Tag Archives: American Expeditionary Force

6 October 1918

Harold Ernest Goettler (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
First Lieutenant Harold Ernest Goettler, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army. Portrait by Edward Frederick Foley, New York, 1918. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

6 October 1918: During the Meuse-Argonne offensive of World War I, approximately 554 soldiers of the 77th “Metropolitan” Division advanced into the Argonne Forest with a French division on their left flank and the American 92nd Division to the left. They moved quickly, unaware that the flanking units were held up. Soon, they were far ahead of the Allied advance and became cut off behind the German lines. With higher ground to all sides, the elements of the 307th and 308th Infantry Regiments and 306th Machine Gun Battalion came under heavy attack by enemy infantry and artillery.

With their communications cut off, they were soon low on food and ammunition. The only water available was a nearby stream that was protected by German gunfire.

Major General Robert Alexander, commanding the 77th Division, requested that the 50th Aero Squadron, based at Remicourt, attempt to locate the cut-off unit and resupply them by air. Among the officers of the 50th participating in the search were First Lieutenant Harold Ernest (“Dad”) Goettler, the 1st Flight commander, and Second Lieutenant Erwin Russell Bleckley, flying an American-built Liberty-engined DH-4. On their first flight they flew their own aircraft, squadron number 2. Later in the day, after #2 developed engine trouble, they used another crew’s #6.

Medal of Honor

Harold Ernest Goettler

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, pilot, U.S. Air Service, 50th Aero Squadron, Air Service.

Place and date: Near Binarville, France, October 6, 1918.

Entered service at: Chicago, Ill. Born: July 21, 1890, Chicago, Ill.

G.O. No.: 56, W.D., 1922.

Citation: 1st. Lt. Goettler, with his observer, 2d Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley, 130th Field Artillery, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of this mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in the instant death of 1st. Lt. Goettler. In attempting and performing this mission 1st. Lt. Goettler showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage and valor.

*************

Bleckley (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
Private Erwin Russell Bleckley, Battery F, 1st Field Artillery Regiment, Kansas National Guard, circa June 1917. Private Bleckley was commissioned a second lieutenant on 5 July 1917. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Medal of Honor

Erwin Russell Bleckley

Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, 130th Field Artillery, observer 50th Aero Squadron, Air Service.

Place and date: Near Binarville, France, October 6, 1918.

Entered service at: Wichita, Kans. Birth: Wichita, Kans.

G.O. No.: 56, W.D., 1922.

Citation: 2d Lt. Bleckley, with his pilot, 1st Lt. Harold E. Goettler, Air Service, left the airdrome late in the afternoon on their second trip to drop supplies to a battalion of the 77th Division, which had been cut off by the enemy in the Argonne Forest. Having been subjected on the first trip to violent fire from the enemy, they attempted on the second trip to come still lower in order to get the packages even more precisely on the designated spot. In the course of his mission the plane was brought down by enemy rifle and machinegun fire from the ground, resulting in fatal wounds to 2d Lt. Bleckley, who died before he could be taken to a hospital. In attempting and performing this mission 2d Lt. Bleckley showed the highest possible contempt of personal danger, devotion to duty, courage, and valor.

Bleckley (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
Second Lieutenant Erwin Russell Bleckley, assigned as an artillery observer with the 50th Aero Squadron, mans the two .30-caliber M1918 Lewis machine guns of a DH-4, 1918. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

“The Lost Battalion” was finally relieved on the afternoon of 8 October. Of the estimated 554 soldiers who entered the forest on 2 October, approximately 197 were killed and 150 were either missing or captured.

In addition to the Medals of Honor awarded to Lieutenants Goettler and Bleckley, four officers and enlisted men received the Medal. Twenty-eight others were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

An American-built DH-4 assigned to the 50th Aero Squadron, 1918. The position of the pilot’s cockpit identifies this airplane as the original DH-4 variant. The airplane’s manufacturer and serial number are unknown, but the squadron number 23 is painted on the underside of the lower right wing. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. The DH.4 (DH-4 in American service) was a two-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. The fuselage and wings were constructed of wood and covered with doped-fabric. The airplane was produced by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States. The DH-4 was 30 feet, 5 inches (9.271 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 8 inches (13.005 meters) and height of 10 feet, 6 inches (3.200 meters). The DH-4 had an empty weight of 2,391 pounds, (1,085 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,297 pounds (1,949 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 67 gallons (254 liters).

Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by Liberty 12 aircraft engines in place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built DH.4 version. The L-12 was water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.34-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter), single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine. It produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine and it turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 67.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 27.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 41.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

Major Henry H. Arnold standing beside the first Liberty 12 aircraft engine turned out for war use. "Hap" Arnold would later hold the 5-star rank of General of the Army and General of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
Major Henry Harley Arnold standing beside the first Liberty 12 aircraft engine turned out for war use. “Hap” Arnold would later hold the 5-star rank of General of the Army and General of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

The Liberty 12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and the Packard Motor Car Company. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4 had a maximum speed of 124 miles per hour (200 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

Many DH-4s were rebuilt as DH-4Bs. These can be identified by the relocated pilot’s cockpit, which was moved aft, closer to the observer’s position. The an enlarged fuel tank was place ahead of the pilot’s cockpit. Following World War II, many were rebuilt with tubular metal frames for the fuselage, replacing the original wooden structure. These aircraft were redesignated DH-4M.

