I’ve written a bit about my ancestor, Colonel Jim Fitzmaurice, in the past. He was a fascinating character, making aviation history, fighting in the Somme, then slowly fading into obscurity and near-poverty towards the end of his life. My dad always tells stories about him, his plummy RAF accent and how he stuck out like a sore thumb in a newly independent Ireland, like some relic of a bygone age. I recently came across the book written by Fitzmaurice and his two colleagues about their Atlantic crossing – it is quite the read, not least because it covers his wild youth, the Somme and horrors of the First World War, but also the terror of their journey in the Bremen and his vision of the future for aviation, both in Ireland and around the world. The book is written by each member of the crew in turn, but this is Fitzmaurice’s section:
SCHOOLDAYS-ENLISTING IN THE IRISH NATIONAL VOLUNTEERS-WAR CLOUDS IN THE WEST-WITH “THE DEATH OR GLORY BOYS”-MY FIRST PROMOTION-OFF FOR FRANCE.
An autobiography is a peculiar thing. As I sit here quietly reviewing the kaleidoscopic cinema of my past—a short 30 years—I wonder if it is possible to gather the true prospective of my deeds. Mine has been a life peculiar to the times—a restless chip in the turbulent sea of the factional disputes of Europe. Long before I was twenty-one I had gazed into the glassy upturned eyes of broken soldiers; trodden a field wet with blood and still shuddering from the blows of a world conflict. Even before the down on my cheeks had surrendered itself to the bristles of a man’s beard, I had grown to know that the blot of war can only be wiped away in the brief days between each onslaught, by a sodden attempt to fill the mind with the glistening baubles of dissipation. Is it possible then to bring into mortal words the autobiographical impressions of a life which has only begun and yet which, as I review the events in passing, seems to be so jumbled that there is hardly a beginning and as yet there is no end?
I was born in the City of Dublin about noon on the 6th of January, 1898. My father, Michael Fitzmaurice, the son of a Limerick farmer, was a civil service official, and my mother—formerly Mary O’Riordan—was the daughter of a County Limerick farmer. According to family history the first three years of my life were spent in the City of Dublin, at the end of which time we moved to Queens County and resided in the town of Maryborough. Here I lived and received what little education I can boast of, at the Christian Brothers School until I reached the age of 16 years. Peaceful days, wide cool green expanses of grass in the schoolyard. Woods where we went bird-nesting, and friendly taskmasters who exhorted us to study hard, are but fragments of memories of my boyhood days. Breaking out of bounds to visit the forbidden sweetshop, and practicing many other pranks of boyhood mischief brought the inevitable school punishment.
But these whippings were only passing summer storms that failed to divert my path from that of the average schoolboy of those days. I must admit that I was not a very outstanding figure at that time. As far as I can remember, I was always the last boy in the last desk of each class I passed through, and just managed to scramble through the various examinations. The end of each term, with the inevitable report on conduct, always filled me with foreboding. My parents did not seem to believe that I had sufficient personal pride to feel hurt at the marks that I received, but added to my sense of ignominy with a stern lecture.
Somewhere early in 1913 I was sent to the City of Waterford to undergo a general course of business training. The idea of business life was abhorrent to me at the time, and in this establishment I was perpetually in trouble of one sort or another. The climax came at the end of about a year, when I was sent home to my people as an incorrigible in disgrace. The routine of this business training followed very much on the lines of my earlier academic training. I slept in a large dormitory with a number of other boys about my own age, and at nine o’clock every night we received a signal for lights out. During the day we usually hatched some diabolical plot for mischief, and immediately the signal for lights out was given we would proceed to execute our plan. The particularly devastating scheme which foreshortened my career in business studies was a plan to attack a neighboring dory Napoleonic prowess for strategy members of my dormitory under my or the attack, which was to take place.
One mistake however was made Overlooked the fact that the dear old slept in a room directly underneath the dormitory which we were attacking. As the ‘zero hour’ arrived we crept silently down the tall. The ghostly moonlight, shining window, was reflected from the shimmering nightshirts of the more timorous members of our raiding party. Stealthily we opened the d for attack, and launched ourselves upon the beds of our unsuspecting victims. The battle was at its height when our scouts observed use authorities were coming up the stair to investigate the situation. Word was passed along, and a general scramble started for out room. Strategic as had been our advance, I must admit that our retreat was rather poorly planned. Smothered in a tangle of bedclothes and rolling grotesquely about the floor, I learned that my lads had given place to superior forces when I catapulted directly into the stomach of one of the portly house authorities. The following very severe manager informed me ling had fallen upon the housekeeper who was asleep in bed at the time and had nearly scared her out of her wits. He also informed me that my continued presence in the house was not conducive to the maintenance of the best possible standard of discipline among the other students. A railway ticket was handed to me, my traps were packed, and I commenced the most miserable railway journey of my whole life.
My arrival at home coincided with the receipt by my parents of a long letter from the school giving the details of my disgraceful conduct. A very serious lecture was delivered, and after negotiations between my parents and the officials of the business school—which lasted for several days—I was finally allowed to return to continue my studies. At this time the Irish Home Rule Bill was receiving serious consideration in the British Houses of Parliament and the Irish Nationalist Party under the able leadership of the late Mr. John Redmond was beginning to see the materialization of the dream of centuries—a free Ireland.
The Unionist Party in the north under the equally able leadership of the then Sir Edward, now Lord Carson, was becoming uneasy, and foolishly decided upon a policy of armed resistance. Volunteer military forces were formed in the north with the object of preventing the passing of the Home Rule Bill. The gauntlet was thrown down. Redmond, acting on a policy of self-preservation, issued an appeal to the youth of Ireland to arm, drill and prepare to fight if necessary for the liberty of the people of our country. The call to arms appealed to me and I was one of the first to enroll in the City of Waterford battalion of the Irish National Volunteers.
Endeavors were now made by the British military authorities to suppress this organization. The more they tried to suppress it the more enthusiastic and keen we became. Parades, instruction, drill and policy were all held, delivered and discussed in secret. My association with this volunteer military organization wrote the word “finis” to my business studies. Almost every modern boy at some time or another in his life has longed to play a part in secret service for his country. Think then how it fired my boyhood imagination to attend these secret meetings where we fervently hoped that we would “do or die” for Ireland. In the midst of my embryonic ambitions to be a great soldier came the outbreak of the European War in August, 1914, followed almost immediately by the formation of the great Lord Kitchener’s Army.
An appeal was made for volunteer troops, and the late John Redmond, ever anxious to render assistance to those in trouble,—even to those who opposed him—called upon the youth of Ireland to come forward for foreign service with the Armies of England. Now came a chance to throw myself into the tempest of modern warfare; the angry clouds of conflict were rapidly gathering on the Western Frontier.
Wild stories of the rapid advance of the relentless German Armies fired my imaginative ambitions, and in the early days of the War I found myself enrolling in the Cadet Company of the 7th Leinster Regiment. My period of service with this famous regiment was of very short duration. My parents called upon the Commanding Officer, produced my birth certificate, and I was taken out of the regiment owing to the fact that I was considerably under age for military service.
Three months later however the desire to see service in the Great War again reached a fever height, and I slipped away quietly and enlisted as a Trooper in the 17th Lancers, then known as the “Death or Glory Boys,” one of the finest regiments of British Cavalry. My parents now seemed to become reconciled to my desire for a military career. They therefore decided to leave me in the regiment, but sent my birth certificate to the Commanding Officer explaining that I was not to be sent on active service until I had reached 19 years of age—which is the minimum age for foreign service.
They kept hoping against hope that the War would finish before I reached that age, while I on the other hand was ever fearful that it would end before I managed to get into active fighting. The enthusiasm of youth coupled with a natural liking. For the life of a soldier carried me quickly through my recruit period of training. Horsemanship, one of my hobbies right from the cradle, presented little difficulty and I soon became the leading file of my ride in the equitation school. Many difficult and laborious hours were however spent on the barrack square and in the riding school in an endeavor to master the art of handling the lance, sword and rifle.
My efforts were not wasted because shortly after passing as a trained soldier the notification of my promotion to the dizzy altitude of “acting unpaid lance corporal” appeared in Regimental Daily Routine Orders. I was indeed proud and happy. That single stripe on my tunic sleeve seemed to exude all the concentrated rays of the sun’s light. My period of probation in this rank lasted three months. At the end of this period I was apparently considered satisfactory and duly confirmed in my rank.
This was most important for the reason that my rate of pay to date merely amounted to one shilling and two pence per day—truly a great wage for a hard day’s work. The confirmation of my rank meant an increase in pay of three pence per day. Shortly after this I sustained rather a serious accident whilst employed in breaking and training young troop horses in the remount depot. Upon coming out of the hospital a period of light duty was ordered by the medical officer and I found myself posted as non-commissioned officer in charge of the waiters in the Sergeants’ mess. In other words I was the headwaiter. This form of employment was very distasteful to me but orders were orders and it had to be done.
Very soon however I was again passed fit for duty and although still less than 18 years of age I found my name on the next oversea’s list for service in France. This was obviously due to some error in the Orderly Room but it was far from me to be the one to correct it. In due course the draft marched out of camp en route for France to the strain of “Come Back to Erin.”
UNDER SHELL-FIRE–ON PATROL IN “NO MAN’S LAND”-HUMAN TARGETS TRENCH FEVER -A MASSACRE-EXAMINATIONS AND COMMISSION.
Upon arrival in France we were very disappointed to discover that the war had settled down to a serious checkmate business, known as trench warfare. There was no use for cavalry so we were transferred to infantry regiments. About forty of us were posted to the 7th Service Battalion of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, a unit of the 55th Brigade of the 18th Division, one of the most famous battalions of the best fighting division which passed through the Great War.
It is impossible to describe my feelings when we first came under shell-fire. It is sufficient for me to say that my enthusiasm and eagerness to get right into the war were considerably dampened. Our first job was the transport of rations and engineering supplies from the back area to the forward positions. The ground we passed over had been the scene of a terrific battle a few days before.
It was simply pockmarked with huge shell holes. Dead German, British and French soldiers lay about in every conceivable position and condition—here and there a dead horse, a broken field gun. I had never seen a dead man before. My whole soul was filled with an indescribable feeling of horror. I felt sick right down in the pit of my stomach. I tried to visualize the position.
I looked again at those dead soldiers—I looked at the poor dumb beasts —dead with their poor glassy eyes turned to the heavens. It was impossible to think. I decided that a very serious job had to be done, that I had better stop thinking and get along with my own particular portion of this big job—C’est la guerre.
It has been said that one can get used to almost anything. Such was not my experience during those awful days in the trenches. Having the misfortune to be gifted with an extraordinary imagination my feelings under shell fire were simply indescribable. I was always very frightened and decided that my mind must be kept fully occupied if I was not to lose my sanity and desert the line.
Night time was always the worst and it was difficult to find suitable employment during those long dreary hours. The solution of the problem however appeared in the shape of an order to participate in a patrol in No Man’s Land.” I had specialized in grenade work and decided this was the job for me. Therefore each evening before dusk I was always to be found hanging about the company headquarters dugout seeking permission to carry out a patrol or a bombing raid. I got quite a good reputation for this particular form of work and was even regarded by some as a brave young fellow.
I never had the courage to admit that I took on this particularly nerve-racking job because I was too frightened to stand in the lines.
At the time of the German retreat on the Somme in January, 1917, I was eighteen years old and more or less a seasoned old veteran carrying the acting rank of Sergeant and commanding Platoon No. 13 of D Company of my battalion. We were at this time holding a line of shell holes in front of Grandcourt ready to carry out a big offensive when it was discovered that the Germans had evacuated their positions leaving only a small party behind to cover the retreat by fighting a rear guard action. Whilst here it suddenly dawned upon me that it was my 19th birthday, and I smiled at the thought of my birth certificate, lying in the safe in the Orderly Room of Ponsomby Barracks at the Curragh Camp, England. I could visualize my parents’ instructions still attached requesting the Government not to send me overseas until I had reached the age for such service. More serious thoughts however soon replaced these.
The Germans were retreating, we were advancing, word had gone round that the war had finished. After many weary days marching contact was again made with the retreating German troops and a line was established in front of the villages of Irles, Pis and Serres. Here I had the narrowest squeak of being either killed or captured. My platoon was detailed as portion of a force to advance on the village of Irles for the purpose of discovering whether it was occupied.
We had to advance across the open in broad daylight with not even a kindly shell hole into which to throw ourselves in case fire was opened on us. We were simply human targets —”a draw fire party.” Everything went well until we reached the outskirts of the village when hostile troops, who had been watching our every movement from the time we started, appeared in great numbers from nowhere firing from the hip as they rushed upon us. The order to open rapid fire was given.
