OCTOBER was a month of glorious successes for 94 Squadron,
having brought us thirty-nine victories with but five losses. For, besides
Captain Coolidge and Lieutenant Nutt the Squadron had lost Lieutenant Saunders
of Billings, Montana, shot down on the 22nd, when out after balloons with Cook
and Jeffers. Cook on this occasion succeeded in setting fire to the balloon he
was attacking, and Jeffers turning upon the Fokker which had just sunk
Saunders, shot him down in flames sixty seconds later.
On the 29th, Lieutenant Garnsey of Grand Haven, Michigan,
fell in our lines near Exermont, after having fought a brilliant combat against
greatly superior numbers. Reed Chambers, after bringing down an enemy machine
on the 22nd, which he attacked at the tail of a Fokker formation containing
five aeroplanes, returned to the aerodrome in considerable pain from a sudden
seizure of appendicitis and next day was sent to the hospital, where he had the
The Squadron had developed eight aces, including Lufbery,
Campbell, Coolidge, Meissner and Chambers, all of whom were now absent, and
Cook, Taylor and myself, who were left to carry on to the end of the war.
Meissner was absent only in the sense that he was now in command of the 147th
Squadron and his victories were going to swell the score for his newly adopted
squadron instead of our own.
Many others were " going strong " at the end of October and
needed but the opportunity to fight their way up into the leading scores of the
group. Rain and dud weather kept us on the ground much of the time and when we
did get away for brief patrols we found the enemy machines were even more
particular about flying in bad weather than we were. None put in an appearance
and we were forced to return empty-handed so far as fighting laurels were
Our first Night Flying Squadron had been formed early in
October, under command of Captain Seth Low of New York, and had its hangars on
our Group aerodrome. This was not a Squadron of bombcarrying aeroplanes, but
one with which to attack bombing machines of the enemy and prevent their
reaching their intended targets over our lines. The night-flying aeroplanes
were the English Sopwith Camels, a light single-seater capable of extraordinary
evolutions in the air and able to land upon the ground in the darkness at a
very low speed. The British had inaugurated this special defense against the
Hun bombers an their raids upon London. Later the same system was tried at the
British front with such success that over a score of German bombers were
brought down in a single month by one Squadron of Night Flying Camels.
Of course such a defense must have the cooperation, both of
signaling and listening squads, to notify the Night Flyers as to just when and
where an attack is threatened, and also the timely cooperation of the
Searchlight squads is essential to enable the airmen to pick up the enemy
machines in the darkness while at ; the same time blinding with the glare the
eyes of the Hun pilots. Principally by reason of the lack of this cooperation
our Camel Squadron, though it made several sorties along the lines during the
month of October did not meet any enemy bombers and had no combats. Time and
study of this problem would doubtless have made of the Squadron 185 a valuable
defense to our sector of the front, including the cities of Nancy, Toul and
Columbey-les-Belles, which were repeatedly visited at night by German Gothas.
Bombs were getting heavier and more destructive. More and
more machines were being devoted to this branch of aviation. But now instead of
the Germans monopolizing this terror-spreading game the tables were turned and
the Allies dropped ten times the amount of bombs into German cities. Even the
oldest residents were moving out of the beautiful cities of the Rhine.
On the next to the last day of October I won my 25th and
26th victories, which were the last that I was to see added to my score. Two
others that I had previously brought down were never confirmed. After the
deplorable death of Frank Luke, who had won eighteen victories in less than six
weeks of active flying at the front, there were no other American air-fighters
who were rivaling me in my number of victories. But ever since I had been
Captain of the 94th Squadron the spur of rivalry had been entirely supplanted
in me by the necessity of illustrating to the pilots under my orders that I
would ask them to do nothing that I myself would not do. So covetously did I
guard this understanding with myself that I took my machine out frequently
after the day's patrol was finished and spent another hour or two over the
lines. The obligations that must attend leadership were a constant thought to
me. Greater confidence in my leadership was given me when I noticed that my
pilots appreciated my activity and my reasons for it. Never did I permit any
pilot in my squadron to exceed the number of hours flying over the lines that
was credited to me in the flight sheets. At the close of the war only Reed
Chambers' record approached my own in number of hours spent in the air.
I allude to this fact because I am convinced after my six
weeks' experience as Squadron Commander that my obedience to this principle did
much to account for the wholehearted and enthusiastic support the pilots of my
Squadron gave me. And only by their loyalty and enthusiasm was their Squadron
to lead all the others at the front in number of victories and number of hours
over enemy's lines.
