Tag Archives: World War I

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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5 October 1914

Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault. (Unattributed)
Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault. (Unattributed)

5 October 1914: The first aerial combat between two airplanes took place during World War I over Jonchery, Reims, France.

A French Voisin III biplane of Escadrille VB24, flown by Sergeant Joseph Frantz with observer Corporal Louis Quénault, engaged a German Aviatik B.II flown by Oberleutnant Fritz von Zangen and Sergeant Wilhelm Schlichting of FFA 18.

Voisin III. (Unattributed)
Voisin III. (Unattributed)

The Voisin was armed with a Hotchkiss M1909 8mm machine gun. Corporal Quénault fired two 48-round magazines at the German airplane, whose crew returned fire with rifles. Quénault’s machine gun jammed and he continued to fire on the Aviatik with a rifle.

The German airplane crashed and von Zangen and Schlichting were killed.

This was the first air-to-air kill in the history of warfare.

Aviatik B.II
Aviatik B.II No. B 558/15, Hangest-en-Santerre, France, circa 1915. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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29 September 1918

Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)
Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., Air Service, United States Army. (U.S. Air Force)

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

to

FRANK LUKE, JR.

Rank and Organization: Second Lieutenant, 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, Air Service.

Place and Date: Near Murvaux, France, 29 September 1918.

Entered Service At: Phoenix, Ariz. Born: 19 May 1897, Phoenix, Ariz.

G. O. No.: 59, W.D., 1919.

Citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Murvaux, France, September 29, 1918. After having previously destroyed a number of enemy aircraft within 17 days he voluntarily started on a patrol after German observation balloons. Though pursued by eight German planes which were protecting the enemy balloon line, he unhesitatingly attacked and shot down in flames three German balloons, being himself under heavy fire from ground batteries and the hostile planes. Severely wounded, he descended to within 50 meters of the ground, and flying at this low altitude near the town of Murvaux opened fire upon enemy troops, killing six and wounding as many more. Forced to make a landing and surrounded on all sides by the enemy, who called upon him to surrender, he drew his automatic pistol and defended himself gallantly until he fell dead from a wound in the chest.”

2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr, 18 September 1918. (Photograph by Sergeant C. E. Dunn, Signal Corps, United States Army)
2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., late in the afternoon of 18 September 1918. (Photograph by Sergeant C. E. Dunn, Signal Corps, United States Army)

Second Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr. shot down three enemy observation balloons along the Meuse front, on Sunday, 29 September 1918. He was apparently wounded by rifle or machine gun fire from the ground and made an emergency landing near the village of Murvaux.

Trying to evade capture, Luke walked away from his airplane toward a nearby creek. He exchanged gunfire with several German soldiers that were near, and was killed in the brief fire fight. The event was witnessed by at least thirteen of the local French villagers.

Luke’s body was buried near a village church, and was not located by graves registration personnel until several months later.

Lieutenant Frank Luke's grave at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. (Brooks D. Simpson)
Lieutenant Frank Luke’s grave at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France. (Brooks D. Simpson)

Luke’s commander, Major Harold E. Hartney, said of him, “No one had the sheer contemptuous courage that boy possessed. He was an excellent pilot and probably the best flying marksman on the Western Front. We had any number of expert pilots and there was no shortage of good shots, but the perfect combination, like the perfect specimen of anything in the world, was scarce. Frank Luke was the perfect combination.”

Leading American ace Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker said of Luke: “He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war. His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down fourteen enemy aircraft, including ten balloons, in eight days. No other ace, even the dreaded Richthofen, had ever come close to that.”

Luke is officially credited with destroying 14 observation balloons and 4 enemy airplanes during a 17 day period, 12–29 September 1918. It is probable that he shot down several more.

2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, with his Blériot-built SPAD XIII C.1 fighter, Number 26 (serial number unknown), 19 September 1918. (Photograph by Lt. Harry S. Drucker, Signal Corps, United States Army)
2nd Lieutenant Frank Luke, Jr., 27th Aero Squadron, 1st Pursuit Group, with his Blériot-built SPAD XIII C.I fighter, Number 26 (serial number unknown), at La Ferme de Rattentout, southeast of Verdun, France, 19 September 1918. (Photograph by Lt. Harry S. Drucker, Signal Corps, United States Army)

The airplane flown by Lieutenant Luke on the day he was killed was a new Société des Avions Bernard-built SPAD S.XIII C.I, serial number 7984. It had been assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron the previous day and had not yet been painted with any squadron markings.

