The Hat in the Ring gang – The combat history of the 94th Aero Squadron in World War 1

Title – The Hat in the Ring gang – The combat history of the 94th Aero Squadron in World War 1

Author – Charles Woolley

Author Charles Woolley has compiled from an extensive array of sources, a mix of official combat reports intermixed with letters of the aces and diary entries from pilots, a very detailed and interesting insight to combat operations of the 94th Aero Squadron as it took on the German Air Force in World War 1 over the Western Front in Europe.

IMAG0074.jpg

Charles has been able to tell the story as the brutal war entered its final year over the period of  1917-18. The thoughts of the men of the 94th Aero Squadron convey to the reader the mundane, exciting and at times challenging aspects of combat. Using over 375 photographs which vary from showing the men, the aircraft, air bases and personal views, supported by colour profiles on Nieuports and Spads, the 94th’s air war is shown in detail.

94th AERO SQUADRON HISTORY

The history of the 94th Aero Squadron dates to 1917 when the squadron was established at Kelly Field, Texas on 20 August 1917.The original unit’s structure was comprised of volunteer none had any previous military training except two men.Training civilians into military services took place until end of October 1917 when the unit was then despatched to Europe.Arriving in France early November 1917 the men and machines of the 94th Aero Squadron were one of the first units to arrive and experience aerial combat over the Western Front.The 94th had adopted a colourful and distinctive unit marking with had a top hat with the American flag colours in it. It came to be known as “The Hat in the Ring”.

The unit was then given more training at safer rear areas in their aircraft, systems and unit procedures. This training saw the unit divided up into seven separate flights, with each flight being sent for technical training at a different aeroplane or engine factory. Thi saw the men go to  factories like Breguet, Brasler, Renault, Nieuport, Bleriot and Hispano-Suisa across France for the next two and a half months. By  January 1918 the 94th  was equipped with Nieuport 28 aircraft and was redesignated as a pursuit (fighter) squadron.

COMBAT BEGINS

Combat flying though was not reached until April 1  1918 when the 94th was assigned to operations over the Western Front. The men and machines were moved to the 1st Pursuit Organization Center at Epiez Aerodrome, where they replaced a French squadron which had been reassigned to another part of the Western front. Many familiarisation flights were flown to adjust to the new area. Again shortly after arriving at Epiez, they were moved to Gengault Aerodrome, near Toul. This was now in the new American Sector of the front line. Here the 94th was to work with Eighth French Army.

The 94th was assigned the mission roles of  – engage and clear German aircraft from the Western Front skies, provide close air support and undertake tactical bombing attacks of enemy forces along the front lines. They were also required to provide escort to bombardment and reconnaissance squadrons along with attacking observation balloons.

Commencing routine combat patrols from Toul, fighter sweeps flew across the area covering Saint-Mihiel to Pont a Mousson.The first enemy aircraft action and kill was obtained on 14 April 1918 by Lieutenants Douglas Campbell and Alan F. Winslow, when Lt Campbell shot down one of the enemy aircraft and Lt Winslow forced the other down out of control. Air combats steadily increased and within a few weeks the experience and skills showed off as the 94th  record rose to four confirmed kills. Despite these successes, the unit lost its first personnel in May 1918 with Lt. Charles W. Chapman lost in combat.

Despite these successes, the unit lost its first personnel in May 1918 with Lt. Charles W. Chapman lost in combat. The 94th was reorganised in May 1918 and along with the 95th Aero Squadron was formed into the 1st t Pursuit Group. By the end of May 1918, the 94th achieved another fist when the first American air ace of World War 1 took place when  Lieutenant Campbell gained his fifth victory.With the kills quickly climbing some of the 94th pilots began racking up enemy aircraft shot down. One of these was Raoul Lufbery who by May 1918 had achieved 17 kills in the air war mostly with the French Air Force (Aéronautique Militaire) 16 kills and 1 kill with the 94th. Sadly Raoul lost his life when leaping to his death from a Nieuport 28 aircraft which was on fire in May 1918.

A FLUID WAR

June 1918 saw the 94th move again to Chateau-Thierry sector and to a new aerodrome at Touquin. The same time the unit was reequipped with a new fighter, the SPAD XIIIs. The Nieuport 28s had become disliked and not wanted by the pilots and ground crews.    Lieutenant Rickenbacker on June 17 achieved ace status in June 1918 with 5 kills to his name.

