Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Sources for French military history

In something of a mood for reviews after last week's post, I dipped my pen (? or should that be keyboard?) in critic's vitriol once again, and took a look at Milindex, a searchable bibliography newly mounted on the website of the French Ministry of Defence's Centre de Doctrine d’Emploi des Forces (CDEF).

The bibliography is the work of the CDEF's Research Centre, the Ecole Militaire's Documentation Centre and an un-named university. The database includes the following older titles:

Journal des Sciences militaires (1825-1914) (available on Gallica),
Revue d’artillerie (1872-1939) (available on Gallica),
Revue de cavalerie (available on Gallica 1905-25), 
Revue d’infanterie (1887-1939) (available on Gallica),
Revue des Sciences Politiques (1911-1936) (available on Gallica),
Revue des troupes coloniales (1902-1939)
Revue du génie militaire (1887-1959) (available on Gallica),
Revue du service de l’intendance militaire (1888-1959)
Revue militaire générale (1907-1973) (available on Gallica),
Revue militaire de l’étranger (1872-1899)
Revue militaire des armées étrangères (1899-1914) (available on Gallica),
Revue politique et parlementaire (1894-1971) (available on Gallica),
Revue d’histoire de la guerre mondiale (1923-1939) (available on Gallica),
Spectateur militaire (1826-1914) (available on Gallica).

As well as the more modern :
14-18, le magazine de la Grande Guerre (2002-2012)
Cahiers du Centre d’Études d’Histoire de la Défense (1996-2008)
Comparative Strategy
European Security: an International Journal
Contemporary Security Police
Conflict, Security & Development
International Security
Mediterranean Quarterly: a Journal of Global Issues
Quarterly Journal of the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad
Revue historique des armées (digitised from 2006 here; index for 1960-2005 also available here as a .pdf) 
Strategic Studies

It's free to access, but you still need a username and password (if access is free, then why do you need them???). Click on the Accéder .. link. The user name is <milindex>; the password is <recherche>. You then get a choice of searching by year of publication, author, journal title, or title keyword. Click on the search you want to perform, then enter your term. The search itself is fairly basic.

What you cannot do is filter the search results. So, if you were interested in Great War aviation, then simply entering 'aéronautique' brings up 164 hits, from 1885 to 2009; while searching under 'aviation' brings up 191. The results are presented in a neat table. You can, however, order the results by any of the fields, for example by author, journal, or publication date, by clicking on the column heading. So finding those published around the period of the war can be isolated relatively easily. But you still have to look through the rest for the modern studies.

Neither can you combine keywords to produce a more comprehensive search. Searching under 'escadrille' produced references that did not appear either under 'aéronautique' or 'aviation', so before starting, make a good list of synonyms.

Return to the search page by clicking on 'Return to Reports' in the top right-hand corner.

Other searches I did on the site:
Artillerie des tranchées / crapouillots -  10 hits from 1925 to 1977
Bombardement -  35 items from 1838 to 2010
Drapeaux - 22 hits from 1831 to 2012 (plus further hits from 'drapeau', 'étendards' and 'fanions')
Légion Etrangère - 32 hits from 1850 to 2012
Mitrailleuse - 253 hits between 1870 and 2011
Tranchées - 17 hits from 1888 to 2010

Some of these numbers look remarkably low, but I may simply have struck unlucky. News from other searchers would be welcome.

All in all, it seems to be an invaluable index to what has been published in the French military press. The search would perhaps benefit from more functionality, but doesn't make the site unusable by any means. Searching produces a list of references that are more clearly and more quickly presented than doing the same search on Gallica.

However, you cannot download your list, either as a .csv, for example, nor into Zotero - so you may have a lot of typing on your hands. I was able to highlight the table of results by clicking and dragging, and then copyed and pasted it into Open Office, where it appears as a conventional table.

Given that the contents are now indexed, it is a shame that the Bibliothèque Nationale has not digitized the Revue des Troupes Coloniales, nor, while I'm thinking about it (with Kings of the Air in mind), the Revue de l'Armée de l'Air (which isn't even indexed on Milindex), and they are soooo sloooow in finishing the digitization of Les Armées Françaises dans la Grande Guerre. Which is not wholly relevant to Milindex, but gets it off my chest.


