All About Guns War

Vengeance is Mine: Jean de Selys Longchamps by WILL DABBS

Eve Gordon parachuted into occupied Europe while working for British intelligence during World War 2. She made a total of 112 military parachute jumps. I think she might have been the most extraordinary person I have ever known.

I once had the privilege of meeting an elderly British woman who had been tortured by the Gestapo. A British SOE (Special Operations Executive) operative during World War 2, she had been captured while serving undercover in occupied Europe. By the time they got her to Gestapo headquarters, they had already broken her legs.

This is Odette Sansom Hallowes, one of only 54 female SOE agents who operated in Europe during the war. She was captured, tortured, and imprisoned at Ravensbruck concentration camp.

What followed was tough to hear. At the time she was young, pretty, and a trained nurse. The Germans stripped her naked, tied her to a chair, and pulled her teeth. They tore strips of skin off of her back with pliers, betting each other cigarettes who could flay the longest. They put her in front of a big clock and then crushed each of her fingers using a hammer and steel plate—one finger every fifteen minutes on the dot. If she would divulge the names of the other underground members in her cell they promised they would stop.

Behold the absolute scum of the earth. These dapper-looking guys were a blight on the species.

Amidst the expansive pantheon of loathsome personalities to have slithered across the earth from the dawn of human history, the Nazis were among the worst. I was a soldier when I met this lady. As I listened enraptured to this grandmotherly woman describe in coldly dispassionate terms what these animals did to her, I wanted to go dig up their cold rotten corpses and urinate on them. How could anybody do such inhuman stuff?

Though the woke social justice warriors on the political Left are too dim to appreciate it, this is the reason such institutional depravity will never gain a solid foothold in America.

The truly amazing thing was that it wasn’t so terribly uncommon. Ours is a violent, cruel species. You take susceptible personalities and put them in positions of absolute power and it brings out the worst of our primal natures. That fact is actually the true impetus behind the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, but that’s a conversation for another day.

My SOE pal survived the war and lived a long happy life. Her fellow operative Violet Szabo, shown here, was not so fortunate. She died at Ravensbruck.

While the existence of such darkness has been a lamentably consistent component of the human experience from the very beginning, so also has been the light. My English friend was rescued by her Resistance buddies and obviously survived the war. Hers was ultimately a warm, happy, successful life. Those underground operators were in this case the avenging angels, bringing quick justice to a group of monsters who simply needed killing. On January 20, 1943, a Belgian aristocrat named Jean de Selys Longchamps performed a similar service. However, in his case, he used an airplane.

Portrait of a Patriot

Baron Jean Michel P.M.G. de Selys Longchamps was a professional warrior who took the Nazis’ sick institutionalized misbehavior quite personally.

Baron Jean Michel P.M.G. de Selys Longchamps was born on May 31, 1912, in Belgium. Longchamps was the grand-nephew of the Belgian King Leopold III. Raised in the Old World Belgian aristocracy, Longchamps pursued a career in the military as did most of his breeding. By the onset of WW2, he was a 28-year-old cavalry officer with the 1st Regiment des Guides, an elite light cavalry unit first mechanized in October of 1937. Like so many of the Western European military formations, Longchamps’ unit was swept up in the unstoppable hurricane that was blitzkrieg.

Longchamps was a survivor of Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of Allied forces from Dunkirk.

By late May 1940, Longchamps and the tattered remnants of his once-proud Belgian cavalry unit were pressed into the salient at Dunkirk. Most all of us have at least seen the Christopher Nolan movie of the same name. The Allies called it Operation Dynamo. Over the course of eight days, some 800 British military and civilian vessels evacuated 338,226 Allied troops across the channel and back to Britain. Among those 338,226 soldiers was Jean de Selys Longchamps. Roughly 40,000 troops of the French First Army sacrificed themselves in a delaying action to allow the evacuation to succeed.

The Next Phase

Longchamps spent a brief period as a POW. However, he was having none of that.

Driven by a white-hot rage, Longchamps pursued further opportunities to fight. He made his way back to the continent but was captured by the Vichy authorities and interned. Escaping from a French POW camp he again crossed the channel and volunteered for the RAF. Despite being too old, he forged the pertinent documents and was accepted for flight training. He subsequently transitioned into Hawker Typhoons.

At the controls of his Hawker Typhoon, Longchamps took the fight to the enemy.

While posted to No 609 Squadron, Longchamps regularly flew missions against German targets in occupied Europe. Throughout it all, he kept up with events back home in Belgium through his many contacts on the mainland. While serving with the RAF he received the heartbreaking news that his father had been tortured to death by the German security services. In response, Longchamps planned an elaborate operation to strike Gestapo headquarters in Brussels. His RAF commanders rejected the request, claiming it was too risky. On January 20, 1943, Jean de Selys Longchamps did it anyway.

The Operation

Longchamps planned his act of vengeance as an addendum to a scheduled ground attack mission.

Longchamps took off early that Wednesday morning alongside his wingman Flight Sergeant Andre Blanco on a mission to strike a railway junction near Ghent in Northern Belgium. Longchamps’ Typhoon fighter was packed with all the ordnance it could carry. He also took along an ample sack of small British and Belgian flags. The railway attack complete, Longchamps directed that Flight Sergeant Blanco return to base.

Longchamps took his powerful British fighter across familiar terrain to Brussels.

Flying solo and low-level to avoid German radar and air defenses, the Belgian pilot navigated his heavy fighter to Brussels. Longchamps knew the city by heart. He dropped down into the urban streets, following the Avenue De Nation to the Avenue Louise. His target was a prominent 12-story building the Gestapo had used as a headquarters since 1940.

