As a freshly minted lieutenant in the Twelfth Aero Squadron, Robert Paradise took to the sky as one of the Army Air Service’s early aerial observation pilots.
In late 1917, exhausted by three years of trench warfare, the Allies and Central Powers still faced each other across the Western Front in a futile stalemate. It had become a war of attrition. Manpower, not maneuver, was the key to success, and both sides were running out of fodder for their guns. Two events had recently occurred, however, to shift the equilibrium: the capitulation of post-revolutionary Russia and the entry of the United States into the war. The Germans, no longer concerned with the Eastern Front, were able to shift almost 60 divisions to the west in preparation for a great spring offensive. This drive was designed to secure victory before an overwhelming stream of young and enthusiastic American soldiers irrevocably shift ed the balance in favor of the Allies. By summer, Americans only recently in uniform were arriving in France at the rate of a quarter million a month. Some, however, were already there, among them Robert Paradise, a 23-year-old Yale undergraduate who had volunteered to be an ambulance driver with the French army. As he sailed from New York on the old passenger vessel SS Chicago in the spring of 1917, he began to keep a journal. In it he recorded the war as he experienced it, first as a noncombatant and subsequently as a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Service’s Twelfth Aero Squadron. The Twelfth was an observation squadron, and with it he fought in the major American battles of 1918. This article is based on Paradise’s journal and contains heretofore unpublished excerpts and photographs from his diary.
The ambulance detachment’s arrival in Paris coincided with Germany’s resumption of unrestricted U-boat warfare, which had as a consequence America’s declaration of war on April 6, 1917. Five days later, hastened by urgent requests from the government, the Chicago contingent of ambulance drivers set out for the front. Happy to serve as a noncombatant while America was at peace, Paradise sought more active service now that his country was at war. Reluctant to return to America for training, he believed that either Britain’s Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Artillery would provide more immediate action. His superiors, however, refused to release him, pointing out that he had promised six months to the Ambulance Service. They threatened him with a dishonorable discharge if he failed to fulfill his commitment.
Paradise settled down to noncombatant duty and, as the summer drew to a close, was made head of his section and earned the Croix de Guerre for his courage under fire. But as soon as his six months of service in the Ambulance Service was completed, and despite strong pressure to stay on, he decided to join the American Army Air Service, choosing it because “of the romance and chivalry and cleanliness of air fighting, the opportunity for personal initiative and freedom, and the appeal of being able to sail through the great expanse of the sky….” In October 1917, together with 70 other flying cadets, Paradise was ordered to Tours, where training by the French instructors in Caudron G.3s began immediately. Paradise recalled the moment of joy and fright as he climbed into the plane for the first time. It was a slow ship, capable of only 60 mph, but to him it was a marvel of workmanship and speed. He soloed after four and a half hours and continued onto the next stage of training when, to his chagrin, the easygoing French were replaced by American officers who enforced strict military discipline. Moreover, the cadets were moved across the base to half-constructed quarters with nothing in the way of amenities. It was now November 1917, and the students occupied windowless rooms under leaky roofs, sleeping in all their clothes and under every blanket they could muster to ward off the cold. The weather was too bad for flying and enforced idleness combined with unnecessarily strict discipline led to considerable discontent. The YMCA, staffed by young American girls, provided the one bright spot in the cadets’ otherwise dreary lives.
After a miserable Christmas, the weather improved and training resumed. The final test before graduating from Caudrons and earning their wings was a 30-mile-long triangular cross country flight. Paradise got lost during his first attempt and suffered an engine failure followed by a forced landing during the second. Despite the mishaps, his performance sufficiently satisfied his instructors, and on March 4, 1918, he left Tours proudly wearing his aviator wings.
Issouden, where the American fliers received their final training, was a welcome improvement. The barracks were light and airy, the food plentiful and good, and the YMCA and Red Cross provided welcome amenities. The Nieuports used for advanced pursuit pilot training were very different from the Caudron G.3s. The Nieuports ‘ controls were delicate, and the plane was easy to spin. Flying them required very precise coordination. As training progressed the students continued with Nieuports, but in a series of different types whose progressively shorter wingspans provided more performance and required more skill. It was a shorter-winged Nieuport that foiled Paradise ‘s ambition to be a pursuit, or fighter, pilot: During a proficiency test he landed heavily, and the plane ended up on its nose. Rather than be forced out of fighter training, Paradise volunteered for the less glamorous task of artillery observation. He left Issouden on mid-summer’s day 1918 and a week later joined the Twelfth Aero Squadron, moving up to the front with the unit a few days later.
By the time the United States entered the war, aviation had become well-established on the Western Front. In 1918 the air service of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) performed three main functions: pursuit, bombing, and observation. The pursuit mission was twofold: preventing enemy observers from operating over Allied lines, and interdicting enemy fighters over their lines so that friendly reconnaissance could be conducted undisturbed. Bombing was mainly tactical, although both sides had made some moves toward strategic air offensives. Observation plane crewmen acted as the eyes of the generals on the ground, bringing back information about the progress of battles, the effects of friendly artillery, and enemy troop dispositions. Visual and photographic reports were delivered with remarkable speed considering the distances involved.
In the second half of 1918, these reports were critically important, as the war on the Western Front was finally becoming mobile. In this fluid tactical situation, observation planes were often the only reliable means for headquarters to communicate with their rapidly advancing infantrymen. Wireless communication was unreliable, couriers were slow, and telephone lines were often severed. Observation planes could be sent to find advanced units, check their positions, deliver orders, and report back to the field command.
Although it was the fighter pilot who received most of the public recognition and the lion’s share of decorations, pursuit squadrons existed primarily to permit observation planes to go about their work. Indeed, fighter pilot Cecil Lewis, in his memoir Sagittarius Rising, marveled at the courage of the observation crews: “To fly on a straight line, taking photos of the enemy trenches, an easy [anti-air craft] target, within range of the ground machine guns, bumped by the eddies of passing shells and pestered by enemy scouts, that required nerve. And it would have to be done twice a day, day after day, until you were hit or went home.”
Between March 21 and June 6, 1918, German Field Marshal Erich Ludendorff launched three major attacks directed principally at the British, hoping to defeat them before the Americans could gain a foothold. The last of these, a diversionary attack in the Champagne sector, ground to a halt less than 60 miles from Paris, creating a deep bulge in the Allied lines whose most southerly point, a small yet strategic town on the Marne River called Chateau-Thierry, was defended by the newly arrived U.S. Second Infantry Division. The bulge’s most significant feature, the ancient city of Reims, became the principal objective of Ludendorff’s fourth and final offensive. The assault, a flanking movement from the north, was launched on July 15. Within three days, however, the field marshal’s hopes were shattered. In an amazing shift, Ludendorff suddenly found the Allies newly reinforced, vigorous, and striking back.
Coincidentally, the Allied army commander, French Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch, also chose July 15 as an opportune moment to launch his own attack on the same bulge. American troops, taking the offensive in strength for the first time, fought across the open fields in front of Chateau-Thierry for the next three days with scant regard for life or safety. The Germans, shocked by the intensity of the Allied counteroffensive, realized that with the full involvement of America’s nearly unlimited manpower resources, defeat was almost certain. Air reconnaissance soon found the German army in full retreat.
As a newly minted observation pilot, Paradise was playing his part in the great American counteroffensive. The AEF’s First Corps Observation Group was formed in April 1918. Consisting of three squadrons–the First, Twelfth, and Eighty-eighth–it was originally based in the relatively quiet Toul sector, where it had received its initial exposure to operational flying conditions. In early July the First and Twelfth squadrons were transferred to the Marne sector, where they were to fly from a large, recently harvested wheat field some 34 miles behind the front lines. They were assigned to duty with the American First Army Corps, whose First and Second divisions were then defending the western side of the Chateau-Thierry salient.