Edit: an analysis of the contents and authors of La Revue d'Artillerie based on the index, appears at the CDEF's in-house blog, at http://maisondesidees.blogspot.fr/2013/12/la-revue-dartillerie-par-julie-dandurain.html?spref=tw

Pictures: specimen title pages of Revue d'infanterie and Revue d'artillerie (from Gallica); the cover of the latest issue of 14-18 Magazine (from its website); the cover of the most recent Revue historique des armées to be digitized; title pages of Revue de cavalerie and Revue militaire des armées étrangères (likewise from Gallica).

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

A corner of a foreign field

A bit of a break from aviation for this post, to celebrate the revamping of the Mémoire des Hommes site. For those unfamiliar with it, the site is the production of the French Ministry of Defence, and includes digitised historical material on the French armed forces. For the Great War, it includes the record card of every person killed while in service; the surviving unit war diaries (most of the Army's; only a few for Aviation) and carnets de comptabilité (a kind of quarterly muster roll); a partial index of aviation personnel; and a list of digitised regimental histories. It is entirely free.

Some of these have been available for some time now, but now benefits from enhanced usability. For example, it is now possible to search the Morts Pour La France database, not only by name (as used to be the case), but now also by date of death, place of birth, and unit. This opens up a large number of possibilities for studying the impact of the war on individual communities, particularly when combined with the results of the 1911 census, and on individual units over the course of the war.

Just to test it out, I looked at those who had been killed, and who had given their country of birth as somewhere in the UK. You pick the country from a drop-down menu, so there are separate searches for Angleterre, Ecosse, Irlande and Royaume-Uni (nothing for Pays de Galles).

Those born in England were the largest group - there are 183 hits (I tried to link to each set of results, but you get the same URL each time, so it's impossible to tell one from another). Without further research, it is impossible to distinguish those who were actually English, from those who were Frenchmen whose parents just happened to be domiciled in the UK when the child was born. There were a handful of men in the Foreign Legion, and, from their names, these men are almost certainly British nationals:

William ALLEN, b.7 Nov 1882 Bathampton. Enlisted in Bordeaux in 1916, and served with the Régiment de Marche de la Légion Etrangère (RMLE). Posted missing 17 April 1917 at Auberive-sur-Suippe. He has no known grave.

Alfred Theodore COOKE, b.6 Oct 1884 Stockton-on-Tees. Enlisted in Paris in 1914, and served with the 3e Régiment de Marche de la 1er Régiment Etranger. Died of illness 26 Jan 1915 at the Hospital Complementaire No.41, La Flèche. He is buried in the Carré Militaire, La Flèche.

Corporal George PHILLIPS, b.16 March 1889, London. Enlisted in Paris in 1914, and served with the RMLE. Killed in action 17 April 1917 in the Auberives sector. He is commemorated at the Nécropole Nationale at Bois-du-Puits, Aubérive.

Robert POTTER, b.21 October 1883, Oxted. Enlisted near Paris in 1914, and served with the 2e Régiment de Marche de la 2e Régiment Etranger. Killed in action 11 November 1914 at Blanc Sablon (Aisne). He has no known grave.

Robert POWELL, b.30 October 1892, London. Enlisted in Paris in 1914, and served with the Legion Battalion of the 1er Régiment de Marche d'Afrique. Died of his wounds 27 March 1917 at the Temporary Hospital at Florina (Greece). He has no known grave.