It was however useless, we were hopelessly outnumbered so the order to retire was next shouted. My comrades were all either killed or taken prisoner. Three of us managed to rush back about 100 yards with a hail of lead buzzing about our ears. Z-Z-Zing, the steel-jacketed messengers of death buried themselves into the ground about us, casting little puffs of dust into the air. It was a hail of death!
How we ever reached the shelter of the large disused watertank which lay in the middle of the field is a matter of conjecture. My eyes were blurred by the fury of a pounding heart. It was like a nightmare.
Our feet seemed to be glued to the ground and at any moment I expected to feel a sudden burning flash as a bullet tore its way through my flesh. In an instant we were burrowing into the ground like madmen, tearing and clawing at the earth with broken nails and bleeding fingers. The noise about us was deafening. I watched with fascinated eyes the little curling bits of steel that suddenly protruded from the tank, and I knew that another bullet had hurled itself through the metal and out over our heads. Until nightfall we remained behind the shelter of the watertank, and under cover of darkness we slithered and crawled from one tiny sheltering objective to another until we reached our own lines.
Literally hundreds of holes had filled the watertank behind which we had been hiding, and my last reflection of our haven of refuge was that it looked like a giant upturned sieve as it disappeared behind us into the darkness. There is little time in modern warfare for reverie. With daylight we again threw ourselves on to the German lines.
Shortly after this I received a bullet wound in the right leg, and was taken to No. 1 Australian Casualty Clearing Station near Albert, the town in which was situated the cathedral famous after its destruction for the leaning statue of the Virgin Mary. In addition to this trouble I was also suffering from a very severe attack of trench fever. For days I lay on a stretcher bed in a delirious condition. Once on the mend, however, I soon got well again and found myself on the road searching for my battalion which was on the move to a new sector of the line with the remainder of the division.
After travelling for a week all over France in cattle trucks, motor lorries, etc., I located the battalion in a small village near Bethune. In due course we reached Bethune and were billeted in the workhouse buildings, ready to move into the line at six hours notice. We were to act as reinforcement should the occasion arise, of a new division which was enjoying its baptism of fire. This did not last long.
After about a week we were rushed post haste to Arras, entered the line between Cherisey and Fontaine les Croixelles at 12 midnight on the 2nd of May, 1917, and attacked the German lines at 3 :45 A.M. on the following morning. This was the most awful engagement in which I was involved throughout the war, principally owing to the fact that the whole attack was a colossal failure—chaos reigned supreme and terrific casualties were sustained.
Battalions of 700 strong in the morning barely mustered 20 to 30 in all ranks in the evening. I was one of those who was fortunate enough to get away with a whole skin. For my work during this engagement I was recommended with other members of my battalion for the award of the Military Medal.
This decoration was never received, presumably for the reason that my company commander, who was responsible for putting my name forward for the award, was killed in action shortly afterwards. Soon after this I was recommended on the field for commissioned rank, interviewed by the Brigadier Commander and received orders to return to England for a course of instruction at the Cadet School.
In due course I arrived in England and reported to the 20th Officers Training Battalion at Church Crookham, near Aldershot, where I underwent a four months course of instruction to fit me for my new responsibility. At the end of this term I sat for and passed the British War Office examinations and was eventually gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 8th Irish King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. It was rather a disappointment not being gazetted to a completely Irish Regiment but before I severed my connection with the 8th Irish Kings I was quite pleased because I found it to be one of the finest fighting regiments with which one could have had the honor to serve.
IN THE ROYAL FLYING CORPS-MY FIRST AEROPLANE RIDE ALONE IN THE SKY-A CRASH -LOOPS AND SPINS DISAPPOINTMENT-A WAR ROMANCE-DEMOBILIZATION.
About this time the war in the air on the Western Front was becoming a very serious matter, terrific casualties were being sustained on all sides and appeals were made by the War Office for young subalterns to come forward for training in flying, and service with the Royal Flying Corps. Before this date I had made several endeavors without result to get into the Flying Corps. I was therefore very pleased to avail myself of the opportunity offered and was one of the first to volunteer for service with the Royal Flying Corps. I passed my medical examination, satisfied the Selection Committee that I was a suitable type for flying duty, and was eventually posted to the School of Military Aeronautics at Reading.
After two months of intensive study of the theoretical technical subjects in connection with flying I sat for and passed the examinations in ground subjects and was posted to a course in practical flying training at Eastbourne Aerodrome, then the 206th Training Depot Station but later renumbered No. 50 Training Depot Station. Never will I forget my first airplane ride! Our elementary instruction was given on the Gnome Avro Training Planes and I must admit that they were rather oil-spattered, flimsy looking contraptions.
“All set, my boy?” It was Captain Freddy Mills, my instructor. “I’m going to give you a little flip in the air to test your air sense.” With my helmet and goggles adjusted and the safety strap attached around my waist, I nodded to Captain Mills.
With a sudden roar the motor leapt into life. The plane trembled and started to roll across the aerodrome. Gripping the side of the cockpit I glanced cautiously towards the ground. It appeared to be slipping away, and the buildings assumed an alarming prospective. We were in the air—at last I was flying!
How fresh and clean this seemed after the clinging mud of the French battlefields. To fight in the air—what a thrilling sense of superiority. My thoughts jumbled one over the other. Suddenly I noticed that the earth seemed to be sliding away from beneath us. Where but a moment ago I had glanced downward to see the tiny buildings and winding roads below, there now appeared the horizon and the skyline. I clung tighter to the fuselage but I could not realize what had happened.
Glancing down I noticed that the sky was beneath us and looking above my head I saw the field and buildings. Captain Mills looped, rolled and spun the little Avro until I was not only dizzy but so hopelessly jumbled and frightened that I lost all sense of where we were. I just clung to the airplane, scared out of my wits, and wondered what type of superman it required to control an airplane. A ghastly feeling seemed to creep over me that I would never be able to learn to fly. I was benumbed with an aching pain of regret when I stepped from the machine. Even my admiration for Captain Freddy Mills was dampened by the horrible thought that after all my fighting was still to be done in the trenches. The following flights, when I underwent dual instruction, gradually became more or less a matter of course and after about five hours of dual flying I successfully carried out my first solo flight. This time I sat alone in the Avro, and listened to the mechanic say “Switch off, petrol on, suck in,” as he turned the propeller over and primed the engine.
“Contact!” With a jerk the engine fired and the propeller began turning over. The machine had previously been warmed up, and my instructor waved me away. Flying into the wind and out towards the middle of the field, I gave the machine full throttle, shoved the stick slightly forward, and then feeling the controls take hold I eased gently back. The nose began to rise. We were taking the air!
Dimly I remembered the oft-repeated instruction, “Keep your nose down laddie boy,” and again I eased the stick forward. We were now in a level flight and getting away into the sky. By gradual stages I worked the ship up to about 1,250 feet before I allowed myself to realize that at last I was alone in the plane and must master the intricacies of aerial maneuvers without the assuring presence of Captain Mills.
That is an awful feeling—to be all alone in the sky on your first flight. Oh, how you wish that you could only be down on the field again! Clenching my teeth, I eased back the throttle and prepared to make my first landing. Easing the nose further downward I started into a gentle glide for the field. After a few moments of ticklish and very amateurish reactions, I managed to bring the plane safely back to the lines. After carrying out my first solo flight I gained about 20 hours experience flying solo at the end of which time I was tested in the handling of the elementary machine by my Flight Commander, Squadron Leader Grange, D.S.C. After passing all my tests I was permitted to fly the intermediate training machine, the single seater Sop-with Pup.
My experiences while flying solo on the elementary training machine were not very exciting. My first, and only crash to date, occurred on my first cross country flight. This happened after I had about seven hours solo experience. I was detailed to fly to three aerodromes, effect landings and obtain signatures from the commanding officers of the stations saying whether my landings were good, bad or indifferent.
When about 20 miles away from the aerodrome my engine commenced to run very roughly and gradually came to a stop. I was flying at the time at about three thousand feet over very heavily wooded country with absolutely no suitable landing place. I quickly picked out the only spot in which I could possibly land and circled down towards the ground.
My judgment in bringing the machine in for the landing was very good but I was considerably handicapped owing to the fact that a line of telegraph wires ran along the boundary of the field. I however “sideslipped” over these and was beginning to congratulate myself upon effecting a safe landing when I discovered that I was not only landing down a very steep hill but also downwind. This meant a terrific speed over the ground with some large wooden palings and a fir copse waiting to greet me. When about three or four yards from the fence I let go the control column and placed my arms over my face in an endeavor to protect myself from serious injury through being thrown forward on to the instrument board. The wooden palings neatly sheared off the undercarriage and the two bottom planes. The aeroplane and myself continued to go forward, the nose of the machine coming between two fir trees, the two top planes were swept back over my head and we came to an abrupt stop. Upon scrambling out of the wreckage I found two Canadian Red Cross men standing beside the machine, or I should say, what had once been a machine, complete with a nice comfortable looking stretcher.
Beyond two very nasty bruises on my shoulders I sustained no other injury so needless to say, I did not avail myself of their very kind invitation to give me a jaunt to the hospital. It appeared I had landed right beside a Canadian Convalescent Camp. Having notified my authorities by telephone of the mishap I sat down and patiently awaited the arrival of the break-down at the scene of the accident.
Later that afternoon one of the instructors from the training school arrived by air. He endeavored to land and although I should not really say it, I felt rather tickled when he also crashed his machine in landing, because I knew that his accident would exonerate me from all blame. After about 15 hours solo flying on the Sop-with Pup I was ready to commence on my service aeroplane, the Sopwith Camel. I was very sorry to finish my period on the Sopwith Pup because it was a very beautiful little aeroplane to handle in the air, but unfortunately they were no longer of any practical use as service fighting machines. At last the dreaded day arrived when I had to carry out my first flight on my service aeroplane, the Camel.
I was on the early morning tour of duty at this time which meant that flying commenced at four o’clock in the morning. Somewhere about this unearthly hour I had to climb into my machine (feeling more asleep than awake) and sit patiently there while my instructor Captain Knight, better known as “Noisy Knight,” explained all the controls, instruments and peculiarities of the machine which were not unknown to me as I had already spent many hours prior to this time sitting in this type of machine with a view to becoming accustomed to everything, in preparation for this particular moment. The Camel was an extremely difficult machine to fly, it was tremendously sensitive on the controls and had a very nasty habit of going into accidental spins if not properly controlled.
A large number of fatal accidents occurred at the training stations on these machines for that reason. I was therefore “keyed up” with intense excitement and my knees were visibly shaky. I was very pleased when the chocks were waved clear and I opened up the engine to take off. Raving climbed the machine flying straight all the time I gained a ceiling or approximately 4,000 feet. At this safe altitude I practiced some gentle turns, felt the stalling speed of the machine with the engine on and off and feeling that I knew all about it and that my previous fears were unfounded I decided to try to execute some stunts.
A loop being the most simple I decided to try this first. Not being used, however, to the very sensitive controls I carried out what appeared to me to be a loop and a half and found myself on my back hanging in the belt and holding on tightly to the control column—it was an awful moment. I next realized we were in an inverted spin. I thought it was all up and that I was due to go the same way many others had gone before me. I did not however give up hope and after trying many things with the controls I eventually found myself in an ordinary spin but had lost over 3000 feet height. The machine was very quickly brought to a level keel and I was beginning to congratulate myself when we went into another spin in the opposite direction. From this position however I quickly righted the machine and displaying extreme caution I glided down and effected a fairly good landing on the aerodrome. Upon getting out of the machine after taxiing over to the hangar I felt very proud of having successfully flown my service aeroplane.
My instructor congratulated me on having carried out some stunts on my first solo flight. I did not have the heart to disillusion him and tell him that it was all quite accidental and that it had given me a great fright. Later, however, after having gained a little more experience on the machine I came to like it very much and having passed all my tests at the training school I was posted to the No. 1 School of Fighting and Aerial Gunnery at Marske, Yorkshire. From here I was posted to the Pilots Pool in France and was due to sail on the 11th of November, 1918, which turned out to be the day upon which the Armistice was signed. It was a bitter disappointment to me when my orders were cancelled as I was very anxious to see some service in the air in France. I was posted back to my original unit at Eastbourne and from there transferred for a special course in Aerial Navigation to the Admiralty Compass Observatory at Datchet near Windsor. Because of the drastic casualties of war and due to the dire necessity of placing every eligible man in active service in the combatant forces, England had recruited a number of girls into a unit known as the W.R.A.F. (Women’s Royal Air Force).
It was whilst training at Eastbourne that I met and incidentally fell in love with one of the beautiful little non-commissioned officers. How attractive they looked in their smart service uniforms, and each one was so earnestly doing her bit to help those who were taking the brunt of the conflict. Our early association and eventual marriage were filled with the spice of romance.
