ON Monday, May 6th, 1918, the monotony of another " dud "
day was happily broken by the arrival at our aerodrome of our old comrades of
the 95th Squadron, who had been with us at Epiez. They had just completed their
gunnery training at Cazeau and were now ready for the great war. From that day
to the end of the conflict Squadrons 94 and 95 continued to occupy the same
aerodrome. No other two American squadrons in France ever equaled their
victories and number of hours flying over the lines.
Squadron 95 contained much the same quality of material as
was found in my own squadron. John Mitchell of Boston, now the Captain of the
Squadron, was an old boy from Fay School, St. Mark's and Harvard.
Quentin Roosevelt was one of the newly assigned pilots in
95. Both the enlisted men and his fellow pilots found that Quent relied upon
his own attainments rather than upon the reputation of his celebrated father;
and it is safe to say that Quent Roosevelt was easily the most popular man in
his Squadron. To indicate Quentin's love for square dealing and fairness, I may
divulge a little secret that were Quentin still living might not be told.
His commanding officer, moved perhaps by the fact that
Quentin was the son of Theodore Roosevelt, made him a Flight Commander before
he had ever made a flight over the lines. Quentin appreciated the fact that his
inexperienced leadership might jeopardize the lives of the men following him.
He accordingly declined the honor. But his superiors directed him to obey
orders and to take the office that had been assigned to him. A trio of pilots,
all of whom had had more experience in war flying than had Quentin so far
received, were placed under his command. And an order was posted directing
Lieutenant Roosevelt's Flight to go on its first patrol the following morning.
Quentin called his pilots to one side.
" Look here, you fellows, which one of you has had the most
flying over the lines ? You, Curtis ? "
Curtis shook his head and replied:
" Buckley, or Buford,both of them have seen more of
this game than I have."
Quentin looked them all over and made up his mind before he
" Well, any one of you knows more about it than I do!
To-morrow morning you, Buckley, are to be Flight Commander in my place. As soon
as we leave the ground, you take the lead. I will drop into your place. We will
try out each man in turn. They may be able to make me Flight Commander in name,
but the best pilot in my group is going to lead it in fact."
Until the day he died a gallant soldier's death, Quentin
Roosevelt continued to fly under the leadership of one of his pilots. He
himself had never led a flight.
Sumner Sewell, of Harvard, Bill Taylor, later killed in
combat, old Heinie Heindricks, later shot down with ten wounds and made a
prisoner in Germany, and a dozen other choice spirits combined to make of
Squadron 95 an aggregation second to none other in the world excepting
that of my own, the 94th.
About eight o'clock in the morning of May 7th, l918, the
French alerted us by telephone. Four enemy aeroplanes were flying over
Pont-à-Mousson and were headed for the south. The First Flightmy
own was on duty at the timevery luckily for us, as Jimmy Hall,
Eddie Green and I thought. We jumped for our machines and anxiously watched the
mechanics swinging the propellers
" Switch off! " yelled the mechanic.
" Coupez! " I replied as I cut the switch with one finger
while wriggling the rest of them into my fur gloves. Three or four downward
strokes of the stick and the mechanic paused a second to look over the fusilage
into my face.
" Contact ? " he yelled determinedly.
" Contact it is!" I called back, snapping on the switch. The
well groomed motor caught with a roar at the first heave and at almost the same
time I saw that Hall and Green were in equal readiness for the business of the
day A moment later and the three machines lifted their spinning wheels from the
ground and heading straight towards the little city of Pont-à-Mousson on
the Moselle, we began climbing as we flew.
When I looked down and found the roofs of
Pont-à-Mousson below me, my altimeter indicated an elevation of 12,000
feet. Nothing appeared to be in sight inside the German lines, so I turned my
scrutiny to the west towards St. Mihiel. The winding river there traced an
indistinct line around the hills about St. Mihiel, and finally disappeared near
distant Verdun. I drew my focus a little closer and instantly detected a moving
shadow some two or three miles inside our lines in the vicinity of Beaumont,
about half-way to St. Mihiel. It was a Bochethis I saw at the second
glance. Looked like a two-seater and was very evidently regulating the Huns'
artillery fire against some American position back of Beaumont. I dipped my
wings to signal the news of my discovery to my companions and as I did so I saw
Jimmy Hall's Nieuport play the same maneuver. The three of us began our direct
As we neared the vicinity of our unsuspicious prey I noticed
a German Archy shell break, not near me but in close proximity to their own
machine. The Hun shells emit a black smoke upon bursting, which distinguishes
them from the Allies' shells, which show a white smoke. Instantly the
two-seater Albatros turned and dived for Germany.
