PART VI: AMERICAN VOLUNTEER AIRMEN
THE LAFAYETTE, OR AMERICAN, ESCADRILLE
No development of the Great War has possessed for American youth the novelty, the picturesqueness, or the fascination of the air-ship service. It isn't many years ago that the feat of sailing an air-ship across the Channel from France to England, a distance of less than twenty-five miles, was hailed as an exploit of extraordinary skill and daring. At the present writing there are those who seriously advocate sending the feet of huge American-built, Handley Page bombing air-ships, with their spread of a hundred feet, to the battle front in France under their own power by a zigzag course to Newfoundland, the Azores, and Spain. The longest leg of this journey, from Newfoundland to the Azores, could be made by one of these ships, barring accidents, in about thirteen hours.
Up to the outbreak of the war the monoplane and the biplane were regarded as wonderful toys of problematical commercial value. Even the Germans, to the diabolical ingenuity of whom the development of the poison-gas bomb and the flame-throwers was due, seem to have had no idea of the prominent part which the heavier-than-air flying-machines were to play in the conduct of war. They had great hopes that the Zeppelins which they possessed would give them the mastery of the air for unrestricted bombing purposes, but these monsters proved to be too unwieldy and generally too untrustworthy for this purpose. The latest attempt of Zeppelins to bomb English cities, in August, 1918, was a complete fiasco.
At first the air-ships were used by both the French-and the Germans for observation purposes only. It is a legend of the service, which ought to be true even if it is not, that at the first meeting over the fighting lines of two French and German air-ships, the pilots greeted each other pleasantly. At the next meeting one---we may safely assume that it was the German !---scowled and shook his fist at the other. At the third encounter one threw a bottle at his adversary, and at the next meeting fired a pistol. The transition to the quick-firing gun was then rapid.
The air service appealed with especial force to the sporting instincts of the young Americans who were eager to help France in her dire extremity. Its chief fascination lay in the fact that it offered practically free play in a limitless medium to individual initiative, judgment, and skill. This was a form of warfare which harmonized perfectly with American traditions and with the American temperament.
Any narrative of the exploits of American volunteer airmen in the Great War must begin with the formation of the Lafayette Escadrille. The full story of the organization, after months of ceaseless effort of this corps, was told by one of its two surviving members, Elliott C. Cowdin, in an article which he published in the Harvard Alumni Bulletin for March 7, 1918. Cowdin gave the full credit for the formation of this flying corps and for its incorporation in the French flying service to the energy and persistence of Norman Prince. He said:
Norman Prince had spent many years and made many friends in France, and felt it his privilege and duty to serve her in the hour of her need. Prince arrived in Paris by way of England early in January, 1915. Knowing there were many Americans in the Foreign Legion and the various ambulance units, and being one of the pioneer aviators of the United States, he conceived the idea of forming an aero squadron, composed exclusively of Americans, to join the French Army. He consulted with his French friends, of whom Lieutenant Jacques de Lesseps was the most enthusiastic and was instrumental in getting the French War Department to listen to Prince's ideas and plans. He solicited the aid of several prominent Americans then residing in Paris, but they all declined to be identified in any way with the scheme, so that Prince had to fight his own battle, single-handed. The French Government told him they could not use his services, as aviation was so popular among the soldiers and so many were seeking to be admitted to this service that they had more aviators than they could use.
This decision was finally reversed through the influence of M. de Sillac, who was connected with the Department of Foreign Affairs and to whom Prince had been introduced by John J. Chapman, the father of Victor Chapman. Of the original group of young American airmen who formed the Lafayette Escadrille, Cowdin wrote as follows:
Early in May  we were all mobilized at the Alsatian front as the "Lafayette Squadron" with French officers, Captain Thenault and Lieutenant de Laage, in command. The original members, besides those officers, were: Norman Prince, William Thaw, Victor Chapman and Kiffin Rockwell, of the Foreign Legion; James McConnell, who had already done good work in the American Ambulance before joining the French Aviation; Bert Hall and myself. Five of the original nine have been killed at the front.
We remained but a short time in Alsace and were then transferred to the Verdun Sector, where we were joined by such men as Lufbery, Masson, Clyde Balsley (who was severely wounded the first week), Dudley Hill, Lawrence Rumsey and Chouteau Johnson.
The Squadron has increased steadily, so that at the end of last year [19171 a total of 325 men had joined it, counting those training in various schools. Of this number, some 25 have given their lives, several have been wounded, and several are prisoners.
Norman Prince, Victor Chapman, Kiffin Rockwell, Jim McConnell and Lieutenant de Laage gave their lives gloriously for the great cause, and the only surviving member of the original squadron left at the front is William Thaw, now a Major with the American Force, still flying and doing great work for his country.
Norman Prince fortunately lived long enough to see his long-cherished ideas successfully carried out and the Lafayette Squadron at the height of its success.
