BY August 8th, 1918, our whole Squadron was fitted out with
the machines which we had so long coveted. The delight of the pilots can be
imagined. In the meantime we had lost a number of pilots on the flimsy
Nieuports, not by reason of their breaking up in air but because the pilots who
handled them feared to put them into essential maneuvers which they were unable
to stand. Consequently our pilots on Nieuports could not always obtain a
favorable position over an enemy nor safely escape from a dangerous situation.
The Spads were staunch and strong and could easily outdive the Nieuports. And
our antagonists opposite the Chateau-Thierry sector were, as I have indicated,
the very best of the German airmen. How greatly our new Spads increased our
efficiency will be seen from the results which followed.
By the eighth of August our victorious doughboys had pushed
back the Hun from the deep Chateau Thierry salient of twenty miles square, and
the lines now ran along the Vesle River, directly from Soissons to Rheims. This
long advance left our aerodrome at Touquin far in the rear. So far in fact,
that it was necessary for our aeroplanes to come down near the lines and refill
with gasoline before continuing our two hours' patrol over enemy territory.
The old Richthofen aerodrome at Coincy was now in our hands.
We established our filling station on this aerodrome. It lay then but eight
miles south of the German front trenches.
At three o'clock on the afternoon of the 8th, I received
orders to take every available plane from our Squadron and hurry out to the
front to protect two French machines which were detailed to take photographs of
an important position across the lines. Accordingly I collected all the pilots
and we made an immediate departure from the field. Eleven machines were in the
Flight. The others were not available, by reason of repairs then under way.
My ear was again troubling me and I was in despair over my
physical condition. The pain was continuous. I was determined to stick it out
without reporting it to the doctor, for I had the impression that a second
appearance at a Paris hospital would end my active service at the front. The
cook smuggled hot salt bags to me at night and I slept with these over my ear.
But during the day, and especially while in the air I felt constant pain from
The two Frenchmen met our formation at Coincy where we all
alighted and refilled our tanks. After ten minutes' delay we again took off,
three of my Spads failing to get away owing to minor troubles with their
motors. This left me with eight machines besides the two Frenchmen who were to
photograph and not to fight.
At 3,000 feet over the field I collected the formation and
fired a red Very light from my pistol as a signal to forge ahead. I had
arranged the formation with the two Frenchmen in the center, with one of my
Flights on their right, one on their left and one immediately behind them. I
myself flew a thousand yards above them. I anticipated strong opposition upon
reaching the lines, but felt that we were posted in a solid position. Only the
front center was left unprotected and little trouble might be expected from
this quarter as the Frenchmen each had two guns pointing to the front.
Just as we crossed the lines, all the machines flying along
in beautiful formation, I noticed a group of five Fokkers back of Soissons.
They were to the west of us, the sun was in the west, and from their maneuvers
I knew that they had sighted us and were flying for a position in the sun. Once
concealed by the sun's glare, they hoped to approach us and take us by
Keeping one eye upon them and climbing still higher so as to
keep well up to their level, I continued to lead my flotilla straight on
towards the objective. Reaching Vailly we began to circle about, while the
French Spads snapped their cameras. One complete circuit we made and had
started upon the second in order to make duplicates of all the exposures, when
I observed three of the Fokkers leave their formation and begin a perpendicular
dive upon the photographers. Even as I put down my own nose to intercept them,
I was conscious of a feeling of intense surprise and admiration at this
exhibition of bravery on the part of the three Huns. They were coming boldly in
to attack almost four times their number,- and we were still in excellent
formation. It would be quite impossible for the three Fokkers to reach the
Frenchmen without running the gauntlet of fire from at least twice their number
of Spads. Evidently these three Heinies were pilots of the first quality!
As I descended in an oblique to meet the Fokkers, I noticed
another Fokker formation of five coming straight at us from our rear. So this
was the prearranged tactics of their sudden attack! I veered away slightly and
looked over the situation. There was no time to lose! We must get rid of these
three knights, who had come a-tilting at us with the evident intention of
breaking up our formation, just in time for the onslaught of the reinforcements
who were coming rapidly to their support.
The very first maneuver made by the three Fokkers verified
my suspicions. The first Heinie came directly at one of the nearest French
Spads, diving disdainfully through the fire of our nearest protection squad. As
he approached within firing distance of the Frenchman he suddenly did a
brilliant renversement and doubled back on his tracks. Busy as I was at that
moment, I couldn't help but admire the daring pilot for his cleverness and
coolness. He zoomed up a short distance, turned over on his wing and this time
came down diagonally for a real attack. Our Spads were all firing upon him.
The Fokker was intent upon the French photographing machine.
He did not pay us the compliment of even noticing our presence. I was in
exactly the right position to meet his coming and at the proper moment I pulled
my machine straight up on her tail, trained my sights along the line of his
dive and began firing.