We were forced to meet clandestinely, due to the fact that the disciplinary code of the Royal Air Force forbade commissioned officers to associate with, or be seen in public with, non-commissioned members of the W.R.A.F. It is literally true that love increases when the difficulties increase, and our many meetings were made even more interesting by the fact that we were in love despite all the rules to the contrary notwithstanding. Our meetings were made even more difficult because of the fact that we were stationed at the same aerodrome.
Our marriage was celebrated on my 21st birthday, and was held in secret. It was not until many months later that we dared allow the fact to become generally known. Bill, as she is affectionately known to all her friends, has been the best of pals since we have been together. Her experiences in the war have developed in her that high sense of fortitude which is such a necessary qualification for a soldier’s wife. She has always had the greatest confidence in my ability or luck to succeed in the face of the greatest difficulties and dangers. She has been my inspiration and is responsible to a great extent for the successes of the many adventures which I have undertaken.
At the conclusion of the special navigation course at Datchet, and after having successfully passed my examinations, I was posted to No. 110 Squadron of the Royal Air Force in the capacity of Squadron Navigation Officer. This squadron, under the command of Major Stanley Clarke, M. G., was at the time engaged in experimental aerial mail work between Folkstone, Kent and Cologne on the Rhine. In addition to my ordinary duties as Navigation Officer I was posted to a flight and employed as a mail pilot. My first flight to Cologne was not quite successful. Upon arriving over Brussels I came to the end of the section of map on which I was then working and whilst trying to get the next section out of the map case it became caught in the slip-stream of the propeller and disappeared over the side. I had therefore no map from Brussels on to Cologne, nor did I know the route as I had not flown over it before.
As leader of a formation of three machines I circled around several times in the endeavor to get one of the other machines to take the lead, but they did not understand my signal and continued to follow me around. Under the circumstances there was only one thing to be done and that was to proceed in an easterly direction until we struck the Rhine—which runs north and south—and then endeavor to locate ourselves. Unfortunately after flying for about a half hour we encountered heavy rain, low clouds and a very strong wind. We had been in the air for approximately four hours from the time of departure. By this time the Rhine should have been below us. A heavy cloud bank obscured our vision and I decided it would be best to effect a landing in a field and ascertain our position. One of the other machines had followed me all this time, the other had had a forced landing somewhere along the route. I found myself in a very heavily wooded country and picked out a small field which appeared to be a meadow, shut off my engine and proceeded to land.
As I was landing I discovered that the field was a corn field practically ready for cutting. Some peasants came across and after great difficulty they succeeded in explaining to us that we had passed over the Neutral Zone and had landed near a little village called Warstein. This was rather serious, as we were in military uniform and our machines were military craft. We decided to get out as quickly as possible before we were apprehended by the authorities. My companion succeeded in getting his machine into the air safely, but although I made a very determined effort and raced down the entire length of the corn field I did not manage to get into the air owing to the fact that I was carrying a very heavy load. The water in the radiator boiled and the propeller became badly damaged through contact with the corn.
I had therefore to shut off my engine and await developments. In a few moments I was surrounded by the very angry owners of the field and was very glad when the police arrived from the village. Arrangements were made to compensate the owners for the damage to the corn, a police guard was placed on the machine whilst myself and the mail bags were removed to the local police station. Here I received very kind treatment and was permitted to sleep in the local hotel that night with a police guard.
The following day a military officer and an escort of two soldiers arrived from the garrison town of Soest. I was removed to the military barracks in this town, where I was interrogated by the Garrison Commander, who informed me that he very much regretted that he would have to detain me until he received instructions from the War Office in Berlin. After three weeks detention I was permitted to return to Cologne by air, provided with a passport and proceeded to the field in which the machine had been left to find that a new propeller had been fitted by the repair party, who had come especially from Cologne. With the assistance of the military guard who accompanied me from Soest the engine was started and I was soon on my way to Cologne. I had therefore the unique experience of being a prisoner of peace.
This experience gave me a better understanding and appreciation of the German people whom I had been led to believe, during the war, were anything but what I now found them to be. I was treated with every courtesy, kindness and consideration. I continued to be employed with the 110th Squadron on mail work until close to the end of 1919. The experience gained from this particular work was extremely useful to me, as we had to fly in the most impossible weather conditions on many different types of aeroplanes, as the whole object of the service was to ascertain some idea of operating costs and the regularity with which a commercial mail service might be carried on. During my service with this squadron I was chosen as Second Pilot and Navigator for the first experimental night air mail flight ever carried on in Europe. The machine used was the Dell 10 Number 551, fitted with two 400 horsepower Liberty motors. Capain Barrett, A. F. C., acted as Chief Pilot and Second Lieutenant Oliver was our observer. We left Folkstone at 10:15 P.M. on the night of the 14th May, 1919, and after a very thrilling flight landed safely at Bickendorf Aerodrome on the outskirts of Cologne at 1:20 A.M. on the 15th May.
We were especially commended for this flight by Air Vice Marshall Sir John Salmond, who commanded the active service air force at that time. We were also informed that we would be chosen to carry out the flight from London to Cape Town via Cairo, which was under consideration at the time. Unfortunately this flight never materialized. At the termination of the experimental air service I was appointed to the command of the Squadron, which was stationed at my old Aerodrome in Kent and during the three months I was employed in this capacity I closed down and removed all technical and quartermasters stores from six aerodromes which had been evacuated. This was very useful, as I gained considerable experience in stores organization, establishment and administration. I was demobilized and transferred to the Reserve in December, 1919.
CIVIL WAR-FLYING FOR IRELAND-A COUPLE OP NARROW SQUEAKS-LOOSING FOR THRILLS-. MY FIRST TRANSATLANTIC ATTEMPT-THE MEETING WITH KOEHL AND HUENEFELD.
Upon returning to civil life I entered business in London with the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company and after eighteen months of successes and failures I decided in June, 1921, that I would like to return to flying again, and accepted a short service commission in the British Royal Air Force for four years with the colors and four years on the reserve. I was gazetted to No. 25 Single Seater Fighting Squadron, which was stationed at my old Aerodrome at Folkstone and equipped with the single seater Sopwith snipe. In August of the same year I was placed under orders at very short notice for service in India, but unfortunately owing to the situation in Ireland at that time and the fact that our little daughter Pat was scarcely 3 months old, I was reluctantly compelled to resign my commission. I therefore left the Royal Air Force and returned to business once more.
On the outbreak of the Civil War in Ireland in 1922, shortly after the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, I immediately offered my services to the government of my country and was appointed to a commission with the rank of Lieutenant in the new Irish Free State Army Air Corps.
In September, 1922, I was posted to Fermoy Aerodrome, County Cork, from which center we operated against the Irregular Forces in the south of Ireland. Our duties consisted mainly in reconnaissance, observation train escort duty and cooperation with infantry. During my service in this area I had many narrow escapes through forced landings in areas not occupied by troops. In addition I experienced the delights and thrills of being ambushed on more than one occasion whilst driving through the country on motor transport.
The most exciting of these experiences occurred in October, 1922. The Government declared a general amnesty to the Irregular Forces offering a free pardon to those who would surrender their arms by a certain date. My unit was called upon to distribute these amnesty proclamation circulars over the mountains of West Cork and County Kerry in order to bring the notice to the attention of those who might fail to see it in the newspapers. One Saturday morning I set out from my aerodrome at Fermoy in a single seater Martinsyde Scout aeroplane powered with a 300 horsepower Hispano Suiza engine, carrying a large load of these amnesty proclamation circulars, made up in bundles of 50, to be distributed over the Kerry Mountains.
Upon arrival over the mountainous district outside Ireland’s most famous beauty spot, Killarney, my engine failed and I was compelled to make a forced landing. I landed safely in a small field outside the Killarney Lunatic Asylum. I worked on my engine all Saturday and had everything all ready to get off late on Sunday evening. Killarney was at this time completely isolated, as the telephone wires connecting it with the outside world had all been destroyed and wireless had not at that time been installed in the town.
In addition the town was completely surrounded by strong columns of Irregular Forces. It was therefore impossible to send any communication to my aerodrome regarding my forced landing. They were very anxious regarding my safety and had search parties from every garrison town searching the hills for me. On Sunday evening at about 5 o’clock, with the aid of some local troops, I started my engine, and being given a flying start, managed to stall over some large pine trees at the end of the field.
I was beginning to consider myself exceptionally lucky at being safely in the air again when I was greeted with strong bursts of machine gun fire from members of Irregulars who had been waiting for me to hop off. The wings and fuselage of my machine were riddled with bullets, but fortunately neither myself nor any vital part of the engine or machine was hit. By nightfall I succeeded in reaching the town of Mallow, about 18 miles away from my aerodrome, but here again, owing to engine trouble, I was compelled to effect a forced landing about two miles outside the town. On examining the engine the following day it was discovered that the machine could only be flown out of the field by installing a new engine, but as the roads were absolutely impassable at that time owing to trees having been felled in many places across the road and all bridges being destroyed it was decided to dismantle the machine and store it in the military barracks for the time being. This work having been completed, I set out by car for my aerodrome at Fermoy.
Upon arrival in the village of Castletownroache, about halfway between Fermoy and Mallow, it was necessary to leave the car for the purpose of placing large planks across a destroyed bridge to drive the car over. It was practically dark at this time and whilst walking down the village street towards the bridge in company with a despatch rider, fire was opened on us at a distance of about 20 yards by a gentleman armed with the famous American Thompson portable machine gun.
We escaped in some miraculous manner from being hit, but became involved in a fight with about 200 Irregulars, which lasted about an hour and a half. We were exceedingly fortunate in getting away and returned safely to Mallow that night. The next day an aeroplane came from my aerodrome and I flew back to Fermoy. Not so long afterwards I had another thrilling experience and a narrow escape from being shot.
I was returning to my aerodrome after searching the West Cork Mountains for a Rolls Royce Whippet armored car which had been treacherously handed over to the Irregular Forces by a Scotchman who was then serving in the National Army. My instructions were to bomb the car should I discover it in the mountains, in order to render it useless. My search was thorough but futile. Whilst flying towards the City of Cork my engine suddenly stopped over a very mountainous district divided up into very small fields surrounded with thick hedge rows. I however managed to land safely to discover that my troubles were only commencing, as the district in which I had landed was the headquarters of a very strong Irregular column.
Having unstrapped the service rifle, which I always carried on the side of my machine for use in emergencies of this description, I proceeded to the village, where I ascertained that the nearest military post was four miles away at the Halfway House near Kinsale Junction. In the meantime quite a number of people had gathered about my machine, and upon returning five minutes later it did not take me long to discover that their main purpose in life was to obliterate the Irish Free State aerial steed and make my life an exceedingly miserable one.
Being alone I wondered how I might best safeguard my machine until I could manage to reach the military barracks and secure an appropriate guard. Several of the more valiant yokels were threateningly waving their shovels and hoe handles. The moment for action had arrived. Assuming my best Irish accent—which had been somewhat impaired by many years in the English Service—I warned them that at any moment the airplane was liable to explode. I noticed an immediate lack of interest on the part of the onlookers to further investigate the airplane, and taking this as my cue I hurried back to the village, hoping to be able to purloin a bicycle or other form of conveyance to cover the four miles which separated me from the military post.
Immediately my intentions became known every push bicycle was hidden away. I decided that I could not waste any further time, so entered the nearest farmyard, searched the stables for a useful horse, but did not meet with very much success, as the only thing available was a heavy young plough horse with an extremely sharp back. No saddle was available, so I rode him bareback to the Halfway House. It was now getting dusk and I cannot help thinking that I presented an extraordinary spectacle galloping along the road on this noble charger attired in a flying helmet and goggles and carrying a rifle at the trail on my right hip.
Everything went well until I reached the outskirts of the military post, where a barricade had been erected across the road as a protective measure by the troops occupying the post. The sentry on duty was no doubt scared out of his life upon seeing such an apparition charging towards his post and did what any ordinary fellow would do under the circumstances, fired point blank at me three times and, possibly thanks to his fright, missed me. Dear old Nellie, or whatever the young plough horse’s name might be, seemed somewhat taken aback at the welcome we received from the sentry, while I myself presented a delightful target for further potshots.
I have since learned from the members of the Garrison, who watched the procedure with some rare delight, that I did a royal “Prince of Wales” over the horse’s neck; but I maintain that my position required immediate action and that I threw myself upon the road to prevent a continuance of the delightful welcome that was awarded me. While my full-blooded Irish plough horse was careening across the landscape I managed to convince the sentry that I had serious intentions of entering his camp and speaking with the Commander of the Post. In less time than it takes to tell, a party of Troopers on bicycles arrived at the scene of my forced landing.
