Eagle Profile

After his fifth aerial victory, achieved on 31 May 1918, Douglas Campbell became the first American-trained ace during World War I. Born in 1896, he joined the aviation section of the Signal Corps shortly after graduating from Harvard University in mid-1917. Following ground school in the States, Campbell was sent to France for flight training with the American Expeditionary Force. However, once in France he received a disappointing ground assignment, being tasked to help develop the facilities for a new US flying school to train more Americans soon to arrive. After 3 months on the ground, he began flight training during October 1917, and was ready for combat by the following March. He was assigned to fly Nieuport 28s with the famed 94th “Hat-in-the-Ring ” Pursuit Squadron, and sent to the front along with other fledgling aviators like Eddie Rickenbacker.

Led by Major Raoul Lufbery, a veteran of the Lafayette Escadrille, Campbell and Rickenbacker took part in their squadron’s first air patrol over enemy lines on 28 March 1918. It wasn’t until 14 April, however, that the squadron’s combat operations officially began. On the morning of this historic day, Lieutenant Douglas Campbell and fellow pilot Alan Winslow were standing squadron alert at Toul, France, when two German planes were sighted in the area. Both pilots raced to their aircraft and within five minutes Winslow and Campbell had each scored victories–considered by the Air Service to be the first “kills” by members of an American squadron.

For their accomplishment, the French government presented the Croix de Guerre avec palme to both airmen. Engaging up to three aircraft single-handedly, Campbell repeated his winning performance four additional times during May. On 5 June 1918, shortly before his 22nd birthday, Lieutenant Campbell went aloft and achieved his sixth victory. However, just before shooting down the German aircraft, he was himself hit in the back. Although not seriously wounded, he was kept from rejoining his unit prior to the armistice in November 1918. Following the war, he left the Air Service and began working for W.R. Grace and Company, eventually becoming Vice President of the Pan American-Grace Airways.

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1984 Lithograph

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Although the United States had technically been at war for a year by mid-1918, American aviators had to fly French and British aircraft because of the lead time needed to tool-up US factories. The French-built Nieuport 28 was small compared to modern airplanes--the wingspan was some nine feet shorter than that of a Piper Cub--and, equipped with a 150 hp Gnome rotary engine, it was only capable of about 128mph top speed. The Nieuport was nonetheless a very capable competitor. Douglas Campbell's six victories in this aircraft helped the "Hat-in-the-Ring" Squadron accumulate a record of 69 aircraft destroyed in aerial combat--the highest number by any American unit in the war.