Valor Friday

| July 23, 2021

Marcel Pliat (or Plat), circa 1917, colorized

It’s another busy week here at the Mason family household, so I can’t devote as much attention to this week’s Valor Friday post as usual. I’ll have to plagiarize benchmark this week’s article.

I came across the story of the young man pictured above and thought he’d make a great subject. The only black man in the Russian Air Force during World War I and twice decorated for bravery in action.


Marcel Pliat was one of several French nationals who served in the Russian Imperial Army during World War I but he was the only black man to serve in the Russian Imperial Air Force. Pliat was born in French Polynesia (now Tahiti) around 1890. His mother, of African ancestry, worked as a servant for wealthy French gentleman. Leaving for Paris, he asked that Marcel’s mother follow them. In transit to Paris in 1907, mother and son ended up in Russia. Marcel grew up in St. Petersburg and graduated from a four-year factory school in Moscow trained as an auto mechanic. As a child, he constantly visited Russian circuses but his love of aviation began when he was taken to a show featuring airplane gymnasts. Pliat married a Russian woman and the couple had one child.

When World War I began in 1914, Marcel chose to remain in Russia although he was still officially a French citizen. He joined the Russian Army and worked at first as a driver. Meanwhile, the Russian Imperial Air Force was the first in the world to create a squadron of heavy bombers called “Ilya Muromets” in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg). Pliat was assigned to this squadron.

After undergoing training, Pliat was assigned to the 2nd Aviation Squad, where he combined the posts of a mechanic and machine gunner in the crew of bomber No. 10. His first combat flight took place on the night of February 24, 1915, when Russian bombers headed for the German town of Wallenberg (now Velbark, Poland).

On April 13, 1916, Marcel earned his first combat award during the bombing of the Daudzevas railway station near Riga, Latvia. The plane was badly damaged by ground fire and the commander was wounded. Marcel nearly fell out of his firing point on the plane but because of his quick thinking he tied himself with a rope to the plane before the flight. During the engagement Marcel saved a machine gun that flew out his plane as it took heavy ground fire at the end of the bombing mission.

Incredibly for the rest of the flight Pliat was on the wing, supporting damaged engines. After the plane landed, one wing fell off and more than 70 holes were counted in the aircraft. The actions of Pliat and the rest of the crew ensured that the plane was not shot down or captured by the Germans.

Junior non-commissioned officer Marcel Pliat was awarded the 3rd degree soldier’s Cross of St. George (the highest soldier’s award in the Russian Army at that time) and was promoted to senior unitary officer because of his saving his own aircraft and in shooting down a German plane during the Daudzevas operation.

Pliat returned to combat missions and in November, 1916 he as a gunner on another Ilya Muromets bomber, knocked out two German fighters earning him his second Cross of St. George. After this flight, Marcel Pliat was invited by the designer of Muromets, Igor Sikorsky to make a number of design adjustment recommendations for the aircraft. Sikorsky made the changes recommended by Pliat in the subsequent series of Muromets. The fate of Marcel Pliat and his family is unknown as they disappeared from the public record in 1917, during the Russian Revolution.

The sources I could find said he disappeared after the war, but the sleuths over at reddit unearthed more, including;

He was born in 1890, his father is unknown but had black skin, his mother is from metropolitan France. He was first a car mechanic in Paris and had followed his mother to Russia who was a nanny for a rich russian family.

He became a chauffeur in Russia and stayed there when his mother later went back to Paris.

When the war broke out he became a plane mechanic in the Sikorsky factory in St Petersburg.

He is then drafted in the french army but as he can’t come back to France he has to enlist in the russian army (that was the policy at the time, if you were in an allied country and couldn’t come back you had to enlist there).

He becomes a tail gunner/mechanic on Sikorsky “Ilya Muromets” 4-engines bomber planes.

He got his first medal when his plane, attacked by enemy fighters, had a coolant liquid leak and he walked on the wing and used his hands to stop the leak for one hour until the plane could land.

On another occasion, his plane was badly damaged (one of the pilot was killed) and he was ejected from the plane only to be saved by a rope he had attached to his seat, then he managed to climb back to his seat on his own.

In 1916, flying a Labrov G.3, still as a tail gunner, he is credited with a victory when his plane is attacked by 3 german fighters.

He has then an article about him in a russian newspaper and is a bit famous there. I think it is where this picture comes from.

When the civil war breaks out, he managed to flee back to France.

He volunteers to go to Czecoslovaquia in 1918 to fight the bolcheviks in the french army helping the young Czecoslovak air force, still as a airplane mechanic.

He comes back to Paris in 1919, and in 1939, he is again drafted to work in french airplane factories.

Category: Historical, Russia, We Remember

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Cool! Saved his azz AND his machine gun. “Judged by his character…” Too bad the race baiters of today can’t hold up the examples of these kinds of Heroes V the career drug abusing criminals.

Great story Mason, Thanks!


I rather liked the “supporting damaged engines.” Must have been held in place by the weight of his balls.

chooee lee

Well Done