By James R McConnell
|Insignia of American Escadrille|
On the 12th of October, twenty small airplanes flying in a "V" formation, at such height that they resembled a flock of geese, crossed the River Rhine, where it skirts the plains of Alsace, and, turning north, headed for the famous Mauser works at Oberndorf. Following in their wake was an equal number of larger machines, and above these darted and circled swift fighting planes. The first group of aircraft was flown by British pilots, the second by French, and three of the fighting planes by Americans in the French aviation. It was a cosmopolitan collection that effected that successful raid.
We American pilots, who are grouped into one escadrille, had been fighting above the battlefield of Verdun from the 10th of May until orders came in the middle of September for us to leave our airplanes for a unit that would replace us, and to report at Le Bourget, the great aviation center at Paris. The mechanics and the rest of the personnel left, as usual, in the escadrille's trucks with the material. For once the pilots did not take the aerial route and they boarded the Paris express at Bar-le-Duc with all the enthusiasm of school boys off for a vacation. They were to have a week in the Capital! Where they were to go after that they did not know, but presumed it would be to the Somme. As a matter of fact, the escadrille was to be sent to the town of Luxeuil, in the Vosges, to take part in the Mauser raid.
Besides Captain Thenault and Lieutenant de Laage de Mieux, our French officers, the following American pilots were in the escadrille at this time: Lieutenant Thaw, who had returned to the front, even though his wounded arm had not entirely healed; Adjutants Norman Prince, Hall, Lufbery, and Masson; and Sergeants Kiffin Rockwell, Hill, Pavelka, Johnson, and Rumsey. I had been sent to a hospital toward the end of August, because of a lame back resulting from a smash-up in landing, and couldn't follow the Escadrille until later.
Every aviation unit boasts several mascots. Dogs of every description are to be seen around the camps, but the Americans managed, during their stay in Paris, to add to their menagerie a lion cub named "Whiskey." The little chap had been born on a boat crossing from Africa and was advertised for sale in France. Some of the American pilots chipped in and bought him. He was a cute, bright-eyed baby lion who tried to roar in a most threatening manner, but who was blissfully content the moment one gave him one's finger to suck. "Whiskey" got a good view of Paris during the few days he was there, for someone in the crowd was always borrowing him to take some place. Like most lions in captivity, he became acquainted with bars; but the sort "Whiskey" saw were not for purposes of confinement.
|Sergeant James R McConnell|
The orders came directing the Escadrille to Luxeuil and, bidding farewell to gay "Paree," the men boarded the Belfort train with bag and baggage—and the lion. Lions, it developed, were not allowed in passenger coaches. The conductor was assured that "Whiskey" was quite harmless, and was going to overlook the rules when the cub began to roar and tried to get at the railroad man's finger. That settled it, so two of the men had to stay behind in order to crate up "Whiskey" and take him along the next day.
The Escadrille was joined in Paris by Robert Rockwell, of Cincinnati, who had finished his training as a pilot, and was waiting at the Reserve. He had gone to France to work as a surgeon in one of the American war hospitals. He disliked remaining in the rear, and eventually enlisted in aviation.
The period of training for a pilot, especially for one who is to fly a fighting machine at the front, has been very much prolonged. It is no longer sufficient that he learn to fly and to master various types of machines. He now completes his training in schools where aerial shooting is taught and in others where he practices combat, group maneuvers, and acrobatic stunts such as looping the loop and the more difficult tricks. In all, it requires from seven to nine months.
When the Escadrille arrived at Luxeuil, it found a great surprise in the form of a large British aviation contingent. This detachment, from the Royal Navy Flying Corps, numbered more than fifty pilots and a thousand men. New hangars harbored their fleet of bombardment machines. Their own anti-aircraft batteries were in emplacements near the field. Though detached from the British forces and under French command, this unit followed the rule for His Majesty's armies in France by receiving all its food and supplies from England. It had its transport service.
