Aces of W.W.1
Raoul Gervais Lufbery, although not the first American to join the famed Lafayette Escadrille, he was probably the most successful. Lufbery was born in France, of French parentage on 14th March 1885 and emigrated to America with his parents at age six.
At age seventeen he ran away from home in search of adventure, his travels took him through Europe to the Middle East, back to America and finally to the Philippines as a rifleman with the U.S. Army.
In 1920, He journeyed through South East Asia, in Saigon he met a fellow countryman, Marc Pourpe, an Aviator. Pourpe was touring with a Bleriot Monoplane to show the inhabitants of France’s far flung empire, the wonder of Aviation.
The young Lufbery was suitably impressed and persuaded Pourpe to take him on as his mechanic. The pair were in France when war broke out, Pourpe immediately enlisted in the Air Force. Lufbery being an American had first to join the Legion Etrangere then transfer to the Air Force.
Within weeks Lufbury was serving with Pourpe in Escadrille N23, when his patron was killed in action, Lufbery was granted permission to fly. He soon got over his initial clumsiness and became a proficient pilot.
On 24th May 1916 he was transferred to the Lafayette Escadrille. Success came quickly and he soon had four victories. On October 12th he was promoted to Adjutant and scored his fifth victory. He was awarded the British Military Cross, along with the French Croix De Guerre and Medaille Militaire.
During his time with the Lafayette Escadrille, Lufbury was always associated with the Escadrilles two lion cub mascots Whisky and Soda, He had many photographs with them as above. I believe he actually procured Whisky, but I don’t have documentary proof.
When the Americans Finally entered the war, Lufbery was promoted to Major in the U.S. Air Service but remained with the Escadrille. On the 5th of January 1918 he was sent to the new base at Issoudon in an administrative position. Later Lufbury was transferred to the 95th Aero Squadron, then shortly after sent to take command of the 94th Aero Squadron Flying Nieuport 28’s.
On the morning of Sunday the 19th of May, Lufbery took off to intercept a lone enemy two seater, he made one attack, then swerved it seemed to clear a jammed machine gun, while the men of his new command watched from the ground, to their horror they saw Lufbury’s aircraft burst in to flames. In desperation he climbed out of the burning cockpit and tried to control the plane astride the fuselage, but all in vain, he plunged to his death from 3,000 feet. A tragic end to a valiant Airman.
Lufbury had he survived, would no doubt have become the foremost American Ace, according to his fellow Airmen In The Lafayette Escadrille, the 16 kills he was credited with were just the tip of the iceberg, according to their reckoning it could have been anything from 25 to 60 more, putting him well in front of Eddie Rickenbacker’s 26 kills. Lufbury wasn’t in it for the glory, he just wanted to get the job done.
(C) Damian Grange 2017
Photographs – Courtesy of Pinterest