Air Aces of World War One

Lieutenant Michel J.C.M.Coiffard – French Ace – 1892 / 1918

Coiffard was born in Nantes, Liore Atlantique on the 16th of July 1892 to Jean Coiffard and Mary Josephine Teresa de Laurent. He was christened Michel Joseph Calixte Marie. He joined the Army on the 16th of November 1910. The following year he served against the Rifs in Morocco. He also served in Tunisia prior to World War One. He was wounded three times during his service in Africa, and was awarded three citations whilst there. He was serving in an artillery unit when World War One began in 1914.

Repeatedly wounded and cited for courage under fire, Coiffard transferred to the Infantry with the rank of sergeant on the 29th of August 1914. On the 29th of May 1915, he earned the Medal Militaire for voluntarily braving heavy artillery fire to repair field phone lines between artillery and infantry units. He was finally declared unfit for ground combat because of a serious wound. Consequently, he joined the Air Service on the 4th of January 1917.

He completed flight training on the 19th of April 1917 and joined Escadrille N.154 on the 28th of June 1917. He achieved his first victory on the 5th of September 1917. Coiffard scored two more successes in early 1918. This earned him the award of Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur on the 2nd of February 1918. The citation notes that he was wounded four times as an Infantryman.

However not until the squadron transitioned in June from Nieuports to the more sturdier SPAD series did he really hit his stride. N.154 was re-designated Spa.154 to mark the change in aircraft. Coiffard had his new craft’s wheels and cowling painted red and dubbed his new Spad XIII ‘Mado’ after his girlfriend. He also began collaborating with his squadron mates in concerted attacks on observation balloons. As a result Spa.154 would become the premier balloon-busting squadron of the war. However, the French system of awarding a victory to every pilot involved in a shoot-down blurs the actual count.

Lieutenant Coiffard succeeded to the task of Squadron Commander upon the wounding of Capitaine Lahoulle on the 15th of July. In this capacity, he was admired as a trainer of his pilots; on one occasion he sent a pilot on a months leave to recuperate from combat fatigue. As a ‘balloon specialist’ Coiffard made his mark as a warrior, destroying nine Drachen balloons in July, along with three German aircraft. At the end of July he had run his score to 17, adding eight in August and six more in September. On three occasions, he shot down three balloons on the same day. On the last of these triple victory days, the 15th of September, he and his wingman downed three observation balloons in six minutes.

On the 28th of October 1918, Spa.154 was on patrol. Coiffard spotted German Fokker D.VII’s, and gave the signal to attack, which was seen only by his wingman. He and Second Lieutenant Condimene fought it out with the German patrol. Whilst downing his 34th victim ( a Fokker D.VII ) Coiffard was critically wounded by two bullets; one hit him in the thigh, the other pierced his chest back to front passing through a lung. He flew 12 kilometres back to make a perfect landing in friendly hands despite his wounds, but died three hours later while receiving a blood transfusion in an ambulance transferring him to Berenicourt. The following day he was posthumously made an Officer de la Legion d’honneur.

Coiffard’s record included 24 balloons ( 21 shared ) and 10 aircraft ( 4 shared ), ranking him sixth in the list of French Aces. Only two other World War One Aces shot down more observation balloons. his awards were the Medal Militaire, Chevalier de la Legion d’honneur and Officier de la Legion d’honneur.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

The Ninth Victim – Excerpt 12

The following morning, when I realised what I had done, I went directly to the Police and confessed to my wrongdoing. I was sent to trial and sentenced to ten years in prison and on reflection it was the finest thing that could have happened to me, prison changed my life for the better.’ he stated candidly.

‘If you have no objection to me asking, in what way did being incarcerated change you?’ ‘Up to my stay in prison, I had led an aimless shiftless existence with no thought to the future. The routine and discipline of prison life agreed with me, I soon realised that with a certain amount of commitment on my part, I need no longer be Pierre Dubois the aimless drifter, but with a certain amount of education, someone else, a better man.’

‘To achieve this, I spent every hour that I could in the prison library, everything that I had previously dismissed, I was eager to learn. I read everything and absorbed it all. My tutors encouraged me to begin writing, initially short stories and then longer articles but all had one thing in common, they were all about this area that I know so well.’

‘So, when you were released from prison, you were an established writer but without a book to build a reputation around, What transpired next?’ asked Valjean, although he knew the answer. ‘I had been released from prison for probably about a month. I was alone drinking in a bar, an attractive woman came in, Parisian I would guess from her clothing and mannerisms, she was definitely not local.

‘She came and sat beside me at the bar, introducing herself as Marie Deschamps a name that I was familiar with through my time spent in the prison library. she asked me if I knew the area well as she was here doing research for her latest novel.’

‘I replied, that I knew the area like the back of my hand and offered my services as a guide. she accepted and I found myself working as her research assistant on her latest project. ‘Was this the reason that she mentored you on your own projects?’ ‘No that came much later, after we had become lovers.’

‘I have no inclination as to how it happened, but we just seemed to click, I had no idea that a woman like that would be attracted to someone like me, yet it happened.’

‘When you met, had she not recently divorced her husband?’ queried Valjean.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

Air Aces of World War One

Sous – Lieutenant Edmond Thieffry – Belgian Ace – 1892 / 1929

Thieffry was born in Etterbeek, a municipality of Brussels, and went on to study law in Leuven ( hence his nickname, ‘The Flying Judge’ ) After qualifying he was conscripted into the Belgian Army, joining the 10th Regiment in 1913. At the start of the First World War he saw service as a staff attache to General Leman, but was captured by the Germans. He escaped on a stolen motorcycle to the neutral territory of the Netherlands, where he was arrested by the Dutch military police. Using his legal knowledge and Dutch language skills he managed to talk himself out of internment, and travelled to Antwerp to rejoin the Belgian Army.

In 1915, Thieffry joined the Compagnie des Ouvriers Aerostiers, The Belgian Army Air Corps and with some difficulty qualified as a pilot at Etampes. On the 1st of February 1916 he joined the 3rd Squadron as an observer for artillery, where he was appreciated for his exactitude and courage. He crash-landed so many aircraft that he was promptly assigned to a single seat fighter squadron, as no one would fly with him. He was rapidly transferred to No.5 Squadron ( The Comets ) under Captain Jules Dony based at De Panne in December 1916.

His first victory was on the 15th of March 1917, flying a Nieuport 11, his second followed eight days later above Gistel, and his third on 12th of May above Holthuist. His fourth was on the 14th of June, an Albatros DIII above Westende. The 5th Squadron then relocated to Les Moeres and was equipped with Nieuport 17’s. Thieffry gained official status as an ‘ace’ when he shot down two German fighters over Diksmuide on the 3rd of July. In August he received the first SPAD VII fighter in the Belgian Air Force, bought by the Belgian Prince, he gained three more victories flying it.

On the 31st of August his aircraft was badly damaged in combat with two Albatros D.V. fighters, but he managed to escape and land behind the Belgian lines. he continued to fight and he claimed his tenth and last confirmed kill on the 10th of October 1917, he also had five ‘probable’ kills. This placed him third on the list of Belgian Aces, behind Willy Coppens and Andre de Meulemeester. Shortly afterwards he was shot down and wounded by return fire from a German two-seater aircraft of FFA 227 over Kortrijk on the 23rd of February 1918. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in Germany. He attempted to escape on the 13th of April 1918 but was caught after ten days at liberty.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

The Ninth Victim – Excerpt 11

Valjean decided that now was the time for shock tactics, The girls that you describe are just like the girl that was beaten and raped by Pierre Dubois, but of course you know that all too well…. don’t you Pierre?’

The shock tactics worked too well, de Peysac looked like he was about to have a heart attack, he tried to get up out of his chair then collapsed back into it clutching his chest. Valjean went to the drinks cabinet and poured him a large brandy, de Peysac took a sip of the brandy then downed the remainder, to Valjean’s relief a little colour returned to his face and he seemed to stabilise.