Dennis Dowd, of Brooklyn, N. Y., is, so far, the only American volunteer aviator killed while in training. Dowd, who had joined the Foreign Legion shortly after the war broke out, was painfully wounded during the offensive in Champagne. After his recovery he was transferred, at his request, into aviation. At the Buc School he stood at the head of the fifteen Americans who were learning to be aviators, and was considered one of the most promising pilots in the training camp. On August 11, 1916, while making a flight preliminary to his brevet, Dowd fell from a height of only 80 meters (260 feet) and was instantly killed. Either he had fainted or a control had broken.
|Breguet Air Cruiser|
While a patient at the hospital, Dowd had been sent packages by a young French girl of Neuilly. A correspondence ensued, and when Dowd went to Paris on convalescent leave, he and the young lady became engaged. He was killed just before the time set for the wedding.
The Escadrille had been in Luxeuil during the months of April and May. We had made many friends among the townspeople and the French pilots stationed there, so the old members of the American unit were welcomed with open arms and their new comrades made to feel at home in the quaint Vosges town. It wasn't long, however, before the Americans and the British got together. At first there was a feeling of reserve on both sides, but, once acquainted, they became fast friends. The Naval pilots were quite representative of the United Kingdom, hailing, as they did, from England, Canada, New South Wales, South Africa, and other parts of the Empire. Most of them were soldiers by profession. All were officers, but they were as democratic as it is possible to be. As a result there was a continuous exchange of dinners. In a few days everyone in this Anglo-American alliance was calling each other by some nickname and swearing lifelong friendship.
"We didn't know what you Yanks would be like,” remarked one of the Englishmen one day. "Thought you might be snobby on account of being volunteers, but I swear you're a bally human lot." That, I will explain, is a very fine compliment.
There was trouble getting new airplanes for everyone in the Escadrille. Only five arrived. They were the new model Nieuport fighting machines. Instead of having only thirteen square meters of supporting surface, they had fifteen, and the forty-seven-shot Lewis machine guns had been replaced by the Vickers, which fires five hundred rounds. This gun is mounted on the hood, and, by means of a timing gear, shoots through the propeller. The 15-meter Nieuport mounts at a terrific rate, rising to 7,000 feet in six minutes. It will go to 20,000 feet when it is handled by a skillful pilot.
|Corporal Victor Chapman|
It was some time before the airplanes arrived, and everyone was idle. There was nothing to do but loaf around the hotel, where the American pilots were quartered, visit the British in their barracks at the field, or go walking. 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 aerial combat. It informed me that Thaw had caught a trout three feet long, and that Lufbery had succeeded in picking two baskets of mushrooms.
Day after day the British planes practiced formation flying. The regularity with which the squadron's machines would leave the ground was remarkable. The twenty Sopwiths took the air at precise intervals, flew together in a "V" formation while executing difficult maneuvers, and landed one after the other with the exactness of clockwork. The French pilots flew the Farman and Breguet bombardment machines whenever the weather permitted. Everyone knew some big bombardment was ahead, but when it would be made or what place was to be attacked was a secret.
Considering the number of machines that were continually roaring above the field of Luxeuil, it is remarkable that only two fatal accidents occurred. One was when a British pilot tried diving at a target, for machine-gun practice, and was unable to redress his airplane. Both he and his gunner were killed. In the second accident I lost a good friend—a young Frenchman. He took up his gunner in a two-seated Nieuport. A young Canadian pilot, accompanied by a French officer, followed in a Sopwith. When at about a thousand feet the airmen began to maneuver about each other. In making a turn too close the tips of their wings touched. The Nieuport turned downward, its wings folded, and it fell like a stone. The Sopwith fluttered a second or two, then its wings buckled and it dropped in the wake of the Nieuport. The two men in each of the planes were killed outright.
|Lieutenant Norman Prince|
Next to falling in flames, a drop in a wrecked machine is the worst death an aviator can meet. I know of no sound more terrible than that made by an airplane crashing to earth. Breathless, one has watched the uncontrolled apparatus tumble through the air. The agony felt by the pilot and passenger seems to transmit itself to you. You are helpless to avert the certain death. You cannot even turn your eyes away at the moment of impact. In the dull, grinding crash there is the sound of breaking bones. Luxeuil was an excellent place to observe the difference that exists between the French and English and American aviator, but when all is said and done there is but little difference. The Frenchman is the most natural pilot and the most adroit. Flying comes easier to him than to an Englishman or American, but once accustomed to an airplane and the air they all accomplish the same amount of work. A Frenchman goes about it with a little more dash than the others, and puts on a few extra frills, but the Englishman calmly carries out his mission and obtains the same results. An American is a combination of the two, but neither better nor worse. Though there is a large number of expert German airmen, I do not believe the average Teuton makes as good a flier as a Frenchman, Englishman, or American.
