23 April 1918: at 09:55 a.m., near Saint-Gobain, France, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer, 103rd Aero Squadron (Pursuit), shot down an enemy Albatross C two-place biplane. This was Baer’s fifth victory in aerial combat, making him the first American “ace.”
Paul Frank Baer was born 29 January 1894 at Fort Wayne, Indiana, the fourth of four children of Alvin E. Baer, a railroad engineer, and Emma B. Parent Baer.
In 1916, Paul Baer served under Brigadier John J. General Pershing during the Mexican Expedition to capture the outlaw and revolutionary Francisco (“Pancho”) Villa.
He then went to France and enlisted the Aéronautique Militaire, in 20 February 1917. He was sent for flight training at the Avord Groupemant des Divisions d’Entrainment (G.D.E.). He graduated as a pilot, 15 June 1917, with the rank of corporal. After flight training, Corporal Baer was assigned to Escadrille SPA 80, under the command of Capitaine Paul Ferrand, 14 August 1917 to 20 January 1918, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 and SPAD S.XIII C.1. Baer was next transferred to Escadrille N. 124, the EscadrilleAméricaine, under Georges Thénault. This Units was equipped with the Nieuport-Delâge Ni-D 29 C1.
After the United States entered the War, Baer was transferred to the 103rd Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces, and commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant with a date of rank retroactive to 5 November 1917. The 103rd was under the command of Major William Thaw II, and was operating near La Cheppe, France, flying the SPAD S.VII C.1 chasseur.
Lieutenant Baer is officially credited with 9 victories, and claimed an additional 7. After shooting down his ninth enemy airplane on 22 May 1918, Baer and his SPAD S.XIII C.1 were also shot down. He was seriously injured and was captured by the enemy near Armentières and held as a Prisoner of War. At one point, Baer was able to escape for several days before being recaptured.
For his service in World War I, 1st Lieutenant Paul Frank Baer was awarded the United States’ Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster (a second award). He was appointed Chevalier de laLégion d’honneur by Raymond Poincaré, the President of France. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre with seven palms.
After World War I, Baer, now a “soldier of fortune,” organized a group of pilots to fight against “the Bolsheviks” in Poland. He returned to the United States aboard T.S.S. Nieuw Amsterdam, departing Boulogne-sur-mer and arriving at New York City, 4 November 1919. He then flew as a test pilot, an air mail pilot in South America, and worked as an aeronautical inspector for the U.S. Department of Commerce, based at Brownsville Airport, Texas. In 1930, he was employed as a pilot for the China National Aviation Corporation.
Baer was flying from Nanking to Shanghai for with an amphibious Loening Air Yacht biplane, named Shanghai. The airplane crashed after striking the mast of a boat on the Huanpu River. He died at the Red Cross Hospital at Shanghai, China, at 9:00 a.m., 9 December 1930. A Chinese pilot, K. F. Pan, and an unidentified female passenger were also killed. General Hsiung Shih-hui and four other passengers on board were seriously injured.
Paul Baer’s remains were returned to the United States aboard S.S. President McKinley and buried at the Lindenwood Cemetery, Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1925 a new airport was opened in Fort Wayne and named Paul Baer Municipal Airport. During World War II, the airport was taken over by the military and designated Baer Army Airfield. It is now Fort Wayne International Airport (FWA).
21 April 1918: Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richthofen, “The Red Baron,” was killed in combat at Morlancourt Ridge, near Vaux-sur-Somme, France. He was just 25 years old.
A cavalry officer turned airplane pilot, Baron von Richthofen is considered to be the leading fighter ace of World War I, with 80 officially credited aerial victories. In January 1917, he had his airplane, an Albatross D.III, painted bright red. It was in this airplane that he scored most of his victories, and earned his nickname.
Flying his Fokker Dr.I Dreidecker (tri-plane), serial number 425/17, von Richthofen was in pursuit of a Sopwith Camel F.1, D3326, flown by Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May, No. 209 Squadron, Royal Air Force, when he was attacked by a second Sopwith Camel BR, number B 7270, piloted by Captain Arthur Roy Brown, DSC, May’s commanding officer.
During the battle, the Red Baron was wounded in the chest and crash-landed near Vaux-sur-Somme, France. He was still alive when he was reached by Australian infantry, but died almost immediately. He was buried with full military honors by No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps.