As Paradise arrived at his new squadron, two planes crashed on landing, and he wondered how he would fare if such experienced pilots had difficulty getting down without accident. In fact, the Twelfth Squadron had just received French-built Salmson 2 A2s, which had a very fast landing speed. Because the field was small and rough, accidents were common.
The single-engine, two-seat Salmson observation planes had entered American service in April 1918. Said to be the last word in French airplane construction, the Salmson 2 A2 was described affectionately by its crews as the “Queen of the Air.” The plane had a top speed of 115 mph at 6,500 feet, and its armament consisted of two forward firing Vickers machine guns and two Lewis machine guns that could be trained from the rear cockpit.
Despite its speed and armament, there were certain drawbacks to the Salmson. The observer was positioned about five feet behind the pilot, which made communication between the two difficult. Like other contemporary aircraft, the Salmson carried no blind-flying instruments. Although a magnetic com pass gave a general indication of direction, nothing provided a pilot flying through a cloud with any sense of which way up he was. The crew of the fragile craft had no armored protection, and some furnished their own by placing steel stovetops on their seats. While this improvised armor provided some sense of security, it also became exceedingly uncomfortable on long missions. There were no parachutes.
Moving the flight controls often required considerable effort, and the plane lacked any form of trim control to ease the pressure on stick or rudder. Goggles, which soon became covered with a fine spray of engine oil, impeded rather than helped visibility. Aviators would therefore often take off their goggles when they leaned out of their cockpits into the stiff wind to perform reconnaissance, leading to strain and sometimes damage to their eyes. All of this, added to the constant stress of combat, meant that severe fatigue was a regular problem for aircrews.
Paradise’s first mission with his squadron was an eventful one. He had barely left the ground when his engine failed. He managed to struggle back to the field, tested the motor, and decided to try again. Once more the engine died, this time too far from the landing field to return, and he selected a nearby wheat field in which to land. The plane flipped over and ended up on its back. Paradise saw his observer fly over his head during the crash. Disentangling himself, Paradise ran over to find the man sitting up and rubbing his head while thanking him for saving his life. An ambulance took the two lucky men back to their base.
American aviation strength at Chateau Thierry consisted of 100-plane pursuit group, three corps of observation squadrons with 24 planes each, and part of a night reconnaissance squadron. Air activity prior to the German offensive had been intense. Braving adverse weather, observation planes kept the front lines under constant surveillance, returning with valuable information concerning the probable direction and extent of the German assault. Many photographic missions were flown. German fighter planes, meanwhile, were out in force, attempting to prevent the American patrols from discovering the locations of troops, ammunition, and supply dumps. Attacks by hostile pursuit planes were frequent and persistent, and observation crews learned from experience that their own guns often provided better security than did friendly fighters. Anti-aircraft fire at Chateau-Thierry was accurate, severe, and continuous. Conditions were described as the most desperate that American pilots faced at any time during the war. Paradise recorded the first day of the Allied offensive:
By this time I had picked out an Observer, Burdette Wright, and we were beginning to specialize in infantry contact work. This was perhaps the most dangerous and important work in aviation, for it meant keeping in contact with our front line troops regardless of all difficulties…often, when all other communications were broken the aeroplane was the only means of contact left. Our work was made particularly difficult by the fact that American infantry had received little or no training for liaison with aviation, and when we signalled to them we generally got no response. This necessitated our flying at an altitude low enough to distinguish the uniforms of our troops, and then flying over the German lines to prove that we had located our own front lines…. I knew that we were under fire. It was a sickening feeling, for we could see nothing of those shooting at us, and yet we could hear the rapid drum of fire coming from all sides. I twisted and dodged as best I could, but it was a new game and we considered ourselves lucky when we reached home and found only six bullet holes in the plane.