The best collection of pen-portraits of these early members of the Lafayette, or, as it was as often called, the American, Escadrille and the most vivid and entertaining description of the life they led on the ground and in the air, are to be found in a paper which one of their number, James McConnell, contributed to the World's Work for November, 1916, and which was later incorporated in his book, "Flying for France." To McConnell and to those of his companions who for many long months had been trench-diggers in the Foreign Legion or drivers of ambulances, the transition to the choicest branch of the French military service was as startling as it was welcome. "For us all," says McConnell, '`it contained unlimited possibilities for initiative and for service to France, and for them [Rockwell and Chapman] it must have meant, too, the restoration of personality lost during those months in the trenches with the Foreign Legion."
As a good air-pilot was considered to be of as much value to the army as a battalion of troops, nothing was left undone to make the Americans comfortable and contented. McConnell is most amusing in his serene contemplation of the comparative luxury of his new surroundings. Met at the railway-station at Luxeuil, perhaps twenty miles northwest of Belfort, by a motorcar which took him to the aviation-field, he recalled, as he lolled back against the soft leather cushions, how in his apprenticeship days at Pau he had had to walk six miles for his laundry ! When he arrived at the headquarters of the escadrille his surprise was even greater:
The equipment awaiting us at the field was even more impressive than our automobile. Everything was brand new, from the fifteen Fiat trucks to the office, magazine, and rest tents. And the men attached to the Escadrille! At first sight they seemed to outnumber the Nicaraguan army---mechanicians, chauffeurs, armorers, motor cyclists, telephonists, wireless operators, Red Cross stretcher bearers, clerks! Afterward I learned they totalled seventy-odd, and that all of them were glad to be connected with the American Escadrille.
In their hangars stood our trim little Nieuports. I looked mine over with a new feeling of importance and gave orders to my mechanicians for the mere satisfaction of being able to. To find oneself the sole proprietor of a fighting airplane is quite a treat, let me tell you. One gets accustomed to it, though, after one has used up two or three of them---at the French Government's expense.
Rooms were assigned to us in a villa adjoining the famous hot baths of Luxeuil, where Caesar's cohorts were wont to besport themselves. We messed with our officers, Captain Thenault and Lieutenant de Laage de Mieux, at the best hotel in town. An automobile was always on hand to carry us to the field. I began to wonder whether I was a summer resorter instead of a soldier.
When on his arrival McConnell's attention was called to eight little boxes on the table and he was informed that each contained a Croix de Guerre which was to be sent to the family of a man that had been killed on the last bombing expedition, his surroundings acquired a different meaning, and he noted, with a touch of grim humor:
I thought of the luxury we were enjoying: our comfortable beds, baths, and motor cars; and then I recalled the ancient custom of giving a man selected for the sacrifice a royal time of it before the appointed day.
Of the seven members of the American Escadrille who were together at Luxeuil, three---McConnell, Chapman, and Rockwell---were novices in flying, just arrived from the assembly station for aviators near Paris. The other four had had more or less experience with air-ships of various types. McConnell calls William Thaw, of Pittsburgh, the pioneer of them all, because he had been in the French flying service since early in 1915, and by the autumn of that year he was pilot of a Caudron biplane, doing good work as an observer. Meanwhile Norman Prince, of Boston, and Elliott Cowdin, of New York, who were the first Americans to enter the French aviation service, coming direct from the United States, had been at the front on Voisin air-ships with a "cannon" mounted in the bow. Finally Bert Hall, whose home was in Texas, had got himself transferred, according to McConnell, from the Foreign Legion to aviation soon after Thaw did, and learning the art quickly, had been flying a Nieuport fighting machine.
Of the men mentioned by Cowdin who joined the American Escadrille after its headquarters were shifted to the Verdun sector, Raoul Lufbery, "American citizen and soldier, but dweller in the world at large," as McConnell calls him, hailed from Wallingford, Conn. Didier Masson had been a flier for exhibition purposes in the United States, Clyde Balsley was from El Paso, Dudley Hill from Peekskill, Lawrence Rumsey from Buffalo, and Chouteau Johnson from New York. All of the men of this group, except Lufbery and Masson, had been in the ambulance service, but in McConnell's expressive phrase, they were "tired of being non-combatant spectators." McConnell himself was born in Chicago, was educated at the University of Virginia, and was in business in Carthage, North Carolina; until January, 1915, when he sailed for France and entered the American Ambulance service. Chapman's home city was New York, and Kiffin Rockwell came from Atlanta, Georgia.
The members of the American Escadrille were provided, to their great joy, with Nieuport airships, which meant that they were to form a fighting unit. The Nieuport was then the best type of fighting airplane the French possessed. It was a one-man air-ship, with a maximum speed of about 110 miles an hour and with a machine-gun mounted on its roof. The pilot fired the gun with one hand and controlled his ship with the other and with his feet. Each of the machines bore, as the distinguishing mark of the Escadrille, the head in profile of an American Indian; and on the side of the car of each was an individual identification mark, that on Hall's being the large letters BERT, and on McConnell's the letters MAC.
