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