With Reed Chambers' forced absence at the hospital the
leadership of our First Flight was put in charge of Lieutenant Kaye. On October
30th I had been out on two patrols in the forenoon, both of which had been
without unusual incident or result. When Kaye left the field with his Flight at
three o'clock in the afternoon I decided to accompany him to observe his
tactics as Flight Leader. This formation, composed of only four machines, two
of which were piloted by new men, was to fly at only 2,000 feet elevation and
was to patrol to enemy's lines between Grand Pre and Brieulles. I took my place
considerably in their rear and perhaps l,000 feet above them. In this position
we reached Brieulles and made two round trips with them between our two towns
without discovering any hostile aeroplanes.
As we turned west for the third trip, however, I noticed two
lone Fokkers coming out of Germany at a low elevation. From their maneuvers I
decided that they were stalking Lieutenant Kaye's Flight and were only waiting
until they had placed themselves in a favorable position before beginning their
attack. I accordingly turned my own machine away into Germany to get behind
them, still keeping my altitude and trusting that they would be too intent on
the larger quarry to notice me.
I had hardly begun to turn back when I saw that they had set
their machines in motion for their attack. Opening up myself I put down my nose
and tried to overtake them, but they had too great a start. I saw that Kaye had
not seen them and in spite of the odds in our favor I feared for the two new
men, who were at the end of the formation and who must assuredly bear the first
diving assault of the Fokkers. Fortunately, Kaye saw 'them coming before they
had reached firing range and he immediately turned his formation south in the
direction of home. " Cook is with Kaye and those two will be able to defend the
two youngsters if the Fokkers really get to close quarters," I thought to
myself. I could not hope to overtake them myself, anyway, if they continued
back into France. So, after a little reflection I stayed where I was,
witnessing a daring attempt of the Fokkers to break up Kaye's Formation which,
nevertheless, was unsuccessful. Both Fokkers attacked the rear Spad, which was
piloted by Lieutenant Evitt, one of our new men. Instead of trying to maneuver
them off he continued to fly straight ahead, affording them every opportunity
in the world of correcting their aim and getting their bullets home. Evitt
discovered upon landing that one of his right struts was severed by their
After this one attack the Fokkers turned back. I was in the
meantime flying deeper into Germany, keeping one eye upon the two enemy
machines to discover in which direction they would cross the lines to reach
their own side. They seemed in no hurry to get back, but continued westward,
heading towards Grand Pre. Very well! This suited me perfectly. I would make a
great detour, coming back out of Germany immediately over Grand Pre with the
hope that if they saw me they might believe me one of their own until we got to
But before I reached Grand Pre I noticed them coming towards
me. I was then almost over the town of Emecourt and quite a little distance
within their lines. They were very low, and not more than a thousand feet above
ground at most. I was quite twice this heighth. Like lambs to the slaughter
they came unsuspectingly on not half a mile to the east of me. Letting them
pass I immediately dipped over, swung around as I fell and opening up my motor
piqued with all speed on the tail of the nearest Fokker. With less than twenty
rounds, all of which poured full into the center of the fusilage, I ceased
firing and watched the Fokker drop helplessly to earth. As it began to revolve
slowly I noticed for the first time that again I had outwitted a member of the
von Richthofen crowd. The dying Fokker wore an especially brilliant nose- piece
of bright red!
As my first tracer bullets began to streak past the Fokker
his companion put down his nose and dived for the ground. As he was well within
his own territory I did not venture to follow him at this low altitude, but at
once began climbing to avoid the coming storm of Archy and machine-gun fire.
Little or none of this came my way, however, and I continued homeward, passing
en route over the little village of St. George, which was then about two miles
inside the enemy lines. And there directly under my right wing lay in its bed a
German observation balloon just at the edge of the village. On a sudden impulse
I kicked over my rudder, pointed my nose at the huge target and pulled the
triggers. Both guns worked perfectly. I continued my sloping dive to within a
hundred feet of the sleeping Drachen, firing up and down its whole length by
slightly shifting the course of my aeroplane. Not a human being was in sight!
Evidently the Huns thought they were quite safe in this spot, since this
balloon had not yet been run up and its location could not be known to our
side. I zoomed up and climbed a few hundred feet for another attack if it
should be necessary. But as I balanced my machine and looked behind me I saw
the fire take effect. These flaming bullets sometimes require a long time to
ignite the balloon fabric. Doubtless they travel too fast to ignite the pure
gas, unmixed with air.
The towering flames soon lit up the sky with a vivid glare
and keeping it behind me, I speeded homeward, with many self-satisfied chuckles
at my good fortune. But too much self-satisfaction always receives a jolt. I
had not gone ten miles before I received the worst kind of a scare.
It had become quite dark and I was very near to the ground.