Flying in one of these Nieuports, while the squadron was still at Luxeuil, Rockwell brought down the Escadrille's first German airplane. McConnell described the combat as follows:
He was flying alone when, over Thann, he came upon a German on reconnaissance. He dived and the German turned toward his own lines, opening fire from a long distance. Rockwell kept straight after him. Then, closing to within thirty yards, he pressed on the release of his machine gun, and saw the enemy gunner fall backward and the pilot crumble up sideways in his seat. The 'plane flopped downward and crashed to earth just behind the German trenches. Swooping close to the ground, Rockwell saw its debris burning away brightly. He had turned the trick with but four shots and only one German bullet had struck his Nieuport. An observation post telephoned the news before Rockwell's return, and he got a great welcome. All Luxeuil smiled upon him---particularly the girls. But he couldn't stay to enjoy his popularity. The Escadrille was ordered to the sector of Verdun.
THE FIRST AMERICAN AVIATOR TO FALL
Victor Chapman's passion, as we have seen, was for color and scenery, with an admixture of danger. His flying papers admitted him, after ten wasted months in the Foreign Legion, into the French aviation service, and by the end of August, 1915, he was enjoying the scenery and a modicum of danger from a bombing machine. Here is his description, from one of his letters, of the method of dropping a bomb from an air-ship:
We must be nearing the spot, for the Lieutenant motioned me to load the projectile. This is by far the most difficult operation, for the 155 shell with its tin tail looking like a torpedo four feet long, is hung under the body and without seeing its nose even one has to reach down in front of the pilot, put the détonateur in, then the percuteur and screw it fast. After which I pulled off a safety device. You may imagine how I scrambled round in a fur coat and two pair of leather trousers and squeezed myself to get my arm down the hole. I really had a moment's nervousness that the détonateur would not stay in the hole but fly back into the hélice. However, all went well and the Lieutenant handed me the plan of the town of Dillingen where there were said to be huge casting works. Bad map it was and I got nothing out of the inaudible explanation and gestures. We were just passing over the river Saar by Pachten. Everything on the detail map was red. I still have scruples about dropping on dwelling houses---they might be Alsatians. Right under us was a great junction of railway lines, tracks and sidings. "That's a go," I thought, and pulled the handle when it came in the lighter. A slight sway and below me the blue-gray shell poised and dipped its head. Straight away and then it seemed to remain motionless. Pretty soon its tail began to wag in small circles and then I lost sight of it over some tree-tops. "Pshaw," I thought, "there it's going to fall on its side, and into a garden. Tant pis!" When all at once, in the middle of the railroad tracks a cloud of black smoke which looked big even from that height. The Lieutenant said afterwards that I rocked the whole ship when I saw where it had fallen !
Experience in a bombing plane filled Chapman with a desire to qualify as a fighting pilot, and to join the squadron which his friends, Norman Prince and Elliott Cowdin, were trying to form. His letters for the next few months gave in detail his experiences at the aviation school at Avord, where he was learning to fly. By the following April, 1916, he was at Luxeuil with his mates of the American Escadrille. In one of his letters he said that after their Nieuports arrived, he learned more about flying in five days than he had learned in the previous five months.
Chapman's first letter from the Verdun sector was dated May 23,1916. A month later, to a day, he was killed. He wrote few letters in the interval, apparently being too busy flying to have time to write often. Here is his description, from a letter dated June 1, of one morning's work:
This morning we all started off at three, and, not having made concise enough arrangements, got separated in the morning mist. I found Prince, however, and we went to Douaumont where we found two German réglage machines unprotected and fell upon them. A skirmish, a spitting of guns, and we drew away. It had been badly executed, that manoeuvre! But ho ! another Boche heading for Verdun ! Taking the direction stick between my knees I tussled and fought with the mitrailleuse and finally charged the rouleau, all the while eyeing my Boche and moving across Vaux towards Etain. I had no altitude with which to overtake him, but a little more speed. So I got behind his tail and spit till he dived into his own territory. Having lost Norman, I made a tour to the Argonne and on the way back saw another fat Boche. "No protection machine in sight. I swooped, swerved to the right, to the left, almost lost, but then came up under his lee keel by the stern. (It's the one position they cannot shoot from.) I seemed a dory alongside a schooner. I pulled up my nose to let him have it. Crr---Crr---Crr---a cartridge jammed in the barrel. He jumped like a frog and fled down to his grounds. Later in the morning I made another stroll along the lines. Met a flock of Nieuports, and saw across the way a squad of white-winged L. V. G. How like a game of prisoner's base it all is ! I scurry out in company, and they run away. They come into my territory and I being alone, take to my heels. They did come after me once too ! Faster they are than I, but I had height so they could but leer up at me with their deadwhite wings and black crosses like sharks, and they returned to their own domain.
