Vincent Paul Oatis

(Toledo, Ohio, September 18, 1892 – New York City, February 9, 1952)1

Training in England and France  ✯  11th Aero, St. Mihiel   ✯  September 18, 1918   ✯  The Meuse-Argonne Offensive  ✯ Notes

Oatis was of Irish descent. His father, who worked for the Toledo and Ohio Central Railway, married Mary Catherine Ryan in 1890. She died in 1899, leaving Peter Oatis to raise their two sons. The boys lived for a time with their maternal grandmother and then with their father in lodgings in Toledo.2 It is not clear whether Oatis attended college. One source states that he was a “graduate of old St. John’s University”3; information related to him in the 1940 census, which includes questions about education, is self-contradictory.4 Oatis evidently had an interest in and flair for the bond market; he began working for Sidney Spitzer & Co., a Toledo investment bank, when he was in his early twenties and returned to that occupation after the war.5

Oatis’s draft registration shows that in June 1917 he was in R.O.T.C. at Fort Sheridan in Illinois, as were a number of other men who would be in the second Oxford detachment. Transferred to the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps, Oatis attended the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois, graduating from ground school on September 1, 1917.6  A photo kept by Joseph Raymond Payden suggests that he was close to classmates George Orrin Middleditch and Chester Albert Pudrith, both of whom had also been at Fort Sheridan. Walter Andrew (“Jake”) Stahl, who shared training and operational assignments with Oatis in England and France, was also at Fort Sheridan and in Oatis’s ground school class.

Along with most of the men in that class of about thirty, Oatis chose or was chosen to go to Italy for flying training and thus travelled to Europe on the Carmania with the 150 cadets of the “Italian” or “second Oxford detachment.” The ship sailed from New York on September 18, 1917, and after a brief stopover at Halifax joined a convoy for the voyage across the Atlantic. The cadets sailed first class and enjoyed some leisure, including concerts featuring the violinist Albert Spalding, also on board. They had Italian lessons, conducted by Fiorello La Guardia, and, once the convoy entered dangerous waters, they took turns at submarine watch.

Training in England and France

When the Carmania docked at Liverpool on October 2, 1917, the detachment members learned that they were not to continue on to Italy, but to remain in England for their training. They travelled by rail to Oxford, where they spent the month of October repeating ground school at the Royal Flying Corps’s No. 2 School of Military Aeronautics at Oxford University. As much of their class work involved material already covered in the U.S., the cadets (as they were now called) did not have to study particularly hard, and they enjoyed exploring Oxford and the surrounding countryside.

A handwritten list of ten names under the heading "Waddington."
From a list in the diary of Fremont Cutler Foss of the men posted to squadrons in mid-November.

The men were eager to start learning to fly, but, because there were not enough openings for them at training squadrons, most of them, including Oatis, were sent at the beginning of November 1917 to a machine gunnery school, Harrowby Camp, near Grantham in Lincolnshire. There they spent two weeks learning about and practicing with the Vickers machine gun. Then, in mid-November, it was determined that there was room at training squadrons for fifty of the Grantham cadets. On November 19, 1917, the fifty men set out for various R.F.C. stations. Oatis, along with Middleditch, Pudrith, Stahl, and six others, went to Waddington, about twenty miles north of Grantham, where several training squadrons were located. 7

I have found no documentation for Oatis’s further training assignments, but he evidently progressed reasonably quickly. Sometime in February he completed the first phase of his R.F.C. training, and the recommendation for his commission as a first lieutenant was forwarded by Pershing to Washington on February 26, 1918.8 The confirming cablegram from Washington is dated March 11, 1918.9 The next day at Waddington Middleditch and Pudrith went up in a DH.4; the plane crashed. Middleditch was killed and Pudrith seriously injured. That Oatis was still at or near Waddington is suggested by a passage in the March 19, 1918, entry in the diary of William Ludwig Deetjen, another member of the second Oxford detachment. Deetjen, stationed at Waddington, writes that he, Stahl, Oatis, and others “ran up to the Northern Hospital to see Chick Pudrith,” i.e., to the 4th Northern General Hospital in Lincoln, north of Waddington. (Pudrith died at the end of April.)

