Tag Archives: Escadrille Nº. 124

19 May 1918

Sous-lieutenant Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, Aéronautique Militaire, circa 1917.  Lufbery is wearing the pilot’s badge of the Aéronautique Militaire on his tunic. He also is wearing the Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, Médaille Militaire, and Croix de Guere with one silver and three bronze palms. The airplane is a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.VII C.1 of Escadrille SPA 124, “La Fayette.” (Captain Robert Soubiran/Library of Congress LC-USZ62-101970)

19 May 1918: Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, a leading Allied fighter pilot of World War I, was killed in action at Maron, Meurthe-et-Moselle, France.

Flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, he engaged by a Rumpler two-place observation plane of Reihenbildzug Nr. 3, a photographic reconniassance unit, flown by Gefreiter Kirschbaum and Leutnant Schieibe. Lufbery’s fighter was hit by gunfire from the Rumpler. The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte airplane was later shot down and its crew captured.

Lufbery’s Nieuport rolled inverted, and he fell from the airplane. He was killed on impact.

Raoul Lufbery is considered to have been the first American “ace,” although all sixteen of his officially-credited aerial victories took place while in the service of France.

Major Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, with a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, 1918.

Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery was a dual American and French citizen, born 14 March 1885 at Chamalières, Puy-de-Dôme, France. He was the fourth child of Edward Lufbery, an American chemist, and Anne Joséphine Vessière Lufbery. Mme Lufbery died when he was about one year old. His father left Gervais in the care of his maternal grandmother, Madeline Vessière Greniere, and returned to the United States. Gervais grew up in France.

In 1907, at the age of 22, Lufbery traveled to America to visit family members in Connecticut. After traveling around the country and working in various occupations, Lufbery enlisted in the United States Army. He was assigned from the recruit depot Fort McDowell, Angel Island, San Francisco, to Company F, 20th Infantry Regiment, at the newly establish Fort Shafter, Territory of Hawaii, 13 December 1908. From 1 April 1909, Lufbery was stationed with Co. M, at the Presidio of Monterey in California. In 1910, he was sent to the Quartel de Espana, Manila, Philippine Islands.

After completing his term of service with the United States Army, in 1914 Lufbery enlisted in the Légion Étrangère (the French Foreign Legion). He was initially assigned as an aircraft mechanic, but was soon trained as a pilot. In 1916, Sergent Lufbery was assigned to a newly-formed unit, N-124,¹ Escadrille Lafayette of the Aéronautique Militaire (the French Air Service) which was made up primarily of volunteers from America. (The United States did not enter the War until 6 April 1917.)

Lufbery shot down his first enemy airplane 30 July 1916, and his fifth, 12 October 1916.

Sergent Lufbery was awarded the Médaille Militaire 11 September 1916. He was promoted to Adjutant, a non-commissioned officer rank. Adjutant Lufbery was awarded his first Croix de Guerre avec palme 26 September 1916, and his second, 28 October 1916. He was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur 10 March 1917. Lufbery was promoted to the commissioned rank of Sous lieutenant des Troupes Aeronautiques. Additional awards of the Croix de Guerre followed on 15 May, 15 June, 13 October, 29 October, 9 November 1917, and 11 January 1918.

Between 30 July 1916 and 2 December 1917, while serving with the Aéronautique Militaire, Lufbery shot down sixteen enemy airplanes (officially credited).

Sous-lieutenant Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, Aéronautique Militaire.

Sous lieutenant Lufbery was transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Force, and was commissioned a major in the Aviation Section, Signal Officers’ Reserve Corps, United States Army.

Following his death, Major Lufbery was awarded the Purple Heart, and Britain’s Military Medal. His remains are interred at the Lafayette Memorial du Parc de Garches, Paris, France.

Nieuport 28 C.1 serial number 6215.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 ² was a single-place, single-engine, single-bay biplane fighter built by Société Anonyme des Éstablissements Nieuport for the French military. It was rejected, however, in favor of the SPAD S.XIII C.1. The new United States’ Air Service was in great need of fighters. There were none available of American manufacture, and because the new SPAD was in great demand, 297 Nieuport 28s were acquired by the American Expeditionary Force and assigned to the 94th and 95th Aero Squadrons.