‘I do apologise, that was a little cruel, I will leave if you wish me too,’ offered Valjean. ‘Please stay!’ requested de Peysac, ‘I feel that I at least owe you an explanation.’As you wish!’ said Valjean, as he returned to his seat, and sat waiting expectantly.

‘I knew that sooner or later my sins would return to haunt me, I just wasn’t expecting it to be today. You said that you were an investigative journalist, you had obviously done your research before coming here, I would have done the same.’

‘I certainly did not intend to shock you in that way, my aim was just to catch you off guard, and for that once again I apologise,’ Stated Valjean in all sincerity.

‘Sit back, and I will relate the tale of two men, both me, both different, neither having anything in common with the other. Pierre Dubois I would like to bury and forget,’ he stated with vehemence. I identify with Marcel de Peysac, that is the real me, or are you one of these people that believes a leopard can never change its spots?’

‘I came here today with an open mind, I will listen to your story and attempt not to pre – judge you, after all you paid for the crime that you admit too!’

‘Pierre Dubois was a poorly educated adolescent, he sought to be popular and was easily led, often by people who liked to use him as the butt of their jokes. They mistreated him, but he couldn’t see it, he thought they were his friends.’

‘One night he was in the local bar, a little the worse for drink when a young girl came in whom he knew vaguely. He made a rather clumsy pass at her, she shunned him and left the bar. Of course, his so-called friends admonished him, for letting a little slip of a girl make a fool of him.’

‘Like a fool he staggered after her and caught up with her at the edge of the forest, he attempted to kiss her, she scratched his face and kicked him in the shins. Inflamed by the alcohol he had consumed and the taunts of his friends, he lost his temper, punched her in the face then dragged her semi-conscious into the forest and had his way with her. And there is not a day go’s by when he dos not regret that incident.’

Valjean much to his surprise, believed every word, de Peysac was an author, not an actor, his rhetoric was so faultless that Valjean was convinced of his innocence.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

Air Aces of World War One

Major Roderic Stanley Dallas – Australian Ace – 1891 / 1918 Part Two

On the 3rd of December 1915, Dallas joined No.1 Naval Wing and began flying combat missions using single seat Nieuport 11 fighters and two-seater Caudrons out of Dunkirk, France. Early in his career there, a practical joker imitating the Commanding Officer telephoned Dallas who was the Duty Officer and peremptorily ordered him to take off in a propeller less Breguet. Upon learning that he had been tricked, Dallas joined in the laughter, he not only accepted the resulting nickname of ‘Breguet’ but also used it as a signature on his letters to home. Having made two unconfirmed claims in February 1916 Dallas scored his first confirmed victory on the 23rd of April. He outmanoeuvred a German Aviatik C. and shot it out of control, following his victim down to 2.000 feet , though heavy anti-aircraft fire holed his plane in several places. he went on to three more victories flying the Nieuport 11.

On the 23rd of June 1916, Dallas took delivery of the newest R.N.A.S. fighter Sopwith Triplane # N 500. This was the original prototype, having undergone Admiralty trials before being shipped to France. Though still only a test plane, it was flown in combat just 15 minutes after its arrival. Dallas named it ‘Brown Bread’ and it was the first of a series of ‘Tripes’ that he would fly and fight in over the next year. He achieved his first victory with ‘Brown Bread’ on the 1st of July 1916, the same day that he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. Three days later he was recommended for further promotion. He scored his last Nieuport-mounted kill on the 9th of July 1916, earning the Croix de Guerre and a mention in despatches for coming to the aid of a French Maurice Farman biplane. On the 7th of September 1916, Dallas was awarded The Distinguished Service Cross, ‘For the gallant manner in which he has carried out his duties,’ since first seeing action in December 1915. By the end of the year he was numbered amongst the earliest of the R.N.A.S. aces, with 8 confirmed, and 4 unconfirmed victories, and had been raised to the rank of Flight Commander.

