100 Years ago Roland Garros and his Morane were captured - an event that would change the war in the air.
Roland Garros (1888 -1918) was a French aviation pioneer who in 1913 gained world fame for the first nonstop crossing of the Mediterranean Sea between France and Tunisia.
Roland Garros after his epic nonstop crossing of the Mediterranean Sea in 1913
At the start of World War I, Garros joined the French Air Force and tried to improve the combat efficiency of the aircraft. Because of the multitude of cables, struts, engine and the propeller it was quite difficult for a pilot to use a weapon on the early combat aircraft. (See the arrows indicating the many obstructions). To help solving this problem, Garros used the studies on the subject made by his friend, the French engineer Raymond Saulnier.
Pre-war tests on a Deperdussin aircraft to shoot forward without hitting the propellor.
A German aircraft over the Zillebeke pond south of Ieper (Ypres). Notice the many obstruction which made the use of a machine gun almost impossible.
When Garros joined his unit (Escadrille MS26) at Dunkirk on February 1st 1915 he brought with him a secret weapon. This being a Morane Saulnier aircraft suitably modified to fire a machine gun through the rotating propeller.
Notice the bullit deflector plates made out of metal on this Morane Saulnier Parasol.
In the first half of April 1915 he managed to shoot down three enemy aircraft near respectively Veurne, Kortemark and Wervik. Surprised by these successive victories the Germans panicked. Dutchman Antony Fokker, who was building military aircraft at Berlin, described the German concern:
“Suddenly a deadly French single seater appeared over the front in early 1915. Pilots seeing this machine approaching head-on were not concerned. They thought that the large propeller diameter prevented the strange aircraft to fire as long as its nose was pointed at them. As such it came as more than a surprise that the Morane started shooting at them and thus descending several of the German aircraft”.
The terror ended
abruptly on 18 April 1915 when the
Germans arrested Roland Garros. While attacking a train stopped in
Lendelede station (North of Kortrijk) he had to make an emergency
landing with his Morane Saulnier Parasol L in the neighbouring commune
of Hulste. Although Garros sets his aircraft on fire the Germans however
could still discover that this machine was adapted to shoot through the
propeller. Anthony Fokker was tasked to develop and improve this system.
Instead of using metal deflector plates on the propeller, Fokker
introduced an interrupter mechanism, which synchronised the machine-gun
and the propeller. This allowed a forward firing fixed machine-gun to
fire between the airscrew blades. Thanks to the Fokker E “Eindekker”,
which introduced the new interrupter gear, together with a Parabellum
LMG14 machine-gun, the Germans could maintain air supremacy over the
Western front for almost a year as of September 1915.
In honour of this great aviation pioneer the French gave his name to the Open French Tennis championships.
To remember this important date in the history of World War One, the Commune of Lendelede has put up plates at the exact spot where Roland Garros was captured and interrogated after his capture.
© Bernard Deneckere (April 2015)
Last updated 07/11/11 10:59 Daniel Brackx