Lafayette Escadrille

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Escadrille 124
Lafayette Escadrille Pin.JPG
Squadron Insignia of the Lafayette Escadrille
Active 1916
Branch Roundel of the French Air Force before 1945.svg French Air Service
Type Fighter Squadron
Engagements World War I War Service Streamer without inscription.png
World War I

The Lafayette Escadrille (French: Escadrille de Lafayette) was an escadrille of the French Air Service, the Aéronautique Militaire, during World War I composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters. It was named in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of the American and French revolutions.


Dr. Edmund Gros
Kiffin Rockwell, Capt. Georges Thenault, Norman Prince, Lt. Alfred de Laage de Meux, Elliot Cowdin, Bert Hall, James McConnell and Victor Chapman (left to right)
The mascots of the Lafayette Escadrille were two lion cubs Whiskey and Soda
Edmond Charles Clinton Genet

Dr. Edmund L. Gros, a founder of the American Hospital of Paris and organizer of the American Ambulance Field Service, and Norman Prince, a Harvard-educated lawyer and an American expatriate already flying for France, led the attempts to persuade the French government of the value of a volunteer American air unit fighting for France. The aim was to have their efforts recognized by the American public and thus, it was hoped, the resulting publicity would rouse interest in abandoning neutrality and joining the fight. Authorized by the French Air Department on March 21, 1916, the Escadrille de Chasse Nieuport 124 (Escadrille Américaine) was deployed on April 20 in Luxeuil-les-Bains, France, near Switzerland's border.[1][2] Initially, there were seven Americans: Victor E. Chapman, Elliot C. Cowdin, Weston (Bert) Hall, James R. McConnell, Norman Prince, Kiffin Rockwell, and William Thaw;[3] full roster included 38 pilots.

The unit's aircraft, mechanics, and uniforms were French, as was the commander, Captain Georges Thénault. Five French pilots were also on the roster, serving at various times in command positions. Raoul Lufbery, a French-born American citizen, became the squadron's first, and ultimately their highest scoring flying ace with 16 confirmed victories before the pilots of the squadron were inducted into the U.S. Air Service.[4]

Two unofficial members of the Escadrille Américaine, the lion cubs named Whiskey and Soda, provided countless moments of relief from battle stress to fliers.[5]

A German objection filed with the U.S. government, over the actions of a supposed neutral nation, led to the name change to Lafayette Escadrille in December 1916, as the original name implied that the U.S. was allied to France rather than neutral.[6]

American members of the Lafayette Escadrille transferred into the United States Army Air Service on 18 February, 1918, as the 103d Aero Squadron. The French personnel formed the Escadrille SPA.124 Jeanne d'Arc.

Not all American pilots were in Lafayette Escadrille; over 200 American fliers fought for France as part of the Lafayette Flying Corps.[N 1]; a third unit of American Volunteer Pilots in the French Air service was Escadrille 471 aka "Black Buffalos" {Unit emblem} which was stationed in the air defenses of Paris[7]


Lafayette Escadrille banner.

The first major action seen by the squadron was 13 May 1916 at the Battle of Verdun and five days later, Kiffin Rockwell recorded the unit's first aerial victory.[6] On 23 June, the Escadrille suffered its first fatality when Victor Chapman was shot down over Douaumont.[6][8] The unit was posted to the front until September 1916, when the unit was moved back to Luxeuil-les-Bains in 7 Army area. On 23 September, Rockwell was killed when his Nieuport was downed by the gunner in a German Albatross observation plane[9] and in October, Norman Prince was shot down during air battle.[10] The squadron, flying Nieuport and later, Spad scouts, suffered heavy losses, but it received replacements until a total of 38 American pilots eventually served with the squadron. So many Americans volunteered to fly for France that they were eventually farmed out to other French squadrons. As a group, the Americans who flew in WWI for France's air service, the "Aéronautique militaire," are collectively known as the Lafayette Flying Corps. Altogether, 265 American volunteers served in the Corps.

On 8 February 1918, the squadron was disbanded and 12 of its American members inducted into the U.S. Air Service as members of the 103rd Aero Squadron. For a brief period it retained its French aircraft and mechanics. Most of its veteran members were set to work training newly arrived American pilots. The 103rd was credited with a further 45 kills before the Armistice went into effect on 11 November.[11] The French Escadrille SPA.124, also known as the Jeanne d'Arc Escadrille, continued Lafayette Escadrille's traditions in the Service Aéronautique.


Nine pilots died in the Lafayette Escadrille while others perished after leaving the unit. More sustained non-fatal injuries. The planes flown were flimsy, and not as safe as those of later years. Engines and other parts failed, and machine-guns often jammed when they were needed. One man asked to be moved back to his infantry unit, where "he could be safe." The first pilot to be killed in action was Victor Chapman.[12] Edmond Genet, became the first American casualty of World War I following the U.S. entry into the war. Other Americans had died previous to the U.S. declaration of war, but since Genet had been active in the Escadrille since before the U.S. entry into the war, his death only a few days after the U.S. declaration of war made him the first official U.S. casualty.


