Sunday, March 16, 2008

Alan Winslow Victory - April 14, 1918, vs. Jasta 64w

The Winter 2007 issue of Over the Front (Vol. 22, No. 4) contained two articles about the German unit Jasta 64w. One article, by Stephen Lawson, gives some detail about two aircraft of Jasta 64w which were shot down in April 14, 1918 in combat with Alan Winslow and Douglas Campbell, pilots with the U.S. 94th Aero Squadron. This article as well as a photo inside the back cover of the issue showing fabric removed from one of the German planes (courtesy of Alan Toelle), indicates there is still some confusion about the identities of the German pilots shot down that day.

Apparently the pilot of Campbell's victory was severely injured in the subsequent crash and later died. The pilot of Winslow's victory was not injured. The official record says the Uffz. Heinrich Simon was the Jasta 64w pilot who was made a POW and it was Vzfw. Anton Wroniecki who was listed as killed in action. Lawson's article mentions an earlier issue of OTF (Vol. 15, No. 3 - sorry I don't own this issue) were it was speculated that it was Wroniecki who survived. Supposedly he defected and the Army wanted to protect his identity, so they listed him as KIA.

In my research in the life of Raoul Lufbery (combat flight instructor assigned to the 94th Aero Squadron in the spring of 1918) I have had several research trips to the U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, PA. This facility often has materials that duplicate those held by the National Archives, but it also has unique materials that have been donated to the U.S. Army and the facility over the years. On one trip I located a folder containing materials relating to the 94th Aero Squadron and in particular a letter from Alan Winslow written to his parents about the events of April 14, 1918. This letter was probably a copy but it was very old. It was typed, but it was not signed and did not contain any censorship marks that are common with letters of this type mailed during the war. Still, I think it was authentic and is a very interested read. It also alludes to the identity of the pilot of the plane shot down by Winslow. The letter had quite a number of grammatical errors. I have corrected the ones that might lead to confusion, others that are less serious I have left untouched. Part of this letter was printed in "The Hat in the Ring Gang" by Charles Woolley, but Woolley only includes part of this letter and leaves out the part about the pilot's identity. Please read on…




Alan Winslow (center) standing in front of the German fighter he shot down on April 14, 1918.
c/o United States National Archives – College Park MD.

From Lt. A.F. Winslow 94th Aero Squadron
A.S.S.C. U.S.R. A.E.F. France.

Dearest Mother and Father:

If anybody was ever more happy than I am right now, I doubt it very much. I tried to cable you the news, but found it practically impossible from here; so I wrote Paul immediately and asked him to do it for me. But I suppose you already know something about it, for in the last two days I have been interviewed by nine reporters.

Here is the story:

On Sunday morning, April 14th, I was “on alert” from 6:00 A.M. till 10:00 A.M. that is, I with Lt. Douglas Campbell of Harvard and California, were on emergency call duty. We were sitting in the little alter tent, playing cards, waiting for a call. Our machines were outside, ready at a moment’s notice. I was patrol leader. At 8:45 I was called to the ‘phone, told by the information officer, who is in the direct touch with all batteries and observation posts, that two German aeroplanes were about two thousand meters above the city, which is only a mile or so from here. We were told that they were going east. We were rushed down to machines in side cars, and in another minute were off in the air. Doug started ahead of me, as I was to meet him above a certain point at five hundred meters, and then take the lead. I gave him about forty-five seconds’ start, and then left myself, climbing steeply in a left-hand spiral, in order to save time. I had not made a complete half-turn, and was at about two hundred and fifty meters, when straight above and ahead of me in the mist of the early morning, and not more than a hundred yards away, I saw a plane coming toward me with huge black crosses on its wings and tail. I was so furious to see a Hun directly over our Aviation field that I swore out loud and violently opened fire. At the same time, to avoid my bullets, he slipped into a left-hand reversement, and came down firing on me. I climbed, however, in a right-hand spiral, and slipped off, coming down directly behind him and “on his tail”. Again I violently opened fire. I had him at a rare advantage, which was due to the greater speed and maneuverability of our wonderful machines. I fired twenty to thirty rounds at him and could see my tracers entering his machine. Then, in another moment, his plane went straight down in an uncontrolled nose-dive – I had put his engine out of commission. I followed in a straight dive, firing all the way. At about six feet above the ground he tried to regain control of his machine, but could not and he crashed into earth. I started down near him, made a sharp turn by the wreck, to make sure he was out of commission, then made a victorious swoop down over him, and climbed up again to see if Doug needed any help with the other Hun: - for I had caught a glimpse of their combat out of the corner of my eye.