Flames were issuing from the cockpit and also from underneath the engine cowling. It appeared that some hostile Irish country gentleman had placed large dry gorse bushes in the cockpit and underneath the engine cowling and had set them alight. Fortunately the petrol did not set fire, and we succeeded in putting out the conflagration, thus saving the machine. The aeroplane was later dismantled and transported by road back to my aerodrome at Fermoy.
Early in 1923 I was promoted to the rank of Captain and appointed to the command of the detachment stationed at Fermoy Aerodrome. The Civil War was now drawing to a close, as practically every town and village in the south of Ireland was occupied by military forces and the Irregulars found it impossible to continue their operations. Active service units were no longer necessary and we were enabled at last to concentrate on the organization, establishment and training of the present Free State Army Air Corps.
Owing to the small size of the whole corps it was decided to withdraw all units to the headquarters of the corps at Baldonnel Aerodrome, to which I returned with my unit early in 1924. Upon arrival in Baldonnel I was appointed Officer in Charge of No. 1 Training Squadron and Chief Instructor to the corps. I carried out the duties of this appointment until September, 1925, when my immediate Commanding Officer and great personal friend, Major T. J. Moloney, was killed during the maneuvers which are held annually. In order to fill the vacancy which occurred through his unfortunate death I was appointed second in command of the Corps and promoted to the rank of Commandant. I carried out the duties of this appointment until early in October, 1926, when I was appointed to the Command of the Corps after the transfer of my Commanding Officer, Colonel Charles F. Russell, to Army General Headquarters.
I have been employed in this capacity to date. At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1923 I found the dull routine of ordinary peace-time service very boring and monotonous and therefore searched around for some new field which, whilst producing a certain amount of thrills and excitement, would at the same time aid in the progress and development of the great science of aviation.
My mind immediately turned to the wonderful flight carried out in 1919 by the late Sir John Alcock and Sir Arthur Whitten Brown from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Ireland. I thought that the first flight in the opposite direction should start from Ireland and that such a flight should be carried out by Irishmen. Once this idea entered my mind I devoted practically my whole attention to a study of the engines, aeroplanes, and instruments which would be suitable for a flight of this magnitude. I also made an intensive study of the subject of aerial navigation over the ocean and particularly meteorological conditions over the North Allan–tie Ocean. In 1924 I was convinced that a flight from Ireland to the American continent was a feasible proposition with the aircraft engines and instruments available for such work at that time. Early in 1925, with the able assistance of my then Commanding Officer, Colonel Charles F. Russell, I succeeded in raising the sum of eleven thousand pounds to finance a flight to the American continent.
Owing, however, to the fact that the Air Corps was in course of development and only a very small number of flying officers being available, the necessary authority to carry out the flight was not granted. We had therefore to abandon the idea, although our paper organization was absolutely complete. In 1926 a further endeavor was made to carry out the projected flight, but for the same reasons as in the previous year, permission could not be granted. In September of 1927, Captain R. H. MacIntosh communicated with me regarding the possibility of utilizing my headquarters aerodrome as a taking-off ground for a transatlantic flight. Every possible facility was offered him and he arrived on the Aerodrome a few days on the Fokker Monoplane “Princess Xenia.”
He invited me to join him as co-pilot, which invitation was gladly accepted by me, and I succeeded in obtaining leave of absence for the purpose of accompanying him on the flight. All our tests were carried out at Baldonnel Aerodrome and after many days of anxious waiting a fairly good weather report of conditions over the Atlantic was received from the British Air Ministry Meteorological Department and we decided to leave on the following morning. We took off at 1 P.M. on the 16th day of September, but after reaching a point between four and six hundred miles off the west coast of Ireland, flying all the time through the most impossible weather, rain, fog and half a gale blowing from the northwest, we decided that it would be insane to continue any further. We therefore turned the machine and made for the Irish Coast. Immediately after turning we decided that as we might have to effect a forced landing immediately upon reaching the coast we should release as much of the petrol as possible to insure against damaging the machine through landing with too heavy a load. We therefore cut the connection of one of the cabin tanks containing between 200 and 250 gallons of petrol.
This was poured by means of a rubber connection through a hole in the floor of the cabin of the machine in which the Drift Gauge Bearing Plate was fixed. Owing to the very poor visibility we narrowly escaped flying into the cliffs, where we hit the coast in County Clare. Our difficulties were only now starting, as the west coast of Ireland, being extremely mountainous and rugged, offers very poor landing facilities. It was impossible to get inland over the mountains, as the clouds were sitting right down on top of them and a heavy Scotch mist prevailed.
I realized our only possibility was to land on the estuary of the River Shannon. We therefore headed the machine south, keeping as close to the coast as possible. After a lot of difficulty we eventually picked out our destination and were fortunate enough to find that the tide was out. We made a safe landing on the beach at Bealestrand, about five miles from the seaside resort of Ballybunion. After landing we discovered that the tide was coming in rapidly and that the wheels of the heavy machine were sinking in the soft sand. After three hours of hard work, with the aid of about fifty local peasants, we succeeded in moving the machine up on the main land, where it was securely pegged down for the night. We reached the local hotel saturated to the skin, but happy in the thought that the machine was safe and available for a further attempt during the month should the weather prove kind enough. Unfortunately weather conditions were not suitable so the machine returned to England and I settled down to the organization of a flight, utilizing all the experience I had gained on our unsuccessful endeavor.
I was determined upon seeing an all Irish flight start in the late spring or early summer of the present year, but was seriously handicapped in the endeavor to organize this project through having to attend a senior officer’s course of instruction at the Military Academy on the Cur-. ragh Training Camp during the months of October, November and December. Owing to the intensive nature of the course which kept me fully occupied, very little time was available for the organization of the projected flight. Every spare moment and every week end leave was devoted towards this work, but upon my return to my aerodrome at Baldonnel at the end of December I realized that it would be absolutely impossible to have everything ready in time to compete with the many expeditions which were at that time being organized throughout practically the whole of Europe.
On March 26th, Captain Koehl and Baron Von Huenefeld arrived at my headquarters aerodrome on the Junkers Monoplane Bremen ready to start on the East-West Atlantic flight as soon as weather conditions were suitable. After they had been a few days on the aerodrome they invited me through our mutual friend, Mr. Klose, of the North German Lloyd Company, to participate with them in the undertaking. I was, of course, delighted to avail myself of the opportunity and immediately accepted, knowing that the machine was as good as, if not better than, anything which could be prepared for such a flight and that Captain Koehl possessed in a high degree the qualifications which are so essential to the success of any undertaking such as the flight in question.
IMMORTALS – THE BREMEN’S PURPOSE – TEST FLIGHTS-THE SHIP TAKES WING-GOODBY IRELAND-A GHASTLY VISION INTO THE FUTURE.
For four years there has been an increasing fire of ambition burning in my mind to make an East to West transatlantic flight. Disappointment followed disappointment but when over all Ireland the word was flashed that the glorious son of America, Colonel Lindbergh, was soaring across our green hills toward France in the Spirit of St. Louis, the embers of those smouldering hopes burst forth into renewed flame. With the crossing of Chamberlin and Levine in the Wright-engined Bellanca monoplane, followed by Commander Byrd and his valiant crew, Acosta, Balchen, Noville, as well as by Brock and Schlee, intrepid round-the-world fliers who crossed from Newfoundland to London, I determined to do everything within my power to bring the honor of an East to West flight to Ireland. Four times in as many months American pilots had dared to face the raging tempests of the North Atlantic and had reached the shores of the Old World. Pioneers they were from the Western Hemisphere—aerial pioneers of the Twentieth Century. Four times they have brought the challenge to the airmen of Europe. Plane after plane vaulted into the gray European skies and hurled itself against the curtain of impregnable fate.
Mystery will forever surround the tragic end of these brave European airmen; pilots who buffeted a succession of treacherous gales, perilous fog, and relentless sleet, until their planes had become but tragically staggering ice-covered tombs of death. Immortal on the pages of aviation history are the names of those who have pierced the veil of eternity: Nungesser and Coli, Hamilton, Minchin, and Princess Lowenstein-Wertheim, Hinchcliffe and Eleanor Mackay. To the flying fraternity in Europe these names have constituted a debt of the dead which must be paid by the living. It was inevitable that the Atlantic should be spanned from East to West by the pilots of Europe.
The flight of the Bremen was not one undertaken as the result of a sudden impulse. It had been carefully planned by Captain Hermann Koehl and Baron E. G. Von Huenefeld for many months before they landed at the Irish Free State Aerodrome at Baldonnel on March 26th from the Dessau Aerodrome eighty miles south of Berlin. As the sturdy all-metal Junkers monoplane landed and taxied up to the line there stepped from the cockpit the smiling and rotund little pilot Koehl, followed immediately by Baron Von Huenefeld, a typical product of German aristocracy. This was not the first time that I had had the pleasure of associating with these two intrepid airmen. On their first attempt to cross the Atlantic when they, like Captain MacIntosh and myself had struck impossible flying weather, and had returned to Ireland they landed at Baldonnel. As Commanding Officer I was happy to be able to offer them all the facilities of my post and aided them in every way possible in gathering weather reports and data for their transatlantic flight. Due to the lateness of the season and the continued bad weather they were forced to postpone their attempt until 1928. As so often happens in the lives of those in the flying fraternity a chance meeting such as this frequently leads to a bond of unbreakable friendship. Hearing of the arrival of the German plane quite a number of interested spectators had gathered on the scene. The Air Corps men and mechanics wheeled the Bremen into one of our hangars which had been vacated in order to accommodate the plane. For the next hour or so we stood about discussing the various features of the plane which had been specially prepared for the long arduous task which laid before it. Special flotation gear had been incorporated in the wing structure so that in the event that the Bremen was forced to land upon the water, there would be a reasonable chance that it would float until aid could reach the scene of disaster.
All the skill and science of the German designers and mechanics had been put into the all-metal Junkers. It had fuel enough for forty-four hours flying which amounted to about 520 gallons of petrol weighing nearly two and one-half tons. After scrutinizing the cockpit and installation features I became convinced that indeed the Bremen had every chance of success. Later in the evening when the lads had tucked away a bite of food and a cup of tea the Baron extended to me the invitation to accompany them on their East to West flight. And here again I wish to thank my gallant German comrades in the name of Ireland for allowing me to participate in this epoch-making event. The fact that I was able to accomplish this flight with Baron Von Huenefeld and Captain Koehl in itself demonstrates the great progress which has been made in transforming aviation from a weapon of war into a messenger of peace. It is a striking example of the understanding of human beings by closer association when only a brief few years ago we were hurling ourselves at each others throats in mortal combat.
We fought for years and yet it only took a matter of a few days for our understanding to implant an perishable friendship. In this flight we have fought side by side with the hope that our attempt would bring greater good-will and better understanding between the peoples of the earth. The history of civilization and progress has been based to a tremendous extent upon the development of communication and transportation. Misunderstanding becomes more and more difficult when our neighbors are brought closer home to us by the rapid communication of the ideas, thoughts and motives which go to make up the traditions of that country.
The airplane will be a tremendous factor in bringing about a universal peace. It is not hard to realize that many years ago, when a hundred miles seemed a formidable distance, suspicion, greed and hatred were allowed to run rife. As the feudal systems of the Old World gave way to nationalism so will nationalism give way to universalism when our systems of communication are perfected to a degree that we are all bound together with a common understanding.
The radio, telegraph, television, telephoto, steamships, railways, automobiles and airplanes are forging communication links between nations that envoys and foreign chancellors will find difficult to break through petty political quarrels and personal greed. In that days that followed March 26th at Baldonnel Captain Koehl and myself made several test flights in the Bremen in order that I might become completely familiar with the fuel system and the flying qualities of the machine which was soon to carry us far out to sea. These hops were joyous little affairs filled with the tingle of anticipation and with the thrill of novel intricacies of a new aircraft. The Bremen is one of the best ships that it has ever been my good fortune to fly. I found her to be exceedingly stable not only in level flight but in gentle banks. The aileron control was so light that it was possible to turn the ship in the air by a gentle touch of the finger. On the cross country hops which we made in order to test our navigation instruments I found that it was possible to remove both my hands and feet from the controls and the Bremen would remain in level flight without deviation for a considerable period of time. Needless to say these features of the plane filled me with a sense of great satisfaction for after many hours flying and after the tired nerves have become almost stupefied from lack of rest, a plane which has any treacherous in flight is liable to become especially. These preliminaries, however, were soon over and we settled down to the unwelcome task of waiting for favorable weather reports.
Mrs. Fitzmaurice did everything to add to our comfort and peace of mind during the restless days that we wandered about feeling very much like caged lions. Never once did she allow the slightest note of fear to creep into her voice; in fact she accepted my proposal to fly the Atlantic with Captain Koehl and Baron Von Huenefeld as stoically as though I had casually mentioned the fact that I was going to fly from Baldonnel to London.
