Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Philippe Decock, Patrick Brouckaert & Jacques Vincent
Archives: Coll Serge Van Heertum, Coll Denis Eusicom, Internet for the books - Translation: Marc Arys
Copyright sbap 2017©
 

 
 

Poelkapelle, September 11th, 2017... grey, humid and cold weather in this region of Flanders commemorating the centenary of the passing of French fighter Ace Georges Guynemer. The former disappeared body and soul in the vicinity of this village in the morning of September 11th, 1917. Already 100 years this young lad, as so many others, gave their life to stop the German oppression and give the freedom back to our ancestors.

This ceremony was held in presence of high military representatives from the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) and the Belgian Air Force as well as civil authorities. The bad weather averted the planned fly-past (F-16 and Mirage 2000), so only a sole Seaking, flown in from Koksijde, honoured the memory of Georges Guynemer by flying overhead the monument dedicated to him. The rain did the remainder, flooding the hearts of all gathered, but the duty of his memory was fulfilled. "To Square Up", as was said by this pilot of the "Cigognes" (Storks), was done in his memory and the memory of all others that fought in the air, on the sea or on the ground, during this war, this infamous war, this slaughter which was baptized "la der des ders" (the last of the wars - the final war)... and which it was not!

The ceremony at Poelkapelle was not the only commemoration in rememberance of this Ace. Indeed another ceremony was held at the Luxeuil-Saint Sauveur airbase, home of the Groupe de Chasse 1/2 Cigognes (Fighter Group 1/2 Storks) where the Armée de l'Air tended her homage to this pilot of the SPA 3, gone to soon in the skies of Flanders.
This salute rendered on October 06th, 2017, allowed our team to be part of the official ceremonies and of the aerial demonstrations, presented by the various ambassadors of the Armée de l'Air: the EVAA team, the Rafale solo display and, of course, the Patrouille de France, culminating into the display of the splendid Mirage 2000-5, decorated in memory of Guynemer, imagined by Régis Rocca and accounted for by the artistic "paw" of Seb "Harry" Bault. Once again, a day filled with emotions reflecting on the souvenirs of this great man.

Here you have a little pictural summary of these two days, but first of all let us call back who was Georges Guynemer. An example of strenght of will and courage, who might maybe inspire some young readers.

 
Georges Guynemer and his mecanic Charles Guerder 
in front of his Morane Saulnier Parasol
In company of  his former monitor Antonin Brocard
 

Georges Guynemer was born in Paris on December 24th, 1894. By his mother, Julie Doynel de Saint-Quentin, originally from an aristocratic family, Georges Guynemer was a descendant of the French kings Louis XIII and Louis XIV, through Bathilde d'Orleans (1750-1822), mother of the Duke d'Enghien. In 1903 the family Guynemer settled down in Compiègne, in the l'Oise department.
Baptized on October 27th, 1895, the young Georges Guynemer was not in good health. Only son after two elder sisters, he was skinny and frail. His father, Paul Guynemer (1860-1922), former officer of Saint-Cyr, had to fight for his sick and pampered son to reach adulthood. He studied at the Stanislas College in Paris.
When the war broke out, he went to Bayonne to sign up, but the military doctors found him too stunted and declared him unfit for duty. In despair, he entreated his father to use his military relations... But it was no use! One day, he saw military planes landing at the beach of Anglet and he asked one of the pilots, who he could enlist into aviation: "you have to go to the school at Pau, led by Captain Bernard-Thierry".

On November 22, 1914 he was hired as a student mechanic into the auxiliary service at Pau. He improved his knowledge of aircraft and wanted to become a student pilot, but as personnel of the auxiliary service he was not allowed to fly.
Finally the Captain accepted and Georges Guynemer became a student pilot on January 21st, 1915. Paul Tarascon was put in charge of the training by Captain Bernard-Thierry. Georges Guynemer made his first sortie on Monday, February 01 in a "rouleur Blériot" (Rouleur or ground training aircraft, fitted with clipped wings and a wide-track undercarriage with a pair of forward-projecting skids to prevent nose-overs. Some examples were fitted with a 26 kW - 35 hp - Anzani engine and others with old 37 kW - 50 hp - Gnome engines that were no longer producing their full power output). He made his first flight in a Blériot with a 6 cylinder 50 Hp engine on March 11 and received the certificate of military pilot (n° 1832) on April 26. He joined the Escadrille MS.3 on June 08, 1915, where he remained for his entire service life, until the fatal day...