Under the stimulus of the tremendous conflict going on before Verdun, Chapman fought incessantly and fearlessly. In his "With the French Flying Corps " Carroll D. Winslow, who at the time was near the headquarters of the American Escadrille and saw much of his compatriots, describes one incident in Chapman's career:
I remember one curious incident that occurred while I was in the Verdun sector. Victor Chapman, who was doing combat work with the American Escadrille, after a brush with four German aeroplanes, was forced to descend to our field. Not only had he received a bad scalp wound from a bullet, but his machine had been riddled and nearly wrecked. One bullet had even severed a metal stability control. By all the rules of aviation he should have lost control of his aeroplane and met with a fatal accident. But Chapman was an expert pilot. He simply held on to the broken rod with one hand, while with the other he steered his machine. This needed all the strength at his command, but he had the power and the skill necessary to bring him safely to earth. A surgeon immediately dressed his wound, our mechanics repaired his machine. The repairs completed, he was off and up again in pursuit of some more Boches. I must say that every one considered him a remarkable pilot. He was absolutely fearless, and always willing and able to fly more than was ever required of him. His machine was a sieve of patched-up bullet holes.
Chapman's head was still in bandages when, a few days later, he was killed, falling inside the German lines. Clyde Balsley, to whom he was taking some oranges when he went to the assistance of several of his hard-pressed companions, had been dangerously wounded and was in a near-by hospital. Kiffin Rockwell sent to Chapman's stepmother a long letter, which appears in the memoir prefixed to Chapman's "Letters from France," describing the circumstances attending his fellow flier's last combat. In the course of that letter Rockwell wrote:
The following morning [June 23] the weather was good, and he insisted on going out at the regular hour with the rest. There were no machines over the lines, so the sortie was uneventful. He came in, and at lunch fixed up a basket of oranges which he said he would take to Balsley. We went up to the field, and Captain Thenault, Prince and Lufbery got ready to go out and over the lines. Victor put the oranges in his machine and said that he would follow the others over the lines for a little trip and then go and land at the hospital. The Captain, Prince and Lufbery started first. On arriving at the lines they saw at first two German machines which they dived on. When they arrived in the midst of them, they found that two or three other German machines had arrived also. As the odds were against the three, they did not fight long, but immediately started back into our lines and without seeing Victor.
When they came back we thought that Victor was at the hospital. But later in the afternoon a pilote of a Maurice Farman and his passenger sent in a report. The report was that they saw three Nieuports attack five German machines, that at this moment they saw a fourth Nieuport arriving with all speed who dived in the midst of the Germans, that two of the Germans dived towards their field and that the Nieuport fell through the air no longer controlled by the pilote. In a fight it is practically impossible to tell what the other machines do, as everything happens so fast and all one can see is the beginning of a fight and then, in a few seconds, the end. That fourth Nieuport was Victor and, owing to the fact that the motor was going at full speed when the machine fell, I think that he was killed instantly.
Chapman was the first American aviator to fall in battle. To the French, the fact that a young American volunteer of his type had made the supreme sacrifice in fighting in defense of their cause was of deep significance. "The death fight of Victor Chapman," wrote André Chevillon, "touches our imagination with fire." "Never," said M. Jusserand, the French Ambassador to the United States, on Lafayette Day, September 6, 1916,---"Never in my country will the American volunteers of the Great War be forgotten; some, according to their power, offering their pens, or their money, or their help to our wounded, or their lives." The idealism of which young Chapman was the symbol is represented, at the present writing, by more than a million and a half of American soldiers in France, with hundreds of thousands of others preparing to follow them.
KIFFIN ROCKWELL'S LAST COMBAT
When Kiffin Rockwell was writing to Chapman's parents of his friend Victor's last fight, he little thought that in a few weeks he too would be out of the great game of war. He was a dashing fighter, as appears from McConnell's narrative already given of the manner in which he brought down the American Escadrille's first German airplane while flying over the Vosges. At Verdun he was severely wounded in one of his numerous combats with the Germans, an explosive bullet striking his wind-shield and tearing several gashes in his face.
Rockwell, however, was no stranger to wounds. When in the Foreign Legion he was wounded at Carency. Chapman met him at the aviation-camp at Avord, and in a letter dated September 27, 1915, referred to him as follows:
I find a compatriot I am proud to own here. A tall, lanky Kentuckian, called Rockwell. He got his transfer about a month ago from the Legion. He was wounded on the ninth of May, like Kisling. In fact one-half of the 2me de Marche, 2300, were wounded that day, not counting the killed and missing. He gives much the best account I have heard. Having charged with the third battalion and being wounded in the leg on the last bouck, he crawled back across the entire field in the afternoon.