Throughout the offensive, American observation planes continued attempting to regulate artillery fire while monitoring enemy movements and keeping commanders informed of Allied troop dispositions. As the war became more mobile, however, artillery observation was increasingly difficult. Battery positions changed frequently, enemy gunfire cut telephone and telegraph wires, and radio was unreliable. Gunners were ill-trained and poorly equipped to work with aircraft. Photography played a less significant role, and it became more important to simply know where the front line was. Locating the front required frequent low-level missions. These missions, in turn, drew significant amounts of friendly fire. Ground troops, insufficiently trained in working with aircraft, tended to fire on anything that appeared overhead. Unreliable communications also continued to plague American air operations. Telephone service between the air service and the infantry divisions broke down completely, and the only effective liaison with advancing troops was by personal visits between units. Weather also continued to hamper the missions. Nevertheless, results throughout the campaign were considered excellent. Although by July 18 Allied victory was apparent, fighting in the Chateau-Thierry salient continued until early August. Even after the height of the offensive, Paradise wrote that the anti-aircraft fire remained heavy:
On August 11 Burdette and I made our final trip over the lines at Chateau-Thierry and experienced the fiercest anti-aircraft of our flying career. Up to that time I had felt nothing but contempt for anti-aircraft guns but on this mission their marksmanship was excellent, and I was surrounded by bursting shells in spite of everything I could do…. I endured hostile gun fire many times in later days, but I never experienced a more severe bombardment than this one. Anti-aircraft fire never disturbed me a great deal, but I always felt a sensation of surprise and curiosity when the black balls of smoke broke from the seemingly empty air.
Paradise and Burdette were commended for gallantry in the Chateau Thierry action, and on August 12 the squadron was relieved and given time to rest and recuperate. According to Paradise, the rest was sorely needed:
We were tired and needed utter relaxation, for we were all thoroughly exhausted by our efforts…. The Squadron had gradually dwindled down to six pilots which was hardly a third of our quota, and if we had not been sent to the rear for replacements when we were I believe the Squadron would have had to cease operations, for those of us who had been through it all had almost reached the point of mental and physical exhaustion. Burdette and I alone had flown more than 30 hours over the lines, and most of that was at an altitude of less than five hundred feet…. Most of us desired nothing better than to rest and so we lay on the grass all day long, and read and wrote, and played the phonograph or just slept.
The Twelfth Squadron rested while the British continued to press the enemy in the north, making significant advances against a still-stubborn foe. In the meantime, the Americans prepared for their next major offensive.
From the time the line along the Western Front had solidified in 1914, there existed a troublesome bulge in the line just south of Verdun whose westernmost point was at Saint-Mihiel. Even before his successful operation at Chateau Thierry, AEF commander General John Pershing had his eye on this disturbing flaw in the Allied line. By late August, both British Field Marshal Douglas Haig and Foch were anxious to put the burgeoning American strength in France to use in support of their own offensives. To Pershing, on the other hand, Saint Mihiel represented an opportunity to test the AEF’s leadership in a major offensive of its own.
His plan was an extremely ambitious one, especially for an untried army: to wipe out the Saint-Mihiel salient and then move the bulk of his forces 60 miles westward to the Argonne, where he would launch a second offensive. Two major attacks within 24 days of each other might have challenged the capacity of any field commander, let alone one whose staff and army had yet to be tested as an independent unit.
Colonel William “Billy” Mitchell, who was in overall command of the Allied air forces for the Saint-Mihiel operation, controlled 1,481 planes, including 701 pursuit planes, 366 observation planes, 323 day bombers, and 91 night bombers. Italian, Portuguese, British, and French air units subordinated themselves to the Americans, despite the fact that Mitchell and his staff had no prior experience handling an air force of such size.
New airfields had to be constructed and squadrons assembled. Air service plans, complex in themselves, had to be dovetailed into those of the infantry, artillery, and supporting services. The air service would take care of two very different requirements. First, they had to allocate aircraft to regulate artillery, cooperate with infantry during the attack, and protect Allied aircraft and troops. Second, the air wing needed a strategic reserve that could undertake independent pursuit and bombardment missions, maintain overall air superiority, and prevent enemy aircraft from observing and harassing friendly troops.
