Tales of Valor in Battle
'Knights of the Air
Frenchmen Who Defy Death'
Told by the Fliers Themselves — and Eye- Witnesses
Tales of Valor in Battles of the Clouds

French magazine covers published upon the loss of Georges Guynemer


These are, indeed, days of the new knighthood. No knights of old ever rode into the tournament with truer chivalry than the modern knights of the air. Thousands of tales could be told of them — for each flight is another Great Adventure. The gallant Italians in their flights over the Alps have surpassed the bravery of the old Romans. Among them are such men as D'Annunzio, the Italian poet. The Americans, British, Russians — throughout the armies of the Allies, these knights of the airships have met the knights of Germany and Austria in death-struggles in the clouds. It is not possible here to call the "roll of honor" of Guynemer, Nungesser, Navarre, Chaput, Chainat, Dorme, Lenoir, Rochefort Heurteaux — and a host of others. Only a few stories can be told of the chivalry of the Frenchmen to symbolize the staunch hearts of all the men who battle in the clods.


I — Story of Guynemer — Last Flight of the French Dare-Devil

The dashing Guynemer, King of the Airmen, has made his last sensational "down," a victim of a German plane. "Ace of the Aces" has been missing since the latter part of September, 1917. When last observed he was engaged, single-handed, with a squadron of enemy planes numbering more than forty, and the last official communication in regard to him read: "Although all means of investigation have been tried, we have not obtained any further information." And so it is feared that Capt. Georges Guynemer, the eagle of the birdmen, the Frenchman with the face of a woman and heart of a lion, has fought his last battle in the clouds.

Guynemer was one of the youngest men of his rank in the French Army, having been appointed by President Poincaré in February at the age of twenty-two. It was his custom to operate alone, handling the wheel of his machine as well as his gun, and his wonderful aerial conquests made him a hero throughout France. All his short life he had been an invalid with a tendency to tuberculosis, and, believing that he would not live long, he determined to give his life to his country in a manner that would enable him to first accomplish the utmost to her advantage. A comrade thus described his last flight.

"Guynemer sighted five machines of the Albatross type Z7-J. Without hesitating, he bore down on them. At that moment enemy patrolling machines, soaring at a great height, appeared suddenly and fell upon Guynemer.

"There were forty enemy machines in the air at this time, including Count von Richthofen and his circus division of machines, painted in diagonal blue and white stripes. Toward Guynemer's right some Belgian machines hove in sight, but it was too late.

"Guynemer must have been hit. His machine dropped gently toward the earth, and I lost track of it. All that I can say is that the machine was not on fire."

Guynemer was last cited in the French official announcement of September 10, 1917, for having won his fiftieth aerial victory. In an unofficial dispatch a few days before he was said to have accounted for fifty-two enemy planes. His German rival for the war- honors of the air, Baron von Richthofen, is credited with seventy "downs." But the German method of scoring such engagements differs materially from that of the French, inasmuch as a French aviator, in order to get credit for a victory, must send his victim's plane to destruction in sight of two official observers, while a German scores if he but send a bullet through his adversary's motor, forcing him to glide to the earth.

Guynemer had a fine courage as well as bravery, and a determined spirit that obtained for him entrance into the Army after he had been several times rejected for lack of sufficient physique. . . .

Captain Guynemer was only twenty-three years old. He was born on Christmas day, 1893, the son of a prosperous manufacturer of Compiegne, who had been a captain in the French Army. All his brief life he had been an invalid, very tall and very slender, even showing a leaning toward tuberculosis.

Under tutors Georges had studied to enter the Ecole Polytechnique of Paris, but was rejected because of his frail health. The professors did not believe he could live to finish the course, so why waste the time with him ? His parents had taken the youth to Biarritz for his health, and they had been there a year when the Great War started. Five times the young man tried to enlist as a private in the French Army and each time he was rejected because of his health.

Certain there was something he could do for his country, young Guynemer volunteered for work in the aeroplane factories. His natural bent was mechanics and his progress was rapid. His superiors recognized the thorough elementary education he had. He had studied in England for two years and made a tour of the world in search of health, but always studying. He remained for a time in the United States.

Soon Georges Guynemer became a mechanician at the military aviation-fields, and there his work and his personal character so impressed the officers that he was permitted to enlist as a student aviator. That was his chance, and he made more of it than any other aviator ever did. He obtained a pilot's license in January, 1916, and as a sergeant made his first flight in an avion de chasse.

In less than three weeks he had brought down his fifth enemy aeroplane, thus becoming an Ace and earning an official citation. From the first his career was, perhaps, more active than that of any other aviator along the battle-front. His most spectacular feat, for which he was made a lieutenant and decorated with the Cross of War, was on September 29 last year, when he rose in the air to defend a comrade of his escadrille who had been attacked by five German Fokkers.

At a height of more than 10,000 feet Captain Guynemer shot and dropped two of the Germans within thirty seconds of each other. He then pursued the three others, and in two minutes had shot down his third enemy machine. He was pursuing the remaining two Fokkers when an enemy shell exploded under his aeroplane and tore away one wing.

