Battle of Britain profile of courage: Pilot Officer Joseph Émile Paul Larichelière

Biography / July 15, 2015

By Major William March

213 Squadron, Royal Air Force

By the standards of the day, Joseph Émile Paul Larichelière was an “old” man of 26 when he joined the flying game.

Born in Montreal, Quebec, on December 3, 1912, he graduated from the University of Montreal in 1933. Over the next six years, he combined work with continuing his education, but concern about the deteriorating situation in Europe caused him to apply to the Royal Air Force (RAF) as a pilot. The bilingual, university-educated Larichière was just the type of young Canadian that the RAF was looking for and, in short order, he found himself onboard a ship on his way to England.

Initial training was provided at a civilian flight school located at Cambridge. The facility was in a bit of a shambles as the RAF, quickly moving to a war-footing, was in the process of converting the Cambridge flying club into what would become No. 22 Elementary Flying Training School. Granted a commission in the RAF reserve in October 1940, Larichelière continued with his training, obtaining his wings early in the New Year. In early May 1940, he found himself at No. 6 Operational Training Unit, Sutton Bridge, operating the Hurricane fighter aircraft.

Quickly qualifying on the Hurricane, Larichelière was posted to No. 504 Squadron on 18 May. However, this unit was in the process of deploying to the Continent to take part in what would become known as the Battle of France. Someone in the chain of command thought that taking a brand-new pilot with only a few hours on fighters into intense combat was not a good idea so a week after his arrival at 504, the young Canadian found himself moved again, this time to No. 213 Squadron at Wittering, Lincolnshire.

Although elements of No. 213 Squadron saw action at Dunkirk, Larichelière was not involved, spending his time studying his trade and mastering the Hurricane fighter. In June 1940 the squadron was transferred to RAF Exeter, Sussex, in the south-west England, to prepare for the anticipated Luftwaffe onslaught. Although the young Canadian pilot had a front row seat to the Battle of Britain, flying numerous combat patrols and interceptions throughout July and into August, he was unable to come to grips with the enemy in any meaningful way. This all changed by the second week of the month when – in just four days – Pilot Officer Larichelière would score his first victory, become an “ace” and die.

At this stage of the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe was attacking RAF airfields in force. On August 13, Larichelière was with his squadron patrolling the skies above the Island of Portland located just off the southern coast of England, when he spotted a German Junkers (Ju) 88 bomber. After fifteen minutes of futilely chasing it through cloud, he caught it in a clear space and, with a careful burst of fire, set its port engine on fire causing it to dive into the sea.

While circling the wreckage, he was surprised by the unexpected appearance of a Messerschmitt (Me) 109 fighter and beat a hasty retreat by climbing away steeply into cloud. Circling for a “go” at the enemy fighter, Larichelière surprised the German pilot, who was also absorbed with the wreckage below, and shot him down. A third victory was added later in the day during his second patrol over Portland when climbing through a thick layer of cloud he inadvertently found himself in the middle of a large formation of Me 110 fighters. Twisting to dive back into the relative safety of the clouds below he managed to get off a burst at the nearest German aircraft causing it to disintegrate.

Two days later, on Thursday, August 15, Larichelière was in the thick of it again.

Late in the afternoon, and over Portland once more, he attacked a Me 110, knocking in down into the sea. Then his attention turned to a Ju 87, the infamous “Stuka” dive bomber that was desperately trying to evade RAF aircraft by weaving in and out of clouds. Closing to within a few hundred yards, Larichelière fired two bursts causing “all kinds of bits and pieces” to fall off the German aircraft, which subsequently spun down into the sea below. Climbing back up into the battle he engaged another Me 110. Closing to within yards of his quarry, he emptied his guns into the German aircraft’s port engine causing the wing to explode and the Me 110 to cartwheel into the sea. A well-satisfied Larichelière, now an ace with six victories to his credit, returned to Exeter.

Less than twenty-four hours later, he was listed as “missing in action”. That fateful Friday dawned clear and bright with temperatures perhaps a bit above seasonal. Once again Larichelière and his squadron mates were scrambled to intercept German aircraft above the now intimately familiar landscape of Portland. When combat was over for the day, Larichelière did not return to Exeter.

After a few weeks – because rescued or injured pilots sometimes took days to return – he was listed as missing in the RAF’s 44th Casualty List dated August 30, 1940. Less than a year later his status was changed to missing – presumed dead.

Pilot Officer Joseph Émile Paul Larichelière, an old man at 27 years of age, was one of more than a hundred Canadians who flew with the RAF during the Battle of Britain. His accomplishments would likely have rated an award, but he died before any could be conferred.

His name, along with the approximately 20,000 allied air personnel with no known grave, is inscribed on the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial, Surrey, England.

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