A brief history of the WW1 US95th Aero Squadron
On April 6, 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. However, at that time, the U.S. Army only had 131 air officers of which only 56 were rated as fliers. The U.S. Army immediately began to prepare for war in men and materials.
The US95th Aero Squadron was first organized at Kelly Field, Texas on August 20, 1917. The pilots that were to join the US95th came from many walks in life. Some were already serving overseas in the English and French armed forces, others left college to enlist and still others left their families and jobs to join the cause.
The British and French commanders in Europe wanted the newly arriving American soldiers to be placed directly under their commands as ground forces. But U.S. Army General John J. Pershing insisted that American soldiers and pilots remain under American command and as American units. Some of the U.S. Army commanders wanted all American pilots to receive all of their flight training in the U.S. at such bases as Kelly Field, Texas. But again, U.S. Army General John J. Pershing insisted on the best combat training for US pilots and he felt the best training was at the training bases of the English and French who had instructors who were already experienced combat pilots. Most US pilots received their flight training in France at bases such as at Tours and Issoudun. Eventually, the training bases at Tours and Issoudun would be run by American instructors.
“Issoudun was a school purely for Chasse pilots. Only those who showed a fitness and tendency to fly single-seated fighting planes were allowed to remain. To make Chasse was to achieve the last word in flying – the pinnacle of aviation – the height of success in the flying world.”
from page 45 of the book “Heaven High – Hell Deep” by Norman Archibald, US95th pilot
There were 8 training fields at Issoudun that a pilot must compete to be certified as a Chasse (fighter) pilot.
Field 1 – initial flights w/instructors in 23-meter Nieuports
Field 2 – solo flights in 23-meter Nieuports
Field 3 – solo flights in 18-meter Nieuports
Field 4 – spirals in 18-meter Nieuports
Field 5 – solo flights in 15-meter Nieuports
Field 6 – acrobatics
Field 7 – formation
Field 8 – combat
There was a 9th field at Issoudun – it served as a cemetery for pilots killed in training, which there were many.
By the summer of 1918, Issoudun was the worlds largest flying training center. It was comprised at that time of 10 training fields, 1,000 officers and 5,100 enlisted men. Its facilities included over 1,000 training planes, 91 hangars, 150 permanent barracks and had mess hall, supply buildings and classrooms.
There were 2 other major training centers, the 2nd Aviation Instruction Ctr. at Tours and the 7th Aviation Training Ctr. at Clermont-Ferrand. Plus, there were numerous smaller training centers in France.
On February 10, 1918 Capt. James Ely Miller assumes command of the US95th Aero Squdron.
On February 13, 1918, the following pilots who had completed their pilot training at Issoudun were assigned to the US95th Aero Squadron:
Buckley, Harold R.
Casgrain, Wilfred V.
Curtis, Edward P.
McLanahan, Alexander H.
Quick, Raymond B.
Jones, Eugene B.
Eastman, Joseph H.
Wooley, C. H.
Chalmers, William (Chalmers was replaced by William H. Taylor when Chalmers became ill)
A U.S. Army special order dated September 1917 authorized pursuit aero squadrons to consist of 15 pilots and 3 flight commander pilots for a total of 18 pilots, and 18 planes. A U.S. Army special order dated September 1918 increased the plane allotment to 25 planes for pursuit aero squadrons, although there was not a proportionate increase in the number of pilots alloted.
The US95th Aero Squadron was assigned to the 1st Pursuit Group of the Army Air Service. The 1st Pursuit Group consisted of the 27th, 94th, 95th and 147th Aero Squadrons.
“The First Pursuit Organization and Training Center was established at Villeneuve-les-Vertus, Marne, South of Epernay, on January 16, 1918. The 95th Aero Squadron arrived on February 18, 1918, the 94th Aero Squadron on March 4, 1918, and on March 15, American Pursuit pilots, American trained and from squadrons organized with American personnel, made their first patrol of the front.”
from the book “The U.S. Air Service in World War I, Volume 1, page 283
On February 16, 1918 the members of the US95th Aero Squadron departed Issoudun, France for the front. The squadron received its first group of Nieuport fighters on March 5, 1918, however, the machine guns for the planes weren’t delivered yet. But the US95th pilots were itching to get in the air and the war. They would get their chance soon.
On March 9, 1918 Captain James Miller accepted the invitation of Major Davenport Johnson to join him and Major Harmon for a short patrol over the lines in three Spad 7 fighters borrowed from a French squadron. The plane of Major Harmon had engine trouble shortly after takeoff and he had to turn back. Major Johnson and Captain Miller continued on and ran into four German fighters. Shortly after the fight began, Major Johnson abandoned the fight, leaving Captain Miller on his own. Captain Miller was shot down. The German pilot who downed Miller and a German intelligence officer who had rushed to the crash scene witnessed Captain Miller’s dying last words in which he cursed Major Davenport Johnson for leaving him during the air battle.
On March 12, 1918, Major Davenport Johnson took over command of the US95th Aero Squadron.
The first combat flight mission of the US95th was made on March 15, 1918 at 11:30am. The US95th pilots flew their newly acquired Nieuport 28 fighters. But their fighters were still unarmed, as their shipment of machine guns for the airplanes had still not arrived yet. The flight consisted of Richard “Dick” Blodgett, 1st Flight leader, Sumner Sewall and Charles Woolley. They were accompanied by a French pilot flying an armed Spad 7 fighter. The flight group flew at 16,000 feet to the area between Epernay and Reims to observe allied anti-aircraft fire at the front. Three unarmed flights per day were flown for almost a week.
The pilots of the US95th Aero Squadron would soon find themselves to be constantly outnumbered by the enemy. As an example, it was estimated by the 6th French Army that the allied pilots were outnumbered by a margin of 4 to 1 by the enemy during the Chateau-Thierry operations.
The aerial fighting was intensive throughout the war. The first aerial victory by a US95th pilot was scored by 1st Lt. Richard “Dick” Blodgett on May 2, 1918 (although he did not receive official confirmation). Less than two weeks later, on May 15, 1918, US95th pilot Richard “Dick” Blodgett was killed in action.
With the first aerial victory by US95th pilot “Dick” Blodgett, the US95th Aero Squadron was entitled to chose a squadron emblem and to paint it on their planes fuselages. Major Davenport Johnson, CO of the US95th, suggested an army mule, as it was the symbol of West Point of which he was a graduate. The men of the US95th approved his suggestion and a kicking mule on a blue circular background was chosen as the US95th Aero Squadron emblem. US95th pilots Edward Buford and Harold Buckley took it upon themselves to obtain a squadron mascot, and they purchased a donkey from a local Frenchman. The new squadron mascot was promptly named “Jake”. “Jake” the US95th mascot was quite feisty, like the pilots of the US95th, and he was present at a lot of the squadrons festivities.
Statistics for the US95th Aero Squadron:
There were 82 requests for confirmed victories from US95th Aero Squadron pilots.
There were 65 confirmed victories for US95th Aero Squadron pilots.
A total of 6 US95th pilots were aces:
Maj. David M. Peterson – 6 victories
Capt. Harold R. Buckley – 5 victories
Lt. Edward P. Curtis – 6 victories
Lt. Sumner Sewall – 6 victories
Lt. James Knowles – 5 victories
Lt. Lansing C. Holden – 7 victories
A total of 23 US95th pilots received 1 or more awards:
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster (DSCw/OLC), Legion of Honor (LOH), Cross of Leopold (COL), Croix de Guerre (CDG)
David Peterson – DSC, DSCwOLC, LOH, CDG
John Mitchell – DSC, CDG
Harold Buckley – DSC, DSCw/OLC, CDG
Walter Avery – DSC, DSCw/OLC, CDG
Edward Buford – DSC, LOH, CDG
Edward Curtis – DSC, CDG
John Hambleton – DSC, DSCw/OLC, CDG
Lansing Holden – DSC, DSCw/OLC
James Knowles – DSC, CDG
Josiah Pegues – DSC
Sumner Sewall – DSC, DSCw/OLC, LOH, COL, CDG
William Vail – DSC
Alex McLanahan – CDG
Wilfred Casgrain – CDG
Stuart McKeown – CDG
Waldo Heinrichs – CDG
Quentin Roosevelt – CDG
George Fisher – CDG
Clarence Gill – CDG
Lawrence Richards – CDG
Sydney Thompson – CDG
Grover Vann – CDG
William H. Taylor – CDG
A total of 9 US95th pilots were killed in action:
Capt. James Ely Miller
Lt. Richard M. Blodgett
Lt. Sydney P. Thompson
Lt. Quentin Roosevelt
Lt. Irby R. Curry
Lt. William M. Russell
Lt. Grover C. Vann
Lt. William H. Taylor
Lt. Eugene B. Jones
A total of 4 US95th pilots were wounded:
Lt. John A. Hambleton
Lt. Lawrence Richards
Lt. Clarence S. Gill
Lt. William H. Vail
A total of 4 US95th pilots were wounded and captured:
Lt. Steuart E. McKeown
Lt. Waldo Heinrichs
Lt. Granville Woodard
Lt. Walter Avery
A total of 5 US95th pilots were captured:
Lt. Wilfred V. Casgrain
Lt. Carlisle Rhodes
Lt. George Puryear
Lt. Paul Montague
Lt. Norman S. Archibald
On November 11, 1918 the ARMISTICE is signed and the war is over.
The pilots of the US95th Aero Squadron fought a series of hard aerial conflicts during WW1. They suffered and sacrificed. Their courage can be summed up in the words of US95th pilot Richard “Dick” Blodgett from a letter he wrote in the event of his death (he was killed in action on May 15, 1918):
“Show them we can fight like hell – a hard, clean fight. Give ’em hell.”
For more information on the US95th Aero Squadron, check out these recommended Books on the US95th Aero Squadron.