Her fortitude and bravery added greatly to my peace of mind during these days. Late in the evening of April 11th we received a weather report from the British Air Ministry which indicated that there was a general improvement in the conditions over the Atlantic. We decided at 9:00 o’clock that night to hop off at dawn on the following morning. I was elated; as cheered as a boy who has just learned that the little old red schoolhouse has been burned down.
Waving the weather report I dashed into the officers’ mess and called out to the lads: “Crack goes the whip, off go the horses, round go the wheels. At 5:00 o’clock tomorrow morning we will be heading for the good old U.S.A.”
A cheer greeted my announcement and we all proceeded to drink a toast to the success of our attempt. Word was flashed through the camp in an instant and friends poured in from every side to toss off a bit of the cup that cheers and to pipe out a farewell ditty for good luck.
“Now look here, Fitz, you’d better push off to sleep,” they urged. “Not a bit of it,” I replied. “It is silly to go to bed too early and besides I know that I won’t be able to sleep. Why should I worry tonight just because I have a bit of work to do tomorrow? We’ll just carry on in the usual manner.”
The time stretched from 10:30 on past 11:00 and to 12:30 o’clock. There was no use protesting. The boys finally insisted that I go to bed and without more ado I tucked away in the room next to Patricia. Little Pat was sleeping the sleep of the just but I feel sure that had she known at 5:00 o’clock in the morning I was about to hop off across the Atlantic, she would have immediately insisted that she be allowed to go along. Everything had been made ready for the morning. The tanks were filled with petrol. The oil supply had been stored away and the last final touches had been made. As the Bremen stood through that night in the silent hangar it must have sensed the air of tense expectancy which permeated the Aerodrome. Arising at 3:30 the following morning April 12th I was handed the following weather report: Wind to Longitude 15 degrees West is mainly between South and East averaging 15 to 20 miles an hour at the surface and 30 to 35 at an altitude of 2000 ft. West of Longitude 30 degrees winds tend to decrease toward New York. All along the route the sky is threefourths to fully overcast, with a cloud base mainly 1000 to 2000 ft. above the surface of the sea. There probably will be a slight or moderate rain about Longitude 20. General visibility is five to ten miles, apart from precipitation.
There is no danger of fog, sleet or hail. Barometric disturbances are such that an error in the altimeter will be in favor of the Bremen’s pilots. The darkness on the Aerodrome was giving place to the first gray streaks of dawn as we packed away the provisions in the cockpit. Koehl was silently walking about the plane fingering the charts.
The Baron nervously glanced at the sky as though impatient for the hour to arrive when it would be light enough for our departure. Soon after 4:00 A.M., fifty of our Irish Free State soldiers wheeled the Bremen out of the hangar. President Cosgrave, a number of government officials, the German Consul General, and quite a large crowd had motored or cycled out from Dublin after midnight to witness the start. How. graphically I recall the faces of those dear friends of mine who I feel sure were doing their best to suppress their emotions.
It was bad enough to have to get up at such an unearthly hour without adding to it the feeling that most of them shared. Personally, I was feeling quite chipper at the time and we were all anxious to cut short the farewells and get under way.
Friendly faces appeared everywhere with a “Cheerio and good luck, boys. Give our best regards to the Yankees.” A newspaper reporter pushed his way through the crowd and asked me for a statement before the hop-off. Somehow I recalled the remark now famous in aviation which was made by Wilbur Wright when he was approached by a member of the press for details regarding the progress that he and his brother Orville were making on their first airplane.
He said, “The parrot is a bird which talks most and flies the least.” It was an ideal phrase for this moment. We all wanted to get on with the job of completing the conquest of the North Atlantic, bringing nearer the next stage in aeronautical progress of long distance trans-oceanic commercial air lines.
Such is the way of progress and a complete answer to those who ridicule transatlantic flying is that only by such means can progress be made. We smile gently now at Bleriot’s effort in crossing the English Channel in 1909. Who knows but that our children will doubtless have the same outlook on the present-day transatlantic flying. The feat of crossing the Atlantic is looked upon as a courageous effort. The voyage of Columbus was in his time an equally if not more courageous effort. The difference lies mainly in the means of locomotion that man has at his command. To-day transatlantic boat service is so safe and comfortable that such trips are known as pleasure voyages ; the day is coming when aerial transportation between the Old World and the New will be looked upon in exactly the same way. The large silver-gray monoplane stood on the runway in front of the hangar. Baron Von Huenefeld was seated in the cabin in the rear of the tanks surrounded by packages of food and other necessary utensils for our many hours in the air. On the left hand side of the cockpit Captain Koehl waited for the mechanic to swing the propeller. On the right hand side I glanced over the edge of the fuselage to catch the last fleeting glance of some late arriving friend on the field. It is hard to explain just how each of us felt at this moment. The chocks in front of the wheels held the plane from moving while our engine was warming up. The wind blew coldly back against our faces and the sun cast the first clear rays of daylight across the runway. Everything was clear. We tested our switches and glanced about to be sure that every bit of necessary equipment was in the ship. Both Koehl and myself had hoped that we would have a bit of helping head-wind down the runway to aid us in our take-off but not a breath of air was stirring..
The heavily loaded Bremen would get off the ground much more easily had we been aided by the wind. We were now faced with the necessity of breaking away from Mother Earth by the sheer power from the motor. “All clear,” the mechanics sang out. The chocks were jerked away from the wheels. Koehl nodded to me and I replied with a wave of my hand. One more fleeting glance down the runway; a peep into the cockpit to see that Baron Von Huenefeld was all set and Koehl opened the throttle wide. The motor seemed to gulp ravenously at the sudden flow of gasoline through the carburetor into the cylinders. With a roar the propeller flashed through the air ripping a mighty wind over the wings and back against the tail. The wheels began turning and we both gripped the control column. Faster and faster we gained momentum. The tail rose into the air as the ship assumed flying position while still held to the ground by lack of speed.
We were tearing along about fifty miles an hour, having travelled more than 1200 yards along the runway which had been specially prepared for the flight. We still lacked flying speed but were gaining acceleration at each moment. Suddenly glancing over the side of my cockpit I beheld a ghastly sight—an obstruction in the form of a wandering sheep appeared directly on the runway in the path of the plane.
To strike the animal at this time would have meant wrecking the plane. It was simply an awful moment. We felt that we were struck bang up against serious disaster at the outset. Turning for a second I yelled at the top of my lungs above the roar of the engine “Sheep!” Fortunately sufficient speed was obtained to enable Koehl and myself to raise the machine off the ground. The sheep was clear and we rose into the air just in time to prevent crashing into a large tree at the end of the runway. We were soon speeding over the mist-covered hills of Ireland, passing over Kildare, Kings and Galway counties, before heading over Galway Bay toward the open Atlantic. It was a beautiful sight.
About half-way across, the country was covered with a thick blanket of ground fog above which the conical shaped tops of the mountains appeared. Here and there a sleepy hamlet passed below us. In the still morning air a few wisps of smoke rose as a token that the occupants were soon to begin another day’s work. Winding roads and rivers entwined themselves in the green foliage of the hills. Dear old Ireland seemed nestled in peaceful sleep as we smashed through the air on our great adventure.
It does not take long to cross from Dublin to Galway. In fact the flight consumed somewhat less than an hour and a half. I could picture my dear old friends in Baldonnel slowly returning to their cars and beginning the ride to the city. And Bill—I wondered how she felt when she returned alone to Patsy. My last memory had been a kiss and a smile with a “Good luck, Fitz, I know you’ll make it.” A little lump seemed to rise in my throat. It was a shame to leave my old comrades of the air without being able to tell them how much I appreciated their friendship of the past.
For a moment I almost wished that I could wave to them once more but the trail of mist was closing in behind us and far ahead I could faintly discern the coast line. Captain Koehl and the Baron—I wondered what they too were thinking about—silent companions of our aerial voyage. Talking was impossible and the only way that we could convey a message to one another was in writing. A further handicap in the communication of our ideas was the fact that Captain Koehl spoke little or no English. It was indeed a strange feeling to be seated there next to a companion, facing the unknown, with one who did not even understand your language. Soon we were over the ocean speeding along the edge of the mountainous coast towards Slyne Head Lighthouse at which when passing we gazed longingly and waved a fond farewell. Ahead of us stretched the limitless Atlantic bathed in the flood of glistening sunlight. Great long ocean swells were ceaselessly curling up and falling into a trough in a steady march toward the sheer precipitous cliff-hewn coast line of Ireland. As the last visible signs of land faded into the mist behind us it seemed as though we were poised over a huge rough gray expanse.
Our progress now had to be measured by time. The ceaseless beat of the motor pounded on our consciousness. We dropped closer to the surface of the ocean to observe our drift by checking the direction and the approximate velocity of the wind. This was done by dropping smoke bombs upon the water. When our charts and instruments indicated that we were holding our course, I would nod to the stolid little German pilot. When it was necessary to make a correction I would point to the number of degrees deviation of the wind marking it on our Atlantic chart. Here and there on the horizon we could see the gathering clouds of a local storm and during the day we skirted the edges of these disturbances.
One beautiful spectacle was that some of these isolated snow and sleet storms appeared like huge sprays of steam issuing up from the ocean, with sheer edges all around. We skirted the fringe of these snow storms for the purpose of ascertaining their density and to observe, if possible, the formation of the sleet and snow clouds. In each case we found that the snow and sleet was caused by precipitation in a cold area, usually on the fringe of an iceberg formation. At times we thought we saw icebergs in the distance but by the use of our binoculars we found them to be merely shadows of clouds on the water.
Throughout the day Koehl and I flew in turn, each taking three hours on and three hours off and we navigated almost entirely by the sun. From Ireland to the mid-Atlantic line east and southeast winds were encountered for we were passing over an area that had been a low pressure area a few days earlier and which had started filling up the evening before we left. These light, variable winds did not have much effect on the navigation of the Bremen. In the mid-Atlantic we ran into a fairly gusty northwesterly wind. As soon as we sensed the new turbulent atmospheric conditions we dropped some more “White Horses” and found by the smoke direction that the wind had a velocity which we estimated to be between fifteen and twenty miles an hour at the surface.
Such a wind merely meant the further checking of our course and showed us that it was a slight disturbance of local nature. In fact after an hour and a half to two hours flying we left our friend, the gusty little wind, far behind. The long rolling swells of the ocean seemed to smooth out and during the evening the sea looked like a sheet of glass with scarcely a ripple on it and hardly any noticeable wind. Suddenly in the midst of our reverie and calm observations I heard the motor begin to splutter. The tachometer needle which indicates the number of revolutions of the propeller per minute began to bob back and forward. My heart stood still. With a glance at Koehl I could see that he was intensely listening to our engine. In the rear the Baron was sitting bolt upright and staring forward with a questioning look.
Frankly, I got a terrible wind up for a moment. To have the motor fail six hundred or seven hundred miles out over the open Atlantic is rather an unpleasant feeling. The ghastly vision of the Bremen waterlogged and rolling in the long swells of the Atlantic while we frantically waited for a passing steamer to see us, flashed before me. I visualized at that instant the lives of the others who had gone before us. Brave trail-blazers! For an instant my heart seemed struck with a cold chill. It is difficult to say how long the motor spluttered; possibly for only a couple of seconds.
It seemed like an eternity to me. Koehl smiled reassuringly as the throb of our sturdy power plant settled down to a rhythmic tone again. I hardly needed the advice of an expert mind-reader to realize that he, too, had sensed the extreme danger which had faced us. The moments passed and I settled back to my thoughts. I pictured a giant multi-engined transatlantic air-liner leaving Ireland. In the cabin were seated men and women, voyagers of the future to whom the ocean means but a barrier between the nations and to whom the airplane represented the most rapid means of overcoming the obstacle. A spacious cargo compartment was loaded with precious bundles, negotiable securities, money and bank notes. The interest on this investment was being cut down from four days and nights of inactivity between Europe and America to a brief forty hours. This saving alone means much to the speeding up of international commerce.
Below the pilot’s cockpit would be a radio-room in which one of the two radio operators would keep in constant communication with ground and ship radio stations ascertaining and checking the position of the plane at all times both day and night. These reports after being handed to the navigator were used by the active pilot on duty for checking his instruments. As the darkness came I could visualize the passengers entering their berths in a similar manner to which the train passengers do at night. During the long hours of the day the passengers were either occupied by reading or eating light nourishment which was provided from a small electrically operated compartment in the rear of the passengers’ salon. The failure of any one or even two of the power plants in this giant transatlantic air-liner would cause but a momentary readjustment of the other motors in order to take the additional load. I could see the motors installed in such a manner that they were easily accessible to the flying mechanic who would attempt to make repairs, if possible, while the plane was in flight.
