WITH the beginning of October, 94 Squadron took on a new
phase of air fighting. We were taken away from the General Orders affecting the
1st Pursuit Wing and were delegated to patrol the lines at low altitude
not exceeding 2,000 feet. This meant serious business to us, for not only would
we be under more severe Archy fire, but we would be an easy target for the
higher Hun formations, who could pique down upon us at their own pleasure.
These new orders were intended to provide a means of defense
against the low-flying enemy machines which came over our lines. Usually they
were protected by fighting machines. Rarely did they attempt to penetrate to
any considerable distance back of No Man's Land. They came over to follow the
lines and see what we were doing on our front, leaving to their high-flying
photographic machines the inspection of our rear.
On October 2nd Reed Chambers led out the first patrol under
these new orders. He had five machines with him and I went along on a voluntary
patrol, to see how the new scheme was going to work out. In order to act
somewhat in a protective capacity, I took a higher level and followed them back
and forth over their beat at 2,000 feet or more above them.
The course of this patrol was between Sivry-sur- Meuse and
Romaigne. We had turned back towards the west at the end of one beat and were
nearing the turning point when I observed a two-seater Hanover machine of the
enemy trying to steal across our lines behind us. He was quite low and was
already across the front when I first discovered him.
In order to tempt him a little more distance away from his
lines I made no sign of noticing him but throttled down to my lowest speed and
continued straight ahead with some climb. The pilots in Chambers' formation
were below me and had evidently not seen the intruder at all as yet.
Calculating the positions of our two machines, as we drew
away from each other, I decided I could now cut off the Hanover before he
reached his lines, even if he saw me the moment I turned. Accordingly I piqued
swiftly back, aiming at a point just behind our front, where I estimated our
meeting must take place. To my surprise, however, the enemy machine did not
race for home but continued ahead on his mission. Was this brazenness, good
tactics mixed with abundant self-confidence or hadn't the pilot and observer
seen me up above them? I wondered what manner of aviators I had to deal with,
as I turned after them and the distance between us narrowed.
A victory seemed so easy that I feared some deep strategy
lay behind it all. Closer and closer I stole up in their rear, yet the observer
did not even look about him to see if his rear was safe. At 100 yards I fixed
my sights upon the slothful observer in his rear cockpit and prepared to fire.
He had but one gun mounted upon a tournelle and this gun was not even pointing
in my direction. After my first shot he would swing it around, I conjectured,
and I would be compelled then to come in through his stream of bullets. Well, I
had two guns to his one and he would have to face double the amount of bullets
from my Spad. Now I was at fifty yards and could not miss. Taking deliberate
aim I pulled both triggers. The observer fell limply over the side of his
cockpit without firing a shot. My speed carried me swiftly over the Hanover,
which had begun to bank over and turn for home as my first shots entered its
Heading off the pilot, I braved his few shots and again I
obtained a position in his rear and had him at my mercy. And at that very
critical moment both of my guns jammed!
Infuriated at this piece of bad luck I still had the thought
to realize that the enemy pilot did not know I could not shoot, so I again came
up and forced him to make a turn to the east to avoid what he considered a
fatal position. And at that moment I saw Reed Chambers flying directly towards
me, the rest of his patrol streaming in along behind him. Reed was firing as he
flew. His first bursts finished the pilot and the Hanover settled with a
gradual glide down among the shell-holes that covered the ground just north of
Montfaucon a good two miles within our lines.
It was the first machine that I had brought down behind our
lines or assisted to bring down, for Reed Chambers shared this victory
with me in such condition that we were able to fly it again.
A few minutes' work with my guns cleared both jams. I had
paid little attention to the rest of my pilots during this operation and
indeed had scarcely noticed where my aeroplane was taking me through the air
for I had to work with one hand holding the lever and the other pressing
back the feeding mechanism of the guns, and the Spad was taking care of
herself. Now after clearing out the crushed cartridges, I had just fired a few
rounds into Germany, to see that the guns were both in working order, when
suddenly not fifty yards in front of me I saw a whole flock of enemy Fokkers
passing through a thin stratum of clouds. It was an ideal hiding place for a
surprise attack, and they had been lying in wait for our Spads without noticing
me until I almost bumped into them.
The next instant I was over on my wing and nose performing a
double-quick spin out of their range. All eight of them were on top of me
firing as they followed my gyrations. Tracer bullets went whizzing past me
every second and, try as I might, I could not select an opening that would
permit me to slip through them with any hope of safety. The earth was rapidly
coming up to meet me and the Fokkers were as ravenously bent on my destruction
as ever when I opened up my motor and dove vertically towards the ground with
throttle wide open. As I did so I was conscious that other machines were coming
in from behind me and that the Fokkers had suddenly left off firing their
beastly flaming bullets. Glancing back I saw my own Spads had arrived in the
very nick of time. Reed Chambers was in pursuit of the fleeing Huns and the
whole circus was climbing southwards to gain the shelter of the low-hanging
Reed saw they would gain their protection before he could
overtake them. With his usual good judgment he let them proceed until the last
man was swallowed up within them, then he turned suddenly to the north and
sought a place between them and their lines where they might be expected to
issue out and make for home. Climbing for all I was worth, I arrived at the
northern edge of the cloud-bank at the same time Reed reached there. We had
made one or two circles just beneath the billowy mass of white, when out burst
the leader of the Huns over our heads and one by one his formation followed
In a trice Reed and I were under the last Fokkers' tails.
