Roland Garros (aviator)

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Roland Garros
Roland Garros (aviator).jpg
Roland Garros in Tunisia on 23 September 1913 immediately after becoming the first person to cross the Mediterranean Sea by air.
Birth nameEugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros
Born(1888-10-06)6 October 1888
Saint-Denis, Réunion, France
Died5 October 1918(1918-10-05) (aged 29)
Vouziers, Ardennes, France
Allegiance France
AwardsChevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1913)
Officier de la Légion d'honneur (1918)[1]

Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros (French pronunciation: ​[ʁɔlɑ̃ ɡaʁos]; 6 October 1888 – 5 October 1918) was a French pioneering aviator and fighter pilot during World War I and early days of aviation.[2]


Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros[3] was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, and studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and HEC Paris. He started his aviation career in 1909 flying a Demoiselle (Dragonfly) monoplane, an aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot. He gained Ae.C.F. licence no. 147 in July 1910. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Blériot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine, including the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race and the Circuit of Europe (Paris-London-Paris), in which he came second.[4]

On 4 September 1911, he set an altitude record of 3,950 m (12,960 ft). The following year, on 6 September 1912, after Austrian aviator Philipp von Blaschke had flown to 4,360 m (14,300 ft), he regained the height record by flying to 5,610 m (18,410 ft).[5][6][7]

By 1913 he had switched to flying the faster Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, and gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia[8] in a Morane-Saulnier G. The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I.

Myth of first air battle[edit]

Reports published in August 1914 claimed Garros was involved in the "first air battle in world history" and that he had flown his plane into a Zeppelin, destroying the airship and killing its pilots and himself.[9] This story was quickly contradicted by reports that Garros was alive and well in Paris.[10] Such early reports maintained that an unidentified French pilot had indeed rammed and destroyed a Zeppelin,[10] however, German authorities denied the story.[11] Later sources indicated the first aerial victory against a Zeppelin occurred in June 1915 and that earlier reports, including that of Garros, had been discredited.[12]

Development of interrupter gear[edit]

Garros' propeller, with its bullet deflectors, after being recovered from his downed aircraft

In the early stages of the air war in World War I the problem of mounting a forward-firing machine gun on combat aircraft was considered by a number of individuals. The so-called "interrupter gear" did not come into use until Anthony Fokker developed a synchronization device which had a large impact on air combat; however, Garros also had a significant role in the process of achieving this goal.[13]

As a reconnaissance pilot with the Escadrille MS26, Garros visited the Morane-Saulnier Works[14] in December 1914. Saulnier's work on metal deflector wedges attached to propeller blades was taken forward by Garros; he eventually had a workable installation fitted to his Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft. The Aero Club of America awarded him a medal for this invention three years later.[15] Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller, on 1 April 1915; two more victories over German aircraft were achieved on 15 and 18 April 1915.[14]

On 18 April 1915, either Garros's fuel line clogged or, by other accounts, his aircraft was downed by ground fire, and he glided to a landing on the German side of the lines. Garros failed to destroy his aircraft completely before being taken prisoner: most significantly, the gun and armoured propeller remained intact.[14] Legend has it that after examining the plane, German aircraft engineers, led by Fokker, designed the improved interrupter gear system. In fact the work on Fokker's system had been going for at least six months before Garros's aircraft fell into their hands.[16] With the advent of the interrupter gear the tables were turned on the Allies, with Fokker's planes shooting down many Allied aircraft, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge.[17]

After internment in a POW camp[edit]

Garros finally managed to escape from a POW camp in Germany on 14 February 1918, after several attempts, and rejoined the French army.[18] He settled into Escadrille 26 to pilot a Spad, and claimed two victories on 2 October 1918, one of which was confirmed.


