Henri Raphenne was a French fighter « ace »; his unit, I/6 Fighter Group, was equipped with Morane-Saulnier MS.406 fighters. After fighting in the north of France and playing an active part in defending the skies over Paris, the squadron withdrew as the Wehrmacht advanced southwards.
On 22 June, the remnants of the unit arrived at Salon-de-Provence. Reconnaissance and air cover missions of Alpine Army rear zone, in Drôme/Isère, began the next day.
Just a few minutes later… 24 June 1940, 6.35pm.
At the very moment the armistice was signed between France and Italy, the last two patrols of the day and, not known to them, of the French campaign, took off from Salon-de-Provence.
The mission was to attack German convoys on the Hauterives-Romans-sur-Isère road with cannon and machine guns: columns heavily protected by FLAK (anti-aircraft artillery) and automatic weapons mounted on armoured vehicles of 4th Panzer Division. It was a mission against the grain, as the MS.406 was not a ground attack aircraft and was not equipped with armour to protect the cockpit.
When the pilots reached their action zone at around 7.30pm, did they know that the armistice had been signed ?
Ignoring the risks, they began their descent under fire from German guns and rapid-fire cannons. One of them was hit near Peyrins, 6 km north of Romans-sur-Isère. It was that of Pilot Officer Henri Raphenne.
The plane crashed in the commune of Mours-Saint-Eusèbe.
The pilot was burnt to death in the debris of the plane; he was buried in the local cemetery on 26 June 1940.
MS.406 Morane-Saulnier MS.406, French single-seat fighter plane
4th PD : 4th Panzer Division, 4th German armoured division
12 RS : 12 Schützen Regiment, 12 Motorized Rifle Regiment (4th PD)
FLAK : German anti-aircraft artillery
Wehrmacht : German Forces, land-sea-air
CHAZALON, Thierry. Resistances! Les prémices (June 1940 – July 1941), the Resistance began on 23 June 1940 on the banks of the lower Isère valley. Montélimar: autoédition, 2011. 200 p.