The following men also have English-sounding names, but all appeared to have done their national service in France. They are probably English nationals domiciled in France, and presumably thus liable for national service like any native-born Frenchmen. This group includes:
Robert William BACKHOUSE, 172nd Infantry; b.12 Sept 1883 Sheriff Hutton, Yorkshire; class of 1903, enlisted Versailles; died of illness 4 Oct 1918. He is buried in the Nécropole Nationale Friscati, at Vitrimont.
William Stuart Northcote JOHNSON, 158th Infantry; b 27 Jan 1880 Torquay; class of 1900, enlisted Tunis; KIA 8 October 1914 La Cité Saint Auguste (Pas de Calais). He has no known grave.
Captain Edward JORDAN, 29th Infantry; b.31 Jan 1872, Hulnes, co. Lancaster [sic, I think it is Hulme, near Manchester]; class of 1891, enlisted Oran; KIA 20 Aug 1914 Sarrebourg. He is commemorated at the Nécropole Nationale at Buhl-Lorraine, Sarrebourg.
Sergeant John LAWTON, 170th Infantry; b.3 Jan 1887, Stockport; class of 1907, enlisted Epinal; KIA 22 May 1915 Notre Dame de Lorette. He has no known grave.
Robert Clair PHILLIPSON, 404th Infantry (formerly 8e Compagnie des Ouvriers d'Administration); b.30 Oct 1883, London; class of 1908, enlisted Dijon; KIA Mille Kruis sector, Belgium. He is buried in the Cimitière Militaire, Poperinghe-Lyssenthoek. His name is incorrectly indexed as Phillipon on the official French war graves site.
Charles Olive PULLER, 13th Dragoons; b.13 Feb 1886, Wolverhampton; class of 1906, enlisted Versailles; died of wounds 18 October 1918, Belgian ambulance, Vinghem.
George Brenton SILK, 2nd Zouaves; b.31 Mar 1865 [sic - he was fifty!], Harsfort [sic - it was actually Hertford]; class of 1885, enlisted Algiers; died of wounds 25 April 1915, Poperinghe. He is buried in the Carré Militaire, Ypres

Scottish entries include only one real possibility:
Robert Anderson MONTADOR, 31st Colonial Infantry; b.20 Sept 1882, Cellardeck [sic, for Cellardyke in Fife]; class of 1902, enlisted Saint-Omer; KIA 28 Sept 1915, Massiges (Marne)

There is only one Irish entry:
John Joseph BARRETT, RMLE; b.2 May 1890, Ennis, Co. Clare; enlisted 1914, Dunkerque; KIA 20 April 1917, Auberive (Marne)

But putting in the term Royaume-Uni (United Kingdom) produces just 18, and different from the other groups. Most of the names, like those of the 'England' search, appear to be French. But interestingly it also includes two men, Camara Morlaye and Mane Moussa, who had been born in British territory, but had enlisted in the Tirailleurs Sénégalais. Both men died of (unspecified) sickness in the south of France.

Unfortunately - there's always an unfortunately, isn't there? - the indexing appears to be incomplete. Searching separately under 'Régiment de Marche de la Légion Etrangère' does not retrieve Allen nor Phillips; '1er Régiment Etranger' does not retrieve Cooke; and '2e Régiment Etranger' does not retrieve Potter. So, a potentially useful tool, but one which has yet to reach its full potential. A page on the site asks for people to get in touch to participate in a collaborative indexing project, so over to you, if you are of a mind to help.

Photographs: the RMLE parade at Versailles in 1918 (Wikipedia); one of the Legion regiments at rest in 1915; a pause for the RMLE during the Chemin des Dames offensive in 1917; Légionnaire Vincent Aich, who appears to have survived the war (all three taken from the site of the Amicale des Anciens de la Légion Etrangère de Paris here).

EDIT: I am grateful to Sophie Pigott, one of the indexers of the site, for informing me that some 'Royaume-Uni' soldiers are now correctly indexed under Jersey and Guernsey (Guernesey in French), which makes them genuine subjects of the Sovereign, even if they are not strictly British. If you do have the time, you should certainly consider volunteering to help with the indexing.

Simce doing the blog page, I have been able to check some of the entries of a well-known subscription genealogy site, and some of these men appear to be in the UK before the outbreak of war, when their fiche implies they were serving in the French Army. I am coming to the tentative conclusion that the 'Class of ...' entry for these men is theoretical only - it represents the conscription class to which they would have belonged had they been native Frenchmen. I have been able to resolve some of the queries about places of birth, etc. (Jordan and Silk, for example). I have also corrected some typos.

SECOND EDIT: keep in touch with the indexing effort by following 1 Jour - 1 Poilu on Twitter @1J1Poilu

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Kings of the Air: Aces High (3): Away from the Front

Everyone admired the aviator, claimed Jacques Mortane, the editor of the weekly magazine La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée, even the ordinary soldier: 'I've interviewed lots of poilus and asked them what they thought of pilots. “They're marvellous,” they told me, “we don't know what would become of us without them”.'

A soldier by the name of Glaure went so far as to write to the pilots of C51: 'We infantrymen follow you from our holes. Nothing you do escapes us. You are our gods. In fact, I would venture to say our guardian angels. If a day passes with no sight of you we're like children whose mother has given them no pudding.'