Mitchell divided his air force into three groups: Five hundred planes were allocated to the ground forces and five hundred were allocated to each side of the salient. Enemy aircraft were thus restricted inside the V of the salient, their rear never safe from incursions on their flanks. Allied air superiority was obtained almost from the beginning of the battle and maintained consistently thereafter, with large German losses. His strategic reserve allowed Mitchell to commit a large number of planes without detracting from the cooperation with the infantry.
During the preparations, there was constant demand for photographs of the prospective battlefield. Paradise flew a mission a couple of days before the start of the offensive:
I settled back in anticipation of a most enjoyable flight knowing that because of our height we had nothing to fear from ground machine gun fire, but the Huns had a different kind of welcome for us which was almost as annoying as machine gun fire. We had hardly set our course and begun to take the photographs when all the anti-aircraft guns in the surrounding country opened up, and in a few moments we were completely surrounded by a circle of black smoke. As… the grind of exploding shells became louder and louder I began to feel decidedly nervous, but as I could neither change direction nor lose altitude without spoiling our pictures I was helpless. We drove through this ring of fire three or four times and by some miracle came out untouched… we hopped over more trees and houses than ever before on the way home because of the joy in our hearts. It was very good to be alive.
Allied observation planes were deployed over the battlefield to a depth of some eight miles, reporting enemy troop movements, controlling artillery fire, and taking photographs. The reconnaissance aircraft were in turn protected by a wall of pursuit planes that covered the same area of the battlefield from the ground to a height of sixteen hundred feet. Communications between the various ground forces was maintained by liaison planes, which flew through artillery barrages at heights from 50 to 300 feet.
According to Paradise, the flying conditions encountered by Allied pilots were not ideal on the first day of Pershing’s great offensive:
It was dark and the chill of early morning permeated our fur lined flying suits, and a cold mist promised a poor flying day…we left the ground as the first haze of morning broke over the sky. A broken layer of clouds hung so close to the ground that I had to fly through these on our way to the front…. The batteries extended back from the lines for several kilometers, and as we passed over them the gas and heat from the exploding muzzles made the plane almost unmanageable and several times I thought I had lost control….
Although air missions continued after the first day of the offensive, the American advance was so rapid that activities other than general reconnaissance missions were greatly reduced.
To take advantage of the failure of Ludendorffs last desperate offensive, the Allies next contemplated a vast pincer movement. Haig’s British troops would advance in a southeasterly direction against the well-fortified Hindenburg Line, stretching north-south between Ypres and Soissons. At the same time, American and French forces would attack in a northerly direction through the heavily forested Meuse-Argonne area east of Verdun.
The attack began on the morning of September 25 with a three-hour artillery barrage, By the afternoon of the 26th the U.S. forces were well beyond their designated objectives and appeared to have broken completely through the German defenses in several places. The advance continued on the 27th and, despite growing signs of fatigue among his troops, Pershing continued to force the pace. Paradise recalled the chaos among the German formations:
The roads were jammed with German infantry running north as fast as they could go. They were a miserable terror-stricken lot evidently with but one thought in life–their own personal safety. Every now and then a gun dashed up the road scattering the infantry to the right and left with the drivers leaning far forward over their horses’ necks lashing them into a mad fury, and with the gunners clinging desperately to the caisson with their dirty green overcoats flying far out behind them. I… swooped down beside a fast disappearing gun and watched Burdette reduce it to a mass of dying horse flesh. It was a cruel thing to do, and I found no pleasure in the death of six powerful horses, but it was a means to an end putting one gun out of action and effectively blocking the road.
The fighting grew increasingly vicious as the Germans moved additional troops into the battle, but Pershing, continuing to press with his troops already engaged, used his three fresh reserve divisions to intensify the assault and drive a deep salient into the enemy’s lines. Except for a respite in late October, fighting continued until early November, by which time progress was rapid and German resistance light.