By the middle of September, after having been in the Verdun sector since May 20, the American Escadrille started from Bar-le-Duc, as was supposed, for the Paris aviation centre at Le Bourget; and the flying men were like a lot of schoolboys in anticipation of the holiday they were to have. As a matter of fact, they were on the way back to Luxeuil near Belfort to take part in a great air-raid against the Mauser works at Oberndorf. There were ten Americans in the party---Lieutenant Thaw, with a wounded arm, Adjutants Prince, Hall, Lufbery and Masson, and Sergeants Rockwell, Hill, Johnson, Rumsey, and Pavelka. McConnell was in the hospital with a lame back due to a smash-up. At Luxeuil they found a great force of British aviators, more than fifty pilots, and a thousand men as helpers, mechanicians, etc. Then followed a long delay while the Americans were waiting to receive a new type of Nieuport air-ship, more powerful and better armed than the ones they had been using. It was of this loafing period that McConnell in his "Flying for France" wrote:
It was about as much like war as a Bryan lecture. While I was in the hospital I received a letter written at this time from one of the boys. I opened it expecting to read of an air combat. It informed me that Thaw had caught a trout three feet long and that Lufbery had picked two baskets of mushrooms.
At last the new planes arrived. McConnell gives the. following particulars of Rockwell's first flight in his new machine, of his encounter with a Boche ship and of its fatal ending:
Kiffin Rockwell and Lufbery .were the first to get their new machines ready and on the 23d of September went out for the first flight since the escadrille had arrived at Luxeuil. They became separated in the air, but each flew on alone, which was a dangerous thing to do in the Alsace sector.... Just before Kiffin Rockwell reached the lines he spied a German machine under him, flying at 11,000 feet. I can imagine the satisfaction he felt in at last catching an enemy plane in our lines. Rockwell had fought more combats than the rest of us put together, and had shot down many German machines that had fallen in their lines, but this was the first time he had had an opportunity of bringing down a Boche in our territory.
A captain, the commandant of an Alsatian village, watched the aerial battle through his field glasses. He said that Rockwell approached so close to the enemy that he thought there would be a collision. The German craft, which carried two machine guns, had opened a rapid fire when Rockwell started his dive. He plunged through the stream of lead and only when very close to his enemy did he begin shooting. For a second it looked as though the German was falling, so the captain said, but then he saw the French machine turn rapidly nose down, the wings of one side broke off and fluttered in the wake of the airplane, which hurtled earthward in a rapid drop. It crashed into the ground in a small field---a field of flowers---a few hundred yards back of the trenches. It was not more than two and a half miles from the spot where Rockwell, in the month of May, brought down his first enemy machine. The Germans immediately opened up on the wreck with artillery fire. In spite of the bursting shrapnel, gunners from a near-by battery rushed out and recovered poor Rockwell's broken body.
Rockwell was a great favorite with his companions. McConnell paid him this tribute:
No greater blow could have befallen the escadrille. Kiffin was its soul. He was loved and looked up to by not only every man in our flying corps, but by every one who knew him. Kiffin was imbued with the spirit of the cause for which he fought, and gave his heart and soul to the performance of his duty. He said: "I pay my part for Lafayette and Rochambeau," and he gave the fullest measure. The old flame of chivalry burned brightly in this boy's fine and sensitive being. With his death France lost one of her most valuable pilots.
Rockwell had won the coveted Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre, on which appeared four palms, representing the four citations he had received in the orders of the French Army. For he was officially credited with having brought down four enemy airplanes and was believed to have accounted for numerous others that had fallen within the enemy's lines. His funeral was a splendid pageant, participated in by every Frenchman in the aviation service at Luxeuil, by a battalion of French troops, by more than fifty of the British pilots, followed by a detachment of five hundred of their men; and by the little group of his American associates.
NORMAN PRINCE KILLED BY AN ACCIDENT
Three weeks after Kiffin Rockwell was killed Norman Prince, to whose energy and persistence, as we have seen, the organization of the Lafayette Escadrille was due, met his death by an accident while making a landing at night.
A great lover of out-of-door sports, especially bunting and polo, Prince was a close student of the art of flying long before the war began. Born at Pride's Crossing, Massachusetts, he was educated at Groton and at Harvard, where he was graduated in 1908. After going through the Harvard Law School he went to Chicago to practice his profession. For recreation he took up the study and practice of aviation, then in its infancy; and he found this pursuit so much more congenial than the law that his avocation finally became his vocation, the scientific investigation of the construction and control of aircraft absorbing practically all of his time.
