Today in Aviation History – The First Aerial Combat Victory Took Place

Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault.


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’.

The Voisin III was a French two-seat multi-purpose pusher biplane developed in 1914 as a more powerful version of the 1912 Voisin I. The type is notable for being the first aircraft to successfully shoot down an enemy aircraft (on October 5, 1914), and for having equipped the first dedicated bomber units in September 1914. This photograph is part of the Fonds Raoul Berthelé, preserved by the city archives of Toulouse. It was provided to Wikimedia Commons as part of a cooperation project with Wikimédia France. In 1978, the municipal archives of Toulouse received a gift from Beatrix Faucher-Berthelé, of documents from her personal collection, from that of her brother Raoul, her husband Benjamin Faucher (1886-1973), director of the departmental archives of the Upper Garonne from 1926, and her father-in-law Joseph Faucher.

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.

There had been occasional exchanges of shots between the pilots of planes during the first weeks of the conflict, but Frantz and Quénault are credited with being the first aviators to shoot down an enemy plane.

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…

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