Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Kings of the Air: Day and Night

For the raids on Ludwigshafen and Dillingen, the French bombers flew in a loose gaggle, arriving over the target in ones and twos, but by September 1915, the threat from German fighters was sufficient to force the bombers into a close mutually-supporting group. 'Flying in close formation provides vital protection against enemy planes,' commented one bomber pilot. 'During the raid on Dillingen, an Aviatik dogged us every inch of the way, watching us drop our bombs and ready to pick off any straggler, but unwilling to strike against the group.' 

The increased availability of the Fokker Eindecker posed problems for the French, and they struggled to find a response. Pusher aircraft were always vulnerable to attacks from the rear, and providing an escort of Nieuport scouts was no help, because the fighters did not have the range to escort the bombers all the way there and back. Arming some Voisins with a 37mm cannon was no more effective, because the weapon was so unwieldy.

The September offensive in Champagne was the catalyst (or perhaps the excuse) for the French to abandon long-range daylight bombing. From being directly under GQG's orders, bombing groups were transferred to individual armies to concentrate on missions against targets like railway stations, to disrupt the movement of German reinforcement and supplies. A proposal to create an escadre of 100 Breguet-Michelin bombers under Lieutenant de vaisseau Dutertre was at first scaled back, and then abandoned completely.

One of the casualties in September was Captain Albert Féquant, serving as an observer with VB102 during a raid on Sarrebrück. Fequant had galvanised the Army in 1910 by a long-range flight from Châlons-sur-Marne to Versailles with Captain Charles Marconnet as the pilot. The flight proved that aircraft could be used not just for directing artillery fire, but also at long-range for bombing and reconnaissance. He was killed by a well-aimed burst from an Aviatik. His pilot, Sergeant Charles Niox, managed to hold him in the cockpit while he brought the aircraft back to their home airfield at Malzéville (Meurthe-et-Moselle). Féquant's brother, Philippe, was the group commander.

In January 1916, Joffre ordered every army group to produce a bombing plan encompassing, 'ongoing assignments such as attacks on major stations, rail hubs, known factories or airfields; missions in liaison with the operations planned on each army group's front, in particular targetting enemy communications and installations, in the rear or close to the front line' Meanwhile the French parliament continued to press for reprisal raids against Germany, so Joffre was obliged to add provision for, 'reprisal raids on German towns in response to any kind of enemy action against French towns.'

The French bombers may have been outclassed by the German fighters, but they continued with their missions. One journalist recognised their contribution: 'The bomber pilot, is by definition, a hero. … He flies a plane that is most often heavy, poorly armed, difficult to manoeuvre and incapable of defending itself, carries large quantities of explosives, never deviates for an instant from the direct route to his target, treats guns and planes with disdain, is aware of the awful death which awaits him if an attack is successful, and still continues on because it is his duty to do so.' 

Major Maurice Happe, the commander of GB4, recorded his displeasure in the group's war diary: 'without the fighters we have requested over and over again, GB4 is doomed to die without our being able to defend ourselves.' Happe experimented with different formations to make the best use of his aircrafts' armament, trying line abreast and line astern before settling on a V-formation.

One answer was to transfer from day bombing to night bombing. This would allow the French to continue to use the old Voisins and Breguet-Michelins that had otherwise become obsolete. 'We took off by moonlight, and arrived at 1500m over the lines ninety minutes before sunrise. We throttled back so we were making as little noise as possible and silently glided down to 1,000m. We identified the target, and carefully placed our bombs from low altitude so they were almost forced to land in the right place. We then finished things off with the machine-gun before regaining our lines, firing on German convoys, railway lines and batteries as we went. Not all my bombing raids met with the desired results, but two were pretty successful: the first derailed a train, the second blew up a munitions dump. This latter result was particularly noticeable, and I was well rewarded for the risks I had taken when I saw the fantastic firework display produced by my bomb: an hour later I was back over our lines, and 40km from the dump, but I could still see huge explosions coming from the heart of the blaze and big flames climbing up to 500m into the sky.'

Pictures: a Fokker Eindecker; two paintings of the death of Albert Féquant by Henri Farré, who served in the Air Service at the same time; Major Maurice Happe, commander of GB4; a painting of the return from a night raid by war artist François Flameng.