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was 6.30 meters (20 feet, 8 inches) long with an upper wingspan of 8.160 meters (26 feet, 9¼ inches), lower wingspan of 7.79 meters ( 25 feet, 6-2/3 inches)  and height of 2.30 meters (7 feet, 6½ inches). The upper wing had a chord of 1.30 meters (4 feet, 3.2 inches), and the lower, which was staggered behind the upper, had a chord of 1.00 meters (3 feet, 3.4). The upper wing had very slight dihedral, while the lower wing had none. Its empty weight was 399 kilograms (880 pounds) and loaded weight was 626 kilograms (1,380 pounds).

The Nieuport 28 C.1 was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 15.892 liter (969.786-cubic-inch-displacement) Gnome Monosoupape 9 Type N nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.45:1. The Monosoupape had a single overhead exhaust valve actuated by a pushrod and rocker arm. As the pistons reached the bottom of their exhaust strokes, a series of intake ports near the bottom of the cylinder were uncovered. The intake charge was drawn from the engine crankcase. The Type N produced 160 horsepower at 1,300 r.p.m. and turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.4 inches). The engine weighed 330 pounds (150 kilograms).

The Nieuport 28 had a top speed of 198 kilometers per hour (123 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet) and 1,380 r.p.m., a range of 290 kilometers (180 miles) and a service ceiling of 5,300 meters (17,388 feet). Duration at full power was 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Two .303-caliber Vickers machine guns were mounted on the cowling, firing forward through the propeller arc.

Nieuport 28 C.1, serial number 6215.

¹ The “N” indicates that Escadrille 124 was equipped with Nieuport fighters. When the squadron transitioned to SPADs, the designation changed to SPA 124.

² “C.1” was the French designation for a single-place chasseur, their World War I term for what we now consider to be a fighter.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

18 May 1916

Kiffin Yates Rockwell, Escadrille Américaine, 1916. (Kiffin Ayers)
Kiffin Yates Rockwell, Escadrille de La Fayette, 1916 (Kiffin Ayres)

18 May 1916: Corporel Kiffin Yates Rockwell, Escadrille de La Fayette (Escadrille Nº. 124), shot down an enemy airplane near Hartmannswillerkopf, a 956 meter (3,137 feet) peak in the Vosges Mountains, along the border between France and Germany.

Rockwell is credited as the first American pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft during World War I. ¹

Rockwell wrote to his brother, Paul Ayres Rockwell:

Thursday, May 18, 1916

Dear Paul:

     Well, at last I have a little something to tell you. This morning I went out over the lines to make a little tour. I was somewhat the other other side of our lines, when my motor began to miss a bit. I turned around to go to a camp near the lines.

     Just as I started to head for there I saw a boche machine about seven hundred meters under me and a little inside our lines. I immediately reduced my motor and dived for him. He saw me at the same time, and began to dive towards home. It was a machine with a pilot and a gunner, carrying two rapid fire guns, one facing front, and one in the rear that turned on a pivot so it could be fired in any direction.

     The gunner immediately opened fire on me, and my machine was hit; but I didn’t pay any attention to that, and kept going straight for him until I got within twenty-five or thirty meters of his machine. Then, just as I was afraid of running into him, I fired four or five shots, and swerved my machine to the right to keep from having a collision.

     As I did that I saw the gunner fall back dead on the pilot, his machine-gun fall from its position and point straight up in the air, and the pilot fall to one side of the machine as if he too were done for. The machine itself fell to one side, then dived vertically towards the ground with a lot of smoke coming out of the rear. I circled around, and three or four minutes later saw smoke coming up from the ground just beyond the German trenches.

     The captain said he would propose me for the Medaille Militaire, but I don’t know whether I will get it or not.

     Yesterday Thaw had a fight that ended by the boche diving towards the ground. He was signaled as leaving the air on being seriously hit, but being able to get in his own lines.

     Am very busy just now, as the order has just come for us to go to Verdun. Jim sent you a telegram about my fight.

     Much Love.


Kiffin Rockwell, in a Nieuport fighter, Verdun, July 1916. (Virginia Military Institute)

The Asheville Times reported:

Kiffin Rockwell Brings Down German Aeroplane

     Paris, May 19.—Corporal Kiffen [sic] Rockwell of Asheville and Atlanta, a member of the American flying squadron, yesterday attacked a German aeroplane operating near Hartmanns Weiler-Kopf. The German machine was brought down in flames.

     Corporal Kiffen Rockwell, of this city who with his brother Paul Rockwell, sailed for England at the very outbreak of the war and joined the Foreign Legion, is now an aviator in the French-American flying corps and on Wednesday took part in the first action of the corps since its organization as a separate unit. Although the flyers were subjected to heavy fire as they recrossed the front, it is stated, Corporal Rockwell escaped unharmed.

