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Name: Willy Omer François Jean Coppens de Houthulst
Order of Leopold II
Order of the Crown
Croix de Guerre with 27 Palmes & 13 Lion Vermeils
Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur
Willy Coppens Order of the White Eagle
Distinguished Service Order (DSO)
Military Cross (MC)
Croix de Guerre
Country: Belgium Balloon-Buster
Rank: Major
Service: Belgian Air Service
Escadrilles: 1ère, 4me, 6me, 9me
Victories: 37
Born: 06 July 1892
Place of Birth: Watermaal-Bosvoorde
Died: 21 December 1986
Place of Death: De Panne
Cemetery: De Panne
 
 
Willy Omer François Jean Coppens de Houthulst joined the army in 1912 and served with the 2nd Grenadiers before he transferred to the Compagnie des Aviateurs in 1915. At his own expense, he and thirty nine other Belgians enrolled in a civilian flying school at Hendon, England. After additional training in France, Coppens began flying two-seaters in combat during 1916. The following year, he was assigned to single-seat fighters and soon became an expert at shooting down enemy observation balloons. After downing a balloon, Coppens would often perform aerial acrobatic displays above the enemy. On one occasion, the balloon he was attacking shot upward and Coppens actually landed his cobalt blue Hanriot HD.1 on top of it. Switching off his engine to protect the propeller, he waited until his aircraft slid off the top of the balloon, then restarted the engine and watched as the German balloon burst into flames and sank to the ground. On the morning of 14 October 1918, his days as a fighting pilot came to an end near Thourout in northwestern Belgium. Just as he began the attack that would culminate in his 37th victory, Coppens was hit in the left leg by an incendiary bullet. Despite a severed artery and intense pain, he shot down his target and managed to crash land within the safety of his own lines. His badly shattered leg had to be amputated. Nevertheless, Coppens set a parachute jump record in 1928, which he held until 1932, jumping from an altitude of about 19,700 feet. Before he retired from the army in 1940, Coppens served as a military attaché in France, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland.

"When we left Hendon [England], we did not even know that one had to land head to wind!" 1 Willy Coppens

"You must take the war to the enemy. You must attack and go on attacking all the time." Willy Coppens

1 Willy Coppens, Days on the Wing (New York: Arno Press, 1980) 18.
 
Victories
Date Time Unit Aircraft Opponent Location
1 25 Apr 1918 1220 9me Hanriot HD.1 Scout St. Joris
2 08 May 1918 0710 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Zarren
3 08 May 1918 0955 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Houthulst
4 15 May 1918 0807 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Houthulst
5 19 May 1918 0945 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Houthulst
6 05 Jun 1918 0640 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Houthulst
7 09 Jun 1918 0922 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Zonnebeke
8 10 Jun 1918 0747 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Ploegsteert
9 24 Jun 1918 0645 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Warneton
10 24 Jun 1918 0646 9me Hanriot HD.1 Hannover CL Ploegsteert
11 30 Jun 1918 0630 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Bovekerke
12 30 Jun 1918 0830 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Gheluvelt
13 30 Jun 1918 0834 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Passchendaele
14 14 Jul 1918 0930 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Passchendaele
15 16 Jul 1918 1855 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Bovekerke
16 19 Jul 1918 1920 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Ruyterhoek
17 20 Jul 1918 0557 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Houthulst
18 22 Jul 1918 0730 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Gheluwe
19 22 Jul 1918 0731 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Wervicq
20 22 Jul 1918 0734 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Comines
21 24 Jul 1918 1920 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Ruyterhoek
22 03 Aug 1918 0750 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Reutel
23 10 Aug 1918 0605 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Leffinge
24 10 Aug 1918 0625 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Ruyterhoek
25 10 Aug 1918 0745 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Leffinge
26 24 Aug 1918 1455 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Ploegsteert
27 24 Aug 1918 1457 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Warneton
28 03 Sep 1918 1102 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Tenbrielen
29 04 Sep 1918 0923 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Wercken
30 27 Sep 1918 1105 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Leffinge
31 27 Sep 1918 1106 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Leffinge
32 29 Sep 1918 1005 9me Hanriot HD.1 Two-seater Leffinge
33 02 Oct 1918 1520 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Leffinge
34 03 Oct 1918 0814 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Lendeleede
35 05 Oct 1918 0820 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Cruypenaerde
36 05 Oct 1918 0600 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Praatbos
37 14 Oct 1918 0605 9me Hanriot HD.1 Balloon Torhout
 
Books
Days on the Wing
Memoirs of Major the Chevalier Willy Coppens de Houthulst / Hardcover / Ayer Co Pub 1931
Above Flanders' Field
by Walter M. Pieters / Hardcover / Grub Street (May 1998)
Above the War Fronts
by Norman Franks, Russell Guest, Gregory Alegi / Hardcover / Grub Street (September 1997)
 
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