There will be no post next week. Normal service will be resumed in a fortnight.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Kings of the Air: Approaching the target

Blame Clément Ader. Having failed to achieve flight, he abandoned active testing, and turned to lobbying about aviation instead. Writing in 1907, he prophesied that a failure to invest in air power would leave France facing a doomsday scenario: great Anglo-German air fleets menacing the capital itself. 'These airborne cohorts will fly methodically over the ten main arrondissements of Paris, bombing as they go, sparing neither museums nor historic monuments, and dropping on average four or five bombs on each dwelling.' Naming Britain as a potential enemy so soon after the conclusion of the Entente Cordiale cannot have helped him get an official hearing, but his lurid writings certainly grabbed the attention of excitable politicians and excitable newspapers.

At this early stage of aircraft development the sticking point was weak engines which could not develop sufficient power to carry both crew and a large offensive payload. What was billed as an attempt to encourage manufacturers to create such aircraft, a competition held by the War Ministry at Reims in 1911, failed because the competition conditions only specified the size of payload that existing aircraft were capable of carrying, rather than any improvement, and so the winner ended up being the fastest (but which, even according to the manufacturer, 'handled like a flat iron'). The expense and fragility of early aircraft made many senior officers reluctant to devote money to their development, when it could be better spent on artillery and machine guns, considering aviators as 'buffoons or acrobats from whom nothing serious could be expected.'

For their pre-war supporters, balloons represented the way forward. As one of the original components of military aviation, balloons were a proven technology, unlike the new-fangled aircraft. Although slower than aircraft, dirigible balloons could carry a large payload at a greater altitude, with a much greater range. After war broke out, the Adjudant-Vincenot and the Fleurus I both undertook reconnaissance / bombing raids into the Germany, as far as Sarrebourg and Trier. However, balloons always remained vulnerable to ground fire: on 24 August 1914, after undertaking bombing raids as far as Louvain, the Dupuy-de-Lôme was returning to French-held territory over Reims when it was shot down by the city's (French) garrison. When news reached GQG that the Germans had lost four Zeppelins in the same period, the dirigible fleet was grounded. Missions were eventually restarted on 2 April 1915, but only at night.

Unsurprisingly, aircraft manufacturers were enthusiastic in preferring aircraft over dirigibles. In 1912, Henry Farman wrote in the magazine Gil Blas, 'The war of tomorrow will be a war of aeroplanes. With aeroplanes ... I can prove that it will be easy to destroy entire cities and fortresses.' The Michelin brothers began to sponsor a prize to reward accuracy in bomb-aiming. Yet the problem of endurance remained, so at the outbreak of war, the use of bombing seemed to be restricted to the tactical, targetting enemy troop concentrations and artillery batteries.

On 14 August 1914, two pilots from MF16, Lieutenant Antoine Cesari and Corporal Roger Prudhommeaux, undertook the first French air raid, when each dropped a modified 155mm shell on the zeppelin hangar at Metz-Frascaty. For GQG, 'aviation is an arm of service, [and] clearly an offensive one, whether that be in pursuing enemy aircraft, or in bombing enemy troops, camps and fortifications. It can operate independently at long or short range, or attack in liaison with other troops.' From here, by using aircraft types with a long operational range, 'capable of destroying or blocking enemy railway lines some 200 … to 250 kilometres behind the front,' aviation could serve strategic aims. 'We must free ourselves of short-term thinking, widen our horizons and extend our ambitions to obtain every possible advantage from the aircraft which will be available to us.' Raids on German factories would disrupt the enemy's war effort, give French official communiques something good to report on, and so bolster French morale.

Four bomber squadrons were created in November 1914, and formed into a single group under Major Louis de Goÿs, increasing to four groups of four squadrons by the spring. De Goÿs had been an enthusiastic follower of Ader's vision - when Turkey joined the war, he was calling for a massive aerial armada to frighten the Turks out of the war. The first strategic raid was against the Badische Anilin chemical works in Ludwigshafen in May 1915 (where de Goÿs was shot down and captured - 'Sudden engine failure. I can't tell you how disappointed we were'), then a second attack, in retaliation for a zeppelin raid on Paris, on Karlsruhe in the following month.

Now German factories, according to one politician, 'would be at the mercy of a well-organised air Force.' In July 1915, the parliamentary Army Commission insisted, 'as a matter of urgency, we must do everything possible, as quickly as possible, to create a bomber force capable of operating at long range, with a view towards hitting the enemy's vital production capacity.' The following month, Senator Gaston Menier added, 'it is even more vital to start the immediate construction of a large number of powerful, well-armed machines capable of guaranteeing our mastery of the air and of carrying the attack to the enemy.'