I rose to about three hundred again, to see Doug “on the tail” of his Boche, and his tracer bullets were passing throughout the enemy plane. I climbed a little higher, and was diving down on his second Hun, and about to fire, when I saw the German plane go up in flames and crash to earth. Doug had sent his Hun plane down one minute after I had shot down mine.

Mind you, mother, that the fight took place only three hundred meters up, in full view of all on the ground and in the near-by town; mine dropped about one hundred yards to the right, and Doug’s one hundred yards to the left of our field. These are remarkable facts, for one of our Majors, who, with the French army since 1915, has shot down seventeen machines, never had one land in France – and here we go, right off the bat and stage a fight over our aerodrome and bring down two Huns right on it. It was an opportunity of a lifetime – a great chance.

When we landed, only our respective mechanics were left in the drome, to help us out of our flying clothes. The whole camp was pouring out, flying by on foot, bicycles, side cars, automobiles; soldiers, women children, majors, colonels, French and American – all poured out of the city; in ten minutes several thousand people must have gathered. Doug and I congratulated each other, and my mechanic, no longer military, jumping up and down, waving his hat, pounded me on the back instead of saluting, and yelled: Damn it! That’s the stuff, old kid!” Then Campbell and I rushed to our respective Hun Wrecks.

On the way there – it was only half a mile, I ran into a huge crowd of soldiers – blue and khaki – pressing about one man. I pushed my way through the crowd, and I heard somebody triumphantly say to the surrounded man in French: “There he is; now you will believe he is an American.” I looked at the man – a scrawny, poorly clad, little devil, dressed in a rotten German uniform. It was the Hun pilot of the machine I had shot down. Needless to say, I felt rather haughty to come face to face with my victim, now a prisoner, but did not know what to say. It seems he would not believe that an American brought him down. He looked me all over, and then asked me in good French if I was an American. When I answered, “Yes,” he had no more to say. First I stood on one foot – eyeing him all the time, contempt and victory written on my face – then on the other foot, then lit a cigarette – (I did not give him one, as one paper said.) Then I coughed, and finally managed to ask him if he was hurt. When he replied, “No”, I turned, and left him in charge of some other officers, while I ran over to the wrecked plane.

There was a huge crowd around it, and the first man I ran into was our major – the C.O., - and he was the happiest man in the world outside of me and Doug. After him, everybody began shaking my hand. It was an awful time for me. A French and an American General blew up in a limousine to congratulate me – colonels, majors, all the pilots, all the French officers, mechanics, - everybody in the town and camp. All had seen the fight. One woman, an innkeeper, told me she could sleep well from now on, and held up her baby for me to kiss. I looked at the baby, and then felt grateful to my major, who pulled me away in the nick of time. I had my mechanic take off everything available – the machine was a wreck – but I got some splendid souvenirs. The big black German crosses from the wings, his rudder, pieces of canvas with holes from my bullets in them, all his spark plugs, his magnetos, his mirror, clock, compass, altimeter, his clumsy signal revolver, etc. – it is a great collection. After I had gathered all this stuff, and had my mechanic take it back to camp, the photographers began to arrive, and then there was another awful time. When that agony was over, they wheeled what was left of the Hun plane back to our field, and then the photographers got excited all over again. Nevertheless, they got a wonderful lot of interesting pictures, - the duplicates of some I will send you under separate cover, for I don’t date trust many to the mails. I will keep all the films.

Doug returned from similar experiences, and then they worked on both of us all over. He had set his Hun machine on fire at three hundred meters, and it had fallen in flames, rolling over three times, and then completely burning up. There remained but a charred wreckage, like the sacrifice of some huge animal. The Hun pilot had been thrown out and was badly off. His face, hands, feet, nostrils and lungs were all burnt, while his leg was broken. He is now in hospital and my Bosche is probably commencing is job of ditch dogging for the rest of the war.

They got much valuable information off my man – the other couldn’t speak. But I can’t of course give that out. However, he was a Pole, said he was not an officer because he was a Pole. Although he had been an “aspirant” and a pilot at the front for two years. He said to me, with a sort of sigh of relief, throwing up his hands at the same time, “Alors, la guerre est finis pour moi!”

That afternoon my wrecked Hun plane and the charred result of Doug’s good work were exhibited in the public square of the town, surrounded by an armed guard, and overlooked by a French Military band. Not only was it a great day for me, Doug, the Major and the whole squadron, but it was a great day for the townspeople, and has had a good moral effect. You can imagine it, when you realize it took place above their roof tops, at only three hundred meters, and that they were able to see the whole fight. The Americans are indeed welcome in the town now, and I can Doug can buy almost anything half price.

An amusing incident was this, the fight was no near to earth that bullets were flying dangerously all about the ground, No one was hurt, save a French worker in the field, who received a hole through his ear from one of my bullets, and is very proud of it.

Two days later was another happy day, for Doug and I were both decorated by the French Colonel (side to the general of this army) with the Criox de Guerre with a Palm Leaf. That is equivalent to two Croix de Guarres, and you can well imagine I am proud – that was the proudest moment of my life. Also I have received a fine letter from the Chief of the Air Service, and have been mentioned in the General Orders. Likewise the General of the Division of the American Army in this sector came to pay me a visit. Furthermore, I have been proposed for the American Distinguished Service Cross, and for a promotion. Isn’t that all splendid?

The ceremony of giving the Croix de Guerre with a palm was all very impressive. The whole squadron was on parade, all the French officers, nearby, attended and the French Colonel made an excellent speech. I was a little nervous, but passed it off and everything went off smoothly. The official staff photographers were there, with their movie camera and took the whole thing. Then we had to make fools of ourselves for the movies, after it was all over, by putting on our helmets, climbing in and out of our machines and trying not to be embarrassed. It was awful. Those pictures are to be shown in America as official war photographs in about four to six weeks, so you might look out for them.

I received authority to get a duplicate “Croix de Guarre” which I am sending under separate cover to you. Also, I will send some photographs, and a piece of the canvas from the cross on the rudder of the Hun plane I shot down.

My dearest love to you, dear mother and dad, from the happiest son of the world.

Alan.

April 17, 1918

P.S. You have published some of my letters, but please do not publish even part of this, as it is too personal.

I am told that the two wrecked Hun planes are to be exhibited in America as a boomer for the Liberty Loan. It would be great if you could see them. You see they are the first two Hun planes brought down in France by the American air service, and I was the first to bring one down by one minute.

I will also send you duplicates of the official letters I received from the Chief of Air Services, from the French Commander, and my Croix de Guerre citation, etc.

Alan.

______________

In the Douglas Campbell's book "Let's Go Where the Action Is!" there is included a letter with Campbell's account of his victory on April 14, 1918. The editor of the book, Jack Eder, included in his notations a journal entry from Col. Frank P. Lahm. He describes the injured pilot as "...a big husky typical German, 24 years old..." He does not describe the nationality of the other, non-injured pilot, but he does ask the pilot if he is an officer, to which the pilot replied, "Je suis adjutant."

In this particular notation, Eder, the editor of the book takes issue with Lahm identifying Winslow's kill as an "Albatross." Eder not only maintains that Winslow's kill was a Pfalz, but he goes on to say that "Neither Campbell or Winslow ever got to meet either of the men they had brought down."

This book was published in 1984, and obviously Mr. Eder was unaware of the Winslow letter included in this posting. Given the confusion about this combat I think Mr. Eder did the best he could. This blog posting is simply to bring another piece of the puzzle into the light and maybe spark some conversation.

Your comments and input would be appreciated.

3 comments:

a painter said...

Are we corresponding about Lufbery?

Bill Jackson said...

Are we corresponding about Lufbery?

I am not sure I understand your question? Sorry for the delay in responding.

alex revell said...

Details of this action were published in my book Fall of Eagles, published by Pen & Sword in 2011. Winslow's letter, paraphrased, was used as one source.
The two Jasta 64w pilots were Unteroffizier Heinrich Simon and Vizefeldwebel Anton Wroniecki. Wroniecki was a Pole and was flying an Albatros DVa. Simon, who was flying a Pfalz D.IIIa, was badly burned and taken to hospital. Wroniecki, who had been flying at the front for two years, and was aggrieved that he had not been made an officer because he was a Pole, 'volunteered much valuable information.'
Alex Revell