My bullets cut a straight streak of fire up and down his
path and as the Fokker entered this path I saw my flaming bullets rip through
his machine from stein to stern. By controling my Spad to keep pace with the
Fokker, I let go at least a hundred rounds before I saw that my bullets were
finally missing him. He must have been literally riddled with bullets.
He fell away and dropped, but did not burst into flames. I
cast one glance at his two companions and saw that they were being cared for by
other members of my Flights. Reed Chambers was having a merry set-to with one
of them, while the other was at some distance away endeavoring to rejoin his
Chambers had set upon his antagonist with such energy that
the Fritz had altered his original intention of taking a shot at the Frenchmen.
The latter were still under the protection of one of my small formations and
were making their way homewards. Suddenly Reed obtained a favorable position
under his Fokker, and with a short burst the enemy machine fell over onto its
wing and began drifting down out of control. Two of the daring Fokker pilots
had more than met their match but had put up one of the most brilliant attacks
I had ever witnessed.
In the meantime I was in considerable difficulty myself.
From the time of my first shots I had stalled my motor and was now drifting
through air with a dead propeller while watching the proceedings above me. I
was an easy victim in this condition should the five Fokkers detect me without
power, and the sole method of restarting my motor was a long dive that would
force my propeller to revolve through sheer pressure of the air against it. I
lost no time in tipping over on my wing, and then heading vertically downwards,
let my machine rip through the atmosphere for a 1500-foot fall before switching
on my spark.
The engine mercifully started and I again pointed up my nose
and climbed with all speed to overtake my fellows. The end of the two
vanquished Fokkers I had had no opportunity to observe.
My instructions to my Spads had been to stick closely to the
French two-seater machines and to protect them across the lines, no matter what
happened to any individuals who might be cut off. For some unknown reason the
Fokkers above me did not take advantage of my isolation and made no effort to
get me as I flew along in the rear of my formations. Reed Chambers had already
caught up with them and they were all well over our lines.
The French machines dropped down to our field at Coincy,
while the Spads of 94 continued on their way homewards. Landing beside the
French photographers I inquired as to the success of the expedition and learned
that they had actually snapped thirty-five views of the positions they wanted,
in spite of the Fokkers' attack.
Upon inspection of the one French two-seater which had been
the object of my Fokker's attack, we found that the German airman was as good a
shot as he was pilot. We counted a number of bullet holes in the tail of the
machine, none of them fortunately having broken any of the control wires.
Our efforts to obtain confirmations of the destruction of
the two Fokkers shot down by Chambers and myself were disappointing. Our troops
were advancing so rapidly that none of the regiments who were along that sector
on the eighth of August could be located, when a few days later we drove over
to that front to make inquiries. However one can scarcely expect to get
confirmations for all one's victories, since nine-tenths of our combats were
necessarily fought on the German side of the lines.
My Fokker pilot may have escaped death; and now that the war
is over, I most sincerely hope that he did, for he was a brave pilot and a
At lunchtime on August tenth we received orders for all
hands to get aloft at once and form an aerial barrier in front of a small piece
of woods that lay just back of our lines northwest of Fere-en-Tardenois. This
wood was scarcely two miles from the enemy trenches and our natural supposition
was that our Generals were filling this area with troops or guns and desired to
conceal the fact from enemy espionage.
Upon landing at the Coincy field for refilling with gasoline
we found that our surmises were correct. Long convoys of motor-lorries, all
cleverly camouflaged to merge with the roads and fields, were rapidly passing
northwards, and all were packed full of our doughboys. The road kept humming
with these convoys all the afternoon. Evidently there was to be a big push on
the morrow directed against Fismes from this very advantageous position so
close to their front.
Just as we were getting away, Lieutenant Tytus of the 1st
Aero Squadron came running up to me and told me that he was ordered to select a
flight of our machines to protect him in a photographing mission over Fismes
and the roads leading into it from the north. The Army authorities desired to
have the fullest information as to just what the enemy was doing, before
completing arrangements for the morrow's attack. He asked me if I would pick
out a few pilots from my Squadron and be ready to go up with him in ten
I asked for volunteers, as this was purely a voluntary
mission. Five pilots immediately asked for the job and we drew our machines
apart from the others.
Being in command of this expedition, I determined to see to
it that a complete understanding existed between our Spad pilots and the pilots
of the Salmson machines of No. 1 Squadron who were to do the photographing. The
region to be photographed was a large one, covering several towns lying between
the Vesle and the Aisne rivers and all the highways running between them. It
would take some time thoroughly to cover this territory and we were certain to
be attacked before completing the excursion.
I talked to the pilots for five minutes and made everybody
understand that when they saw me make a virage, or circle on one wing, just
ahead of them they must immediately make a dive for our lines without any
delay, photographs or no photographs. With our experience of the strength of
the enemy Fokkers in this sector, it would be senseless suicide for our five
machines to attempt to parley with overwhelming numbers of the enemy. It would
be useless to get the photographs if we could not return with them.
At 5:30 sharp we left the ground and flew away over Fismes.