Captain Brown later wrote:
“. . . the sight of Richthofen as I walked closer gave me a start. He appeared so small to me, so delicate. He looked so friendly. Blond, silk-soft hair, like that of a child, fell from the broad high forehead. His face, particularly peaceful. had an expression of gentleness and goodness, of refinement. Suddenly I felt miserable, desperately unhappy, as if I had committed an injustice. With a feeling of shame, a kind of anger against myself moved in my thoughts, that I had forced him to lay there. And in my heart I cursed the force that is devoted to death. I gnashed my teeth, I cursed the war. If I could I would gladly have brought him back to life, but that is somewhat different than shooting a gun. I could no longer look him in the face. I went away. I did not feel like a victor. There was a lump in my throat. If he had been my dearest friend, I could not have felt greater sorrow.”
—Captain Arthur Roy Brown, DSC and Bar, Royal Air Force
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of Bars to the Distinguished Service Cross to the undermentioned Officers late of the Royal Naval Air Service:—
To receive a Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross.
Lieut. (Hon. Capt.) Arthur Roy Brown, D.S.C., R.A.F.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On 21st April, 1918, while leading a patrol of 6 scouts he attacked a formation of 20 hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which he drove off; then seeing that one of our machines was being attacked and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout, firing the while. The scout, a Fokker triplane, nose dived and crashed into the ground. Since the award of the Distinguished Service Cross he has destroyed several other enemy aircraft and has shown great dash and enterprise in attacking enemy troops from low altitudes despite heavy anti-aircraft fire.
— Fourth Supplement to The London Gazette of Tuesday, the 18th of June, 1918, Numb. 30756, at Page 7304, Column 2
Captain Brown was credited by the Royal Air Force with the shoot-down and was awarded a Bar to his Distinguished Service Cross (a second DSC).
There has been speculation that the Baron’s wound was actually caused by a .303-caliber (7.7×56mmR) rifle or machine gun bullet fired from the ground, rather than from Brown’s Sopwith Camel.
Many researchers have come to the conclusion that Sergeant Cedric Bassett Popkin, 24th Australian Machine Gun Company, 4th Division, Australian Imperial Force, fired the burst of gunfire that struck the Baron. Other machine gunners and riflemen also fired at von Richthofen’s Fokker tri-plane.
Lieutenant Donald L. Fraser, Brigade Intelligence Officer, 11th Australian Infantry Brigade, A.I.F., witnessed the incident and was one of the first to reach Rittmeister von Richthofen. In his official report he wrote:
“. . . I congratulated Sergeant Popkin on his successful shoot, but afterwards found out that two A.A. Lewis Guns belonging to the 53rd. Battery A.F.A. had also fired at this plane when it was directly over my head, but the noise of the engine prevented my hearing the shooting.
“The 53rd. Battery Lewis Gunners probably assisted in sealing the fate of this airman, as he apparently flew right into their line of fire. However, I am strongly of the opinion that he was first hit by Sergeant Popkin’s shooting as he was unsteady from the moment of the first burst of fire.”
Two postmortem examinations determined that the fatal bullet entered von Richthofen’s chest from low on the right side, struck his spine and exited to the left. Captain Brown had attacked from the left rear and above. The Red Baron broke away to the right. Because von Richthofen’s airplane could rotate in three axes, and the pilot could move and turn his body somewhat within the cockpit, it is unlikely that it would be possible to determine with certainty what direction the fatal bullet came from.
The 1st Aero Squadron, 1st Observation Group, under the command of Colonel William Mitchell, Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, made its first combat patrol over the front lines from their airfield at Ourches, France. They were equipped with the two-place Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVI A.2. They patrolled the lines, scouted troop movements, and took photographs in support of the U.S. Army I Corps and French XXXVIII Corps. This was the first United States air unit in combat during World War I.
The SPAD XVI was intended as an improvement of the earlier SPAD S.XI A.2. It was a two-place development of the SPAD S.XIII C.1 fighter. The S.XVI is single-engine, two-place, two-bay biplane with fixed landing gear. It was crewed by a pilot and observer/gunner. The wings are swept, moving the center of lift aft to compensate for the longer fuselage. The airplane is 25 feet, 7 inches (7.8 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 9 inches (11.2 meters) and height of 9 feet, 2 inches (2.8 meters). It had an empty weight 1,994 pounds (906 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,508 pounds (1,140 kilograms).
