Friday, September 22, 2006

Lafayette Escadrille

The Oregon Ducks have a bye this weekend so lets have a history lesson in preparation for the movie Flyboys that is opening this weekend. I will post a review after I see it Saturday or Sunday.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lafayette Escadrille was a squadron of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, during World War I composed largely of American fighter pilots.

The squadron was formed in April 1916 as the "Escadrille Américaine" (number 124) in Luxeuil prior to U.S. entry to the war. Dr. Edmund L. Gros, director of the American Ambulance Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France, led the efforts to persuade the French government of the value of a volunteer American unit fighting for France. The aim was to have their efforts recognized by the American public and thus hopefully to rouse interests in abandoning neutrality and join the fight.

The squadron was quickly moved to Bar-le-Duc, closer to the front. A German objection filed with the U.S. government led to the name change in December.

The planes and their mechanics, and the uniforms, were French, as was the commander, Captain Georges Thenault. Five French pilots were also on the roster, serving at various times. Raoul Lufbery, a French-born American citizen, became the squadron's first ace.

The first major action seen by the squadron was at the Battle of Verdun. The squadron suffered heavy losses, but its core group of 38 was rapidly replenished by other Americans arriving from overseas. So many volunteered that a "Lafayette Flying Corps" was formed in part to take the overflow. Altogether 265 American volunteers served in the Corps.

Although not formally part of the Lafayette Escadrille, other Americans such as Michigan's Fred Zinn, who was a pioneer of aerial photography, fought as part of the French Foreign Legion and later the French Aéronautique Militaire.

Sixty-three members died during the war, 51 of them in action against the enemy. The Corps is credited with 159 enemy kills. It amassed 31 Croix de Guerre, and its pilots won seven Médailles Militaire and four Légions d'Honneur. Eleven of its members were flying aces. The core squadron suffered nine losses and was credited with 34 victories.

The Escadrille had a reputation for daring, recklessness, and a party atmosphere; the officers' club was notorious. Two lion cubs, named "Whiskey" and "Soda", were made squadron mascots.

On February 8, 1918, the squadron was reorganized into the U.S. Army as the 103rd Pursuit Squadron. For a brief period it retained its planes and mechanics. Most of its veteran members were set to work training newly arriving American pilots.

It can also be noted that the world's first black military aviator, Eugene Bullard, flew with the Lafayette Flying Corps.

The story of the Lafayette Escadrille has been adapted into the 2006 film Flyboys, directed by Tony Bill and starring James Franco.