Roland Garros (aviator)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Roland Garros
Roland Garros 1910.jpg
Garros in front of a Demoiselle aircraft in 1910
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
Vouziers, France
AwardsChevalier de la Légion d'honneur (1913)[1]
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 aviation pioneer and fighter pilot.[2] Garros began a career in aviation in 1909 and performed many early feats before joining the French army and becoming one of the earliest fighter pilots during World War I. In 1928, the Roland Garros tennis stadium was named in his memory; the French Open tennis tournament takes the name of Roland Garros, which is held in this stadium.[3]


Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros[4] was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, and studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and HEC Paris.[5]

At the age of 12, he caught pneumonia, and was sent to Cannes to recover. He took up cycling to restore his health, and went on to win an inter-school championship in the sport.[5] He was also keen on football, rugby and tennis.[6] When he was 21 he started a car dealership in Paris.[5] He was a close friend of Ettore Bugatti and in 1913 became the first owner of the Garros Bugatti Type 18, later named Black Bess by its second owner, British racing driver Ivy Cummings, which survives today at the Louwman Museum in the Netherlands.[7][8]


Roland Garros in open cockpit of aircraft, looking at viewer
Garros in an aircraft cockpit

During his summer holiday in 1909, at Sapicourt near Reims, staying with a friend's uncle, he saw the Grande Semaine d'Aviation de la Champagne which ran from 22 to 29 August. After this, he knew he had to be an aviator.[9]

He started his aviation career in 1909 flying a Demoiselle (dragonfly) monoplane, an aircraft that flew well only if it had a small lightweight pilot. He gained Ae.C.F. licence no. 147 in July 1910. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Blériot XI monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of aircraft, including the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race and the Circuit of Europe (Paris–London–Paris), in which he came second.[10]

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).[11][12][13]

By 1913 he was flying the faster Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, and on 23 September gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus-Saint Raphaël in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia[14] in a Morane-Saulnier G. The flight commenced at 5:47 am and lasted for nearly eight hours, during which time Garros resolved two engine malfunctions.[5] The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I.[citation needed]

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.[15] This story was quickly contradicted by reports that Garros was alive and well in Paris.[16] Such early reports maintained that an unidentified French pilot had indeed rammed and destroyed a Zeppelin,[16] however, German authorities denied the story.[17] Later sources indicated the first aerial victory against a Zeppelin occurred in June 1915 and earlier reports, including that of Garros, had been discounted.[18]

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—without having the bullets hit the propeller—was considered by several people. As a reconnaissance pilot with the Escadrille MS26, Garros had made several attempts at shooting down German aircraft; however, these efforts were unsuccessful due to the difficulty in hitting an aircraft with a hand-held carbine. He visited the Morane-Saulnier works[19] in November or December 1914 to discuss the problem.

Raymond Saulnier had begun work on a synchroniser (which times the firing of the gun with the position of the propeller) before World War I and had taken out a patent for a workable mechanism by 14 April 1914, however circumstances beyond his control resulted in its being tested with the Hotchkiss 09/13 portative machine gun, which proved unsuitable due to an inconsistent firing rate.[20] As a workaround, Garros, with the help of his mechanic, Jules Hue, developed protective wedges, which were fitted to the slightly narrowed propeller blades which deflected the occasional round which would have otherwise struck the propeller.[21] With a workable installation now fitted to his Morane-Saulnier Type G monoplane, Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller, on 1 April 1915 and two more victories over German aircraft were achieved on 15 and 18 April 1915.[19][5] The Aero Club of America awarded him a medal for this invention three years later.[22]

On 18 April 1915, the fuel line of his Morane Saulnier Type G became clogged, causing engine trouble. He came down in German-controlled territory where he was grabbed by alert German Infantrymen. The intact gun and propeller were quickly rushed to Germany’s best aircraft designer, Anthony Fokker. Fokker quickly dismissed the steel deflector plates and designed a practical interrupter gear for use on the Fokker E.I Monoplane. The Interrupter gear began the “Fokker Scourge,” and for a time Germany had the upper hand in the war.