Dallas became one of the best-known pilots of Sopwith Triplanes in the R.N.A.S. He opened 1917 by setting an altitude record of 26.000 Feet in the Triplane while testing a prototype oxygen set, he endured frostbite and oxygen intoxication in the process. By now No.1 Wings fighter squadron had been renumbered as No.1 Squadron R.N.A.S. and had totally re-equipped with production Triplanes. It also shifted airfields from Veurne in Belgium to Chipilly in France, leaving behind R.N.A.S. control by transferring to No.14 Wing, 4th Brigade of the R.F.C. Formation flying became the order of the day, as the practice of fighter pilots soloing into combat dwindled. The last three weeks of March were also filled with Dallas’s responsibilities for flight and gunnery testing. As British losses in the air began to mount during ‘Bloody April’, Dallas and his squadron moved airfields once more to La Bellevue. They were then in position to take a prominent part in the subsequent battle of Arras, where the intense aerial fighting saw Dallas add to his burgeoning score. The combat of the 23rd of April became known as one of the classic air battles of the war. Dallas and his wingman Thomas Culling took on a squadron-sized formation of 14 German aircraft, having gained an altitude edge on their foes. The naval aces exploited this edge by making quick diving attacks from opposite sides, culminating in short bursts of machine-gun fire. Using the Triplanes superior climbing abilities, they would then bob back up to position themselves for the next assault. In contrast to the usual hit and run tactics of most dogfights, the R.N.A.S. duo launched at least 20 gunnery runs over 45 minutes. The Germans were forced progressively lower, into disarray and then chased back over their own lines. While they shot down three of the enemy aircraft, Dallas and Culling also achieved a more important outcome by blocking and then breaking up a determined enemy effort against the British ground offensive. The action led to the award of a Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross for Dallas and for Culling the Distinguished Service Cross, which were gazetted on the 29th of June 1917.

By June 1917, Dallas had achieved over 20 victories in aerial combat, this experience and his leadership ability, led to his appointment as Commanding Officer of No.1 Naval Squadron on the 23rd of June 1917. The unit had been forced to cut back its operational strength from 18 to 15 aircraft due to lack of pilot replacements and a shortage of spare parts for their aging Triplanes. It had also moved airfields, to an unprepared site at Bailleul. On the ground, Dallas proved to be an efficient organiser, designing and direc ting construction of the new airbase. It was also during this time that he wrote a treatise on air combat tactics, extracts of which have survived. Both the air base layout and the treatise displayed his talent has a sketch artist. On the 2nd of November 1917, No.1 Squadron moved airfields once more, to Middle Aerodrome which put it back under overall R.N.A.S. control. The unit received its first eight new Sopwith Camels on the 9th of November as replacements for the aging Triplanes. On the 11th of November, Dallas was once again mentioned in dispatches, this time by Field Marshal Haig. After receiving its full complement of Camels, N0.1 Squadron was transferred back to England, and took up Home Defence duties at Dover. On the 16th of February 1918, Dallas led his Squadron back to France, where it was based at Teteghem, supporting units on operations along the Belgian coast. He commanded this unit until the 31st of March.

As part of the amalgamation of the R.N.A.S. and R.F.C. to form the Royal Air Force on the 1st of April 1918, Dallas was promoted to Major and given command of No. 40 Squadron R.A.F. flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s. The squadron boasted several aces in its ranks, and its former R.F.C members were suspicious of Dallas’s naval background. He was nevertheless able to overcome their misgivings and established himself as the new C.O. with his personal demeanour and courage, The nickname of ‘Admiral’ that they bestowed upon him was an affectionate one. Ten days after taking over, he had adapted well enough to his new mount with its inline engine to score his first victory with his new unit. His men also saw that he would not only look out for his rookie pilots, but would not shirk the dangers of ground attack sorties. His offhand attitude to two leg wounds he received during a strafing mission on the 14th of April, after which he made a perfect landing, especially impressed his subordinates, as did his appreciation of all ranks for the hard work they put in. His studious bent continued to serve him, he kept notes on his methods of attacking enemy aircraft, which often exploited their structural weaknesses and used them to tutor pilots under his command.

