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Chapter 44

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 46

This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. II
Chapter XLV

Dave Ingalls, the Naval Ace

Meanwhile, in the summer and autumn of 1918, the elaborate plans of the Northern Bombing Group were progressing, with Bob Lovett in command at St. Inglevert and 'Di' Gates making a reputation at his Dunkirk station which he found so 'enjoyable' in spite of such trifles as the daily risks of being bombed and shelled into the middle of next week. And no one was prouder when Dave Ingalls, the freshman still in his teens, flashed so brilliantly across the sky during a brief period of opportunity whose duration was less than two months.

What more this boyish 'Naval Ace' might have achieved in longer service at the front is, of course, mere conjecture. The hazards of the game might have eclipsed his career, as it befell Kenneth MacLeish. On the other hand, if the gods of destiny had decreed his survival through one or two years of combat in the air, it is quite plausible to assume that he might have enrolled himself among the foremost knights of aviation. To be exact, he began his spectacular flights on August 13th, 1918, and made the last of them on September 24th. On October 3d, he was relieved from duty with the British 213th Squadron and MacLeish took his place.

Within the space of six weeks, therefore, Dave Ingalls earned the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the American Distinguished Service Medal for one 'brilliant and courageous' deed after another, a citation testifying that 'alone and in conjunction with other pilots, he shot down at least four enemy aeroplanes and one or more enemy balloons.' Is it not worth noting in this connection that Guynemer required six months in which to bring  p268 down the first four enemy planes of his prodigious score? All this time he was getting into his stride. He was considered extraordinarily youthful and yet Dave Ingalls was the younger by a year. Said the colonel of French infantry who had witnessed Guynemer's first successful combat:

'How old are you?'


'And the gunner?'

'The deuce! There are nothing but children left to do the fighting.'

Lieutenant Ingalls was sent to the British squadron 'for experience,' he explains. He first joined on July 9th and stayed for two weeks in which he made bombing flights to Ostend, Zeebrugge, and Bruges, but had no encounters with the enemy. He was very keen about 218 R. A. F., which was in charge of Major Wemys and thought it the most efficient day‑bombing squadron in the area. 'A full‑out crowd' who bombed every day of decent weather. The squadron consisted of three flights, two of which usually went up together with an escort of Camels or Dolphins.

They flew in a V formation, like a flock of wild geese, twelve or fourteen machines, climbing to their ceiling which was about fifteen thousand feet. At this altitude they proceeded to the objective through a furious Archie fire which shot holes in the machines. Ingalls was getting into the spirit of it and learning rapidly when he was called away to tackle the drudgery of flying field construction for the Northern Bombing Group. One hangar was dutifully erected 'in a terrible mud hole' and then two captains of Marines came along to take over the job.

Ingalls went back to Dunkirk, on waiting orders, praying for something to turn up. For a week or more he hung about as a guest of 'Di' Gates and pestered him to intercede with Captain Hanrahan and have him restored to his  p269 beloved 213 Squadron. This permission was granted on August 9th. It was the beginning of his sensational tour of duty. By way of prefacing his own story, which he tells with much vivacity and color, a summary prepared and given out for publication by the Secretary of the Navy will serve to present the essential facts in their proper order.

The long flights along the British, French and Italian coasts, the patrols far out to sea, the combats with enemy aircraft and submarines form one of the most brilliant chapters of the war. A volume would be required to relate them all. I tell here only the story of the first naval ace, who may represent the courage, daring and efficiency of our aviators who wrote a new page in naval history.

Lieut. David S. Ingalls was attached to the Northern Bombing Group in Flanders. While aircraft were arriving from the United States to equip this group, Ingalls was assigned to Royal Air Force Squadron No. 213, with whom we coöperated in bombing German submarine bases. Ingalls began his spectacular performances on the 11th of August, 1918, when in company with a British officer he shot down a two‑seater machine in a running fight over the German lines. Zipping through the upper air at 120 miles an hour, by the skillful maneuvering of their planes the allied fliers were able to get in several bursts from their Lewis gun on the tail of the Germans, whose machine crippled up, burst into flames and fell to earth. Ingalls' machine did not escape without its share of punctures, but luckily nothing was damaged which interfered with the functioning of the motors.

On the night of August 13, 1918, Ingalls flew over the German Airdrome at Varsenaere, and dropping to a point where his plane nearly touched the ground, sprayed 450 rounds from his machine into the wondering Teutons, who were making desperate efforts to get him with their 'archies.' Swinging in a wide circle, he again swooped down on the hangars and let loose four bombs in the midst of things, putting out searchlights, scattering Germans and mussing things up generally.

On September 15th he repeated at the German airdrome at Uytkerke the stunt he worked at Varsenaere. Flying low he rushed out of the clouds upon the German hangars and fired 400 rounds from his Lewis into the light canvas structures, and with  p270 the upward swing of his plane he cut free four bombs upon the Fokkers grouped on the field below.

On this raid Ingalls was the leader of a formation of five in a wing of twenty Camels, and on the return from Uytkerke he sighted an enemy two‑seated Rumpler going west from Ostend at an altitude of 6000 feet. Ingalls and Lieutenant H. C. Smith turned out of formation, swung in over shore and attacked. The Rumpler turned round and dived toward Ostend, the Camels following. Firing 400 rounds from ranges of fifty to two hundred yards they chased the enemy plane down to about five hundred feet just off the Ostend piers, when the Rumpler went down out of control, burst into flames, and crashed just off the beach.

On the 18th of September Ingalls made one of his most brilliant flights. In company with two English pilots in Sopwith Camels, he sighted a kite balloon at about 3500 feet elevation near La Barriere. Crossing the coast line the Camels attacked, firing about ninety Buckingham tracers each.

The Germans began to reel in the kite, the Camels following it down to about 500 feet altitude, when two observers were seen to jump with white parachutes. Ingalls gave the balloon another spraying with tracer bullets and it burst into flames.

