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The Escadrille Lafayette in World War 1

1st October 2015
Posted by S Taylor

During World War 1 the Escadrille Lafayette was composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighter aircraft.  It was named in honour of the Marquis de Lafayette, hero of both the American and French revolutions.  Born in 1757 the Marquis de Lafayette launched into his military career at the tender age of 14 by which time he had lost both his parents but had become a wealthy orphan.

When only sixteen he married Marie Adrienne Francoise de Noailles thus allying himself with one of the wealthiest families in France, with close links to the monarchy. It had been the Duke of Gloucester who spoke with warm sympathy of the struggle going on in the American colonies to secure their independence.  With thoughts of the “romantic” American cause, glory and excitement, Lafayette made plans to travel there.     Clearly the king would not have approved of his getting involved in the American Revolution, but he found  a companion to assist his passage across the Atlantic.

Landing near Charleston, South Carolina, on 13th June 1777, he was welcomed with open arms. This welcome was later endorsed by the Congress as he had come to serve as a volunteer and without pay. On account of his representing the highest rank of French nobility and his motives were so sympathetic to the American cause, he was commissioned a Major General on the 31st July.

So it not surprising that the volunteer air unit was named after the Marquis de Lafayette.  Norman Prince, an American expatriate already flying for France and Dr. Edmund Gros, were foremost in trying to persuade the French government of the strategic value of a volunteer American air unit fighting for them.  Despite the slow progress in gaining public support in America, the squadron proved the benefits of aerial combat to both sides.

However a German objection filed with the U.S. government, over the actions of a supposed neutral nation, led to the name change to Escadrille Lafayette in December 1916, as the original name had implied that the U.S. was allied to France rather than maintaining its neutrality.

Escadrille Swastika
Escadrille Swastika

The emblem of the Escadrille Lafayette was usually a black Swastika and an Indian chief’s head.   However Raul Lufbery used a red Swastika as a personal marking on his SPAD VII.  The bangles on the Indian head are circles with Swastikas in them.   Not all American pilots were in the Escadrille Lafayette as some other American pilots had fought for France as part of the Lafayette Flying Corps.


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