The Lafayette Escadrille

1919 Victory Issue
US #537 was issued in 1919 to celebrate the end of World War I.

On March 21, 1916, a group of mostly American pilots formed the Escadrille Américaine.  Later named the Lafayette Escadrille, they flew several high-profile missions that encouraged more Americans to join their ranks.

After World War I began, many Americans wanted to join the war effort.  Among them were Dr. Edmund Gros and Norman Prince.  Gros founded the American Hospital of Paris and the American Ambulance Field Service.  Prince was a pilot flying for France.

2014 Aircraft of WWI Souvenir Sheet
Item #M12336 – Souvenir sheet picturing aircraft of World War I

Prince and William Thaw volunteered to serve in the French Foreign Legion and dreamed of forming a squadron of American pilots to help in the war effort.  With the help of Dr. Gros, they convinced the French government to form a unit of American volunteer air fighters.  They hoped this squadron would convince the United States to join the Allies.

2014 aircraft of WWI sheet
Item #M11406 – Sheet picturing aircraft of World War I

On March 21, 1916, the Escadrille Américaine (Escadrille N.124) was formed.  Command by Captain Georges Thénault, it had seven pilots initially – Prince, Thaw, Victor E. Chapman, Elliot C. Cowdin, Weston Hall, James R. McConnell, and Kiffin Rockwell.  The squadron was soon moved closer to the front.  In December, the name of the unit was changed when Germany accused the US of breaking its neutrality agreement.  The Lafayette Escadrille was named for Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the French and American Revolutions.

1952 Marquis de Lafayette stamp
US #1010 – The escadrille was named for the Marquis de Lafayette, “a hero of two worlds.”

The escadrille consisted of 38 American pilots, with French airplanes, mechanics, uniforms, and commanders.  It first saw action on May 13, 1916, at the Battle of Verdun.  Five days later, Kiffin Rockwell scored the unit’s first aerial victory.  Their first casualty came a month later when Victor Chapman was shot down.  The unit’s highest-scoring ace was Raoul Lufbery, with 16 confirmed victories.

1989 Sitting Bull stamp
US #2183 – The escadrille painted a profile of Sitting Bull on the noses of their planes.

As word spread about the squadron, other Americans were anxious to join.  The Lafayette Flying Corps was formed as part of the French Foreign Legion.  On February 18, 1918, members of the squadron were inducted into the US Air Service’s 103rd Aero Squadron bringing an end to the Lafayette Escadrille.  A total of 224 Americans were part of the unit, with 51 dying in combat and 11 from other causes.  Fifteen were taken as prisoners of war and 11 were aces – having shot down five or more enemy aircraft.

Lafayette Escadrille medal
Item #35333 – Lafayette Escadrille medal with their insignia picturing Chief Sitting Bill.

In 1932, Amelia Earhart was made an honorary member of the escadrille following her famed solo flight across the Atlantic.  The escadrille also participated in World War II.

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6 responses to "The Lafayette Escadrille"

6 thoughts on “The Lafayette Escadrille”

  1. Hello from France,
    A memorial to honor the pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille has been erected in 1928 in a garden park at Marnes-La-Coquette, a city near Paris. The 51 who died are buried there in the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial Cemetery.
    Details on :
    Thank you for the very interesting articles in this series This Day In History.


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