The flight of the Bremen was no mere stunt. It was a carefully prepared scientific endeavor in which every possible danger or cause for failure was written down and considered from every possible angle. The best precautions were adopted to eliminate or reduce these hazards to a minimum. The question of wireless received serious consideration but it was decided that an efficient and useful wireless set would weigh approximately 180 pounds. It was our opinion that this weight of benzol would be better. This was the one weak point in the organization of the flight, as we now realize that had we had a wireless set on board upon our estimated arrival in the neighborhood of Newfoundland we could have been given almost our exact position by the direction-finding stations along the coast and informed of the precise direction and velocity of the wind over the area. Thus we would have been able to reach New York easily and therefore accomplish our objective. Wireless is absolutely necessary for all transatlantic flying of the future.
As time goes on and transatlantic flying is given even more serious consideration, I feel sure that a small Gyro compass should be perfected which would eliminate the dangers attendant upon the use of the ordinary magnetic compass. The magnetic needle is so often affected by large magnetic ore deposits that it renders the use of such a compass practically negligible.
ABOVE THE STARS-IN THE TEETH OF THE GALE—. AN OIL LEAK IN THE NIGHT-AGONIZING MOMENTS-LIFELESS LANDFIGURES IN THE SNOW-SANCTUARY.
Switching back from thoughts of transatlantic flying I recall that we were carrying about a dozen beef sandwiches, some peeled oranges and bananas, hard-boiled eggs and vacuum flasks of coffee, tea, and beef tea. Our first meal consisted of one sandwich each, a hardboiled egg and some tea. This we partook of about 11:00 o’clock on Thursday morning, April 12th. Baron Von Huenefeld prepared the victuals and passed them to us through the opening in the cockpit. It is hard to break old habits even if one happens to be hopping across the Atlantic by airplane.
At 5:00 o’clock the Baron served tea but within an hour after we realized that the weather was beginning to break rather badly and decided to eat a substantial meal before we entered into the serious business of night flying. We had sandwiches, bananas, and drank beef tea and coffee. For future transatlantic fliers I would like to record the fact that it is not wise to place the exhaust pipes from the engine too close to the cockpit. The benzol fumes from the motor mixed with my food did not rest at all well—in fact I became somewhat air-sick—for the first time in my life.
From the time that we left the Irish coast and until we arrived off the fog banks, throughout the day the Bremen was never more than about fifty feet above the surface of the water, except where we encountered the East winds and pulled up to about 1000 feet, in order to gain the greatest advantage by reason of the increased wind velocity at the greater height. Whenever we encountered adverse winds we stayed as low as possible. During the night we eased the plane up to an altitude of about 6000 feet, believing that in case we should reach the coast in thick weather and being unaware of the presence of the coast line, we would be in danger of running into a mountain. We remained at the altitude of 6000 feet throughout the night.
As the darkness settled about us Koehl switched on the interior cabin lights but for some reason or other they failed to function and we were forced to use the hand flashlights with which we had prepared ourselves at Baldonnel. Unfortunately, we found that we could only use these in short flashes as the continuous beam reflecting from the glass-covered instruments created such a glare in the cockpit that we were almost blinded. Once while Koehl was flying I dropped off to sleep with a torch in my left hand. It slipped from my grasp and the floor of the cockpit under my feet, It was missed immediately I awoke as I wanted it the instruments, particularly the it owing to the confined space in the pilots cabin it was exceedingly hard to reach about and retrieve it.
Eventually, however, we managed to fish it out from the bottom of our quarters. During this part of the flight we experienced a most peculiar phenomenon. In the daytime we had been checking our course by the sun. When the stars came out we used celestial navigation. As time passed I was suddenly surprised to see that there were stars below us and I was filled with the peculiar feeling that we were flying upside-down. Koehl, too, had noticed the apparently erratic action of the stars. At first glance I thought that I had seen a ship below us, then possibly a lighthouse and again it seemed as though a fleet of boats were passing underneath.
The horizon had entirely disappeared and we seemed to be suspended in a circular bowl coin-rounded by twinkling stars. It was only by observing one star in the heavens and then picking it out below us that we realized the phenomenon was caused by the stars being reflected in the glassy surface of the ocean. In order to prepare for the bad weather which we felt sure we were going to meet as we neared the coast of North America, Koehl and myself took turns at piloting the Bremen in periods of one-half hour on and one-half hour off.
In the rear the Baron sat in lonely solitude with his thoughts. We were approaching what we believed to be the coast of Newfoundland and we estimated that we were within about 400 miles of land when directly in front of us and spread as far as the eye could see to the North and South there appeared a great impregnable gray blanket of dreaded fog. Below us the ocean began to lash itself into a turmoil of beating fury. Raging billows loomed up beneath us seeming to stretch angry foam-lashed fingers at the undercarriage. We were both wide awake now and we made an endeavor to climb over the fog bank.
A strong southeast gale was howling about us and our only hope of being able to maintain a steady course was to remain within sight of the stars. We realized that the compass would not be very helpful owing to the great differences in magnetic forces over short distances on this difficult stretch of the journey. We were rapidly approaching this bank of Newfoundland fog and we could see that it reached into the heavens combining with the low-hanging clouds which disappeared above us.
Our only hope was to remain as low as possible and trust entirely to our instruments. Pitch darkness surrounded us. Flying close to the great surging waves we experienced a number of downward bumps which all but precipitated our metal monoplane into the merciless sea. We realized the danger of remaining near the surface and we climbed higher and higher until we had again reached 6000 feet. The cold was intense. The fog and sleet wrapt itself about us like the clinging hand of fate. How thankful I was that at Baldonnel the mechanics had spread the wings and fuselage with paraffin and oil as a protection against sleet formation on the plane. Koehl’s face was set with a grim determination. His helmet and goggles seemed even to lend a sardonic twist to his countenance. It was the battle of man-power and a man-made instrument against the elements. Oh, the deadly monotony of the struggle! Pains and aches seemed to surge through my body. My eyes felt as though someone had thrown sand into them. Koehl, too, would occasionally lift his goggles to rub his blood-shot eyes and his fitful stretching showed that he, too, was suffering from cramped, aching and tired muscles. The ghastly pall of fog seemed to cling about us with never varying density. Then came another tremendous shock upon which to a certain extent hung the entire fate of the Bremen. As my flashlight dropped on the instrument board I noticed an enormous amount of oil on the floor of the cockpit and over my shoes. An oil leak! Tense as the situation was at this moment our nervous systems suddenly became as taut as a violin string stretched to breaking point.
We suddenly realized that due to the long and continued vibration of the motor an oil line must have broken. The precious fluid was pouring itself away on the floor of the plane. I reached vainly about trying to locate the broken pipe. Captain Koehl turned on the reserve supply of oil and I noticed with a great deal of satisfaction that the oil gauge on the instrument board showed “full.” Five minutes later when I glanced at the oil gauge I saw that instead of still being full it now showed three-quarters empty. We were facing a situation beyond words.
At this time the Bremen was headed on a southwesterly course for the coast of Newfoundland, but when we realized that at any moment our oil supply might become entirely depleted, and we did not know how much oil had flown away before we noticed it, the logical thing to do was to head directly Northwest and endeavor to strike land as soon as possible. There was now nothing to do but to grind our teeth, grin, and forge ahead into the West hoping that terra firma would soon loom up in front of us. We were both straining our eyes in the hopes of discerning the rays of a friendly lighthouse which would give us the longed for information that we were at least over land. Nothing appeared in the inky blackness.
The very instruments were grinning and making faces at us as if to say how futile are our endeavours. The agonizing moments dragged slowly by. The Bremen kept forging steadily into the West. So great was our fatigue that for moments I would drop off into slumber only to awake with a start and my heart pounding madly against my ribs. With brimming eyes and stumbling thoughts my benumbed consciousness would reconstruct the situation. After what seemed to be interminable hours of endless flight the thick fog bank suddenly disappeared behind us and overhead the dark blue sky was studded with most welcome stars.
The Great Bear and Pole stars, the fateful guide of mariners for so many centuries, were immediately located almost directly over our heads and slightly to our right. With a great sigh of relief we checked our course with the stars and continued for two long weary hours of flying into the West. Suddenly upon looking below I saw what appeared to be large broken patches of low-lying fog over the waves. After a long scrutiny through the binoculars this turned out to be a vast snowcovered forest. I signalled Koehl to look below and noticed that his face assumed a broad smile when he realized that we had reached the coast of North America. Our eyes were too tired to make out definitely the expanse beneath us at the height at which we were flying. Continuing our course we brought the Bremen closer to earth but still maintaining sufficient altitude for safety. A Very light pistol was dug up and a white flare was fired below while the plane slowly circled in order to give us ample time to make an observation.
The Stygian darkness swallowed up the light before we were able to observe clearly any of the objects below us. After firing two or three more white flares we were able to observe a large wooded hill directly below us. All patches of ground were covered with a blanket of white snow and the branches of the trees seemed laden with frost. Our only course now was to continue flying in the direction in which we were headed and wait for the dawn. Daylight was due at almost any moment and with the first gray streaks we could discern a huge expanse of uninhabited snow covered forest and mountain country. Not a sign of life was evident.
Where were the long white concrete roads, the broad open aerodromes? Where were the great fabulous factories of America’s industries? It seemed as though we had broken in upon the silent sepulcher of desolation. Not a puff of smoke, not a beaten path over the tractless wastes of white snow. Not even an animal or bird of any nature or description could be seen. The hours of tossing about in the storm-racked fog, our change of course due to the oil leak, and the lack of lights in the cockpit had caused both Koehl and myself to become extremely worried as to our whereabouts.
Hastily tearing a piece of envelope which was in my pocket, I scribbled the word “Labrador,” and passed it to Koehl. He shook his head. He was clearly worried about our predicament. We checked and re-checked our course, using the sun to collaborate our instruments, and finally decided that we were many miles inland over Labrador. Veering to the southeast and using the sun as our guide, we held the nose of the Bremen into the biting cold wintry air of the desolate North country. Tired as we were, our eyes kept searching for the faintest sign of a landmark which we could identify upon our maps. The agonizing moments seemed to stretch into hours. Our hands and feet, our bodies and even our brains were numbed with the bitter coldness.
At last we found a broad river with mountains on either side but it was frozen solid and covered with snow. Not a trace of a living thing seemed to touch the virgin whiteness that lay like a pall, stilling the rushing waters. Down we went until we were flying about the surface, no higher than about ten feet, and for two hours we continued but failed to pick out any recognizable landmark. We were gravely concerned about our supply of petrol, and having tested all our tanks we came to the conclusion that we had sufficient fuel for only about three more hours of flying. We continued in a southeasterly direction, searching forever the country below for a sign of life.
The strain of flying the Atlantic had been tremendous, but to face certain death in the bleak, cold, uninhabited wilderness of this Arctic country seemed such a cruel reward. After all that had happened to us I could not help but feel that those others who may have crossed the Atlantic westward by air may have “cracked up” in some such remote wilderness. I tried to recall all that I had read of Labrador and the Arctic, the books of Dr. Grenfell and of Hudson Stuck, and those splendid tales of Cooper around the Indians of the North.
Indeed I have even been lost once before myself. It was in the Bog of Allen, when, with two companions, I wandered for three days, living on the birds’ eggs we had gone searching for, and finally reaching some men cutting turf they directed us to our homeward destination. I might add that I got a jolly good licking.
I decided that the first thing to do, if we should come down at some remote point, would be to hold a conference, in order to discover ways and means to get back to civilization. First of all, we would have to take a good rest, and that could be done in the machine. We could gain a general idea of our whereabouts from the stars and guess in which direction a human habitation would most easily and certainly be encountered. Here our compass would aid us. Snowshoes of some sort would be necessary as we would have to travel over soft snow. We carried a small axe in the Bremen. With this we would improvise skis, and the axe could be used in cutting firewood. This brought up the question of fires. We would need them for warmth and cooking purposes.
But none of us carried matches. We had not taken them due to the risk of fire. Baron Von Huenefeld had a cigarette-lighter but if this would not work, we would all certainly die. I racked my brain for a solution, and finally found it in the starting magneto. We could remove it from the airplane. It was operated by a handle and made a good fat spark. If we took along some petrol as a precaution, we would be fairly certain to make a fire under any conditions. Here again the axe would come in handy to chop away one of the petrol tanks from inside the machine. I tried to picture how we would live. We had with us some sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs and thermos flasks of coffee and tea. We had eaten barely anything so far, and we could take this food along. But what was to be done when no food was left at all? I thought that we would travel across country until we found a river and then make our way down it.
We could fish if we chopped holes in the ice. Of course we had no rods, lines, or hooks but we could use string arid a bent pin and red paper for bait. I knew this could be done as I had often watched fishermen lure the fish in this manner. However I must admit that I had a frightful horror of wolves, which the blood-and-thunder books had given me. I recalled stories of people being chased by packs of them, I understood that a wolf will eat another wolf if it was dead, and in this manner we would be able to escape. But the problem came up of killing them without being killed by one first!
