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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

First Victories for the U.S. Air Service

Alan Winslow, Douglas Campbell, John Huffer, 94th Aero Sq.

The first U.S. Air Service aerial victories by fighter planes in the American sector in France were by Lts. Alan Winslow and Douglas Campbell, two pilots of the 94th Aero Squadron, which had just been transferred to the front. On Sunday morning, 14 April 1918, they were on "alert" at Gengoult Aerodrome near Toul, France. German planes were reported in the area and the two U.S. pilots, completely inexperienced in aerial combat, took off in their Nieuport 28s. Almost immediately they saw two German aircraft and attacked them directly over the flying field at less than 1,000 feet altitude, in full view of not only the Americans at Gengoult Aerodrome, but also the French citizens of Toul. Winslow and Campbell shot down two German airplanes and were back on the ground in a matter of minutes. This initial fighter combat by the U.S. Air Service, was  probably successful due as much to luck as skill. Fifteen years later, Winslow described the event in Liberty magazine:

Spring. The airdrome at Toul. A chill early-morning mist blankets the field. 

Douglas Campbell and I are on emergency service, which at the moment consists of waiting and a game of Russian bank. Somewhere over the lines Eddie Rickenbacker and Reed Chambers are on their first patrol. 

A telephone call from headquarters: Two German planes are reported over the near-by village of Boug. 

We run to our waiting planes. I take off first. I clear the trees bordering the field. 

There, directly before me, diving out of the mist, is a German Albatross. 

We fight no more than a few feet above the tree tops. 

The entire population of Toul comes out to watch. One of my bullets actually pierces the ear of a startled peasant. (Afterward he was extremely proud of that bullet. It was his own personal war relic.) 

The fight is over in less than four minutes; I land, climb out of my cockpit, and run toward the German pilot whose plane has just crashed to earth. He is surrounded by a chattering, excited crowd. I stand awkwardly on one foot and then on the other. I am only twenty-one and this is my first air victory. 

Alan Winslow (1896–1933) was a veteran of the Lafayette Flying Corps (†) , who subsequently joined the American Air Service and was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron. After the event described above he continued flying until he was shot down on 31 July 1918 and became a prisoner of war for the duration. He was wounded in the left arm, which was subsequently amputated by German doctors. In his later life he became an executive for Pan Am and wrote the 1933 series of articles on the air war for Liberty magazine quoted above  titled "No Parachutes." Later the same year he died due to a fall from his hotel room during a business trip to Ottawa. Various writers have speculated this may have been a suicide because of the loss of his wife or other reasons. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Lt. Winslow with His Downed German Fighter and Admiring French

Douglas Campbell (1896–1990) was assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron on 1 March 1918. He and Lt. Alan Winslow shared the squadron's first official victory over an enemy aircraft on 14 April 1918. Flying the Nieuport 28, Campbell was the first United States Air Service pilot trained in the United States to score five confirmed victories. Scoring his final victory on 5 June 1918, he and James Meissner shot down a Rumpler near Nancy, but Campbell was wounded in the back by an explosive bullet and sent home to recover. Promoted to captain, he returned to France on 8 November 1918 and served with the Army of Occupation in Germany. Returning to the United States on 1 January 1919, Campbell was discharged from the army on 24 February. 

Sources:  U.S. Air Force National Museum, 1st Fighter Association,  Find-a-Grave, and The Aerodrome Websites

(†) Corrected from original posting.
Major Huffer

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