On 5 October 1918, he was shot down and killed near Vouziers, Ardennes, a month before the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday.[19][2] His adversary was probably German ace Hermann Habich from Jasta 49.[20]


Garros is erroneously called the world's first fighter ace. In fact, he shot down only four aircraft; the definition of "ace" is five or more victories. The honour of becoming the first ace went to another French airman, Adolphe Pégoud, who had six victories early in the war.[21]


A tennis centre constructed in Paris in the 1920s was named after him, the Stade Roland Garros. The stadium accommodates the French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments.[22] Consequently, the tournament is officially called Les Internationaux de France de Roland-Garros (the "French Internationals of Roland Garros").[23]

According to Vũ Trọng Phụng's urban novel, Dumb Luck, (1936), during colonial times the Hanoi government named the city's main tennis stadium after Roland Garros.[24]

The international airport of La Réunion, Roland Garros Airport, is also named after him. There is a monument to Garros in Bizerte at the site of his landing, which is called "Roland Garros Plaza".[25]

The French car manufacturer Peugeot commissioned a 'Roland Garros' limited edition version of its 205 model in celebration of the tennis tournament that bears his name. The model included special paint and leather interior. Because of the success of this special edition, Peugeot later created Roland Garros editions of its 106, 108, 206, 207, 208, 306, 307, 406, and 806 models.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ : certificate of the legion of honour
  2. ^ a b "Roland Garros Killed. Famous French Aviator, Reported Wounded, Died Oct. 5" (PDF). The New York Times. 1 November 1918.
  3. ^ : Extract of state registers
  4. ^ Judges' Report in European CircuitFlight 22 July 1911
  5. ^ "Aviator Rises to 16,400 feet". The Sun. New York. 7 September 1912. p. 5. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  6. ^ "FAI Record ID#15888". FAI. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  7. ^ "FAI Record ID#15889". FAI. Retrieved 18 October 2016.[permanent dead link]
  8. ^ "Flying the Mediterranean". Flight. V (39): 1078. 27 September 1913. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  9. ^ "First air battles in History". United Press. 3 August 2014.
  10. ^ a b "The War in the Air". The Literary Digest. 49 (7): 283. 15 August 1914.
  11. ^ Reynolds, Francis J.; Churchill, Allen L.; Miller, Francis Trevelyan (1916). The Story of the Great War. New York: P.F. Collier and Son. p. 592.
  12. ^ "Zeppelin Loses Battle with Monoplane". Popular Mechanics: 196. August 1915.
  13. ^ Volker, Hank. "Synchronizers Parts 1–6" in WORLD WAR I AERO. (1992–1996), World War I Aeroplanes, Inc. Part 1, pp. 49–50
  14. ^ a b c van Wyngarden, Greg (2006). Early German Aces of World War I. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-84176-997-4.
  15. ^ "Aero Club Honors Garros. Aviator Gets Notice That a Medal Has Been Awarded to Him" (PDF). The New York Times. 9 March 1918.
  16. ^ Woodman, Harry (1989). Early Aircraft Armament: The Aeroplane and the Gun Up to 1918. Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-0-87474-994-6.
  17. ^ Robertson, Linda Raine (2003). The Dream of Civilized Warfare: World War I Flying Aces and the American Imagination. U of Minnesota Press. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-8166-4270-0.
  18. ^ "Garros To Train Anew In The Art Of Air Warfare. French Airman, Back From Germany, Finds He Must Learn How All Over Again". The New York Times. 9 March 1918.
  19. ^ "Garros Is Killed, Berlin Reports. Famous French Airman Was Shot Down on Oct. 4, Says Message" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 October 1918.
  20. ^ Guttman, Jon (2002). SPAD XII/XIII Aces of World War 1. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-84176-316-3.
  21. ^ Franks, Norman L. R. (1992). Over the Front: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914-1918. Grub Street. p. 84. ISBN 978-0-948817-54-0.
  22. ^ Who's Who—Roland Garros. Retrieved 3 August 2011
  23. ^ Clarey, Christopher (23 May 2013). "A Puzzler in Paris: French Open or Roland Garros?". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Vũ, Trọng Phụng (2002). Dumb Luck: A Novel. Translated by Zinoman, Peter. University of Michigan Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780472068043.
  25. ^ "CENTENAIRE – Bizerte fête Roland Garros". Le Petit Journal (in French). 16 September 2013. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  26. ^ "La saga des Peugeot Roland Garros en photos". L'Argus (in French). Retrieved 16 April 2018.

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