After training at Waddington Oatis may, like Stahl, have spent some time being instructed in aerial gunnery at Marske-by-the-Sea in north Yorkshire.10 Special orders show the two of them among a large number of DH.4 trained pilots being sent to France in early July 1918, to the American 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun in the Loire region of central France.11 Some of these pilots then proceeded to the 2nd A.I.C. at Tours, about seventy miles northwest of Issoudun, for further work at the School of Observation Training, while others, including Stahl and probably Oatis, did their next and final stage of training at the 7th A.I.C. at Clermont-Ferrand, about ninety miles southeast of Issoudun.12 At the Aerial Bombardment School there most of the instruction would have been on French Bréguets, two seater planes used for bombing and reconnaissance, with perhaps some time on American built DH-4s.13

11th Aero, St. Mihiel

The roster of officers of the 11th Aero Squadron appended to the squadron’s history in Edgar Stanley Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service, 1917 – 1919 indicates that Oatis, along with Stahl, was among a large group of pilots and observers, including second Oxford detachment members Robert Brewster Porter and Fred Trufant Shoemaker, who reported to the squadron at Amanty on September 12, 1918, the opening day of the St. Mihiel Offensive.14 Other sources give the date September 9, 1918, for this influx of manpower. Gerald C. Thomas, Jr., in The First Team, cites documentation indicating that on September 9, 1918, thirteen pilots and sixteen observers from Clermont-Ferrand arrived at Amanty to join the 11th Aero Squadron; these probably included Oatis.15 The squadron history published in 1922 remarks that “It was on the afternoon and evening of September 9, 1918, that the squadron was brought up to its full strength by the addition of new pilots and observers,”16 and John Cowperthwaite Tyler, who was assigned to the 11th and had been at Amanty since the 6th, wrote in his diary on September 9, 1918, that “In evening whole mob of new pilots arrived.”17

The field at Amanty, about twenty-five miles south of St. Mihiel and the front, was now shared by the 11th, the 20th, and the 96th Aero Squadrons, the last-named being the only operational American bombing squadron up to this point. Although instructions for daylight bombing were drawn up in the course of August, it wasn’t until September 10, 1918, that the three squadrons became the First Day Bombardment Group.18

By this time the newly-established American First Army was completing preparations for the St. Mihiel Offensive in which the First Army, with assistance from the Allies, would seek to wipe out the German held salient that jutted southwest from the Allied line to encompass the town of St. Mihiel on the east bank of the Meuse River. It had been hoped that the attack could begin before the autumn rains, but it was delayed from the 7th until the 12th, and, in any case, the rains came early.19 Soggy ground meant that Oatis and the other pilots and observers recently arrived at the 11th Aero did not have an opportunity to try out their planes or to get to know the terrain.20 Tyler wrote in his diary on September 11, 1918: “New bunch very anxious to fly, but no chance. . . . Kind of wild rumors of their putting us to work without any chance to fly together or get used to these machines.”

Detail from map of allied aviation sites on p. 2 of vol. 3 of Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, modified to show some towns relevant to the 11th Aero.