But other poilus were unimpressed. For one member of 241st Infantry, volunteering for aviation was simply another form of shirking: 'It's a massacre,' he wrote in 1917, 'and we're forced to stay here and resign ourselves to our fate while our fearless officers tuck themselves up nicely in the bottom of a sap. They're all patriots before they leave for the front, [but] one has gone into aviation, another to the depot and the third has stayed in hospital.'

Another infantryman, from 101st Infantry, was equally cynical. 'While the Boches come along and bomb the rear,' he complained, 'our pilots are courting, and sleeping with, the wives of the mugs in the front line.' Louis Lelandais (21st Colonial Infantry) agreed: in aviation, he claimed, 'you had nice uniforms, it was easier to get leave, you could go gadding around Paris. It clearly had plenty of advantages by comparison with the infantryman coming back from the trenches covered in mud, filthy, uncombed, unwashed and unshaven.' 

Jean Beraud-Villars (MF44, N102) had no time for such opinions. 'They think we're in it for fun,' he complained, 'they criticise our independence, our youth, our style of dress, our flippancy, the camaraderie between ranks; they reproach us in particular for not being soldiers.'

But even Jacques Mortane was forced to admit that the reputation of pilots had suffered: 'Don't be surprised after this if you see a man covered in mud, who hasn't shaved for a month, giving an old-fashioned look to an elegant maréchal des logis in a tunic displaying the famous [pilot's] badge.'

It had, he thought, become far too easy for 'the public to confuse the true pilot, who has real fire in his belly, with the complete rotter, the man who in airfield slang “has no guts”. … I'm sure it won't be long before the Secretary of State ensures that anyone who believes the role of the aviation service is to launch new fashions and cause a sensation is returned to his original arm of service.' The pages of La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée urged 'true' pilots to ignore 'honorary pilots', those 'elegant aviators cluttering the boulevards, theatres and bars in their tan boots and extravagant attire.' 

Newspapers and magazines like Mortane's devoted many column inches to the deeds of fighter pilots. So much so, that other aircrew also felt excluded. Louis Lelandais, grumbling about pilots a couple of paragraphs ago, eventually succumbed, becoming a pilot in SOP104 and BR287. But he was still unhappy. 'A pilot who downed one or two aircraft attracted little attention,' he grumbled. 'But when he had downed four or five he was mentioned in despatches. He got his name in the papers. After 25, 30 or 40 planes downed, he was no longer just an ace but a super ace. We reconnaissance pilots spent all day over the lines. We followed the infantry when they attacked, sometimes flying very low over the lines, so we weren't just vulnerable to German aircraft, but also to German guns and German bullets, not to mention our own guns … the gentlemen of the fighter squadrons tended to think they were better and stronger than us … as ex-cavalrymen they looked down on us a little.'
Some pilots lapped up the attention. Manufacturers, including SPAD and Nieuport, courted the aces who flew their planes. 'Leave was introduced in 1915,' recalled aircraft manufacturer Gabriel Voisin, 'and the first chaps were expected to arrive in Paris thirsting for freedom … In 1914 I had bought a little house on the boulevard Lannes previously owned by that well-known mystic, Sâr Péladan. The housewarming took place in 1915 and my only guests were air aces. Nungesser, who had scored his victory in a Voisin, my brother's friend Garros, my chum Audemar, Léon and Robert Morane, barely recovered after a recent accident, the whole gang of fighter and bomber pilots were assembled.'

Before long, the house, its guests and the large number of young ladies in attendance, had attracted the attention of the police. Nungesser took charge: with his 'blonde hair, face battered by experience, eyes of china blue, a mocking smile on his lips, a scar beneath them, he had the bearing, the confidence and the voice'. He drew the policemen aside and within minutes had them drinking a toast to fighter pilots. Furthermore, reported Gabriel Voisin, 'when dawn [finally] crept up on us, the ladies were wearing the policemen's uniforms.'

