Over The Front"
Air Service (USAS), First Aero Squadron. April 2nd, 1918, near the Toul
Sector in occupied France.
heavy clouds part, Lt. William G. Schauffler (Pilot), and Captain Thomas
J. Griffin (Observer) side-slip their SPAD XI to avoid
intense ground-fire coming from the town below. Schauffler and Griffin
have the "unofficial" honor on this day of being the first
American officers to cross over German lines on the Western Front. What
had begun as a routine camera test-flight near Toul, France, took a
deadly turn when they encountered low clouds and fog near the front-line
trenches. With their navigation hampered by an old French road map,
their Stars-and-Stripes adorned aircraft drifted over No-Man’s Land
and into the German reserve-line airspace. Lost and totally unaware of
the changed situation on the ground, Schauffler buzzed an unknown town
in an effort to identify themselves to the troops firing at them below
(they mistakenly thought
they were French).
with a shout of "Those are German uniforms, get the hell out of
here!", Captain Griffin alerted Schauffler to enemy
troops with machine guns mounted on a church roof. Their aircraft was
raked with accurate fire but they managed to escape back to friendly
lines. Later, they would count over one hundred and seventy bullet holes
in the fabric wings, cockpit, and fuselage flags. Miraculously, neither
was harmed, but since the flight into enemy territory wasn't authorized,
they weren't given any credit for their ordeal.
days later, Major Ralph Royce, Commander of the First Aero Squadron,
would be hailed by the press as the first "official" American
officer to sally across the German lines. Major Royce’s First Aero
Squadron flag (which adorned his aircraft) is currently on display at
the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio.