Edward Matthew Cronin

(Bayonne, New Jersey, May 16, 1896 – near Gondrecourt, France, September 12, 1918).1

Cronin’s grandparents were from Ireland and Germany. His father and uncle were connected to the brewing industry and were both active in Bayonne, New Jersey, civic life. His uncle, Matthew T. Cronin, was briefly mayor of that city.2

Photo of a man sitting on the ground with legs crossed; it is evidently cropped from a group photo.
Cronin, from an informal photo of members of the Princeton Aviation School.

Cronin studied at Princeton and was a classmate (class of 1917) of Elliott White Springs.3  He was a student at the privately funded Princeton Aviation School, which had been established in the spring of 1917 to train Princeton students, and then at the government-run Princeton School of Military Aeronautics (“ground school”) which superseded the Aviation School in June 1917.4  Like his friend Paul Vincent Carpenter, he does not appear on public ground school graduation rosters, but he apparently graduated September 1, 1917—the only person who graduated that date (the second Princeton ground school class graduated September 8, 1917).5  Nonetheless, Cronin appears in photos of the August 25, 1917, graduating class.

With the 150 men of the “Italian” or “Second Oxford Detachment” Cronin sailed to England on the Carmania, departing New York on September 18, 1917, and arriving (after a stopover at Halifax to join a convoy for the Atlantic crossing) at Liverpool on October 2, 1917. Once in England, the men learned that they would not go to Italy but would attend ground school (again) at the Royal Flying Corps’s School of Military Aeronautics at Oxford University.

Cronin was among those selected by Springs on the basis of their having had flying experience to go on to Stamford in early November 1917 rather than to machine gun school at Grantham.6  He was at Stamford at least through early December and probably longer. On December 5, 1917, on one of their alternate free Wednesdays, he went with George Augustus Vaughn to London to see sights and take in a show; very early the next morning they were awakened by a German raid on London.7

Photo of a young man in uniform with pilot's wings above his left breast pocket.
Cronin with his pilot’s wings. My thanks to Mike O’Neal for this photo. It is also reproduced in In Memoriam: Princeton 1917.

There is no R.A.F. service record for Cronin, and I have not found information on his training after Stamford. By mid-March he had completed enough flight training to be recommended for a commission, and Pershing forwarded the recommendation in a cable dated March 19, 1918; the confirming cablegram is dated April 2, 1918.8  A Princeton memorial biography records that after being commissioned, “he was engaged in instruction in various aviation centers in England,” until July 1918.9  In early July he was ordered overseas and posted to the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun in the Loire region of central France.10

On September 5, 1918, Cronin joined the U.S. 96th Aero Squadron, which was stationed in Amanty and equipped with Bréguet 14B.2s, two-seater French-built planes; the “B.2” variant was fitted with bomb racks, turning a reconnaissance plane into a bomber.11  Cronin was the only member of the second Oxford detachment to be assigned to the 96th before the Armistice, although there were men from the detachment at the 11th and 20th Aero Squadrons, also stationed at Amanty.  These three squadrons (96, 11 and 20) became the 1st Day Bombardment Group, hastily formed on September 10, 1918, in preparation for the St. Mihiel Offensive.

From the day of Cronin’s arrival on September 5 through September 11, 1918, no missions were flown. Weather conditions were bad and getting worse; only a few “test flights” were made.12  Whether Cronin had an opportunity to go up and familiarize himself with the area is unknown.

A neatly typed operations order, misdated September 1, 1918, for September 12, 1918, listing twenty teams of pilot and observer in two flights, who were to stand by at 8:45 for a planned bombing mission to commence fifteen minutes later.
Although this document from 96th Aero Squadron (Gorrell E.14) bears the date Sept. 1, 1918, it is the operations order for September 12, 1918, the opening day of the St. Mihiel Offensive.  The plan for a 9:00 a.m. bombing mission was wildly optimistic.

The history of the 96th Aero Squadron in Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917 – 1919 records the following:

September 12th, which opened the great St. Mihiel offensive, was on all counts the worst flying day in many months. A terrific southwest wind made formation flying extremely dangerous, and the low fast moving clouds made it impossible to see more than 2 or 3 kilometers. . . .The first mission undertaken was a solo raid . . . at 10:45 A.M. . . .  At 1:30 P.M. 9 planes . . . bombed the troop center at Buxerulles. . . .

