World War I: French Ace Georges Guynemer

Georges Guynemer during World War I
Capitaine Georges Guynemer. Photograph Source: Public Domain

Georges Guynemer - Early Life:

Born on December 24, 1894, Georges Guynemer was the son of a wealthy family from Compiègne. A frail and sickly child, Guynemer was schooled at home until age fourteen when he was enrolled in the Lycée de Compiègne. A driven student, Guynemer was not adept at sports, but did show great proficiency at target shooting. Visiting the Panhard automotive factory as a child, he developed a keen interest in mechanics, though his true passion became aviation after flying for the first time in 1911. At school, he continued to excel and passed his exams with high honors in 1912.

As in the past, his health soon began to fail, and Guynemer's parents took him to the south of France to recover. By the time he had regained his strength, World War I had broken out. Immediately applying to the Aviation Militaire (French Air Service), Guynemer was rejected due to his health issues. Not to be deterred, he finally passed the medical examination on the fourth attempt after his father intervened on his behalf. Assigned to Pau as a mechanic on November 23, 1914, Guynemer routinely pressed his superiors to allow him to take flight training.

Georges Guynemer - Taking Flight:

Guynemer's persistence finally paid off and he was sent to flight school in March 1915. While in training he was known for his dedication to mastering his aircraft's controls and instruments, as well as repeatedly practicing maneuvers. Graduating, he was promoted to corporal on May 8, and assigned to Escadrille MS.3 at Vauciennes. Flying a Morane-Saulnier L two-seat monoplane, Guynemer took off on his first mission on June 10 with Private Jean Guerder as his observer. On July 19, Guynemer and Gueder scored their first victory when they downed a German Aviatik and received the Médaille Militaire.

Georges Guynemer - Becoming an Ace:

Transitioning to the Nieuport 10 and then the Nieuport 11, Guynemer continued to have success and became an ace on February 3, 1916, when he downed two German aircraft. Dubbing his aircraft Le Vieux Charles (Old Charles) in reference to a well-liked former member of the squadron, Guynemer was wounded in the arm and face on March 13 by fragments of his windscreen. Sent home to recover, he was promoted to second lieutenant on April 12. Returning to action in mid-1916, he was given a new Nieuport 17. Picking up where he left off, he raised his tally to 14 by late August.

In early September, Guynemer's squadron, by now redesignated Escadrille N.3, became one of the first units to get the new SPAD VII fighter. Immediately taking to the aircraft, Guynemer downed an Aviatik C.II over Hyencourt two days after receiving his new fighter. On September 23, he downed two more enemy aircraft (plus an unconfirmed third), but was struck by friendly anti-aircraft fire while returning to base. Forced to make a crash landing, he credited the SPAD's sturdiness for saving him on impact. All told, Guynemer was downed seven times during his career.

An ace of considerable renown, Guynemer used his position to work with SPAD on improving their fighters. This led to refinements in the SPAD VII and the development of its successor the SPAD XIII. Guynemer also suggested altering the SPAD VII to accommodate a cannon. The result was the SPAD XII, a larger version of the VII, which featured a 37mm cannon firing through the propeller shaft. While SPAD finished the XII, Guynemer continued flying over the trenches with great success. Promoted to lieutenant on December 31, 1916, he finished the year with 25 kills.

Fighting on through the spring, Guynemer managed a triple kill on March 16, before bettering this feat with a quadruple kill on May 25. That June, Guynemer engaged the famous ace Ernst Udet, but let him go in a sign of knightly chivalry when the German's guns jammed. In July, Guynemer finally received his SPAD XII. Dubbing the cannon-equipped fighter his "Magic Machine," he scored two confirmed kills with the 37mm cannon. Taking a few days to visit his family that month, he rebuffed his father's pleas to move into a training position with the Aviation Militaire.

Georges Guynemer - National Hero:

Scoring his 50th kill on July 28, Guynemer became the toast of France and a national hero. Despite his success in the SPAD XII, he abandoned it for the SPAD XIII in August and resumed his aerial success scoring a victory on the 20th. His 53rd overall, it was to be his last. Taking off on September 11, Guynemer and Sub-Lieutenant Benjamin Bozon-Verduraz attacked a German two-seater northeast of Ypres. After diving on the enemy, Bozon-Verduraz spotted a flight of eight German fighters. Evading them, he went in search of Guynemer, but never found him.

Returning to the airfield, he asked if Guynemer had returned but was told that he had not. Listed as missing in action for a month, Guynemer's death was finally confirmed by the Germans who stated that a sergeant in the 413th Regiment found and identified the pilot's body. His remains were never recovered as an artillery barrage forced the Germans back and destroyed the crash site. The sergeant reported that Guynemer had been shot in the head and that his leg was broken. Lieutenant Kurt Wissemann of Jasta 3 was officially credited with bringing down the French ace.

Guynemer's total of 53 kills allowed him to finish as France's second-highest scoring ace of World War I behind René Fonck who downed 75 enemy aircraft.

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Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: French Ace Georges Guynemer." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2021, Hickman, Kennedy. (2021, July 31). World War I: French Ace Georges Guynemer. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "World War I: French Ace Georges Guynemer." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 1, 2023).