While Americans still possessed air superiority during the Meuse-Argonne campaign, its margin was less than had been the case at Saint-Mihiel. The Germans had concentrated numerous aircraft in the Verdun area during the earlier attack and these, now available for defense on the Meuse-Argonne sector, were reinforced during the battle by several more crack squadrons. Fewer Allied aircraft were available to support the American squadrons, which meant that Mitchell, now promoted to brigadier general, commanded only 831 planes at the Argonne, significantly fewer than at Saint-Mihiel. Moreover, the shape of the new front was such that it was extremely difficult to keep enemy aircraft from penetrating the flanks. Finally, the terrain offered poor airfield facilities, which, together with limited gasoline supplies, restricted the flying time of the American aircraft. Fog and rainy weather further hampered air operations, although it provided a welcome hindrance to German fighter attacks. Nevertheless, given the heavily wooded nature of the country and the lack of roads, Pershing relied on air observation to locate the enemy, keep track of friendly units, and deliver the orders necessary to keep his various units coordinated. The conditions in the Argonne challenged Paradise like never before:
When the attack started we found that our flights during the Chateau-Thierry and Saint Mihiel battles were as nothing compared to those over the Argonne. During the summer months the weather had been almost perfect for flying, but for week after week of the struggle in the Argonne we flew almost daily in the midst of blinding rainstorms which were often mixed with sleet and hail. This necessitated flying at an extremely low altitude in the face of a far more effective ground fire than we had ever experienced before, and with the constant danger of a forced landing in a country which was either densely wooded or run through by trenches and barbed wire. It was not a pleasant time at best, but the experience in low flying we had gained at Chateau Thierry did much to simplify our task.
A new technique, known as cavalry reconnaissance patrols, required observation planes to fly at very low altitude immediately in front of the advancing infantrymen that they could drop messages pointing out the location of machine-guns and other obstacles. These patrols frequently expanded their traditional role to include machine-gun attacks on the enemy. Paradise described his harrowing experiences during such a patrol:
As we approached Varennes we saw a little group of Americans lying behind a road bank, while facing them on the opposite side of the road were the Germans well protected by their trenches…. As soon as we began to circle…the Huns started to fire upon us from the ground, and we went through as ugly an experience as I’ve ever known in my life. From all sides we could hear the rat-tat-tat of machine guns, and from half a dozen different places could see long streamers of white smoke from the German thirty-seven millimeter guns come twisting and tumbling up at us….We were in a dangerous position, and I hesitated about staying in it, but when I turned to get Burdette’s opinion I saw him hanging over the side as far as his belt would allow…perfectly oblivious to anything….I tried every trick I knew, side stepping, skidding, diving and banking, but when I saw long caterpillars of flaming fire come drifting up at us I knew that I could not escape this triple attack much longer.
These caterpillars of fire were called flaming onions, and were used in the hope of setting fire to the fabric of the ship…. we had two alternatives, that of leaving our troops to their own fate, or of attacking the Huns ourselves. Burdette, of course, said attack, as I turned the nose down, and dove upon them at a speed of almost one hundred and eighty miles per hour kicking the rudder and firing both guns. Kicking the rudder sprayed my bullets over a large surface, and made us hard to hit, for it prevented the plane from going in a straight line. As I swooped up at the end of my drive Burdette turned and poured a double stream of explosive bullets at the Huns until I had gained sufficient altitude to dive again. I know of no such glorious exhilaration as diving against hostile troops with all the tremendous speed of an aeroplane and with a stream of fire pouring out of the guns in front of me. It gives me a feeling of power and danger and irresistible force such as few people experience. After diving four or five times all fire against us ceased, and we saw our troops dash across the road into the German trenches; so we much have been of some aid.
