A feat of Jean Michel de Selys Longchamps today remembered in Brussels

The story of the Belgian RAF pilot who carried out an audacious revenge against the Gestapo

During World War II, Germany invaded Belgium on May 10, 1940. The small Belgian Armed Forces surrendered after 18 days of fighting.

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However, as happened with other occupied countries, a Belgian government in exile was formed, with headquarters in Bordeaux and later in London. In addition, Belgians living abroad and Belgian soldiers who managed to reach the United Kingdom formed the Free Belgian Forces there. 521 Belgian pilots and navigators served in the British Royal Air Force (RAF), of whom 128 died in action. In total, 1,200 Belgians served in the RAF during the war and until October 1946, when the Belgian Section of the RAF was discharged and transferred to the Belgian Armed Forces.

Jean Michel de Selys Longchamps in an RAF pilot's uniform during World War II (Photo: All About Royal Families).

Without a doubt, the most famous Belgian pilot in the RAF was Jean Michel de Selys Longchamps, son of the Baron de Selys Longchamps, Raymond Charles Michel Ghislain. At the start of the war, Jean was a cavalry officer in the Belgian Army and had tried to escape to the United Kingdom with the British forces embarked at Dunkirk, but was unsuccessful. He arrived in Morocco through France, being captured by French forces loyal to the collaborationist Vichy government. Sent to Marseille, he managed to escape to Spain and later arrived in Great Britain, joining the 609 Squadro, formed with pilots of various nationalities and equipped with Hawker Typhoon fighter-bombers.

Drawing by Patrick Sadler recreating the attack by Jean Michel de Selys Longchamps on the Gestapo headquarters in Brussels (Photo: ManstonHistory.org.uk).

While in the UK, Jean learned that her father, who collaborated with the Belgian resistance, had been arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, the brutal political police of the Third Reich. This prompted the pilot to plot revenge. Returning from an attack mission in Ghent, Belgium, on January 20, 1943, Jean went to Brussels, without authorization from his superiors, and machine-gunned the building located at number 453 Avenue Louise, where the Gestapo had its headquarters. Jean was skilful enough to avoid damaging neighboring buildings and not to be shot down by German anti-aircraft defenses. In addition, Jean dropped many small Belgian flags from the cockpit of his plane, and dropped two larger flags over the Royal Palace in Laeken: a Belgian and a British flag. That action raised the morale of the residents of Brussels, subjected to the harsh German occupation.

The bust that recalls the feat of the Belgian pilot in Brussels, next to the building that he machine-gunned (Photo: ManstonHistory.org.uk).

Upon his return to the UK, Jean was reprimanded by his superiors, but that action caused such admiration that he was eventually awarded the Distinguished Returnees Cross. Jean died on August 16, 1943 when he crashed at RAF Manston, while returning from a mission with his plane damaged by German anti-aircraft fire. Today, there is a bust in his honor next to the building in Brussels that served as the headquarters of the Gestapo, remembering his feat. Recently, the YouTube channel Yarnhub posted a video telling the story of that audacious attack:

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