Aviatóre he fly th' Caproni;
Maladito! Machina is phony!
He go up for a hop,
Por Baccho! She flop!
An' il bimbo he breaka da bōnĭ.
Pilóta say 'In God we trusta,
Because this damn-thing she go busta!'
Milan and La Roma?
There's no place like homa!
Aviatóre feel sad an' he cussed‑a!
The Italian adventure impaired the tempers of several of the best-natured members of the Unit. There was sunshine on the landscape but none in their hearts. Their language leads one to conclude that among the most ignoble works of mankind since the dawn of creation was the big Caproni plane equipped with Fiat motors. This they blame for the failure of the Northern Bombing Group to function as expected. The only person to remain quite sane and unruffled was 'Eddie' McDonnell. And he is unique to‑day in that he can speak of the Capronis without getting red in the face. He calls your attention to the fact that eight of them actually did fly over the Alps and reach their destination. As the officer in charge of getting them there, he made the best of a bad bargain. It was not his fault that the machines failed to do what was expected of them. Promise and performance disagreed.
p214 His explanation of the circumstances in which the Capronis were taken over as an emergency measure is well worth inclusion in this part of the Unit history:
In February, 1918, when I was a member of the staff of Captain Cone, I was ordered to Italy, after visiting several French stations, to inspect the Italian aircraft with the idea of possible purchases for our naval operations in European waters. At that time the idea of the Northern Bombing Group to bomb German submarine bases in Belgium was beginning to find favor with Captain Cone and his staff in Paris.
After inspecting several Italian aeroplane factories and seaplane stations, I discovered the greater part of my time to the study of bombing operations and bombing planes. I had a number of interviews with Signor Caproni and made a detailed inspection of his factory, also making several flights in Caproni planes. During one of these flights with an Italian officer we looped the loop in a three-motor Caproni which seemed to me quite a demonstration for a large plane of this type.
The Caproni then in use was a so‑called 450 driven by three 150 h.p. Isotta-Fraschini motors. This plane was easily maneuvered and in addition was capable of carrying a load of 1000 pounds in bombs to an altitude of •15,000 feet. The motors and planes were very reliable and had made excellent records at the Italian front. I secured permission to fly from Milan to the front where I was temporarily attached to one of the Caproni squadrons near Padua. I discussed these planes with a number of Italian officers who were actually flying at the front and I also took part as front cockpit gunner in a raid on a German Gotha squadron located behind the Austrian lines near . The operation of the plane and the motor seemed to be perfect. On my return from this expedition I discussed with Signor Caproni his new type, the 600 h.p. of the same general design, to be motored with three 270 h.p. Fiat motors with a total actual horse power of about 800. This was called the 600 Caproni.
While I personally made no exhaustive tests of these planes, it seemed to me that in the press of circumstances we would be fairly safe in recommending the purchase of these new planes as the Fiat factory had an international reputation certainly of a satisfactory nature, and the new planes, according to actual test figures, would carry 1800 to 2000 pounds of bombs to a height of p215at least 15,000 feet, in addition to which they had a speed of •105 miles an hour and were quite maneuverable.
My favorable impressions were confirmed by conferences with a British aviation officer in Milan from which I discovered that the British Naval Air service was purchasing large numbers of the new 600 Fiat Caproni for their own bombing operations. When I considered this, in view of the fact that the British Government was turning out its own Handley-Page heavy bombers, the new 600 Fiat Caproni which was then in actual production seemed to me to be a very good proposition for us, as the original 450 Isotta-Fraschini Caproni had an excellent record in actual service.
On my return to France I was sent out to the northern front and attached to No. 7 Handley-Page Squadron, R. N. A. S., where I made some night raids both as front and rear gunner over Bruges and also further south when the German army started its big push in March. As a result of this experience the 600 Capronis seemed to me to have the following advantages over the Handley-Pages:
Greater ceiling with full load, about 15,000 feet as compared with 10,000. Greater speed, about 100 to 105 miles an hour compared with 75 or 80. Greater safety factor in case of motor failure, the Caproni with a light load being able to fly with two of the three motors whereas the Handley-Page could not maintain altitude with single motor when one motor failed.
The disadvantage of the Caproni, as compared with the Handley-Page, as it appeared at that time, was a much less rugged construction. This presented an element of danger when roughly used or hit by shell fire. Also the Capronis were inferior in protection from the rear, where they had a more limited arc of gunfire.
