At the time of writing this article about P-63 Kingcobras serving in the French Air Force, very little could be found about the exact delivery dates of the first of the P-63's to be supplied to the Free French in the latter stages of World War Two.
It is generally accepted that 300 Bell P-63c King Cobras were supplied to the French, some sources suggest that they saw action for a brief period defending the docks of Le Harve during late 1944. However I have not personally yet seen any actual evidence of this to date and would be very keen to hear from anyone with additional information. I am sure somewhere out there is a pilot who can confirm one way or another.
The French Air Force did however use the P-63 extensively in Indochina where they saw quite a bit of action and were to be used by the French in the Indochina Theatre up until about 1951.
The last years of French colonialism in Indochina (1945-1954)
Japan, even though a defeated power by the summer of 1945, exploited long-standing Vietnamese resentment of French colonialism. The first signs of the beginning of the end of the French empire in Indochina came when Vietnamese insurgents attacked and killed French residents in Saigon, prompting the French to send in its 2nd Armored Division and restore order. The Armée de l’Air reinforced the army units in the guise of the so-called Groupe marchant de l’extrême-orient (the Far East Forward Group), which included U.S.-built aircraft such as the ubiquitous Douglas C-47 Skytrain, totaling eighteen in number after reinforcements had been brought in. In November 1945, the personnel of the 1st Fighter Wing (consisting of GC I/7 and II/7) arrived in Saigon, but without airplanes. Later on, those units received the F.VIII and F.IX variants of the British Supermarine Spitfire. However, the complement was completed with seized Japanese aircraft, mostly ones dedicated to liaison duties. Although the C-47s were not bombers, a lot of them were jury-rigged in order to fulfill bombing missions over the nine years which remained to the French empire in Indochina. By March 1946, the Armée de l’Air consisted of four units, two of which were fighter units equipped with the Spitfire F.IX, a transport/bombing unit equipped with the C-47 and a further one consisting of examples of the Junkers Ju 52/3m. Indeed, the only French-built aircraft available were Morane-Saulnier MS.500 and Nord NC.702 liaison aircraft, which would be used for observation and evacuation duties as well. (The MS.500 was actually a copy of the German Fieseler Fi 156 "Storch" (Stork) aircraft.). By March 1947, the "Cigognes" and "Alsace" fighter groups had come to Indochina, and they had been joined by the "Corse" group, equipped with the de Havilland Mosquito. However, just as their RAF counterparts had experienced when stationed in Burma during World War II, the aircraft, dubbed the “Wooden Wonder” by the British, began to deteriorate as a result of their exposure to a climate that they were not designed to operate in at all. That same month, the Nam-Dinh garrison was encircled, so the transport groups were called upon to drop over 350 airborne troops in order to relieve the besieged troops and thus break the enemy's encirclement. Little by little, the insurgents, fighting the French as a guerrilla army, began to perfect the art and science of guerrilla warfare.
With thanks to www.frenchwings.net – P63 Kingcobra 44142 du Normandie Niemen. Collection J Houben.
The future capitals of North and South Vietnam would witness the presence of Armée de l’Air fighter units during the summer and autumn of 1949, as the situation began to deteriorate. Units were relocated from North Africa to Indochina, including I/5 "Vendée" and II/5 "Ile de France" which were equipped with the Bell P-63c King Cobra and would remain in theater until January 1951. Firstly, they were stationed at Saigon’s main military airbase at Tan Son Nhut before being relocated to the future North Vietnamese capital, where II/6, better known as the famous and highly decorated "Normandie-Niemen" fighter regiment from their stint in the Soviet Union between 1942 and 1945, joined them. They were certainly needed, as they participated in counterattacks against Viet Minh guerrillas encircling French army positions in the Tonkin region until being withdrawn sometime in 1951.
With thanks to www.frenchwings.net – P63C Kingcobra. Collection C Requi.