Despite their bombardment of open towns and the use of explosive bullets in their aerial machine guns, the Boches have shown up in a better light in aviation than in any other arm. A few of the Hun pilots have even evinced certain elements of honor and decency.
I remember one chap who was the right sort. He was a young man, but a pilot of long standing. An old infantry captain stationed near his aviation field at Etain, east of Verdun, prevailed upon this German pilot to take him on a flight. There was a new machine to test out and he told the captain to climb aboard. Foolishly, he crossed the trench lines and, actuated by a desire to give his passenger an interesting trip, proceeded to fly over the French aviation headquarters. Unfortunately for him, he encountered three French fighting planes, which promptly opened fire. The German pilot was wounded in the leg and the gasoline tank of his airplane pierced. Under him was an aviation field. He decided to land. The machine was captured before the Germans had time to burn it up.
Explosive bullets were discovered in the machine gun. A French officer turned to the German captain and informed him that he would probably be shot for using explosive bullets. The captain did not understand.
"Don't shoot him," said the pilot, using excellent French. "If you are going to shoot anyone, take me. The captain has nothing to do with the bullets. He doesn't even know how to work a machine gun. It's his first trip in an airplane."
"Well, if you'll give us some good information, we won't shoot you," said the French officer.
"Information!" replied the German. "I can't give you any. I come from Etain, and you know where that is as well as I do."
"No, you must give us some worthwhile information, or I'm afraid you'll be shot," insisted the Frenchman.
"If I give you worth-while information," answered the pilot, "you'll go over and kill a lot of soldiers, and if I don't you'll kill one—so go ahead."
The last time I heard of the Boche he was being well taken care of.
|Nieuport Fighting Machine|
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. There is but little fighting in the trenches there, but great aerial activity. Due to the British and French squadrons at Luxeuil, and the threat their presence implied, the Germans had to oppose them by a large fleet of fighting machines. I believe there were more than forty Fokkers alone in the camps of Kolmar and Habsheim. Observation machines, protected by two or three fighting planes, would venture far into our lines. It is something the Germans dare not do on any other part of the front. They had a special trick that consisted in sending a large, slow observation machine into our lines to invite attack. When a French plane would dive after it, two Fokkers, hovering high overhead, would drop on the tail of the Frenchman, and he stood but small chance if caught in the trap.
Just before Kiffin Rockwell reached the lines he spied a German machine under him, flying at 3, 500 meters. 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, ire 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 on 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. Despite the bursting shrapnel, gunners from a near-by, battery rushed out and recovered poor Rockwell's broken body. There was a hideous wound in his breast where an explosive bullet had torn through. A surgeon who examined the body testified that if it had been an ordinary bullet Rockwell would have had an even chance of landing with only a bad wound. As it was, he was killed the instant the unlawful missile exploded in his breast.
Lufbery engaged a German craft, but before he could get to close range two Fokkers swooped down from behind and filled his airplane full of holes. Exhausting his ammunition, he landed at Fontaine, an aviation field near the lines. There he learned of Rockwell's death, and was told that two other French machines had been brought down within the hour. He ordered his gasoline tank filled, procured a full band of cartridges, and soared up into the air to avenge his comrade. He sped up and down the lines, and made a wide detour to Habsheim, where the Germans have an aviation field, but all to no avail. Not a Boche was in the air.
The news of Rockwell's death was telephoned to the Escadrille. The captain, lieutenant, and a couple of the men jumped in a staff car and hastened to where he had fallen. On their return, the American pilots were convened in a room of the hotel and the news was broken to them. With tears in his eyes, the captain said: "The best and bravest of us all is no more."
|Lieutenant Kiffin Rockwell|
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 everyone 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 debt for Lafayette and Rochambeau," and he gave the fullest measure. The old flame of chivalry burned brightly in the boy's fine and sensitive being. With his death, France lost one of her most valuable pilots. When he was over the lines, the Germans did not pass—and he was over them most of the time. He brought down four enemy 'planes that were credited to him officially, and Lieutenant de Laage, who was his fighting partner, says he is convinced that Rockwell accounted for many others which fell too far within the German lines to be observed. Rockwell had been given the Medaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre, on the ribbon of which he wore four palms, representing the four magnificent citations he had received in the order of the army. As a further reward for his excellent work he had been proposed for promotion from the grade of sergeant to that of second lieutenant. Unfortunately, the official order did not arrive until a few days following his death.
The night before Rockwell was killed he had stated that if he were brought down he would like to be buried where he fell. It was impossible, however, to place him in a grave so near the trenches. His body was draped in a French flag and brought back to Luxeuil. He was given a funeral worthy of a general. His brother Paul, who had fought in the Legion with him, and who had been rendered unfit for service by a wound, was granted permission to attend the obsequies. Pilots from all near-by camps flew over to render homage to Rockwell's remains. Every Frenchman in the aviation at Luxeuil marched behind the bier. The British pilots, followed by a detachment of five hundred of their men, were in line, and a battalion of French troops brought up the rear. As the slow-moving procession of blue and khaki clad men passed from the church to the graveyard, airplanes circled at a feeble height above and showered down myriads of flowers.
Rockwell's death urged the rest of the men to greater action, and the few who had machines were constantly after the Boches. Prince brought down one. Lufbery, the most skillful and successful fighter in the Escadrille, would venture far into the enemy's lines and spiral down over a German aviation camp, daring the pilots to venture forth. One day he stirred them up, but as he was short of fuel he had to make for home before they took to the air. Prince was out in search of a combat at this time. He got it. He ran into the crowd Lufbery had aroused. Bullets cut into his machine and one, exploding on the front edge of a lower wing, broke it. Another shattered a supporting mast. It was a miracle that the machine did not give way. As badly battered as it was, Prince succeeded in bringing it back from over Mulhouse, where the fight occurred, to his field at Luxeuil.
The same day that Prince was so nearly brought down, Lufbery missed death by a very small margin. He had taken on more gasoline and made another sortie. When over the lines again, he encountered a German with whom he had a fighting acquaintance. That is, he and the Boche, who was an excellent pilot, had tried to kill each other on one or two occasions before. Each was too good for the other. Lufbery maneuvered for position but, before he could shoot, the Teuton would evade him by a clever turn. They kept after each other, the Boche retreating into his lines. When they were nearing Habsheim, Lufbery glanced back and saw French shrapnel bursting over the trenches. It meant a German plane was over French territory and it was his duty to drive it off. Swooping down near his adversary he waved good-bye, the enemy pilot did likewise, and Lufbery whirred off to chase the other representative of Kultur. He caught up with him and dove to the attack, but he was surprised by a German he had not seen. Before he could escape, three bullets entered his motor, two passed through the fur-lined combination he wore, another ripped open one of his woolen flying boots, his airplane was riddled from wing tip to wing tip, and other bullets cut the elevating plane. Had he not been an exceptional aviator, he never would have brought safely to earth so badly damaged a machine. It was so thoroughly shot up that it was junked as being beyond repair. Fortunately Lufbery was over French territory, or his forced descent would have resulted in his being made prisoner.
|Sergeant "Bert" Hall|
I know of only one other airplane that was safely landed after receiving as heavy punishment as did Lufbery's. It was a two-place Nieuport piloted by a young Frenchman named Fontaine, with whom I trained. He and his gunner attacked a German over the Bois le Pretre who dove rapidly far into his lines. Fontaine followed and in turn was attacked by three other Boches. He dropped to escape they plunged after him, forcing him lower. He looked and saw a German aviation field under him. He was by this time only 2,000 feet above the ground. Fontaine saw the mechanics rush out to grab him, thinking he would land. The attacking airplanes had stopped shooting. Fontaine pulled on full power and headed for the lines. The German planes dropped down on him and again opened fire. They were on his level, behind, and on his sides. Bullets whistled by him in streams. The rapid-fire gun on Fontaine's machine had jammed and he was helpless. His gunner fell forward on him, dead. The trenches were just ahead, but as he was slanting downward to gain speed, he had lost a good deal of height, and was at only six hundred feet when he crossed the lines, from which he received a ground fire. The Germans gave up the chase and Fontaine landed. His wings were so full of holes that they barely supported the machine in the air.