A moment later three more German shells burst ahead of the
retreating two-seater. And these three bursts were at about our present
altitude. It seemed to be a previously arranged method of conversation which
the gunners below were carrying on with the aeroplane high above them. They
were telling the Albatros that our three fast fighting machines were
approaching from the east, and they indicated by the smoke-bursts the precise
altitude at which we were flying.
Many times since have I noticed this marvelous signaling
arrangement between the anti-aircraft gunners and the German aeroplanes. Upon
one occasion I saw shell-bursts informing the Boche pilots of my presence above
a cloud when I was hiding and planning a surprise party for the oncoming Huns.
This admirable liaison between German artillery and their aviators might be
imitated with great advantage by our own army. For not only does the threatened
machine get this valuable warning, but aeroplane reinforcements far distant can
see these smoke-bursts and fly to the rescue with full information as to the
number, altitude and perhaps the type of hostile machines ahead of them. Almost
invariably an overpowering enemy formation appeared shortly after these signals
were sent up.
Still another signal was adopted by the Hun batteries to
indicate the formation of our machines to their pilots. Through their powerful
telescopes they ascertained the relative position of each machine in our
formation. If one of our machines climbed high above the rest of the formation
in order to perch well upstairs and guard against a surprise from the ceiling,
this maneuver was communicated to the Boche pilots by sending up one shell
which burst well above the others. Immediately the Boche pilots were on their
guard against an antagonist who was hiding in the glare of the sun and could
not be seen by them. The single high burst notified them that he was there.
As Captain Hall, Lieutenant Green and myself drew nearer to
the slower two-seater machine, another smoke-burst signal came from the
batteries below. I turned my head and looked about me to see if enemy machines
were coming in answer to these signals. Back towards Pont-à-Mousson I
thought I saw something in the sky. Keeping my gaze fixed in that direction, my
suspicions were soon verified. Four Pfalz scouts were in hot pursuit after us
and were diagonalling our course so as to cut off our retreat.
Sheering in ahead of Captain Hall, I wigwagged my wings and
headed away to the right. This is the signal given to the leader of a flight,
to draw his attention to a danger that he has overlooked. The next moment
Captain Hall had again taken the lead and all three of our machines had turned
and were headed eastward. The oncoming enemy formation was flying much below
us, which gave us a decided advantage. We could dive down to the attack when we
chose and could keep out of their reach so long as we kept above them. Our
machines were at that time some three of four miles inside the German lines.
For some unexplained reason Captain Hall began turning more
and more into Germany. I wondered what could be the trouble. Either he saw
something in that direction, or else he still was ignorant of the near presence
of the four Pfalz machines. I debated the matter for an instant, then darted in
ahead of Jimmy and gave him another signal Fully convinced now that he must see
the Boche formation which was hardly more than a mile from us, I came out of my
virage and headed down for the attack. With a man like Captain Hall behind me,
I did not fear for the outcome. His machine followed close behind mine.
From our superior height we soon accumulated a speed which
brought us into a very favorable position I selected the rear Pfalz scout and
got my sights dead upon him and prepared to shoot. My aim never wavered as the
distance between us narrowed. At 200 yards I pressed my trigger and watched my
tracer bullets speeding ahead into the Pfalz's wings. My gun continued to fire
steadily until I had approached to within 50 yards of the Pfalz. Then the enemy
machine turned over and fell into a vrille. I did not dare to follow him
farther. I zoomed up until I stood fairly upright on my tail, in which position
I looked swiftly around me.
My first thought was that during the intentness of my
pursuit against my victim one of his companions might be getting a similar
position over my tail. To my great relief no enemy was behind me. But off to
the right, not a hundred yards away, I saw a Nieuport diving steeply clown, and
on his tail was a diving Pfalz pouring streams of living fire into the fusilage
and cockpit of the American machine. Even as I watched this frightful death
chase, the tables were suddenly turned. Hall or Green, whichever it was,
seeming to tire of the monotony, zoomed quickly upwards and looped his machine
completely over, coming out of the loop just as the Pfalz went under him. In a
twinkling the situation was reversed and the Nieuport was pouring bullets at
the rate of 650 per minute into the Boche machine, ahead.
The Boche fell and I piqued down and flew alongside the
victorious Jimmy Hall. My surprise can be imagined when I discovered not Hall,
but Green looking across at me from his seat! And no other machine was in the
sky. What could have happened to Jimmy Hall ?
We flew homewards together, Green and I, encountering a
furious storm of Archy as we crossed the trenches. Arrived at the landing
ground, I immediately ran over to Green to inquire for news of Jimmy. My heart
was heavy as lead within me, for I was certain as to what the answer would be.
