The Escadrille Lafayette in July 1917. Standing, left to right are Soubiron, Doolittle, Campbell, Persons, Bridgman, Dugan, MacMonagle, Lowell, Willis, Jones, Peterson and de Maison-Rouge (French Deputy Commander). Seated, left to right are Hill, Masson with "Soda," Thaw, Thenault (the French Commander), Lufbery with "Whiskey," Johnson, Bigelow and Rockwell. (U.S. Air Force photo)
In February 1918 the airplanes and equipment of the Escadrille Lafayette, together with most of its pilots, were taken over by the United States, while the French ground personnel of the unit were replaced by members of the 103rd Aero Squadron, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force. During its illustrious history with the French Aviation Service, the Escadrille Lafayette had served on practically every battle front in France, had downed 57 enemy aircraft and had nine of its pilots killed.
Shortly after the Escadrille Americaine went into action in April 1916, its exploits began to attract world-wide attention and other Americans became interested in flying for France. As a result, a committee known as the Franco-American Flying Corps (subsequently referred to as the Lafayette Aviation Corps and Lafayette Flying Corps), composed primarily of American and French business and professional men, was created to assist young Americans in enlisting in the French Aviation Service. More than 200 Americans eventually were trained by France to be flyers, and most were assigned individually, or in twos or threes, to various French Aviation units. To say they served with the Escadrille Lafayette would be an historical inaccuracy. Rather, they all were "members" of the Lafayette Flying Corps, an organization that never actually served as an entity on the Front.
Although the Americans in the French Aviation Service were of immense value to France, probably their greatest contribution was realized in 1918 after most had transferred to the AEF. Being combat veterans, they were the pilots upon whom the U.S. Air Service depended on greatly at the time it began placing its own "green" pursuit pilots on the Front. Because of their experience, they were assigned to newly-arrived American units where they could pass their knowledge along to those just entering combat. One can only conjecture as to the number of fledgling pilots of the U.S. Air Service who survived their initial patrols over the Front under the protective guidance of the handful of their countrymen who previously had flown combat under the French Flag.
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