A Harvard graduate (class of 1921) and the son of Edward C. Knotts, a district attorney from Springfield, Illinois, Howard Clayton Knotts enlisted in the United States Signal Corps, Aviation Section, on 31 July 1917. He received training from the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto, Ontario and was then sent to Fort Worth, Texas on 5 November 1917. Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on 4 February 1918, he was assigned to the 182nd Aero Squadron and sent to France on 2 May 1918. He was reassigned to the 17th Aero Squadron, attached to the 13th Wing of the Royal Air Force, on 14 August 1918. With this squadron he was wounded in action a week later on 21 August 1918. Knotts then shot down six enemy aircraft in less than a month flying the Sopwith Camel. Each of his opponents flew the Fokker D.VII. On 14 October 1918, Knotts was shot down by ground fire during an attempt to strafe a machine gun nest. Wounded in the right foot, he landed safely behind German lines and shot it out with five enemy soldiers before being captured. Enroute to a German prison camp at Mons, he set fire to a supply train, effectively destroying several Fokkers destined for the front. Four days after his arrival at Mons, Knotts escaped from the camp but was recaptured a few hours later. He was later transferred to a prison camp at Soignies for the duration of the war. He married Charlotte Ann Sterling on 25 June 1921. Knotts later became general counsel for the American Aeronautical Association. He died of a heart attack at the age of 47.
The Rockford Register-Gazette, Rockford, Illinois, Saturday, 9 November 1918, page 2
The Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Illinois, Wednesday, 22 January 1919, page 14
The Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Illinois, Saturday, 1 February 1919, page 18
The Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Illinois, Friday, 28 March 1919, page 1
The Illinois State Journal, Springfield, Illinois, Friday, 28 March 1919, page 8
The Daily Northwestern, Evanston, Illinois, Tuesday, 27 April 1937, page 3
Distinguished Service Cross (DSC)
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Howard Clayton Knotts, Second Lieutenant (Air Service), U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Arieux, France, September 17, 1918. During a patrol flight 5 American planes were attacked by 20 enemy Fokkers. During the combat, when Lieutenant Knotts saw one of his comrades attacked by 7 enemy planes and in imminent danger of being shot down, he, although himself engaged with the enemy, went to the assistance of his comrade and attacked 2 of his immediate pursuers. In the fight which ensued he shot 1 of the enemy down in flames and forced the other out of control. His prompt act enabled his comrade to escape destruction, although his comrade's plane was so disabled that he made the allied lines with difficulty, crashing as he landed.
General Orders No. 19, W.D., 1921
Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC)
On August 25, 1918 he shot down from two thousand feet, over the Bapaume-Cambrai Road, on Fokker biplane.
"On September 13, 1918 he shot down from four thousand feet, near Inchy-en-Artois, northeast of Bapaume, on Fokker biplane.
"On September 17, 1918, with Lieutenant William T. Clements, he shot down from four thousand feet, near Arleux, a Fokker biplane.
"On September 22, 1918 he shot down from six thousand feet, near Marquion (east by south of Arras), a Fokker biplane.
"On September 24, 1918 he shot down from six thousand feet, just north of Bourlon Wood, two Fokker biplanes; while flying alone on the afternoon of the same date, trying to confirm and locate an enemy aeroplane shot down by Lieutenant Campbell in the forenoon, he saw a detachment of enemy troops on the Bapaume-Cambrai Road and at once attacked them; as he dived upon them he noticed at the side of the road past which the troops were marching a large ammunition dump, into which he fired incendiary tracer bullets which started several fires and in a few moments the dump blew up. The explosion was seen by many pilots who were in the air at that time, and by observers on the ground some fifteen miles away.
"On October 8, 1918, having completed a low bombing attack on enemy troops in Awoingt on which his flight had been sent out, Lieutenant Knotts saw a closed German staff car passing along the road through the villages of Naves. Of his own accord and although subjected to heavy machine-gun fire from nests along the road, he followed and attacked the car from just above the tree tops as it rushed through the village until it left the road and turned over. He then noticed two enemy officers roll out of the car, one of whom lay where he fell, and returning shot the other officer who started to run away.
"Lieutenant Knotts' flying showed the greatest disregard of danger, and over and over again he did not hesitate to fly very low in spite of the fire from the ground, thereby bringing back valuable reconnaissance material and seriously harassing the enemy's movements during their retreat. Whilst so flying on October 4, 1918 his engine was put out of action by ground fire, east of Saulzoir, and he was made a prisoner. Whilst a prisoner in Germany he was subjected to great exposure and his physical condition has been such that he has been in hospital ever since his return.