THE German advance, beginning late in
June, had resulted in forcing a deep salient in the lines between Soissons and
Rheims. These two cities lie on an east-and-west line, both are situated on the
Vesle River, and but twenty-odd miles separate them. Rheims, to the east, had
withstood the assaults of the Hun, but Soissons and the important highways and
railroads centering there were now held by the Germans.
Straight south from Soissons the trenches now ran
south for twenty miles, until the banks of the Marne River were reached;
then they curved northwards and east, the belligerents facing each other from
opposite sides of the river almost to Epernaya city almost directly south
Thus the salient which now most threatened Paris and the
region south of the Marne was approximately twenty miles deep and twenty miles
wide. It included Château-Thierry which lay on the north bank of the
Marne. Our aerodrome at Touquin lay south another twenty miles from
Château-Thierry. In that position we were then south even of the city of
With full knowledge of the increasing strength of the
American army in France, and having decided to stake all upon one last effort
before the arrival of our troops in their entirety, the Hun commanders had then
even stripped the able-bodied men from their munition factories throughout
Germany, in order to secure a victory at the front before it became too late.
The loss of these factory workers spelled an ultimate failure in the supply of
munitions of war necessary to a long campaign. If this last desperate thrust
failed, the Boches must admit themselves defeated.
The subsequent breakdown of the German Army was the natural
climax to this desperate strategy. This last drive for Paris and Amiens must be
the last. Every ounce of energy was therefore expended. Every division and
every squadron of aviators that could be spared from other sections of the
front were hurriedly concentrated upon these two districtsthat of
Château-Thierry and the St. Quentin-to-Amiens district.
When the orders came to 94 Squadron to shift from Toul to
this new Château-Thierry sector the German fighting squadrons had already
left the vicinity of Verdun-St. Mihiel-Pont-à-Mousson. Only the regular
photographing and observing machines were still abroad there for our
entertainment. Arrived at our new quarters, we found a very different
situation. Our entertainment here promised to be fast and furious enough to
suit the most ambitious airman.
It was quickly discovered by our own Intelligence Officers
that the best of the German fighting squadrons were now patrolling our skies.
Captured prisoners, the markings on the planes we shot down, the photographs
and observations of our airmen and other sources which are employed to gain
this information all told the same story. On the aerodrome at Coincy, a
large field just north of Château-Thierry, was located the distinguished
Richthofen Squadron, then commanded by Captain Reinhardt. Its machines were
distinguishable by their scarlet noses and by the extraordinary skilfulness of
their pilots. It was now included in Jagstaffel No. 1, which comprised four
Flights of seven machines each.
Jagstaffel No. 2 was a scarcely inferior aggregation of
German aces under command of Captain Loerser, himself a victor over forty-two
aerial antagonists. The aeroplanes of his squadron were also Fokkers. Instead
of the scarlet markings on nose and wings, No. 2 Jagstaffel had the belly of
each fusilage painted a bright yellow. These machines occupied the same field
with the Richthofen Circus.
The third famous fighting squadron of the Germans,
Jagstaffel No. 3, was at that time under command of Captain Bettenge, an air
fighter celebrated in Hunland not only for his twenty-five victories but for
his great success as a trainer of adroit air-fighters. This squadron occupied
an aerodrome back of St. Quentin. While usually engaged with British
antagonists further north, this squadron frequently made its appearance
opposite us during the hottest days of fighting in our sector.
Thus it became evident to us that we American aviators were
at last to meet the very choicest personnel of the enemy air forces. Not only
would these experienced pilots be mounted upon superior machines, but they had
been trained to fly in such close formation that they need fear no attack until
they themselves were ready to accept combat. And they had consolidated here in
such numbers that every time we crossed the lines we found the sky full of
them. 94 Squadron at that time had 17 pilots and 24 aeroplanes available.
Squadrons No. 95, No. 27 and No. 145 had approximately the same number each. No
other American fighting squadrons were then assisting us in the defense of this
Without desiring to make any reflection upon the French
airmen who were stationed near us in this sector, it is necessary to show that
the state of French morale was at that time notoriously bad. Indeed it would
have been strange after four years of severe warfare to have found that
personnel in France had not suffered enormously, as in the other fighting
countries. After the loss of the eager volunteer for aviation, it became
necessary to press into that service men who much preferred the infantry,
cavalry or artillery. As was to be expected, the resultant air force of France
did not measure up to its former prestige.
Consequently the few American squadrons who were suddenly
plunged into the thick of this ferocious conflict at Château-Thierry
found that they were overwhelmingly outnumbered, poorly supported and
lamentably equipped, both in machines and experience.
When therefore I later learned that the Intelligence Office
of the enemy Air Force had complimented the American pilots by saying that "
they fought more like Indians than soldiers," and that " they upset all our
training by dashing in single-handed against our formations "I felt a
great glow of pride and confidence in the bravery our boys exhibited throughout
that trying campaign.
The losses in our group during the four weeks we occupied
this sector at Château-Thierry amounted to 36 pilots, who were either
captured or killed. Among the latter class was Quentin Roosevelt, who fell in
flames on July 14th, 1918. Our victories during this same period were 38, two
more than the number we had lost!
Quentin Roosevelt's death was a sad blow to the whole group.
As President Roosevelt's son he had rather a difficult task to fit himself in
with the democratic style of living which is necessary in the intimate life of
an aviation camp. Every one who met him for the first time expected him to have
the airs and superciliousness of a spoiled boy. This notion was quickly lost
after the first glimpse one had of Quentin. Gay, hearty and absolutely square
in everything he said or did, Quentin Roosevelt was one of the most popular
fellows in the group. We loved him purely for his own natural self.
He was reckless to such a degree that his commanding
officers had to caution him repeatedly about the senselessness of his lack of
caution. His bravery was so notorious that we all knew he would either achieve
some great spectacular success or be killed in the attempt. Even the pilots in
his own Flight would beg him to conserve himself and wait for a fair
opportunity for a victory. But Quentin would merely laugh away all serious
advice. His very next flight over enemy lines would involve him in a fresh
predicament from which pure luck on more than a few occasions extricated him.
A few days before his death Quentin Roosevelt went over the
lines with his formation, and they came home without him. Later he arrived and
laughingly announced that he had shot down his first Hun machine. Upon being
questioned about the combat, he admitted that he had been lost after striking
off by himself to investigate a large formation of enemy machines, which he had
discovered in the distance. Resolving to be prudent in the matter, he reversed
his direction after discovering they numbered over twenty to his one. He flew
about alone for a while, then discovering, as he supposed, his own formation
ahead of him he overtook them, dropped in behind and waited patiently for
something to turn up.
It came about fifteen minutes later.
His formation continued almost straight ahead during all
this time, he following quietly along in the last position. Quentin had no idea
where they were headed and didn't care. He had violated his duty once by
leaving them and now he intended blindly to follow the leader. Meditating thus,
he failed to notice that the leader had dipped a signal and had begun to virage
to the left. Quentin awoke just in time to see the aeroplane ahead of him
suddenly stick his nose up and begin a virage. Then to his horror he discovered
that he had been following an enemy patrol all the time! Every machine ahead of
him wore a huge black maltese cross on its wings and tail! They were as
unconscious of his identity as he had been of theirs.
Quentin fired one long burst as he in turn completed the
virage and rejoined the formation. The aeroplane immediately preceding him
dropped at once and within a second or two burst into flames. Quentin put down
his nose and streaked it for home before the astonished Huns had time to notice
what had happened. He was not even pursued!
It was this style of Indian warfare that had moved the
German Intelligence Office to state that their training was indeed hopeless
against the Americans' recklessness. German formation flying was admirable
until an American joined it and maneuvered in concert with it for fifteen
minutes before shooting it up! One can imagine the disgust of the methodical
Boches as they digested this latest trick of the Yank!
Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt met his death during an
unusually severe dog-fight in the air. He left the aerodrome with his formation
of five planes and proceeded across the lines east of Château-Thierry.
The sky was thick with enemy formations as usual. Both our own and the enemy's
aeroplanes were largely engaged at that time in strafing trenches and the main
highways upon which columns of troops were continually advancing to occupy the
lines. One did not have to seek far to find a fight.
Within ten minutes after crossing the trenches the little
formation from 95 Squadron took on a Fokker formation of seven machines. They
were both at a low altitude and evidently both were intent upon discovering a
favorable ground target covered with marching men. The five Americans accepted
the Hun challenge for a combat and dropped all other business for the time
During the rapid circling about, in which both groups were
endeavoring to break up the formation of the antagonist, Quentin discovered the
approach of another flight of red-nosed Fokkers, coining from above and behind.
He withdrew by himself and flew ahead to meet the newcomers, climbing as he
flew. The others were utterly unconscious of his departure, since Quentin flew
in the last rear position on one of the wings.
It was a cloudy day and the aeroplanes were up near to and
occasionally lost in the obscurity of the clouds. Suddenly Lieutenant Buford,
the leader of Quentin's formation, saw a Nieuport falling through the clouds
from above him. It was out of control as it swept by him. Without realizing
whose machine it was, Buford knew that an enemy force was above him. He already
had more than his hands full in the present company. Signalling his pilots to
follow him, he broke off the contest and re-crossed the lines. Then he
discovered the absence of Quentin Roosevelt!
That same night a wireless message came from the Germans
saying that Quentin had been shot down by Sergeant Thom of the Richthofen
Circus. Thom at that time had a record of twenty-four planes to his credit. The
additional information was received that Quentin had been buried with military
honors. No honors, however, could have compensated our group for the loss of
that boy. The news was flashed throughout the world that Quentin Roosevelt was
dead! Occasional press reports came to us that some imaginative reporter had
stated that perhaps he was not in reality killed, but was merely a prisoner;
thereby selling several more papers while unnecessarily distressing a bereaved
family with utterly false hopes.
A story came to my attention later which deserves a drastic
reply. New York newspapers gave wide publicity to a statement made by a certain
non-combatant named Hungerford who claimed to have been employed on the
Château-Thierry sector of the front at this time. He not only attempted
to describe the fight in which Quentin Roosevelt lost his life, but even
intimated that had Quentin's comrades not fled, thereby leaving Quentin alone
against desperate odds, the whole German formation might have been destroyed.
He stated that he saw the fight and that Quentin before his sad death actually
shot down two of the enemy planes.
This whole story is absolute piffle. Nobody saw Quentin's
last fight except the Huns who shot him down. The fight itself occurred ten
miles back of the German lines over Fère-en-Tarden. Quentin did not
shoot down two enemy planes nor did his comrades desert him in time of trouble.
It will be very unhealthful for Mr. Hungerford to meet the members of 95
Squadron upon their return to New York. A more gallant lot of boys never came
to France, as this non combatant gentleman will discover when he meets them.
During all this time I had been practically out of the
fighting at the front. I had made but two flights over the lines at
Château-Thierry, one on my old Nieuport and the second on my Spad. On
neither expedition did I meet an enemy aeroplane, nor was I anxious to do so
until I had quite mastered the tricks and wiles of my new Spad.
On July 10th I became suddenly aware of a sharp pain in my
right ear. It grew worse and I decided to have the Squadron doctor look me
over. He sent me to Paris by the next train to have the ear-drum lanced. An
abscess had formed which might prove dangerous. Thus I was again forced to fret
and turn upon a hospital bed for several days while my Squadron was going
through with the most severe trials in its short experience. Doug Campbell was
away, leaving Jimmy Meissner, Reed Chambers, Alan Winslow and Thorn Taylor the
principal stars of our organization. I used to lie in my bed and wonder how
many of these old comrades would greet me when I returned to my aerodrome!
On July 15th, while lying half asleep on my bed in the
hospital, I was suddenly startled by a tremendous explosion outside my windows.
The nurses soon came by with frightened expressions on their faces. I asked one
what it was.
