Pierre Ponchardier was born on October 4, 1909, at Saint Etienne (Loire) in a family of industrialists.
He entered the Naval Academy in October 1927. Upon completion, his first anchor was the submarines, and then the Fleet Air Arm. Promoted to lieutenant in 1937, he served in the on-board aviation as a squadron leader. Then came the Second World War, followed by the rout. Refusing to acknowledge defeat, he and about a score of his pilots boarded a ship for Morocco.
He returned to Metropolitan France in 1941 and took over the command of the B1 squadron and clandestinely replaced Commander Nomy, who, having been denounced had to quit French territory for England. In the course of 1942, he, together with his brother Dominique, created from nothing a network known as “sosies”.
This network gave the Nazis a real hard time. Covering the entire territory, it provided the Allies with precious information on naval bases, submarines, special weapons, and maritime movements. The network also carried out some commando-like operations with the most outstanding being the liberation of several convicts from the Amiens prison (Operation Jericho). He was betrayed and hunted under his multitude of identities, but never stopped fighting.
Taken prisoner around Belfort, he and his brother succeeded to escape in the night of September 7 breaking 8, 1944. After the victory, he was assigned by Admiral Nomy in the Far East to form, train and command the Far East parachutist commando which subsequently fought in Indochina. He was promoted to the rank of frigate captain and stayed on in Indochina as commander of the Fleet Air Arm parachutist commando. Always at the vanguard of his men in total contempt of the fierceness of hostilities, it took him no time to ascertain himself as an indisputably courageous warlord over his unit. He won the admiration of his men as a leader who wouldn’t want them to spill their blood unnecessarily.
The Viets nicknamed his unit “The Tigers”. As a symbol of their high esteem for Commander Ponchardier, the SASB, under the authority of General Leclerc, adopted the name “Commando Ponchardier”. Upon the dissolution of this commando, he brokenheartedly left and took up new commands. Assistant to navy commander on the Mékong (1948-1950), he became naval attaché to the Commanding General Armed Forces in the Far East (1950-1952). Auditor at the N.A.T.O. defence college (1953-1954), he later on took over the command of the La Fayette aircraft carrier.
He arrived Algeria in 1956, where he created the Marines’ Half-Brigade and personally selected his battalion commanders. He later on relinquished the baton of command. The following year, he was appointed major general at the port of Toulon. In 1957-1958, he became rear-admiral and took over the command of the naval air arm in the Mediterranean before being appointed navy assistant chief of staff in 1958. Promoted to vice admiral in March 1960, he held the post of commander of the South Atlantic maritime zone and that of appointed commander of the Dakar base. Vice Admiral Pierre Ponchardier was killed on January 27, 1961, in a plane crash at the Tambacounda (Senegal) aerodrome. His funeral took place in Dakar and he was buried at Villefranche-sur-mer.
All through his life, Admiral Pierre Ponchardier remained true to his motto: “never accept defeat”, and to his leitmotiv: “never gain fame at the expense of the blood of others”.
Grand officer of the Legion of Honour and Fellow of the Liberation by a decree of January 20, 1946, Vice Admiral Pierre Ponchardier held several distinctions, notably: