National Geographic : 1918 Jun
ACES AMONG ACES BY LAURENCE LA TOURETTE DRIGGS AIR duels were unknown four years ago. Boys of 18 or 20, untaught and inexperienced in the art, have flown aloft and mastered it-mastered it so thoroughly that less prudent antago nists have fallen before them, sometimes six in one day. At least a score of such duels have been reported where the victor won by the expenditure of a single bullet ! Lufbery for America, Guynemer for France, Bishop for Great Britain, and von Richthofen for Germany have tow ered above their comrades from the popular viewpoint because of their con spicuous successes in this new art of aeroplane dueling. To promote this new and spectacular branch of warfare, the rival air forces of the belligerents have constructed the swiftest and deadliest types of aero planes, to be manned by their air duel ists-expert sharpshooters and pilots whose duty it is both to attack the heavy bombing and reconnaissance planes of the enemy and to defend their own slower aeroplanes from chasing aviators. Each belligerent nation has collected the cream of its sharpshooters into one squadron, or escadrille, where as one unit they can be hurled into a threatened area with every prospect of success over less skilled antagonists. THE PREMIER ESCADRILLE France has her Cigognes ("Storks"), the celebrated Spad 3, to which belong Fonck, Heurteaux, Pinsard, Deullin, Gond, Herrison, the Americans Baylies and Parsons, and those who have made the sacrifice supreme-Guynemer, Au ger, Rene Dorme, and de la Tour. America has her Escadrille Lafayette, which was commanded by Major Luf bery and which stands third among all the fighting escadrilles of France in the number of enemy aeroplanes shot down. The British have R. F. C. Squadron No. I, which is commanded by Captain Fullard and which brought down 200 German aeroplanes in a short six months. And the Germans entrusted their hopes to the famous Tango Circus, so nick named by the English pilots by reason of the close formation in which the gaudily painted aeroplanes of this enemy unit flew. The victories claimed by this band amount to more than double those ac corded to any single squadron of the Allies. And the commander of this Jagdstaffel No. 11 holds the world rec ord in air dueling, for he lived to conquer 80 enemy machines. FONCK, OF THE CIGOGNES The most polished aerial duelist the world has ever seen is Rene Fonck, aged 23, now flying with, the Cigognes, Spad 3. This is the famous fighting escadrille that was commanded by Guynemer: at the time of his disappearance, September II, 1917. Curiously enough, Lieutenant Fonck, who was then a member of Escadrille N. (Nieuport) 103, was Guynemer's avenger. He shot down on September 21 the German pilot, Lieutenant Wissemann, who had written home to his mother in Cologne, boasting that he had been vic torious over Guynemer and now need fear no one. As no proof of Guynemer's death has yet been found, the truth of Wissemann's claim is doubted. Consider the details of Fonck's record. Up to April 3, 1918, he had shot down officially 32 enemy aircraft, engaged in upward of 200 combats, flown over I,ooo hours above the enemy's lines, yet had never received a bullet hole in his aero plane! Now he has 45 enemy planes on his tablet and is the French ace of aces. Most of his combats are against for mations of five or more enemies. While delivering the coup de grace to one he must prevent a surprise from the others. How he succeeds in this could never be satisfactorily explained, yet that he does succeed is beyond question. Such incred ible perfection in maneuvering and such rapid and infallible accuracy of aim have never been equalled by any other fight ing pilot.