by Bryan R. Swopes of This Day in Aviation
The first official victory during aerial combat between two airplanes took place during World War I on October 5, 1914 over Jonchery-sur-Vesle near Reims, France. A French Voisin III biplane of Escadrille VB24, flown by Sergeant Joseph Frantz with observer Corporal Louis Quénault, engaged a German Aviatik B.II flown by Oberleutnant Fritz von Zangen and Sergeant Wilhelm Schlichting of FFA 18. Aircraft engineers and pilots had envisioned aerial combat for a number of years by the time World War I began in the autumn of 1914, even if nobody had yet seen what we would now call a ‘dogfight’.
As written in Air & Space Magazine, the first aerial battles of World War I were variations on that same theme. French aviation historian David Méchin ticks off a list of “firsts” which all happened within a few weeks of each other in 1914. On August 25, Roland Garros and Lt. de Bernis became the first flyers to damage an enemy aircraft. Flying a Morane Parasol, they shot at a German airplane, which escaped in a dive, although one of the two men on board was wounded. On September 7, Russian Pyotr Nesterov was the first pilot to destroy an enemy airplane, but he did it by ramming his Morane into an Austrian Albatros. Both aircrews died as a result.
Then, on October 5, French pilot Sgt. Joseph Frantz and his mechanic/gunner, Louis Quénault, shot down a German biplane near Reims to record what is considered the first official aerial combat victory. Méchin tells the story in detail in this month’s edition of the French aviation history magazine Le Fana de l’aviation.
The Voisin was armed with a Hotchkiss M1909 8mm machine gun. Corporal Quénault fired two 48-round magazines at the German airplane, whose crew returned fire with rifles. Quénault’s machine gun jammed and he continued to fire on the Aviatik with a rifle. The German airplane crashed with both von Zangen and Schlichting losing their lives as a result. The age of aerial combat had begun…
For more aviation anniversaries please visit www.thisdayinaviation.com