Reed took the left and I took the right and at almost the same second we both
began firing. I had let go 200 rounds when I saw my man falling; and; again at
almost the same instant Reed ceased firing and his man too dropped out of line
and began his last landing. The rest of the formation fled straight on into
their own lines and we were unable to overtake them. As we turned back we saw
our two victims crash almost simultaneously fully a mile back of our lines.
Before we reached the aerodrome official confirmation of our
three victories had been telephoned in.
Lieutenant Cook, who was now looked upon as our most
successful balloon strafer had gone out this morning with Lieutenant Crocker as
helper, to get an enemy balloon that hung over the eastern edge of the town of
Grand Pre. Cookie now had three balloons and was becoming quite fastidious in
his methods of shooting down these disagreeable targets. He naturally insisted
upon especial attention being given his ammunition and his guns, for he
believed in making one straight dash through the circle of Archy and getting in
one long burst of incendiary bullets into the balloon and then leaving it
alone. This returning again and again through the Archy barrage for several
attacks is simply a foolish method of suicide.
At 5.30 in the morning Cook and Crocker left the field and
proceeded to the Argonne. Here they located Grand Pre but could not discover
the balloon. Finally after arousing the whole neighborhood Cook found his
gas-bag supinely resting on the ground where it was tied down into its bed. It
was in a decidedly bad place for an attack, but Cook unhesitatingly stuck down
his nose and began firing as he dived.
About twenty or thirty shots left his guns and then
both jammed. With a string of burning words Cookie turned around as he zoomed
up over the balloon and hurled at it the small hammer or tool used by pilots
for clearing gun-jams. He was so enraged over his bad luck that he did not even
wait for Crocker to overtake him, but made straight for home, climbed out of
his machine and marched into the Armorers' office, mad as a hornet. What
language he used there neither Cook nor the Armament officer would afterwards
repeat, but in the midst of his abusive descriptions of guns, ammunition,
mechanics and armament officers in general, in walked Lieutenant Crocker, whom
Cook had left behind him at Grand Pre!
"Congrats, Cookie!" said Crocker triumphantly. " That was
certainly fine work! You got him with his truck, office and all, this time."
Cook looked at Crocker with some anger and much
mortification. "Got what?" he shouted rather violently. Ordinarily Cookie was
the sweetest tempered man in the outfit, barring Jimmy Meissner.
" Why, the Hun balloon! " replied Crocker, looking at him
indignantly. " Didn't you see him go up in flames? He hung fire for a half
minute owing to the dew and dampness on the outside, but when he started he
went with one burst! "
Cook stood looking at his friend anxiously for a moment.
There was no question about his seriousness and truth. Then Cookie said slowly:
"Well, I'm dd! That's the first time I ever heard of
getting a balloon with a jam-hammer and hot language! "
The next day, October third, a carefully planned attack on
an enemy balloon back of Doulcon was carried out in the middle of the afternoon
by our Squadron. Montfaucon was still the center of operations for the American
Army. The country was extremely difficult owing to the hills and forests along
the Meuse River, all of which the Germans had amply prepared for stubborn
defense. The presence of their observation balloons added one source of benefit
to them which we knew could be destroyed. So we were sent out in full daylight
to accomplish this end.
Thorn Taylor led our formation. Practically our whole
Squadron left the aerodrome at three o'clock, Ham Coolidge and Crocker who were
selected as the two balloon strafers for the day flying with us on the patrol.
At 3.30 precisely we were to find ourselves over the Hun balloon at Doulcon and
there these two pilots were to make a sudden dash down at the balloon, one
behind the other. It was a new daylight dodge we would try to put over the
Germans before they suspected the object of our mission.
We expected to find enemy planes about guarding this
important observation post of the enemy and it was necessary to take along
enough machines of our own to sweep them away from the path which our two
strafers must take to get to their balloon. Therefore, I had all the pilots set
their watches exactly with mine and gave them all instructions to cross the
lines precisely at 3.45 and fly between Coolidge and Crocker and any hostile
aircraft that might intercept them. With every man fully schooled in his part
of the game we all took off.
Walter Avery of 95 Squadron accompanied us. Avery was the
pilot who had forced down the celebrated Hun Ace, Menckoff early in August on
the Chateau-Thierry front. Menckoff then had a string of 37 victories to his
credit and, strange as it may seem, this was Avery's first air combat. Avery
disabled Menckoff's motor with one of his bullets and the German pilot decided
it wiser to drop down our side of the lines and surrender himself rather than
take the chance of being killed trying to glide home on a crippled machine.
Great was his disgust, when he landed, to discover that his conqueror was a
green American pilot.