I submitted these ideas and observations to the staff in London and was sent back to the United States as Admiral Sims's representative to procure material and personnel for the Northern Bombing Group. The final decision on the Caproni was not made as the result of my investigation. Instead, a commission of which Lieutenant Guggenheim and, I believe, Lieutenant-Colonel Spencer , R. A. F., were members went to Italy and it is my understanding that on the basis of the final report made by these officers Capronis were ordered, the idea being that heavy bombing planes were badly needed. The final p216action taken was to order both Capronis and Handley-Pages.
Subsequent experience proved that the Fiat Capronis were a failure due almost entirely to poor design and workmanship of the Fiat motors. The Isotta-Fraschini factory consistently refused to attempt a larger production than they could handle and at the same time maintain a high standard of quality. The Fiat factory attempted a tremendous expansion in an endeavor to imitate American large production methods. For this the Italians were not properly equipped, either in respect of machinery or skilled personnel. Crank-shafts were not properly machined, gaskets were left out of the cam-shaft housing. A very poor carburetor, of Fiat design, was adopted and this was largely responsible for the great fire risk in these planes. Also an old type American Dixie magneto, bought cheaply in this country in large quantities, was used and turned out to be absolutely inadequate. Besides these glaring faults, the entire workmanship of the motor was of very poor quality. Signor Caproni himself finally acknowledged the truth of all this, so I am informed, and the Italian officers also told us later that they regarded these planes as far inferior to the earlier types. The chief fault was found with the motor although the planes themselves did not appear to be as well designed as those of the 450 Capronis.
Because of the urgent need of these machines to assist the plans of the Northern Bombing Group, it was decided to try to fly them from Milan to our field at St. Inglevert. The first five or six planes were fallen by Army ferry pilots. Meanwhile a number of Naval Aviation officers, including Coombe and Walker, were ordered to Italy for instruction in Capronis so that we might replace the Army pilots and ferry our own planes. Under the agreement with the Army, all land machines from whatever source were received by the Army and then turned over to the Navy. Major La Guardia was the Army representative with whom we had to deal and his handling of the situation was so unsatisfactory that he was relieved of this duty, being replaced by Major Glendening.
About this time of the first ferry flights by Army pilots, I had returned to France and reported to Captain Hanrahan. He ordered me to Italy with several other officers and I was senior officer in charge of the second flight of planes to be flown to France by naval pilots. Harry Davison and Kenneth Smith were p217 with me and we made the trip to Milan together. Several of the naval officers who had preceded us to Italy had made the flight over the Alps as second pilots with Army aviators and then returned to become first pilots in ferrying more planes. Being senior naval officer on the spot, I took charge of this work which included at the time about six planes.
Harry Davison was assigned as a pilot with Lieutenant McCormick who had made the trip before. He was a member of the Second Yale Unit which had trained at Buffalo. I was the pilot of another machine and Kenneth Smith was with me as second pilot. Coombe and Walker were pilots of two other planes. The first hop was from Milan to Turin which most of us made without much difficulty. At Turin every machine had serious motor troubles. Some people thought there was sabotage although we had no concrete evidence. On this flight, McCormick and Davison piloted one of the first planes to make a successful trip to St. Inglevert which included the passage over the Alps from Turin to Lyons, three ranges of mountains about 11,000 feet high being in the path.
Over the Alps with Harry Davison
Of seventeen planes, eight were delivered safely, and five pilots were killed in this enterprise. In our plane alone we changed one motor, one radiator, one carbureter and eight magnetos, and had four motor failures in the air. We made one leg of the journey, from Dijon to Paris, with a broken down magneto on one of the motors.1
It has been told how jubilantly the members of the Unit at Le Croisic and Île Tudy welcomed the prospect of joining this Northern Bombing Group which proposed to erase Ostend and Zeebrugge from the map of Belgium and gloat over the ruins thereof. It was quite obvious to p218to Lieutenant Robert Lovett that the scheme was sure to fizzle out unless it had the active support of the Wags. These stars of the first magnitude naturally felt surprised that they had to be asked to be taken in on it instead of being absolutely the first choice. Walker does not hesitate to say, 'We heard that ten pilots had been sent to England for training on Handley-Pages and we knew the movement was on foot. We were very much disappointed not to have been among these as many of them were just over from the States and at this time we considered ourselves veterans among the American naval aviation officers in Europe.'
