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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Remembering a Veteran: Edward I. Tinkham – AFS Volunteer, Camion Driver, Naval Aviator, Part IV

Part IV: Edward Tinkham Trains to Be a Navy Pilot 

by James Patton

Wrote James Rothwell, 21 Sept 1917:
[First] a few… enter the aviation service. Within the last month many have been leaving for… the several branches of the U.S. Army…Only five of the original body are now left...The U.S. Navy authorities in Paris are getting together a bunch of students for a naval aviation school to start the end of September...I have been talking with Tinkham who is in full agreement that the [new] transport service…is not… for men like me. He has resigned…and will take up naval aviation.

Tinkham in 1916

Edward Tinkham joined the Navy in Paris on 17 September, entering as a Seaman 2nd Class. Eighteen other ex-AFS men (including Rothwell) would make up the rest of the first NAS Moutchic Cadet class. On the same day at the same place in Paris ex-AFS man Willis B. Haviland (SSU 2) resigned from the Lafayette Escadrille and re-joined the Navy (he previously served 1907–1911), also to be a Navy pilot.  

Haviland went straight to the French seaplane school at Heurtin. Tinkham, Rothwell,  and the others were sent to Pauillac, where they found themselves again driving trucks, hauling supplies to the new NAS at Moutchic on Lake Lancanau, located four miles inland and 32 miles west of Bordeaux and commanded by Lt.(j.g.) J.L. Callan USN(RF). This NAS opened on 27 September, and on 24 October classes started in navigation, gunnery, signaling, airplanes, motors, and Navy regulations, including both ground school and seaplane instruction, taught by officers from the First Yale Unit.

For basic flight, Tinkham’s class went to the French École d’Aviation Militaire at Tours. This experience was described by Joseph Cline, who was there shortly before Tinkham:

We were divided into small groups…each group assigned to an instructor. One leather flying coat, one pair of goggles, and one crash helmet were issued to each group and these were passed from one student to another as his turn came to fly. The plane used for our primary instruction was the Caudron G-3…the instructor sat in the rear cockpit. After takeoff he would turn the controls over to the student and instructions would begin. If the nose was too high the instructor would push forward on your helmet. If it was low, he would pull back on the helmet. If the left wing was down he’d tap on the right shoulder, right wing down tap on the left shoulder. A flight lasted about 30 minutes.

After each flight the instructor…would explain all of the mistakes you had made while in flight. He gave you hell in French…Our instructor…was very excitable and emotional. He would shout and scream at a student who was doing something wrong…a French student explained…he knows everything [a] student does wrong. When he does, he will throw away his hat. If he is getting to worse trouble he will throw away his cane. And if at last he throws away his pipe, the man is dead. About two-thirds of our group [soloed] in less than five hours of dual instruction. This course included a cross-country flight…a spot landing from 4,000 feet with dead stick in a small field we called the salad patch and an altitude test to 8,000 feet where we were required to stay for one hour.

After Tours, the class returned to NAS Moutchic for training in FBA Type H seaplanes. This course concentrated on anti-submarine patrolling.

 FBA Type H Seaplane

On 23 March 1918 Tinkham completed his seaplane training and was rated as Naval Aviator No. 1498. He was also promoted to landsman-quartermaster, still an enlisted man.

Meanwhile, in November 1917, the Italian government requested that U.S. naval aviation activity be extended to Italy, offering to completely equip the stations if the U.S. would man and operate them. The original request was made at Washington by the Italian Naval Attaché and the resulting agreement as to the nature of this aid was drawn up in Rome by now-Lt. J.L. Callan, now at U.S. Navy HQ in Paris, and Cap.(di V.) De Filippi, head of Italian Navy Aviation. This agreement was approved by the two governments in early February. It was subsequently agreed that the U.S. Navy would take over the Italian stations at Bolsena and Porto Corsini, plus construct a new one at Pescara (never put into service due to failure by the Italians to supply aircraft). Bolsena was a training station situated on a lake about 60 miles from Rome. The Porto Corsini station was located on the Adriatic Sea near the town of Ravenna about 70 miles from the Austro-Hungarian base at Pola. The Pescara station was also on the Adriatic, about 200 miles south of Porto Corsini and 120 miles from the Austro-Hungarian base at Sibenik.

On 19 Feb 1918 the first American aviation detachment to enter Italy arrived at Bolsena. Two days later the Bolsena training base was commissioned as a U.S. Naval Air Station, Ten.(di V.) Calderara of the Italian Navy transferring the command to Ens. W. B. Atwater, USN(RF).

Training was started at once. The flight instructors were Italian until the Americans became proficient in handling the Italian planes. At first FBA flying boats were used exclusively for training, but later some Macchi L-3 and Ma.5 seaplanes arrived and thereafter training in these two types was also given. One SVA seaplane was sent to the school, but it did not prove satisfactory. Ground school work was also organized and instruction was given in theory of flight, navigation, engines, Navy regulations, the Bluejackets Manual, and signals.

The only casualty at NAS Bolsena during its nine months of operation occurred on 20 March 1918 when Clarence A. Nelson, Machinist Mate 1st Class (A), USN, was killed while making his first solo flight. In his memory, the town of Bolsena named the road leading from the town to the hangars Via Nelson.

NAS Bolsena trained 134 pilots. Most of these were sent to air stations in France. Some statistics of NAS Bolsena: greatest number of aircraft, 18; number of flights, 5,540; total actual flying time, 2,216 hours 9 minutes.

NAS Moutchic Summer 1918

The next step in the plan was to assume the operations in the northern Adriatic. The Navy turned this job over to now-Lt. Haviland, their bona-fide combat pilot, who was called back from loan to the RNAS. at Dunkerque. He selected pilots from those available at NAS Moutchic, including Tinkham and ten other ex-AFS men (five from TMU 526). All went to NAS Bolsena on 18 May for type-rating in Macchi seaplanes, training in aerial combat tactics, and bombing practice.

While at NAS Bolsena, Tinkham was commissioned as an ensign, USN(RF). Not all of the NAS Porto Corsini pilots were commissioned at this time.

Sources: Cornell University, American Field Service, U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, Willis Haviland Lamm

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