The prototype American DH-4, Dayton-Wright-built airplane, is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Aviation and Space Museum.

This DH-4, serial number 32364, was assigned to the 50th Aero Squadron. The unit’s Dutch Girl insignia is painted on the fuselage along with the squadron number, 10. The name of the person standing by the airplane is not known. (San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 September 1918

Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force.

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor

to

EDWARD V. RICKENBACKER 

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service.

Place and date: Near Billy, France, 25 September 1918.

Entered service at: Columbus, Ohio. Born: 8 October 1890, Columbus, Ohio.

G.O. No.: 2, W.D., 1931.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Billy, France, 25 September 1918. While on a voluntary patrol over the lines, 1st Lt. Rickenbacker attacked seven enemy planes (five type Fokker, protecting two type Halberstadt). Disregarding the odds against him, he dived on them and shot down one of the Fokkers out of control. He then attacked one of the Halberstadts and sent it down also.

Eddie Rickenbacker’s Medal of Honor at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

Edward Reichenbacher was born 8 October 1890 at Columbus, Ohio. He was the third of seven children of Wilham and Elizabeth Reichenbacher, both immigrants to America from Switzerland. His formal education ended with the 7th grade, when he had to find work to help support the family after the death of his father in 1904. He worked in the automobile industry and studied engineering through correspondence courses. Reichenbacher was a well known race car driver and competed in the Indianapolis 500 race four times. He was known as “Fast Eddie.”

"Fast Eddie" Rickenbacker raced this Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 mile race. He finished in 10th place. (Coburg)
“Fast Eddie” Rickenbacker raced this red, white and blue Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500-mile race. He finished in 10th place with an average speed of 70.8 miles per hour (113.9 kilometers per hour), and won $1,500 in prize money. (Coburg)

With the anti-German sentiment that was prevalent in the United States during World War I, Reichenbacher felt that his Swiss surname sounded too German, so he changed his name to “Rickenbacker.” He thought that a middle name would sound interesting and selected “Vernon.”

The United States declared war against Germany in 1917. Edward Vernon Rickenbacker enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, at New York City, 28 May 1917. He was appointed a sergeant, 1st class, on that date. After arriving in France, Sergeant Rickenbacker served as a driver for General John Pershing.

On 10 October 1917, Sergeant Rickenbacker was honorably discharged to accept a commission as a 1st lieutenant. Two weeks later, Lieutenant Rickenbacker was promoted to the rank of captain. He was assigned to 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun, France, until 9 April 1918, and then transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron as a pilot.

Identity card for Captain E. V. Rickenbacker (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Captain Rickenbacker served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and served during the following campaigns: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne. Between 29 April and 30 October 1918, Rickenbacker was officially credited with 26 victories in aerial combat, consisting of 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. He shot down the first six airplanes while flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, and the remainder with a SPAD S.XIII C.1., serial number S4253.

1st Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with seven bronze oak leaf clusters (eight awards). France named him a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur and twice  awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Eddie Rickenbacker is quoted as saying, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD S.XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)

In 1930, after Charles A. Lindbergh, Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., and Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett had each been awarded the Medal of Honor for valorous acts during peacetime, the 71st Congress of the United States passed a Bill (H.R. 325): “Authorizing the President of the United States to present in the name of Congress a congressional medal of honor to Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker.”

In a ceremony at Bolling Field, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Air Corps, 6 November 1930, the Medal of Honor was presented to Captain Rickenbacker by President Herbert Hoover. President Hoover remarked,

“Captain Rickenbacker, in the name of the Congress of the United States, I take great pleasure in awarding you the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest decoration for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above an beyond the call of duty in action. At a stage in the development of aviation when you were achieving victories which made you the universally recognized ‘Ace of Aces’ of the American forces. Your record is an outstanding one for skill and bravery, and is a source of pride to your comrades and your countrymen.

“I hope that your gratification in receiving the Medal of Honor will be as keen as mine in bestowing it. May you wear it during many years of happiness and continued service to your country.”

In 1920, Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which produced the first automobile with four wheel brakes.

Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)
Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)

Eddie Rickenbacker married Adelaide Pearl Frost (formerly, the second Mrs. Russell Durant) at Greenwich, Connecticut, 16 September 1922. They would later adopt two children.

From 1927 to 1945, he owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1938, he bought Eastern Air Lines, which he had operated for General Motors since 1935. He was the chief executive officer (CEO) until 1959, and remained chairman of the board of directors until 1963.