Further raids struck against Dillingen in August, then against Sarrebrück, Trier and Mensdorf in September. The Germans condemned all these raids as criminal, but the French remained unbowed. Georges Kirsch (V29/VB112) was unhappy: 'It's not a question of trying to inflict physical damage on military targets,' he wrote of the raid on Sarrebrück. 'We had to sneak up on the major arteries and drop the lot at zero hour, midday German time, as people were leaving the factories. Four hundred and twenty dead. We thought it despicable, but that's war.'

Pictures: Ader (from Wikipedia); the dirigible Adjudant Vincenot (from Delcampe); a Voisin 3, mainstay of the French bomber squadrons, at the Le Bourget museum (my picture); Lieutenant Cesari (from Delcampe); Major de Goÿs, the crews of Groupe de Bombardement Nr.1, and bombs landing on Karlsruhe (from contemporary magazines)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Kings of the Air: Queens of the Air

It's close enough to the birthdays of Amy Johnson (1st July) and Amelia Earheart (24th July) to take a look at French women pilots (or aviatrix as they said at the time) before and during the Great War.

The first woman in the world to obtain a pilot's license was Elise Deroche (1882-1919). She was originally an actress, but was bitten by the aviation bug after seeing a demonstration of the Wright flyer. Amongst her friends was the manufacturer Charles Voisin, and through him she learnt to fly, gaining her license (no.36) on 8th March 1910. She took part in many international meetings and set several altitude and distance records. She was killed in a flying accident at the Caudron airfield at Le Crotoy (Somme) in 1919.

The second ever women to get a pilot's license was Hélène Dutrieu (1877-1961). She was actually Belgian, but did much of her flying in France, eventually taking French citizenship, and was awarded the Légion d'Honneur.

The second Frenchwoman was Marthe Niel (1880- before 1929). She was a star attraction of the aviation meetings circuit in 1910-11, where she specialised in looping the loop (a daring stunt for the time). her mechanic was Joseph Frantz, who became a pilot himself, and during the war was credited with the first confirmed air-to-air combat victory. Both Dutrieu and Niel withdrew from active flying after the war.

The fourth was Jeanne (later anglicized to Jane) Herveu (1885-1955). She won the Prix Femina (a prize for endurance flying open only to women) in 1914, but dropped out of aviation. She subsequently moved to the United Sates, where she became involved in the fashion industry.

The third was perhaps the most famous of them all, Marie Marvingt (1875-1963), a women of formidable accomplishments. She gained her balloon license in 1908, and pilot's and seaplane licenses in 1910. She swam, fenced, shot and climbed mountains; played tennis, golf and polo. In 1910 she wanted to take part in that year's Tour de France cycle race. The organisers refused; she cycled it anyway (and completed the course, unlike many of the male competitors). A trailer for a French documentary about her life here includes film of her piloting a helicopter at the age of eighty!

When war broke out, many women aviators sought to use their piloting skills in the service of their country. But in vain. One pilot, Jeanne Pallier - 'tall, strong, loose limbed, regular of feature, forceful and frank in her speech … an aviatrix who has held a pilot's licence since 1912 and participated in several flying competitions in France and abroad' - shared her woes with one reporter from Lectures Pour Tous in 1917. 'She made herself available to the Aviation Service as soon as war was declared, but while the Russian, Serbian and Italian armies have managed to find an important role for their female aviators … the French authorities have not felt inclined to welcome our own.'

Despite a cadre of well-qualified women pilots, none were permitted to join the Aviation Service, despite the enthusiastic campaign led by another pre-war pilot, Marthe Richer, general secretary of the newly-formed Union Patriotique des Aviatrices. In two articles in Le Petit Parisien and Le Petit Journal in 1915, she said, 'We are capable of performing any task allotted to us: despatches, liaison, patrolling the skies above towns and cities, transport and testing. We offer our services freely, to France or to her allies. We are not asking to go the front, since our status as women doesn't allow us to play an active role. However, we do think we could be used in a support role in the rear so freeing up several military pilots for more useful employment.