" It was one of the long-distance shells the Boches are
again firing into Paris! " she said. " They began that when they were about to
start their great offensive of March 21st. For some time they have not been
shooting into Paris. Now that it begins again it is certain that they are
commencing another drive ! "
The young Frenchwoman was right. The very next day we heard
that the long anticipated drive from Château-Thierry had begun. The heavy
artillery barrage had started at midnight and the offensive upon which the
Germans were founding all their hopes was now on.
It was in fact the beginning of the end of the war! Nobody
then realized it, of course; but General Foch, who possessed exact information
of just when and where the Huns would strike, had prepared for it by crowding
in immense quantities of artillery from Château-Thierry to Rheims, from
Rheims on eastward to the Argonne Forest. Just two hours in advance of the
first German shell he began such a terrific barrage over the lines that the
enemy forces were completely disorganized. They were never again to threaten
Paris or the allied armies!
And then the Second Division of the American Army began
their great drive at the top of the Château-Thierry salient at
Soissonswhile the French began to pinch in the line at Rheims. All that
great area of twenty miles by twenty was crammed with German troops, German
artillery, German supplies. It must be moved at express speed to the rear or
all would be captured.
Our Squadrons at this great period did tremendous work in
strafing the main highways leading to the Germans' rear. One of the pilots of
27 Squadron, " Red " Miller, of Baltimore, who was shot down and captured while
on one of these highway-strafing expeditions, later described to me the
extraordinary scenes he passed through while being taken to the rear under
guard. It was Red Miller, in fact, who had been confronted with the complete
list of names of all our squadrons by the German Intelligence Office. They
questioned him immediately about his name, his squadron and many other details
which they were foolish enough to think they could tempt out of him. Miller of
course had an enjoyable half-hour stuffing them with the most marvelous stories
that a Baltimore education could invent.
In his march to the prison camps that night, Miller was
conducted up the main highway from Château-Thierry to the north. Two
Boche cavalrymen rode on horseback and he trotted along on foot between them.
American shells were falling thick upon this road and at every burst Miller and
his conductors expected to be hurled among the dead and dying who filled the
The road was literally jammed with horses, lorries, guns and
men. All were hurrying northwards. Along the sides of the roads hundreds of
Boche soldiers were detailed to drag from the roadway those men, trucks, horses
and guns which had been struck by American shrapnel and which lay there
obstructing the traffic. Ropes were hastily attached to these obstructions and
they were pulled out of the way and dumped by the roadside.
Another gang of soldiers worked side by side with these men,
filling as quickly as possible the holes in the highway made by these exploding
shells. Everything was hurry, noise, dust and confusion.
In a nearby hospital lay Lieutenant Norton, a dear friend
and neighbor of mine from Columbus, Ohio. Norton had been wounded and had
fallen within the German lines. He was taken to the nearest hospital at
Fère-en-Tarden where he received good treatment until the day of the
American drive. He was abandoned with all the other wounded by the fleeing
Germans. When the Americans reached this hospital, three days later, Norton had
died from neglect!
An amusing as well as heroic exploit of Miller's during this
fearful march of his to the rear is well worth recording here.
Red was so mortified by his capture, so exhausted by his
continuous trot between his two captors and so scared by the constant shelling
of the road over which they were passing that he resolved to break away from
his two captors and risk their bullets rather than continue indefinitely in his
It was getting dark as they passed a small piece of woods to
the right. Red suddenly stopped and bent over to lace up his boots. The two
horsemen shot a glance at him, then seeing he was innocently engaged, drew up
their horses and waited for him. As soon as the right-hand horse had passed him
Red straightened up and jumped for the nearest trees. He dashed through the
brush in the darkness, scratching his face and tearing his clothes, but did not
hear that a single shot had been fired at him.
He stopped and was peering about for a suitable tree in
which to spend the night, hoping that by morning the country would be cleared
of Huns, when an electric torch was flashed into his face! He threw up his
hands and surrendered, finding that he had stumbled full into a camp of Hun
When his captors again recovered him Red fully expected to
be shot for attempting to escape. Imagine his surprise when they begged him not
to tell anybody about his escapade! They feared they would receive a worse
punishment than he because of their carelessness in permitting him to
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