Well-hidden heavy gun emplacements often could only be detected by observation planes flying low enough to draw enemy fire and spot the muzzle flash the planes’ normal operating altitude, artillery barrages and heavily concentrated machine-gun fire continually threatened the observation craft. Paradise and Burdette were among those shot down, fortunately within gliding distance of friendly lines. But many of their friends were less fortunate:
A number were killed, but we made it a practice to meet each evening as usual and to act as much as possible as if nothing unusual had occurred. It seemed hard and callous, especially as the list of our fallen comrades grew, but it was our only protection. We did not dare to mourn for our friends, because our own fate was too uncertain, and we needed all the nerve and courage we possessed.
By October 7, although the war still had more than a month to run, the Central Powers had finally recognized their impossible situation. Their allies collapsing around them, the Germans were at last seeking peace terms. Intense fighting continued, however, and on October 8, Paradise and Burdette undertook their nineteenth infantry-contact mission more, they believed, than had been achieved by any other American pilot observer team:
The Twelfth Squadron had specialized in that work, which was generally conceded, except by pursuit pilots, to be the most dangerous and arduous type of flying done on the front….We knew the approximate location of the lines, because for several days the fighting had raged for the possession of a road running just south of Grand Pre, and the lines had shifted but a few hundred feet each day as the road was captured, lost and recaptured again and again. On this particular day the Americans were in possession of the road, but we saw the Germans less than a hundred yards away standing in shell holes with water covering them almost to their armpits, and they were leaning forward watching the road intently with their rifles resting on the ground before them. We circled the lines once or twice, and then Burdette fired his Very pistol as a signal to our troops but it failed to explode. He worked over it a minute or two, and then I saw him lean far over the side of the plane , and in a fit of temper throw it at the head of the nearest German.
Almost immediately as if in retaliation I heard the familiar rat-tat-tat of machine guns, and then the jar of bullets hitting the plane, and the sharp sting of splinters as they flew in my face. I thought that our turn to go West had come at last, for we were over hostile territory, the Germans had found our range, and quick maneuvering was difficult. But I threw the plane onto its side. and in spite of its poor balance I escaped without injury to ourselves or vital harm to the plane. As our work was as yet incomplete it was necessary to return again to the lines and as heavy black clouds were rolling in on all sides there was no time to be lost. So although I dreaded it as I had never dreaded anything before I took the bit in my teeth and made seven trips across the lines before Burdette was satisfied with the results. Even then he was not pleased but by that time I was physically exhausted, and he was violently airsick. As we turned towards home the clouds closed in upon us, and we ran through five rain storms and a hail storm before reaching the field. The plane danced through the storms sometimes falling many feet with a sickening thud, and sometimes whirled aloft like a dying leaf as the force of the wind hit it, and the hail and rain beat back on our faces blinding us and cutting like steel.
I crouched low in the cockpit in despair of ever reaching home, and when at last the field lay below us my relief was so great that I landed carelessly, and broke both wheels and my landing gear. A fitting ending to a rotten day. Upon examining the plane we found my mirror shot away, two bullet holes less than three inches from my head, one in the main spar, and one in the wing. That made the seventh time that our plane had been hit, and it was perhaps the closest call of all. Our mechanics were exceedingly proud of these bullet holes, and looked with scorn upon their less fortunate companions.
The American offensive was continuing successfully when the Armistice went into effect on November 11, 1918. During this last offensive American observation planes flew 265 missions in support of the artillery and 500 infantry-contact patrols. They took 18,000 photographs. Pershing cited both Paradise and Burdette for their part in that effort.
It is perhaps not surprising, given his experiences during 1918, that after completing occupation duty in Germany, Paradise did not return to undergraduate life at Yale. However, in 1924 he was granted a Bachelor of Arts degree, honoris causa. MHQ
MICHAEL H. COLES is a Visiting Fellow at the department of International Security Studies at Yale University and a former Royal Navy pilot. The author wishes to thank Leslie Paradise Collins for use of her father’s journal.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2001 issue (Vol. 13, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Pershing’s Eyes in the Sky
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