Standing (left to right) Soubiron, Doolittle, Campbell, Persons, Bridgman, Dugan, MacMonagle, Lowell, Willis, Jones, Peterson and de Maison-Rouge. Seated (left to right) Hill, Masson with "Soda," Thaw, Thénault, Lufbery with "Whiskey," Johnson, Bigelow and Rockwell
James Norman Hall (1887–1951) of the Lafayette Escadrille, 1917

There is some confusion between pilots who were a part of the Lafayette Escadrille or the Lafayette Flying Corps, especially in the film Flyboys. These five French officers and 38 American pilots (also known as "The Valiant 38") were part of the Lafayette Escadrille.[13]

French officers[edit]

American pilots[edit]

A † symbol indicates that the individual was killed in action, including those who subsequently entered the Air Service, or died of wounds received.

  1. Horace Clyde Balsley
  2. Stephen Sohier Bigelow
  3. Ray Claflin Bridgman
  4. Andrew Courtney Campbell, Jr.†
  5. Victor Emmanuel Chapman
  6. Elliott Christopher Cowdin II
  7. Charles Heave Dolan
  8. James Ralph Doolittle†
  9. John Armstrong Drexel
  10. William Edward Dugan, Jr.
  11. Christopher William Ford
  12. Edmond Charles Clinton Genet
  13. James Norman Hall
  14. Bert Hall
  15. Willis Bradley Haviland
  16. Thomas Moses Hewitt, Jr.
  17. Dudley Lawrence Hill
  18. Edward Foote Hinkle
  19. Ronald Wood Hoskier†
  20. Charles Chouteau Johnson
  21. Henry Sweet Jones
  22. Walter Lovell
  23. Raoul Lufbery
  24. James Rogers McConnell
  25. Douglas MacMonagle †
  26. Kenneth Archibald Marr
  27. Didier Masson
  28. Edwin C. "Ted" Parsons
  29. Paul Pavelka†
  30. David M. Peterson
  31. Frederick Henry Prince, Jr.
  32. Norman Prince
  33. Kiffin Yates Rockwell
  34. Robert Lockerbie Rockwell
  35. Laurence Dana Rumsey, Jr.
  36. Robert Soubiran
  37. William Thaw
  38. Doyen Parsons Wardwell
  39. Harold Buckley Willis


Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Arch, 1928
Community House Monument to James R. McConnell

Fictional accounts[edit]

The story of the Lafayette Escadrille has been depicted in three feature films:

The Lafayette Escadrille also appears in "Attack of the Hawkmen", an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles in which Indy is temporarily assigned to the group as an aerial reconnaissance photographer.

The exploits of the Lafayette Escadrille are also captured in several works of historical fiction including: Falcons of France by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall (1929) and To the Last Man by Jeffrey Shaara .

Rif War[edit]

In the mid-1920s, France recruited some 16 former American fliers with World War I combat experience for service in the French Army of Africa, aiming to forestall American public and diplomatic support for the Rif tribes rebelling against Spanish and French colonial rule.[15] Charles Sweeny, organizer of the RAF Eagle Squadrons, proposed to reconstitute the Lafayette Escadrille. However, Paul Ayres Rockwell, a brother of fallen Escadrille Américaine's pilot Kiffin Rockwell, wrote that "the attempt to call the unit the Lafayette Escadrille had been abandoned almost before we left Paris, as there was not one former pilot of the famous World War squadron in our group."[16] The pilots were inducted into the French Foreign Legion in July 1925, where they formed the Escadrille de la Guarde Chérifienne in the Sultan's Guard Escadrille of the French Air Force. Public protests in the United States led to the Chérifienne Escadrille dissolution in 1925.[17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Compared with the Lafayette Escadrille, larger numbers of American volunteers served with the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force during World War I.


