Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Lafayette Escadrille

video
This is from a really good multi-part WWI documentary on youtube called The Great War In The Air. Notice how there's no mention of Eugene Bullard in this wiki entry:
The Lafayette Escadrille (from the French Escadrille De Lafayette) was a squadron of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique militaire, during World War I composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters.

The squadron was formed in April 1916 as the Escadrille américaine (number 124) in Luxeuil prior to U.S. entry into the war. Dr. Edmund L. Gros, director of the American Ambulance Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France, led the efforts to persuade the French government of the value of a volunteer American air unit fighting for France. The aim was to have their efforts recognized by the American public and thus, it was hoped, the resulting publicity would rouse interest in abandoning neutrality and joining the fight.

(In fact higher numbers of American volunteers served with the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force during the conflict.)

The squadron was quickly moved to Bar-le-Duc, closer to the front. A German objection filed with the U.S. government led to the name change in December over the actions of a supposed neutral nation. The original name implied that the U.S. was allied to France when it was in fact neutral like Sweden.

The planes, their mechanics, and the uniforms were French, as was the commander, Captain Georges Thenault. Five French pilots were also on the roster, serving at various times. Raoul Lufbery, a French-born American citizen, became the squadron's first, and ultimately their highest claiming, flying ace with 16 confirmed victories before his squadron was transferred to the US Air Services.

The first major action seen by the squadron was at the Battle of Verdun, being posted to the front in May 1916 until September 1916, when the unit moved to 7 Army area at Luxeuil. The squadron, flying the Nieuport scout, suffered heavy losses, but its core group of 38 was rapidly replenished by other Americans arriving from overseas. So many volunteered that a "Lafayette Flying Corps" was formed in part to take the overflow, many Americans thereafter serving with other French air units. Altogether, 265 American volunteers served in the Corps. Although not formally part of the Lafayette Escadrille, other Americans such as Michigan's Fred Zinn, who was a pioneer of aerial photography, fought as part of the French Foreign Legion and later the French Aéronautique militaire.

63 Corps members died during the war, 51 of them in action against the enemy. The Corps is credited with 159 enemy kills. It amassed 31 Croix de guerre, and its pilots were awarded seven Médailles militaires and four Légions d'honneur. 11 of its members were deemed flying aces, claiming 5 air kills or more. The core squadron suffered 9 losses and was credited with 41 victories.

The Escadrille had a reputation for daring, recklessness, and a party atmosphere.] Two lion cubs, named "Whiskey" and "Soda", were made squadron mascots.

Lufbery got into trouble for hitting an officer who was unwise enough to lay hands on him during an argument. He was rescued from jail by his squadron mates. He was a man after the heart of French ace Charles Nungesser who came calling on the escadrille during one of his convalescences. He borrowed a Spad and shot down another German plane even though he was officially grounded.

On February 8, 1918, the squadron was transferred to the United States Army Air Service as the 103rd Pursuit Squadron. For a brief period it retained its French planes and mechanics. Most of its veteran members were set to work training newly-arrived American pilots. The 103rd PS claimed a further 49 kills up until November 1918.

Members

* Hobey Baker
* Clyde Balsley
* Courtney Campbell
* Victor Chapman (1890-1916) The first American aviator to be killed in World War I
* Elliot C. Cowdin
* Marsh Corbitt (1890-1988) Ace
* Edmond Genet The first American flier to die after the United States declared war against Germany
* Bert Hall (1885-1948) Film Director, Actor, Writer & Lieutenant. Wrote two books about being a "Flyboy" in the Lafayette Escadrille.
* James Norman Hall (1887-1951), co-author of Mutiny on the Bounty
* Willis Haviland
* Walter Lovell
* Raoul Lufbery (1885-1918), an ace who died in combat
* Didier Masson (1886-1950)
* James R. McConnell
* Edwin C. "Ted" Parsons
* Norman Prince (1887-1916), Founder and ace
* Frederick H. Prince, Jr. (1885-1963)
* Kiffin Rockwell
* William Thaw
* Gill Robb Wilson


* A statue by the sculptor Gutzon Borglum titled The Aviator (1919) was erected on the grounds of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia in the memory of James R. McConnell, a member of the squadron who was killed during the War. Before he was killed McConnell wrote a first-hand account of the war, Flying in France, that gives the reader invaluable insight into the war in France from 1915 until his death in 1917. Letters added to the end of the book include an account of McConnell's demise.

The story of the Lafayette Escadrille has been adapted into two films: Lafayette Escadrille (1958), a William A. Wellman movie starring Tab Hunter, and Flyboys (2006), directed by Tony Bill and starring James Franco. The Lafayette Escadrille also appears in "Attack of the Hawkmen," an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in which Indy is temporarily assigned to the group as an aerial reconnaissance photographer.

The exploits of the Lafayette Escadrille are also captured in several works of historical fiction including: To the Last Man by Jeffrey Shaara,Valiant Volunteers by Terry L. Johnson (2005), and An Ace Minus One by Timothy Morrisroe (2006).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Notice how there's no mention of Eugene Bullard in this wiki entry:

That's probably a good thing as Eugene Bullard was *never* in the Lafayette Escadrille (N.124 nor Spa.124). He was in the larger organization of Americans who flew for the French called the Lafayette Flying Corps.

He flew with Spa.93 (The Lafayette Flying *Corps*) following his transfer from a French Foreign Legion Infantry unit. After fewer than 50 missions, Bullard ran into trouble with his superiors and was transferred back to the infantry.

By first-hand accounts, Bullard was well-liked by his fellow fliers.

You can find all the info you'd like in this book:Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. The Lafayette Flying Corps. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920.

One of these guys (Hall) was in the Escadrille, the other (Nordhoff) flew in the Corps.


I know that this contradicts the movie "Flyboys", but, c'est la vie.