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Gorrell’s History: A Gripping Narrative of Aviation During WWI

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World War I was the first major conflict where airplanes were introduced on the battlefield. Recognizing the significant contribution airplanes made to the war effort, the Assistant Chief of Staff of the Air Service, Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell, wrote a history documenting the contributions of aircraft for use in future conflicts. That history now referred to as “Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service 1917-1919” is a 282-bound volume narrative and is available to view on Fold3. It provides valuable historical insight, first-hand accounts, and pages of Weekly Progress Reports, Cablegrams, Squadron Histories, and more.   

As WWI came to a close, the AEF instructed all Air Service Units to send historical information to Gorrell’s office before returning to the United States. Some squadrons fulfilled the request, while others were anxious to get home saying, “Writing history does not appeal to them.”

The 1st and 8th Aero Squadrons complied with the request and sent a gripping report of their involvement in the Battle of Saint Mihiel, fought September 12-16, 1918. The battle was the first US-led offensive during WWI and the first major usage of the US Army Air Service in wartime.

Lt. Harry D. Aldrich of the 1st Aero Squadron was flying over the front on September 12, 1918. He guided American Expeditionary Forces to enemy positions by reconnoitering the area and then dropping messages to those on the ground. That afternoon, Lt. Aldrich received reports of a German battery delivering heavy fire, but their location could not be ascertained from the ground. Aldrich took to the skies with Lt. David Ker acting as Observer. While flying towards the German gun positions, they were attacked by a patrol of six or seven Fokker airplanes. “Lt. Ker opened fire on them while I put our ship into a spiral,” said Aldrich. “I found that my control wires were shot away and smoke and flames began pouring out of the cockpit. The Germans were following us down.” Observers noted that the burning plane was spiraling out of control, but moments before crashing, the fuel tank exploded. The explosion acted as a cushion and broke the fall of the aircraft.

“I remember nothing more until I woke up in the hospital,” said Aldrich. Lt. Ker was killed in the crash, but Aldrich spent months recovering from two gunshot wounds and severe burns from the crash.

In addition to first-hand accounts from fighter pilots, Gorrell’s History also includes information from the Balloon sections and Photographic sections, where military aerial photography first started during WWI. The AEF also formed a Radio Section to take advantage of this new experimental wartime form of communication.

If you would like to learn more about the history of aviation and other technological advances during WWI, search Gorrell’s History on Fold3 today!

26 Comments

  1. I assume this US history only? I know of only one WWI flyer in the family, and that cousin was a Canadian in the RAF. Another relative was in a machine gun unit on the ground at St Mihiel. Thank you for the heads up!

  2. I had a great uncle that died in WWl. He worked with the 29th engineers doing triangleation to locate enemy big guns firing on our front. There is mention of aerial work also.
    Does this work talk about any aerial reconnisence for gun placements?
    Thanks,
    DG

  3. My grandfather was a pilot in WWI. He was the first one from Arkansas and his local newspaper had an article about him. Since I can’t afford to pay the extra money for Fold3 I won’t be able to see the record. It saddens me.

  4. You are an angel, Jerry Isenhart. I see that an annual membership is $59.95. How about you do half and I do half?

    Jim Rogers, are you part of Fold3 Administration? Can you work that out for Jerry and me, if he is agreeable?

    • Often if you subscribe to Ancestry, FOLD3 access USA discounted. I “discovered” Fold3 in what I think was its inaugural year at the 2012 Roots Tech in SLC, and have been a member ever since
      Judy

    • Jerry Isenhart and Norman Rosenblatt, ❤️ Wow, I love this!
      I for one would like to Thank You for your kindness and generosity!
      My heart just grew a little fatter and got all warm and fuzzy inside. It is
      such a wonderful gift you both are giving to Diane, a random stranger but fellow genealogist. I have heard of these kind gestures on the news before or read about them, after the fact, but this happened right here, as I was reading the article and comments. So very sweet!!
      Thank you again. Jerry and Norman.
      Best of luck to you Diane, I hope you find the article about your grandfather!

