Jean de Selys-Longchamp, a Belgian born in 1911 had, like
many others, left the country after the capitulation on May, 28, 1940 (the
King, leader of the Army, had decided to avoid unnecessary added
bloodshed) to continue the fight. He had reached England and volunteered
for military service. He chose the Air Force and earned his wings in a
Belgian squadron attached to the Royal Air Force (RAF). On Wednesday,
January, 20, 1943, he and another pilot left the airfield of Manston,
England, on a strafing mission to Belgium. They attacked locomotives in
the vicinity of Ghent, in Northern Belgium. The mission accomplished, only
the other pilot flew back to Manston. not knowing that de Selys, flying
alone in the direction of Brussels, had other plans.
The young pilot's plan was to strafe a Gestapo (German military police)
installation in Brussels, but he had received no answer, neither positive
nor negative, from his superiors upon his request to risk such an
adventure. So he took it on his own to get on with his daring enterprise.
Flying very low to evade German radar, he flew his Typhoon above Brussels
and approached his objective, a 12-story building on the Avenue Louise. In
a deafening noise, he fired his cannons and saw the shells mounting up the
facade of the building, with glass and concrete flying everywhere. He
threw two flags, one of Belgium, the other of the United Kingdom, before
zooming upwards above the building and taking altitude to get out as soon
as possible. Twenty five minutes later, after having flown low over hilly
Flemish countryside, the seashore and the sea, escaping detection by radar
and anti-aircraft guns, he landed safely in Manston.
Four Germans had been killed in the raid, amongst them one of the highest
officers of the Gestapo in Brussels, Muller. A dozen were wounded, and the
building was in shambles. The news spread all over Brussels and the people
rejoiced at the kick in the butt that raid meant for the Germans who made
life harsher and harsher everyday for the hungry, un-free population. The
Germans were raving mad and arrested many innocent civilians as a
retaliatory measure, but that courageous gesture from one of ours,
fighting on despite a seeming German invincibility, lifted the spirits of
a whole country.
The citizens of Brussels wanted to know more about this pilot and many
listened -in secret-to the BBC that evening and got more details about the
pilot and his "forbidden" mission. The following day, hundreds of
inhabitants of Brussels, went to take a look at the site, but were pushed
back by angry soldiers. All they could see were shattered windows and
bullet marks all over the facade.
de Selys saw his rank reduced, but at the same time he was decorated with
the Distinguished Flying Cross for his gallant action! He died on a
mission above Ostend in August, 1943. The building he strafed is still
standing on n. 453 of the Avenue Louise, and a plaque on the facade
recalls the incident, as does a memorial nearby.
The building itself, situated 453 Avenue Louise in Brussels.