Dallas was briefly hospitalised by wounds to his thigh and heel on 14th of April, but sneaked out four days later to rejoin his squadron, his departure may have been spurred by the news of the capture of his friend Richard Minifie. As soon as he was able, Dallas was flying again. By the 26th of April he had increased his official score to 37, and been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the operations at Dunkirk. He had also been recommended for the Victoria Cross on several occasions, but it was never approved. His somewhat casual attitude towards claiming victories was noted by a member of No.40 Squadron, Cecil Usher who noted that Dallas once remarked of an opponent, ‘He went down belching a lot of black smoke and after he had gone down someways one of his planes came off, but I didn’t see him crash so I shan’t claim him’ On the 2nd of May, during a lull in the fighting at Flanders, Dallas took off in his S.E.5 to taunt his foes. He strafed the German base at La Brayelle to ‘attract attention’ before dropping a package on the Aerodrome with a note reading, ‘If you won’t come up here and fight, herewith a pair of boots for work on the ground, pilots for the use of’ he then circled in mist until troops came to handle the bundle, whereupon he dropped two bombs and once again shot up the base causing ‘general panic.’ The news of this singular exploit reportedly provoked laughter from Field Marshal Haig and founder of the R.A.F. General Sir Hugh Trenchard, men not known for their sense of humour. Whilst adding to his score and leading his squadron in combat, Dallas had began thinking beyond the war. He was pleading with his father to quit the dangerous job of mining, with hints that he would support his parents by pioneering aviation in Australia. He also harboured a long – standing ambition of flying from England back to Australia, which would be a record setting journey.

Dallas was raised to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed to the command of a Wing, but he would never read the message that came from Headquarters, that arrived on June the 1st 1918 advising of his promotion and ordering to cease flying. He disappeared on a solo mission the same day. It was later learned that he was killed over Lievin during combat with three Fokker Triplanes from Jagdstaffel 14, probably by its commander Leutnant Johannes Werner. So ended the career of one of the leading lights of the newly formed Royal Air Force. Dallas’s official victory score stands at 39, but his Squadron colleagues say that this should be over 50, due to Dallas’s cavalier attitude to claiming.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

The Ninth Victim – Excerpt 10

‘You, as an author, have written eight best-selling novels all about girls missing from this area who have either been found dead or are still missing. There is a certain train of thought that believes that you personally know a little too much about these girls, so you must therefore be the perpetrator.’

De Peysac, much to Valjean’s surprise burst out laughing, once he had calmed down, he explained, ‘I am sorry but I have heard that same story or variations of it, that I can only treat it with humour or contempt.’

‘So, why do you choose to write about this area, and in particular, the missing girls?’

‘The person who encouraged me to become a writer, said write about what you know, things and places that you are comfortable with. I was born in this area and have lived all my life here, so what would be more natural than to translate that into words.’

‘Put that way, I can make a certain sense of it, but what is the significance of the wild boars, they feature in the title of every book you have written, why?’

‘You are city bred, so you would not understand, in the forests of this area, the wild boar is for want of a better description, our local refuse collector. They will eat virtually anything that to my way of thinking is why no whole bodies have been recovered, only bones.’

‘During the research for your books, did you discover any connection between any of the victims, did they know each other, did they have anything in common with each other?’

‘They were all aged between seventeen and twenty-three and they were all brunettes. Why they were alone in the forest I have no idea? but someone in this area knows, maybe I am getting close to discovering the culprit, hence the smear campaign. One thing I will state categorically is that if the killer is working to some sort of sick schedule, at anytime now there should be a ninth victim!’