When the war began Prince was thus much more familiar with air-ships than were most young Americans. His sympathy with the cause for which the Allies were fighting, and especially his affection and admiration for France, prompted him to go abroad early in January, 1915, and offer his services to the aviation corps of the French Army. They were accepted, and he was sent to Pau, where he went into training. His previous experience with air-ships brought him quickly into active service. His intimate letters to members of his family, an address which he delivered at the Tavern Club, Boston, on the occasion of his last visit home on a furlough, in December, 1915, and a memoir by George F. Babbitt, are to be found in a memorial volume, published in 1917, called "Norman Prince: A Volunteer Who Died for the Cause He Loved."
A few paragraphs may be quoted from this volume. Writing on September 6, 1915, from northern France, near Arras, when he was in a French flying corps, Prince said:
I am happy and in the best of health. I sleep under canvas on a stretcher bed and eat in the shed of an old farm house near by. I have nothing to complain of. I like it. There are ten American pilots with us in the French service and twelve others in training, with their number constantly increasing. Some day soon we will all be united in one escadrille, an Escadrille Américaine that is my fondest ambition. I am devoting all my spare energies to organizing it, and all the American pilots here are giving me every encouragement and assistance in the work of preliminary organization.
Here is a selection from Prince's address at the Tavern Club, on the Christmas night following, describing a bombing expedition to the railway-station at Douai, as a result of which he won his first decoration, the Croix de Guerre:
I was fortunate enough that day to escape the range of the German flying machines by going further north and passing through the clouds, though I was shelled from a long distance all the way. I succeeded in dropping my bombs on a railroad station, one of which I saw explode in a bunch of freight cars in the railroad yard. As I was returning within our lines the Englishmen, by mistake, opened a brisk fire on me, which necessitated my going up into the clouds again. I proceeded due west until I ran out of gasoline, and I then descended in the dark near the headquarters of the English. It was my good fortune to land safely, and on my arrival at my post I was brought before the English commander, who asked me to tell my story. Mine being one of the four machines out of twenty that had reached Douai in the raid, I was awarded a citation and given the right to wear a War Cross---my first decoration.
In the same address Prince gave an account of a perilous adventure which he had had in the midsummer previous, when for a month his headquarters were near Nancy:
During this month in Lorraine I experienced the hardest knock I had received up to that time. One day six German machines, fully equipped, bombarded Nancy and our aviation field. To retaliate, my squadron was sent out to bombard their field on the same afternoon. We started with thirty machines to a designated rendezvous, and fifty minutes later, after getting grouped, we proceeded to our ultimate destination. I had a very fast machine, and reached the German flying field without being hit. When about to let go my bombs and while my observer was aiming at the hangars of the Germans, my machine was attacked by them---one on the left and two on the right. I shouted to my observer to drop his bombs, which he did, and we immediately straightened out for home. While I was on the bank the Germans opened fire on me with their machine guns, which were even more perilous than their shells.
My motor stopped a few moments afterwards. It had given out, and to make matters worse, a fourth German machine came at us directly in front. My observer, who was an excellent shot, let go at him, with the result that when last seen this German aeroplane was about four hundred feet below and quite out of control. The other Germans behind kept bothering us. If they had possessed ordinary courage they might have got us. Flying without any motive power compelled me to stand my machine on end to keep ahead of them. As we were nearing the French lines these Germans left us, but immediately batteries from another direction opened fire on us. As I was barely moving, I made an excellent target. One shell burst near enough to put shrapnel in my machine. It is marvellous how hard we can be hit by shrapnel and have no vital part of our equipment injured. I knew I was now over the French lines which I must have crossed at a height of four hundred metres. I finally landed in a field covered with white crosses marking the graves of the French and German soldiers who had fallen the previous September at this point.
Prince in February, 1916, was training to fly the fastest combat air-ship that the French then possessed---" quite a different instrument," he says, "from the avion canon, which weighs three times more than these small chasing appareils." A little later, as has already been pointed out, his great ambition was realized in the formation of a purely American corps of fighting airplanes through which he hoped that more credit would redound to the United States than would be the case if these American volunteers were scattered among the various French aviatian units.
He was at Verdun when Chapman was killed. Writing under date of June 26,1916, he said:
Poor Victor Chapman ! He had been missing for a week and we knew there was only a very remote chance that he was a prisoner. He was of tremendous assistance to me in getting together the Escadrille. His heart was in it to make ours as good as any on the front. Victor was as brave as a lion and sometimes he was almost too courageous---attacking German machines whenever and wherever he saw them, regardless of the chances against him.... Victor was killed while attacking an aeroplane that was coming against Lufbery and me. Another unaccounted-for German came up and brought Victor down while he was endeavoring to protect us. A glorious death---face à l'ennemi and for a great cause and to save a friend !
When Prince and his associates of the American Escadrille returned a little later to Luxeuil they found preparations under way for the great Allied raid on the Mauser works at Oberndorf. Four of the battle-planes that went out on this raid as protection for the bombing machines were from the American Escadrille---those of Lieutenant de Laage de Mieux, Lufbery, Norman Prince, and Masson.