POW camp internment and escape[edit]

After almost three years in captivity in various German POW camps Garros managed to escape on 14 February 1918 together with fellow aviator lieutenant Anselme Marchal. They made it to London via the Netherlands and from there he returned to France where he rejoined the French army.[23][24] He returned to Escadrille 26 to pilot a SPAD XIII, and claimed two victories on 2 October 1918, one of which was confirmed.[citation needed]


On 5 October 1918, he was shot down and killed near Vouziers, Ardennes, a month before the end of the war and one day short of his 30th birthday.[25][2] His adversary was probably German ace Hermann Habich from Jasta 49, flying a Fokker D.VII.[26]


Garros is sometimes called the world's first fighter ace; however, he shot down only four aircraft, while the criterion for "ace" was set at 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.[27]

The Stade Roland Garros tennis centre constructed in Paris in the 1920s was named after him. It accommodates the French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments.[28] Consequently, the tournament is officially called Les Internationaux de France de Roland-Garros (the "French Internationals of Roland Garros").[29]

La Réunion's international airport is named the Roland Garros Airport. There is a monument to Garros in Bizerte at the site of his landing, which is called "Roland Garros Plaza".[30] The town of Houlgate in Normandy has named their promenade after Roland Garros in celebration of it being the location he broke the altitude record from.[31][32]

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.[33]

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.[34]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Certificate of the legion of honour . Retrieved 18 April 2019
  2. ^ a b "Roland Garros Killed. Famous French Aviator, Reported Wounded, Died Oct. 5" (PDF). The New York Times. 1 November 1918. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  3. ^ "Roland Garros: a venue open all year long. Past Winners and Draws". Archived from the original on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 7 August 2007.
  4. ^ Archives Nationales: Extract of state registers- certificate of birth Retrieved 18 April 2019
  5. ^ a b c d e "A trailblazer for aviation and a war hero: Roland Garros". Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT).
  6. ^ Lefèvre-Garros, 2001, pp. 32–33
  7. ^ "Black Bess, famous Bugatti Type 18 goes under the hammer". New Atlas. 30 January 2009. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  8. ^ "Bugatti Type 18 Sports Two-Seater 'Black Bess'". Louwman Museum. 4 August 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2020.
  9. ^ Fleury, 2009, p. 44
  10. ^ Judges' Report in European Circuit Flight 22 July 1911
  11. ^ "Aviator Rises to 16,400 feet". The Sun. New York. 7 September 1912. p. 5. Retrieved 18 October 2016.
  12. ^ "FAI Record ID#15888". FAI. Archived from the original on 21 September 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2013.
  13. ^ "FAI Record ID#15889". FAI. Retrieved 18 October 2016.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ "Flying the Mediterranean". Flight. Vol. 5, no. 39. 27 September 1913. p. 1078. Retrieved 24 September 2014.
  15. ^ "First air battles in History". United Press. 3 August 2014.
  16. ^ a b "The War in the Air". The Literary Digest. Vol. 49, no. 7. 15 August 1914. p. 283.
  17. ^ Reynolds, 1916, p. 592
  18. ^ "Zeppelin Loses Battle with Monoplane". Popular Mechanics. Hearst Magazines. August 1915. p. 196.
  19. ^ a b van Wyngarden, Greg (2006). Early German Aces of World War I. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-84176-997-4.
  20. ^ Woodman, 1989, p. 171
  21. ^ Woodman, 1989, p. 172
  22. ^ "Aero Club Honors Garros. Aviator Gets Notice That a Medal Has Been Awarded to Him" (PDF). The New York Times. 9 March 1918. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  23. ^ "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.
  24. ^ Evan Gershkovich (10 June 2017). "Who was Roland Garros? The fighter pilot behind the French Open". The New York Times.
  25. ^ "Garros Is Killed, Berlin Reports. Famous French Airman Was Shot Down on Oct. 4, Says Message" (PDF). The New York Times. 17 October 1918. Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 October 2022.
  26. ^ Guttman, Jon (2002). SPAD XII/XIII Aces of World War 1. Bloomsbury USA. ISBN 978-1-84176-316-3.
  27. ^ Franks, 1992, p. 84
  28. ^ Who's Who – Roland Garros. Retrieved 3 August 2011
  29. ^ Clarey, Christopher (23 May 2013). "A Puzzler in Paris: French Open or Roland Garros?". The New York Times.
  30. ^ "Centenaire – Bizerte fête Roland Garros". Le Petit Journal (in French). 16 September 2013. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  31. ^ "Roland Garros walk in Houlgate, walk in Côte Fleurie – Calvados". Normandie Cabourg Pays d'Auge Tourisme. Retrieved 17 December 2022. Houlgate: Roland Garros promenade
  32. ^ "Activités culturelles – La Digue Promenade Roland Garros – Houlgate" (in French). Office de tourisme Normandie Cabourg Pays d'Auge. 4 October 2021. Retrieved 17 December 2022 – via
  33. ^ Vũ, 2002, p. 180
  34. ^ "La saga des Peugeot Roland Garros en photos". L'Argus (in French). Retrieved 16 April 2018.


External links[edit]