"Went down in a tail spin with his upper wing gone! " Green
informed me without my speaking. " I saw him dive onto a Boche just as I began
my attack. The next I saw of him, he was going in a vrille and the Boche was
still firing at him as he was falling. He must have struck just back of those
woods behind Montsec."
I cannot describe the joy that came to the squadron about a
month later when we received a letter from Jimmy Hall himself. He wrote from a
hospital in Germany, where he was laid up with a broken ankle. He had not been
shot down in the combat, as we had supposed, but had dived too swiftly for the
weak wing structure of a Nieuport. His upper wing had collapsed in full flight;
and not until he had almost reached the ground had he been able to straighten
out his aeroplane. In the crash he had escaped with merely a cracked ankle. In
another fortnight he hoped he would be as good as ever.
On November 19th, 1913, when the day came for the French
army to march in and occupy the fortress and city of Metz, several of the
officers from our squadron flew over from our aerodrome at Rembercourt to
witness the ceremony. We appeared to be the first Americans that the Metz
populace had seen. One of the first citizens that spoke to us while we were
overlooking the triumphal procession through the Plaza, asked us if we knew an
American aviator named Captain Hall. We immediately gathered around him and
drew him one side.
" Well," he said, half in French and half in German, " your
Captain Hall was confined in the hospital here for many weeks and then was in a
prison. Only yesterday the Germans evacuated Metz and all their prisoners were
et at liberty. Captain Hall left here yesterday in the direction of Nancy. He
walked away quite nicely with the aid of a cane, and perhaps he will be able to
get a ride part of the way."
Upon our return to the aerodrome from Metz next day, we
learned that Jimmy Hall had indeed come through the lines. He had gone to Paris
for a rest. A number of his old friends immediately got into their machines and
flew to Paris, where they greeted their long lost comrade with appropriate
ceremonies at the justly celebrated Inn of Monsieur de Crillon that
American aviator's rendezvous and oasis in Paris.
And from Jimmy Hall himself we learned the true facts of his
accident that day over Montsec. He had overtaxed his Nieuport by too fast a
dive. A wing gave way and threatened to drop him into the woods below. But by
nursing his machine along with engine half on he was succeeding, just as Jimmy
Meissner had done the day before, in making appreciable headway towards home,
when he felt a violent blow on his engine. His motor stopped dead. Again he
dropped utterly out of control and eventually crashed in an open field,
suffering a badly broken ankle.
One of the pilots with whom we had just been fighting landed
near by and came over and made him prisoner. A brief inspection of his motor
showed that the violent blow he had felt in mid-air was the result of a direct
hit by a dud shell! By some miracle it had failed to explode!
The Pfalz pilot took Captain Hall to his own Squadron
quarters where he dined that night with the German aviators. They admitted to
him that they had lost two machines in the fight with our formation that
Two machines! Green shot one down, but who got the
other? I had seen my man fall in a vrille, but having no time to follow him
down, I had concluded that he was shamming and was in reality quite unhurt. I
had not even thought that I had won a victory in that combat. Imagine my
surprise when Captain Hall later described how he himself had seen my
antagonist burst into flames and crash, burnt to a crisp! And the surviving
pilots of his Squadron admitted to Captain Hall that they had lost two machines
in that day's fight! Thus do victories sometimes come to the airfighter without
his realizing it. This enemy machine was never claimed and never credited to
Captain Hall's disappearance that day was known to the whole
civilized world within twenty-four hours. Widely known to the public as a most
gifted author, he was beloved by all American aviators in France as their most
daring air-fighter. Every pilot who had had the privilege of his acquaintance
burned with a desire to avenge him.
Within fifteen minutes after I had landed from Hall's last
patrol I encountered old Luf walking towards the aerodrome with a set look of
determination on his usually merry features that denoted no mercy to the
enemies he had in mind. He was, I knew, one of Jimmy's very intimate friends.
For many months they had flown together in the famous old Lafayette
His mechanics, seeing his approach, anticipated his wishes
and began pushing out his plane and collecting his flying equipment for him.
Without uttering a word Lufbery pulled on his flying suit, climbed into his
machine and set out towards Germany.
He flew for an hour and a half without encountering an enemy
plane. Then with but half an hour's petrol remaining he flew deeper into
Germany to attack singlehanded three fighting machines which he detected north
of St. Mihiel. One of these he shot down and the others took to their heels.
The following day his gallant victory was confirmed by an advanced Post which
had witnessed the combat.
Pathetic and depressing as was the disappearance of James
Norman Hall to all of us, I am convinced that the memory of him actually did
much to account for the coming extraordinary successes of his squadron. Every
pilot in his organization that day swore to revenge the greatest individual
loss that the American Air Service had yet suffered.
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