Monday, February 14, 2011

88th Aero Squadron on the front in France, World War I

The 88th Aero Squadron which had been organized August 10th, 1917, at Kelly Field, Texas and which had embarked for overseas Oct. 2 1917, after three weeks outfitting at Mineola, Long Island spent the months of November, December and January as a construction squadron under first lt. L. D. Mahan establishing the present air depot at Colombey Les Belles. During the night of Dec. 5th and 6th, German Bombers paid their first respects to the squadron, resulting in the wounding of Privates Ebsen and Warren.


On February 1, 1918, the end of a long, hard winter was sinalized by orders sending the Squadran to Amanty, the Headquarters of the First Observation Group, to be made into an Observation Squadron. Major H. B. Andarson was assigned as Squadron commander and Lt. Mahan became Ajuvant and Supply Officer. On February 14, the first Pilot Captain K. P. Littaner, and old Lafayette flyer, was assigned; and on the 22nd. eighteen first lieutenants from Issoudun reported, filling up the roster of pilots. Those who remained with the squadron through the work ahead were G. M. Comey, L. V. Benheimer, F. E. Evans, F.L. McCordie, P. A. Box, L. G. Bower, R. C. M. Page, E. A. Hastings, L. V. Hailorunn, P. R., Babcock, P. H. McNulty, J. T. Fairall, and J. H. McClendon.

From this time until May 5th the squadron waited in Amanty for planes to take to the front. During the interval, the squadron used A.R's belonging to the First Group School in carrying out the work of the Observer's School there and the men did considerable construction work in connection with Amanty, which was becoming an air center of some importance. At this time most of the old squadrons of the Air Service in in or near Amanty, putting on the finiishign touches of their training. There was the 94th and 95th PUrsuit at Epiez, the 96th Bombardment at Amanty and the following Observation: st, 91st, 12th and 90th. The order in which tehse first squadrons later flew over the lines was as follows:1st, 94th, 95th, 12th, 88th 91st 90th and 96th.

On May 5th the first Sopwith 1 1/2 strutters, with which the sqauadran was to be equipped, arrive and from then on the squadron rapidly worked into shape in all its departments. Lt. Blfay the supply officer had already secured a truck train, touring cars adn established our transportationn; Lt. Hall  had gotten our armament Department into working order; and Lt. Segaitz was esstablishing the Engineering Department. On the 22nd of May Lt. E. C. Vroeeman repoarrted as Radio Officer and on t the 24th of May  the first observers becgan to arrive from the various trench observation squadronswhere they had been working. Those who came in the first two batches and who remained wiht eh squadren were: 1st Lts. T A Kirwin, 101st F A H W Merrill, 103rd F A, J I Rancourt, 103rd FA EW wagner, 6th FA, HT douglas, Inf., and SS Barrows FA: 2nd Lts. VM Hasselman, 150th FA, L h moore, 7th FA, Je Palmer, 7th FA, CW plummer, 101st FA, JW Jordan, 7th FA and Curtis Wheeler, 5th FA, representing the four original divisions of the A. E. F. , the Rainbow, Yankee 1st and 2nd.

On May 28th the squadron moved from Amanty to OUrches, eighteen kilometers southwest of Toul and on May 30th the squadron? on its original front of the A.E.F. , the old Toul? Lt. Kirwin as Operations Ofiicer. The first missions went out on May 30th-- Major Anderson with Lt. Kirwin, Captain Lietauer with Lt. Rancourt, Lt. Evenas and Lt. Hartwell and Lt Box with Lt. Douglas-- and received their baptism of fire from the famous "APokie"? batteries between Apremont and Montsec.


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The squadron was assigned to the 26th Division under General Edwards which had already fought the engagement of SEichuery? and was turning an old rest sector into a fairly hot front along the line apremont to Limey.

There where tow other squadrons on the field with us a Ourophes, the 1st acting as the 1st Corps squadron, and the 12th with the French Division on our right, which completed the Corps and occupiedthe secotro up to Font a Moussson. The 91st was also operatiing from Gondreville as an Army Swuadron. Being a division squadron the 88th snet a few photographic missione over the lines, and becauseuse no push was on, no infantry contract patrols, most of the work being reconnnaissances and artillery adjustments, at which Lts. Kervwin, Merrill, hartwell, Rancourt and Hoore were particularly successful. Lts. Box and Jordan conducted a number of successful photographic missions behind the lines despite the "Archie" fire from the battery in Martmare Wood.