The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XIII C.I was a single-seat, single-engine two-bay biplane designed by Louis Béchéreau. It was first flown by Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service), on 4 April 1917.

The S.XIII was 20 feet, 4 inches (6.198 meters) long.¹ The upper and lower wings had equal span and chord. The span was 26 feet, 3¾ inches (8.020 meters) and chord, 4 feet, 7-1/8 inches (1.400 meters). The vertical spacing between the wings was 3 feet, 10½ inches (1.181 meters), and the lower wing was staggered 1¼° behind the upper. Interplane struts and wire bracing was used to reinforce the wings. The wings had no sweep or dihedral. The angle of incidence of the upper wing was 1½° and of the lower, 1°. Only the upper wing was equipped with ailerons. Their span was 7 feet, 3½ inches (2.222 meters), and their chord, 1 foot, 7½ inches (0.495 meters). The total wing area was 227 square feet (21.089 square meters).

The horizontal stabilizer had a span of 10 feet, 2 inches (3.099 meters) with a maximum chord of 1 foot, 8¾ inches (0.527 meters). The height of the vertical fin was 2 feet, 7/8-inch (0.876 meters) and it had a maximum length of 3 feet, 11¼ inches (1.200 meters). The rudder was 3 feet, 10-5/8 inches high (1.184 meters) with a maximum chord of 2 feet, 2 inches (0.660 meters).

The SPAD S.XIII C.I had fixed landing gear with two pneumatic tires. Rubber cords (bungie cords) were used for shock absorption. The wheel track was 4 feet, 10¾ inches (1.492 meters). At the tail was a fixed skid.

The airplane had an empty weight of 1,464 pounds (664 kilograms), and gross weight 2,036 pounds (924 kilograms).

This SPAD S.XIII C.1, on display at Terminal 3, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona, is painted to represent a fighter flown by Frank Luke. It was assembled from components of several different airplanes and restored by GossHawk Unlimited, Casa Grande, Arizona. (Wikipedia)
This SPAD S.XIII C.I, on display at Terminal 3, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX), Phoenix, Arizona, is painted to represent a fighter flown by Frank Luke. It was assembled from components of several different airplanes and restored by GossHawk Unlimited, Casa Grande, Arizona. (Wikipedia)

Initial production SPAD XIIIs were powered by a water-cooled 11.762 liter (717.769-cubic-inch displacement), La Société Hispano-Suiza 8Ba single overhead cam (SOHC) left-hand-tractor 90° V-8 engine. It was equipped with two Zenith down-draft carburetors and had a compression ratio of 5.3:1. The 8Ba was rated at 150 cheval vapeur (148 horsepower) at 1,700 r.p.m., and 200 cheval vapeur (197 horsepower) at 2,300 r.p.m. It drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller with a diameter of 2.50 meters (8 feet, 2.43 inches) through a 0.585:1 gear reduction. (The 8Be engine had a 0.75:1 reduction gear ratio and used both 2.50 meter and 2.55 meter (8 feet, 4.40 inches) propellers.) The Hispano-Suiza 8Ba was 1.36 meters (4 feet, 5.5 inches) long, 0.86 meters (2 feet, 9.9 inches) wide and 0.90 meters (2 feet, 11.4 inches) high. It weighed 236 kilograms (520 pounds).

The airplane had a main fuel tank behind the engine, with a gravity tank located in the upper wing. The total fuel capacity was 183 pounds (83 kilograms), sufficient for 2 hours, 30 minutes endurance at full throttle at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), including climb. There was also a 4.5 gallon (17 liters) lubricating oil tank.

During flight testing at McCook Field, Ohio, following the war, a SPAD S.XIII C.I demonstrated a maximum Sea Level speed of 131.5 mph (211.6 kilometers per hour) at 2,300 rpm, and 105 mph (169 kilometers per hour) at 2,060 r.p.m., at 18,400 feet (5,608 meters). Its service ceiling was 18,400 feet (5,608 meters), and the absolute ceiling was 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).

The chasseur was armed with two fixed, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine guns with 400 rounds of ammunition per gun, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the guns’ water jackets were not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.

The SPAD S.XIII C.I was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built in 1917 and 1918. Only four are still in existence.

Recommended: The Stand: The Final Flight of Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., by Stephen Skinner, Schiffer Publishing Ltd., Atglen, Pennsylvania, 2008.

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¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.I serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.

