Commemorating the First World War Centennial in Kansas

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Centennial Countdown to the Great War: April 1918

In April 1918, Germany renews its offensive on the Western Front, attacking this time in Flanders.  As German forces advance to and across the Lys River, British Field Marshal Haig orders his troops, with their “backs to the wall,” to “fight to the end.”  Marshal Foch is given command authority over all Allied Armies on the Western Front.  American troops turn back a German attack at the village of Seicheprey, near St. Mihiel.  The “Red Baron” Manfred von Richthofen, Germany’s leading ace and commander of the “Flying Circus,” dies when his airplane is shot down over France.  Gavrilo Princip, the Bosnian Serb whose assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914 set in motion the events that led to the outbreak of war, dies of consumption in an Austrian prison.  Revelation of an earlier unsuccessful attempt by the Emperor of Austria-Hungary to make a separate peace leads to the resignation of his Foreign Minister, Count Czernin.  American President Woodrow Wilson, opening the Third Liberty Loan Campaign in Baltimore, calls for “force to the utmost” to win the war.  British and Japanese marines land in Vladivostok. more

Winston Churchill’s Soldiers Part 2

A few months after the Antwerp fiasco (click here) Churchill enthusiastically contributed the Royal Naval Division (RND) to his next brainchild, the Dardenelles campaign. They were landed on April 25th, 1915 at lightly defended ‘X’ Beach, but didn’t advance from the beachhead and were soon withdrawn by sea as the 29th Division needed reinforcement at Helles. The RND remained in that sector throughout and participated in all of the Krythia battles. In the first battle (April 28th) The Royal Marine Brigade assaulted but failed to capture the strongpoint later called Gurkha Bluff because the 1/6th Gurkhas eventually took it.   In the second battle (May 6th-8th) the RND served with two brigades of ANZACs in an ad hoc division-sized force. The Hood battalion succeeded in capturing a position called Kanli Dere but this only moved the line about 400 yards and the bulk of this attack was borne by the ANZACs, particularly the Kiwis. As a result of this brief association the ANZACS regarded the RND as poor fighters. more

Cap’n Eddie and the SPAD XIII

The Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) was created in 1913, a consortium led by aviation pioneer Louis Blériot. SPAD made aircraft using an automotive engine, the Hispano Suiza liquid cooled V-8, initially under small contracts from both the Russian and the French air services.  Eventually, the SPAD VII was a big success, with about 3,500 built, while the SPAD XIII, introduced in April 1917, was the crown jewel of the firm with 8,472 produced, about 900 of which were sold to the U.S. Army. The SPAD XIII’s engine developed up to 220 hp, the aircraft’s top speed was 135 mph, its range was 171 miles, it could fly up to 21,000 ft. and its rate of climb was 384 ft. per minute.

The SPAD XIII was similar to the other high-performing aircraft developed at the same stage of the war, the British Royal Aircraft Factory SE-5a and the German Fokker D VII, in that each used a powerful liquid cooled in-line engine with a geared propeller. These aircraft were heavier but faster, more durable and easier to fly than the previous generation of planes such as the Nieuport types, the Sopwiths and the Fokker Triplanes. They firmly established that the best fighter planes tended to have the biggest engines.

French Ace René Fonck with a SPAD XIII

Although the French Aces Lt.  René Fonck (75 planes shot down) and Capt. Georges Guynemer (53 planes) both finished their service in SPAD XIII’s, perhaps the most famous SPAD was flown by U.S. Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker (26 planes). Rickenbacker was a well-known race car driver before the war (drove the Indy 500 four times) but was turned down for flight training because he lacked a college background and at 27 was too old (the cut-off age was 25). Instead he was assigned as an aircraft mechanic.

After he got to France, he wangled a re-assignment as a GHQ staff driver (he even drove Pershing a few times) and badgered Col. Billy Mitchell until he was allowed into flight school at Issoudun, which course he completed in 17 days, and was then assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron, first flying a Nieuport 28. He shot down six German aircraft before transitioning to the SPAD XIII in July 1918. In September 1918 he took over as the CO of the squadron, and by November 11th he had flown over 300 hours in patrols and survived 134 encounters with the enemy.

The 94th posted a modestly respectable record of 52 planes (and 12 balloons) destroyed in 8 months with 8 Aces.   By comparison, the famous No. 56 Squadron RFC (later RAF) destroyed 402 German planes in 29 months with 22 Aces and the Red Baron’s Jasta 11 accounted for 350 planes in 22 months and had 31 Aces. The 94th exists today, flying F-22 Raptors out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.

Cap’n Eddie in a SPAD XIII

In his 1919 book about his war service, Fighting the Flying Circus , which title was a bit of poetic license, as the 94th and The Flying Circus (JG1) served in different sectors, Rickenbacker recounted how he once proposed to GHQ that he be allowed to form a squadron of race car drivers, only to have the idea turned down flat. One reason given was that racers ‘knew too much about engines’ and ‘wouldn’t fly a plane if they thought that the engine wasn’t performing well’.

Rickenbacker received six Distinguished Service Crosses and four Silver Star for his exploits.  One of his DSC’s was later upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1931. He had a long and eventful career after WW1, not relevant here, and lived until age 82.

Some SPAD XIII’s soldiered on until the 1930’s, in the service of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Czechoslovakia, Finland, France, Greece, Poland, Siam, Spain, Turkey and Uruguay. There are about six original SPAD XIII’s remaining today, including the one pictured above, which is on static display at the Royal Military Museum in Brussels, Belgium. One restored original is airworthy and located at La Ferté-Alais in France. There are many replicas extant, a lot of these are slightly scaled-down, and most of them are airworthy. One flying replica, an atypical full-sized version, is at The Vintage Aero Flying Museum near Ft. Lupton, CO.


See the Latest Views of the Proposed National Memorial in DC

In a previous post I discussed the changes that have been made to the design of the proposed memorial in DC. In this post from the US World War One Centennial Commission you can see some architect’s views of the completed memorial as the design now stands. Also if you scroll down to the heading LEARN MORE and click on the button labelled  ‘WW1 Memorial Latest Designs’ you will actually see the original design in detail and can judge for yourself how much the scope and size of the project has been changed, for example, instead of three bas-relief walls of over 400 lineal feet there will now be only one such wall of 65 feet. And there is still another design review to be completed.

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