(C) Damian Grange 2020

Air Aces of World War One

Major Roderic Stanley Dallas – Australian Ace – 1891 / 1918

Roderic Stanley ( Stan ) Dallas was born on the 30th of July 1891 at Mount Stanley station, Esk, Queensland to labourer Peter McArthur Dallas and his wife Honora. Mount Stanley was an isolated property and journeys to and from Esk were long and infrequent; Stan was the first Caucasian child to be born at the station. His family moved to Tenterfield, New South Wales, soon after the birth of his younger brother in 1893. The family returned to Queensland in 1898, settling in Mount Morgan where his father became a shift boss at the local mines. Stan attended Mount Morgan Boy’s School from February 1899, and eventually joined its cadet corps, rising to the rank of sergeant. At school he was noted for his intelligence, ability to get on with others and his quiet sense of humour. He enjoyed the outdoors and spent many hours in the mountains behind the family’s home, observing birds of prey.

In July 1907, Dallas joined the assay office of the Mount Morgan Gold Mining Company, and also enrolled in the local technical college, where he took night classes in Chemistry and Technical Drawing. He showed an early interest in Aviation, fuelled by the establishment of the Mount Morgan Chapter of the Queensland Aero Club. Dallas and his younger brother Norvel built a glider, which was wrecked by an untimely gust of wind the first time they attempted to launch it. The brothers continued to build model gliders, in spite of this initial disaster, and Stan corresponded with aviation pioneers in France, England and the United States. He later transferred to a higher paying job as a truck driver for Iron Island ironstone quarries. Stan and Norvel once again built their own flying machine while Stan was working on Iron Island. They experimented with this seaplane on nearby Marble Island, notorious for its treacherous waters. Stan lost this aeroplane in the sea.

At 1.88 Metres ( 6ft 2ins ) tall, and weighing 101Kg ( 223 lbs ), Dallas would surprise observers with his ability to fit into the cramped cockpits of fighter planes. Despite his size, he was considered a fine athlete with quick reflexes. Although he could project a loud speaking voice, he was generally soft-spoken and was not known to curse or drink alcohol, nor often to smoke. Dallas stayed fit through regular exercise at the gym, and played rugby union football. He had exceptionally keen eyesight, which he had trained by reading small print in newspapers at the six-foot length of his family’s table. To balance out athletics, he participated in amateur theatrics, where his strong voice served him well.

Dallas joined the Port Curtis Militia in 1913, and was commissioned as a lieutenant prior to the outbreak of war. Believing he had little chance of gaining a place in the recently established Australian Flying Corps, He applied to join the British Royal Flying Corps but was rejected. Undaunted he travelled from Queensland to Melbourne, where he impressed Minister without Portfolio J.A.Jensen, Jensen gave the young aspirant a letter to The Australian High Commissioner in London, Sir George Reid. Dallas paid his own passage to England, and once there applied once again to join the R.F.C. rejected again he turned to the Royal Naval Air Service ( R.N.A.S.) and was accepted, topping the entrance examination over 83 other students. He was commissioned as a flight sub-lieutenant and began his training at Hendon in June 1915, gaining Pilot’s license # 1512 on the 5th of August 1915.

To Be Continued ………………..

(C) Damian Grange 2020

The Ninth Victim – Excerpt 9

He washed, shaved and generally smartened himself up for the meeting. It was important that he gave the impression of a somewhat eager journalist. Possibly with a little charm and flattery he might unearth the real de Peysac. Would he find Pierre Dubois, had he graduated to become a serial killer, or was he just a pawn in someone else’s game?

Valjean enquired at the hotel reception for directions to de Peysac’s residence, apparently it was a short drive by car and quite easy to find. Within a short time Valjean was pulling into de Peysac’s driveway. His luck had definitely taken a turn for the better if his home was anything to go by. Valjean was impressed.

Valjean pressed the doorbell and the door opened within seconds, he sensed de Peysac had been waiting for him. This was goods news for it meant that de Peysac has fallen for Valjean’s ploy about being a journalist.

de Peysac ushered him inside, introduced himself, shook hands then led Valjean to a chair and then sat down himself in the one opposite. Valjean studied the man facing him, he was dressed casually in an open neck shirt and slacks, casually but not sloppily. Valjean placed him in his mid-thirties, although he knew he was slightly older. he had a good head of dark wavy hair, greying slightly at the temples, regular features and a welcoming smile. Natural or a tribute to a good dentist, but on all counts he looked the successful author. It was not just a character that he had invented for himself.