In 1941, Rickenbacker was gravely injured in the crash of an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 aboard which he was a passenger. He barely survived.

During World War II, Rickenbacker was requested by Secretary of War Henry Stimson to undertake several inspection tours in the United States, England, the Pacific and the Soviet Union. While enroute to Canton Island from Hawaii, 21 October 1942, the B-17D Flying Fortress that he was traveling aboard missed its destination due to a navigation error. The bomber ran out of fuel and ditched at sea. The survivors drifted in two small life rafts for 21 days before being rescued. All credited the leadership of Rickenbacker for their survival.

Rickenbacker was a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA.

Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died of heart failure at Neumünster Spital, Zollikerberg, Zürich, Switzerland, at 4:20 a.m., 23 July 1973. He was 82 years, 10 months of age.

SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris (U.S. Air Force)
This restored SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris, is in the the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. It is painted in the markings of Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker’s fighter. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 March 1918

Captain James Ely Miller, 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, American Expeditionary Force. (Department of Defense)

9 March 1918: Captain James Ely Miller, commanding officer, 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, American Expeditionary Force, accepted the invitation of Major Davenport Johnson to join him and Major Harmon for a short patrol over the lines in three SPAD S.VII C.1 fighters borrowed from a French squadron.

Major Harmon’s SPAD had engine trouble and he turned back. Major Johnson and Captain Miller continued and encountered four German fighters near Juvincourt-et-Damary in northern France. Shortly after the air battle began, Major Johnson abandoned the fight, leaving Captain Miller on his own. Captain Miller was shot down near Corbény, France.

The German pilot who downed Miller and a German intelligence officer who had rushed to the crash scene witnessed Captain Miller’s dying words in which he cursed Major Davenport Johnson for leaving him during the air battle.

On 12 March, Major Johnson assumed command of the 95th.

Captain James Ely Miller, 95th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, American Expeditionary Force.

James Ely Miller was born 24 March 1883 in New York City, New York. He was the fifth child of Charles Addison Miller and Mary Eliza Ely.

Miller attended Yale University, graduating in 1904. He was a member of the Psi Upsilon (ΨΥ) fraternity. Miller was active in sports, a member of the varsity crew and played guard on the football team.

Following university graduation, Miller joined the Knickerbocker Trust Company of New York (later, the Columbia Trust Co.), one of the largest banks in the United States. By 1913, he was secretary of the corporation, and by 1917, a vice president.

Miller was 6 feet, 2½ inches (1.89 meters) tall, with brown hair and eyes, and a fair complexion.

Miller married Miss Gladys Godfrey Kissel, 2 April 1908, in Manhattan, New York City, New York. They would have a daughter, Gladys Caroline Morgan Miller.

1st Lt. Miller flew with the 1st Aero Squadron, New York National Guard, in the Punitive Expedition into Mexico, in 1916.

On 10 May 1917, Captain Miller was activated from the Officers Reserve Corps and assigned to the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, for duty in France. He served overseas from 23 July 1917 until his death.

Captain Miller was the first United States airman to be killed in combat. In 1919, Miller Field, Staten Island, New York, was named in his honor. His remains were buried at the Oise-Aisne American Cemetery, Fère-en-Terdenois, France.

On 14 June 2017, the Distinguished Flying Cross was posthumously awarded to Captain Miller. Secretary of the Army Robert M. Speer presented the medal to Byron Derringer, Captain Miller’s great-grandson.

Biplan SPAD de chasse monoplace S.VII (rcgroups.com)

The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 was a single-place, single-engine, two-bay biplane chasseur (fighter). The airplane was 19 feet, 11 inches (5.842 meters) long, with a wingspan of 25 feet, 7¾ inches (7.817 meters) and overall height of 7 feet, 2 inches (2.184 meters). It had a maximum gross weight of 1,632 pounds (740 kilograms).

Biplan SPAD de chasse monoplace S.VII (rcgroups.com)

The SPAD VII was initially powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 11.762 liter (717.769 cubic inches) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Aa, a single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine with a compression ratio of 4.7:1. The 8Aa produced 150 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. By early 1918, the S.VII’s engine was upgraded to the higher-compression 8Ab (5.3:1), rated at 180 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m. These were right-hand tractor, direct-drive engines which turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller.

The SPAD VII had a maximum speed of 119 miles per hour (192 kilometers per hour). The 8Ab engine increased this to 129 miles per hour (208 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,500 feet (5,334 meters).

Biplan SPAD de chasse monoplace S.VII (rcgroups.com)

Armament consisted of a single air-cooled Vickers .303-caliber (7.7 × 56 millimeter) machine gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc.

The SPAD S.VII was produced by nine manufacturers in France and England. The exact number of airplanes built is unknown. Estimates range from 5,600 to 6,500.

The airplane in this photograph is a SPAD S.VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, built by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés, and restored by the 1st Fighter Wing, Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

SPAD VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)
SPAD S. VII C.1, serial number A.S. 94099, on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

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