However, the Wags were always magnanimous so they refrained from cabling complaints to Washington which might have injured the prestige of Lieutenant Lovett, Chief Politician and Senior Grand Wag. Leaving Kenneth Smith in Paris where Headquarters had grabbed him and tied him by one leg despite his loud shrieks, Coombe, Walker, and Landon entrained for Italy on June 10th. They spent three weary days in the train, sitting up all night, and were not their merry selves when they rolled out in Rome where Lieutenant Callan met them with kind words. He was an old friend, having been at Moutchic and Le Croisic through the autumn of 1917, and was now in command of the American aviation forces in Italy. He informed these pilgrims that they were to be sent to the Caproni School at Malpensa where, if they survived the course, they would take the new machines from the factory and fly them to France. After that, the big bombing stuff under Captain Hanrahan! All of which 'listened grand!'
Two days were spent in seeing the sights of Rome under the hospitable guidance of Lieutenant Callan. It was extremely hot weather and they felt like Roman ruins. 'We dragged ourselves through the dusty old Forum and the Coliseum with our tongues hanging out and panting, p219says Walker. They were waiting for a batch of ten ensigns whom they were to command, but these incipient admirals somehow became mislaid en route and failed to show up for three days. Reginald Coombe was unlucky enough to be bowled over by a malady then strange to Rome, which turned out to be the flu. He was quite ill and had to be left behind.
So two of the three Uniteers took the ten ensigns in tow and proceeded to Malpensa, the Italian camp at Gallarate. Coombe was able to join them about a week later. He rather liked the camp which was the largest training school in Italy with three hundred officers under instruction. It occupied a spacious farm three quarters of an hour from Milan by electric cars. Let Reginald describe the place and what was done there with 'Signor Caproni's Flying Coffins':
We were quartered with the Italian officers and lived under the same rules and regulations. Everything was very clean and comfortable and after we had become accustomed to the peculiar schedule, things went along very smoothly. Flying began at 5.30 in the morning and continued until 10.30 when luncheon was served. At eleven o'clock Taps was blown and all hands turned in to sleep until four in the afternoon. Then they flew again till dark, which meant nine or ten o'clock in the long summer twilights. The idea was to dodge the intense heat of the middle of the day, but it seemed to waste a lot of time which might have been used for theoretical work.
The scheme of instruction for Malpensa was devised to equip a man to act as second pilot over the front lines. It was in no sense of the word a thorough finishing course such as was given in the British schools. In the Italian program a pupil would be sent up in the three types of Caproni machines, the 300, the 450, and the 600 h.p., soloing successfully in each and earning the three separate brevets, the test consisting of climbing to 2000 metres, staying there forty-five minutes, and coming down and landing at the aerodrome with dead motors.
This was followed by one lesson in night flying and two solo night flights, with another brevet. In this case the test was to p220 climb 2000 metres for half an hour. A little bombing from altitudes of 1000, 1500, and 2000 metres was also given.
Compared with the British system this seemed like a smattering of the things an experienced pilot had to be versed in. However, the Italians figured on sending their graduate pilots to the front to act as second pilots with men who knew the game. Promotion and experience would be gained in actual war flights.
We went through this course of instruction and found it easy, with not much to do. The Capronis, although unstable, were not hard to fly. The chief difficulty at Malpensa was to get your flights in. The Italians were in no hurry about anything. 'Domani,' to‑morrow, was the word. They seemed to think us a bit crazy for being in such a blazing hurry to get through with it.
The aerodrome was about the finest I have ever seen — an enormous field •some three miles square — and all of it good for landing. Of course many machines were in the air at one time, but there was room for all of them. Night landings were guided by means of searchlights which were better than flares.
The Caproni experimental station was •about two miles away, an interesting place to visit. The most extraordinary plane then building for trial was a giant triplane with three 700 h.p. Fiat motors. We also saw the Liberty motor for the first time, three of them just received from the United States to be installed in a Caproni. This machine was tried out while we were at Malpensa and made fine records. Signor Caproni himself showed us over the station with great pride. We could have told him more about his machines had we met him later.
