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Revealed: how US air crewsshowed enterprise in liberation of France

Published on 24/03/2004

LONDON, March 23 (AFP) - American air crews took their role in the liberation of France sufficiently literally that British officials protested at the amount of champagne and perfume being smuggled into their country, newly released archives showed Tuesday.

The documents released by Britain’s National Archives showed that not only were the airmen – in the famous phrase of the time – overpaid, over-sexed and over here, they were often seriously over-burdened with contraband.

The issue was first raised in October 1944 by Britain’s Brandy Shippers Association, which complained about “the increasing quantities of French brandy which is being brought to this country by aeroplanes operating out of aerodromes under USA command”.

The association warned the Ministry of Food that so much alcohol was arriving illegally it could undermine their business.

British authorities appeared keen not to get involved until the discovery in Chelmsford, southwest England, of around 1,000 bottles of French champagne brought in by an enterprising US air transport unit.

British customs officials noted that this case had caused “the question of irregular importations by personnel of the US Air Force to be seriously taken up by the US air authorities at a very high level”.

A senior customs official wrote to the US Air Force complaining at the wide range of sometimes unlikely goods being brought in without duty being paid.

“Now that there is daily contact with the continent of Europe there are rumours of the smuggling of wines and spirits and other goods, e.g. dentures and postage stamps of philatelic interest, by services personnel, involving subsequent illicit trade in this country,” the official wrote.

Britain’s domestic counter-intelligence agency, MI5, also become involved, warning of potential “ill feeling” between the allies unless the smuggling was brought under control.


                                                              Subject: France news