Georges Guynemer

Georges Guynemer (December 24, 1894 - September 11, 1917) was a French national hero during World War I, and a top fighter ace at the time of his death.

Early life and military career

Georges Marie Ludovic Jules Guynemer was born to a wealthy Compiègne family and experienced an often sickly childhood. Nevertheless, he succeeded as an aviator through his enormous drive and self-confidence. He was originally rejected for military service, but was accepted for training as a mechanic in late 1914. With determination, he gained acceptance to pilot training, joining Escadrille MS.3 on 8th June 1915. He remained in the same unit for his entire service. He experienced both victory and defeat on the first plane allocated to him, a Morane Saulnier Type 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.

"My most brilliant Stork"

On 5 December 1915, the Escadrille MS.3 was renamed the Escadrille N.3, after being re-equipped with new Nieuport 10 fighters. Flying the more effective plane, Guynemer quickly established himself as one of France's premier fighter pilots. He became an ace by his fifth victory in February 1916, and was promoted to lieutenant in March. At the year's end, his score had risen to 25. Capitaine Brocard, commander of Escadrille N.3 (Storks), described Guynemer at that time as " most brilliant Stork." Less than a year later, Guynemer was promoted to captain and commander of the Storks squadron.

More than 50 victories

On 8 February 1917, flying a SPAD VII, Guynemer became the first Allied pilot to shoot down a German heavy bomber (Gotha G.III). His greatest month was May 1917, when he downed seven German aircraft. At the end of July, he became the first French ace to attain 50 victories. Guynemer was lionized by the French press and became a national hero. The French government encouraged the publicity to boost morale and take the people's minds off the terrible losses in the trenches. Guynemer was embarrassed by the attention, but his shyness only increased the public's appetite to know everything about him. This was quite different later in 1918 with the French top ace René Fonck, who despite having 75 confirmed victories, had bad publicity for his arrogance and shameless self-promotion.

Missing in action

Guynemer failed to return from a combat mission on 11 September 1917. At 08:30, with young pilot Bozon-Verduraz, Guynemer took off in his Spad XIII S.504 n°2. His mission was to patrol the Langemark area. At 09:25, near Poelkapelle, Guynemer sighted a lone Rumpler, a German observation plane, and dived towards it. Bozon-Verduraz saw several Fokkers above him, and by the time he had shaken them off, his leader was nowhere in sight, so he returned alone. Guynemer never came back.

Neither the wreckage of his airplane, his body, nor his personal effects were ever found, but the Germans announced that he had been shot down by Lt. Kurt Wissemann of Jasta 3, who in turn was killed in action 17 days later. French schoolchildren of the time were taught that Guynemer had flown so high, he couldn't come back down again. At the time of his death, he had tallied 53 victories. In all, he survived being shot down seven times, despite not having a parachute. It is not clear if he was killed in the crash of his plane or if he survived, only to be shot on the ground in no-man's land. Some speculate that his aircraft may have been blown apart by artillery shells.

Guynemer's death was a profound shock to France; nevertheless, he remained an icon for the duration of the war. Only 22 at his death, he continued to inspire the nation with his advice, "Until one has given all, one has given nothing."

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