The raid was successful in every way, the Germans being taken by surprise. In the course of it Lufbery downed his fifth enemy machine, and thus qualified for the honor of being called an "Ace" in flying argot. It was when he was returning from this expedition on the night of the 12th of October, 1916, that Prince met with the accident that resulted a few days later in his death. When he was attempting to make a landing after dark, within the French lines, his air-ship struck a wire cable and was wrecked. The fall injured him so severely that he lived only a few days. Up to this time he had been engaged in no fewer than one hundred and twenty-two aerial engagements, and was officially credited with having brought down five Boche planes in battle, and was known to have conquered four others not officially recorded. He had won, as has been noted, the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille Militaire; and the Croix de la Légion d'Honneur was sent to him as he lay in the hospital. He was buried with all military honors.
JAMES McCONNELL, HISTORIAN
The selections already reproduced from James R. McConnell's book, "Flying for France," must have given the reader a reasonably clear insight into the traits of character which endeared the writer of those pages to his comrades in the American Escadrille. He may indeed be called the historian of that organization during the first eventful six months of its career, so vivid are his pen-portraits of his associates and so graphic are his descriptions of their life on the ground and of their adventures in the air. Before entering aviation, as has already been noted, he had driven an ambulance in the American Ambulance Field Service from February to December, 1915, and had contributed to the Outlook the best account printed up to that time of the experiences of the men at Pont-à-Mousson and around Bois-le-Prêtre, where some of the heaviest fighting of the early part of the war took place. In all of these writings McConnell showed that he was endowed with somewhat of that rare gift which Richard Harding Davis possessed to the full, of distinguishing clearly between the significant and the insignificant in the incidents and events of the day's work or play, and of investing details with color, life, and interest, and often with a charming humor peculiarly American.
The spirit with which he left his work in North Carolina to enter the ambulance service in France is indicated in this paragraph from the introduction to his book in which the editor, "F. C. P.," describes meeting him one day in January, 1915, in front of the court house in Carthage, when he announced that he was leaving on the following Wednesday:
And then he went on to tell me, first, that, as he saw it, the greatest event in history was going on right at hand and that he would be missing the opportunity of a life-time if he did not see it. "These sand hills," he said, "will be here forever, but the war won't; and so I'm going." Then, as an afterthought, he added: "And I'll be of some use, too, not just a sightseer, looking on; that wouldn't be fair."
As happened in the case of so many other young American volunteers, interest in the war as primarily a great adventure was gradually replaced in McConnell's mind by an absorbing desire to be of substantial assistance to the French people, who, it was found, were fighting the fight of liberty and justice against enormous odds. McConnell's account of the change is simple and direct:
All along I had been convinced that the United States ought to aid in the struggle against Germany. With that conviction it was plainly up to me to do more than drive an ambulance. The more I saw the splendor of the fight the French were fighting, the more I began to feel like an embusqué---what the British call a "shirker." So I made up my mind to go into aviation.
McConnell learned to fly at Pau, and qualified as a pilot in season to become, as we have already seen, one of the original members of the Lafayette, or as he preferred to call it, the American, Escadrille, who assembled at Luxeuil, on the Alsatian front, in the spring of 1916. Under date of May 14 he gave, in a private letter, these details of his first expedition over the enemy's lines in an avion de chasse, the function of which was, in his words, "to shoot down Boches or keep them away from our lines ":
Well, I've made my first trip over the lines and proved a few things to myself. First, I can stand high altitudes. I had never been above 7,000 feet before, nor had I flown more than an hour. On my trip to Germany I went to 14,000 feet and was in air for two hours. I wore the fur head-to-foot combination they give one and paper gloves under the fur gloves you sent me. I was not cold. In a way it seemed amusing to be going out knowing as little as I do. My mitrailleuse had been mounted the night before. I had never fired it. Nor did I know the country at all even though I'd motored along our lines. I followed the others or I surely would have been lost. I shall have to make special trips to study the land and be able to make it out from my map which I carry on board. For one thing the weather was hazy and clouds obscured the view.
When the city of Mulhausen seemed directly under him McConnell "noted with keen satisfaction their invasion of real German territory." "The Rhine, too," he adds, with a touch of whimsical humor, "looked delightfully accessible."
After the squadron was transferred to the Verdun front McConnell noted that combats occurred on almost every sortie into the enemy territory. The Germans, as always, played the game cleverly, trusting that the eagerness of the young Americans to get into a fight would bring them beyond the German lines, where a superior force could be brought to bear against them. This is exactly what happened again and again, and accounted in large part for the number of casualties which the Americans suffered. "The Boches," wrote McConnell, "keep well within their lines, save occasionally, and we have to go over and fight them there."