The uncertain wait at Luxeuil finally came to an end on the 12th of October. The afternoon of that day the British did not say, "Come on Yanks, let's call off the war and have tea, "as was their wont, for the bombardment of Oberndorf was on. The British and the French machines had been prepared. Just before climbing into their airplanes the pilots were given their orders. The English, in their single-seated Sopwiths, which carried four bombs each, were the first to leave. The big French Breguets and Farmans then soared aloft with their tons of explosive destined for the Mauser works. The fighting machines, which were to convoy them as far as the Rhine, rapidly gained their height and circled over their charges. Four of the battle planes were from the American Escadrille. They were piloted respectively by Lieutenant de Laage, Lufbery, Norman Prince, and Masson.
The Germans were taken by surprise, and as a result few of their machines were in the air. The bombardment fleet was attacked, however, and six of its planes shot down, some of them falling in flames. Baron, the famous French night bombardier, lost his life in one of the Farmans. Two Germans were brought down by machines they attacked, and four pilots from the American Escadrille accounted for one each. Lieutenant de Laage shot down his Boche as it was attacking another French machine, and Casson did likewise. Explaining it afterward, he said: "All of a sudden I saw a Boche come in between me and a Breguet I was following. I just began to shoot, and darned if he didn't fall."
As the full capacity of a Nieuport allows but little more than two hours in the air, the avions de chasse were forced to return to their own lines to take on more gasoline, while the bombardment 'planes continued on into Germany. The Sopwiths arrived first at Oberndorf. Dropping low over the Mauser works, they discharged their bombs and headed homeward. All arrived, save one, whose pilot lost his way and came to earth in Switzerland. When the big machines got to Oberndorf they saw only flames and smoke where once the rifle factory stood. They unloaded their explosives on the burning wreckage.
|Whiskey, the lion cub mascot, of the|
American Escadrille in France
The Nieuports, having refilled their tanks, went up to clear the air of any German machines that might be hovering in wait for the returning raiders. Prince found one, and promptly shot it down. Lufbery came upon three. He dove for one, making it drop below the others; then, forcing a second to descend, attacked the one remaining above. The combat was short, and at the end of it the German tumbled to earth. This made the fifth enemy machine which was officially credited to Lufbery. When a pilot has accounted for five Boches he is mentioned in the official communication, and is spoken of as an "Ace," which in French aerial slang means a super-pilot. Papers are allowed to call an "Ace" by name, print his pictures, and give him a write-up. The successful aviator becomes a national hero. When Lufbery worked into this category the French papers made him a headliner. The American "Ace," with his string of medals, then came in for the attentions that afflict a matinee idol. The choicest bit in the collection was a letter from Wallingford, Conn., his home town, thanking him for putting it on the map.
Darkness was coming rapidly on, but Prince and Lufbery remained in the air to protect the bombardment fleet. Just at nightfall, Lufbery made for a small aviation field near the lines, known as Corcieux. Slow-moving machines, with great planing capacity, can be landed in the dark, but to try and feel for the ground in a Nieuport, which comes down at about a hundred miles an hour, is to court disaster. Ten minutes after Lufbery landed, Prince decided to make for the field. He spiraled down through the night air and skimmed rapidly over the trees bordering the Corcieux field. In the dark he did not see a high-tension electric cable that was stretched just above the tree tops. The landing gear of his airplane struck it. The machine snapped forward and hit the ground on its nose. It turned over and over. The belt holding Prince broke and he was thrown far from the wrecked 'plane. Both of his legs were broken and he naturally suffered internal injuries. Despite the terrific shock and his intense pain, Prince did not lose consciousness. He even kept presence of mind and gave orders to the men who had run to pick him up. Hearing the hum of a motor, and realizing a machine was in the air, Prince told them to light fires on the field. "You don't want another fellow to come down and break himself up the way I've done," he said.
Lufbery went with Prince to the hospital in Gerardmer. As the ambulance rolled along Prince sang to keep up his spirits. He spoke of getting well soon and returning to service. It was like Norman. He was always energetic about his flying. Even when he passed through the harrowing experience of having a wing shattered, the first thing he did on landing was too busy himself about getting another fitted in place.