At that time Fismes was directly on the line. American troops held the south
half of the city and German troops occupied the northern half. Fismes lays just
half-way between Rheims and Soissons.
We were directly over Fismes when I detected a formation of
eight red-nosed Fokkers stealing around on our left. They had evidently just
left their aerodrome and were coming over to patrol the lines. Their present
maneuver was as clear as crystal to me. They hoped to get behind us at a
superior altitude and then come in upon our rear with the sun at their backs.
It was precisely the maneuver I should have attempted in their place.
We had the advantage of them in one particular--- they did
not know how deep we intended going into their territory. I saw by their
actions that they intended to overlook us until we were well within their
grasp, and then they would suddenly discover us.
" Very well! " I said to myself, " we will go ahead and
photograph until you are ready to attack! "
Affecting ignorance of their presence, I continued straight
into Germany. We made a short cut from southeast to northwest and came back in
the contrary direction. A few discreet circles enabled the photographers to
cover fairly well the territory they wanted, without taking us more than six
miles within the German lines.
As we began our second circuit the Fokkers determined to
start something. They had made up their minds that we were not playing fair
with them. Five of their machines came darting down upon us from a great
altitude, while the remainder continued cruising the lines between us and home.
I saw the attack coming and put my Spad in motion at the same instant.
Diving down behind my little formation which was tranquilly
pursuing its way northwards, I passed behind the tails of the rear machines and
immediately zoomed up directly in front of them, turning sharply back to the
right so that they could not help seeing me. Without further thought of their
possible misunderstanding of this pre-arranged signal I began climbing for
altitude directly towards the approaching Fokkers. The five enemy machines had
their sharp edged wings cutting the air directly towards me. It is a thrilling
and a somewhat fearful sight to see the outline of a Fokker biplane descending
upon one. I see them in my dreams very frequently after too hearty a supper
late at night.
Beginning firing at a comparatively long range I held the
Spad on its steepest course and waited to discover which side of me the Fokkers
would choose to pass. Soon they began firing too and the swift streaks of fire
formed a living path along which we both traveled. I felt deep down in my heart
that they would not stop to take me on. Their object was to get the two-seater
which had the damaging photographs. They would swerve to my right at the last
instant in order to place me between them and my formation. My Spads must be
well together and headed downwards towards the lines by now. I had no time to
look around, for I was lying back, half upon my back, the earth well under my
tail and the sun under my engine, which prevented it from shining full into my
eyes. Almost instinctively I prepared to flatten out and immediately swing over
to the right. The enemy must move in that direction!
As we whizzed past each other I ceased firing and flattened
out my course. The enemy machines had passed me and I now had the tipper
ceiling. They had fortunately continued on down after the Salmson, just as I
had expected them to do. Now the other Spads in my flight must look after them.
Evidently none of the five had been injured by my fire any more than they had
injured me. We each of us had presented a very small target subject to injury.
As I eased off my motor I heard the crackling of machine-gun
fire below me. I first cast another glance at the distant Fokker formation
above me, then looked down over the sides of my office. Surely the five Fokkers
could not have reached my Spads so soon! They should have been diving for the
lines long ago!
As I looked down I discovered a regular dog-fight was in
progress. Certainly those were Spad machines which were turning and twisting
about the encircling Fokkers, and the Spads in fact seemed to outnumber the
Fokkers. Something strange about the color of the Spads' wings first struck my
attention, and then I discovered that this fight was between a French squadron
of Spads and another formation of Fokkers that had evidently arrived at the
same spot at the same time. Without my being aware of it, two different groups
of aeroplanes had been watching our little party all this while and had all
concentrated below me to meet the diving Fokkers!
The Salmson and my five Spads were well below me in about
the position I expected to find them. The Spads had instantly obeyed my signal
and had begun diving even as they headed around to the rear. They were well out
of the melee.
Considerably chagrined over my lack of caution and thanking
my lucky stars again that the new arrivals which had stolen in from an
unobserved quarter were part friendly instead of all hostile, I turned about
and vindictively charged into the midst of the combat.
A Fokker had just zoomed up ahead of a diving Spad, letting
the Frenchman proceed below him at headlong speed, when I arrived upon his
tail. With my first burst the Fokker turned over and fell earthwards out of
control. Still too angry with myself to think of caution, I was badly scared a
moment later by the spectacle of flaming bullets streaking past my face. I
dropped over onto my wing, kicked my rudder crosswise, and fell a hundred yards
in a vrille. No more bullets coming in my direction, I hastily pulled my Spad
into position and cleaved the air for home! I wanted to get off by myself and
think this over! Never again would I venture into hostile skies without
twisting my neck in all directions every moment of the flight!
That night after an examination of my machine I called to my
mechanics and directed them to bring me the painter's paints and brush. With
painstaking care I took the brush and drew little circles around three holes in
my wings where German bullets had passed through.
" Cover these holes as neatly as possible," I directed the
mechanics, " and then have the painter put a small maltese cross over each
patch. These are little souvenirs that will remind me of something next time I
am over the lines!
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