See all my books!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lafayette Escadrille, Lex Learner in HEROIC MEASURES flies for Army Aero Squadron & beginning of American Air Force

Flag with logo
   The volunteers who went to France before the USA declared war in April 1917 were men who had enjoyed the luxury of learning how to fly aeroplanes. Most of these men were college students from well-to-do families. After all, flight instruction was expensive!
    Because the United States had declared itself a neutral country, any Americans volunteering had to belong to a "neutral" unit. Hence, they joined the "unofficial" flying unit of the French aero fleet. The French were canny and called it after the famous French aristocrat who had been a leader in the American forces aiding George Washington in the Revolutionary War.

     Aeroplanes were relatively new transportation, produced in greater numbers only at the beginning of the 1910 decade. Planes were fragile, constructed of plywood, a few bits of metal and the gas tank. Those who flew understood that they had to be very cognizant of wind, shear, temperatures and storms. They also knew that once off the ground, flying a mile or two in the air was extremely cold. All those photos we see of men in leather jackets with huge scarves around their necks is no fabrication! They were frozen up there—and suffered colds, pneumonia and massive ear infections as a result. (So does Lex Learner in HEROIC MEASURES!)

     Accidents, too, were very common. Only as manufacturers took advice from experienced pilots did they begin to produce planes that were sturdier and offered more functionality. The Germans produced quite a few models before and during the war, including the Fokker and Junker, both useful in bombing raids. The French produced a few, too, the most famous being the Nieuport, used by our Escadrille and by the men in that unit who transferred to the new US Aero Squardrons when we declared war.

     In wartime, the probability of accidents increased. And as the men of the Escadrille learned from their French cohorts how to fly amid cannon fire, they also learned how to take reconnaissance pictures
and drop bombs. As the war wended on, they also learned how to use the newest of the deadly technology—the machine gun.
Nieuport's were choice of US Aero Squardrons,
light and efficient.

     Life expectancy was short. In fact, most of the men who originally served in the Escadrille died in service. ONe of the few to survive, and one of the most famous, is Eddie Rickenbacker. He went on to found a major airline in the United States. ____
Air Service Map, A.E.F. aerodromes:
The most active squadrons—for bombing raids and surveillance—were stationed
in the northeast sector, near Chaumont, US Headquarters, and employed heavily
in the battles for St. Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne drives,
September 1918 through November, 1918.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

German Cemetery in Consenvoye, France in Argonne. Why are they here?

     Stark black crosses mark the graves of 11,148 German soldiers who died in the Battles for Meuse-Argonne in Autumn 1918 in France.

     Here near the American Cemetery of the Meuse-Argonne rest these soldiers along the highway outside the very tiny town of Consenvoye, France. As you can see here, the plots are not as well tended as the Americans'. We understand this decision.

     But when I talk about this quiet little cemetery along the road to our own huge one, many ask why these German soldiers are laid to rest here.

   One reason, we learn from memoirs of American soldiers, nurses and ambulance drivers, is that the Germans retreated very rapidly in the Argonne offensive. They left, rushing to their homeland, leaving behind huge amounts of armaments and supplies. One account noted that the Americans had to climb into trucks to pursue them, the Germans were running so quickly. They had no time to bury their dead.

     In fact, American burial teams did this for them. And while it is true that they buried their foes' bodies after interring their own deceased, nonetheless the Americans did do this.

     For more on this, please do read a stirring account of this in Brannon Simon's edited version of his grandfather's diary (one I highly recommend).  The buy link for his wonderful book, THAT's WAR, is:

"In this soldiers' cemetery rest 11,148 German soldiers."

I took this picture in late April when the dandelions are in bloom, a contrast to the serene black crosses.