No amount of press coverage, however, would make anyone in authority change their minds, and women like Elise Deroche and Jeanne Pallier had to make their contribution to the war effort through ambulance driving and similar activities. Marthe Richer (also known as Marthe Richard) would claim to have become involved with counter-espionage (a film from 1937 based on her life is here). Marie Marvingt had become interested in the possibilities of using aircraft as ambulances, not only to evacuate the wounded, but also to bring medical aid closer to the front line. The technology of the time was not up to it - engines were not powerful enough to carry the extra weight. in 1918, an attempt was made to fit two 'pods' under the wings of a Voisin 10, each carrying a casualty, but the war ended before the aérochir (aeroplane + chirurgien, ie aeroplane + surgeon) could become operational.

And she may even have had a closer acquaintance with the war, for Marvingt was supposed not only to have spent time in the trenches with 42e Chasseurs à pied, but also to have taken part in two bombing raids over enemy-occupied territory. Could this have happened? She did not have military pilot's wings, and she had not undergone an air gunner's course at Cazaux, nor a bomb aimer's course at Avord, so the regulations were certainly against her. It seems unlikely that that difficulty would have daunted her in any way. But the aircraft of the time did not have the space to carry a passenger, and to take a complete novice into action was surely a liability. Yet her Légion d'Honneur file clearly states, 'authorised by M. Millerand [the minister of war] for having participated in two air raids against the enemy airfield at Frascaty.' So someone obviously thought she was there, even though no precise date or unit is mentioned. But as John Ford fans will tell you, 'When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.'

Pictures: Deroche, Dutrieu, Herveu (all Wikipedia), Marvingt about to ascend in a balloon (Gallica), Richer (MAE), Pallier (Delcampe), how Marvingt's air ambulance might have worked, complete with the women herself, the Voisin 10 aérochir (both Wikipedia).

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

A race run: French cyclists in the Great War

Many of you reading this will also be watching the television coverage of the 100th Tour de France, which has just left the Pyrenees, and is heading for Brittany. This year's route doesn't go anywhere near the north of France, but next year's will certainly pass across the battlefields of the Great War. The actual route has not yet been announced (apart from the Grand Depart and three stages dans le Yorkshire profond), but already there is talk of a stage in Belgium with a finish in Ypres, a stage passing along the roads near Albert and Péronne, and of course something in Verdun. The Tour also intends to commemorate the battle of Bouvines, whose 800th anniversary is on 27 July next year.

Three Tour winners were killed during the Great War.

Lucien Petit-Breton (whose real name was Lucien Mazan) was born in Plessé (Loire-Atlantique) in 1882, but his family moved to Argentina, and he became an Argentinian citizen. Nevertheless, he was called up into the French Army in 1902, and moved back to France after his discharge. He had started cycling in Argentina, but really blossomed in Europe, where, riding for a team sponsored by Peugeot, he won the inaugural Milan-San Remo in 1907, followed by that year's Tour (It has to be said that victory at that time was achieved via a points system rather than on time, and he was helped by penalties awarded against another rider.). The following year, he won the Paris-Brussels race, and then became the first man to win two Tours de France in a much easier victory than the previous year's. Although he won a stage of the Giro d'Italia in 1911, he never managed to finish another Tour. He was recalled to the colours at the outbreak of the Great War, and served with a transport unit, the 20e Escadron du Train. He was badly injured in a vehicle accident, when the vehicle he was driving hit a horse and cart; he died in Troyes on 20 December 1917. He is buried in the Communal cemetery at Pénestin (Morbihan). Lucien's brother Anselme was also killed during the war, at the Bois de la Gruerie in the Argonne, in June 1915.

Octave Lapize was born in Paris in 1887. His first major win was in the men's 100km race in the 1908 Olympics, but as a professional cyclist, he won three successive Paris-Roubaix races 1909-1910-1911, as well as the 1911 Paris-Tours and Paris-Brussels races. He entered the Tour de France six times from 1909 to 1914, and only managed to finish once, in 1910 - when he was the winner! That year's Tour was a particularly hard one, and Lapize is famous in Tour history for shouting at some officials, as he toiled up the Col du Tourmalet, 'You are murderers! Yes murderers!' He was recalled in 1914, and posted initially as a driver with 19e Escadron du Train, attached to 13e Artillery. He transferred to the Aviation Service as a pilot in September 1915. He trained at Avord, Cazaux and Pau before being posted to N54 in February 1917. Later that year, serving with N90, his Nieuport 23 was shot down near Toul on 14 July 1917. He is buried in the Communal cemetery of Villiers-sur-Marne (val-de-Marne)