An ace was a much sought-after companion. 'I'm a godmother, naturally,' says a character in Paul Géraldy's La Guerre, Madame, a comic novel about marraines de guerre (the 'godmothers' who adopted individual soldiers at the front). 'I really wanted an aviator but all the women are fighting over them.' And the more prominent the pilot, the keener the competition. The actress Arletty recalled a liaison between Guynemer and the comedienne Yvonne Printemps: 'Honestly, everyone knew about it, people said how lucky she was, an air ace, the youngest, the most famous. It would have been a mistake to drop him.' Indeed, Printemps is rumoured to have abandoned her lover, the actor/director Sacha Guitry, to join Guynemer at his usual hotel in Paris, the Edouard VII, on the Place de l'Opéra.

All the attention left Captain Joseph Heurtaux (SPA3) rather bemused: 'We were annoyed by all the letters we had to deal with, all the invitations … we were just like pop stars. … We piled the letters on the squadron table. We each knew the letter or letters we were looking out for. We opened the remainder together. You'd never guess what we received. We were fed up with all the fuss. I went to a restaurant with Guynemer. When we left, we found bits of jewellery with addresses in our overcoat pockets. What sort of nonsense was that?'

Jean Navarre (N67) also took advantage of his fame. 'He'd no intention of paying, wherever he went, complained fellow squadron member Lieutenant Alfred Rougevin-Baville. 'He used to go to the Café de Paris, a famous restaurant in the Avenue de l'Opéra. “I'm Navarre,” he would say in restaurants and theatres. That was his “open sesame” and he never took out his wallet. But that particular day the maître d' gave him the bill. In high dudgeon, [Navarre] took his képi (which he never hung up but always kept under his arm) and passed it round the restaurant, collecting coins and notes. He paid the maître d' and put the rest in his pocket.'

Guynemer eventually wearied of the constant attention and adulation. In August 1917, Adjudant Jacques Viguier had gone to Paris to pick up a new plane. Strolling along the avenue de l'Opéra, close to the Hotel Edward VII, he saw Georges Guynemer : 'Tan boots, red trousers with black bands, medals all in a row. I could have gone up to him and said, “Hello, old chap. How are you?” The Parisians recognized him. How could they fail to do so, with his picture in all the papers? On the grands boulevards, the locals fell silent when he passed. They almost came to a stop. I followed him for quite a time. He was slightly stooped, tired of giving his all, marked by death.'

But even the most celebrated aviators were not always popular with their fellow pilots, although it is difficult at this remove to know whether the dislike was motivated simply by jealousy, or something deeper. 'Guynemer wasn't very likeable,' remembered Maurice Delporte. 'He wasn't very nice, even towards his comrades in the flight. Sure, he was bit of a nob, from a very good family, but that's no excuse. [Although] that doesn't detract from his qualities as a pilot.' René Fisch served with N23, a squadron in the same groupe as the ace. 'Not everyone liked Guynemer,' Fisch later observed, 'because he was very remote and self-centred. If he went into combat alongside one, two or three other [pilots], the kill went to Guynemer if the enemy was downed.'

Pictures: Jacques Mortane, a cover from La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée,  Nungesser, Yvonne Printemps, Heurteaux, Guynemer (all from Wikipedia): a group of pilots including (far right) René Fisch (La Guerre Aérienne Illustrée)

PS: the romantics (and/or possibly the cynics as well) amongst you will be glad to know that Printemps and Guitry had a reconciliation, and they were married in 1919.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Kings of the Air: 'The world owes its wings to France'

To celebrate 4,000 page views, here are some more posters and other publicity material on an aviation theme.

A selection of planes circle over the town of Bar-le-Duc, with the fourteenth century Tour d'Horloge prominent in the background - but given the presence of other buildings close by, this looks a rather dicey procedure. This particular meeting was rather overshadowed by the Circuit de l'Est endurance race, which was running at the same time, as well as a spectacular landing at Deauville by Hubert Latham (not to mention a train crash, and a fire at the International Expo in Brussels). The route of the Circuit de l'Est ran Paris-Troyes-Nancy-Mézières-Douai-Amiens-Paris, and so missed Bar-le-Duc entirely.





A crowded piece of sky - the parade of entrants at the Champagne Aviation Week, held at Reims in August, 1909. Did such a parade ever happen quite like this, or is it artistic license? The grandstand was built especially for the event, as was a temporary station on the Laon-Reims railway line. At the end of the meeting, everything was later taken down and cleared. The ground had to be cleared again after the Great War, when the site became the site of the Reims-Champagne Air Base.








