Lafayette Escadrille Home

Left: Sergent pilot Normon Prince in the rear cockpit of a Voisin light bomber with his observer/gunner while assigned to V.B II3, Fall of 1915.
Above and below: A Caudron G-IV of the type flown by Bill Thaw at Esc. C. 42 in late 1915-early 1916. The Commander of C. 42 was Capt. Thenault, who became Commander of the Lafayette N.124.

Left: Frazier Curtis, a friend of Norman Prince, helped promote the idea of an all-American unit. He entered aviation training in March 1915, but due to injuries from accidents was released from service. He then put his efforts toward air service recruitment of Ambulance personnel.

 


Early in the war, many Americans showed a sincere interest in joining the French Air Service. The popularity of the air service among French Soldiers coupled with a suspected spying incident by an American who deserted the air service early in the war, created some resistance by the French initially.

Requests for entry were being granted on an individual basis, usually with the help of a French official. Americans began flying as both pilots and observers within French squadrons with no less than 7 future Lafayette Escadrille members serving in these capacities.

Many were assigned to bombing units flying Voisin pusher style biplanes. Bert Hall flew with a Nieuport squadron. William Thaw was assigned to a Caudron squadron, Escadrille C.42 commanded by Capitaine Georges Thenault, whom eventually became commander of the Lafayette Escadrille.

James J. Bach served with William Thaw in the Foreign Legion before transferring to the air service in December 1914. He was assigned to Escadrille MS. 38 (Morane-Saulnier) in August 1915 but on September23rd, was taken prisoner when landing a spy behind enemy lines. Jimmie Bach was the first American taken prisoner in World War I and remained a POW until the end of the war.

Ambulance Service Replaced by American Field Service
Volunteer ambulance services provided American men and women who sought to aid the Allies’ cause an opportunity to serve.

Two major ambulance units were formed, the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps and the larger American Ambulance Hospital Field Service. The latter was usually known as the American Field Service.

The American Field Service was organized by Dr. Edmund Gros, an American physician who had a prominent medical practice in Paris. Dr. Gros would later be instrumental in the establishing of the Lafayette Escadrille.

The ambulance units saw extensive service in many battles and particularly at the Marne in September 1914, Verdun in February 1916, and at Caporetto in October 1917.

Drivers who left ambulance duty to join the Lafayette Escadrille were Clyde Balsley, Willis Havilland, Thomas Hewitt, Henry Jones, Walter Lovell, James McConnell and Robert Rockwell.


William Dugan in his uniform as an infantryman in the Foreign Legion.


Henry Jones at the wheel of an American Field Service ambulance.

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Future Lafayette fliers James McConnell and Willis Havilland while serving with the American Field Service in 1915.
Dr. Edmund Gros of the American Field Service who was instrumental in Americans forming the Lafayette Escadrille.
A typical Ford Model T ambulance of the American Ambulance Hospital Field Service.Americans in the Foreign Legion.
Future Lafayette Escadrille members are Victor Chapman, center back row; Edmond Genet, seated center; William Dugan, Genet’s left; Eugene Bullard, Chapman’s left. Bullard was the first African-American pilot.


Captaine Georges Thenault of the French Air Service, the commanding officer of Squadron N-124, the first American volunteer squadron which would become the “Lafayette Escadrille.

Founding of the Lafayette Escadrille
No single individual can be credited with creating the Lafayette Escadrille, but rather it was the result of the combined efforts of some idealistic young American men, some prominent Americans living in France, and a few farsighted French officials.

Two Americans who envisioned a squadron made up of American flyers were Norman Prince and William Thaw. Upon the outbreak of the War, both volunteered for service with the French Foreign Legion; and since both were licensed pilots in America, they transferred to France’s Service Aeronautique in 1915.

During 1915, Prince, Thaw and some prominent Americans, particularly Dr. Edmund Gros and Jarousse deSilac of the French ministry of foreign affairs joined forces to promote the formation of an American volunteer squadron.

The French saw an American group as an excellent way to generate support in America for the Allied cause.

In April 1916, a separate American squadron designated as N (Nieuport) 124 was established. Joining Prince and Thaw were five other Americans; Victor Chapman, Elliot Cowdin, Weston (Bert) Hall, James McConnell, and Kiffin Rockwell.

The designation N-124 was soon changed to Escadrille Americain, but the Germans objected to this name since America was not officially in the War. In response to this protest, the name was changed to Lafayette Escadrille in December 1916.

The original Lafayette Escadrille had 38 American pilots under the French commander, Captaine George Thenault. Lieutenant Alfred deLaage de Meux served as executive officer.


Norman Prince from Massachusetts, was one of the Americans who was instrumental in establishing the Escadrille.

William Thaw of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia, one of the founders of the Squadron and served as its American Commander.

Uniforms and Insignias
Upon completion of his flight training, the student pilot was awarded the badges of a pilot brevet, the wings and star, and his corporal’s stripes.

The style and color of his uniform was a matter of the pilot’s individual personal preferences.

As the illustration shows, the colors of tunics varied from sky blue to navy blue and black, and pants were usually riding breeches, a carry over from the cavalry days. Head gear was either the traditional French military “kepi” or forage overseas cap. High boots or oxfords with “puttees” were usual footwear.

The air service uniforms carried on the older military tradition of colorful uniforms.

Note the Lafayette Escadrilles’ famous lion cub mascot, “Whiskey,” in the illustration and in the photo of Thaw.

 

Profile of a Squadron: Who Were They?
The Lafayette Escadrille, “The Lafayette Squadron,” was made up of only 38 American Volunteers. Approximately 170 other Americans served in various other French squadrons, and as a group, these men were designated the Lafayette Flying Corps.
Of the original 38 aviators:

  • 28 had served in France in some capacity
  • Seven of the 28 had served in the French Air Service
  • 23 were from the Eastern states, nine were from New York and two from the West
  • Average age was 26 - ages ranged from 20 to 40 years
  • Eleven were sons of millionaires
  • Thirty held college degrees or had enrolled in a higher educational institution. Harvard had nine alumni in the squadron
  • Nine had prewar flying experience

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