The third Tour winner to be killed during the war was the Luxembourger François Faber (he was born in Beggen in 1893). He first entered the Tour in 1908. Altogether, he won nineteen stages between 1908 and 1914, winning in 1909 and achieving second place in 1908 and 1910. He also won Paris-Tours in 1909 and 1910, Paris-Brussels 1910, Bordeaux-Paris 1911 and Paris-Roubaix 1913. On the outbreak of war, Faber joined the Foreign Legion, and served with the Legion's 2e Régiment de Marche. He was killed on 9 May 1915 in the fighting at Berthonval Farm, near Neuville-Saint-Vaast, on the shoulder of Vimy Ridge. Accounts of his actual death differ: one source says that after receving the news that his wife had given birth to a daughter, he jumped out of the trench cheering, and was killed on the spot. Another source states he was killed whilst rescuing a wounded comrade in No Man's Land. Whatever the truth, his body was never found. He awarded the Croix de Guerre and Médaille Militaire posthumously. He is commemorated on a plaque at the Notre-Dame-de-Lorette cemetery, and in a list within the monument to the dead in Colombes (Hauts-de-Seine).

Apart from the three winners, more than fifty other racing cyclists were killed during the War. It is perhaps invidious to select some rather than others, but the dead would include Georges Bronchard, the 'lanterne rouge' (the 14th and last man to finish) of the 1906 Tour, Camille Fily, only eighteen when he took part (and finished) in 1905.

The excellent Mémoire du Cyclisme site lists the following cyclists as having been killed (further info from Le Site du Cyclisme):

1914: Emile Engel (72e Infantry), Marceau Narcy (82e Infantry), Jean Perreard (140e Infantry), Charles Privas, (159e Infantry), Paul Rugère

1915: Léon Comès (19e Escadron du Train / Aviation), René Etien (56e Colonial Infantry), Léon Hourlier (Aviation), Georges Lutz (106e Infantry), Pierre-Gonzague Privat (274e Infantry), Frédéric Rigaux (313e Infantry), Marius Thé (13e Artillery), Antony Wattelier (41e Colonial Infantry)

1916: Henri Alavoine (23e Dragoons / Aviation), René Cottrel (298e Infantry), Albert Delrieu (Aviation), Emile Friol (20e Escadron du Train), Paul Gombault (352e Infantry), Emile Maitrot (208e Infantry), Marius Villette (31e Infantry)

1917: Léon Flameng Olympic Champion in 1896 (39th Artillery / Aviation), François Lafourcade (22e Artillery / Aviation), Emile Quaissard (23e Infantry / Aviation)

1918: Albert Niepceron (206e Infantry), Georges Parent, Albert Tournié, Pierre Vugé, (65e Chasseurs),

Amazingly (or not, depending on your view of the Army), none were posted to cyclist units. Of those serving in Aviation, Comès and Hourlier were killed in the same accident near Châlons-sur-Marne, after flying to visit the boxer Georges Carpentier; Alavoine crashed at the training school at Pau; Léon Flameng was an observer with BL18 and a pilot with F25, but was accidentally killed while serving in Paris; Lafourcade was a bomber pilot, latterly with V485, and killed in an accident; Quaissard was a fighter pilot with N102 and did not return from a patrol on the eve of the Chemin des Dames offensive. It was a sad fact that crashes did indeed kill more men than the Germans ever did.

Pictures: a poster from Lapize's cycle concern; Petit-Breton, Lapize staggering up the Cormalet and Faber (from Wikipedia); Georges Lutz in his French champion's jersey and Paul Rugère and his trainer (from Le Site du Cyclisme)

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Kings of the Air: special missions

Mention of Jules Védrines in my last post leads me inevitably to Special Missions. While the French had some success intercepting German wireless communications, they also wanted to establish a network of agents behind the German lines, either for intelligence or for sabotage.

The basic plan was to fly over the Front at night, at an altitude of around 3,000m, deposit the agent, and leave him to it. The first mission seems to have been in November 1914, and they continued for the rest of the war, but their peak was during the Champagne offensive of autumn 1915, with twelve taking place between 23 and 25 September. After several days, the agent would be collected either at a pre-arranged location, or one set up by the agent, communicating with the pilot by carrier pigeon. The technique evolved during the course of the war, with some agents inserted by parachute (the first in October 1915), and exfiltrated through the Netherlands. At first, the Dutch route was an expedient whenever the collection went wrong, but later this was the preferred route home.

