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

Monday, September 14, 2015

September 1918: Flying Over the St. Mihiel Salient

Lt. George Churchill Kenney was one of America’s most distinguished military men. A career Air Force officer who enlisted as a private and rose through the ranks, at the end of World War II he was commanding general of the Allied Air Forces in the Pacific; later he headed the Strategic Air Command for two years before retiring in 1951 as a four-star general. Soon after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, he signed up for the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army. At 27 he was two years above the age limit for combat flying, but he concealed his true birth date, passed the physical, and was sworn in. After learning to fly at Hazelhurst Field in Mineola, New York, he arrived in France in December, underwent two months of advanced training at Issoudun, and received orders to report to the 91st Aero Squadron, where he served as an aerial reconnaissance pilot, winning two aerial victories and several decorations. He kept a diary throughout his service. These are the entries for the period during which the American First Army was conducting its first offensive to reduce the St. Mihiel Salient.

September 6 — … The Germans dropped a note saying that Foster was a prisoner unhurt but that Siebring was dead. A note in Pep’s handwriting was enclosed asking us to send him cigarettes, canned kidneys, and his tennis racket to his prison camp through the Red Cross in Switzerland. This system works well. All the letters from the prisoners agree that the stuff sent them comes through all right.

September 11 — …Major Reynolds gave us the advance dope on the new first all-American offensive, which jumps off tomorrow at daybreak to reduce the Saint-Mihiel salient...

91st Aero Squadron Insignia

September 12 —Americans over the top after a brute of a night of artillery preparation fire. The Saint-Mihiel salient is busted. Every town in the salient on the German side is in flames. The old lines are dead. Hellish flying weather all day but lots of it just the same...

September 13 —Got up for the early flight but the clouds were down to the ground. The guns up at the front were still going strong. Went over at 10:00 A.M. on visual reconnaissance from 100 meters to 300 meters altitude. … The Americans are into the Hindenburg Line in three places.

September 14 —Up on a six-plane photo mission but I was delayed on the take-off and missed the formation. As we had a camera, Bill and I went over anyhow. Got a few good pictures but the weather was too cloudy to finish the job. Six Boche, Pfalz or Fokkers, jumped me near Etain and chased me out to the west of the sector toward Verdun. As soon as they left, we went back in for a visual reconnaissance. Over Conflans, the carburetor backfired and blazed up. I sideslipped and dove and the fire finally went out. We got back home after about three hours’ flying. The plane was pretty badly shot up by Archie fire...Strahm and Wallis had another fight with six red-nosed Fokkers. Looks like the Germans have moved the Richthofen Circus into this sector. They paint the noses of their planes red...

Salmson 2a of the Type Flown by Kenney

September 15 —…Went over with Badham on a photo mission. Diekema and Hammond and Cole and Martin flew protection for us. Over Gorzé we were jumped by four Boche, Pfalz Scouts. Badham [Kenney's gunner] shot one down from about fifty meters. He went up in a zoom and fell off in a vrille, on fire, and disappeared in the woods below. My ship was badly shot up with one of the elevators almost off and wobbling. I turned back toward the field wondering how much longer we would be flying. As Diekema and Cole closed up behind me, one of the Boche dove on Cole’s plane and opened fire. At the first burst, a bullet pierced Cole’s neck forcing him to make for the lines and an emergency landing before he fainted from loss of blood...This evening, the doctors over at the Toul hospital said that Cole would be all right and back in…about six weeks.

Source:  American Heritage, December 1969

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of detailed diary entries by Lt. Billy Schauffler , 90th Aero also a Recon outfit, published in the book "First Over the Front."