Today, we are again turning to Baskulture as source as it brings us news and information from north of the Pyrenees. This is not the first time we’ve referenced them, nor is it the first time we’ve recommended everyone read them, because for many Basques, especially those south of the Pyrenees, this part of our nation is largely unknown, and Baskulture can help us better understand our brethren to the north.
We were fascinated by the story told to us by Alexandre de La Cerda about Rober Iribarne, a pelotari and pilot from Bayonne, who fought against fascism on the Eastern Front as part of the Free French troops aboard his Yak-9, which he had named Irrintizina. This story really grabbed our attention and we thought it needed to be shared.
He reached the Eastern Front in the USSR in 1944 as part of a group of pilots from Free France. Before that, he had had to escape Vichy France to be able to join de Gaulle’s troops in Northern Africa. To do so, he embarked on an epic journey, setting off from Bayonne on bicycle, then crossed the Pyrenees and all of Spain to be able to join Free France’s pilots.
That journey was not easy. The Spanish Civil Guard arrested and detained him, first in Pamplona and then in a concentration camp in Miranda. He ran into many people he knew there: all Basques, united to a commitment to fight against totalitarianism.
He broke out of the camp in Miranda and managed to reach his destination in North Africa, where he joined the pilots in the Normandie-Niemen group. From there, he then reached Tehran, where they had to wait for permission to enter the USSR. While waiting in the Iranian capital, the young shah of Persia, Reza Pahlavi, found out Iribarne was a great tennis player, and invited him to the palace, along with the other pilots, so they could play with him.
He fought the Nazis between January 1944 and February of 1945. He was shot down over Kaliningrad, then in Eastern Prussia, and disappeared with his Yak-3 and seven victories under his belt. He was awarded the French military honor La Croix de Guerre, the Soviet Order of Patriotic War, and the Order of the Red Star. He airfield in the Basque town of Itxasu bears his name, and there one can find a memorial to this Basque pilot.
We’ll leave you with the full story as printed in Baskulture and the modeling section of the webpage dedicated to the Normandie-Niemen combat group, where Xan Berastegui shows off his reproduction of a model of that Yak-9 that Iribarne baptized as “Irrintzina” (“yell, shout”).
Baskulture – 27/11/2020 – Euskadi
L’aviateur basque Robert Iribarne, champion de pelote et héros de Normandie-Niémen
‘ai eu l’occasion d’intervenir mercredi dernier en visio-conférence sur la plateforme du Centre de Russie pour la science et la culture à Paris, devenue un lieu de “rencontre de témoins des événements et des enfants des héros, de chercheurs et d’associations, de musées et d’écoles, qui mènent un passionnant travail de recherche, de conservation, de partage de connaissances et de précieuses archives concernant l’histoire de l’escadrille Normandie-Niemen” !
Normandie-Niemen – – France