Three balloon hangars were observed at this station, and as the flaming balloon fell it landed on one of these hangars, which in an instant was ablaze. There was an explosion and the fire spread to the two remaining hangars, destroying the entire station, while the flames were visible as far as Nieuport. All the Camels were badly damaged by machine gun and anti-aircraft fire, but they reached their base in safety.

On September 22d, Ingalls, who, in company with four other Camels, flew all over Flanders, committing depredations on German hangars and ammunition trains, dropped four bombs on the German ammunition dump at Handzame, and blew up a number of wagons loaded with shells. Later he flew over the ammunition dump at Wercken and landed four bombs on a large hut filled with explosives, setting it on fire. Swinging around over the railway station at Thourot, where the Germans had an enormous supply dump, he made two accurate hits. On the way back, Ingalls dropped four more bombs on a horse transport, and he and his companions got in enough good bursts from their machine guns to account for some twenty-five Germans and thirty-five horses. It was  p271 work of this kind that won for Ingalls his British Distinguished Flying Cross. During a test flight on September 24th, Ingalls, in company with another Camel, sighted a two‑seated Rumpler over Nieuport. Both Camels attacked, following the Rumpler very close, Ingalls and his mate getting in two bursts of 200 rounds at 100 yards range. Driving the enemy to a tailspin, Ingalls followed him down to 600 feet, when the Rumpler burst into flames and quickly crashed.

For the entertainment of his father and mother, Dave Ingalls took pains to add to his letters​a such vivaciously written chapters of description as the following, which he called, 'An Ideal Low Bombing Raid':

For almost a week the members of the squadron had been sitting around waiting, apparently in vain, for a good day when we and several other squadrons were to bomb a certain aerodrome. For the first few days every one rather welcomed the dud weather which had just come on, as a low bombing raid means coming down to within fifty feet or so to the earth, some twenty or thirty miles over the lines, which fact is rather disturbing to even the calmest and coolest pilots, but after a time we became restless and impatient to get the job done with.

So that it was rather a relief when the C. O., who had just been conversing with two of the flight commanders that had been testing a couple of machines in spite of the low clouds, entered the mess and announced that luncheon was to be served in half an hour, eleven-thirty, and we were to bomb the aerodrome. Only one squadron, as the weather was fine for a few machines to slip over the lines, was to drop through a break in the clouds, do their dirty work and get back safely in those clouds.

Upon hearing this, a few of the pilots, just out of the schools, hurried out to go over their machines, while the rest, well aware that all a pilot could do in the hangars was to get in the mechanic's way, gathered around the maps and discussed the different routes. A few minutes later the C. O. called a meeting and bringing forth larger maps and photographs, decided upon the leader, and fixed a particular target — a hangar hut or workshop — for each pilot, likewise detailing a man to shoot up the two or three machine‑gun emplacements to be seen on the photos. Previous low raids had been done in a more haphazard manner,  p272 and this time we wanted to 'bring home the bacon' as Shakespeare did not say.

By the time each man knew his objective and place in the formation, lunch was served, all but a few heads acting in a rather hurried and nervous fathers. Luncheon over, we adjourned to our respective flight hangars, to don a helmet and gloves, and some to stuff a tooth-brush or small pistol in a pocket; at the same time every one left behind all papers, letters, etc., which might be of value to the enemy in case one was captured.

Then I walked out to my machine. All R. F. C. mechanics are remarkably fine and efficient men, so I had complete confidence in mine, which is a comforting thing to have, and questioned him about a few faults in the machine, which I had told him about after the last flight. Of course he had attended to everything and was now occupied in cleaning the wind screen and brushing the seat. We got on board and the motors were started.

When their engines were warmed up and tested, the pilots took‑off, flight by flight, the first three falling in behind the leader's flight. The leader climbed rapidly through a clear space in the clouds out to sea, where one and all tested the two guns with which the machines are armed. He then headed up the coast some ten miles out to sea, about 4000 feet just above the clouds which were at about 3000 feet.

The trip up to a spot opposite our objective seemed unusually long, as there was nothing to do but sit and wait. Finally, however, he turned towards shore, and I who was leading a flight which was to bomb a number of workshops which were slightly to one side of the aerodrome, drew up parallel to the leader. Fortunately the clouds were thick over the coast and no archies came up. As we crossed the leader dived down, followed closely by all, through a break. As we appeared to their view the archies started and it was mighty close, as the Huns had heard us and also had the range of the clouds, at our altitude. But not even the Hun archies can hit a squadron of machines diving almost vertically down, and in a few seconds we were too low for them, tearing along at about 200 feet toward the junction of a canal and a railroad near our aerodrome — a landmark previously noted.

As we approached the aerodrome we slowed up and came down to about 100 feet; if lower one would be injured by the exploding of one's own bombs underneath. The hangars and huts were  p273 wonderfully placed for us, all in two lines wide enough to make a miss for almost any one an impossibility.

Getting a fine aim at my shop, I pulled the lever loosing the four twenty-five pounds carried, and looked up just in time to see one flight almost over us let go their bombs evidently at a perfectly smooth field beyond. I hoicked around so as not to be hit by the crazy beggars, and looked back to hear a continuous 'wonk wonk wonk' — practically the same sound an Archie makes when it bursts near one — to see a great number of direct hits on targets, and other explosions all around, except for the bombs of the flight which dotted the afore-mentioned field with beautifully spaced little holes.

Turning back, I dove, firing at two lorries standing near the shops, and, as I again hoicked away, I became aware of the sharp 'pat‑pat' of several machine‑gun emplacements firing from the ground. Being almost over one machine‑gun emplacement, I looked in, but it was empty. Some one else was firing at the other machine‑gun emplacement, while all the other machines, but two, climbing rapidly into the clouds, were diving and zooming around the aerodrome shooting like wild men. Why no one is hit by a pal is something I cannot understand.

By this time most of the machines were leaving, as there was really nothing worth while left to shoot up, so I flew over once more, and tried to locate correctly all the hits and two fires which were burning fiercely. At the far end of the field, as I was headed on a farm house, I located two of the machine‑gun emplacements which were shooting at me, their tracers coming pretty close in spite of the maneuvering I was doing to escape them. I didn't see them in time to fire and as when I left I could see no other planes, I started after them, looking at several farm houses about the doors of which the whole family, Belgians of course, were heartily enjoying the spectacle.

