The Lafayette Escadrille was formed in April 20, 1916 – a year before the US joined the war and two years before the first American raised squadrons of the United States Air Service managed their way into combat. Their equip-ment, their gear, their commander, their ground crew and organizational structure were all French. So was more or less everything else about the unit down to the uniforms. But at the heart was a band of intrepid Americans...
It is worth noting that while an estimated 4,000 Americans, including writer William Faulkner, have claimed to be Lafayette Escadrille aviators, only 38 Americans and 4 Frenchmen ever flew for it during the entirety of its existence.
The Lafayette Escadrille was officially created on April 20, 1916 and then flew its first mission from Luxeuil-les-Bains on May 13.
Kiffin Yates Rockwell got the escadrille's first victory on May 18, doing it by bringing his Nieuport 11 to within 75 feet before firing at a two seater LVG observation plane. He proceeded to shoot it down making him the first Amer-ican pilot to ever shoot down an enemy aircraft. It was the first time he had seen an enemy aircraft in the air and the first time he had fired his guns in anger. He claimed his kill with just four bullets fired which managed to hit the observer, the pilot and the engine – fine shots indeed.
Norman Prince shot down four, but crash landed after tangling with power lines in the dark on the way back to base after getting his fourth one. Three days later he died of his injuries. Bert Hall got two, and Bill Thaw destroyed four. And Raoul Lufbery shot down 17 between July 31, 1916 and December 4, 1917 becoming an ace on October 12 on the same mission that killed Norman Prince.
At the head of the Lafayette Escadrille and later at the head of the 94th Aero Squadron was a French-born American named Raoul Lufbery. Short, stocky and not so handsome, Raoul Lufbery was the top ace of the Lafayette Escadrille. Lufbery had 16 victories to his credit with the Lafayette Escadrille and one more with the USAS as part of the 1st Pursuit Group. And thus once he joined the USAS, he was the "Ace of Aces" – an informal title held by whoever had the most kills overall other USAS pilots.
The escadrille moved from base to base and was quickly joined to the French Groupe de Chasse 12. With GC 12, it was used to plug holes all over the Western Front. The pilots did rather well and continued to gain fame and build goodwill bridges between the US and France.
The statistics were impressive. By some counts, the pilots flew 3,000 sorties. In exchange for nine pilots killed, the 42 fliers of the Lafayette Escadrille had 40 confirmed victories and one hundred probable victories. The American pilots had ac-counted for 35 of those and Lufbery 17 of that 35. The French officers accounted for the other five.
The Lafayette Escadrille would pass from French service to the United States Air Service at the end of 1917. The name would change from the elegant “Lafayette Escadrille” to the more prosaic 103rd Aero Squadron. And, indeed, the personnel of the 103rd were quite different from those of the 103rd because the Escadrille's personnel were used to build the new USAS squadrons forming up. New pilots were brought to fill in the empty slots. After some ambiguity about where, when and what they would operate, the transformed 103rd swung into action in early 1918.
Please see the video of the 2010 Lafayette Escadrille commemoration.
These are some of the Lafayette Escadrille's pilots: Kiffin Yates Rockwell, Norman Prince, Clyde Balsley, Ken Marr, James McConnell, Fredrick Prince, Robert Soubiran, Douglas MacMonagle, Courtney Campbell, Edwin Parsons, Ray Bridgman, William Dugan, James Doolittle, Walter Lowell, Harold Willis, James Norman Hall, Henry Jones, David Peterson and Antoine Arnoux de Maison-Rouge, Dudley Hill, Didier Masson, Bill Thaw, Captain Georges Thenault, Raoul Lufbery, Chouteau Johnson, Stephen Bigelow and Robert Rockwell. Eugene Bullard was a Lafayette Flying Corps pilot and NOT a Lafayette Escadrille pilot. He has a great story, so learn more by clicking on the link.
Charles J. Biddle, Phelps Collins, George Turnure, C. Maury Jones, Charles Wilcox, Paul Baer, Cord Meyer, Edgar Tobin, Hobart A. H. Baker, Seth Low, H. Drummond Cannon, Ernest A. Giroux, Paul W. Eaton, Frank O'Driscoll Hunter, Charles I. Merrick, Stuart E. Edgar, Warren T. Hobbs, John F. Randall, Hugo Kenyon, Clarence H. Faith, Gorman DeFreest Larner, William T. Rolph, Doyen P. Wardwell, Eugene B. Jones, Percy R. Pyne,
Van Winkle Todd, George W. Furlow, Theodore H. Hubbard, Dudley H. Manchester, Livingston G. Irving, Charles H. Monroe, Warren E. Eaton, Lawrence E. Cauffman, John Frost, John O. Kirtland, Keene M. Palmer,
William T. Ponder,
Joseph Waddell, Wellford Macfadden, Jr., William C. Appleton, Jr.
