The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.


                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






American Kamikaze of World War One

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

Dropping down from out of a cloud came a German Fokker fighter airplane, quickly the German pilot lined up the sights of his machine guns on an American Spad fighter airplane. The American pilot looked back at the German plane and turned pale. He realized that he had about one minute left to live.

Suddenly, another American Spad fighter airplane rapidly approached. Without warning this American pilot rammed his airplane head-on into the enemy airplane. The impact was so violent that the two airplanes actually telescoped into each other. Both airplanes had been approaching each other at the rate of 250 miles per hour.

It was indeed a very horrible sight to witness. Bits and pieces of both airplanes were flying in every direction. Wings went through wings and the two fuselages were welded together. Naturally both of the pilots were killed instantly. They spiraled down from about 17,000 feet and crashed in a heap on the bank of the Meuse river.

The date is October 10, 1918 and the place is high above Dun-Sur-Meuse, France. The American pilot is Lieutenant Wilber White from New York, Squadron Leader of American Pursuit Squadron number 147. This was to be his last combat flight over the battlefield, then he was going home to New York to visit his wife and two small children. Instead he chose to sacrifice himself in order to save one of his own pilots. This certainly was an act far above and beyond the call of duty.

Cecil Owen

"My name is Captain Edward V. "Eddie" Rickenbacker, a near witness to this extraordinary disaster. I am commanding officer of the 94th American Pursuit Squadron, the famous hat-in-the-ring gang. Shortly after lunch on October 10th, I received an order from headquarters to destroy two very bothersome enemy balloons. One was located at Dun-Sur-Meuse and the other at nearby Aincreville."

During World War One these balloons were very important to both sides. The balloon observers would spy out enemy troop movements and phone back the information to headquarters. They were attached to very long wire cables and reeled up and down. However, they were gas filled and highly inflammable. When a balloon was "flamed" (shot down)  it was considered a grand prize.

"The time for our attack was set for 15:50 (3:50

PM) and I, Captain Eddie, was placed in command of the big raid. It took careful planning, I could not send just a couple of fighter planes out to torch the balloons because the Germans had concentrated the largest number of airplanes in one place during the war."

Jagstaffel (fighting squadron) No.1 was the famous squadron of the Red Baron. It was known as Richthofen's Flying Circus. The nose and wings of their Fokker airplanes were painted a vivid scarlet. Captain Reinhardt was squadron leader. Next was Loerser's Flying Circus, Jagstaffel No. 2, with the belly of their Fokker airplanes painted a bright yellow. Captain Loerser was squadron leader with 42 kills to his credit. Last was Jagstaffel No. 3, with Captain Bettenge as squadron leader, with 25 kills. His Fokker airplanes had a weird

checker board design. (This is why we called them "Flying Circuses" because of their bright and outlandish colored airplanes.) They were the three top German flying attack squadrons. They had the most flying experience and the most kills of any in the war. And all three units were after allied hides, especially Rickenbacker's, because he had 26 kills, the most that any allied fighter pilot had in the war.

"At 3:30 p.m. I, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker took off with 13 other Spads of my 94th Pursuit Squadron. I had chosen Lieutenant Hamilton Coolidge and Lieutenant Reed Chambers to zoom down and flame the two balloons. So these two flyers were leading the flight while I flew my Spad No.1 several thousand feet above. Then I could watch their progress over the lines from a higher altitude. Eight Spads from No.147 squadron flew on our right and seven Spads from No.27 squadron flew on our left. With this tight formation, Lt. Coolidge and Lt. Chambers would be protected as they attacked the balloons. As we approached the first balloon at Dun-Sur-Meuse, I was dismayed to see Lt.Wilber White and his flight had left our formation. They were now separated from us for at least a mile or more. This is when eleven German Fokker fighter planes from the Red Baron's Flying Circus pounced upon them. Meanwhile, on the ground below us, the balloon handlers were rapidly reeling a balloon down. If they got it close enough to the ground, there would be no way we could shoot it down because the Germans had a ring of accurate anti-aircraft gunners that could blast any of our airplanes to smithereens."

