Air Aces of W.W.1
I have long admired the raw courage of the first Fighter pilots, they flew in aircraft made of wood and linen, powered by engines that were at best, unreliable. They had a life expectancy in hours rather than years, but still they flew and an immortal few became Aces, these are what this series of articles is about, the elite few.
Captain Charles Eugene Marie Nungesser was born on March 15th 1892 in Paris. As a child and later as a young man he excelled in competitive sports, first as a boxer and athlete, and when he was old enough a racer of fast cars, and later aircraft.
His service in the French air force was a little chequered, on the one hand he was a brilliant pilot, who before his injuries put a end to his flying temporarily, he had downed 43 enemy aircraft making him the 3rd French highest scoring ace, these were confirmed victories, he probably had many more.
His conduct on the ground however, was not quite as good. His first kill an Albatros, was in a plane that he had borrowed without permission, for this breach of discipline, he was placed under house arrest for eight days and awarded a medal. whenever he was given the opportunity he would speed off to Paris to go drinking and clubbing and would often return somewhat the worse for drink, in his tuxedo with a glamorous woman on his arm. But it never stopped his flying exploits.
Although regarded as something as a hell raiser, as a pilot, he took similar risks, it was said that he had every bone in his body broken at least twice due to crashing his planes. He called himself the ‘Knight of Death’ and his insignia was quite macabre, a black heart with a white outline, inside the heart was a white skull and crossbones, above a closed coffin with candles either side. This insignia almost led to his death, a british pilot attacked him and he had to shoot him down. after that he had red, white and blue stripes painted on the upper sides of his wings.
He survived the war, and later took part in the race to fly the Atlantic from Paris to New York, he and his navigator left Paris on 8th May 1927. His plane named L’oisou Blanc and carrying Nungesser’s macabre insignia flew up over the atlantic and was never seen again. To this day it remains a mystery!
As a matter of record, the American Charles Lindburgh scooped the prize, flying the ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ the opposite way. New York to Paris.
(C) Damian Grange 2017
The Photographs – Courtesy of Pinterest