Re: first aerial combat

Erik Pilawskii (
Wed, 28 Jun 1995 10:47:30 -0700 (PDT)


Talk about an unhappy state of affairs.... Of the dozen-odd accounts of
the battle that I examined, virtually none of them were in agreement, even
on the fundamental details! Given that some of these works are by authors
I typically find to be reliable, I must admit to being somewhat taken aback.
I will keep looking, though I hope someone else does better than I.

So far, it is clear that the 'encounter' took place on 5 October, 1914.
The location was given so disparately I won't even attempt to guess which
is correct. The pilot of the French machine, which was almost certainly a
Voisin 3 of Esqdr.24, was Sgt.-Pilot Josef Frantz, his Observer being one
Cpl. Quenault. Quenault had available a Hotchkiss 8mm MG with either 6 or
8 ammunition 'strips'.
Essentially, while on patrol [was this type of patrol even a common
function in October 1914??], Frantz is said to have spotted an enemy
machine and dived on it [difficult, in that most of the accounts placed
him below the enemy a/c at the outset]. The type of machine is the first
area of considerable confusion. Some accounts give it as a Taube; others claim
an Albatros (presumably a C.II). The most likely machine, however [and the
one mentioned as being in the French military communique], is an Aviatik-- a
B.II, I would imagine, given it's description, though a B.I is also possible.
This German craft is often claimed to have been armed with a machine-gun,
though, leading to further confusion. I've not heard of an Aviatik B.II with
(presumably) a Parabellum. Was this occasionally rigged? In Oct/14? I know
the Aviatik C.I often carried a Parabellum, but it was introduced far too
late to be involved here.
Anyway, a running 'battle' is then supposed to have occurred, lasting
some 10-20 min., and falling from 6500 ft. down to 600 ft. One account
[which is in other regards repleat with errors: "Quenault was down to his
*second and last drum*, and nearly out of ammunition..."; "The German
pilot was firing furiously"] describes a twisting, falling affair that
generally sounds reasonable. Yet another rendition has the craft spinning
and looping about in a way that would put a Camel-Dr.I contest to shame!!
During the course of the battle, it seems clear that Quenault had
considerable difficulty with his Hotchkiss-- which is certainly not
surprising, given its general reputation. Indeed, it was jamming so often
he gave up firing in the fully automatic mode, and instead chose to
fire-off rounds singly in the semi-auto mode. As well, at least on two
occasions his ammunition 'strip' was blown over the side by the slipstream
while trying to reload!
The Voisin, in the event, appears to have suffered no damage. This view
is supported by the one photograph I did manage to find of Frantz/Quenault
and their machine [they are shown standing together after the flight by
the rudder]-- the two pilots look calm and relaxed (not harried and
shaken, as if they had been fired on for 10 min. by an MG), and there is
no evident damage to the a/c (though, admittedly, you can only see the
rudder). Given all of the above, I find it nearly impossible to believe that
the German a/c was armed with anything more than a Mauser pistol, and
certainly not with a superior gun, to boot!
Ultimately, nearly out of ammunition, and with no visible effect to the
Aviatik, Quenault is said to have fired one last three-round burst, which
irreparably jammed his gun. Apparently ready to give up, Frantz began to
head for home when the German machine suddenly 'lost control and spun to
the ground'. Some accounts indicate smoke or flame pouring from the engine,
others do not. It seems that a fire is unlikely, though, because the
machine does not appear to have burnt-out on the ground. Rather, several
*poilius* laid out the bodies of the fallen enemy craft, and eventually
they were buried with honors.

As for a/c markings and such... who knows? The rudder pic of Frantz's
Voisin does show the tail code, which is "V 89": V (over a tri-
89 color rudder)

"*Who are you*!?...." "I am Number 2..."
"Who is Number *1*?!" "You are, Number 6...."