Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, March 9, 2020

U.S.-Built Naval Aircraft in Action

Recently, we presented an announcement on the exciting news of the first flight this coming May of the restored DH-4 combat aircraft at Bowling Green, Kentucky. ARTICLE It has been pointed out to me that our announcement included a teensy-weensy overstatement when we wrote that the DH-4 Liberty “was the only US-produced aircraft to fight in WWI.”

Naval Air Station, Brest with Curtiss HS-1

It turns out that statement was only true for the U.S. Army.  The U.S. Navy also flew combat missions during the Great War flying US-built Curtiss Flying Boats.  WWI Centennial Commissioner Jack Monahan reminded us  that not only did the Navy fly anti-submarine and rescue missions out of European bases in Ireland, England and Brest, but it also defended our homeland  against the only attack that resulted in enemy detonations on American soil. Jack sent the following report on the action, remembered as the Attack on Orleans, Massachusetts.

On the morning of July 21, 1918, German submarine U-156 surfaced three miles off Orleans, captained by Richard Feldt, and fired its two deck guns at the town and at the passing tugboat Perth Amboy, which had four barges in tow. Perth Amboy was heavily damaged, and the four barges were sunk.[1] Some shells landed harmlessly in a deserted marsh and on Nauset Beach, giving the township of Orleans the distinction of being the only spot in the United States that received enemy fire during World War I, but there is no evidence that these were deliberately aimed at the shore. There were no targets of value in the area other than the vessels. There were no fatalities.

Nearby Station No. 40 of the United States Life-Saving Service launched a surfboat under heavy enemy shellfire and rowed out to rescue the 32 sailors trapped aboard the tug and barges. US Navy Curtiss HS flying boats and Curtiss Model R bombers responded from Naval Air Station Chatham, and they bombed U-156 without success.

(Sources: Wikipedia,

1 comment:

  1. Hi All:
    Re: USN and Great War aviation:
    I have contacted every listed USN government archival source (Naval History Command, Smithsonian, Pensacola Naval Air Museum and private archives: Chino Air Museum and San Diego Aerospace Museum, et al,) and acquired every book I know of (Sheeley, McLeish, George Moseley,Ingalls, Rossano, Wortman, et al), however I can find nothing (ie a 'Station Log'?) concerning the use of H-D pursuit ships by our naval aviators around Dunquerque ('Naval Air Station Moutchic').
    Via courtesy of Colin Owers, I have acquired the production numbers of the Hanriots and USN acquisition dates,(commencing in Sep. of 1917)
    Any Hanriot operations commencing in that Fall of '17, would have preceded the operations of Nieuport 28's of the First Pursuit Group by some six months and challenges the presumption that either the 94th or 95th Pursuit squadrons (or possibly the former 'SPA 124', the'Escadrille Lafayette' which was transferred 'en masse'to the USAS in February of '18, was the first of our single seater fighter squadrons to fire their guns against our country's foes) The 103rd was probably not a 'candidate' as the 'first U.S. pursuit unit in combat' since they were trained and organized by the French)
    Accordingly, it may be a historical mistake to think any USAS units were, in the Spring of 1918, the initial group in our military to fly single seat combat sorties. Rickenbacker writes of Lufbery taking him out on a sortie whic he says was the first flown by the 1st Pursuit Group. A 95th pilot, Charles Graffat, a few weeks later, claimed to have been a participant in the first sortie by the Group and the motto of the '95th, expressed thereafter, the claimed recognition of being 'The First to the Front'.
    I could write a compelling article if only I could document even a single reference to a specific combat patrol naming the Hanriot pilots and the details of the sortie. It is not to be expected that air to air confrontations with German AC took place but in escorting the larger seaplanes flown by American crews flying anti-sub patrols, there was a known attack upon a U-boat by a Hanriot, escorting an American crewed flying boat. The Hanrot was successful in suppressing the sub's defensive fire against the attacking seaplane. There is no mention of the USN personnel involved.
    If anyone has a source of unpublished memoirs or other pertinent narratives, substantiating this historical 'aviation first', I would appreciate hearing of the information.
    My dad was a'doughboy' and I greatly enjoy this site!