On the first two days of the St. Mihiel Offensive, September 12 and 13, 1918, planes and pilots of the 11th (and 20th) Aero were tasked with duties more appropriate to observation and pursuit squadrons.21 Four planes with their crews were detached and sent to Maulan, twenty miles west northwest of Amanty, “to be held ready to execute any missions given.”22 Otherwise, while the 96th Aero carried out bombing raids, the 11th and 20th Aero Squadrons—whose DH-4s were not yet properly outfitted for bombing—were on September 12 and 13, 1918, “subject to the orders of the Group Commanders, 2nd Pursuit Group for cooperation on the barrage patrols of the sector assigned to that Group.”23 The planes of the 2nd Pursuit Group (the 13th, 22nd, 49th, and 139th Aero Squadrons), flying Spads from Gengoult Airfield northeast of Toul, were to “maintain a double tier barrage over the eastern sector of the [1st Pursuit] wing from day-break to dark.”24 “The purpose of this barrage is to create an area 5 kilometers in front of our advancing lines in which it will be safe for our army corps observation aviation to work.”25 Barrage patrol planes were to shoot down any enemy balloons and planes that might enter this area.26 The “eastern sector” to be covered was a roughly diamond-shaped area centered on Pont-à-Mousson on the Moselle, and defined by a western line running from Flirey northeast to Arnaville and a longer eastern line running from Nancy, in the south, northeast to Solgne.27 The role of the DH-4s of the 11th and 20th Squadrons during these missions was to fly at and to protect the rear of the pursuit plane formations.28

On September 12, 1918, one DH-4 from the 11th Aero flew with a formation of six Spads of the 49th Aero early in the afternoon on a patrol that took in Pont-à-Mousson on the Moselle River and flew west over Thiaucourt to Monsec, slightly to the northwest of the defined sector. Late the next afternoon, a plane from the 11th, along with one from the 20th, accompanied seven Spads from the 49th on a patrol from Pont à Mousson to Thiaucourt, while another flew with four Spads from the 22nd Aero over Nomeny (east of Pont-à-Mousson) and then over Lachaussée (north of Thiaucourt, thus again beyond the defined sector). The outcome of these three documented flights involving the 11th Aero was either “No aerial activity” or “Nothing to report.”29

Map of the the St. Mihiel salient centered on Lachaussée. This slightly cropped image is taken from the New York Times, Current History: The European War, vol. 17, p. 43.

It was fortunate for the 11th that none of these missions involved encounters with enemy aircraft, as it soon became apparent that DH-4s were not suited to the task of escorting Spads. Arthur Raymond Brooks of the 22nd Aero, in his history of the squadron, noted that “At high altitude these ships [DH-4s] were good rear protection, but near the earth the Spads ran away from them, so they were impractical for our work.”30 Members of the 11th Aero would later write much more bluntly that “it took two days of that sort of patrolling before the powers that were discovered the absurdity of their plan. The only thing that prevented a terrific toll of ‘DH’ pilots and observers during those two days was the fact that there were so many Allied planes in the air over the St. Mihiel salient that the Hun did not venture very near the American lines.”31

I have gone into some detail about the activities of the 11th Aero on the first two days of the St. Mihiel Offensive because it is possible that Oatis was involved in them. While the names of the men who piloted the four planes from the 11th and 20th Aero flying “any missions given” out of Maulan on September 12 and 13, 1918 are known, and do not include Oatis,32 and the team that flew protection for the 22nd Aero late in the afternoon of the 13th is also known (second Oxford detachment member Robert Brewster Porter and observer James Longstreet Patten),33 I find no record that names the crews of the planes from the 11th Aero that escorted the Spad patrols flown by the 49th Aero. Oatis may have flown operationally during these opening days of the St. Mihiel Offensive, although his activity is not documented.

The 11th Aero, probably including Oatis, flew its first actual bombing missions on September 14, 1918. Records are incomplete and contradictory, and it is thus not possible to establish Oatis’s participation beyond doubt.34

