History : Nov-Dec 2018
PHOTO 12/GETTY IMAGES A U.S. POSTER FROM 1917 BY PAUL VERREES ENCOURAGES ENLISTMENT IN THE FLEDGLING AMERICAN AIR SERVICE. Finishing the Job The war was growing desperate for Britain and France in 1917. In spring the Russian govern- ment fell into chaos as the hardships of war drove the Russian people to revolt, and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. In the United States, whose people had been reluctant to get involved in a European conflict, public opinion was start- ing to turn against Germany. German subma- rines had begun sinking American merchant vessels at sea, causing an outcry among the American people. In April 1917 President Woodrow Wilson was finally able to bring the United States into the fray and pledged“to make the world safe for democracy.” American aviators had already gained battle experience in the war, fighting as volunteers for the French. In April 1916 France had a unit composed entirely of American fliers. Later that year, many American pilots formed the unofficial “Lafayette Squadron,” nicknamed for the French marquis who had fought on the side of the patriots in the American Revolu- tion. The first African-American pilot, Eugene Bullard, fought in France and is said to have had a motto painted onto his plane: “All Blood Runs Red.” Bullard was later refused entry to the newly created U.S. Air Service because of racial segregation. Faced with a similar situation to that of the European powers in 1914, the United States had little airpower—only six aircraft—when they entered the war in 1917. A recruitment drive followed, new aircraft were ordered, and by May 1918, the U.S. Army Air Service was created. American flying legends rapidly emerged, including the superstar Amer- ican pilot, Capt. Edward Rickenbacker, and the daring commander Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, father of the United States Air Force. In the months leading up to the end of the war, Allied superiority in the air had already been established. The Allies were outproduc- ing the Germans in aircraft by approximately five to one. By the last year of the war French Spad XIII biplanes were being mass-produced and proving highly effective against the enemy. The British unveiled their own distinctive aircraft: the Sopwith Camel 86 NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2018 COLUMBUS LEDGER/GETTY IMAGES EUGENE BULLARD (BELOW), WHO FLEW MISSIONS OVER FRANCE 1917-18, WAS THE WORLD’S FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMBAT PILOT.