As the formation continued its patrol some distance this
side of our lines Coolidge and Crocker left the rest and placed themselves a
good distance the other side of Montfaucon. We found no enemy machines in our
vicinity, but were not sure that they would not appear as soon as we approached
the Doulcon balloon.
As my watch neared the hour I crept a little nearer the
point of attack. Looking over the situation ahead of me some four or five
miles, I suddenly saw two Spads streaking it ahead with all their speed in the
direction of the balloon. I looked at my watch. It was but 3.40. Coolidge and
Crocker were each afraid that the other would steal a march on him and were
both so anxious, to get the balloon that they disobeyed orders and had gone in
several minutes ahead of the stated time. Looking around I saw that my
formation of Spads were just coming up in implicit obedience to orders. But
now, instead of protecting our two picked men, we would arrive there only after
the ceremony was over!
As we all opened up in pursuit of the two pilots I saw
advancing to cut them off from the balloon a formation of six Fokkers. Then one
lone Spad seemed to appear from somewhere in the clouds and flew in to engage
the Fokkers. During the brief melee which followed many things happened at the
same time. The lone Spad fell to earth and crashed back in Germany. The balloon
burst into flames indicating that either Coolidge or Crocker had succeeded in
reaching the mark despite the Fokkers. And at the same moment the clouds behind
me seemed to be emitting swarms of Fokker fighting aeroplanes which hurled
themselves upon our Spads.
They were behind me, for I had distanced the others somewhat
and had altered my direction to go to the rescue of the unknown Spad which had
just fallen. But as I had started too late to be of any assistance I again
diverted my course to attack two German biplane machines which I could
distinguish coming in to the fight from the direction of Dun-sur-Meuse. I
wondered whether it was Coolidge or Crocker or some other who had fallen.
Whoever it was, he had made a gallant fight, although if they had obeyed orders
and waited for the agreed time of attack he would not have had such odds
One of the biplane machines saw me coming and cravenly
turned back without notifying his companion. I surprised the latter and after a
very brief bit of maneuvering shot him down completely out of control. Knowing
it would be extremely difficult to gain a confirmation of this victory so far
behind the German lines I waited about for a few moments until I saw him crash
violently into the ground. I was satisfied I had destroyed him, whether anybody
else ever knew it or not. In fact this victory of mine never was confirmed.
Many twisting combats were in progress as I gained again the
part of the heavens above Doulcon. Several machines had fallen but whether
friend or foe I could not distinguish from this distance. The Spads were
scattered all over the sky and our formation was hopelessly destroyed. I
determined to call them together and take them back to our lines. Our balloon
was in flames, our mission ended and we were taking unwise risks fighting ten
miles within the German lines where a mishap would drop some luckless pilots
prisoners in their territory.
The enemy pilots were only too willing to let us go. As I
collected my pilots about me and headed for home the Boches lost no time in
widening the distance between us. I dropped back and saw that the last of the
Spads had crossed the lines and were well on their way. Then, noticing
something going on east of me near the city of Verdun, I made a detour to
It was a combat between two machines that was going on just
south of our front. Hastening ahead with all possible speed I arrived there at
a most fortunate moment, to find that Ted Curtiss of 95 had just been forced to
abandon an attack on a German L. V. G. by reason of a gun-jam. The Hun pilot
was endeavoring to make his escape as I reached him from one side and a Spad
that I later recognized as belonging to Ham Coolidge came in on the other.
Diving down with terrific speed I began firing at 100 yards.
With my first burst I noticed the gas-tank of the enemy machine catch on fire.
Ham began firing as he approached on the other side but already the two
unfortunate occupants of the observing machine knew their coming doom. The L.
V. G. descended rapidly, the wind fanning the flames into a fiery furnace. The
two unfortunate aviators must have been burned to a crisp long before the
ground was reached. When the crash did come there was a great explosion and all
that remained of the aeroplane was a black cloud of smoke and dust that
ascended a few yards and was scattered to the four winds.
Adjusting matters that night I found that Ham Coolidge was
the hero of the day with the balloon and one Fokker to his credit besides
one-half the vanquishing of the L. V. G. Thorn Taylor, Will Palmer and Crafty
Sparks had each brought down a Fokker, making a total of five besides the
two-seater that I had crashed back of Dun. Our lead was now safely beyond that
of our next rival 27 Squadron. And from that day it increased and has
never been lessened.
Avery, as well as Eugene Scroggie, one of my pilots from Des
Moines, Iowa, were missing. I had seen one Spad fall but could not tell which
of these pilots was in it. But in spite of this uncertainty I felt so confident
that both pilots were not dead but merely prisoners that I put off writing to
their parents for weeks. At the cessation of hostilities both of these boys
were turned back to us by Germany. Scroggie had been shot through the foot but
was able to come back to his Squadron. Poor Avery had received a disfiguring
wound in the face which had been neglected by the German surgeons. But he was
immediately put under the best of our medical care after he was released from
Germany, and will doubtless soon return to the States in as perfect condition
as he left.
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