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Rodolphe Count de HEMRICOURT de GRUNNE                 

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Rodolphe de HEMRICOURT de GRUNNE in front of his Fiat CR.32

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[B]de Grunne in England in 1941

Rodolphe de Hemricourt was born in Etterbeek, Brussels on 18 November 1911, undertaking his military service in the cavalry. He also obtained a civil pilot's licence (no. 371).

In September 1936 he volunteered for service with the Nationalist forces in Spain, joining a unit of the Falange formed mainly of Argentinean troops. On 19 November he was wounded in the right leg, and whilst in hospital encountered a wounded pilot who was interested to learn that his neighbor in the ward was a nobleman with a flying licence.

In consequence, he attended the Escuela Tablada (Flying School) at Seville in December 1936 and on 1 February 1937 joined 3-G-11 at Saragossa, to fly He46 reconnaissance aircraft. In March he moved to 1-G-2 on He51 fighters, seeing action over the Aragon Front. On 1 November 1937 he was moved to 4-G-12 on Meridionali Ro37 army co-operation aircraft, and then on 8 December to 3-G-3 on Fiat CR.32 fighters. On 15th he moved to the similarly equipped 2-G-3 and he saw see much action over the Teruel Front.

In March 1938 the Group took part in Aragón offensive and on the 12th of the month 2-G-3 encountered enemy aircraft attempting to stop the sweeping advance. During the afternoon eighteen Fiats, led by Commander Ángel Salas Larrazábal, escorted Ju52s on a raid, and having completed this task made a sweep of the front as far as Híjar, where they encountered twenty Chatos. In the ensuing dogfights, Salas claimed one probable, while Garcia Pardo destroyed one Chato, which fell near Híjar. The wreckage of this machine was recovered subsequently, and a piece of it was retained, on which ensuing victories of 2-G-3 were recorded, as well as the names of all those in the group who were killed. Guerrero set fire to another Chato, whose pilot took to his parachute from a very low height. Salvador attacked another machine, which began to trail smoke, but he was unable to continue his attack as his Fiat was almost out of fuel; unable to return to his base at Tauste, he had to land at Saragossa. Carlos Serra, Carlos Bayo Alessandri and De Hemricourt each were successful in shooting down an enemy machine.

On 4 May Commander Ángel Salas had his fuel and water tanks holed by machine-gun fire from the ground, forcing him to make an emergency landing at Aguilar aerodrome, which had been occupied only days before. During the same sortie the Fiats flown by Carlos Bayo, Muntadas and De Hemricourt all received damage from ground fire.

On 31 May 2-G-3 took off with a total of eight machines, in company with Captain Murcia’s squadron (3-G-3). Their task was to escort a number of Ju52s and Ro.37s over the Puebla de Valverde sector.
On arrival they encountered 25 Chatos and ten Ratas. Combat began immediately but the Nationalist crews were successful in protecting the bombers, which, their task completed, made good their escape.
Eight I-15s and two I-16s were shot down without losses. The successful pilots were De Hemricourt (I-15), Salvador (2 I-15s and 1 I-16), Simon (I-15), Vázques (I-15), Murcia (2 I-15s) and Meurza (I-16).
During this combat Commander Ángel Salas was attacking a Chato when three enemy fighters in turn attacked him. His Fiat was hit several times before he managed to break away from the attack, but his machine was vibrating so badly that he had to return to base.

During a second sortie on 19 June, ten Fiats of 2-G-3 took off at 18:00 led by Commander Ángel Salas, to escort Ju52s bombing Puebla de Valverde. They encountered a formation of 18 Chatos, which they chased as far as Alcublas, where nine Ratas joined the fray. Salas dived over the Chatos to attack, but was unable to fire his guns because a leak had emptied his compressed air bottle. Despite this he continued to make dummy attack during a battle, which ranged as far as Alcublas, being hit five times by the Ratas, one bullet puncturing the coolant radiator. Salvador enjoyed better luck, destroying two Chatos, one of which exploded in the air, the other following in flames. He then had to retire with an overheating engine. García Pardo effectively removed a Rata from the tail of Aristides’ Fiat by shooting it down. De Hemricourt downed a Chato near Alcublas, then a Rata to the north of Villar del Arzobispo, and saw a Chato turn somersault as it attempted to land at its aerodrome. Esteban Ibarreche fired at a Chato close to the ground, and this separated from the rest of the formation and fell near to Higueruela. Ansaldo had to return to base when an engine cowling parted company from his Fiat.