"I felt myself dropping," he said later. "It was 10,000 feet to the earth. I pulled and pushed every lever I had, but nothing would check my terrific descent. Five thousand feet from the earth the wrecked machine began to turn somersaults, but I was strapped into the seat. I do not know what it was, but something happened and I felt the speed descent lessen. But suddenly there was a tremendous crash, and when I recovered my senses I had been taken from the wreckage and was all right."

Three times Captain Guynemer was wounded in battle, but each time slightly.

Many stories are told which illustrate the importance which the Germans attached to his flights and their efforts to "down" the fearless aviator. H. Massac Buist tells this story:

"A distinct feature of the French aviation service in 1917 is its treatment of 'star turns.' One of the most brilliant is a man who has been shot several times, whose nerves are seemingly of steel, and whose skill rather in-creases than diminishes with the number of occasions on which he issues from hospital.

"He is attached to no particular squadron. Instead, he is free to go of his own sweet will to any part of the front, from the Belgian coast to the Swiss frontier. The Germans attach so much importance to him that they follow his progress from point to point.

"One day the champion pilot elected to come where the British were. Within twenty-four hours of his arrival the enemy were on the alert for him. The Germans sent up ten machines to catch him. Single-handed he set out for them, and promptly brought down three.

"He travels in "his personal automobile with his chef. The aeroplane he uses is always specially built to his own ideas. It is fitted with all manner of peculiar contrivances. When not engaging the enemy, in flying hours, it is his habit to take every opportunity to practise behind the scenes."

The story of the young airman's persistent and finally successful efforts to enter the aviation service is here told ...

"One of the members of the N-3 spoke to me of the early days when Guynemer was so nearly driven away from the gates of the aerodrome.

"You should have seen him, eh? A stripling of nineteen who knew how to fly and insisted. He was just from the lycSe; he had been rejected four times, but he insisted and he came to Pau to the aerodrome. Eh bien, they let him in at last, and I will tell you what he did. I went up with him once, after we were both aces, to get some photographs, because I understand photography. And the last thing he said to me was: 'Old fellow, I give you warning. To-day I dodge no shells. To-day is my anniversary.'

"Well, we went up and they recognized him — they always do, because he flies like no one else in the world. Never have I heard such a cracking of shells. They started in a big circle all around us and came nearer and nearer, but he did not move. On the course he kept, and I — took photographs. At last I report that I have enough; but, no, he asks me to take some photographs of the puffy clouds around our plane. And when that is done he starts home again, but turns again and does a spiral, I do not know how many times, right over one of the batteries which had been looking for us. In the line they thought he was crazy. But I knew well enough that Guynemer was paying us out for his early days when we dared to patronize him!"

Guynemer's development was coincident with that of the light aircraft of the Nieuport type. In the little machine with the clipped wings that must take the earth at sixty miles an hour because it has no buoyancy at a lesser speed, Guynemer was at home. He won his "aceship" in a slower type, but his developed tactics required a craft that could make its 10,000 feet in ten minutes, and maintain a speed of 120 miles an hour.

Estimates based on the carrying capacity of the machines that Guynemer destroyed credit the captain with accounting for more than eighty pilots, observers, and gunners, all told. It was Guynemer who shot down Lieutenant Hohendorf, pilot for a French aeroplane factory before the war, who had destroyed twelve French machines. It is not impossible that Guynemer himself was an unfortunate victim added to the record of Richthofen's squad.


II — Story of Dorcieres — Duellist of the Clouds

For a generation Rouzier Dorcieres has been one of the most picturesque figures in Parisian life, holding the unique position of the dean of duellists. A dinner was given to him in April, 1911, by two hundred and fifty men, every one of whom had either fought a duel with him, been his or his opponent's second in a duel, been seconded by him, or had participated as principal or second in a duel he "directed." All told, he had been director of 267 sword or pistol combats, and of the occasions on which he had played the role of second he had completely lost count. He himself had fought no fewer than twenty-five duels, fifteen with the sword and ten with the pistol.

It is not surprising, then, that such a firebrand volunteered to serve France in arms when the war broke out, though he had passed the age limit set by the order of mobilization. Bulletins announced that fact at the time, and added that he had been attached to the aviation service. Bulletins equally brief announced that Dorcieres was "missing" — presumably either dead or wounded. No further details have been given of his fate until this story of the dramatic end of a remarkable man.

On the night of August 2, 1914, Dorcieres and a few of his old cronies — old because all of the younger men who had consorted with him were mustered into the Army — gathered at their table in their favorite café.

"My friends," said Dorcieres, as calmly as though he had been announcing that he was going to Deauville for a holiday at the seaside, "I bid you farewell. To-night I am going to volunteer as a soldier of France.