The fighter attack role and the growing air to air kills of the 94th  Aero Squadron meant it attracted much media attention back home in the USA and as a result, the squadron’s operations was highly publicised. With the media attention, the colourful squadron symbol – Hat in the Ring –  became well known by the American public.

July brought another move to Saints Aerodrome, which was near the Western Front once again but this sector was relatively quiet, with only a handful of enemy aircraft shot down during the months of July and August 1918. During this period the 94th also took part in training missions and some well deserved rest allowed for personnel.At this point in the War, the front line was very fluid with constant moves back and forth as either the Allies or the Germans won or lost ground, meaning the 94th was transferring to new air bases frequently such as  Coincy and  Rembercourt  Aerodromes.

On 30 August, the 94th was instructed to prepare for the St. Mihiel Offensive which would see the Allies take an offensive position and attack German positions.This new offensive saw many air combat patrols flown all day with many at low level under 600m. With the low level flying, the unit’s pilots also brought back useful intelligence concerning information about the German rear lines. The 94th was also developing new flying tactics to gain the best from their aircraft capabilities and in air to air combat. As part of the sustained flying operations, the 94th was at this time focused on targeting enemy observation balloons, machine-gunning enemy infantry and other targets to support advancements of the First Army towards the German held areas.

During this period of action in September 1918 and later the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, now Captain Rickenbacker shot down over twenty Germany aircraft.In combat on 25 September 1918 Captain Rickenbacker managed to shoot down within a few minutes 2 aircraft. In addition to Rickenbacker, during the period from 12 September 1918 until the Armistice on 11 November 1918, the 94th Aero Squadron shot down another 47 enemy aircraft, which resulted in several more aces being achieved.lots became aces.

One of these men was Lieutenant Harvey Cook who went on to become of the leading aces of the squadron. During October he shot down seven enemy aircraft along with five observation balloons. Showing the valour of how brave the men were in combat, Cook one mission made repeated low level passes at tree level heights to destroy a balloon on the ground. A silent film taken in 1918 shows some of the 94th men and machines in action – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZF6T5qB69pY .

THE END OF THE WAR

The end of the war was a bit of an anti-climax for the 94th as enemy action slowed down in the last week and the European weather forced all aircraft to be grounded on the 11 November 1918. At the war’s end, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker had been awarded almost every decoration possible due to his skill and actions including the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

With the end of the war now official, the 94th Aero Squadron stood down from combat operations and recovered with the men happy to no longer have to see constant death and destruction. With the winding down of the operations and the Armistice in place, the 94th was tasked with proficiency flights around their sector. The squadron continued operations over winter with some flying to maintain its skills. The 94th was moved again in early January 1919 and based at Coblenz Airdrome, Fort Kaiser Alexander, Germany. Here it adopted very colourful and dazzling colour schemes which were painted with skill by the ground crews on to some of the aircraft

The unit returned to Rembercourt, France by early April 1919  and stayed there for only a few days until orders were received for the 94th to turn in all of its equipment and the men stood down.Following this decision all of the men of the 94th returned to the US, which was completed by June 1919. Shortly afterwards the unit was demobilised and men returned to civilian life.

In documenting the history of the 94th Aero Squadron record of action during World War 1, Charles Woolley rounds out the many insights to the hard won battles of 1918 with a list of rosters of pilots who were active with unit, aircraft types used and men who were given citations for bravery awards.

POSTWAR

After the 1918 Armistice with Germany, the 94th Aero Squadron returned to the United States in June 1919. It became part of the United States Army Air Service in 1921 and has to this day remained active with the squadron lineage and history maintained by thee 94th Fighter Squadron, which is assigned to the 1st Operations Group at Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Virginia. The 94th war record is honoured by a restaurant which fucntions as a memorial to the men and unit – https://www.94thvannuys.com/

imag0076

ISBN13: 9780764314278

Size: 8 1/2″ x 11″ | over 375 b/w photos, color aircraft profiles

Pages: 272

Binding: hard cover

Available direct from Schifferbooks at http://www.schifferbooks.com/the-hat-in-the-ring-gang-the-combat-history-of-the-94th-aero-squadron-in-world-war-i-1335.html for $49.95 US plus postage.

Advertisements