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People Topics related to WWI aviation personnel

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Old 26 January 2004, 06:13 PM   #1
Barrett
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Many-many jahrens ago I wrote an article titled "Age & the Fighter Ace" discussing perceptions and reality of age on fighter pilots from WW I through Vietnam.
Now, thanks to Grub St., there's far more bio data on Great War airmen and some Forumites may like to see how the statistics shape up. The following figures are for the top 10 (or 11) aces of each combatant nation, giving the median age as of 5th victory and the extreme spreads.

In ascending order:

Germany 22 19-26
UK, ETC 23 19-30
USAS 23 21-27
Russia 23 22-27
France 24 21-29
Italy 24 21-30
Austro 25 21-34

Belgium, of course, didn't have 10 aces.

Note that the Germans are not only lowest median but also youngest at the low and high ends. One reason may be that a large share of those chaps were from the cavalry and early on abandoned their hosses for flying machines. (Also note that perhaps more than half of the 70+ individuals in our sample entered combat in recon or bombers before moving to fighters. A few made their records largely or entirely in two-seaters.)
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Old 27 January 2004, 09:04 AM   #2
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'nuther thing about age in the German air service: there were some extremely junior squadron COs. Nather was 18 and von Beaulieu-Marconnay 19. Voss of course was 20. I'd be astonished if any allied air arm had remotely comparable situations.
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Old 27 January 2004, 09:35 AM   #3
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As always, thanks, Barrett. Very insightful statistics.

I often try to think what I was like when I was that age and try and imagine if I would have had the gumption to do what these kids did...and to really appreciate what any have done in the service of their country.

It's far too easy to disassociate with sending these kids off to die when you're sitting comfortably in your throne room, IMHO.
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Old 27 January 2004, 02:13 PM   #4
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Alan: Ref. Then & Now:
At 20 I was an OK aviator who knew what I didn't know but after 4 years I was still eager to learn. I didn't have any contemporaries so couldn't judge how youngsters of my vintage woulda fared.
Since the huge majority of my flight time was in open-cockpit biplanes, I felt comfortable in the machines and won my share of "victories" owing to headwork over dexterity. I tried hard not to be surprised and had a far better lookout than many more experienced guys. I always admired McCudden & Fonck and preferred to stalk some unsuspecting Piper or Cessna rather than hassle with other dogfight aspirants. I would NEVER chase tails with a stranger.
However, I certainly wasn't up to leading a combat unit: I'd have had my hands full just staying healthy. (Based on what I know now about The Military Mind, I'd have been court-martialed for Insubordination--I was actually accused of same by a retired USAF general!--and Conduct Prejudicial to Maintenance of Good Order & Discipline. At least I hope so... B) )
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Old 27 January 2004, 07:23 PM   #5
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Barrett:
You are correct, Belgium did not have ten aces, but one of them made up for it, Baron Willy Coppens. He had all the characteristics of a fighter pilot. Ever meet a shy, introverted fighter pilot? They don't exist. A rel interesting man, I am proud to have called him ,"my friend."
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Old 27 January 2004, 07:28 PM   #6
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Looking back to the second big one, I don't remember the pilots being so young, they looked like "men" to me! Come to think of it, I can remember some boy Colonels who had not started shaving yet! These guys were in the 8th Air Force fighter Command.
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Old 27 January 2004, 08:59 PM   #7
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This might be impossible to answer, but out of curiosity's sake and for comparison, do anyone have any idea as to what the median age all enlisted personnell (observers, mechanics, cooks, etc.) in the various air services was? I wonder if it's significantly different from that of the respective aces...
 
Old 28 January 2004, 08:10 AM   #8
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Good question, JP. I've never seen any such data but imagine when you factor in the "old stagers" from before the war, the overall median likely elevated somewhat above the aces/pilots.

Dan-San: A friend of mine of the Marauder persuasion swears it's true: he was weathered in at an 8th AF base in early '44 and saw the sign over The Bar: "Lieutenant colonels under 21 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian."

I was priviliged to have some correspondence with Baron Coppens and envy anyone who met him. You are certainly correct that shy, introverted fighter guys are rare but a lot of the producers are low-key on the ground ("Watch out for the quiet ones" mothers used to tell their daughters!) Four of the most subdued folks I've ever known were among The Best: Bud Anderson, Marion Carl, Bob Galer, and Alex Vraciu. Especially Bob--nobody would pick him out of a crowd as a USMC general, let alone MoH ace. He speaks so softly that sometimes you gotta lean close. Among the WW I guys, Ray Brooks and Bob Todd were extremely soft-spoken in manner as well as speech though of course I didn't know 'em til their late 70s to early 80s.

Then there's Robin Olds! Rock-star charisma with a warrior king's attitude.
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Old 30 January 2004, 02:31 AM   #9
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Just out of curiousity- who were some of the old men? I know of Luet. Jakob Wolff , possibly the oldest of all- who was 47 or 48 when wounded in 1917 and put out of the war. He had four confirmed kills. Wasn't Bohme 37-38 when he died? These men must of been looked upon as ancient sages in a business where anyone in their later 20's was considered over the hill.
Any other scout pilots in their 30's or 40's. (Did Mannock make it to 30?).
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Old 30 January 2004, 06:10 PM   #10
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Mannock was KIA at 31; seems I've heard of a senior Italian (bomber?) guy who was 40ish.
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