There were about thirty American officers at Malpensa, Army and Navy, and all living together with the Italian officers. On the Fourth of July the eagle screamed. There was a big celebration in Milan in honor of the United States. The program opened with a reception at the house of the American consul, Mr. Winship, which was attended by the Allied military and diplomatic representatives. We American officers scored a hit. You might call it an ovation. In the evening there was an impressive demonstration in the Piazza del Duomo, in front of the famous Milan cathedral. The great square was thronged with the populace waiting to greet the official American delegation which appeared on a balcony and made long-winded speeches. The cheers and the enthusiasm were really tremendous. Having survived the oratory, the crowd sang American anthems and wildly p221 paraded behind three or four bands. The evening wound up with a performance of 'Madame Butterfly' with flag-draped boxes for the bravissimo American officers. We made an entrance in the middle of the first act and the whole house rose to greet us. After the opera came a brilliant ball. I went home. All that publicity and hero-worship had shot my well-known diffidence to pieces.
Sam Walker's2 attitude toward aviation in Italy was more critical. The environment appears to have rubbed his sensitive nature the wrong way. His notes of a traveler hint that all was not well with the world, for he informs us:
Our first impressions of Gallarate were pleasant. Things were cheaper than in France and we were very enthusiastic, which kept our spirits up. It was not long however, before our attitude changed and a few days of food at the Italian camp so disgusted us in that beautiful, sunny land that we felt quite different. And we couldn't agree with the Italians as to their methods of instruction and the lack of eagerness they showed for flying. Perhaps this was because so many of them were killed in practice. In thirty days they made a record of wiping out forty men!
American Army pilots were coming to this same school and p222using the machines to which we were assigned. The commanding officer was Major LaGuardia who was a native son. He could talk the Wop lingo so fast that none of us could get onto what he was talking about. Consequently when we heard a hot argument between him and some of the Italian officers at the station, we assumed that he was trying to smooth things out both for the Army and Navy aviators who had a lot of trouble in making their mechanics understand them. This had caused some friction.
We found, however, that LaGuardia was all for the Army. His chief interest was in finishing the training of his pilots and meanwhile letting the Navy twiddle its thumbs. This was contradictory to the orders we had received in Rome and snarled things up for a while. Major LaGuardia was, of course, a big man in Italy, one of their own heroes in an American uniform. He had all kinds of medals pinned on him, and when he arrived at the camp the Italian colors were hoisted above the Stars and Stripes.
He was not the only wonderful scenery. The country around Gallarate was the most beautiful in the world. It was the lake district of Northern Italy and in flying we would pass over Lake Como and Lake Maggoriº and soar almost up to the Alps. It was something to remember all your life.
However, we were very glad to leave Malpensa early in July and expected to start off immediately for somewhere with our machines. Instead of this, we had to just sit and wait. It was to afflict even a Wag with melancholia. Enthusiasm oozed away. Lieutenant Callan had told me in Rome that the first eight pilots to complete the course at Malpensa were to take their planes to Rome and thence to Brindisi. From there they were to bomb the Austrian base of Cattaro which was directly across the Adriatic. The Italians had information that the Austrians intended to begin a naval and air offensive from Cattaro and the trick was to beat them to it. As soon as ten American pilots were ready at I sent a telegram to Lieutenant Callan informing him of the fact and we went to Milan where we parked in comfortable quarters and waited and waited. No orders came. We went touring around to kill time, to Lake Como and so on, but got fed up with that. It was a poor imitation of getting on with the war. Lady Luck and I were not on speaking terms. I had to come down with the flu and was marooned p223 in the Red Cross hospital in Milan. Then, of course, the orders came and 'Reg' Coombe had to go to Rome in my place and see Lieutenant Callan.
Meanwhile 'Hen' Landon flew south to Brindisi in a Caproni to deliver the machine to the Italian Navy at Gioja del Colle in the heel of Italy. Howard Maxwell started in another plane. He had an Italian officer who said he knew the country fluently and could easily find his way. He was to steer for the Mediterranean and then follow the coast to Rome which would seem to be a fairly easy place to hit. Not so! Nothing was heard from this outfit for two days. It caused worry. Then we learned by telephone that a strange Caproni had landed near one of the small lakes in the mountains, very close to the Austrian front. This we discovered to be Maxwell and his sagacious Italian chaperon. The latter, failing to find the Mediterranean, had sighted the lake and took it to be the vast body of salt water he was looking for. When he became aware of his slight error, it too late. He had to land. If they had kept going fifteen minutes longer, the Austrian chasse planes would have probably shot them down.