Now for some post-war posters. The meeting at Strasbourg on 13 July 1924 was organised by the Aéro-Club d'Alsace in association with the 2e Régiment d'Aviation de Chasse (which included the Storks of SPA13, SPA26 and SPA103). The poster shows one of the regiment's aircraft - the unit had soldiered on with its SPAD 7s and 13s until 1924, when they were replaced by the Nieuport-Delage 29, which is perhaps is what the artist intended here.










A bold, abstract design for the 10th Paris Aero Show, 3rd-19th December 1926. The 2nd December issue of Flight lists the aircraft types on show; that of 9th December deals with engines. Of British manufacturers, only Armstrong Whitworth were exhibiting; most were, naturally enough, French, but there was also Fokker, Koolhoven, and Avia from Czechoslovakia (as we used to call it). The aesthetes amongst you will despair at some of slab-sided monsters on display: there aren't many that say 'speed' when you look at them. And Morane Saulnier were still making parasols!








This poster announcing a 'big aviation meeting' at Lyon-Bron is undated, but, judging by the illustration of one of the 35e Régiment d'Aviation's Breguet 19, must date between 1924, when the type began to equip operational regiments, and 1928, when Alfred Fronval was killed. The meeting was organised by the Aéro-Club du Rhône et du Sud-Est, who shared the aerodrome's facilities with the 35e. In this period, Joseph Sadi-Lecointe moved between Military Aviation and serving as a test pilot. When the meeting took place, he was a test pilot for Nieuport-Delage. Alfred Fronval was an expert in aerobatics, and also went down the test pilot route, with Morane-Saulnier. his best claim to fame, though, was his contribution to the invention of the Link Trainer. Marcel Haegelen had been an ace during the Great War, with twenty-three victories to his name. He, too, became a test pilot, for Hanriot. The Coupe Zenith was a prize for fuel economy.


To finish with, another poster in the series 'The world owes its wings to France'. This one commemorates the first commercial crossing of the south Atlantic by Jean Mermoz on 12th May 1930. The aircraft is a Latécoère 28 converted to a float plane, and christened Comte de La Vaux. Leaving Saint-Louis in Senegal, loaded with 130kg of mail, Mermoz arrived in Natal in Brazil nineteen hours later. In an advanced measure for the time, his radio operator Léopold Gimié used the aircraft's radio to triangulate his route.

Mermoz was too young to have taken part in the Great War, but like many of his generation, was inspired to fly by the deeds of pilots of the war. For the inter-war generation, the dangers faced fighting an enemy were replaced by the dangers of distance and space, searching out new routes for passengers and airmail. General Charles Christienne, who was commissioned into the Armée de l'Air in 1939, recalled, 'Aviation had a bit of a aura: aviators were something special. To the young, they had a number of defining qualities. There was their love of risk because the risks then were considerable, or at least they seemed that way to the public. There was a love of adventure, and then there were all the dangers [they faced]; we were perfectly well aware that … there would be another war one day.'

Pictures: the posters are all webfinds; the photo of Bar-le-Duc comes from the town's tourism website


Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Kings of the Air: Aces High (2); In Combat

More on the aces, especially on the way they fought. While there was an air fighting school at Pau, and from 1918, a Combat and Bombing School at La Perthe, pilots were free to evolve their own fighting methods.

Fonck thought his technique a simple one: 'I knew how to put myself in my attacker's blind spots, without really engaging in a duel. Guynemer fought differently and was regularly shot at, but this tactic was very dangerous, leaving the pilot vulnerable if his gun jammed. I always used the blind spots. This forced me to fire whatever my SPAD's position, but I'd been doing it for a long time. I fired in bursts of eight to ten rounds maximum, and three bursts was often enough.' 

Navarre favoured the unexpected, sometimes making his approach while flying inverted: 'Seeing me arrive like this, the German pilot is momentarily disconcerted. Perhaps he's the one who is upside down? The key to the manoeuvre is to take advantage of this momentary pause for thought – aim, fire, and try to prevail.' Nungesser claimed, perhaps jokingly: 'It's quite simple … I was always afraid when I took on the enemy [and] I closed my eyes. I never knew if, when I opened them again, it would be to the sight of my opponent in flames or me in a hospital bed.' Yet, earlier in the war, Maxime Lenoir (N23) does seem to have behaved identically: 'Entering combat is like diving. You shut your eyes, off you go, you open them again, and either the Boche is on his way down, or you've been hit, or – and as often happens – nothing has occured.'