Here is a description of the daily life McConnell was leading at Verdun from a private letter dated July 30:
Weather has been fine and we've been doing a lot of work. Our lieutenant---De Laage de Mieux---brought down a Boche. I had another beautiful smash-up. Prince and I had stayed too long over the lines. Important day, as an attack was going on. It was getting dark and we could see the tiny balls of fire the infantry light to show the low-flying observation machines their new positions. On return, as I was over another aviation field my motor broke. I made for field. In darkness I couldn't judge my distance well and went too far. At edge of field there were trees and beyond a deep cut where road ran. I was skinning ground at 170 kilometers [about 100 miles] an hour and heading for trees. I saw soldiers running to be in at finish and I thought myself that James's hash was cooked, but I went between trees and ended up head-on on the opposite bank of road. My motor took the shock and my belt held me. As my tail went up it was cut in two by some very low 'phone wires. I wasn't bruised even. Took dinner with the officers there, who gave me a car to go home in afterward.
To-day I shared another chap's machine (Hill of Peekskill, who knows McCord), and got it shot up for him. De Laage, our lieutenant, and I made a sortie at noon. When in the German lines near Côte 304 I saw two Boches under me. I picked out the rear chap and dove. Fired a few shots and then tried to get under his tail and hit him from there. I missed and bobbed up alongside of him. Fine for the Boche but rotten for me. I could see his gunner working the mitrailleuse for fair, and felt his bullets darn close. I dove, for I could not shoot from that position, and beat it. He kept plunking away and all together put seven holes in my machine. One was only ten inches in front of me. De Laage was too far off to get to the Boche and ruin him while I was amusing him.
As the result of a lame back due to another smash-up, McConnell was in the hospital for several weeks, rejoining his fellow Americans of the Lafayette Escadrille some time after they had been transferred from Alsace to the Somme front in October. The winter of 1916-17 was comparatively quiet on the Somme and in the sector from Roye to Soissons. With the early spring, however, the activity increased.
McConnell's last flight took place on March 19, 1917, only a few weeks before the United States declared war against Germany. He made this flight in company with Edmond Genet, who, having been "at school" all the autumn and winter, had joined the American squadron a couple of months before. In a letter to his mother, dated March 20, 1917, as it appears in the "War Letters of Edmond Genet," McConnell's flying mate wrote:
We are all feeling decidedly blue because our oldest pilot of the escadrille---one of the four who were its first members (the other 3 were Prince, Chapman and Rockwell)---has! been missing since yesterday morning and undoubtedly is on the other side of the lines--- either dead or wounded and a prisoner. He is McConnell, the one who wrote such a good account of the escadrille which was published in World's Work. He and I were out together yesterday morning over the new territory just captured by the French and English, and about ten o'clock, while well inside the enemy lines, we encountered two German biplane machines. I mounted to attack the nearest and left Mac to take care of the second, and it is the last seen of him. There were plenty of clouds and mist, and after I had finished my scrap with the one I attacked, in which I got one of my main upper wing-supports cut in half, a guiding-rod cut in half, several bullets through my upper wing, and half an explosive bullet in the side of my left cheek, which stunned me for a moment, I went down lower to look for "Mac" and help him if he was hard pressed, and looked all around and waited for fifteen minutes for him to show up, but I could see neither him nor the German machine which must have attacked him. My upper wing was in great danger of breaking off, the support being half cut through, my wound was bleeding and pained quite a bit, so I finally headed back for camp, hoping Mac had perhaps missed me and gone back before me. I had a driving wind to face going back and had to fly very low to get beneath heavy clouds to see my way.
When I got to ground on our field I looked in vain for Mac's machine. When I asked if he had returned my worst fears were confirmed. He had not, and we have, up to the present time, had absolutely no news of him whatsoever. It's terrible, little Mother. I feel horribly over it, for I was the only one with him.
A week later Genet was able to report the finding of McConnell's body:
Jim McConnell has just gallantly earned a lonely grave out behind the present fighting lines. I wrote to you last Tuesday---the day after he and I were out together, when we had to return, wounded, without him and with no definite news of him. Since then the Germans were forced back further and finally French troops came across a badly smashed Nieuport with the body of a sergeant pilot beside the ruins. All identification papers were gone and the d---d Boches had even taken off the flying clothes and even the boots and left the body where it had fallen. The number of the machine was sent in and so we knew it was Mac's.
The following morning, after a flight over the lines, I spiralled down over the location given and found the wreck---almost unrecognizable as an aeroplane, crushed into the ground at the edge of a shell-torn and wrecked little village. I circled over it for a few minutes and then back to camp to report. Our captain flew over that way the same morning to see about the body. When he returned he told us about the clothes and shoes having been stolen and said that Mac had been buried beside the road next to which he had fallen. There is no doubt but that he was killed during the combat in the air and the machine crashed down full speed to the earth. Since that day I've chased two Boche machines, but could get up to neither, but I'll get one yet and more than one, or be dropped myself, to avenge poor Mac.
Chapter XXXII. Genet in the American Escadrille
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