 
His Nieuport already bore the name "Le Vieux  Charles" in March 1916 August  3th, 1916 after a combat in Barleux area and some damage
to his  Nieuport 17 aircraft
 
Ready for a combat mission in Verdun area in 1916 Posing with his first SPAD XIII aircraft

From his arrival with the Cigognes (Storks), Georges broke a lot of airplanes during landing, which affluently put his commander, Captain Brocard, on the edge. His instructor, Jules Védrines, took up his cause and Georges Guynemer stayed with the "Cigognes". The first plane allocated to him was a Morane-Saulnier L monoplane previously flown by Charles Bonnard, and accordingly named Vieux Charles (Old Charles). Guynemer kept the name and continued to use it for most of his later aircraft.

In June 1915 his was promoted Sergeant and received the Croix de Guerre. His first missions were to observe the movements of the German troops and artillery adjustments. He demonstrated a very high cold-bloodiness, necessary to allow the observer to take pictures in the best possible conditions. His aircraft was often hit by shell fragments and the holes were regularly covered with pieces of fabric painted with 'red' dope (plasticized lacquer). During this period, his squadron was stationed at Vauciennes and quite often he took advantage of his missions to salute his family by flying overhead the house at Compiègne.

July 19th, 1915, saw the first combat victory of Guynemer, flying his Morabne-Saulnier "Parasol". His victim, an Aviatik C.I was shot down overhead the village Septmonts. Two days later he was awarded the military medal (n° 1161 "D") with the following quote:
"A dashing pilot, full of audacity, volunteer for the most dangerous combat missions. After a zealous pursuit, fought a German aircraft which ended in the burning and crash of this latter."

On December 5th, 1915, the MS3 squadron was renamed squadron N3 and re-equipped with Nieuport 10 fighters. Three days later, He earned his third victory shooting down a LVG biplane over Beuvraignes, south of Roye. With these more performing aircraft, Guynemer rapidly imposed himself as one of the best French pilots. President Poincaré awarded him the "Croix de Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur" (Knight's Cross of the Legion of Honour) on December 24th, 1915, day of his adulthood. Mentioned again in the orders of the VI° Army (n° 2209 "D") for having accomplished special missions consisting of landing behind enemy lines. Here is the quote:
"Pilot of great valour, model of devotion and courage. Fulfilled in the last six months, two special missions requiring the biggest spirit of sacrifice and fought thirteen aerial combats of which two ended with the burning and fall of the enemy aircraft.
He became an "Ace" taking his fifth victory on February 23th, 1916 and was temporarily promoted second lieutenant on March 4th, 1916, definitively on April 12 of this same year.

 
Georges Guynemer was the Flag bearer of the first "Aviation Militaire" flag
This formal ceremony was held at Dijon airfield on May 13th, 1916
 "Pilot of great valour", he proudly wears his different decorations
after his 6th victory
July 5th, 1917, during the presentation of the "legion d'honneur" 
by General Franchet d'Espérey at Bonnemaison airfield
 

The squadron left the guardianship of the VI Army on March 12, 1916, for the battle theatre of Verdun under the iron rules of Commander Charles de Tricornot De Rose (also known as Carlo de Rose, regrouping all the fighter squadron with the mission to compel the supremacy of the French wings. On March 13, Guynemer was wounded receiving fragments in the face and two bullets in the arm. He was evacuated to the Astoria Hotel, converted to a hospital, managed by Japanese doctors and nurses...
Second lieutenant Guynemer was back on the frontline on April 26. Some days later, May 13, Georges Guynemer took part in an important military parade during which, as a standard-bearer, he presented to the troups of the 1st Aviation Group a prestigious emblem awarded a few months earlier by the President of the Republic Raymond Poincaré himself: the standard of the Aviation Militaire (Military Aviation).

Afterwards he fought in the vicinity of the Somme from June 1916 till February 1917. Flying his SPAD VII, Guynemer became the first allied pilot to down a heavy bomber Gotha G.III on February 8, 1917. During the month of May 1917; he shot down seven German aircraft. As the Eastern campaign ended, Guynemer joined the field of Bonnemaison and dedicated himself to fine tune his Spad-Canon.

