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A STORY SELDOM TOLD (en anglais) - THE ROLE OF FRENCH AVIATION IN WWI

Groupe de Combat 12, 'Les Cigognes': France's Ace Fighter Group in World War 1 - Jon Guttman

Of all the books about First World War aviation, it is sad that there are very few books available --- in English --- about the role of French aviation (and its airmen) in that conflict. "Groupe de Combat 12, 'Les Cigognes': France's Ace Fighter Group in World War I" helps to redress that deficit. It tells the story of one of France's premiere fighter units which began operations on the Western Front on November 1, 1916 flying both Nieuport 17 and SPAD VIIs. In its ranks were some of France's top fighter aces and tacticians of the calibre of Georges Guynemer (54 victories) - a national hero who acquired mythic status following his death in combat on September 11th, 1917); Albert Deullin - a top tactician and teacher who went on to publish a book on fighter tactics used by both France and the U.S.; René 'Père' Dorme, who flew brilliantly against the Germans, so much so that it was thought he was indestructible, which sadly was not the case; Mathieu Tenant de la Tour; Alfred Heurtaux; American volunteers like Frank L. Baylies and Edwin Parsons; and the top Allied ace of the war, René Paul Fonck (75 confirmed victories) - a superb pilot and masterful shot who was never popular among most of his 'Cigognes' ['Storks' - a stork in flight was the unit symbol which adorned the fuselage of Nieuport and SPAD alike] comrades owing to his tendency to boast and brag about himself to the point of annoyance. Quite a contrast to Guynemer, who was modest and widely respected among his contemporaries.  Unlike Guynemer, Fonck was never shot down, never wounded, and survived the war.  

 

Like other books of this type published by Osprey, this book has lots of fantastic photos and illustrations, and is enriched considerably with the comments interspersed throughout the text of France's last surviving fighter ace of the war - Louis Risacher - who flew with the 'Cigognes' between June 1917 and August 1918. He passed away in June 1986, age 91. By war's end in November 1918, Groupe de Combat 12 was flying the redoubtable SPAD XIII fighter, which carried twin Vickers machine guns and was noted for its high speed and ability to absorb tremendous punishment and bring its pilot home. I hope that more books on the French aviation experience in the First World War will become available in English so that a fuller understanding of that air war from all the principal combatants can be realized.