Well, 'Reg' Coombe came back to Milan from Rome with the news that the bombing excursion to Cattaro was all off. We were to take our machines, just as fast as the Caproni factory turned them out, and fly them to Paris and then to the field of the Northern Bombing Group at St. Inglevert. Far be it from me to speak a captious or discourteous word, but there was too much 'Domani' in the Italian promises which seemed as negligible as a snowball in hell.
The machines given us were a very inferior lot. We had been trained on the Capronis equipped with 600 h.p. Isotta-Fraschini motors which were first-class. When it came to delivering those we were to take to France, we drew Fiat motors which were a terrible failure and were responsible for the death of many fine men.
We were almost ready to start north, on the flight to France, when Harry Davison and several others turned up in Milan with Eddie McDonnell. They were to ride with us as second pilots and learn how to handle the skittish Caproni. This idea was excellent, but there was nothing but trouble with the supply of Capronis. Emerging from the hospital after two weeks of flu, I received a telegram saying that my brother had been very p224 seriously wounded in France and urging me to make every effort to see him. The only way I could arrange any leave was fly one of the Capronis to France. So I arranged to take the next one available, although I was feeling far from rugged.
Leaving Milan on August 7th, I spent that night at Turin. Bad weather held me up two days but I finally managed to get away in company with two other planes. Mike Murray flew one, and Eddie McDonnell the other. Eddie had to turn back because one of his motors got afire. Mike Murray and I became separated over the Alps and I drifted quite far south. We were trying to make Lyons, but our charts were very narrow and it was hard to get your bearings when you went off the chart. We saw Mont Blanc below us and kept the course until we descended above the lower slopes. Then I hopelessly lost myself and ran out of gasoline. I was high up in the air at the time and could find no landing-place that looked like anything easier than sudden death. The ground was extremely rough where I bumped it. The Caproni tried to knock the top off a small mountain, turned a complete somersault, and flew into kindling wood. Just out of hospital though I was, my constitution was too tough to be dented. The second pilot was slightly injured. His name was Crumm. I left him in a hospital in a little town called Brioude. Abandoning the crumbs of the Caproni, I wended my way to Paris by train and obtained permission to go to Nantes and look for my wounded brother. I found him in a very bad way and it affected me deeply. He had been in France more than a year and this was our first meeting.
I spent a day and a half with him and then returned to Paris, expecting to go to St. Inglevert and get some real instruction. But they were short of planes and wanted more pilots to hustle to Italy to hustle back with more Capronis. So I went surging through to Rome. I went on to Milan and found the same old crowd still waiting and waiting for their Capronis. This was all the good it ever did them, for at last they went to Paris by rail. 'Hen' Landon and I pestered Coombe with letters. Had our orders gone through? If so, were they ditched somewhere? If not, why not? We had been there almost long enough to take our naturalization papers when we, too, were told to proceed to Paris, not, however, by the Caproni route.
It did knock the crust off our self-esteem when Captain Hanrahan informed us that he didn't even know we had been p225 down in Italy. It made us feel that we had played a very important part in the plans of the Northern Bombing Group. Back we went to Milan. What we needed, for the sake of economy, was commuters' tickets. The next step in our education was a course in the Caproni factory and another in the Isotta-Fraschini works. It was the middle of October when we were rooted out of this and forwarded to St. Inglevert. There we were not astonished to learn that the famous Capronis had failed to perform. They had been condemned for night bombing until one of them could complete a satisfactory test in the daytime. This never happened.
It now filtered into our precocious intellects that the Northern Bombing Group was a splendidly big and promising undertaking which had been crippled largely by the failure to obtain good machines and enough of them. We waited — still waiting, please observe — at St. Inglevert until the Armistice which we earnestly celebrated in Calais. By way of passing the time, we rode at a Belgian cavalry school near our camp. Navy tars like us always did like to mount the quarterdeck of a horse. Most of the flying officers at St. Inglevert went home soon after peace came. The rest of us were held to fly the infernal Capronis to Issoudun, via Paris, where they were to be kissed good‑bye. They were finally burned as junk.
It was in foggy, rainy December that Howard Maxwell and I started off in the farewell flight of two of these surviving Capronis. I had Harry Foster with me as second pilot. The fog was thick but we concluded to push on for Paris, on the theory that if we didn't get away from St. Inglevert we could never go home. Maxwell lost his way and smashed up at . Harry Foster and I flew close to the ground until it rained so hard we had to land in the mud of a British field outside of Paris. We broke a propeller while taxiing to a hangar, for the mud was up to your knees. Our able mechanic, Meyers, put on a new propeller, after which we watched it rain in Paris for the next two weeks. Every morning we looked out of the window for the good old sun. He had quit business. On the day before Christmas we flew to Issoudun, which was the gloomiest place in the world, all cluttered up with hundreds of Army pilots looking for orders home.
We delivered our dear Caproni to the Army officials, received a receipt for the treasure, and hurried back to Paris for Christmas p226Eve. Hope brightened the holiday. We would go to St. Inglevert and there find our sailing orders and 'Hen' Landon would soon be weeping over the sign of the National Biscuit Company in a town called New York. And what did we get? The promise that if we were good boys we might take another Caproni to Issoudun! However, fortune rolled the dice with aces up. On New Year's Day, Henderson smashed the last Caproni when his landing gear broke as he was getting off. When he came down again, the noble machine rolled over on its nose and died the death amid lusty cheers from the bystanders.
This seemed to slay the hoodoo. Three days later, we bade St. Inglevert a fond farewell, homeward bound. It may be said, without hanging garlands on ourselves, that 'Hen' Landon's Caproni and mine were the only two that reached Issoudun alive, of the five that were to have been delivered from St. Inglevert.
Entrance to the Officers' Quarters, St. Inglevert
Officers' Quarters, St. Inglevert
Henry Landon is brief and repressed when he refers to his Italian summer. He did fly down to the heel of Italy in four hops, as has been mentioned, and it was reckoned an achievement. He seems to have fallen desperately in love with the Capronis, like the rest of them, but refrains from profanity, denunciation, or explosions in his gas tank, and merely observes, 'The less said about the performance the better but, between ourselves, even the Italians hated to fly them.'
He becomes more loquacious after leaving Italy and says:
I was mighty glad to get back to France and my friends, but my joy was short-lived. At about this time the Kaiser got wind of the fact that Bob Lovett had concentrated his Wags and they would soon make night hideous with 'Roll dem Bones,' so he chucked his job and the war. Then came the big exodus from St. Inglevert and I began to pack up only to find that I was elected to stay and help wash the dishes. When the gang pulled out, I was the only pilot left at the station. I was immediately promoted to be Executive Officer. When Headquarters called for the Ordnance Officer they put me on the wire. The next call might be for the Transportation Department and I was elected. Luckily the chief yeoman knew everything, so I asked him and p227saved myself many painful moments. Soon, however, Walker joined me with some additional pilots and things resumed a rosy complexion.
Sam and I reached Issoudun safely with our Capronis and wished them on the Army. The others were smashed en route, and the sixth was dismantled with the aid of every axe in the station, and then burned. After that I burned the wind for home from which I had been absent seventeen months.3
Lieutenant McDonnell has offered up glimpses of Harry Davison successfully winging it over the Alps in a Caproni that kindly consented to fly that far. He was sent overseas in July, with Allan Ames and McDonnell as shipmates, to join the Northern Bombing Group. Captain Hanrahan held him in Paris ten days for some officer work and then sent him to Milan. The tales of hard luck and disaster attending the Italian enterprise are apt to produce a curious illusion in the mind of one hearing about them for the first time. It seems as though that flight across the Alps to France must have been an air journey of days, so p228entangled was it with delays and difficulties. With a start of relieved surprise one finds that it was a matter of a few hours only if the machine hung together and the motors behaved. The sensations and the scenery have already been described. Harry Davison was not memorably impressed by either. It was merely one more flight.
In other words, when you did pull off the Caproni stunt it was soon over and there you were! Harry is as concise about it as an official communique:4
Lieutenant McCormick and I were together in one machine. We crossed the Alps successfully and reached Paris, but were forced down by bad weather at Abbéville,º •about 120 miles from St. Inglevert. There we were detained five days by motor trouble. Finally we arrived at St. Inglevert.