On May 25, 1917, Captain Guynemer shot down four enemies (at 08h.30', 08h.31', 12h.15' and 18h.30'). Commander Brocard, commanding the N3 Squadron, described Guynemer as "his most brilliant stork" and for this fourfold was promoted to officer of the Legion of Honour, by order of the Grand Quartier Générale on June 11, 1917. The "Rosette" was handed over by General Franchet d'Espèrey at the Bonnemaison airfield on July 15, Guynemer standing before his airplane "Vieux Charles". This award had the following quote:
"An A-listed skilled and audacious combat pilot. Having rendered refulgent services to his country be it by the number of victories or by his daily example of his always increasing ardour. Blithesome of the danger, through the effectiveness of his methods and precision of his maneuvers, he became a fearsome adversary for the enemy. Accomplished on May 25, 1917, one of his most brilliant achievements by shooting down two enemy aircraft in just one minute and two more later that same day. Through all his achievements, contributes to uplift the courage and enthusiasm of those, down in the trenches, who witness his triumphs: forty five downed aircraft, twenty citations and two injuries."

 
 
 Some pictures taken by squadron friends in front of his first SPAD VII aircraft A great Ace with an angelic smile
 

From the month of July on, he flew a SPAD XII CI S 382, his "magical aircraft", powered by a Hispano-Suiza of 200 Hp and armed at his request, not with the old Hotchkiss cannon but with a 37mm Semi Automatique Moteur Canon (SAMC) for which 12 shots were carried. The Hispano-Suiza engine had to be geared to allow the gun to fire through the propeller shaft. The aircraft also carried a Vickers 303 (7,7 mm) machinegun with 400 rounds. Although the cannon seemed to be promising a devastating firepower, it coud only fire one round at the time and had to be reloaded manually in flight. Moreover it had important recoil and filled the cockpit with smoke.

The SPAD XII was not an aircraft for unpracticed pilots, however Guynemer show down an Albatros on July 27 overhead Westroosebeke and a DFW reconnaissance aircraft the following day. These two successes allowed him to achieve fifty homologated aerial victories. At the end of July 1917, Guynemer took the command of the Stork Squadron, Fighter Group of the 1st Army. Duty he fulfilled until August 1917.

Strengthened by his combat experience, Guynemer wrote to Louis Béchereau, chief engineer at SPAD, with whom he hobnobbed, to ask him to increase the power of the 150 Hp engine of the SPAD VII. He found this engine not powerful enough to address the German Halbersadt equipping his direct opponents. Considering these remarks, Béchereau equipped a SPAD with a more powerful engine rated at 180 Hp, which gave the air superiority back to the French fighter.
Taking always into account Guynemer's advices, SPAD developed a new model, the SPAD XII, powered by a 200 Hp engine, followed by the SPAD XIII with a turbo-charged engine rated at 220 Hp. The new models were quite promising, but the first examples had some reliability problems with the gearbox needed between the engine and the propeller.

 
 
 Official picture taken in 1915 In front of the Family house after his 43th victory
and two enemy trophies
 

On September 10th, 1917, overhead the field at Moëres, the engine of Guynemer's airplane started to sputter and he was forced to land in Belgium. Luckily the SPAD came to a halt in front of the first hangar, which, a.o. sheltered the Hanriot HD.1 from Willy Coppens. Guynemer, appeared to be tired and asked help from Captain Fernand Jacquet, whom he known very well. Mechanics worked for more than an hour on the mal-functioning engine and Willy Coppens took this to advantage to ask for an autograph of Guynemer. During this time, Carlo Verbessem made one of the last pictures of the famous French pilot and glued it into his logbook (see the book taken from the logbooks of Carlo Verbessem: L'épi mûr). Guynemer thanked the gathering, shaked some more hands and took off around 16h.00'.