Reaching 1000 feet in no time I was taken note of by some  p274 Archie batteries, and so began turning, zooming and climbing to get to the clouds as quickly as possible. Those clouds looked mighty like a home to me. But now I got a shock, my engine almost cutting out, hitting at the most on three cylinders. I started on a gentle glide, looked at the gauges and switches, and tried running on the gravity tank, but no luck. So I looked around for a smooth field from an altitude of about 500 feet, and in the midst of Archie bursts. Then cheerio, the doggone engine grew better, though not best, and I encored my journey to the clouds, reaching them just before going over the coast, and disappeared therein. When I came out again into the clear sky I saw only one machine near, the others had almost disappeared in the direction of France. But this one turned back and I recognized one of my own flight. We waved happily, and set out at an easy pace for home, till I saw six Huns overland coming our way, but they never saw us and they turned off to one side. At which we both breathed easier.

By this time we were opposite Ostend, and again I saw a Hun, seemingly a two‑seater climbing out of the clouds, probably thinking to get the last man ahead of us. [image ALT: an underscored blank] S. and I put the helm over and edged in behind him, hoping he would further out to sea. This he did, and thinking that he'd have to turn getting back, I opened up and started after him. At last he saw us, turned and dove back for Ostend, but we gained on him and soon opened fire at 400 yards. His observer was evidently new at the game, or killed by one of our shots, for I saw no tracers coming back. We continued to dive and shoot, he finally reaching the clouds. I was only 150 yards behind now, so followed, coming out of the clouds almost over Ostend piers, luckily right behind the Hun. One good burst and he caught fire, so I hoicked off swerving, to dodge the land M. G. S. from the shore. A last look showed him crashing into the water by the beach, and S. joined me above the clouds. He had seen the Hun burst into flames and crash through a break and we went home rejoicing.

A minute later the Commanding Officer, who on seeing the Hun and scrap, had turned back, joined us and waved. A few minutes later we climbed out of our machines and hurried into the Records Office to report. Here we learned that two fellows had been wounded, one slightly, the other had three shots in his arm and leg, but all machines had returned. After the tension, every one was feeling in great form, kidding one another and  p275 confirming the damage done. The reports and the official photos, taken next day, proved the raid to be one of the best done so far.

It is even more entertaining to hear Dave Ingalls talk about it. Gabriele d'Annunzio describes in a novel the friendship of two young aviators whose mutual affection, arising from a similar longing to conquer the sky, has grown in the perils they dared together. One of them is killed. For the other 'the beauty of war had diminished.' A phrase of singular significance and insight into the heart of such an airman as Dave Ingalls. The beauty of war! Thus it appealed to his ardor, to his imagination, to his love of adventure. Spared its butchery, monotony and squalor, he could envisage war as something truly beautiful so long as it vouchsafed him its aerial excitements and escapes and the extreme tests of skill and daring. This is the spirit in which he narrates:

The individual's life with the squadron was exceedingly pleasant. Ten days' official leave was given once every three months and 48 hours' leave could be obtained from the C. O. at any time, except during a push, or any important 'show,' as the British term anything out of the regular line of duty. The squadron of eighteen or twenty machines was divided into three flights, each flight having ten days on duty and one off, on which day the men were encouraged to leave the aerodrome, flying off to some neighbouring squadron or visiting Dunkirk. During the summer the beach was always crowded with people, the continual bombing and shelling having little effect on the inhabitants.

Those on duty, when not actually away on patrol, spent their time shooting — from the machines, or with rifle and pistol — or loafing about the mess reading and playing cards. The quarters and food were of the best, and when at home one was indeed far removed from even a thought of war.

The great amount of shooting of every sort that was always being done was pretty good proof of the importance of good marksman­ship in aerial fighting. To be sure the absolutely necessary equipment is good eyesight, for if one sees the Huns first one can either easily escape if outnumbered, or perhaps so  p276 far surprise the enemy as to actually shoot them down before they are aware of the presence of hostile aircraft. The third requirement of course is actually flying ability. It seems strange that this should be secondary to marksman­ship, but to get Huns one must be able to hit them, and it is surprising how well some men can shoot. This was forcibly brought home to me at the very first when three of us dove at a two‑seater spotting over the lines. We were all together in the dive, and before I thought we were within range, the Hun suddenly burst into flames, the flight commander having hit him from what we afterwards agreed must have been at least 400 or 500 yards.

Now in regard to the actual work. There were several sorts of patrols. First, the sea patrol which consisted in flying low, always in sight of the fleet, to guard against seaplanes during the coastal destroyer patrols up to Ostend and Zeebrugge, or during a shoot. As there were very seldom any enemy seaplanes to be seen, and as one always looked forward to a cold bath if the motor failed, this was rather a stupid job, never preferred to line patrols.

Of these, in good weather, there were usually two a day — at the time when the Huns were out en masse — between ten and twelve in the mornings and five and six in the evenings. At these times always at least two flights went, one above the other for protection. Two large groups made the most confusing affair imaginable; machines of friend and foe seemed to be everywhere. Twice I remember seeing two Huns collide, with the most gratifying result. In bad weather there were small patrols, perhaps under the clouds along the lines, or up the coast to look for some daring seaplane merchant, for the Hun seaplanes were fond of bad weather. Between the regular patrols any one who wished could go out by himself, or more often persuade a couple of pals to accompany him, on a search for lone two‑seaters spotting or photographing near the lines. Besides these patrols there was considerable escort work to be done, accompanying day bombers to Bruges, or some other objective. But this too, was monotonous, for the Huns would not often attack such numbers, thirty or thirty-five machines.

Every so often bombing raids on Hun aerodromes or on the Mole at Zeebrugge were carried out. These were very interesting and can probably be best illustrated by the description of one in particular. One of the most successful was against the Varsennaire Aerodrome, which was about twenty miles behind the  p277 lines, southeast of Ostend and used for day scout and night bombers. For the bombing, Camel squadrons were picked, with a Dolphin squadron above as protection. One squadron of Camels were to carry phosphorus bombs, which set fire to anything near on exploding, and the rest were to carry the customary twenty-five pound shrapnel bombs. Certain parts of the aerodrome were assigned to each squadron as its target, and certain hangars or huts assigned to each man.

