1916-1925: America– War and Peace

Author: Shipley Thomas  | Date: 1918

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The War in the Air

LIKE many other parts of the American army, the Air Service was just coming into its own when the Armistice was signed. Like the infantry it got its first taste of quiet work in the Toul sector. At Chateau-Thierry it had its first taste of real fighting. The whole American air service and some British and French squadrons were assembled for the reduction of the St. Mihiel salient, with the result that the First American Army had under its command the largest aerial concentration gathered in any sector on the front at any time during the war. Again in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, the American Air Service continued its mastery of the air. On the Marne, at St. Mihiel, in the Argonne, the American air forces met the best German air forces. American pilots shot down 753 enemy planes and 71 balloons, suffering a loss of only 357 planes and 34 balloons. When the hostilities ceased on November 11, there had been assigned to the armies taking part in the great final sweep of the Germans from French soil, 45 American air squadrons, manned by 744 pilots, 457 observers, 23 aerial gunners and the necessary complement of other soldiers. These squadrons had 740 planes fully armed and equipped.

Twelve of these squadrons were equipped with machines made in America, and with the Liberty engine, which in actual service fulfilled all that was claimed for it, and proved to be America’s best single contribution to war aviation.

The personnel of the air service, which was trained in the American schools, demonstrated in actual combat that it was second to none in the world for aggressiveness and skill. Our air squadron took part in 150 bombing raids, and dropped over 275,000 pounds of explosives on the enemy. They flew 35,000 hours over the line, and took 18,000 pictures of enemy positions. On innumerable occasions they regulated the firing of our artillery, flew in contact with our advancing forces, and from a height of only a few yards from the ground, machine-gunned and bombed enemy batteries, convoys and troops on the march….

The principal work of our air forces at the front during the Argonne drive was the screening of movements during the period from September 14 to 26. The weather was also bad for the flyers during this offensive, and it was necessary to confine photographs to the most important points.

Some of the most brilliant work done by our airmen, however, was during this time. On October 4 our day bombardment planes were sent to bomb Dunsur-Meuse and Landres-St. Georges, and succeeded in dropping a ton and a half of bombs on each objective.

The low-hanging clouds were filled with enemy pursuit planes and a group of 30 Fokkers and Pfals planes swerved down on our formation. Our 90th Squadron, being in the lead, got the brunt of the attack. The formation closed in and held the enemy at a distance. Two other bombardment squadrons, the 23th and the 11th, attacked the enemy from the rear, shooting down two of them.

A general fight ensued. At the hottest part of the battle, 30 squads of the American Second Pursuit Group arrived on schedule time. The enemy, trapped, vainly struggled to escape. When the smoke of battle cleared away, 13 German planes lay shattered within a space of 1,000 feet on the ground. We lost one plane.

The work of American balloons at the front forms a bright chapter in our aerial history. Of the 35 balloon companies in France at the time of the armistice, with 446 officers and 6,365 enlisted men, 23 companies had been assigned to the armies which were actively engaged on the front.

Our balloon personnel, trained in the A. E. F., acquitted itself in a highly creditable manner. They made 1,642 ascensions and were in the air a total of 3,111 hours. They made 316 artillery adjustments, each comprising all the shots fired at one target; they reported 12,018 shell bursts; sighted 11,856 enemy planes; reported 2,649 enemy balloon ascensions; enemy batteries 400 times, enemy traffic and railroads, 1,113 times, and explosions and destructions 597 times.

American balloons were attacked by the enemy on 89 occasions; 34 of them were burned during such attacks, and nine others destroyed by shell fire. Our observers jumped from the baskets 116 times, and in no case did the parachute fail to open properly. One observer lost his life when pieces of his burning balloon fell on his descending parachute.

The actual accomplishment of the Air Service at the front was all the result of a much more tremendous accomplishment—not so spectacular, but infinitely necessary—in one of the most remarkable organizations ever put together, an organization that within a year’s time sprang from a little branch of the Signal Corps, with 65 officers, and 1,110 men to a service of the army with 20,000 officers and 170,000 enlisted men…. The Service in France was fully prepared to take care of the great flotilla of planes which America was just getting ready to send across when the war was stopped.


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Chicago: Shipley Thomas, "The War in the Air," 1916-1925: America– War and Peace in America, Vol.12, Pp.147-151 Original Sources, accessed December 2, 2022, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7T7MPA6I3CQLXDX.

MLA: Thomas, Shipley. "The War in the Air." 1916-1925: America– War and Peace, in America, Vol.12, Pp.147-151, Original Sources. 2 Dec. 2022. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7T7MPA6I3CQLXDX.

Harvard: Thomas, S, 'The War in the Air' in 1916-1925: America– War and Peace. cited in , America, Vol.12, Pp.147-151. Original Sources, retrieved 2 December 2022, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=7T7MPA6I3CQLXDX.