The SPAD XVI was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 16.286 litre (993.834 cubic inches) La société industrielle Lorraine-Dietrich 8Be single overhead cam 90° V-8 direct-drive engine which produced 270 cheval-vapeur (270.09 horsepower) at 1,900 r.p.m. The engine weighed 260 kilograms (573 pounds).
The SPAD S.XVI was armed with one fixed, forward firing, water-cooled, .303-caliber (7.7 mm) Vickers Mk.I machine gun and two air-cooled .303-caliber Lewis Mk.2 light machine guns on a flexible mount in the aft cockpit. Because of the cold temperatures at altitude, the Vickers’ water jacket was not filled, thereby saving considerable weight.
Approximately 1,000 SPAD XVIs were built. Six were obtained by the United States. Mitchell’s personal SPAD XVI is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia.
4 April 1917: Sous-Lieutenant René Pierre Marie Dorme of the Aéronautique Militaire (French Air Service) made the first flight of the famous World War I fighter, the SPAD S.XIII C.1.
Lieutenant Dorme was an ace with 18 confirmed victories. In the next seven weeks, he shot down another five enemy aircraft.
Designed by Technical Director Louis Béchéreau and manufactured by Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés as well as eight other companies, this was an improved and slightly larger version of the earlier SPAD S.VII C.1. It used a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 8Ba engine instead of the S.VII’s 8Aa, with an increase of 50 horsepower. (Later versions used 8Be engines.) Armament was increased from a single .303-caliber Vickers machine guns to two.
The SPAD was faster than other airplanes of the time and it had a good rate of climb. Though a product of France, it was used by both the Royal Flying Corps and the U.S. Army Air Service. In France, the airplane type now considered a “fighter” was called a chasseur (“hunter”). The letter “C-” in the SPAD’s designation reflects this. The “-.1” at the ending indicates a single-place aircraft.
The SPAD S.XIII C.1 was a single-seat, single-engine, two-bay biplane constructed of a wooden framework with a doped fabric covering. Sheet metal covered the engine and cockpit.
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.1 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).
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.
The SPAD S.XIII had a maximum speed of 135 miles per hour (218 kilometers per hour) at 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) and a service ceiling of 21,815 feet (6,650 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 was produced by nine manufacturers. 8,472 were built. Only four are still in existence.
The airplane in the photograph above is SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 16594. It was built in October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, a piano maker in Paris, France. It did not see combat, but was shipped to the United States at the end of the War and was stationed at San Diego, California. It was restored by the National Museum of the United States Air Force and is painted in the markings of the airplane flown by Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, commanding officer of the 94th Aero Squadron, American Expeditionary Forces. It is on display at NMUSAF, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
The airplane in the photograph below is another SPAD S.XIII C.1, serial number 7689, also built by Kellner et ses Fils, in August 1918. It was sent to the 22nd Aero Squadron at Colombey-les-Belles and assigned to Lieutenant Arthur Raymond Brooks. Brooks’ fiancée attended Smith College and he named the SPAD Smith IV in her honor. With this airplane, Lieutenant Brooks shot down six enemy airplanes. Other pilots also flew it to shoot down another five.
After the War came to an end, 7689 was shipped to the United States and used in a Liberty Bond fund-raising tour. In December 1919, the United States Army gave the fighter to the Smithsonian Institution. It was restored at the Paul E. Garber Center, 1984–1986, and remains in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.
René Dorme fought 120 aerial engagements, many while flying a SPAD S.VII C.1. He is officially credited with 22 victories, and may have shot down as many as 59 enemy aircraft. His personal airplane was marked with a green Cross of Lorraine. He was a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur, and had been awarded the Médalle Militaire and the Croix de Guerre with 17 Palms. Dorme was killed in action 25 May 1917 when his SPAD VII was shot down by Oberleutnant Heinrich Kroll of Jasta 9 at Fort de la Pompelle near Reims.
¹ Dimensions, weights, capacities and performance data cited above refer to SPAD S.XIII C.1 serial number 17956 (A.S. 94101), which was tested at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio (Project Number P-154), 1921.
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 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.
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).
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 the top speed to 129 miles per hour (208 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 17,500 feet (5,334 meters).
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.