Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Day in History: Apr 18, 1915: Germans shoot down French pilot Roland Garros


On this day in 1915, a member of the German Bahnschutzwache, or Railway Protection Guard, shoots down the well-known French airman Roland Garros in his flight over German positions in Flanders, France, on a bombing raid. 
 
Garros, born in 1882, gained renown early in his career as an experienced practitioner of aerial acrobatics, the first French pilot to fly across the Mediterranean Sea and a two-time winner of both the Paris-Madrid and Paris-Rome flying races. In 1914, while working as a test pilot for Morane-Saulnier, an aircraft manufacturer, Garros set the then-world record for the highest flight: 4,250 meters. When war broke out in Europe that same year, he was sent to serve with the French air service, L'Aviation Militaire, on the Western Front.
 

At the end of 1914, Garros took leave from his regiment and returned to the Morane-Saulnier factory to work with Raymond Saulnier to test a recently developed device that enabled a pilot to fire bullets from a machine-gun through the blades of the propeller of his plane. The device, employed successfully by Garros in the early spring of 1915, allowed him to approach his enemies head-on in the air, giving him a vast advantage. Garros shot down his first German victim, an Albatross reconnaissance aircraft, on April 1, 1915; in the next two weeks, he downed four more.
 

Garros' run ended on April 18, however, when he was flying his single-seater plane, a Morane-Saulnier Type L, low in the skies above the German positions in Flanders. A member of the German Bahnschutzwache described the events of that day: At that moment we saw a southbound train approaching on the railway line Ingelmunster-Kortrijk. Suddenly the plane went into a steep dive. He flew over the train in a loop and as he rose up into the sky again with his wings almost vertical, he threw a bomb at the train. Fortunately it missed the target and there was no damage.As the plane had swooped down over the train the Bahnschutzwache troops had fired on it following my order to open fire. We shot at him from a distance of only 100 metres as he flew past. After he had thrown his bomb at the train he tried to escape, switching his engine on again and climbing to about 700 metres through the shots fired by our troops. But suddenly the plane began to sway about in the sky, the engine fell silent, and the pilot began to glide the plane down in the direction of Hulste.

 

A German bullet had apparently hit the gas pipe on Garros' plane, forcing him to land. Although the daring airman attempted to set the plane on fire and escape on foot once he hit the ground, both he and the plane were captured by the Germans. Garros later managed to escape from captivity and rejoin L'Aviation Militaire. Killed in battle at Vouziers on October 5, 1918, he is remembered as one of France's most celebrated war heroes; the famous tennis stadium in Paris bears his name.
 

The propeller of Garros' Morane-Saulnier plane and its innovative machine-gun firing device were sent immediately after his capture in April 1915 to the Fokker aircraft factory in Germany. A few weeks later, the first Fokker EI—a single-seater airplane fitted with machine guns, deflectors and interrupter gear that could synchronize the rate of fire of the gun with the speed of the propeller—was sent to German forces on the Western Front. From mid-1915 until mid-1916, the Fokker E-types of the German Air Force were the menace of the skies, shooting down a total of over 1,000 Allied aircraft.
 

More on Roland Garros


Garros was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion, and studied at the Lycée Janson de Sailly and HEC Paris. He started his aviation career in 1909 flying Alberto Santos-Dumont's Demoiselle monoplane, an aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Bleriot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine, such as the 1911 Paris to Madrid air race.
He was already a noted aviator before World War I, having visited the U.S. and South America. By 1913 he had switched to flying the faster Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, and gained fame for making the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in the south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia.[1] The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of World War I.
 

Development of interrupter gear

In the early stages of the air war in World War I the problem of mounting a forward-firing machine gun on combat aircraft was considered by a number of individuals. The so-called interrupter gear did not come into use until Anthony Fokker developed a synchronization device which had a large impact on air combat; however, Garros also had a significant role in the process of achieving this goal.
 

As a reconnaissance pilot with the Escadrille MS26, Garros visited the Morane-Saulnier Works[2] in December 1914. Saulnier's work on metal deflector wedges attached to propeller blades was taken forward by Garros; he eventually had a workable installation fitted to his Morane-Saulnier Type L aircraft. Garros achieved the first ever shooting-down of an aircraft by a fighter firing through a tractor propeller, on 1 April 1915; two more victories over German aircraft were achieved on 15 and 18 April 1915.[2]
 

On 18 April 1915, either Garros' fuel line clogged or, by other accounts, his aircraft was downed by ground fire,[2] and he glided to a landing on the German side of the lines. Garros failed to destroy his aircraft before being taken prisoner: most significantly, the gun and armoured propeller remained intact. Legend has it that after examining the plane, German aircraft engineers, led by Fokker, designed the improved interrupter gear system. In fact the work on Fokker's system had been going for at least six months before Garros' aircraft fell into their hands. With the advent of the interrupter gear the tables were turned on the Allies, with Fokker's planes shooting down many Allied aircraft, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge.

 

After internment in a POW camp


Garros finally managed to escape from a POW camp in Germany on 14 February 1918, after several attempts, and rejoined the French army. He settled into Escadrille 26 to pilot a Spad, and claimed two victories on 2 October 1918, one of which was confirmed. On 5 October 1918, he was shot down and killed near Vouziers, Ardennes, a month before the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday. His adversary was probably German ace Hermann Habich from Jasta 49.[3]
 

Garros is erroneously called the world's first fighter ace. In fact, he shot down only four aircraft; the definition of "ace" is five or more victories. The honour of becoming the first ace went to another French airman, Adolphe Pégoud.[4]

Places named after Roland Garros


In the 1920s, a tennis centre which he attended religiously when he was studying in Paris, was named after the pilot, Stade de Roland Garros. The stadium accommodates the French Open, one of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments. Consequently, the tournament is officially called Les internationaux de France de Roland-Garros (the "French Internationals of Roland Garros").

The international airport of La Réunion, Roland Garros Airport, is also named after him.
The French car manufacturer Peugeot commissioned a 'Roland Garros' limited edition version of its 205 model in celebration of the tennis tournament that bears his name. The model included special paint and leather interior. Due to the success of this special edition, Peugeot later created Roland Garros editions of its 106, 206, 207, 306 and 806 models.

 

 References

  1. ^ Flying the MediterraneanFlight 27 September 1913
  2. ^ a b c G. van Wyngarden. Early German Aces of World War 1. Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-997-5
  3. ^ Jon Guttman. SPAD XII/XIII aces of World War I. Osprey Publishing, 2002. ISBN 1-84176-316-0
  4. ^ Norman Franks, Frank W. Bailey,mOver the Front: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914-1918. Grub Street, 1992. ISBN 0-948817-54-2, ISBN 978-0-948817-54-0.

 

Taken from: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-shoot-down-french-pilot-roland-garros & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roland_Garros_%28aviator%29 [18.04.2013]

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