The Hawker Typhoon was fast, powerful, and loud.

The Hawker Typhoon was powered by a Napier Sabre liquid-cooled sleeve-valve piston engine producing some 2,180 horsepower. With a maximum speed of 412 mph, the Typhoon made quite a lot of noise. When canalized through the tight thoroughfares of downtown Brussels the racket would have been penetrating. This noise brought the German officers at Gestapo headquarters out of their offices and to the windows facing the Avenue Louise.

The primary organic weaponry onboard the Typhoon consisted of four 20mm Hispano cannons.

The Typhoon weighed some 13,250 lbs fully loaded and was a legendarily stable gun platform. Jean de Selys Longchamps aligned his deadly airplane with the façade of the target building, centered the glowing pipper of his gunsight, and squeezed the trigger on his control stick. The four 20mm Hispano Mk II cannon mounted in his wings chewed into the building at an aggregate rate of nearly fifty rounds per second.

The Weapon

The Typhoon was really too heavy and sluggish to mix it up with the front-line Luftwaffe fighters of the day. However, it was pure death against tanks and similar terrestrial targets.

The Hawker Typhoon was heavy for a fighter. As a result, it struggled in one-on-one combat with Messerschmitts and Focke Wulfs. However, the Typhoon was an absolute tank of an airplane. It excelled at precision ground attack missions.

The RP-3 air-to-ground rocket would burst a German tank like a grape, especially when struck from the top aspect.

Fully loaded the Typhoon could carry eight RP-3 three-inch unguided air-to-ground rockets and two 500-pound bombs. The RP-3 could be fitted with either a 60-pound HE warhead or a 25-pound solid-shot armor-piercing load. RP-3-equipped Typhoons extracted a fearsome butcher’s bill against everything from German tanks to U-boats.

The Hispano Mk II 20mm cannon was a beast of a thing. This gun was used on Amtrak vehicles as well as deck mounts on warships for antiaircraft work.

The Typhoon’s primary armament was the Hispano Mk II 20mm autocannon. The British began WW2 arming their fighters with as many as eight rifle-caliber .303 Browning machineguns. This system offered simply breathtaking close-range firepower, but it yet remained fairly ineffective against armored aircraft at anything but intimate ranges.

The American Browning M3 cycled at more than 1,200 rpm but fired a substantially smaller projectile than did the Mk II 20mm.

We Americans did love our .50-caliber machineguns. The Browning M3 recoil-operated, belt-fed .50 armed most all US combat aircraft of WW2. However, with the advent of faster, more heavily-armored enemy planes, even the venerable fifty seemed a bit inadequate.

The armament of the P38 Lightning, in my opinion, the prettiest warplane of WW2, consisted of four M3 .50’s and a 20mm Hispano all clustered in the nose.

The answer was the Hispano-Suiza HS.404. Designed by Marc Birkigt in the 1930s, the original 20mm HS.404 weighed 108 pounds and was eight feet long. The British version of the HS.404 used on the Typhoon was the Hispano Mk V. This was a gas-operated, delayed-blowback design that cycled at around 725 rpm. The US variant was built by International Harvester, was slightly smaller and shorter, and was designated the 20mm M1 Automatic Gun.

The 20mm round was obviously considerably spunkier than was the standard .50-caliber shown underneath it. Its HE projectile offered a great deal more downrange horsepower.

All of these 20mm weapons fired roughly quarter-pound projectiles charged with a high explosive filler and detonated via a direct-action contact fuse. The most common Mk I round also included an incendiary component. There was a ball round and Armor-Piercing/Tracer version as well.

The Rest of the Story

The world was definitely better off with fewer of these guys.

Longchamps chewed the face of the Gestapo headquarters to pieces. His cannon fire was so precise that the surrounding buildings remained undamaged. In that single pass, he killed four high-ranking German officers and wounded dozens more. Among the dead were the station chief, a reprobate monster named Muller, and the local Chief of the SD, SS-Sturmbannfuhrer Alfred Thomas. Good riddance.

Longchamps dropped Belgian and British flags over the Royal Palace to offer hope and a tangible reminder that the Allies were coming.

On his egress, he sprinkled little British and Belgian flags across a variety of Belgian villages as well as the Royal Palace at Laeken. He also dropped a few over the garden of his niece, the Baroness De Villegas De Saint-Pierre. Half an hour after the attack in Brussels, Longchamps landed safely at his base at Manston in Kent, England. Both the Germans and his British superiors were livid.

While initially castigated by his superiors, Longchamps was ultimately decorated for his one-man act of vengeance.

The Nazis undertook the expected reprisals, further incurring the ire of an oppressed people uniformly buoyed by the audacity of the attack. Longchamps’ RAF commanders demoted him to Flight Officer and reassigned him to another squadron. However, when the true impact of his bold unconventional attack became known they awarded him the British Distinguished Flying Cross.

Though the German response was bloody, Longchamps’ flight offered hope to his enslaved countrymen.

Herman Bodson, a member of the Belgian resistance during the Second World War, recalled: “The day of the attack was a day of joy. That week, while the news was told around the country, was a week of joy.” It seems true vengeance, even a relatively little bit, was indeed fairly sweet.

The Nazis were undeniably vile. Note that the German soldiers depicted in this Russian painting are holding their MP40 submachine guns using the proper field manual technique.

Tragically, CPT Longchamps was killed seven months later on August 16, 1943, when his Typhoon, damaged on a combat mission over Ostend, crashed on landing at RAF Manston. He was an epic hero.

CPT Longchamps was an unrepentant patriot. He willingly gave his last full measure of devotion.

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