Still some distance inside the German lines, for I had kept east in the hope
that another Hun balloon might be left for my last rounds of ammunition, I
thought of looking at my watch to see how late it really was. I had fuel for
only two hours and ten minutes. A vague sort of premonition warned me that I
had been overlooking something of importance in the past few minutes. One
glance at my watch and I realized exactly what had been weighing in the back of
my mind. The time indicated that I had now been out exactly two hours and ten
A real terror seized me for a moment. I was not up far
enough above earth to glide for any distance when my motor stopped. Even as I
banked over and turned southward I wondered whether my motor would gasp and
expire in the turning. I feared to climb and I feared to stay low. I gazed over
the sides of my office and tried to make out the nature of the landing ground
below. Throttling down to the slowest possible speed to save fuel I crept
towards the lines. It was dark enough to see that suspicious Heinies below were
shooting at me on the chance that I might be an enemy. Glad I was to see those
flashes receding farther and farther to my rear. I had passed the lines
somewhere west of Verdun and now must chance any open field I came to when the
engine gave its last cough. Why didn't it stop? I wondered. It was now five or
six minutes overdue. In miserable anticipation of the lot Fate had in store for
me I struggled on, noting with additional gloom that the searchlight that
should long ago be pointing out the way to my aerodrome had not been lighted. I
could not be more than ten miles from home. Why couldn't those men attend to
their business when pilots were known to be out? I took out my Very pistol and
fitted in a red light. That would notify them at home that I was in trouble and
in a hurry to land.
Just as I fired the second Very light I heard the motor
begin its final sputtering. And then just as I felt cold chills running up my
back the blessed landing lights flashed out and I saw I was almost over the
field. Forgetting all my recent joy I made myself as wretched as possible the
following few seconds in concluding that I could not by any possibility reach
the smooth field. It seemed to work the treatment. I had expatiated my
sins of over-confidence and appeased the Goddess of Luck, for I cleared the
road, landed with the wind and struck the ground with a quiet thud less than a
hundred feet from the entrance to 94's hangarright side up! But I walked
over to mess with a chastened spirit.
The following morning was rainy and all the afternoon it
continued to pour. Just before dusk we received orders to have our whole force
over the lines at daybreak to protect an infantry advance from Grand Pre to
Buzancy. We all felt that we were to witness the last great attack of the war.
And we were right.
A heavy fog of the genuine Mouse Valley variety prevented
our planes leaving the ground until the middle of the forenoon. All the morning
we heard the tremendous artillery duel at the north of us and very impatiently
waited for a clearing of the weather. That dull morning was somewhat relieved
by our receipt of newspapers stating that Turkey had surrendered
unconditionally and that Austria was expected to follow suit the following day.
Placing about a hundred of these journals in my plane, I set out for the lines
with our patrol at 9.30 o'clock.
Arrived over the front lines near the town of Lapelle, I
flew at an altitude of only a hundred feet from the ground. And there I saw our
doughboys after their victorious advance of the morning crouching in every
available shell-hole and lying several deep in every depression while looking
forward for a snipe shot at any enemy's head that came into view. Others were
posted behind woods and buildings with bayonets fixed, waiting for the word to
go forward. As I passed overhead I threw overboard handfuls of morning papers
to them and was amused to see how eagerly the doughboys ran out of their holes
to pick them up. With utter disdain for the nearby Hun snipers, they exposed
themselves gladly for the opportunity of getting the latest news from an
aeroplane. I knew the news they would get would repay them for the momentary
risk they ran.
Dropping half my load there I flew on over the Mozelle
valley where I distributed the remainder of the papers among the men in the
front line trenches along that sector. Returning then to the region of Buzancy
I first caught sight of a huge supply depot burning. A closer view disclosed
the fact that it was German and German soldiers were still on the premises.
They were destroying materials that they knew they would be unable to save. In
other words they were contemplating a fast retreat.
A few dashes up and down the highways leading to the north
quickly confirmed this impression. Every road was filled with lorries and
retreating artillery. All were hurrying towards Longuyon and the German border.
All the way up the Meuse as far as Stenay I found the same
mad rush for the rear. Every road was filled with retreating Heinies. They were
going while the " going was good " and their very gestures seemed to indicate
that for them it was indeed the " finis de la guerre." I hurried home to make
my report which I felt certain would be welcome to those in authority.
The following day I obtained permission to visit Paris on a
three days' leave. For the first time since I had been in France I found the
streets of Paris illuminated at night and gaiety unrestrained possessing the
boulevards and cafes. With the Place de la Concord and the Champs Elysees
crammed with captured German guns and German aeroplanes, with flags and bunting
astream everywhere it looked here too that people thought it was the "finis de
la guerre." I am told that Paris did not go raving mad until that unforgettable
night of the signing of the Armistice; but from the street scenes I saw there
during those first days of November while the Huns were in full retreat from
the soil of France that had so long been polluted by their feet it is difficult
to imagine how any people could express greater happiness.
Personally I am glad that I was with my Squadron instead of
in Paris on the night the war ended. For great as were the sights there, none
of them could have expressed to an aviator such a view of the sentiment and
feeling of aviation over the termination of this game of killing as was
exhibited at our own aerodrome on the night the official order " Cease Firing!
" came to us.
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