by: Stephen T. Lawson [ ]
Originally published on:
The Lafayette Escadrille was an all-volunteer squadron of vagabond Americans who flew for France in the early years of the First World War. Now as the WWI centennial is upon us, most historians still agree that it was the first “all American aviation unit”, though their officers were most French. In this work, a most complete history of these men is laid out in chronological form. They took the name from the Marquis de Lafayette, (of American Revolutionary War). The detailed text details the life and times of these men from its formation as N.124 in April 1916, until its American complement transferred to the USAS, the author traces the lives of all 38 Americans and their French squadron mates. Giving credit where credit is due, the author helps the reader see the Escadrille as it really was. Clearly we see the combat record as less than stellar compared to its contemporaries. But at a time when America was “neutral” it was a fine tipped propaganda pen to write the in the newspapers of the day, at a time when France had already lost a million men.
Mr. Steven A. Ruffin is a keen champion and student of the squadron and its history. As a former Over the Front managing editor he is highly qualified to produce perhaps a fine offering of the Lafayette Escadrille1916 - 1918. He spent a full year combing through university and museum archives in the United States and France for photographs and documents relating to the famed unit. His travels gave him the chance to take photo images of existing markers and memorials honoring the men of the Lafayette Escadrille. You will find more than 220 photos (almost 40 in color) containing rare images not only of people and aircraft, but uniforms, artifacts, documents, and memorials. The six aircraft profiles by Messers Tomasz Gronczewski and Alan Toelle provide detailed examinations of Nieuport XI, XVII, and SPAD VII. Though there really needs to be a follow up volume dedicated to just these subjects.
Much like another noted author (R.L. Brown), Mr. Ruffin specifically sought out locations and airfields where the squadron operated and its pilots frequented. In several cases, he matched his modern color photos with contemporary images of the same scene, thus creating a then-and-now comparison. Included you will find artwork and aircraft profiles by informed and talented illustrators. As previously mentioned there are also numerous full-color photographs of artifacts relating to the squadron's men and aircraft, as they are displayed today in various museums in the United States and France. The author goes further and in the text you get an honest journalistic profile of each member. You get to see the heroes and the heels, both during the war and their post war lives that followed. Finally the appendices include a list of bases and a full pilot roster.
The result is undoubtedly the finest photographic collection of the Lafayette Escadrille to appear in print. Along with the expert text revealing air-combat experiences as well as life at the front during the Great War, it is a never-before-seen visual history that both World War I aviation aficionados and those with a passing interest in history will appreciate.
When it is all said and done I can highly recommend this book to any and all enthusiasts of the WWI aviation genre.