While the official US involvement in World War I (WWI) did not occur until April of 1917, unofficially the US volunteered military services as part of a squadron known as the Escadrille Lafayette or Escadrille Americaine, as part of the French Air Service.
The squadron served in the French Air Service between August 14, 1916 and September 9, 1917 and was commanded by Capitaine Georges Thenault of the French Air Service. The unit was known initially as the Escadrille Americaine but changed to Escadrille Lafayette after Germany filed a complaint that the squadron did not appear to be the action of a neutral government in the war. The success of the squadron illustrated the importance of aerial combat to both the Americans and French.
The effort to persuade the French government of the importance of an American volunteer squadron fighting for France was led by Dr. Edmund L. Gros, who directed the American Ambulance Service, and Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France. The hope was that the unit’s efforts would be recognized by the US public and help sway public opinion towards US involvement in the war. Despite the fact that the squadron was slow to gain popularity in the US, their success did increase their notoriety and popularity and on February 18, 1918 the squadron ceased as a unit of the French Army and merged into the US Air Corps as the 103rd pursuit squadron. Not all Americans fighting for the French as volunteers were part of the Escadrille, some fought as part of the Lafayette Flying Corps.
A two volume mostly hand-written journal kept during the campaign is part of the National Air and Space Museum Library’s collection and is the most recent Smithsonian Libraries’ contribution to the SI Digital Volunteers Transcription Center, joining Poetry and Prose and the Scrapbook of Early Aeronautica. Please feel free to become a digital volunteer today and help transcribe this important historical document.
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