To Fonck, the successful pilot also needed a particular range of mental qualities: 'In the sky, facing one opponent or several, any fighter pilot incapable of ignoring the danger, displaying the same sang-froid he shows on the ground, spotting and countering enemy activity, however slight, might notch up a few lucky victories. But he'll never be a true fighter pilot and one day he'll meet his maker … I repeat that for real results, you must learn how to master your nerves, keep absolute self-control and calculate cold-bloodedly in tricky situations.'


The majority of the victims downed by the leading forty aces were two-seaters; of the fifty-three aircraft shot down by Guynemer, only twelve were single-seaters. Less manoeuvrable than fighters, two-seaters were a relatively easy mark. But they were also targeted on a strategic basis, as one of main objectives of the fighter squadrons was to stop the enemy from observing French lines. But Fonck did not care who he shot down: 'We had to down as many as possible. I made no distinction between fighters, spotters and photo-reconnaissance. All were ripe for elimination!'

And Fonck loved his work: 'I was still excited when I landed, telling myself I'd done a good day's work. If every day went the same way, the other [aces] would be hard pushed to stay ahead of me in the table.' Guynemer was equally enthusiastic: 'combat with two Fokkers. The first was surrounded, the passenger dead, and dived at me blind. Result: 35 rounds at point blank range, then pop! Four other aircraft saw the fall … might get the cross for this.' So too, Deullin: 'I had an argument with two Aviatiks. I finished one off. Then, as I turned towards the other, I saw the first nosedive, wheels in the air, and tip the observer out at 3,600m. Take that! Magnificent.'

These sentiments appear less the expression of a sadistic delight in death, than of satisfaction in succeeding despite the danger. 'Our real aim,' said Brocard, 'is to down the Boche and kill him.'
'Aerial combat,' concluded Jean Morvan (SPA163), 'is more ambush than duel. You seldom bring down an adversary who's turning. You murder the daydreamer: from the rear, before he suspects a thing, if possible from close in. You must be able to fire forty or fifty rounds in four or five seconds.' 
 
Fonck was, by all accounts, an outstanding pilot. Paul Waddington thought him 'an exceptional shot. His plane never took a hit. He attacked German patrols and aircraft and fired on them on exceptional terms, correcting his aim in a way that was probably inborn, and scoring victories beyond reach for anyone else.' In contrast, Guynemer 'returned after every sortie, with his plane riddled with bullets. He attacked at absolutely point blank range … whatever the circumstances, which meant one day he didn't return. For example, if he attacked a German two-seater whose rear gunner was firing accurately and had no need to correct his aim, Guynemer took lots of hits. He was the one who went down every time.'

Fonck himself was quite clear on the difference between him and Guynemer: 'Excellent shot, true. First-class pilot too. But a mad devil. He went straight at the enemy, sabre in hand, like Lasalle, Murat or Marshal Ney under the First Empire. He charged machine-guns firing at point blank range, he charged groups, he charged anything. His superior shooting and his iron will often brought him success, but remember that no other ace, by a long chalk, was downed as often as this hero. It had happened eight times, never mind all the broken struts, severed control wires and holes in his fuselage.'

However, Fonck's approach did not appeal to those who thought it too cool and calculating. 'Fonck … was an assassin,' thought Paul Tarascon (N/SPA62). 'Pure of heart, he found simple ways of diving, hitting them or bringing them down within three or four rounds, and then slipping away.' Louis Risacher agreed: 'Guynemer seldom unleashed a surprise attack; he gave his opponent a warning and gave him every chance. But once engaged in combat he never let go, unlike many pilots, including Fonck. He had a different technique. I wouldn't want to knock Fonck's method, which was admirable, but Fonck surprised, made a pass at full speed and disappeared. By contrast, once Guynemer had unleashed an attack, he pursued it to the end.' 



And for all that he was outscored by twenty-odd victories, it is Guynemer who remains the hero of today's Armée de l'Air, rather than Fonck.

Photographs: Guynemer, looking particularly waif-like and living up to his nickname of 'The Kid'; Albert Deullin; Paul Waddington (a Frenchman of Irish extraction); Louis Risacher (from albindenis.free.fr); Paul Tarascon (who flew with a wooden foot, following a pre-war accident)