31 July 1944 – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry took-off for his last flight, a reconnaissance mission over the Rhone Valley.

Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry – an aviator that needs no introduction. Who has not heard about ´The Little Prince´ and the author of this book? However, that book was just one among many works by Saint-Exupéry and most of them were the aviation stories with a bit of autobiographical addition to them.

Unfortunately, during the World War II Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was among those people who suffered from the war drama of the French nation. After the fall of France, he fled to New York where he lobbied for convincing the USA to enter the war against Nazi Germany. It was also the time he wrote and published ´The Little Prince´, the book that was then banned in Vichy France.

In 1943 Saint-Exupéry decided to return to flying and joined the Free French Air Force, although being much older than other active combat pilots. He also suffered from the old crash injuries and his return to operational flying had to be personally approved by Gen. D. Eisenhower.

Approximately at this time he was drawn into the conflict between Gaullists and Vichy fractions – the Vichy Regime honoured him as one of the prominent supporters and at the same time Charles de Gaulle tagged him as the person who sides with Nazis. This sent Saint-Exupéry into a profound depression and he started drinking heavily.

Both problems have affected his operational flying, he damaged one P-38 during his second mission, was grounded for a couple of month and returned to flying only because of the pressure from the high command. Nevertheless, keeping Saint-Exupéry away from combat flying was still considered – especially that he was increasingly absorbed by reading, drawing and philosophical thoughts, even during the missions.

On 31st July 1944, Saint-Exupéry took-off from Corsica in his F-5B (an unarmed reconnaissance variant of P-38) for a mission over the Rhone Valley. The mission from which he did not return, vanishing without a trace.

His disappearance has remained a mystery until 1998, when a silver identity bracelet was found by a fisherman. Two years later, the remains of P-38 Lightning were found in the sea near Marseille and finally recovered in 2003. Next year it was officially confirmed that they were belonging to Saint-Exupéry´s aircraft and transferred to the Air and Space Museum in Le Bourget. It was also announced, that – most probably – the unidentifiable body in a French uniform that was found in 1944 near the Frioul archipelago and then buried in Carqueiranne, was the remains of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

Although both the body and the wreckage were found and identified, no evidence is available to confirm that F-5B was shot down. The mystery of Saint-Exupéry´s death is still remaining unexplained.