With the advent of war planes came the advent of anti-aircraft fire.  This image depicts a system of bursting shrapnel and fire shells which Germany used at the front during the early months of World War I.  (The Illustrated War News, November 18, 1914, at page 14.)  PD


French officials hoped that American volunteers, fighting for France, might cause the U.S. government to join the war. After all, when America won her independence from Great Britain, Gilbert du Montier (better known as the Marquis de Lafayette), a young Frenchman barely twenty, not only fought for the colonies, his actions played a role in the French decision to back America’s revolution.

Perhaps a reverse situation might help France, and her Allies, in this war.

With their Nieuport 17 C-1 fighters, members of the Escadrille Americaine flew their first official patrol on the 13th of May, 1916. They had been stationed at Luxeuil, not far from the Swiss border, for about one month before that first mission.

The Luxeuil Aerodrome, with its two-mile airstrip, was near a spa. Pilots lived in a villa. During this stage of their assignment, the Americans primarily protected bomber squadrons.

Five days after their initial mission, Kiffin Rockwell shot down a German L.V.G. reconnaissance plane. It was the squadron’s first victory.

About a month later, the American pilots were sent to join other aviators in the Verdun sector. Ultimately, the battle for Verdun was one of the most protracted and deadly of the entire western front. 

Germany had a plan for this battle:  "Bleed France White."  France had a response:  "You shall not let them pass."

While civilians fled, or sought shelter in a stone quarry, German planes dropped incendiary bombs on the crippled town and countryside. Streams of replacement soldiers, and seemingly endless supplies of ammunition, fed the ravenous war machine.

Looking at contemporary photographs and film clips, one can only marvel at the misery of the battlefield, the trenches, the courage of both soldiers and reporters who told their stories, and ... the unbelievable loss of life. More than 300,000 people were killed and many more were wounded.

During the squadron’s first location in the Verdun sector, more pilots joined the Escadrille Americaine:

  • Clyde Balsley, Dudley Hill (who was blind in his left eye, partially deaf and passed his vision test by memorizing the chart);
  • Raoul Lufbery (who would become one of the most famous aces of the war),

The pilots were busy, flying 146 sorties in about four months. Three German fighters shot down Victor Chapman on June 23, 1916. He was the squadron’s first loss, but there would be eight more.

As the men continued to score victories against Germany, that country lodged a complaint with the American government. Wasn’t the United States neutral in this war? So ... how could it be that a squadron of American pilots were killing German pilots?

With the Marquis de Lafayette in mind, the French government changed the name of the American squadron (in December, 1916) to the Lafayette Escadrille.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Aug 01, 2008

Updated Last Revision: Apr 30, 2019

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"THE LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE" AwesomeStories.com. Aug 01, 2008. Nov 22, 2019.
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