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

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Remembering a Veteran:
Major Raoul G. Lufbery, Lafayette Escadrille and 94th Aero Squadron, AEF

Lufbery in His French and U.S. Uniforms
Raoul Gervais Lufbery, the third- highest-scoring American ace for World War I, was the first American to reach ace status. He was member of the famed Lafayette Escadrille before transferring to the U.S. Air Service following the nation's entry into the war. He had 17 confirmed victories with the French.

He was born in Clermont-Ferrand, France, March 1885, and worked in a chocolate factory in Blois and Clermont-Ferrand until 1904. After that, he traveled the world doing odd jobs along the way. He joined the U.S. Army and served in the Philippines, where he became an expert marksman. During this time he became a U. S. citizen.

After serving in the army, Lufbery again started his world travels. In 1912 he went to Calcutta and met the famous French flier Marc Pourpe. Lufbery signed on as Pourpe's mechanic and traveled with him to the Far East.

When the war started, Pourpe joined the French Service Aeronautique. Lufbery joined the French Foreign Legion as an infantryman, which would not jeopardize his citizenship. However, he was transferred to join Pourpe's unit to become his mechanic. On 2 Dec 1914, Pourpe was killed as he attempted to land his plane in fog at night. Lufbery decided to follow in Pourpe's footsteps and transferred to the air service to learn to fly. He was assigned to Escadrille V.B. 106 on the Front October 1915. In May 1916 he finished Nieuport school and was assigned to the Escadrille Americaine on 24 May.

Part of Lufbery's success could be attributed to the fact that he was a good mechanic. He also hand -loaded his own machine gun rounds into their drums to check for any slight imperfections that might cause his gun to jam.

On 30 July 1916 Lufbery got his first confirmed kill, by shooting down a German two seater. After more victories, he was awarded the Medaille Militaire and Croix de Guerre with a Palm. In October Lufbery became an ace by shooting down five aircraft.

Americans in the French Aviation Service were of immense value to France. Their greatest contribution was realized in 1918 after most had transferred to the Air Expeditionary Forces. Being combat veterans, they were assigned to newly arrived American units where they could pass their knowledge along to those just entering combat.

The story of the transfer of expertise from the Lafayette Escadrille to the U.S. Air Service is told in fascinating detail by Bert Frandsen in his 2003 work, Hat in the Ring: The Story of American Air Power in the Great War.

Order Now

After Lufbery transferred to the AEF, he was reassigned to the U. S. 95th Aero Pursuit Squadron and then the 94th Aero Squadron which had just arrived at the front. As a combat instructor, his job was to train new pilots, including Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker.

On 19 May 1918, he took off from his aerodrome at Toul in pursuit of an enemy aircraft near Nancy. During the ensuing battle, his Nieuport burst into flames. He and a cushion plunged earthward after his aircraft flipped over. Lufbery fell into a garden on a picket fence at Maron, north of Nancy, and was killed instantly. A bronze tablet marks the place where he fell. (Readers, the editors have been unable to find a photo of this marker. Please let us know where we might find a copy.)

[Note from Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester: Lufbery is popularly believed to have invented the cocktail French 75, named, obviously, for the noteworthy French artillery weapon. When mere champagne proved a little wan for the American fliers of the Escadrille early in the war, they added gin to give it a kick, like the gun. And note that it is properly served in a Collins glass, not a champagne flute. Honor the pilots.]
P.S.: some maintain that cognac or brandy is the kick in the French 75. It's also possible; but gin was a familiar basic for many Americans of the era and having it sent over before the U.S. entered the war was likely manageable. Also remember that champagne + brandy is actually a champagne cocktail.

Compiled from sources including the History Support Office and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force


  1. The plaque is now affixed to the monument aux morts in Maron, which, according to one source, is 200 meters from where Lufbery fell. There is a photo here:

    1. Way to go ML. We will present your discover soon. MH

  2. One of the most poignant quotes from the war is by Lufbery in 'Verdun' by Malcolm Brown.
    'Asked what he would do after the war, he remarked "There won't be any 'after the war" for a fighter pilot'.
    He died on 19th May 1918 in 'duel between his Nieuport fighter and a German Albatross'.

  3. It seems I contributed and pressed the wrong button! (The 'anon' above is my contribution).

    I think the Roads to the Great War daily e-mail is a top site.