The pilots were all volunteers. It called for both skill and nerve, and Védrines had plenty of both. 'All you needed to pull off a special mission was willpower,' he recalled after the war. 'Above all you had to stifle your instinct for self-preservation. As in all my hazardous exploits, thinking of my children helped me to take off cheerfully [enough]. It comforted me. I marvelled at the poor bugger accompanying me ... [now] he really did have nerves of steel. Comparing his lot with mine made me dwell less on the dangers ahead. We had a decent enough plan. I would fly over the lines at normal height and head straight for the designated spot, while trying to confuse any enemy observers. If I spotted any kind of activity in the vicinity, I made sure that I landed behind a copse, where my plane could remain unnoticed and my passenger had a better chance of hiding in a hurry. Then, after making damn sure I was clear to depart, and checking as far as possible that my 'package' was alright, I would open the throttle as far as it would go and regain my previous height, giving no sign of my point of take off.'

Not everyone was as sanguine. Georges Guynemer took part in two missions, but after nearly falling into a German trap, he had had enough: 'Special missions? They were filthy work!' And when his first three 'passengers' were killed by the Germans, Jean Navarre (MS12) became convinced he was a jinx, refusing to take a fourth. Even when the third agent turned up alive and well, Navarre would not go again: 'combat takes up all of my energies now.' A number of the pilots were rewarded immediately with the Légion d'Honneur for his work on special missions - Guynemer, Védrines (who already had the civilian version), Navarre, Adjudant Billard (also MS12) and William Hostein (C6) - unlike the agents, who had to wait until the end of the War for their decorations.

One mission, unusually, involved two aircraft. The two pilots (Eugène Bertin (MS38) and André Boyer (M36)) hated each other, and refused to speak (one observer thought 'women trouble was at the bottom of it'). Both landed and deposited their agents, but one had hit a wire trap and couldn't take off, so his comrade landed again, picked up the pilot and brought him home. 'As they descended he refused the hand of the man he'd just rescued, saying he'd only been doing his duty and that nothing had changed between them.'

The agents were frequently Customs officers displaced by the invasion, and their task a dangerous one. During the course of the war, five officers were caught by the Germans and executed. One senior officer did little to sugar the pill when he addressed one group. 'I'm looking for a volunteer,' he stated baldly. 'Frightful job. One-way trip. Anyone game?' Agents were trained at an establishment at Hermonville (Marne), run jointly by French intelligence (both the Deuxième Bureau and the Sûreté) and the aviation commanders of 5th and 6th Armies.

Adjudant William Hostein (C6) made several attempts in May 1915 to deposit Douanier Letannoux behind enemy lines in the Ardennes. The first two attempts were unsuccessful; the third failed because Hostein's Caudron G3 had been destroyed in a bombardment; the fourth was successful. And returning several days later, he collected Letannoux, who ended up having to take a few pot shots with a carbine at an over-inquisitive Aviatik on the way home.

Douanier Charles Goulard was one of the unlucky ones. he was landed by Guynemer at the end of September 1915, and blew up some railway track in the Hirson-Guise area (Aisne), but took the opportunity to visit his wife at Gernelle (Ardennes). While there, he was betrayed by a neighbour, arrested, and shot on 28 October.

Did the missions have any real effect? Porch's sources would tend to indicate not, particularly after much of the network was rolled up late in 1915. But French headquarters attributed the failure of one German attack (on the plateau of Quennevière (Oise) in June 1915) directly to information received from Douanier Léon Houblot. They claimed that some 2,000 Germans were killed, and a further 8,000 taken prisoner. Unfortunately, Houblot was captured just as Védrines landed to pick him up.

Did the Germans perform similar missions? They surely had skilful pilots as well, so it would seem strange if they did not at least try. Documents in the archives at Vincennes, dated 5 and 19 October 1915 and 27 May 1916 call for a network of traps and extra patrols in the area Chateau Thierry - Montirail - Coulommiers - Provins, with the emphasis laid on protecting the railway network. In addition, appeals were made to the civil population to report any suspicious packages in the countryside. This would certainly suggest that the French were worried about the Germans landing agents behind French lines, but there does not appear to have been any further action.

Pictures: Védrines in 1916; Jean Navarre with his Morane Parasol; William Hostein, from Albin Denis' excellent site.