After several false starts, the show finally began about half an hour before sunrise on what turned out to be a perfect day, for the Allies. There was considerable confusion in getting off in the dark, as a Camel is a difficult machine to fly even in the day‑time, but finally every one was climbing toward 10,000 feet at which altitude we were all to meet at a certain time over Dunkirk. As one went up, the dawn grew brighter and at 10,000 feet it was possible to make out the other machines. The leaders of the different flights were firing signal lights to help their men get together, just as the sun became visible over the horizon, and eventually all fell into line in their places. Then the leader flew along the coast until midway between Ostend and Zeebrugge, where he turned toward the land, diving across the shore line.

The Huns were evidently asleep, and no Archie was put up until all the machines were down to about 200 feet, roaring over the country towards the objective, which was by this time plainly visible. Now the squadrons split up to fly over their parts of the field, and descending to about 150 feet, dropped their bombs. The shrapnel bombs cause a ghastly looking explosion and the phosphorus give out clouds of smoke, so the field upon looking back seemed like a bit of Dante's Inferno.

Lined up in front of one row of hangars was a squadron of Fokkers with their engines warming up, from which, as we approached, men had run to shelter. Turning back toward these, we all dove, setting many machines on fire, and riddling all of them with bullets. For several minutes all the machines were diving, zooming, turning, and shooting from every side resulting in a grand mêlée and many near-collisions. Finally the leader fired a Véry light, the signal to return. Then the countryside appeared to be covered with Camels streaking for the lines at about 100 feet up. And now revenge was wrecked upon the Archie, for whoever saw the bursts from battery anywhere near him turned, dove and shot, driving the crews hurriedly to shelter  p278 and silencing every battery near their path. Soon the flock reached the lines where the remaining ammunition was expended at the Hun trenches, when all flew back to their respective aerodromes to compare notes and congratulate one another on their good luck. Fortunately no one was hurt and the reports together with the photos taken soon after proved the great success of the raid.

These large raids, of course, did not occur very frequently, as a large amount of their success depends upon the element of surprise, but during a 'push' the work was very much similar to this. For then the squadrons went over the trenches into Hunland, but at different times, so that there was always a squadron over the enemy's lines of communication looking for something to bomb. The target was not often determined beforehand, except when a large congestion of troops was reported, but the squadron flew about until something worth while was observed. The fact that the Huns were prepared for this bombing during a push, and that each man went on three or four raids a day except while his machine was out of commission, or he was waiting for a new one, and the great number of casualties caused this sort of work to be unpopular. But the good results obtained due both to actual destruction and to the effect on the Hun's operations made up for the drawbacks.

Thus, with its pleasant, luxurious life, and its lack of monotony due to the various fields of duty, surely flying is the most fascinating of all the branches of the service.

On my fourth day at 213, I went on two patrols, on which we saw no Huns. As I had had no flights yet, soon after returning from the second, about 4 P.M., I had my Camel filled with gas and oil and set out alone to see what was doing. When I had climbed to about eighteen thousand feet, which is a fairly safe altitude, I flew along over the lines between Nieuport and Ypres for about fifteen minutes. It was growing dark and I saw no Huns, only a few British flights at different times. Finally just before dark I decided to go down low and see if I could find a Hun two‑seater spotting for some batteries. So I descended slowly till I reached about 12,000 feet. I had been looking below most of the time, and nothing had appeared anywhere so I was suddenly surprised by seeing three monoplanes flying parallel to me 500 feet higher and somewhat to the rear. They must have seen me, for they turned and dived. I was certainly disgusted with myself for  p279 being caught like that and of course started for lines, diving a little.

In about thirty seconds, they got within range and began to shoot. All I could do was sit and watch them and turn from side to side and climb and dive slightly, trying to dodge just as one of them would get on a direct line with me. They kept coming on and tracers flew by on all sides. They would dive and shoot and then zoom up again and repeat. Finally they got very close, and as one turned off and started to zoom up to the right I turned at him and fired a few shots and quickly started home again. He immediately dove and beat it. When I straightened out, I could see only one and heard lots of shooting so I supposed the other was below shooting up at me. It was a rotten feeling. I couldn't see where the deuce he was and the shooting kept up. So I turned and fired at them, diving for a few thousand feet rather glad to shoot and not be shot at. But they outdove my machine and I didn't seem to hurt them, so I soon pulled up and started for the lines which were still about two miles off. That last two minutes was the worst part, for I kept expecting to hear some one shooting at me, as I didn't know how many more might have come up during our chase. So I sat turning round and round, looking above and below, really surprised that no one started to shoot. When I got back and saw the half dozen holes in the machine I realized that I had been a perfect fool. It was a good lesson, because when flying over Hunland I also felt so safe. Nothing happens, and you see no one, and it doesn't seem that there could possibly be any danger anywhere in the peaceful heavens.

September 20. Rather successful trip. At this time I was a flight commander at 213 and all three flights were sent out as protection to 218, a day bombing squadron. We set out when they telephoned that they had started, and climbed so that we all met over LaPaune at about 15,000 feet. On such trips, one flight of Camels went on each side and slightly above and to the rear of the day bombers, while the third flight flew about 4000 feet above us to guard against any Huns who might dive from above. We all went along the coast two or three miles out to sea and turned in between Ostend and Zeebrugge. Just after we  p280 crossed the coast and were being Archied, I was flying with my four members of the flight on the right side of the bombers. I saw four Fokkers coming straight at us from the right side, some distance off. We flew along for some time and then as they continued to approach I turned and headed for them, my flight following. We approached head on and I shot straight at their leader, turning and zooming just as we almost met. I could see the four Huns and two other Camels all lined up while my two last men had turned off and were some distance above, so I headed at one of the Huns and fired. He immediately dived, but I didn't follow, always having a dread of being caught low down over German land.

When I looked around now I saw only three Fokkers at a distance, some of the bombers way off, and one Camel above. As we ought to do our duty, I turned after the bombers to keep near them and protect them. The Fokkers flew about, but didn't come near. Soon the bombers started to return. One evidently had a poor motor and was below and behind the rest. I saw two of the Fokkers start for him, so I did, too. One of them was directly behind shooting at the bomber from about 150 yards, the other somehow had got a little ahead and as far as I could see was doing nothing. I approached at right angles and deciding that the first-named Hun was the most dangerous, fired at him from right. He immediately went down with smoke coming out of his machine, so I turned and started for the other Hun. He could not have seen me, for I got within about thirty yards and then had a perfect shot at him. I don't know how I could have missed, for I almost ran into him. He turned over on his back and went into a spin. I watched him go until he got very near the ground, when I heard some one shooting and saw about three Fokkers coming up at me and shooting from about 300 yards' distance. I immediately dove and fired at the nearest.

They all split up and dove off in different directions, so I immediately turned and started after the bomber, who was hurrying toward the coast. But as soon as I started out, the Huns pulled up and fired from beneath and behind. All the British machines had now crossed the coast and so I kept on after them, while these three beggars kept shooting from an impossible distance, until I crossed the coast. The first Hun I had shot at was officially confirmed as being destroyed in flames, but some one reported having seen the other pull up after spinning a long  p281 time and flatten out apparently O. K. Two of my flight had been hit in the gas tanks the first thing and had barely managed to get home.

On September 24th, a chap named Hobson and I went out about 5.30 P.M. to look for a two‑seater spotting or photographing. This was the closest shave I had, wherefore it is interesting to me. We flew along the lines at 15,000 feet for some time, got disgusted and started for home, as it was getting dark. As we left the lines I saw some Archie over LaPaune and there picked up a machine heading toward Ostend on our side of the lines. I fired my gun to attract Hobson's attention and set out in pursuit, for Archie on our side of the lines meant a Hun. Hobson finally woke up and started, too, but at some distance behind. I got within range between Newportº and Ostend, a mile or so inland. The Hun was an old Rumpler, the slowest I ever saw, and he just kept on, so I dove under him and came up from below. But he was so slow that I overshot and could not train my guns on him. So I dove again and tried once more. He would turn one way to give his observer a shot and I would try to keep under him, making a bigger circle, so his observer could not shoot. A few seconds, and I tried to come up below him again, but his machine was too slow again and I almost overshot, but succeeded in firing a few rounds from just beneath.

Nothing happened, so I dropped and continued working for a good position, completely fed up at not being able to get one. On a turn he very nearly got me for before I could make the outside circle his observer fired probably ten shots, the tracers all going by between the struts on my left side. We were only ten yards off at the time and I could see the two Huns perfectly in their black helmets, and it was rather fascinating to be so close. All the time we were getting further over the lines, and I was getting madder. So I gave up the careful, cautious tactics, got straight behind him, and kept firing for probably 100 rounds.

At last a big puff of smoke came up like an explosion and I felt fine. I turned and dove down to the ground to chase myself home, for when way over the lines and not high enough to be safe from Archie, the stunt is to race along just over the ground at about 200 to 300 feet. I had not seen Hobson anywhere. I got near the ground south of Ostend and tore along watching and hoping that no Huns would dive from above. The only danger in this low flying is from the machine guns. The Huns had these  p282 scattered all over their country to get aeroplanes in similar predicaments. I knew fairly well where they were thickest, and went along for at least five minutes without a shot. Then suddenly I heard a rat‑tat, gas poured out of the tank below the seat, and clouds of white vapor rose from it.

The machine was thrown into a sort of dive and when I pulled on the stick I found that the elevating controls did not respond. I switched on the gravity tank and the motor picked up just over some trees and as the Camel is very tail-heavy with motor on, the nose came up and I missed the trees by inches. I found that the wires to go down with were O. K., and that the rudder worked, but the ailerons answered very weakly. But the motor kept hitting on about six of the nine cylinders and I went along all right. Evidently I had run into a bad place, for I was shot at till I crossed the lines. Usually one turns, zooms, etc., when in this predicament, but I expected the rest of the controls to go any second and even with what I had I could not do any trick flying, so I sat still and by using the rudder kept going as fast as possible in little turns toward home. It was a big relief to get out of shot across the lines. Then I had to land. I didn't dare go up high, but flew down low experimenting with the machine and seeing just what I could do. When I reached the aerodrome I came in slowly over the trees on the side and using the motor, managed to land.

The machine was well shot up. One burst of several bullets had perforated the tank under my seat, and all but one strand in the wires that cause one to go up were severed, as well as a number of strands in those to go down. One aileron had been hit at a hinge, and of course there were a few holes in the wings. Hobson had returned. He said that he had been back of and above me and had fired a lot from there and had seen the Hun burst into flames and crash, so we felt fine, and I got a new machine next day.

September 18. Yesterday while flying along the coast, I noticed particularly the enemy kite balloon which in good weather is always up near Ostend for observation purposes. And it looked like such easy meat that when we returned to the aerodrome I suggested to the flight that we go get the beggar. Although only one fellow in the squadron had ever tried for a kite balloon, they all fell for it immediately, so this morning three of our flight asked the C. O.'s permission and filled our guns with incendiary  p283 tracer bullets. Another flight having offered to escort us, six machines started out about 10 A.M.

A thick layer of clouds covered the sky at 8000 feet, so we flew down the coast just under them, followed by the gallant escort. Opposite Ostend we turned in nosing over slightly, to get up more speed, approached the kite balloon in a big curve. Not until we had almost reached the coast did the Archie open up, but then as we were only 7000 feet up and they had plenty of time to get our range, it was some Archie. One shell, in the very first burst, broke just under my right wing, through the fusilageº in front of my knees, a piece of the cowl striking me on the knee and giving me quite a start.

The Archie on this coast is about the best the Huns have, and the gunners must certainly have enjoyed themselves during the two or three minutes we were diving toward the kite balloons. The Huns were pulling it down as fast as they could. We got to it at about 4000 feet, all diving at different angles. We all fired, but nothing happened. I turned and dove again, shooting at the big, fat target. Looking back I saw a blaze flare up in the bag, and then it crumpled in a great mass of flames and dropped directly on the three balloon sheds which promptly caught fire. It was a lovely sight. 'Beaucoup bon,' thinks I, hearing no machine guns and seeing no Huns anywhere in the sky. A minute or so of peace and quiet and then I saw a machine racing along abreast of me, about a mile off and at the same altitude of about 200 feet. This gave me quite a start, as I thought it meant a scrap, but presently I recognized it as Smith's machine, he having dived into the rumpus with the rest of us, so I joined him and we jogged along for home. On the way I happened to notice a lot of German barracks, wooden buildings among trees. Our incendiary ammunition was just the stuff to pull off a surprise party, so I fired at them and was delighted to see them smoke up. I must have hit some straw or something like that to touch 'em off in such elegant fashion. We were machine-gunned from the ground, but nothing to worry about. Ducking it, we reached the pleasant atmosphere of home.

We counted the holes in our planes and reported that the excursion had been successful. Our observers and photographers discovered that the burning balloon had lit up the three enormous sheds in which extra balloons were stored and burned them to the ground. The General commanding our forces was  p284 quite bucked up and called up our C. O. to say how pleased he was. September 28th, the Allied push started, and our squadron was compelled to do low bombing and shooting up behind the enemy lines. On the first trip we started early in the morning of a rainy day with a strong wind. The entire squadron, with bombs attached, went up at once, in three flights. We climbed to 4000 feet and as we got near the lines we dove generally so as to arrive at about 300 feet up on the other side. Due to the confusion and hurry of the German troops, our machine gun work was excellent. On the main road to the front, near Thourout, we saw a complete artillery train. Our leader dived and we followed, loosing our bombs. The execution was terrible and the whole column was demoralized. Then we stayed around, diving at the remains and shooting horses, men, etc. Two teams broke away, dragging their caissons, and raced along the road with four or five of our planes shooting at them till they crashed together and the pile was shot up.

Most of the Germans that were left ran into the fields and hid behind trees, but one fellow showed pluck. He unhitched his team from a smashed ammunition cart nled them calmly into a field and quieted them down. No one shot at him as soon as it was seen how bravely he carried on. One of our pilots saw the German major in charge of the artillery train galloping down the road at full speed. The plane chased him almost a mile, and shooting at him all the time, until finally the horse was hit and the major flew about twenty feet in the air and lit on his bean in a ditch full of water, probably ruining his tunic. We cheered one chariot race, two teams of four horses each, with no drivers, and the guns bounding along behind them, tearing abreast along the road until they crashed furiously.

Amusing things do happen, even in war. On another raid, the C. O. was chasing a poor bloke who was legging it on a bicycle for dear life. Pretty soon this German blighter hopped off the road and ducked behind a stone wall to hide like a rabbit. When the C. O. banked around to see where his quarry had gone, the fellow up and heaved a brick at him. It smashed a tremendous hole in a wing of the plane. Imagine a man stoning an aeroplane!

During these two months I flew 108 hours, 45 minutes; 63 flights over the lines; 13 combats; 2 low bombing raids on aerodromes; 1 low bombing raid on the Mole; 10 low bombing raids behind the lines during the Allied push.

 p285  Letters from Dunkirk

Sept. 18, 1918

Dear Dad:

I have been a bit busy lately, so haven't written. It has cleared up for a while the last few days, so we have flown a bit. Day before yesterday we had another low bomb raid on an airdrome and it was a great success. We blew the place to pieces literally, from about 150 feet.

Unfortunately two of our fellows were wounded but not seriously and got back. On the way home a fellow named Smith and I got a two‑seater. I conceitedly think I got him, as I followed him down through some clouds, and saw him burst into flames after a burst at him. Altogether it was a bon show.

The next day we had lots of flying, but had only one scrap, four of us with six Huns, but they all got away by spinning down, we being unable to follow them as we were escorting some bombers. Then this morning I led my flight, note the nonchalant way I say my flight, over the coast and we got a kite balloon in flames, pretty nice, eh? It was very pretty; just as it caught fire the two observers jumped with beautiful white parachutes. Luckily the burning balloon fell on three hangars underneath and there was some fire. We contour-chased home just over the ground, and I managed to set fire to some barracks some way behind the lines.

This afternoon we saw no Huns, weather becoming very dud. Much to my regret I received orders to leave here the other day, and am afraid that as soon as the regular flight commander returns I'll have to go — to what I know not.

Yesterday afternoon we had a dance, given by two American nurses who are stationed here. There were French, English and American girls, talking all sorts of languages, so you may imagine the times we had. And, my Lord, but the French and British girls do dance most strangely.

Sept. 20

My dear Mother:

Yesterday was awfully dud, so there was nothing doing, we just sit around and play bridge most of the bad days. But yesterday the C. O. had to go and arrange a dance for Tuesday, so we went auto riding, as it were.

To‑day was fairly good. This morning, we went out and had  p286 a scrap, and I got one, confirmed, and one other, whom I am sure I hit perhaps in the engine, for he went down about 10,000 feet out of control, then, so someone essential says, levelled out. But I hardly think he'd have gone down so far if not hit. That is the trouble fighting so far over the doggone lines, one can't always be sure, and you are usually too busy to see if a fellow crashes after a long dive or not.

I've got a slick flight now, and am awfully sorry I'll probably have to leave here soon. There are only three of us just now — the others are away and so we usually borrow a couple more from some other flight, but when we three are out we certainly have a grand time. Coming home, if we haven't separated, we practice formation flying, till now we come along the beach and over the aerodrome practically wing to wing. We always take off in formation and to‑morrow are going to try landing in formation, — tho' the field is pretty small to do that.

Of course there is lots of rivalry among flights in getting Huns, and ours is ahead now. The balloon was also a help. Did I tell you that a day or so ago I saw Ken Smith, haven't seen him for a long time, you remember he was of the seven of us who came over together. It was great to see him again.

Sept. 26

Dear Dad:

Day before yesterday five of us attacked seven Huns and got three crashed. I unfortunately didn't prove a thing, as at the beginning I saw a Hun diving down on one of our fellows' tail, and drove him off by long-range shooting. The Hun spun away and I was by that time out of the scrap.

After tea, being a little sore at every one shooting down Huns and me not, I went out with another fellow, saw a two‑seater, chased him over the lines and got him in flames. But as it was a long way over and low I had to contour-chase back, and was shot up by a land machine gun. So my dear old machine has been scrapped, and I have a brand new one. Yesterday the C. O., Brown, and I flew over to the American station about twenty miles from here, had lunch and tea, did a few stunts for them, and returned to find that four of our fellows are missing after a Hell of a big scrap. Mighty bad luck; our lads got only three Huns out of it. Tea is ready, so Cheerio!

 p287  Letters from Eastleigh

Oct. 10

Yesterday I boxed with Frank Lynch and got plenty of exercise to last a week, as he is an old Yale end at football and somewhat strong. I was glad to find myself all there as we crawled into a wonderful hot tub afterwards. The mess is mighty good, but even so does not compare to the Ritz dinners we used to get at Dunkirk.

There is a great big band here, which beats anything I've ever heard. Especially the drum-major, he's a bear‑cat. And just now a really wonderful quartet of the sailors has come in to us the piano in the mess room. Best music I've heard since leaving the States. Also there is a movie with American movies here every night.

I ask you 'Is war Hell?' How long I'll be here is one of the Navy mysteries. If I do decently it may be for some time. Also depends on when the navy starts day bombing. Besides, we have just heard that the forces are to be amalgamated. In that case I don't know what will happen to us in the Navy flying corps. Perhaps they will not unite in operations — merely in purchasing, etc. I hope so. Skinny Lawrence just wrote me. He is in the artillery and was at Chateau Thierry for the push. Somehow he managed to get into the trenches and was the fourth man over the top, and captured a Hun. Darn good for Skinny.

Blake is still training here in England, but hopes to get over soon. He wrote that two of my best friends at St. Paul's have been killed, Marshall Bond and Bobby Reath. And also Cord Meyer, the Yale crew captain, who was stationed near us at Dunkirk — a great fellow. Brew Jennings is likewise over here. He wrote from some destroyer or sub chaser he is on, and says he's been having a pretty exciting time.

The war news certainly is great. I hope they don't declare peace till we've knocked Hell out of some or all of Germany.

Oct. 16, 1918

On the night before he left, Reg Coombe and I went to Southampton on a party. We had a great time; having decided to see an awfully good show running there we had to slip dinner, so went in for tea, — high tea. The only way we could get enough to eat was to tour around the tea‑shops, — reminded me of dancing between courses.

 p288  Yesterday Captain Irwin, in charge of naval aviation at Washington visited the camp with our old C. O., Chevalier. As one of the heads of the department I had to go around with him and make clear any little matters. Well, I hand it to him for asking the dog‑gondest questions imaginable; he must have been an examination instructor at some school or college.

There is a young English lord here, more as a guest than anything else, tho' officially he is instructing us in guns and shooting. Well, the youngster took me out to dinner last night at the place where the dance came off the other night. It sort of worried me to find that he and I were to be the only guests, and in addition the poor nut got there an hour too early by mistake, so we sat around waiting for Mr. & Mrs. and the daughter. But they were awfully nice and I had the time of my life. The old man was a quiet, respectable sort of a bird. Mrs. Morton was very amusing, and the daughter is the only English girl I have seen (or heard of) who can really dance.

Mrs. Morton kidded me quite clubbily about my accent, and I sympathized with the daughter who had never had a chance to go to school but had always had a governess. And after a dinner at which at least three wines, and little odds and ends like whiskey and soda, port, sherry, etc, were served, the old boy and I agreed famously that alcoholic drinks were an abominable sin.

Oct. 29

Yesterday we sent off some machines for France and several, owing to dud weather, landed at different aerodromes. So this morning I took a machine and, accompanied by an old navy man, a machinist, the funniest pirate I ever saw, flew over, stopped at the two aerodromes and saw that they were all right. One place was Shoreham, and I found the Major in charge was Cloete,º the fellow who was my instructor at Gosport. It was darn nice to see him again. Besides him there were three or four other Gosport instructors.

There was one of the new British scout machines just arrived there, and Cloete let me take a ride in it, and I had the time of my life. It beat anything I'd ever been in by a million miles. It was only about fifty miles or so from here, going along the coast, so we got back in time for noon luncheon, tho' we didn't start till 9.30, made altogether seven flights and spent quite a time at each aerodrome. One can do a lot of traveling by aeroplane. I'm  p289 planning to go to Shoreham for a dance in a week or so, leaving the plane in a hangar there over night. Great idea, isn't it?

Nov. 2, 1918

Dear Pater:

As such, I have been informed by the royalty, I should address you. How do you like it, Dad? To me it sounds too religious, very much like calling on some Latin Saint. You see, last night Push Coombe and I dined with the royalty, and I taught the daughter some American and she pulled off a few British methods. To‑night we are going over again. Push is awfully fond of music and art, so he gives Mrs. Royalty a good time.

The weather has been about as bad as possible. Too bad to fly any machines to France, or even instruct these confounded ferry pilots. I tried letting one of them fly me the other day, me sitting in the observer's seat with a most inefficient stick and rudder. Well, he almost smashed us all up. It's a nice soft job they've slipped me. Last night it cleared up beautifully and I thought everything would be better, but this morning it has been raining hard continuously. Believe me, I will be glad to get back where the sun shines in the day time and the moon at night.

Well, we got one of the training machines set up yesterday and I took it up and had a time; it is an awful old tub but fine for instruction. It makes about forty or fifty miles per hour, I guess. Also there was about a forty-five or fifty mile wind yesterday, so at about 1000 feet the darned machine stood still in relation to the ground. I was afraid to turn with the wind for fear I'd never get home. It is the funniest aeroplane I ever saw — everyone collected around to see it fly and cheered when it took off. I most died laughing when I flew it. Some machine!

After the Armistice

Nov. 14, 1918

Dear Mother:

Things seem to be about over now, don't they? But the last few weeks are always the slowest. It's funny, here I've been here almost fourteen months and never worried much about going home till a couple of weeks ago. And it gets worse every day.

This morning Frank and Reg left, to sail at the end of the week with Mr. Davison and Harry. They are certainly lucky.  p290 Frank and Harry have been over only two or three months, I think, and they are the first to get home again. I almost slipped off with them, but I guess the Captain here thought he might have something for me to do, so he put his foot down. However (D. V.) a couple of weeks more ought to do the business up. But one never knows.

This morning I flew over to France and back between breakfast and lunch; it was a pleasant trip and enabled me to get the rest of my baggage, so I've just finished packing and am all set. I took my touring car again. It's a peach and we certainly did travel. Just one hour and eight minutes from Dunkirk to here. 'Tis a mystery to me why I am not tired to‑night, as we had a great dance last night, sort of a peace party at the Mortons'. I got to bed about 3 A.M., in addition to which Frank and Reg pulled me out of bed at 7 A.M., being in such jovial spirits at leaving. Likewise I flew most of the afternoon. Don't expect to have much flying now, as there is no use wasting petrol.

What do you think I did yesterday afternoon? Well, I am certainly ashamed. I crashed a DH‑4 landing in a fancy way. Altho' we stuck where we hit, only radiator and wheels and props were broken. The entire absence of any real shock surprised me very much. I thought when one changed speed from fifty-five to zero miles per hour one might suffer at least a jar.

Two letters to‑day from Dad through C. P. S. and a note from Miss Guthrie. I'm certainly sorry to learn that nothing has yet been heard from Ken. It looks mighty bad for him. Di will, I imagine, be with us in about a week now, as prisoners are given up immediately. Well, Muzzy, I am praying and hoping to be with you all by Xmas.

The official records, to round out the story of Lieutenant David S. Ingalls, include the following summaries of his awards for valor in action:

From the British Air Ministry

25 October 1918

Force Commander, U. S. N. F.,
30, Grosvenor Gardens, London

Lieut. (J.G.) D. S. Ingalls, U. S. N. R. F.

With reference to your letter dated 15th October 1918, asking to be furnished with a report relative to the destroying of enemy  p291 aircraft by the above named American Officer while attached to No. 213 Squadron.

I am directed to inform you that the following is the record of the act of gallantry for which Lieutenant David Sinton Ingalls has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross: —

On the 15th of September, 1918, led a flight of five machines (in a formation of twenty machines) on Low‑bombing raid on Uytkerke Aerodrome obtaining a direct hit on his target. On homeward journey, assisted by another Camel, shot down two‑seater enemy aeroplane in flames. Has participated in two other Low bomb raids doing good work with bombs and machine‑gun fire in each case.

Has helped to destroy two enemy aeroplanes (two‑seaters) and once, single-handed, attacked six enemy machines, driving one down damaged.

Lieut. Ingalls also shot down an enemy kite balloon in flames near Ostend on 18.9.1918.

His keenness, courage and utter disregard of danger are exceptional and are an example to all. He is one of the finest men this squadron ever had.

V. Lansdown, Major, Air Staff

From the American Government


The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Medal to

Lieutenant (J.G.) David S. Ingalls, U. S. N. R. F.

for services during the World war as set forth in the following:


For exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility as a chasse pilot operating with R. A. F., Squadron 213, while attached to the Northern Bombing Group, Northern France, where, as a result of his brilliant and courageous work he was made an Acting Flight Commander by the British authorities over their own pilots. Alone and in conjunction with other pilots, he shot down at least four enemy aeroplanes and one or more enemy balloons.

For the President.

Josephus Daniels

Secretary of the Navy

Washington, D. C., September 23, 1919

From: British Air Attaché

To: Lieutenant David Sinton Ingalls

My dear Lieutenant Ingalls:

I write to inform you that I have in my possession the Distinguished Flying Cross to which you became entitled for gallantry  p292 in flying operations against the enemy, and for which your name is listed in the London Gazette of the 19th of July, 1919.

I will either send the cross to you under registered cover, or at your choice retain it until the visit, early in November, of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, on which occasion he will himself present it to you.

I may say that the Prince has expressed himself as desirous of presenting these crosses, and other things being equal and your circumstances permitting, I hope that you will be able to accede to the latter alternative.

It was the pleasure of Lieutenant Ingalls to accept the decoration personally from the hands of the Prince of Wales, as one good sportsman to another.1

The Author's Note:

1 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

Lieutenant (j.g.) David Sinton Ingalls

Period from 5 July to 30 September, 1918:

A most excellent officer and exceptionally good pilot. Good knowledge of aeronautics. Has been attached temporarily to 213 Squad, R. A. F., a British fighting squadron, since Aug. 15th and there has made an enviable record. His work has been spoken most highly of by the squadron commander, Major R. Graham.

Artemus L. Gates, Lt. U. S. N. R. F.

Commanding U. S. N. A. S., Dunkirk

Period from 1 April to 24 May, 1918:

Very excellent pilot. Very bold and aggressive, most promising.

G. de C. Chevalier, Lt., U. S. N.,

Commanding U. S. N. A. S., Dunkirk

Period from 21 March to 31 March, 1918:

Very promising. Excellent pilot.

G. de C. Chevalier, Lt., U. S. N.,

Commanding U. S. N. A. S., Dunkirk

Period from 21 December, 1917 to 21 March, 1918:

A particularly bright officer, greatly interested and thorough in all work assigned him, and a good pilot.

E. R. Pollock, Comdr., U. S. N.,

30 Grosvenor Gardens, London, Eng.

Thayer's Note:

a His wartime letters have recently been edited and published by Geoffrey L. Rossano under the title Hero of the Angry Sky: The World War I Diary and Letters of David S. Ingalls, America's First Naval Ace (Ohio University Press, 2013).

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