Loran B. Cockrell, Martin F. McQuilkin, Herbert B. Bartholf, John M. Koontz
Much of the above are excerpts from my book "American Eagles" or my new book "Lafayette Escadrille: America's Most Famous Squadron." Please support this website and our efforts to recognize our first combat aviators by buying them.
List of Books about American aviation:
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"American Eagles - The Illustrated History of American Aviation in World War I" ($19.95, paperback, 370 pages, 8.5"x11", black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US) or free download):
American Eagles is packed with 220 photos, new maps and beautiful artwork by Michael O'Neal. It is the story of American World War I combat aviation, the aviators, their planes, their aerodromes, their stories and what happened to them after the war. Read about the first American fighters, bombers and observation planes, the Lafayette Escadrille, United States Naval Aviation, United States Marine Aviation, the United States Air Service, now the USAF, and more.
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"Lafayette Escadrille: America's Most Famous Squadron" ($14.95, 204 pages, digest size, black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US) or free download):
The Lafayette Escadrille is about the brave Americans who volunteered to fly for France and the United States 103rd Aero Squadron during World War I. Read about Raoul Lufbery, Bill Thaw, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, Charles Biddle and the early days of American World War I military aviation before it was known as the United States Air Force. These men flew Nieuports and Spads against Fokkers and Albatroses. This book has lots of new research and is thoroughly well-documented. 204 pages, 62 photos and maps.
"POW Stories" ($14.95, paperback, 189 pages, 8.5"x11", black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US)):
POW Stories is a collection of remarkable stories told by men who were once POWs in Germany. Some were in the US Army, others in the United States Army Air Force. This latest revision has real-life stories by Fred Scheer, James Golden, Les Schrenk and many others. All were POWs in Germany during WWII. Jim was a Mustang pilot who was the last Allied pilot shot down on D-Day. Fred escaped twice and was recaptured. He made it out for good on his third escape. And Les survived the brutal German Death March. POW Stories includes many other exhilarating, astonishing and poignant real stories. 189 pages, 35 photos and maps.
"Disaster at Dieppe" ($14.95, paperback, 174 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", 66 photos and maps, $5 for shipping and handling (US)):
The raid on Dieppe, code named Operation Jubilee, was the first invasion/large scale raid, of World War II. Jubilee featured the first use of Rangers, Churchill tanks, tanks in an amphibious assault, P-51s and Typhoons and more. Approximately 6,000 troops were roped into the attack: they included 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British, 50 American Rangers and 24 French light infantry. Poor planning and Murphy's Law led to an 85% casualty rate for the Canadians who landed! It was a rate far, far worse than the 10% suffered by the US Marines at Tarawa in late 1943 or the 15% that would be sustained by the Americans on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But their sacrifice was not in vain and may have saved 10 times as many lives in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. This is an easy read. At the same time, it is thoroughly documented. Its tables and six page index makes it a great reference book. 174 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", 66 photos and maps.
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1st Observation Group,
1st Pursuit Group,
1st Bombardment Group,
2nd Pursuit Group,
3rd Pursuit Group,
4th Pursuit Group,
5th Pursuit Group and
3rd Air Park.
See the really cool USAS Bases Google Map we've made just for you.
1st Observation Group - 1st aero squadron, 12th aero squadron, 50th aero squadron
1st Pursuit Group - 27th aero squadron, 94th aero squadron, 95th aero squadron, 147th aero squadron, 185th aero squadron
1st Bombardment Group - 96th aero squadron, 11th aero squadron, 20th aero squadron, 166th aero squadron
2nd Pursuit Group - 13th aero squadron, 22nd aero squadron, 49th aero squadron, 139th aero squadron
3rd Pursuit Group - 28th aero squadron, 93rd aero squadron, 103rd aero squadron, 213th aero squadron
4th Pursuit Group - 17th aero squadron, 25th aero squadron, 148th aero squadron, 141st aero squadron
5th Pursuit Group - 41st Aero Squadron, 138th Aero Squadron, 638th Aero Squadron
3rd Air Park - 255th Aero Squadron