The first real trouble came on Sunday, June 16th when the Germans drove us out of the town of Xivray at dawn end the Americans counter-attacked. On this day the squadron send up ten missions amid some excitement and Lt. Jordan conducted a successful reglege for neutralization of the German batteries in Montsec. Lt. Merrill spend a wild morning looking for a German long range gun that was suppsoed to have been brought down by a railroad from Mets, and Lt. Kirwin conducted a gas shoot against the "Archie" battery that had peppered Capt. Littauer's plane a few days before.

During those weeks while the squadron was settling intor shape the entire situation on the western front had changed. On May 26 the Germans had attacked on the old line of the Chemin des Dames, headed straight for Paris, and in three days had gotten as far as Chateau Thierry on the Marne. Taken in connection with theiir drive from ST. Quentin to Mon?idier in March and their cutting of the English main railroad lilnes at Bethune in April, it was evident that they were exerting every effort to end the war before the bulk of the American Army could get to France.

In this exigency the old plan of keeping the American Army in the Toul sector was abandoned and the best trained divisions were rushed twoard Chateau Thierry. Shortly after Xivray, the 26 Division was relieved by the 82, and a few days later the 1st Corps shifted, and the Observation GRoup working with it began to pull out. For a few days the 88ths squadron workeded with the 82nd Division and the 4th Army Corps, while the 1st and 13th Squadrons were moved out. During this time a number of changes were made in the personeel of the 88th. Lt. Hakl?, ouir first casualty, who had been badly burned aobu the face by the explosion of gasoline in the machine gun tent, but who had nevertheless continued his work with his head in a cage of wire adn cheesecloth, was ordered to General Fouslouis's Staff and relieved by Lt. JJ Knowles as ARmament Officer on the 21st of June. On the June 28th, Lts. Harold F. Marshall and RW hitchcock and on the July 2nd Lt. JM murphy were assigned to the squadron as pilots, lt. Leo F Powers as Adjutant in place Lt. Mahan, who had been acting as group commander, definitely served his connection wit the squadron, taking with him Lt. Kirwin AS Group Operations Officer. Captain Littauer became squadron commander, with Lt. Hartwell as his Operations Officer.

At this time the non-commissioned officers with the various departments were: Sergeant-Major's office, Sgt.  cl Walter D. Thrane, First seargeant, Sgt. 1 cl. Earl F. Hersh (who was later to trade places with Sgt. l cl. John L. Putt, at this time as a crew chief); Experimental and Repair Shop, Sgt. 1st Cl. Burr C. Carter, Machine Shop, Sgt. l/cl. Christian V. Mortensen; Operations, Sgt. 1st cl. Floyd L Evans; Magneto, Sgt. l cl. J O Taylor, Hangar Chief, Sgt. l cl. Wm. H. Hicks; MEss, Sgt. 1 cl. HO Johnson; Transportation, Sgt. Ralph L Townsend; Armament, Cpl. Max Walton; Radion, Cpl. Harold S. Williams. Among the crew chiefs were Sgts. 1 cl. H C Roberts and Jesse W. STansfield, and Sgts. N. H McKay, TR Gladwill and Cols. J B Iconlower and EE McFarland.


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The Squadron was now on about the form in which it was to go through several engagements. It needed only its first combat. On July 5th, Lt. Douglass came back from Cazaux, was attacked during the dawn reconnausease by the zebra-stripped Albatross of a crack pursuit squadron that had fast moving into the sctor. They bazed at each other for several kilometers, till the Boches dived off and Lt. Hastings took the ship home with his aileron controls shot away and the fuselage riddled with bursts of seven or eight rounds together. It  is probable that Lt. Douglass brought down one of the Albatross, but nobdoy ever had time to look up that matter or the Croix de Guerre for which they were both recommended, for on the next day the squadron moved to the Chateau-Thierry front.

Two days later the squadron was all together again in a large farm at Frenchville, four kilometers west of JCoulommiers just off the Crecy road. The pilots had flown down on the 6th with their cheif mechanics by way of LIgny en Barrois, later to be the headquarters of the 1st American Army, St. Idmier, Vitry le francois, Sommesous and Fere Chempenoise, the old battlefield of the Marne. The observers had come in the Cadillac and Fiate in eight hours, and the rest of the squadron in a light and a heavy truck train in two days. This was the method adopted for all later moves and enabled the squadron thereafter to start active operation the day it moved. Headquarters, armament, radio, supply and engineering were established in tents, and the ships in tent hangers.

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