     After the two brothers joined the Foreign Legion they served in the trenches in the first Teutonic drive on Paris during which Paul was wounded. He soon recovered, however, and is doing newspaper work in Paris.

The Asheville Times, Volume XXI, No. 83, 19 May 1916, Page 1, Columns 2–3

In May 1916, Escadrille N°. 124 was equipped with both the Nieuport XI C.1 and Nieuport XVI C.1 fighters. It is not known which type Rockwell flew on 18 May. Neither is the type of aircraft which Rockwell shot down. (one unverified source describes it as a Luft-Verkehrs-Gesellschaft G.m.b.H. reconnaissance airplane.)

Photograph shows members of the Lafayette Escadrille composed of American aviators who flew with the French air force during World War I. Shown are Kiffin Yates Rockwell (1892-1916), Lieutenant Colonel Georges Thenault (commander), Norman Price (1887-1916), Lieutenant Alfred de Laage de Meux, Sgt. Elliot Cowdin, Sgt. Weston Birch “Bert” Hall, James Rogers McConnell (1887-1917) and Victor Chapman. (George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, LC-B2-3884-11)

Kiffin Yates Rockwell was born 20 September 1892 at Newport, Tennessee, United States of America. He was the third child of James Chester Rockwell, a Baptist minister, and Loula Ayres Rockwell. His father died of typhoid fever a week before Kiffin’s first birthday. Mrs. Rockwell would become a school teacher to support her family. She was soon placed in charge of the public schools in Newport. In 1902, she enrolled at the American College of Osteopathy, Kirksville, Missouri, and became a doctor of osteopathic medicine. After she graduated, the Rockwell family relocated to Asheville, North Carolina.

Rockwell family home at 142 Hillside Street, Asheville, North Carolina. (Buncombe County Special Collections)

Kiffin Rockwell attended Orange Street School and Asheville High School, both in Asheville, North Carolina. On 1 February 1909, he entered the Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia. Rockwell was appointed to the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, but enrolled at Washington and Lee University, also located in Lexington, where his older brother, Paul, was studying. Kiffin was a member of the Class of 1913, and of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (ΣΦΕ) Fraternity, Epsilon Chapter. He was also a member of the university’s North Carolina Club. Rockwell left Washington and Lee in 1911 to pursue a career in journalism.

Rockwell worked for an advertising agency in San Francisco, California, then joined his brother at a newspaper in Atlanta, Georgia.

Kiffin Yates Rockwell’s U.S. passport application.

On 7 August 1914, Kiffin Rockwell and his brother sailed to France aboard the American Line steamship, S.S. St. Paul. On 21 August, they enlisted in the Légion étrangère (the French Foreign Legion) and served with Battalion C, Second Marching Regiment, Second Foreign Battalion.

American Line steamship S.S. St. Paul. (John S. Johnston, Detroit Publishing Company/Library of Congress)

In March 1915, Rockwell transferred to 1re Division Marocaine (1st Regiment, Moroccan Division). He was wounded by machine gun fire 9 May 1915 at La Targette, north of Arras. After recuperating, he requested a transfer to the Service Aeronautique, which was accepted. He began flight training in September 1915. Rockwell was a founding member of the Escadrille Americaine (Lafayette Escadrille) of the Aéronautique Militaire (the French Air Service).

Kiffin Rockwell, French Foreign Legion, December 1914. (Virginia Military Institute)

Sergeant Kiffin Yates Rockwell, while flying a Nieuport XVII C.1 over Thann, a town at the foot of the Vosges Mountains, was killed in action 23 September 1916. He was hit in the chest by the gunner of a two-place Aviatik.

In a letter to his mother, Rockwell had written,

If I die you will know that I died as every man should—in fighting for the right. I do not consider that I am fighting for France alone, but for the cause of humanity, the greatest of all causes.

Rockwell was officially credited with four aerial victories. He was awarded the Médaille Militaire and the Croix de Guerre. He was appointed a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

His remains were buried at the Luxeuil-les-Bains Communal Cemetery, Luxeuil-les-Bains, Departement de la Haute-Saône, Franche-Comté, France. His commanding officer, Captain Georges Thenault, said of him, “His courage was sublime. . . The best and bravest of us is no longer here.”

Rockwell is commemorated at the Mémorial Escadrille La Fayette, Marnes-la-Coquette, Departement des Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France, France.

(Find A Grave)

¹ American ace Sergent Gervais Raoul Victor Lufbery, also a member of the Lafayette Escadrille, shot down his first enemy aircraft 30 July 1916.

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes