Frank Luke, who flew from Saints and Rembercourt, was called the "Ace of Aces" of the American pilots.
Frank Luke next to a German plane he brought down
Luke was from Phoenix, Arizona and was, like many other American personnel who fought against Germany, of German descent. First he joined the US Army and then later joined the Air Corps, eventually being assigned to the 27th Aero Squadron.
After Rickenbacker with 26 victories, Luke was the second highest ranking American ace who flew for the United States Air Service (USAS). [Note: There were, however, several other Americans who had more victories who flew for the British.] Luke once brought down three German observation balloons within 30 minutes, part of the 14 victories he had in the space of eight days. Eddie Rickenbacker said of Luke: "He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war... No other Ace ... even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that." In the total space of 17 days (September 12 to September 29, 1918), Luke, flying alone or with his wingman Joe Wehner, had a total of 18 victories over the Germans: 14 observation balloons and four airplanes. On his last mission while flying his Spad XIII from Rembercourt, he was shot down in Murvaux and severely wounded. He still managed to shoot it out with Germans on the ground until he was shot and killed. He was 21.
Some pilots preferred to avoid balloons, with their defending clusters of antiaircraft guns and rockets. Not Frank Luke. A roughneck copper miner from Phoenix, Arizona, according to Rickenbacker, he attacked "like a whirlwind with absolute cockiness but with never a thought for his own safety." In one five-day period in September of 1918, he sent eight balloons down in flames. On one evening, under the cover of his wingman and best friend, Joseph Wehner, Luke put on a special show for Rickenbacker. Mitchell and 1st Pursuit commander Harold Hartney. Luke pointed out two balloons on the darkening horizon. Then he took off, set the balloons afire within four minutes of each other-as he predicted he would do-and returned to the field laughing.
Luke once brought down three German observation balloons within 30 minutes, part of the 14 kills he had in the space of eight days while based at Rembercourt. Eddie Rickenbacker said of Luke: “He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war... No other Ace ... even the dreaded Richthofen had ever come close to that." From September 12 to September 29, 1918, Luke, flying alone or with his wingman Joe Wehner, had a total of 18 confirmed victories over the Germans: 14 observation balloons and four airplanes. Unconfirmed he had another 10. Wehner had another six – all of them flying with Luke. Luke threw himself so vigorously into combat that five of his planes had to be written off because of combat damage. In his sixth plane he was killed.
On September 12, Luke got his first confirmed victory – a balloon.
On September 14, he got his second confirmed victory – another balloon.
On September 18, the Germans set a trap for Luke and Wehner. Luke got two balloons and two fighters. Joe Wehner was killed.
On September 26, Luke got another enemy fighter.
On September 28, Luke dove from an altitude of 500 meters to pour both machine guns into a German balloon on the ground at Bethenville. He was successful in destroying it where no one else in his squadron had been able. It was the second to last day of his life.
On his last mission while flying his Spad XIII out of Rembercourt, he was shot down near the tiny village of Murvaux and severely wounded. None of the Americans saw him go down though they saw him set three balloons on fire. He basically just went missing. His commission came through 41 days after he was killed.
Luke did not recover from the loss of his friend. He raised his total kills to 17, but between forays he brooded. Twice he went AWOL to spend the night with friends at a neighboring French airdrome. When he returned, his commanding officer grounded him indefinitely. Luke defied the order by taking off in someone else's Spad, bent on the destruction of more Germans. At a small forward field he stopped to refuel, then headed over the lines, trailed by an order for his arrest.
At sunset a note with a streamer attached arched down onto United States balloon headquarters at Souilly: Look out for three enemy balloons, signed, Luke. While the Americans watched, Luke raced from Dun-sur-Meuse to Briers Farm to Milly, setting off a great blossom of flame at each place. This time it was Frank Luke who did not come back. Wounded while shooting down the second and third balloons, he pressed on to strafe German troops in the streets of a hamlet called Murvaux before setting down his damaged plane. Enemy troops surrounded him. But Luke refused to surrender. He drew his .45-caliber revolver and blazed away until a German rifle bullet brought him down.
The Mayor and other citizens attested to his heroics in the following letter:
We the undersigned, living in Murvaux, Department of Meuse, certify to have seen on 19 September 1918 toward evening an American aviator, followed by an escadrille of Germans in the direction of Liny, descend suddenly, vertically toward the earth, then straighten out close to the ground, and fly in the direction of Briers Farm, where he found a German captive balloon he burned. He flew toward Milly where he found another balloon which he also burned in spite of incessant fire directed toward his plane. He shot down a third balloon and two planes. He apparently was wounded by a shot from rapid-fire cannon. He came back over Murvaux and with his guns killed six German soldiers and wounded as many more. Following he landed and got out of his machine to quench his thirst at the stream. He had gone fifty yards when, seeing the Germans come toward him, he had the strength to draw his revolver to defend himself. A moment after, he fell dead from a serious wound he received in the chest. The undersigned placed the body of the aviator on a wagon and conducted it to the cemetery.
Mayor Auguste Garre
Murvaux, 15 January 1919
Frank Luke was awarded the Medal of Honor. In 1917, the Army put an airfield on Ford Island, at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. This was named Luke Field after Luke's death. This airfield and Hickam Field were hit hard during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941. Later, Luke Air Force Base, 30 miles northwest of Phoenix, was named in his honor. It was opened in 1941 and flies F-16s today. On July 28, 2008, French Rafale fighters deployed to Luke Air Force base to train with the Americans... It was the first time the Rafales have landed in the U.S.
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"American Eagles - The Illustrated History of American Aviation in World War I" ($19.95, paperback, 370 pages, 8.5"x11", black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US) or free download):
American Eagles is packed with 220 photos, new maps and beautiful artwork by Michael O'Neal. It is the story of American World War I combat aviation, the aviators, their planes, their aerodromes, their stories and what happened to them after the war. Read about the first American fighters, bombers and observation planes, the Lafayette Escadrille, United States Naval Aviation, United States Marine Aviation, the United States Air Service, now the USAF, and more.
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"Lafayette Escadrille: America's Most Famous Squadron" ($14.95, 204 pages, digest size, black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US) or free download):
The Lafayette Escadrille is about the brave Americans who volunteered to fly for France and the United States 103rd Aero Squadron during World War I. Read about Raoul Lufbery, Bill Thaw, Kiffin Rockwell, Norman Prince, Charles Biddle and the early days of American World War I military aviation before it was known as the United States Air Force. These men flew Nieuports and Spads against Fokkers and Albatroses. This book has lots of new research and is thoroughly well-documented. 204 pages, 62 photos and maps.
"POW Stories" ($14.95, paperback, 189 pages, 8.5"x11", black and white, $5 for shipping and handling (US)):
POW Stories is a collection of remarkable stories told by men who were once POWs in Germany. Some were in the US Army, others in the United States Army Air Force. This latest revision has real-life stories by Fred Scheer, James Golden, Les Schrenk and many others. All were POWs in Germany during WWII. Jim was a Mustang pilot who was the last Allied pilot shot down on D-Day. Fred escaped twice and was recaptured. He made it out for good on his third escape. And Les survived the brutal German Death March. POW Stories includes many other exhilarating, astonishing and poignant real stories. 189 pages, 35 photos and maps.
"Disaster at Dieppe" ($14.95, paperback, 174 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", 66 photos and maps, $5 for shipping and handling (US)):
The raid on Dieppe, code named Operation Jubilee, was the first invasion/large scale raid, of World War II. Jubilee featured the first use of Rangers, Churchill tanks, tanks in an amphibious assault, P-51s and Typhoons and more. Approximately 6,000 troops were roped into the attack: they included 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British, 50 American Rangers and 24 French light infantry. Poor planning and Murphy's Law led to an 85% casualty rate for the Canadians who landed! It was a rate far, far worse than the 10% suffered by the US Marines at Tarawa in late 1943 or the 15% that would be sustained by the Americans on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. But their sacrifice was not in vain and may have saved 10 times as many lives in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. This is an easy read. At the same time, it is thoroughly documented. Its tables and six page index makes it a great reference book. 174 pages, 5.5" x 8.5", 66 photos and maps.
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Related Links: Quentin Roosevelt | Frank Luke | Eddie Rickenbacker | Raoul Lufbery | Eugene Bullard | David Ingalls - 1st Navy Ace | "American Eagles" - 345 page illustrated history of US Combat Aviation in World War I