On 14 August Groups 2-G-3 and 3-G-3 attacked a formation of Ratas, which were pursuing some He111s over Gandesa. Other Chatos and Ratas later joined in the battle.
Group 2-G-3 claimed three Ratas (García Pardo, Carlos Bayo and de Hemricourt) and 3-G-3 claimed two more (Morato and O’Connor). 2-G-3s record of operations described the combat:

“García Pardo attacked some Ratas which were pursuing an He111, shooting down one of the which fell near to Mora de Ebro … Lieutenant Bayo attacked three Ratas and succeeded in destroying one which fell on the edge of the Blanerías mountains. Later he attacked a Chato, but was unable to ascertain whether it was destroyed as damage to his engine forced him to land at Horte…
Lieutenant de Hemricourt fired at one Rata without any result; and then attacked some Ratas engaged with other Fiats, hitting one which fell in a wood to the north of Reus.”
The Republican side reported that 1st, 3rd and 4th Squadrons fought against 90 enemy aircraft, which included seven Bf109s and 27 He111s, and claimed the destruction of three Fiats and one He111. They lost one Rata from 4th Squadron and two more pilots were injured. Republican pilot Meroño also managed to get a Rata back to base with half of the elevator shot away. According to Nationalist records no bomb fell on this day, and the only Fiat to be lost was that of Second Lieutenant Mesía (3-75) which did not return to base. Lieutenant Bayo (3-127) had to make a forced landing and Second Lieutenant Alonso Fariña (3-139) was wounded and landed at Puig Moreno. Second Lieutenant Manrique’s Fiat was hit 30 times, but he managed to get back to base at Escatrón. Krug’s He51 was also badly mauled by enemy fire, but he too got back to base at Mas de las Matas.
On 1 September Garcá Pardo and Rodolphe De Hemricourt de Grunne surprised a squadron of Grumman Delfins and managed to destroy one each.

On 20 September a series of daily battles began, culminating in fierce combats on 2 and 3 October. Groups 2-G-3 and 3-G-3 fought jointly in all these battles, achieving a total of twenty-five victories (17 by 2-G-3). On 22 September de Hemricourt claimed two of these victories (one I-16 and one I-15) followed by one I-16 on 2 October and another I-16 the next day.

On 2 November during two missions the two Spanish fighter Groups claimed 17 enemy aircraft. De Hemricourt claimed one of these, an I-15, over Pinell.

Next day, 3 November, he claimed another I-15 over Salvatierra.

On 12 November eighteen Fiats of 2-G-3 and six from 3-G-3 took of under the leadership of Salas, to escort Ju52s and He70s in the Segre sector. Six Katiuskas were encountered, escorted by two formations of Ratas. De Hemricourt succeeded in destroying one Rata, and one Katiuska was shot down by the combined attack of about five machines.
As the Fiats landed back at base from this sortie - one, which had been damaged in combat, collided with machine No 3-61, Salas’ aircraft, damaging the lower wings. This latter machine, one of the first to serve with the group, was repaired by the middle of January and Salas finished the war in it.
This combat marked the end of air operations in support of the battle of the Ebro, which ended on 16 November with the retreat of the XV Army Corps.

He claimed his last victory in Spain when he claimed an I-15 on 2 January 1939 over Ciervoles. By now he had claimed 14 victories.

With the end of the war in Spain, he returned to Belgium in June, where in September 1939 he was mobilised - but into the infantry! After making strong representations, he gained a transfer to the Aviation Militaire Belge as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1940. He was sent to a pilot school, and rapidly received his military licence, being posted to 2/I/2 Groupe at Schaffen on Hurricanes.

He engaged an intruding Do17 on 12 March 1940, but had to break off due to mechanical failure. Following the destruction on the ground of all the unit's aircraft at the start of the German attack in May 1940, he withdrew to France with many other pilots, leaving for England on 20 June on the SS Apapa, reaching Liverpool on 7 July.

He was commissioned in the RAF on 19 July as a Pilot Officer.

After training at 7 OTU, Hawarden, he was posted to 32 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 9 August.

On 16 August he claimed a Bf109E off Dover.

The next day he claimed another Bf109 as a damaged.

On 18 August he claimed a shared Do17 before being shot down by escorting Bf109s, baling out of Hurricane V6535 near Herne Bay, seriously burned at 17.35.

On release from hospital in February 1941, he went to Portugal to recuperate. It was reported that he was involved in some espionage here, but while he may well have met some of his Civil War acquaintances, this is nonetheless unlikely.

Returning to the UK, he joined 609 Squadron on 28 April 1941, but on 21 May, whilst involved in 'Circus 10', which involved escort of Blenheims raiding Bethune, he was shot down over the Channel in Spitfire P752I, again the victim of a Bf109. He baled out over the Goodwin Sands, but was not found.

On 21 July, Belgium National Day, War Minister Gutt presented Croix de Guerre at Wellington Barracks, de Hemricourt's being received by his sister. During the same year in Spain a number of awards of the Cruz Militar were made on the day of Our Lady of Lareto; one of these was for de Hemricourt.

De Hemricourt was credited with 14 biplane victories and a total of 15 and 1 shared destroyed at the time of his death. All of the biplane victories were claimed during the Spanish Civil War.

Adapted out of the books by Jean Louis Roba

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