    • Wow! I am so humbled by your very generous and most kind action on getting me the membership. I’m sorry this response is so late. I have not been on line in this part of Ancestry since I wrote that note. Please don’t be offended for my delay in responding to your kindness and the heartfelt messages from others on here. I saw in my email that there was a message about this but I didn’t really realize what it was saying and just sped through reading it. I am totally stunned and speechless. More to follow later…Diana

    • Thank you. I am really tongue tied and don’t know what to say except, “Thank you.” Your thoughtfulness is a real tribute to your generosity. I have a picture of him which I will post when I find it…Diana

  5. my uncle Sumner Atherton flew over allusion islands WWII and saved a man, would love membership to Fold3 and other sites ss doesn’t stretch that far. Been searching for information on Moses Baily Wheelock which is grandmothers father who served also served in a branch of the service.

  6. Thank you to our wonderful Fold3 community. I have reached out privately to those wanting to help another member access her grandfather’s records. You are all amazing!

  7. I am helping a friend clean out her house on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Her grandfather was a flyer in WWI and we have found a few great photos and papers (Princeton Aviation Certification or Diploma, pilot and his plane and other pilots standing at the entrance Kaiser’s palace in Koblenz and more). There should be more photos in the house because I saw them 30 years ago including pictures flying over the Rhein, training notebooks. Hoping they were not discarded!

    • Stephen,

      If your friend doesn’t want to keep the WW1 material, the Massachusetts State Archives is probably the best place to donate the collection. http://www.statearchives.us/massachusetts.htm

      I used to work for the Mississippi State Archives and we were always on the look-out for collections about the activities of our state’s residents.

      Please recommend your friend contact them.

      Jim

    • That is a great suggestion. She would love that. I’m still hoping we find his notebook and photos taken while flying from open cockpit (obviously) but thoughtless, clueless people “helping” may have burned them. I arrived late but it was the first thing I told everyone to keep and eye out and do not toss. I got shrugs so I threatened them with an old bayonet. Kills me. Rare, amazing history which so many simply do not appreciate. I will be digitizing the ones I have and am happy to share. I plan on creating a Fold3 page as I have done for my great uncle (B17) and great (2) grandfather’s civil war information and tintype. Happy to send some images of WWI flyer if you are interested. Thank you!

    • Stephen,

      I hope you do turn up the rest of the memorabilia.

      There is no need to send me anything. If you do get an exhibit on Fold3, I ‘d like to know about it so I can take a look.

      Jim

  8. My grandfather, Henry Forster, flew in World War I with the Lafayette Flying Corps. He graduated from Harvard in 1911 and went overseas to train with the British and French. I have a book called “The Lafayette Flying Corps” by Dennis Gordon (Atglen, PA: Schiffer Miitary History, 2000) which describes the Corps and has biographies of 269 US volunteer airmen and gunners. I also have a photo of Grandpa and his plane, along with his British mechanics. Grandpa was one of the few to return home and lived to be 100.

  9. Because my father was in WW1, I have an interest, but he was also part of the units that went to deal with Pancho Villa Mexico boarder threat. I read “The Great Pursuit: Pershing’s Expedition to Destroy Pancho Villa” by Herbert Molloy Mason Jr. There is quite a interesting account of the 1st Aero Squadron flying from San Diego to the boarder action, including loosing most of the Jennys in crashes getting to the assigned locations. They also dropped artillery shells as bombs. If I recall correctly, all sides in the Western Front were loosing more plains each day then the United States owned.

  10. Would like to find Lt Harry D Aldrich’s family info, My grandmother was Rose Aldrich, but have not traced all the Aldrich cousins yet.

  11. A little bit about aviation ground school at Cornell University during WWI https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2015/01/cornell-rewind-great-school-faces-great-war

  12. Hi all,

    All LDS Family History Centre computers have free access for you to Fold3. In fact they have free access to 16 premium genealogy websites.

  13. Amazing to read this article. In Omaka on the South Island of New Zealand there is an air museum, mostly dealing with WW1, one of the exhibits being Eddie Rickenbacker’s flying suit and other memorobilia. It is amazing what they achieved, those flyers over there not in uniform for the US and then later the Army Air Force and later the Air Force.

  14. I am interested in learning more about the training fields (secret training fields) in Texas…does this cover any of that information…preferable in East Texas.

  15. My Grandfather was with the 28th Areo Squadron in France during WW1. I have
    found very little about the 28th before it was changed to the 28th Bomber squadron.
    Does this work give more info on the 28th Areo Squadron? My Grandfather was
    Stanford S. Trilling.

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