Dothan, Alabama (DMCE)- Reveille, reveille, “rise and shine ladies. ” Calling “all hands on deck” in Dothan and across this fine country. Think you got what it takes to be a Marine? Do you think you’d look good in a set of “blues?” Then head down to the Recruiting station in Dothan, or in your local city, and sign up. One day your folks could be sitting in the “viewing stands,” watching you strut like a peacock across the “parade deck.” However you have make it through boot-camp first.
Now listen up “Lima Charlie” (that means “loud and clear for all you civvies) and you might learn something today about Marine Corps Aviation during WWI. Yesterday we learned a brief history about early aviation in the Corps. Today we will explore the Marine Corps Aviation during WWI. Alright time to “lock and load that brain,” stand up and down a few “side-straddle hops.” Now that the blood is pumping to your grey matter let’s roll!
America enters “The Great War”
In 1917 Germany sent a telegram to Mexico which suggested the two countries become allies if America entered WWI. The telegram was intercepted and decoded by the Brits who then revealed it to President Wilson. The Zimmerman Telegram helped build support for America’s entry into the war. The United States was unprepared because our standing Army at the time was about 300,000. “Conscription” for service started in the Civil War and was used in WWI. Wilson created the Selective Service to remedy the defects of the Civil War system. Soon our military grew to around 2.8 million.
Marines Aeronautics Expand
The Marine Corps entered WWI with 511 aircraft and 13,214 enlisted men. By the end of the “great war” the numbers would total 2,000 officers and 70,000 enlisted men due to the vast expansion of our military. The aggressive Marine campaign began partly due to the Corps wanting to secure their share of combat in France. Alfred Cunningham was the commander-designate of the fledgling Marine Aviation. He was not only the first Marine aviator, he was also the principal driving force behind the push for a bigger Marine Aviation Company. Major General “Tex” Rogers said this about Cunningham:
“Cunningham was the father of (Marine) aviation absolutely and completely. Without him there never would have been any aviation.”
The Aviation Company in Philly combined with the aviation unit from Pensacola and other Marine units. They were renamed the Marine Aeronautic Company. Their mission was to fly sea-boats on anti-submarine patrols. During the summer of 1917 Commandant Barnett procured Naval permission to establish a second aviation unit. This unit did recon and artillery observation. They were to provide support for the brigade of men sent to France. The second unit consisted of 11 officers and 178 enlisted men. They used six fighter planes, six recon planes, and 4 kite balloons for artillery observation.
The 1st Aeronautic Company
The First Aeronautic Company led the way into active service commanded by Captain “Cocky” Evans. This company headed to the Naval Station in Cape May, New Jersey, here they began training and coastal patrols in seaplanes. On 9 January 1918 they were ordered from Philly to the Azores. Their training was going to be tested for anti-submarine patrols in the Azores. The company initially began their patrols with 10 Curtiss R-6s and two N-9s. The company later received six Curtiss HS-2Ls.
All of the aircraft used by the Marine were single engine two-seater bi-planes. The N-9s were the seaplane training equipment. The HS-L2s were much faster than the R6s. With their 330 horsepower Liberty engines they were a marked improvement. The HS-L2s could achieve a top speed of 90 mph and had a cruising range of 400 miles. These aircraft greatly enhanced the Marines’ mission in the Azores and they kept the subs submerged by dropping bombs.
The duty was very pleasant in the Azores, but some Marines wanted to see action in France. This prompted one pilot to write the Commandant and complain, “most unpleasant continued inactivity” about the situation. He also requested to be detached to France. The Commandant wrote back “that a Marine officer’s paramount duty was to carry out his assignment, no matter how unpleasant.” Unknown to the bored young pilot his orders previously had been dispatched to be relieved of duty, but the General had them revoked.
More Preparations for France
The First Marine Aviation Force had a much tougher time as they prepared to head for the combat zone in France. An agreement reached by Cpt. Cunningham and Col. Arnold, of the Army Signal Corps, was reached on 10 October 1917. The Marine Aviation unit would begin training at Army Aviation School at Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, on Long Island. The unit would then make the move to the Army Advanced Flying School at Houston, Texas. When that training was completed they would be deployed to the combat zone.
While At Mineola, the squadron flew JN-4B Jenny trainers with civilian instructors. The training went very well but by December the temperature (16 degrees below zero) made training miserable. (The aviators lived in tents and the conditions were less then ideal.) On 1 January 1918 Capt. McIlvain packed his troops, equipment, and aircraft on a train and headed south. He a made brief stop in Washington requesting orders then resumed southward. While en route he received orders to the Army’s Gerstner Field at Lake Charles, La., where training continued in a more suitable climate.
The next article will continue the history of Marine aviation so stand-by. Semper Fidelis, that’s Latin for “always faithful.” Who said Marines weren’t educated! Until then here’s a quote this Examiner will leave you with, (which has a bit of a history lesson in it):
“Teufelhunde! (Devil Dogs)” German Soldiers in WWI during the Battle of Belleau Wood (first time this name was attributed to Marines).
Remember, this Examiner will always try his very best to bring you accurate history of the Corps. Alright ladies to get more of the “scuttlebutt” on the Corps click that orange button above! That’s an order private! To which you reply, “aye, aye sir!”
The information gathered for this article was summarized after reading portions of historical data on the following sites: History of Marine Aviation, and Marine Corps Aviation Early Years 1912-1940. Marine Corps Terminology can be learned here.