"You may wonder why, at the age of thirty-nine, I voluntarily enlist in the Army, and why I choose to enter the aviation service, distinctly the place for a youth. Listen, then. You have always believed that I have never suffered an affront in my life that was not avenged. But there was one time when I was insulted — grossly — and the man who did it escaped me. Do you remember the winter, five years ago, that I passed in Switzerland? It was there, when I was stopping in Zurich, that the thing occurred. It was after dinner, when the man sitting next to me nudged my shoulder.

" 'So you are Rouzier Dorcieres,' he said. 'I recognize you. And they say you have never been touched in a duel. Well, I am sorry I have never had the good fortune to meet you in one.' Then he laughed a sneering laugh.

"My blood boiled. 'But you will have the chance to meet me to-morrow morning,' I replied, glaring at him for his insolence. And then as I surveyed his countenance I saw the answer for his piggishness. He was a Prussian.

" 'No,' he answered me, 'I will not be able to avail myself of the pleasure of measuring swords with you, as I leave for Germany on the midnight train. I am attached to the Imperial Aviation Corps and must report at Johannisthal to-morrow.'

"I looked at my watch. It was but a few minutes after eight o'clock. 'Then I will teach you your lesson tonight,' I told him.

" 'Monsieur,' he said, 'I shall meet you here before ten o'clock with my seconds and the swords. We will settle this affair before I depart.'

"I bowed with pleasure as he stalked from the restaurant. And then whom did I see sitting near me but our old friend, the Comte de B--------, as fine a second as any man ever had. In a few words I had recounted the incident and called on him to act in my behalf. I waited in that restaurant with the Comte until eleven o'clock. The Prussian officer did not appear. Two years afterward I read in a dispatch from Berlin of his being brevetted as an aviator in the Kaiser's service, and recently I read of how he was working in the air-service of the German Army.

"That is why I enter the aviation service of France. Because I still hope to meet him and make him repay his debt of honor to me."

Dorcieres went to the front to seek in the air the only man who had ever insulted him and failed to pay the price. His pilot, the aviator who operated the aeroplane in which he fought his last duel, told the rest of the story to Dorcieres's friends long after the official bulletins had announced his death:

"He told me to find you, messieurs, and to tell you just what he told me as he lay dying — dying from eleven machine-gun bullets which riddled his torso in that last combat which nearly cost me, also, my life.

"Rouzier Dorcieres was the strangest machine-gunner I ever had with me. Unlike other gunners, he always carried binoculars, and when we sighted and approached a Boche aeroplane he spent his preliminary time in peering intently at the occupants of the enemy machine instead of preparing and testing his mitrailleuse anxiously as most gunners do.

"As we circled near the German machine in his last flight Dorcieres passed me a scrap of paper. On it he had scrawled a request that I swoop past the German as near as I could. Instantly I divined his reason — and his reason for always carrying and using his high-power glasses. He thought he recognized one of the occupants of the other aeroplane.

"I swerved and doubled and shot past the Fokker's tail. Dorcieres's eyes had been riveted to the glasses, but he dropped them now, heedlessly, and they smashed in the bottom of the fuselage.

In Dorcieres's right hand was on the mitrailleuse-trigger and his left was feeding the cartridge-belt cleanly into the loading-chamber as we rounded and flashed by, abreast, but a little higher, than the enemy.

"Taca-tac-pouf-pouf-taca-tac-pouf-pouf — and he drove thirty rounds at the Fokker. And then as I swerved the Boche turned upward and let fly at us. He had been traveling faster than I thought, because my mind had been distracted by approaching too near him at Dorcieres's request, and he reached us with every shot from his machine gun. Our fuselage cracked and splintered as the leaden hail perforated the car and the choking gasps that I heard behind me were the positive indications that my gunner had been hit. I, too, turned upward, as my motor was undamaged and climbed with the German. Then we both planed and approached each other. I heard my mitrailleuse begin to spit at the exact fraction of a second that we came within range, and the enemy gun never once barked a reply. Dorcieres's first shot must have killed the enemy gunner. And his torrent of bullets ripped off the tail of the Fokker and it dived into our lines like a stone, nose down.

"I landed within fifty yards of the broken Boche car and its occupants. Two stretchers were waiting there for us, but I was unhurt, miraculously. We put Dorcieres in one, tenderly as a baby, and then started off. But he had seen the wreck of the Fokker there and he begged that we stop beside it.

"Beside the German machine were the pilot and the gunner, both dead. By a superhuman effort my dying gunner raised himself on his elbow. He gazed at the face of the enemy machine-gunner.

" 'It is he,' was all he said. And we carried him to the field-hospital.

"That afternoon I went to see him. He was pretty nearly gone. That is when he explained, and that is when he asked me to convey to you, messieurs, this message — that he had avenged his honor."

These stories of the aviators could be told indefinitely; how they met in mortal combats in the clouds; how they act as sky-pilots for the armies; how they raided the Krupp gun works; how they soar over the navies, but they must be left for future volumes for they are creating a history of their own — one of the most remarkable in the annals of war.


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