- Historic Sites
A Flier’s Journal
The planes were fragile and the Boche was tough, but the girls were pretty, the wine was good, and death was something that happened to someone else
December 1969 | Volume 21, Issue 1
Ortober 28 —Over with Duncan on visual reconnaissance in the morning. From Verdun, north, on the west side of the Meuse River, the American anti-aircraft guns shot at us. We knew it was the Americans, as their puffs of smoke from the high explosive shells are white while the smoke from the German Archie is black. Duncan, who likes to shoot it out with enemy planes, hates ack-ack, so he asked me to go over on the east side of the river on our way to Stenay and Montmédy. I said, “You know that’s where the Germans live.” “I know,” he replied, “but I’d hate to get shot down by our own people.” I nodded and headed over across the Meuse. The German black-smoked Archie immediately opened up and was much more accurate than the Americans. After a couple of bursts had rocked our ship, Duncan called to me over the speaking tube, “Hey, let’s go back and let the Americans shoot at us. They don’t come so close as these damned Heinies.”
October 29 — … First Army put out an order forbidding any more message-dropping to the Germans. From now on, anybody caught at it or having anything to do with it will be court-martialled. Seems too bad to spoil a nice sporting business. …
October 31 —Over in the morning with Duncan on a photographic mission. Delana and Chamberlain flew protection for me. We got twenty-four pictures before running into heavy clouds. Going through them, the formation got separated, and when I broke through just north of Stenay, the only planes in sight were nine Fokkers. I was already headed south, and I kept the throttle wide open as they chased me all the way back to Verdun. Duncan kept shooting although I told him he was just wasting ammunition at that distance of three to four hundred yards. One of the Fokkers pulled up in a stall, fell off spinning, and passed out of sight. “Look at that!” yelled Duncan. “I think I got him.” “Oh, he is just playing at acrobatics,” I replied. It didn’t seem possible to me that the Boche could have been hit at that distance. The same thing happened a minute or two later to another Fokker and then a third, except that they spun much longer before I quit looking at them to watch the others chasing us. The remaining six left us just before we got to Verdun. When Duncan was making out his report, he asked about the “combat.” I suggested that he forget it as he was the only one shooting. As far as I knew, none of the Boche had fired a shot, so you couldn’t very well call it a combat. Duncan agreed so we just reported seeing the nine Fokkers.
November 2 —Americans still moving fast. … Duncan and I drove up to Souilly to check with balloon headquarters about official confirmation for the Boche that Major Reynolds and Hammond got on the sgth of October and to give General Mitchell a recommendation for a Distinguished Service Cross for Major John. While checking over the balloon records, we saw a report that on October 31, around eleven o’clock in the morning, a lone Salmson flying at 5,000 meters engaged in a running fight with nine German Fokkers all the way from Stenay to Verdun and that during the encounter, three of the enemy aircraft were shot clown and seen to crash. The records also showed that this was the only American plane in that area at the time. Duncan turned to me and said, “Say, it seems like we got those three Boche and the balloon boys will confirm it.” I still wasn’t too sure but I said, “All right, Dune, if you have nerve enough to claim them and put in for official confirmation and credit, I’ll sign the paper with you.” Duncan thought it over, remarked that it sure would look funny when he hadn’t even reported a combat that day and finally said, “Aw, to hell with it. We’ll just have to be more careful the next time. No, I haven’t got the nerve to claim them.”
November 3 —Over with Duncan on a photo mission. … We got a lot of dope and brought back the first news of a general retreat by the Germans all along the line. Over at headquarters where we turned in our report to General “Billy” Mitchell, he took us in to see General Hunter Liggett, the boss of the American First Army. General Billy praised us and told of the high points of our report. Liggett seemed quite pleased, was very cordial, and complimented us on the job. …
November 6 —First flight off to Souilly but weather too bad for any trips across the front. Peace talk getting hot.
November 7 — … Peace talk still hotter.
November 10 — … The rumor tonight is that Germany has accepted the terms proposed to them by the Allies. All the French in town went crazy, ringing bells, singing, and parading all over the place.
November 11 —It is official. The war is over at 11:00 o’clock this morning. … This evening all the French towns and cities are lit up for the first time in years. A lot of talk by members of the squadron that we should have gone all the way to Berlin and signed the peace treaty there so that the Germans would really believe that they had been licked.
IV. Army of Occupation