‘May I offer you a drink, Alain?’ Valjean was distracted from his thoughts by de Peysac’s voice. ‘Not for me, thank you, but do you mind if I smoke?’ queried Valjean.’Not at all, may I beg one off you, I quit months ago, but I’d be a liar to say I wasn’t tempted. Valjean extracted a crumpled packet of Gauloise from his trouser pocket, offered one to de Peysac and lit it for him, then selected one for himself, he lit it, feeling the familiar pleasure as he inhaled.

‘Where would you like to begin, have you any preferences? enquired de Peysac.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

Air Aces of World War One

Capitano Ernesto Cabruna – Italian Ace – 1889 / 1960

Ernesto Cabruna was born the 2nd of June 1889 in Tortona, the Kingdom of Italy. His family were merchants. Young Cabruna attended technical school until, on the 18th of October 1907, he joined the Carabinieri Reali, Italy’s version of the Military Police. The following year, he performed commendably during the 1908 Messina earthquake. On the 30th of September 1911 he was promoted to Vice – Brigadiere. From April 1912 to May 1913 he was transferred to Tripolitania, Libya. He later took part in the occupation of Rhodes.

On the 31st of January 1915, Cabruna was promoted to Brigadiere. In October 1915 he was posted to the 10th company of the Turin and Allievi ( Cadets ) Legion. On the 15th of May 1915 whilst stationed near Asiago, he rescued victims of an Austro – Hungarian bombing raid, while under fire. his valour was rewarded with a Bronze Medal for Military Valour. In July 1916, Cabruna returned to Torino for pilot’s training. He was granted two licenses for the Maurice Farman 14, awarded on the 6th of October and the 16th of November 1916. He was posted to 29a Sqadriglia on the 28th of December 1916. He would fly reconnaissance missions while so assigned.

Ernesto Cabruna, flew his first combat sortie on the 2nd of January 1917. On the 31st of May 1917, he was promoted to Maresciallo. After completing training on Nieuport fighters, he was assigned to a fighter squadron, 84a Squadriglia. on the 21st of September 1917, he was transferred to another fighter Squadron, 80a Squadriglia. He scored his first aerial victory on the 26th of October, and another on the 5th of December. By the end of 1917, Cabruna merited a Silver award of the Medal for Military Valour.

On the 26th of January 1918, he was transferred to another fighter Squadron, 77a Sqadriglia. Their Squadron insignia was a red heart on a white circle, aft of this Cabruna added his own marking, the coat of arms of his native city of Tortona. He would score a victory with his new Squadron on the 12th of March 1918. On the 29th of March he broke away from his unit and singlehandedly attacked 11 enemy aircraft. Cabruna fired several bursts of machine gun fire into a red fighter, which exited in an abrupt dive. this daring feat was captured on the cover of a leading Italian magazine, Domenica del Corriere, the illustration was by Achille Beltrame. Although existing Austro – Hungarian losses failed to support it, Cabruna was credited with the victory.

On the 4th of April 1918, he was commissioned in to the Officer’s ranks in a battlefield promotion. On the 15th of June 1918, the number of enemy aircraft was 30, but Cabruna once again plunged into solo combat and downed his fifth victim to become an ace. He shot down two more in June, before hitting a dry spell. On the 26th of September 1918 he crashed an Ansaldo A.1.Balilla in a landing accident breaking his collarbone. The new aircraft had broken an oil line, spurting oil blinded Cabruna, and he was fortunate to survive the crash landing.

He was sidelined for two days, then returned to combat duty for Italy’s final offensive, the battle of Vittorio Veneto. He claimed to have shot down two enemy aircraft on the 25th of October for his final aerial victories. On the 2nd of November he strafed two enemy aircraft on the airfield at Aiello and destroyed them. The following day the Austro – Hungarians surrendered. Cabruna was awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour for his later exploits. The Bongiovanni commission of 1919 conformed eight of the nine victories that Cabruna had claimed, seven enemy aircraft and a observation balloon.

(C) Damian Grange 2020