On September 11th, 1917, Georges Guynemer did not come back from a combat mission. This September 11, he took off at 08h.30' accompanied by Jean Bozon-Verduraz, flyig his SPAD XIII n° 2S.504. The mission was to patrol the zone at Langemark. At 09h.25', in the vicinity of Poelkapelle, Guynemer spotted a German Rumpler observation aircraft. The aircraft was alone and he dived towards it. Bozon-Verduras then saw multiple Fokkers overhead and once he had scattered them he looked for his leader, but could not find him. He came back to the airfield but Guynemer never did.
Nor his airplane, or his body or personal belongings were found, but the Germans announced he was shot down by Lieutenant Karl Wissean from Jasta 3, who was killed in combat seventeen days later.
Captain Georges Guynemer was declared 'missed in action' by his squadron commander, Commander Brocard. This sad news was officialised by the War Ministry on September 25th, 1917.
The report published on this same day was not classified by the War Ministry and the death of Guynemer, described by his flying comrades (of which the identities were not disclosed for safety reasons) became of common knowledge:
"In the morning of September 11th 1917, Captain Guynemer, on a reconnaissance flight in the Flanders region, found himself, during a pursuit for an enemy aircraft, separated from his wingman and never came back. All our investigational means did not brought back any complementary information."

 
 Georges Guynemer looking the engine problem at Les Moëres airfield September 10th, 1917 the pictures taken by the Belgian's
 This picture became the official souvenir of Georges Guynemer September 10th, 1917, this is probably the last picture from the Ace.
This picture was taken around 6:30 PM by Risacher and show Georges
in company of "Parasol", the dog of Albert Deulin
 
Certain details were provided by Commander Brocard during an interview with the Paris newspaper Le Matin :
"At an altitude of 4.6OO meters, Guynemer saw a enemy two-seat aircraft to which he immediately engaged combat. Almost at the same time, Lieutenant Bozon-Verduraz saw four enemy monoplanes hurrying towards the aerial duel. He flew towards them to divert their attention. The aircraft swirled around for a little time and then they disappeared. Bozo-Verduraz then flew back to where he left Guynemer fighting his opponent, but there was nothing more... This is al there is. It happened 10 kilometers North-East of Ypres and some 8 kilometers into enemy lines, removing every possibility of a crash into the sea, being at least 40 kilometers away."

The Gazette des Ardennes stated on September 27:
"On September 11th, 1917, around 10h.00' in de morning, a French aviator crashed about 700 meters north-west of the cemetery located to the south of Poelkapelle. The German petty officer B... went to the crash scene with 2 men. The aircraft was a single-seater; one wing had broken off. Petty officer B... unbuckled the pilot death in his seat. He received a bullet hit into the head; one leg and one shoulder were broken, but his face was recognizable and was similar to the picture on the identity card with the name Georges Guynemer."

A German pilot, sergeant of the 413rd Regiment, shot down behind the Canadian lines and captured on the evening of September 29, 1917, asserted he witnessed the incident and identified the body of Guynemer. He certified that the French hero died of a bullet in the head and had some other injuries, of which one broken leg and a teared off finger. This soldier also affirmed, the body and airplane of Guynemer had been grinded up by the barrage fire of the British artillery before the Germans could remove the body to be buried. This version seems quite acceptable as the facts were cross-checked by the Department of Foreign Affairs at Berlin, in answer to a request of the Spanish embassy on November 8:

"Captain Guynemer has fallen after an aerial combat on last September 17 at ten o'clock in the morning, next to the cemetery located to the south of Poelkapelle. Following medical findings, death was caused by a bullet in the head; the index finger of the left hand had been torn off. The body could not be retrieved nor buried as from September 10, the location ere he came down was under heavy British artillery fire and every approach to the site during the following days, was impossible.
The competent frontline services communicated that these heavy firing had rattled the search campaign and on September 12, German aviators could not find any trace of the body nor the airplane."

At his death, Georges Guynemer totaled 53 homologated victories and survived being shot down seven times. The various testimonies and the disappearance of every material traces, put a doubt on the real circumstances of his death: killed in mid-air by an enemy bullet, killed when his aircraft crashed or finally jilted by the artillery in the no man's land...

Will we ever know what exactly happened to this exceptional man with the motto "Faire Face" ?

Given the circumstances, doubting is allowed, but he forever will stay a French "Ace" fallen for freedom on our Belgian soil.

 
The 1916 ID card of Georges Guynemer was returned by the Germans to the French authorities in 1938
 

The SPAD of Georges Guynemer:

SPAD S.VII n° 115: coded 2 (red) with on the fuselage the tricoloured stretch of the aces and a red stork "Vieux Charles" - September 1916.

SPAD S.VII n° 254, coded 2 (red) with on the fuselage a red stork "Vieux Charles" from February till July 1917 with which he won 19 homologated victories and 11 presumptive. This airplane was displayed in the Cour D'Honneur (Main Courtyard) of the Hôtel National des Invalides in October 1917 at the announcement of the death of this ace. The aircraft stayed on these premises until 1969, when it was transferred to the Ecole de l'Air at Salon-de-Provence. Since 1987 it is based at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace at Le Bourget.