However I had my light signal pistol and fifteen cartridges which could be used if necessary. I suddenly realized that we could not possibly travel with the magneto and the petrol tank and the fish we might catch, or the animals we might kill, without some means of transportation. We could improvise some sort of sled by using the axe, and if we chose a river route we would not have much difficulty in dragging it. We could take turns doing this, just as Koehl and I had taken turns in piloting the Bremen. How would we sleep? Our heavy flying suits would keep us warm as we walked by day. At night however we would face the danger of attack by wild animals and that of freezing to death. In ordinary winter weather we would stand guard in turn until the break of day. However shelter of some kind would have to be improvised in extremely cold weather.
As I thought of what I had read it seemed to me that some of the Eskimos made their igloos by building a framework of branches and covering them with snow. We could survive the severest cold in such shelters. I knew that the distances were enormous. It might take us six months to make our way back to civilization. If the ice broke up, we might make a rough raft and float down stream, stopping only to drag it over rapids or when we slept. Of course we might not survive, and I wondered in what order we would go, if we died of exhaustion—who would be first and who last, and what it would feel like. I remembered Captain Scott’s fate in the Antarctic and the bravery of that companion of his who stepped out into the snow when he realized he was imperilling the chances of the others.
But optimism took the place of all these gloomy thoughts, soon after. Of course, I always felt we would win out. Somehow or other I knew that we would get out of any emergency that might arise. Pilots have to, I suppose. And so I had no great fears as I formed these plans to offer to my companions in our first conference together should we crash on land. But strange things happen over these limitless wastes. Tired eyes seem to have a way of playing tricks upon the leadened brain.
Gazing hard ahead I could see a large town complete with church spires, domes, streets and even moving automobiles. To one side I saw an aerodrome fully laid out with hangars and living accommodations and airplanes outside the hangars. Binoculars were produced, and in each case when checking with Koehl these welcome sights turned out to be only a mirage. Perhaps the subconscious mind has a way of making the eyes see what it wishes. In the desert, travellers dying of thirst see but a few yards ahead of them luscious, bubbling green brooks and springs that mock them while the burning sands turn their tongues to choking hot coals. I seemed to see the smooth white runways of a perfectly appointed flying field. In fact I could almost picture the Bremen a few seconds later landing and taxiing up to the line. Was it Fate with cruel mockery that was beckoning us to land in the treacherous snow-covered rocks to meet—instead of open arms in welcome—the shuddering crash of battle? I can imagine that both Koehl and the Baron are also suffering from the tremendous strain. Two more long weary hours elapsed. We were searching for a suitable landing spot when we came to the edge of what appeared to be a huge frozen lake. Charts were produced and by making signs I discussed with Koehl our possible location on the maps. We decided to search for some habitation or sign of human life along the shore line.
Hope seemed very’ slim indeed! Suddenly a huge blizzard was seen approaching right in front of us. The faithful old Bremen began to bob about in the sudden, turbulent atmosphere. A howling gale was raging. Fate (seeming to feel that she was about to be cheated of her human sacrifice and seeming also to realize that the beautiful pictures which she had spread on the treacherous ground below us, were not to entice us to land) had placed a blinding blizzard of whirling, twisting snow in our path in order to drive us into the frozen earth. Suddenly the curtain of snow lifted and we observed in the distance the outline of what we believed to be a large ship frozen in the ice. This time the binoculars proved that it was no mere hallucination! We were convinced that it was a ship.
My shout of glee was drowned by the roaring motor. Koehl’s face was “set at a quarter-to-three” and glancing back at the Baron I could see that his face was “set at a quarter-past-nine.” (Lest my gentle readers fail to interpret this expression, I might say that a grin in the Air Services is known as “setting your faces at a quarter-to-three.”) What a tremendous relief the first signs of human habitation we had observed since we waved a longing farewell to the lighthouse at Slyne Head, Ireland!
With the engine throttled back we glided down to investigate it, bobbing about in the face of the Arctic gale and were surprised to make out the outlines of a stately lighthouse situated on a small island. After circling twice around the lighthouse we noticed that the noise of our motor had stirred a pack of dogs into action. Their movements on the snow were clearly discernible to us. No other sign of life was apparent. At first I thought they might possibly be a pack of wolves who had come to the edge of this solitary beacon in search of food. And fear struck my heart that the lighthouse might not be inhabited! The continued noise of the engine, however, attracted the attention of the inhabitants and four people emerged from the lighthouse building.
It is impossible to describe our feeling upon observing them. Here at last was a spot where the Bremen might rest, and where we would have an opportunity of checking up our fuel supply, ascertaining our exact position and if possible continuing on South to New York. The island was snow-covered and ice-bound. Here and there in the bay we could see stretches of clear ice on which it might be possible to land. Being quite unfamiliar with conditions, we however chose the surface of the lagoon which was frozen over. After firing a smoke signal to obtain the correct direction of the wind we maneuvered into position and headed directly into the teeth of the 50 mile an hour gale, Koehl nosing the Bremen down and landing on the ice. We did not know at that time however that only a few days before the spring thaw had melted the top of the ice and left several feet of water on the thicker ice beneath.
Freezing weather had then set in and the surface had frozen over so that it presented a deceptive appearance of safety. It was on this thin ice that Captain Koehl made a perfect three-point landing. Fortunately for us the head wind slowed up our speed to such an extent that when the weight of the Bremen was finally thrown upon the ice our forward speed had considerably diminished. Suddenly the ice broke through and the machine rocked violently forward on its nose. Koehl and myself were thrown forward on to the instrument board but the Baron—who had moved forward in the cabin—was thrown to the floor. Koehl received a rather severe cut on the forehead but the Baron and myself were uninjured. Our landing—upon what we afterward discovered to be Greenly Island, was a bitter disappointment. We knew that many people were gathered at Mitchel Field near New York, and that we would have to disappoint them. Furthermore, the machine which had brought us safely across the huge expanse of water, was resting grotesquely on its nose and had been injured.
THE WRECK OF THE BREMEN-IN TOUCH WITH THE WORLD HOSPITALITY-MURRAY BAY AND RETURN-A WORD ABOUT FLOYD BENNETT-LOOKING FORWARD.
Upon getting out of the machine, our first concern was to ascertain as nearly as possible the full extent of the damage. We surveyed the machine thoroughly and found that the propeller tips were bent and that the undercarriage had been strained. But this was all. Our first job was to lower the tail of the machine to the ground. This proved extremely difficult, for even with the aid of three of the natives of the island who came to our assistance, our numbers were far too small to be really effective. In addition, we did not have available the necessary tackle or equipment for work of this nature.
Fortunately for us, a gale was blowing which tended to force the tail of the machine down to the ground. The pressure of the gale on the tail of the machine was gradually forcing the nose of the machine out of the ice, and we were afraid that the tail might suddenly drop to the ground and result in irreparable damage to our trusty craft. Three men lay on the nose of the machine to balance the pressure and a rope was obtained, lassoed around the tail skid, and after much effort we were delighted to find that we had succeeded in lowering it gently to the ground.
The entire proceeding had lasted for about half an hour and we had been exposed to bitter cold and a lashing wind. It was then suggested that we should adjourn to the comfortable quarters of the lighthouse, to which Baron Von Huenefeld had already gone because of a slight mishap. In getting out of the plane he had fallen into the water twice, and it had been necessary for him to leave us that he might dry off before he froze to death. But Captain Koehl was adverse to this suggestion. He, like a good airman, wanted to stand by his damaged machine and we therefore continued working on the machine. With the snow falling and the wind howling we carried on with the work of examining the plane more closely and endeavoring to lift the wheels out of the water with the intention of rolling it back onto solid ground. We secured some planks, and iron bars were used as levers for this work, but unfortunately after having succeeded in getting the right wheel onto the solid ice a large bang occurred.
Upon examination we found that the axle had snapped in the middle. We were almost heart-broken, because we had felt that with the available utensils in connection with a small forge at the lighthouse we would be able to straighten the propeller and go on to New York. On the collapse of the undercarriage the machine subsided into the water again; and our work of nearly two hours proved futile. We decided that nothing further could be done, so we obtained some rope for the purpose of securing the machine so that it might be saved from the damaging wind during the night.
Now a new difficulty presented itself. The pickets could not be driven into the ground due to the fact that it is just like solid rock, owing to the intense cold experienced in this district. Finally we secured the machine by tying the ropes round large boulders which were littered about the place, as we were at the very edge of the lagoon. The water was drained out of the radiator, as it would otherwise have been badly damaged by the frost. We procured plenty of sack and carefully wrapped the engine for the night. A man was employed to guard the machine throughout the night, not that we feared that anyone would steal it, but in order to warn us should the storm increase to greater force.
As- sured now that our stout little craft was as comfortable as we could make her for the night, we adjourned to the lighthouse where our hostess, Mme. LeTamplier, greeted us with that charming hospitality so characteristic of the French people, particularly the French Canadians. Our sheepskin flying boots and socks, which had become saturated during the work and had become frozen so that they were literally two cakes of ice, were removed and we were provided with stockings and moccasins. Our first consideration here was to write out despatch telegrams and cables to our people, notifying them of our safe arrival on the American Continent.
We had learned that there was a telegraph office at Blanc Sablon, a distance of about two miles, which was however almost inaccessible because of the snow and ice. The assistant keeper of the lighthouse very kindly offered to execute this commission for us, and we were happy in the thought that the waiting world would soon have news of our safety. We knew that we were long overdue, and that they must be anxious by this time. Mme. LeTamplier now informed us that tea was ready and we sat down to what was our first real meal since the day before when we had breakfast at 4:30 A.M. and only sandwiches in between—and now incidentally, to our first meal in Canada. It would be impossible to describe how wonderful this meal tasted. Extreme fatigue had now overtaken us, so we were shown to our bedroom.
Here we found two beds. Baron Von Huenefeld and Koehl took one and I took the other. We undressed, tumbled into bed and were asleep in “two winks.” I awakened at about twelve noon the following day to be informed by the Baron that Captain Koehl—after having had three or four hours’ sleep—had been working practically throughout the whole night compiling notes on scientific data, etc., which he had collected during the flight, whilst the matter was still fresh in his memory. Captain Koehl must certainly be commended for his tremendous will power, keenness for his work and concentration on his undertaking. After our long rest we felt very fit, with the exception that our eyes were bloodshot and bunged up with pus. This strain had been caused by the fact that we had only one pair of goggles between us, as Koehl’s had been lost out of the machine. However, after bathing our eyes in water we felt very much better. After breakfast we immediately commenced working again. The machine stood exactly as we left her, with the exception that the water around the undercarriage had become frozen during the night and under the pressure of the ice the left tire had burst. Large petrol drums and planks were obtained, also a considerable supply of timber, and by nightfall we had succeeded in lifting the weight of the machine off the undercarriage by building up props under the wings at the roots.
We realized that this was all we could do. We went back to the lighthouse and dispatched cables, calling for assistance, and notifying the Junkers Company in New York of the extent of the damage to the machine, and the materials and spare parts required to get the machine in trim for the continuation of our flight to New York. There was nothing to do now but wait for help. On Sunday we received news from Point Arthur radio station that “Duke” Schiller, the famous Canadian pilot; Dr. Louis Cuisinier, technical director of the Canadian Transcontinental Airways Company, and Eugene Thibault, a mechanic, were on their way in a Fairchild ship for the purpose of assisting us.
The machine was scheduled to arrive before five o’clock, and we spent the intervening time in preparing messages recounting our experiences and our needs. At 5:30 o’clock we were sitting in the lighthouse when we heard the drone of an airplane. We pulled on our things and ran out. We saw the plane circling over the island. A Very light was fired from her and she circled to land on the ice of the frozen bay about a mile away. We travelled over by dog-sled and met those who had come to our relief. We held a conference that night and learned that a considerable number of misleading reports had come out and that as a result of the poor telegram system and the enormous traffic on the line, due to our landing, our messages had been garbled and our needs not made clearly known. It was therefore decided that the machine should leave for Murray Bay the following morning and that one of us should accompany Mr. Schiller to Murray Bay to meet Miss Junkers, who we were told would be there upon our arrival, and explain to her the exact position and our requirements in order to insure that the flight could be continued as soon as possible. I was chosen to undertake this commission.