One of the pilots of the 96th, Howard Grant Rath, later recalled that the squadron commander did not want to send planes out on a third mission that day, but that his protests were overruled by Chief of Air Service Billy Mitchell, who was at the field at the time.12a The squadron history continues:

The third mission of the day, a formation of 5 planes, led by Captain James A. Summersett, was to bomb the troops at Vigneulles [about thirty miles east of Amanty]. Owing to the lateness of the starting 6:35 P.M., the objective was not reached until after dark.  The bombs were released over the town, but observation of the hits was impossible. The formation returned to the airdrome in the darkness, the pilots guiding on the exhaust fires from the motor of the leading plane. Landing at the field was attempted with the aid of ground flares, but only one of 4 planes landed successfully. One plane crashed in the forest back of the hangars; the other 2 piled up on the field. The 5th plane [#16, serial number 4016] piloted by 1stLieut. Edward M. Cronin, crashed on a ploughed field near Gondrecourt [about five miles west of Amanty]. The pilot was killed. The observer 2nd Lieut. Lyman Cox Bleecker, was injured.13

Part of a typed page describing what happened on Cronin's mission on September 12, 1918. Seven teams of pilot and observer are listed, with the note that two planes did not leave the airdrome. It is noted that Cronin's plane (No. 16) was forced to land and he was killed. The number of bombs dropped and an account of enemy aircraft and anti-aircraft ("inactive and inaccurate") are also noted. Three men are reported missing.
This is from p. 33 of the daily log in 96th Aero Squadron (Gorrell E.14, p. 50). The evening raid was technically the third of the day, but, presumably because the first involved only one plane, is counted here as the second mission.

The last, undated entry in War Birds includes this account: “I heard that Ed Cronin was killed on D.H. 4’s down South. He was sent out late in the afternoon and had to land in the dark when he came back and cracked up.” Springs apparently assumed that the 96th, like the 11th and 20th Aero Squadrons, flew DH-4s. Cronin was the only member of the second Oxford detachment assigned to a Bréguet squadron before the end of the war.14

Cronin was apparently initially buried near the crash site, and then later reinterred in the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, France.15

mrsmcq July 31, 2017


(For complete bibliographic entries, please consult the list of works and web pages cited.)

1  Cronin’s place and date of birth are taken from Ancestry.com, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, record for Edward Matthew Cronin. The photo is a detail from a photo of the Princeton School of Military Aeronautics ground school class that graduated August 25, 1917.

2  On Cronin’s grandparents’ birthplaces, see information at Ancestry.com, 1900 United States Federal Census, record for Edward Cronin. On his father, see Minutes of Votes and Proceedings of the One Hundred and Twenty-Second General Assembly of the State of New Jersey, p. 43. On his uncle, see the 1900 census record just mentioned as well as Wikipedia, “Matthew T. Cronin.”

3  However, he is sometimes mentioned as in the class of 1918; see, for example The Princeton Bric-a-Brac 1920, p. 387; in the same publication he also appears (p. 61) as class of 1917.

4  See the list of Princeton Aviation School students on p. 86 of The Princeton Bric-a-Brac 1919.

5  According to Mike O’Neal (private communication) a list of students in the History of the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics at Princeton University, May, 1917-November 30, 1918 (apparently unique copy at Princeton University) gives the date “September 1, 1917, for Cronin’s graduation. There are no men listed under Princeton in “Ground School Graduations [for September 1, 1917].”

6  See the list provided on p. 28 of Vaughn, War Flying in France.

7  Vaughn, War Flying in France, p. 35.

8  Cablegrams 750-S and 1028-R.

9  In memoriam: Princeton 1917 [unpaginated].

10 [Biddle?], “Special Orders No. 109″ and Coulter, “Special Orders No. 105.”

11  See 96th Aero Squadron, p. 30, the first page of the squadron roster.

12  See First Day Bombardment Group, pp. 91-92.

12a Waller, A Question of Loyalty, p. 296.

13  96th Aero Squadron, pp. 16–17; the relevant entry in the squadron’s daily log (reproduced above) from the same volume indicates that Bleecker (also from the Princeton class of 1917) was unhurt. The plane’s squadron and serial numbers are taken from the entry for Cronin in “The Accidents Addendum” in Henshaw’s The Sky Their Battlefield II.  See also Stephen Tullock Hopkins’s description of this mission, reproduced on p. 134 of vol. 1 of Ticknor’s New England Aviators, and that of Charles Codman in his Contact, pp. 88–90.

14  Other second Oxford detachment members—Vincent Paul Oatis, Robert Brewster Porter, and Walter Andrew Stahl—flew Bréguets operationally on one occasion, on September 27, 1918, when they were loaned to the 96th Aero, which was short of pilots. See Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 110 and “11th Squadron,” p. 22. Gilbert Allan Woods was assigned to the 96th after the armistice.

15  Michael O’Neal (private communication) and “Edward M. Cronin” .