SPAD S.XII Canon n° 382, coded 2 (black) with on the fuselage a white stork "Vieux Charles" - the "magical aircraft" - July 1917

SPAD S.XIII n° 504, coded 2 (red) with on the fuselage a white stork in a tricoloured stretch "Vieux Charles" - September 1917

 
 A postcard showing Guynemer SPAD VII (254) 
exhibed at the "Hotel des Invalides"
The authentic SPAD VII of Guynemer preserved now at  
the Air & Space museum of Le Bourget (Serge Van Heertum©)
 

French decorations:

- Officier de la Légion d'honneur (Officer of the Legion of Honour)
- Médaille militaire (Military Medal)
- Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 with 26 palms

Foreign decorations:

- Croix de l'Ordre impérial et militaire de Saint-Georges (Cross of the Imperial and Military Order of Saint Georges - Russian Empire)
- Ordre du Prince Danilo Ist (Order of Prince Danilo 1st - Montenegro)
- Officier de l'Ordre de Léopold (Officer in the Order of Leopold - Belgium)
- Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
- Ordre de Michel le Brave (Order of Michael the Brave - Highest Romanian Military decoration)
- Ordre de l'Étoile de Karageorge (Order of the Star of Karageorge - Serbia)
- Distinguished Service Order - DSO (Great-Britain)

 
 Many books and publications are edited to keep the 
French Ace and his history into memories
The first edition of Henri Bordeaux book was edited in 1918
Many reprint were produced (1922 - 1928 - 1929 - 1938 - 1945)
 
Poelkapelle September 11th, 2017
(Philippe Decock©  &  Patrick Brouckaert©)
 
With the Belgian Air Force participation (Patrick Brouckaert©)

 The monument of Poelkapelle (Philippe Decock©) (Philippe Decock©)
 The stork in remembrance of the M.S.3  (Philippe Decock©) (Philippe Decock©)
 (Patrick Brouckaert©) (Patrick Brouckaert©
 The formal ceremony  (Philippe Decock©)
 French and Belgian authorities
(Philippe Decock©)
In presence of French Air Force Chief of Staff, General Lanata
(Philippe Decock©)
 The French Ambassador in Belgium, Mrs Claude-France Arnould
(Philippe Decock©)
The French colours in memory of the Ace
(Philippe Decock©)
In memory of M.S.3 and Georges Guynemer - General Lanata - The enemy of yesterday and friend today
(Philippe Decock©)
 Many remembrance markings (Philippe Decock©) Les Poilus de l'Artois (Philippe Decock©)
 The Vieilles Tiges of Belgium (Philippe Decock©) Legion Scotland, Paesschendaele Branch (Philippe Decock©)
 Jagdt Geschwader 71 "Richtofen" 
(Philippe Decock©)
General Major Avi F. Vansina in name of Belgian King Philippe I
(Philippe Decock©)
 (Philippe Decock©)
 Young and old for memory of the past  (Philippe Decock©) We will never forget, even we young people (Philippe Decock©)
 The Belgian Seaking dropping some rose petals  (Philippe Decock©) Back to base (Philippe Decock©)
 Exhibition in the church near the monument: Morane Saulnier Parasol
(Philippe Decock©)
Fokker DR.1
(Philippe Decock©)
 
 Luxeuil - Saint Sauveur October 6th, 2017
(Jacques Vincent©)
 
 In the storks den...
 Sopwith Pup replica Nieuport 17/23 replica
 SPAD VII replica Leon Bollée G3 from 1912
 When the past meet the present for posterity
 The "French Poilus" of the Great War
 Ready for the formal ceremony

 Arrival of the "2ème Escadre" flag
 
 
  Mirage 2000-5F fly pass
 
 The ambassadors presentation: Socata TB-30 Epsilon The 2-EJ in memory of Georges Guynemer
 
 
 Superb design from Régis Rocca "Vieux Charles" same as Georges Guynemer aircraft
 Capitaine Alexandre Orlowski from the EVAA
 
  Jean-Guillaume "Marty" Martinez and the Rafale solo display
 
 
 
 
 The final with the "Patrouille de France"
 
 
 
 
 
 

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