The following day at noon, leaving Cuisinier and the mechanic behind, we left Greenly Island, en route for Murray Bay. Upon getting up we learned that Cuisinier had arisen at 5 o’clock in the morning, had secured additional assistance, which he could more readily direct because of his knowledge of the language and the people, and had procured practically every dog team and sled in the countryside for the purpose of carting material to the scene of our landing. He intended to lower the water in the pond by drainage so that a wooden platform could be built under the machine to enable the mechanics to work in the dismantling of the damaged undercarriage and the fitting of the new one when it arrived. He confidently assured me before I left that he would have this work completed within ten hours. I could not possibly see how he could do it in the time stipulated, but I have since learned that he accomplished what he set out to do. It was a splendid feat of engineering! Shortly after leaving Greenly Island we encountered fog and heavy snow. In addition to that the east wind, which prevailed at Greenly at the time of our departure, changed round to the west after about an hour’s flying.
This slowed us considerably and forced us to land at Natashquan, where we received every hospitality and stayed the night. At noon on the next day we left again in a howling gale and heavy snow, and succeeded in reaching Clark City about 5 in the afternoon. Here again we were compelled to land and we received utmost hospitality from Mr. Collier, the manager of the pulp mills. The following day at noon we took off for Murray Bay, where I met Miss Junkers and explained our situation to her. My return journey to Greenly Island to rejoin my comrades there was not altogether uneventful. I had left to get the parts with which, we felt, the Bremen could be repaired. These I took out on the three-motored Ford plane that was sent to our relief. This was the plane chartered by the New York World and North American Newspaper Alliance in which—while flying to Greenly Island–Floyd Bennett contracted pneumonia, which resulted in his death. We left Lake Ste. Agnes, expecting to stop at Seven Islands, Quebec, and after fueling to hop off at once for Greenly, arriving there that afternoon. But luck was against us, for the petrol we expected at Seven Islands was not there. Press planes had used it up, and the nearest supply was at the village. It took us two hours to secure it. Meanwhile the sun had been melting the snow badly and we doubted if we could get off. Nevertheless, we made the attempt. Twice we ran over the snow for two miles, but we could not get into the air. So we desisted and decided to spend the night there, hoping for a frost to harden the surface for us. That night we were entertained by the Mayor and some of the local people, who treated us with every consideration. We started the engine the next morning at 6 o’clock, and this time successfully took off. We reached Greenly without any other incident. I was surprised upon returning to find that the Bremen had been moved.
She was not in the reservoir where she broke through the ice when we landed on it after our trip across from Ireland. Dr. Louis Cuisinier, the technical director of the Canadian Transcontinental Airways, and Koehl had done a remarkable feat of engineering and had hoisted her up on the embankment. They had also drained the water from the reservoir. The machine stood propped up, the damaged propeller taken off, and her undercarriage removed. All was in readiness for the work of repair. The Junkers mechanic, Ernest Koeppen, wasted no time in getting to work. He started in to straighten out the propeller without having a bite to eat. In a small forge in the lighthouse on Greenly Koeppen hammered out the “prop.” Then, bolting it on the shaft again, he started to put on the new undercarriage we had brought along. The original intention to try to take off from the reservoir had been abandoned.
The ice in the bay was better, and without skis we knew we would need a long run. But the Bremen stood at the top of a very steep gradient, and now that she was repaired we would have to get her down. It was manifestly impossible to ease the Bremen down on her wheels. We would do her irreparable damage, we felt certain. We decided to use dog sleds, and putting one under each wheel, we began the task of moving her gently to the ice in the bay below. It was no easy task, and took three hours. With the machine safely on the ice in the bay, we decided to stop work for that night. We held a consultation that evening and came to the conclusion that the best place for a take-off would be from the ice off Long Point on the mainland, about a mile away. We had placed a native as guard over the ship during the night. Next morning conditions were extremely good. We woke at 5 and began to push the Bremen across the ice. She broke through soft spots in the ice three times, however, and we had to hoist her up again and place her on dog sleds. Then we started pushing her once more, this time successfully, finally reaching the smooth ice running parallel with the shore line. We decided to build a fire and warm the oil and try to warm the engine• A large vessel was procured for boiling water.
We also heated the tins of oil for the engine. We took out the spark plugs and cleaned them thoroughly, as they had become badly fouled in the flight. We also cleaned the magneto and took down the distributor and the carbureter and cleaned them as well. After that the petrol was filled in. At eight o’clock that morning we were ready to start the engine. We tried—without success. She popped a few times, but she would not take hold. This was due to the fact that the engine has a very high compression, a ratio of seven, and we could not get compression except on two of the cylinders. We concluded that the grease we put on the valves after we broke through the ice on Greenly had melted on the warm days and had trickled down the valve stems, running into the ports. Later this hardened, thus preventing the valves from heating properly except on the two cylinders. For an entire day we worked on this, even using blow lamps in an effort to clear the valves, but without success. That evening there was every indication of an approaching gale. We decided to move the Bremen off the ice into the shelter of the harbor at Long Point. There we covered her up against the storm which we knew was coming. We were not mistaken. Before we had completed this work snow began to fall.
Then a gale came up, and further work that night was impossible. Much of our optimism had now left us. When the repair parts came we expected to install them quickly and take off without further delay. Now we decided to hold a conference. We were no longer in our quarters on Greenly Island, but were installed on the mainland. The Baron and Koehl had been put up at the home of the telegram operator there, and I was taken to the house of the parish priest. However, we messed together at the operator’s house, and it was there that we conferred that night.
At this time I would like to say a word about Floyd Bennett. I had never met him before he came to Lake Ste. Agnes with the relief plane. I had no idea when I left that he was so ill. His death came as a distinct shock to me. Aviation cannot help but miss him—he did so much for it. His loss is inestimably great. We were greatly depressed at the news of his death. Until this time the three of us had been overjoyed to be reunited. When I had left Greenly I had expected to return within two days; but my stay was an enforced one and my comrades showed every indication of pleasure at my return. I brought back many necessary things. They hadn’t had luxuries of any kind, and had barely the necessary clothing. I brought back cigars and delicacies to eat, and clean underwear and shirts to wear. That first night together in the lighthouse we had almost a feast. We hoped to be off in the morning. We felt certain that we could take off in the Bremen again. So we felt quite happy and had quite a party with the food and beer and wine, topping it off with cigars and cigarettes. We had a thoroughly enjoyable time. We planned to get up at dawn the next day, and weather indications were fair.
When we arose, however, conditions were bad, but we decided not to delay, however, and took off at 8:45 Atlantic Time, or 7:45 Eastern Standard Time on April 26th. We encountered snow on part of our flight. The going was bad for 100 miles, and it was exceedingly bumpy in the air and we had a head wind which slowed us up. Balchen and I took the controls for the first three hours. Then Balchen and Koehl flew the next three hours. After the first two hours the weather cleared. Then we ran into bright sunshine and excellent visibility.
We began to make better speed, too. We passed Godbout, Quebec, at 2 o’clock and Mille Vaches, Quebec, at 3 o’clock. About three-quarters of an hour later we were over Lake Ste. Agnes and saw the large crowd waiting for us on the ice. We landed at 3 :52. Mr. Couture and Mr. Cannon of the Airways Company and Mme. Cuisinier, whose guest I had been before, and Miss Junkers came to meet us. The scene was familiar to me, but my comrades found it strange and the faces were new to them. We were soon made at home, however. We spent the evening in Murray Bay. The accommodations at the Airways base were limited, and a house had been placed at our disposal in the village. I looked forward to a fine hot tub. The following day we began our journey to Washington and New York. The rest of my little tale has been written by Captain Koehl and Baron Von Huenefeld. I would, however, like to register a few opinions and impressions which I have drawn from this first East to West crossing of the Atlantic.
The transatlantic aerial service will undoubtedly be the most important aerial route of the future, as it will connect the American and European countries. Much pioneer work remains to be done, even with present-day airplanes and engines. Such flights are not foolish in any case where they are properly organized and all the risks realized and provided against.
And those who think transatlantic aviation will never be a regular public utility service should endeavor to get away from the idea of the present-day airplane, engine and route organization, glance over the progress which has taken place in the development of aviation in such a short period, and attempt to visualize the aircraft and ground organization which will exist fifteen to twenty years hence.
Airplanes will be produced which will be capable of riding out the roughest gale it is possible to encounter. Much more reliable and more economic engines will also be designed; better and reliable compasses and instruments will be available; efficient direction-finding wireless of low weight and long range will also come; meteorological organization over the Atlantic will develop. These are the factors which have to be understood.
First, let us take the route. The shortest is obviously the best; that is, New York, Newfoundland, Ireland, London. The weather conditions, here, however, are slightly worse than those which would normally be encountered over the Southern route. As already explained, this matter, however, can be overcome in time. It is a matter for international discussion and agreement.
America and mid-Atlantic, and similarly England, France, Germany and Ireland, will have to carry on corresponding work from the west coast of Europe to mid-Atlantic. For this work of course special ships would have to be available at anchor in the ocean for the sole purpose of meteorological work. These ships would cooperate with the meteorological departments of the countries concerned, and the reports would be collected and definite information be available at all times on conditions right across the ocean.
When a machine therefore is ready to leave on a voyage, the pilots and navigators will know exactly what conditions they will encounter and plan their course accordingly. Should, however, sudden violent storms arise after the departure of the machine, they can be informed of this by wireless and alter their course to avoid them. The wireless would also be useful to give the personnel of the machine helpful information throughout their journey, which would enable them to avoid adverse winds and plan their route to take advantage of every helping wind. The position of the machine could be given at any time by means of direction-finding ground stations.
This is of great importance, as the machines would know their exact position at any time and also the speed they were making over the ground. Only an approximate idea of position and ground speed could be estimated on the flights already accomplished. A. lot of work still remains to be done on instruments and compasses, but science and brain power are overcoming these problems and better and more reliable instruments and compasses are being produced from time to time.
Since Alcock and Whitten-Brown crossed from Newfoundland to Ireland in their Vickers Vimy machine in 1919 many improvements have taken place in instruments and compasses, making transatlantic aviation a much simpler and less risky undertaking than it was when they performed their marvellous feat. -While on their flight, while flying through fog and clouds, they had no idea of the position of the machine in relation to the ground. Since then, however, many useful turn indicators have been introduced which show the pilot at a glance, when flying at night or through fog or clouds, whether his machine is on a level keel, turning or banking.
Next, what kind of machines will be used on the routes of the future? If I may be permitted to voice an opinion, I would say multi-engined flying boats capable of riding out the roughest sea. This may sound ludicrous, but I believe that the transatlantic flying boat of the future will in effect be a flying submarine which, in addition to being a very deadly weapon in war, would also have considerable commercial value. It would fold its wings and not only could it fly, but it would ride over and through the waves. At present when a large flying boat is loaded for a long-distance or ocean flight, it is an exceedingly difficult job to get it to take off, owing to the enormous drag of the water. This can easily be overcome, I believe.
Special light railways, a couple of miles in length, facing in the direction of the prevailing wind, can be laid down, and the boat loaded onto a specially constructed truck in the rear of the electric locomotive. Then when the locomotive is travelling at the rate of about fifty miles an hour the engines of the flying boat can be opened up and she will easily lift into the air, pass over the engine and wing on her way.
The question of aerial navigation also requires considerable thought. The application of marine navigation methods to aerial navigation is unsatisfactory. It will not do at all. Aerial navigation is a technique unto itself and should be considered from the standpoint of flying, and suitable instruments and equipment should be produced to meet the requirements of the air.
Another useful point which suggests itself is quite easy to put into application immediately. It is the laying down of large signs easily distinguishable from the air beside coast lighthouses with the longitude and latitude of the position clearly marked. Lighthouses are the principal landmarks in marine navigation, but their usefulness to the aviator is almost nil. Overhead the light flashes cannot be seen, but the signs I suggest could be seen by day and be illuminated to be observable at night. They would tell the pilot exactly where he was. In summary: The Atlantic has been flown from east to west and from west to east. The pioneer work—to a great extent—has been done and commercial services are certain to come. E Better and different airplanes will be used, improved instruments employed on them, accurate information will be available, and the Atlantic will be crossed both ways without unusual danger or delay. The first of these services will not be for passengers but mails. The week-end letter will supplement the night letter of to-day, and these and bank clearances and important commercial matters would provide a very useful pay load to begin with.
A section of Popular Science magazine featuring the exploits of the Bremen pilots.
The pilots honoured in America; Jim with President Coolidge, the Bremen where it landed, a celebration in the Massachusetts state building; a parade in Boston, and the trio with the mayor of Boston. And below, the Bremen in its final resting place in the Henry Ford Aviation Museum:
There are also a couple of videos of the pilots being welcomed in the US:
If there is a lesson that I take from Jim’s life it is this – he achieved incredible things and yet walked away from the only thing that really matters – his family. It isn’t that you leave behind, but who; the people, the connections, the memories. To have lived through so much and somehow be unable to simply exist in the peace of family life seems so odd. In the piece above he thanks his wife, saying she has been his inspiration and is responsible to a great extent for the successes of the many adventures which he had undertaken. But in the end he missed out on life’s greatest adventure.