Most of the German squadrons were stationed at Stenay, Germany, just 12 miles from Dun-Sur-Meuse, while the American Air Force was stationed at Montfaucon, France. Although they were on opposite sides of the front lines, the two air fields were not too far apart. Sometimes German aircraft flew over their airfield, and sometimes they would fly over the allied field.

The Spad fighter plane was one of the best allied planes of World War One. It was a French airplane, built by

the "Société Pour Aviation et Ses Derives." Hence it's name was S.P.A.D. It could fly 130 miles per hour and reach an altitude of 22,000 ft. The Spad was a bi-plane with an upper and lower wing. It was also a single seater with an open cockpit. Therefore it was necessary to bundle up in heavy winter gear. For at 22,000 ft it reached 50 degrees below zero.

The popular German Fokker DR-1 war bird was a Tri-Plane which had three wings. This  was also one of the favorite war birds of the Red Baron.

The Fokker DR-1 was a lightweight compared to the Spad and the other fighter planes, it weighed only 1200 lbs. (most of the others weighed nearly 2000 lbs.) Although the DR-1 had three wings, it still had less wing space than the other planes. It could fly rings around any plane at the front lines. The rate of climb also was remarkable, a mile straight up in two and a half minutes. The DR-1 could turn on a dime but was much slower than the Spad, but no allied pilots had a chance to find out how slow it was because of the way it stunted around them.
The Red Baron's entire squadron at this time were flying the Fokker DR-1 tri-plane. The German ace of aces, the Red Baron, was the greatest fighter pilot of World War One. His whole airplane was painted a scarlet red, so he was dubbed The Red Baron.

His full title was Rittmeister (cavalry captain) Freiherr (Baron) Manfred Von Richthoften, credited with 80 kills. His younger brother, Lother and his cousin, Wolfram were also in his squadron, and so was Hermann Goerring, with 22 kills, who became Hitler's air marshal during World War Two.

On Sunday April 21, 1918, just 12 days before his 26th birthday, the Red Baron was killed and crashed behind allied lines. It remains a mystery even today who actually shot him down.

The first world war began in July 1914, but the United States of America did not enter until April 1917. Captain Eddie joined the 94th Hat-In-The-Ring on March 4, 1918. On March 6th, he was part of a three man patrol, the first American patrol over the enemy lines. Captain Eddie scored his first kill on April 29, 1918 (A German Pfalz DX11 Scout.)  On September 24th he was promoted to commanding officer of the 94th Pursuit Squadron. He excelled in combat, was very popular with his own men, and highly respected by his enemies. In just six months, Captain Eddie became the American Ace of Aces, with 26 kills. His last kill was October 30, 1918 (a Fokker DR-1.) In fact, October was his best month for he shot down fourteen enemy air planes. That certainly was an incredible feat of skill.

Captain Eddie had a total of 134 "dog fights" and never ever received a single scratch. Every night he would say a prayer that the Lord would watch over him and kept him safe the next day.

His 94th Pursuit Squadron became the best American Squadron of World War One. It had the first victory and the last victory over enemy planes. It flew more hours over the front lines than any other squadron. It was the only American Squadron selected to stay with occupation forces after the war ended.

The Red Baron was Germany's greatest fighter pilot and Eddie Rickenbacker was America's greatest fighter pilot. If the two would have met in the air, it would have been a duel to the death.

When the pilots of the German fighter planes and the pilots of the allied fighter planes saw the horrible head-on collision. It just seemed to shock and unnerve all of them. The enemy planes broke away and tried to head back to Germany. The allied aircraft just hung back and let them go. No one wanted to fight any more.

"As flight leader, I, Captain Eddie, felt responsible for Lt. White's death. But actually there was nothing I could have done to prevent it. But still I had nightmares about it for months. Lt. Wilber White was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic action. May God bless his wife and two small children."

Fighting the Flying Circus by Eddie Rickenbacker
Rickenbacker an Autobiography by Eddie Rickenbacker
The Fighters by Thomas R. Funderburk