  1. ^ The Lafayette Escadrille: Conflict Locations
  2. ^ Guttman, Jon. SPA124 Lafayette Escadrille: American Volunteer Airmen in World War I. Oxford: Osprey, 2004.
  3. ^ National Museum of the U.S. Air Force: Escadrille Americaine
  4. ^ Flammer, Philip M. The Vivid Air, the Lafayette Escadrille. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1981.
  5. ^ Janus, Allan. Animals Aloft: Photographs from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Piermont, NH: Bunker Hill, 2005, p. 35.
  6. ^ a b c Duffy, Michael. "Lafayette Escadrille." Retrieved: 20 May 2013.
  7. ^ The Aerodrome Forum
  8. ^ The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille. Told by its Commander, Captain Georges Thénault. Translated by Walter Duranty. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company (1921).
  9. ^ "Kiffin Y. Rockwell, World War I Aviator, Lafayette Escadrille: Biography & Photographs." Virginia Military Institute. Retrieved: 20 May 2013.
  10. ^ Gordon, Dennis. Lafayette Escadrille Pilot Biographies. Missoula, MT, U.S.A.: Doughboy Historical Society, 1991.
  11. ^ Miller, Roger G. Like a Thunderbolt: The Lafayette Escadrille and the Advent of American Pursuit in World War I. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums, 2007.
  12. ^ Flood, Charles (2015). First to Fly. 
  13. ^ "List of Pilots." Retrieved: 19 August 2010.
  14. ^ a b c d e f May 1, 1928 directory published by Memorial De L'Escadille Lafayette
  15. ^ Rockwell, W.J.K. Personal Diplomacy in Franco-American Relations: A Case History, American Diplomacy, April 2007.
  16. ^ Paul Ayres Rockwell. Moroccan Bomber: American Fighters in the Rif War, 1925, Aviation Quarterly, Volume 5, Number 2, 1979. Archived
  17. ^ El-Mostafa Azzou. L’escadrille Lafayette: des aviateurs américains dans la guerre du Rif (1921-1926), Guerres mondiales et conflits contemporains, No. 209 (Janvier-Mars 2003), pp. 57-63. JSTOR 25732858


  • Azzou, El-Mostafa. "L'Escadrille Lafayette: Des aviateurs Americains dans la Guerre du Rif (1921-1926) (in French)". Guerres Mondiales et Conflits Contemporains, Volume 53, Issue 209, January 2003, pp. 57–63.
  • Bowen, Ezra. Knights of the Air. New York: Time Life Books Aviation Series, 1980. ISBN 0-8094-3252-8.
  • Brown, Walt, Jr. An American for Lafayette: The Diaries of E.C.C. Genet, Lafayette Escadrille. Charlottesville Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1981. ISBN 0-8139-0893-0.
  • "Lafayette Escadrille.", 2009. Encyclopedia Software, 1 March 2011.
  • Flammer, Philip M. The Vivid Air: The Lafayette Escadrille (University of Georgia Press, 1981). ISBN 0820305375
  • Flood, Charles Bracelen. First to Fly: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille, the American Heroes who Flew for France in World War I (Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 2015). ISBN 9780802123657
  • Hall, Bert. En L'air. New York: The New Library, Inc,1918. ASIN B000M1DSJM
  • Hall, Bert. One Man's War: The Story of the Lafayette Escadrille. London: J. Hamilton, 1929. ASIN B00087AA7I
  • Hennessy, Juliette A. "Men and planes of World War I and a history of the Lafayette Escadrille" Air Power History 61.2 (2014): 14-27.
  • Hynes, Samuel. The Unsubstantial Air: American Fliers in the First World War (2014). ISBN 9780374278007
  • Mason, Herbert Molloy. The Lafayette Escadrille. New York: Smithmark Publishers, 1995. ISBN 0831757124
  • McConnell, James R. "Flying For France: Further Experiences Of An Aviator In The American Escadrille In France". The World's Work: A History of Our TimeXXXIII, March 1917, pp. 497–509. Retrieved: 4 August 2009.
  • McConnell, James. "Flying For France: With The American Escadrille At Verdun". The World's Work: A History of Our Time XXXIII, November 1916, pp. 41–53. Retrieved: 4 August 2009.
  • Miller, Roger G. Like a Thunderbolt: The Lafayette Escadrille and the Advent of American Pursuit in World War I. Washington, D.C.: Air Force History and Museums Program, 2007. OCLC 163120934
  • Morse, Edwin W. America in the War: The Vanguard of American Volunteers in the Fighting Lines and in Humanitarian Service, August, 1914–April, 1917. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1919.
  • Murphy, T. B. Kiffin Rockwell, the Lafayette Escadrille and the Birth of the United States Air Force (McFarland, 2016). ISBN 9781476664019
  • Nasuti, Guy. "Motivations of the Lafayette Escadrille Pilots.", 2006. Article Software, 1 March 2011.
  • Nordhoff, Charles and James Norman Hall. The Lafayette Flying Corps. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920.
  • Parsons, Edwin C. I Flew with the Lafayette Escadrille. Indianapolis, Indiana: E. C. Seale and Company, Inc., 1930 first edition, reprint 1953.
  • Shaara, Jeff. To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War. New York: The Random House Publishing Group, 2004. ISBN 0-345-46134-7.
  • Thenault, Georges. The Story of the LaFayette Escadrille- Told By its Commander Captain Georges Thenault (Translated by Walter Duranty, with An Introduction By Andre Tardieu; High Commissioner of Franco-American Affairs). Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, 1921.
  • Wilson, Thomas. Kickapoo. Thomaston, Maine: Dan River Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-89754-216-6.

External links[edit]