at the beginning of the morning I contact the office of the place where I am suggested to go to the station for evacuation. The captain in charge who is there declares to me that there are no more departures and advises me to go to Mardyck where the hunting group 1/4 is based. Unfortunately this one evacuated since dawn. There remains the 55/104 air company which directs me on the sector n°1 of the Air Force in Boulogne where I arrive towards 16h00. I was ordered to move to Abbeville at 10pm. We had to cross the Somme before 4.00 am on the 21st because the bridges would be blown up. We were delayed because of the columns of civilians trying to evacuate. When we arrived in the vicinity, we were greeted by automatic weapons fire. Impossible to advance or to turn back with the convoy. We return on foot to Berck-Plage. I learn that several Nieuport 40 aircraft are without pilots. I volunteer to save one of them. In spite of my proposal we leave Berck in the evening leaving five or six aircraft and hangars in flames. The Germans flew continuously over the area and dropped strings of bombs at random. There must have been aerial fighting at high altitude as the sound of machine gun fire could be heard. We set off again from Le Portel towards Gravelines. I managed to get a place on a searchlight trailer where a 12.7 machine gun was installed as best I could. We passed Boulogne, a bomber was trying to hit a tanker off the coast without success.
Arriving at Gravelines we are required to defend the access to the swing bridge over the Aa, with a 25 mm anti-aircraft gun and MAS 36 rifles as firepower. We were relieved the next morning and moved back to Mardyck
.
On the 24th, accompanied by four other non-commissioned officers of the Air Force, who had fallen back like me, we went to Bastion 32 in the hope of being evacuated by sea. Well received and comforted, we were asked to wait.
I helped to supply the elements on the Mardyck site, through the successive alerts. The Place Vauban in Dunkirk where the military handling is located is particularly targeted as well as the railway station where a dozen tank wagons are in flames. A few appearances of English and French fighters cannot stop the cloud of enemy aircraft.
On the 31st, we received orders to prepare to embark. In the evening we went to Dunkirk. It was a breathtaking sight. Along the Mobile Defence, teams of dead horses lying on the pavement, corpses of soldiers and incredible abandoned equipment. Thick smoke stagnates at ground level. The harbour is destroyed with the wreckage of sunken ships in the basins and locks on the landing stage downstream of the Watier lock a long line of soldiers precedes us. The "Sauternes", our boat, welcomes us between two alerts. There are nearly 300 of us, in the holds and on deck, squeezed together like herrings in a caque. We are told that Dover is the landing point. We leave the channel at about 10pm, an explosion, screams, a boat ahead of us has just blown up on a mine. We pick up about 50 survivors. At dawn we see the English cliffs. We narrowly avoid a mine.
Disillusionment: the English do not want to let us disembark and we head for Cherbourg where we only reach the port on the morning of June 2nd. We learnt that 3 ships out of the 6 that formed the convoy had managed to pass.
In the course of the afternoon we embarked in goods wagons for Caen where we arrived the next day, June 3rd, after having billeted at Cerisy La Forêt.
In Caen we go to the air base where I try, without success, to have news of my group. On the 4th I learnt that I was going to be sent to Paris, I wandered around the field until the evening when I was surprised... At the corner of a hangar, on a FAR tractor, I recognised a mechanic from my group, a dozen of my squadron mates were here for supplies, my group was in Fontenay, about ten kilometres from Caen.
Reunion, I was thought to have disappeared. From the commander to the simple soldier, everyone embraced me. With great emotion, I found my machine-gunner who had jumped by parachute during our mission on 15 May

 


Citation :
August 27,1940
Citations in the order of the air force including the war cross with palm:

Jeune sous-officier pilote plein d'allant. Bien que blessé, a réussi à poser son appareil sérieusement atteint par le tir des armes ennemies sauver ainsi son équipage,.