No one thought that Prince was mortally injured, but the next day he went into a coma; a blood clot had formed on his brain. Captain Haff, in command of the aviation groups of Luxeuil, accompanied by our officers, hastened to Gerardmer. Prince, lying unconscious on his bed, was named a second lieutenant and decorated with the Legion of Honor. He already held the Medaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre. Norman Prince died on the 15th of October. He was brought back to Luxeuil and given a funeral similar to Rockwell's. It was hard to realize that poor old Norman had gone. He was the founder of the American Escadrille, and everyone in it had come to rely on him. He never let his own spirits drop, and was always on hand with encouragement for the others. I do not think Prince minded going. He wanted to do his part before being killed, and he had more than done it. He had, day after day, freed the line of Germans, making it impossible for them to do their work, and three of them he had shot to death.
Two days after Prince's death, the Escadrille received orders to leave for the Somme. The night before the departure the British gave the American pilots a farewell banquet and toasted them as their "guardian angels." They keenly appreciated the fact that four men from the American Escadrille had brought down four Germans, and had cleared the way for their squadron returning from Oberndorf. When the train pulled out the next day, the station platform was packed with khaki-clad pilots waving good-bye to their friends, the "Yanks."
The Escadrille passed through Paris on its way to the Somme front. The few members who had machines flew from Luxeuil to their new post. At Paris the pilots were reinforced by three other American boys who had completed their training. They were Fred Prince, who, ten months before, had come over from Boston to serve in aviation with his brother Norman; Willis Haviland, of Chicago, who left the American Ambulance for the life of a birdman; and Bob Soubrian, of New York, who had been transferred from the Foreign Legion to the flying corps after being wounded in the Champagne offensive.
Before its arrival in the Somme, the Escadrille had always been quartered in towns, and the life of the pilots was all that could be desired in the way of comforts. We had, as a result, come to believe that we would wage only a deluxe war, and were unprepared for any other sort of campaign. The introduction to the Somme was a rude awakening. Instead of being quartered in a villa or hotel, the pilots were directed to a portable barracks newly erected in a sea of mud. It was set in a cluster of similar barns about nine miles from the nearest town. A sieve was a water-tight compartment in comparison with that elongated shed. The damp cold penetrated through every crack, chilling one to the bone. There were no blankets and, until they were procured, the pilots had to curl up in their flying clothes. There were no arrangements for cooking, and the Americans depended on the other escadrilles for food. Eight fighting units were located at the same field, and our ever-generous French comrades saw to it that no one went hungry. The thick mist, for which the Somme is famous, hung like a pall over the birdmen's nest, dampening both the clothes and spirits of the men.
Something had to be done, so Thaw and Masson, who is our chef de popote (president of the mess), obtained permission to go to Paris in one of our light trucks. They returned with cooking utensils, a stove, and other necessary things. All hands set to work and as a result life was made bearable. In fact, I was surprised to find the quarters as good as they were when I rejoined the Escadrille a couple of weeks after its arrival in the Somme. Outside of the cold, mud, and dampness, it wasn't so bad. The barracks had been partitioned off into little rooms, leaving a large space for a dining-hall. The stove is set up there and all animate life, from the lion cub to the pilots, centers around its warming glow.
The eight escadrilles of fighting machines form a rather interesting colony. The large canvas hangars are surrounded by the house tents of their respective escadrilles; wooden barracks for the men and pilots are in close proximity, and sandwiched in between the encampments of the various units are the tents where the commanding officers hold forth. In addition there is a bath house, where one may go and freeze while a tiny stream of hot water trickles down one's shivering form. Another shack houses the power plant which generates electric light for the tents and barracks, and in one very popular canvas is located the community bar, the profits from which go to the Red Cross.
We had never before been grouped with as many other fighting escadrilles, nor at a field so near the front. We sensed the war to better advantage than at Luxeuil or Bar-le-Duc. When there is activity on the lines, the rumble of heavy artillery reaches us in a heavy volume of sound. From the field one can see the line of sausage-shaped observation balloons, which delineate the front, and beyond them the high-flying airplanes, darting like swallows in the shrapnel puffs of anti-aircraft fire. The roar of motors that are being tested is punctuated by the staccato barking of machine guns, and at intervals the hollow whistling sound of a fast plane diving to earth is added to this symphony of war notes.
|Men of the American Escadrille|
from the World’s Work Magazine, 1916.