© 2017, 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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23 September 1917

Leutnant Werner Voss
Leutnant Werner Voss, Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte. Lieutenant Voss is wearing “The Blue Max,” the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the House of Hohenzollern, the Iron Cross and the Pilot’s Badge. (Gustav Liersch & Co.)

23 September 1917: Leutnant Werner Voss, commanding officer of Jagdstaffel 10 of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Force), a leading fighter ace with 48 confirmed victories, was shot down during a battle which lasted at least eight minutes and involved seven British pilots, themselves aces.

Though Voss’ machine gun fire damaged most of his opponents’ airplanes, his own was hit by fire from at least two of the British airplanes. Voss was struck by three bullets.

His airplane, a prototype Fokker F.I triplane, serial number 103/17, went into a steep dive and crashed north of Frezenberg, Belgium. Voss was killed.

Major James Thomas Byford McCudden, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Bar, M.M., one of the British pilots involved in the dogfight, later said of Voss,

“As long as I live I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single-handed fought seven of us for ten minutes and also put some bullets through all our machines. His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent, and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.”

Werner Voss in the cockpit of his Fokker F.I fighter, 103/17. (Unattributed)
Werner Voss in the cockpit of his Fokker F.I fighter, 103/17, autographed by Voss. (Unattributed)

The Fokker F.I was a prototype single-engine, single-seat triplane fighter, designed and built by Fokker Flugzeugwerke GmbH, Schwerin, Germany. After very slight changes, the production version would be designated Fokker Dr.I. The fuselage was constructed of steel tubing braced with wire and covered with fabric. The wings used plywood ribs and a boxed plywood spar.

The F.I was 5.770 meters (18 feet, 11.2 inches) long. The upper wing had a span of 7.190 meters (23 feet, 7.1 inches); the middle wing, 6.225 meters (20 feet, 5 inches); and the lower wing, 5.725 meters (18 feet, 9.4 inches). All three wings had a chord of 1.000 meters (3 feet, 3.4 inches). The airplane had an overall height of 2.950 meters (9 feet, 8.1 inches). Its empty weight was 405 kilograms (893 pounds), and the gross weight was 587 kilograms (1,294 pounds).

Leutnant Werner Voss' Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (Unattributed)
Leutnant Werner Voss’ Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (Unattributed)

Originally built with a Motorentfabrik Oberursel Ur.II nine-cylinder rotary engine rated at 110 horsepower (a license-built copy of the French Le Rhône 9J engine), Werner Voss had an actual Le Rhône 9J, serial number J6247, installed to replace the Ur.II.

The Le Rhône 9J, produced by Société des Moteurs Le Rhône, was an air-cooled, normally aspirated, 15.074 liter (919.85 cubic inches) nine-cylinder rotary engine, capable of producing 113 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m., and a maximum 135 horsepower at 1,350 r.p.m. As the engine rotated, it turned a two-bladed Axial Proppellerwerk AG fixed-pitch, laminated wood propeller with a diameter of 2.660 meters (8 feet, 8.7 inches). The Le Rhône 9J was 850 millimeters (2 feet, 9.47 inches) long and 970 millimeters (3 feet, 2.19 inches) in diameter. It weighed 137 kilograms (302 pounds).

The Fokker F.I had a maximum speed of 185 kilometers per hour (115 miles per hour) at Sea Level and 166 kilometers per hour (103 miles per hour) at 4,000 meters (13,123 feet ). The service ceiling was 7,000 meters (22,966 feet). It carried fuel for approximately 1½ hours of flight.

The F.I was armed with two fixed 8mm Spandau LMG 08/15 machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. The fighter carried 550 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Werner Voss’ triplane, 103/17 (Wn. 1730), was a prototype, Versuch 5, or V5, ordered on 14 July 1917 and accepted by the German Air Force on 16 August. It was sent to Jagdstafell 10 on 21 August.

A British intelligence officer who examined the wreckage of Voss’ Fokker F.I described it as having camouflaged green upper surfaces and blue lower surfaces. Photographs of 103/17 show painted eyes and a mustache on the engine cowling, which are believed to have been inspired by Japanese kites that Voss had flown as a child.

Leutnant Werner Voss had been awarded the famous Pour le Mérite (the “Blue Max”), Germany’s highest award; the Hausorden von Hohenzollern (the Cross of the Order of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Crown and Swords); and the Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross), 1st and 2nd Class.

Leutnant Werner Voss with his Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (This photograph may have been taken by Anthony Fokker)
Leutnant Werner Voss with his Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (This photograph may have been taken by Anthony Fokker)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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