During the next fortnight at St. Inglevert, he was nominally on flying duty, but there were no machines fit to fly. All hands were laboring with the Capronis, overhauling, repairing, repainting, replacing parts, trying to get them ready for the night bombing program. Three or four of them were placed in commission, but not amid any p229loud cheers. The lack of enthusiasm was notable. With never a regret, Lieutenant Harry Davison was separated from the Capronis. He did not have to be dragged away. He departed at a gallop. Squadron 214, Royal Air Service was using the same field. It pleased Harry hugely when he was assigned to this outfit as a gun‑layer in a Handley-Page with Lieutenant Nichols as pilot. This was something like! The war had begun to take on symptoms of interest. He is willing to explain in some detail what this segment of life was like:
When the weather was clear and it looked at all possible for flying, we would tune up the machines and prepare for a raid in the evening. Most of our mornings were spent in studying maps of Belgium very carefully. Every man had to memorize about sixteen of the most important enemy aerodromes in Flanders, where every hangar and building was placed. We had to learn all the main roads, canals, and railroads leading to these aerodromes or to the various cities all over the country. In addition to this, we had to bone up on the Hun lighting or signal system throughout Belgium which consisted of various flashes shown on different marks on the landscape. It was like a system of light-houses. Without having been on Belgian soil, a pilot was supposed to know it as well as he did New York.
When the weather was clear we had supper about 5.30, after which the C. O., Major Brackley, assembled the raiding party in the mapping office. There the final instructions were handed out, objectives explained, and so on. The machine in which I went carried fifteen 112‑pound bombs, four 25‑pound bombs, and a couple of phosphorus bombs. After the talk in the mapping office, if the weather was still O. K. we went to the aerodrome and started the motors. The commanding officer gave the signal and the first machine taxied to the starting place. Then it opened up and got away, showing navigation lights. The other machines followed about five minutes apart, circling about the field to make sure the motors were all right and then making for the objectives.
Never in my life have I seen anything quite so beautiful as some of those night raids. Of course the first raid I went on was tremendously interesting to me, coming back over Holland and p230following the coast line. On another night we had to climb through a heavy bank of clouds. Above that the full moon was shining. What I remember most clearly is the gorgeous moon shining on that sea of clouds. It was too wonderful for words. I came out of my dreams when the sky suddenly lit up over Ostend with a million archie shells and flaming onions.
And there was the Bruges barrage. I can never forget that. •Three miles square and •10,000 feet up, it was one appalling blaze of bursting archie, onions, pom‑poms, parachute flares, searchlights, hostile aircraft. Awe‑inspiring? Easily that. It seemed a miracle that any planes could pass through it at all, but when you rode with a British pilot you realized that he was good for anything. All hell couldn't stop him. It was wonderful to see him work his way through a batch of searchlights. He would keep the nose of his machine headed almost straight until he came to a beam. Then he would slowly lift a wing over and sort of weave his way through. And most of the time he was not spotted at all.
All of which makes it sound like the most fascinating kind of a joy ride. However, there was a great deal more to it than harmless moonshine as other participants have taken pains to point out. Late in October Harry Davison was returned to his American squadron at St. Inglevert. On November 9th he was sent to England for further training in night bombing work in the British school at Stonehenge. He proceeded no farther than London, however, when the Armistice suddenly finished his part in the war. He was lucky enough to contrive a speedy exodus for home, sailing on November 16th. A few weeks later, he was informed that he need no longer insert the letters (j.g.) in his designation of rank. He was promoted to be Lieutenant Henry P. Davison, Jr.
We left Kenneth Smith somewhere beyond the Alps. His flight to France has been referred to by Eddie McDonnell. It was rather tame after being adrift in the Bay of Biscay and mussing up German submarines with bombs. However, he goes so far as to say:
p231 It was interesting, for neither McDonnell nor myself had had any experience in a machine like a Caproni. I had never been up in a land machine and knew nothing about cross country flying. And it was unpleasant to see so many machines crashing and burning up while we were waiting at Turin. Perfect weather conditions favored us when we did get away and the passage over the Alps was a grand spectacle. At St. Inglevert I was attached to Squadron 214, R. A. S., with Harry Davison and others, and enjoyed several night raids over the lines. On November 2nd I was ordered to the United States as an instructor, and was able to beat the Armistice to it by one day, for I sailed from Brest in the Great Northern on November 10th.5
1 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:
Lieutenant Commander Edward O. McDonnell, U. S. N.
Period 1 January to 12 January, 1920:
A valuable young officer whose resignation is a distinct loss to the service.
S. S. Craven, Captain U. S. N.
Director of Aviation
Period 14 April to 31 December, 1919:
A very valuable, courageous and intelligent young officer with a brilliant future.
S. S. Craven, Captain U. S. N.
Director of Aviation
2 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:
Period 1 April to 10 June, 1918:
This officer (Ensign Samuel S. Walker) has served at this station since November 1, 1917, and has most efficiently performed all duties assigned to him, which include seaplane pilot — 7½ months. Chief pilot — 1 month. Repair officer — 1 month. Intelligence officer — 2 months. Executive officer — 1 month. He has shown himself to be an officer of rare good judgment, cool headed in emergencies, efficient and skilful in flight and most capable of performance of all work at hand.
W. M. Corry, Lt. U. S. N.,
N. A. S., Le Croisic, France
Period 15 August to 30 September, 1918:
This officer has performed his duties as commanding officer of the draft of officer pilots under instruction at Malpasa,º Italy, on Caproni machines in an excellent manner. His reports have been very good and have always been accurate. He has maintained discipline at all times and had the respect of the officers under him. He is an excellent pilot and flew from Milan, Italy, to Paris, France, acting as first pilot on a 600 H.P. Caproni Aeroplane. Excellent officer material for aviation.
S. Callan, Lt. Cdr. U. S. N. R. F.
N. A. S. in Italy
3 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:
Period 1 April to 19 May, 1918:
Ensign Landon is an excellent seaplane pilot, willing, eager and skillful. However, he has a tendency to take unnecessary chances in flying work. Experience will destroy this tendency. He is most interested in his aviation duties but at times is inclined to neglect details and not to be sufficiently painstaking and thorough. He is most active and eager and is a natural leader of men although his manner of giving commands frequently shows lack of experience in positions of authority. He has the makings of an efficient and excellent officer.
W. M. Corry, Lt. U. S. N.
Commanding Le Croisic.
Period 15 June to 30 September, 1918:
This officer has been known to the writer for over a year and he has always shown himself to be excellent officer material. He is an excellent pilot of either seaplanes or Caproni machines and did very creditable work in making a •547‑mile flight from Milan to the south of Italy. He had charge of a small detachment of officers in Italy flying with the Italian Naval Air Service and did very good work in handling his detachment. He is very willing and a hard worker and will undertake any duties assigned him without question. He handles men well and is very popular with both officers and men. A good officer and a gentleman.
John Lansing Collan, Lt. Cdr., U. S. N. R. F.
Commanding U. S. N. Air Station in Italy.
4 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:
Lieutenant (j.g.) Harry P. Davison, Jr.
August 24 to September 30, 1918:
An excellent pilot and officer. Has made 4 raids with 214 Squadron R. A. F., as gunlayer. Two trips being made on the night of Sept. 28‑29 during push in his part of lines. He is keen and intelligent and very capable. Recommended for promotion when due.
Robert A. Lovett
Lieutenant U. S. N. R. F.
May 2 to June 28, 1918:
Lieutenant Davison is an excellent pilot and can be depended upon to carry out orders and instructions in any hazardous expedition.
N. E. Irwin, Captain
April 1 to April 30, 1918:
This officer has been employed on duty as a Naval Aviator primarily in connection with flying. He is a very good aviator but slightly lacking in initiative and aggressiveness for executive duties. It is recommended that he be advanced to rank of Lieutenant (j.g.).
P. N. L. Bellinger
Lieut. Comdr. U. S. N.
5 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:
Lieutenant Kenneth R. Smith
Period 12 August to 25 August, 1920:
Excellent officer and flyer. This officer is recommended for further training provided reserve officers on inactive status are again called for active training.
A. H. Douglas, Lt. Cdr., U. S. N.
Naval Air Station
Period 15 September to 30 September, 1918:
This officer is a very capable pilot and has had varied experiences in sea patrol work. He is especially valuable as a flight commander on active service.
Robert Lovett, Lt., U. S. N. R. F.
Commanding U. S. N. A. S. #1
Period 11 June to 4 September, 1918:
An excellent seaplane pilot. Has distinguished himself on several occasions. Awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French Government for bombing an enemy submarine on April 23rd, 1918, while attached to the U. S. Naval Air Station at Île Tudy.
S. S. Craven, Capt., U. S. N.
Chief of Operating Section, Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service
Period 26 February to 10 June, 1918:
This officer has shown marked professional ability and is in my opinion an exceptionally capable officer. As Chief Pilot of this station he has kept machines, hangars and crews in a high state of efficiency. He is a good flier, a good organizer, and takes great interest in his work.
C. E. Sugden, 2nd Lt. of Engrs., U. S. N. C. G.
Commanding U. S. N. A. S. Île Tudy, France
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