Guthrie, in a photo posted by matfam5 [pseud.] to the page for Guthrie at the Keglovits/Hickey Family Tree at Ancestry.com. I have not been to find further information about the photo.
The First Day Bombardment Group’s operations report for September 14, 1918, provides a list of pilots and observers of the 11th on the first mission flown that day that differs from the list that can be reconstructed from the 11th Aero’s own raid report and from accounts of planes and men lost.35 According to the operations report, Oatis and his observer Ramon Hollister Guthrie made up one of the seven teams that set out before 7 a.m. as part of a joint mission with the 96th and the 20th to bomb Conflans; the 11th Aero sources do not mention Oatis and Guthrie. Both the operations and the raid reports record that the planes of the 11th Aero, on their return flight after successfully bombing Conflans, were attacked by seven (or nine) Fokkers at 8:00. Two enemy aircraft were reported to have gone down out of control, but also two planes from the 11th.36  It was later learned that Shoemaker, along with his observer Robert Newell Groner, was shot down and taken prisoner; another team from the 11th, Horace Greeley Shidler and Harold Holden Sayre, were also shot down; Shidler survived, but Sayre was killed. The 11th Aero’s raid report for this mission lists men entitled to credit for the downed enemy planes; the list does not include Oatis and Guthrie. However, the official list of the 11th’s confirmed victories compiled after the war does.37 

The 11th, according to the relevant First Day Bombardment Group’s operations reports, set out twice more on September 14, 1918. Oatis and Guthrie appear in the list of pilot-observer teams who “Bombed and reached Vittonville and Arnaville” while on the second mission.38 Other sources indicate that clouds kept the teams on this mission from finding their target and dropping their bombs.39 I find no 11th Aero raid report for comparison.

On September 15, 1918, Oatis and Guthrie, assigned to DH-4 521, were among ten teams from the 11th ordered to “stand by and be ready to leave the field at 7:30 A.M. sharp.”40 There is no mention of this early mission in the records of the 11th Aero or the First Day Bombardment Group, but Tyler wrote in his diary that day: “Out at crack of dawn . . . everything sent off tearing, Chapin leading. . . . they got back after quiet trip.” The first mission noted in the First Day Bombardment Group’s operations reports was one that set out at 11:00 and on which squadron commander Thornton Dayton Hooper led the 11th Aero’s planes. The operations report names the same ten teams that appear on the “stand by . . . at 7:30 A.M. sharp” memo (the 11th Aero’s raid report does not provide names).41 Only the two lead planes were able to cross the lines. According to History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., “This raid was a complete failure. They had insisted on overloading the machines with bombs and the pilots found them almost unmanageable. The formation went to pieces. . . . In an attempt to land at a French aerodrome, Oatis and Guthrie came to grief and piled their machine in a mass of hopeless wreckage. The four hundred pounds of bombs were torn from the lower wing, but fortunately did not let go.”42 Oatis’s name does not appear on either the “stand by” memo or the operations report for the last mission of that day.43

“Stand by” memo for September 16, 1918, showing the planned flight formation. Three experienced teams (Chapin with Laird, Tyler with Strauch, and Munn with Ward) are positioned at the front, with another experienced team (Gatton with Norris) in the rear. (“11th Squadron,” p. 14.)

The squadrons of the First Day Bombardment Group apparently flew three missions the next day, September 16, 1918.44 Oatis and Guthrie are not noted in the available documents as having participated in the flights that day, although their names, associated with DH-4 no.12, are among those ordered to stand by.45

September 16, 1918, was the last day of the St. Mihiel Offensive, and plans were already well underway for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The First Day Bombardment Group remained for a time at Amanty, where there were still “targets needing attention” and where Pershing wished to continue to focus German attention, away from the secret buildup for the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.46

The First Day Bombardment Group’s operations reports indicate that no missions were flown on September 17, 1918, and History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A. indicates the same.47 An account of operations of the 11th Squadron compiled by Sigbert Norris, however, describes planes from the 11th flying protection on a mission to Conflans at midday, from which all planes  returned safely; this is apparently based on an undated raid report signed by Norris.48  There are no pilot or observer names provided in either document.

September 18, 1918

September 18, 1918, was another day of inclement weather, and it was assumed that no missions would be flown. Some of the pilots of the 11th Aero went to the 1st Air Depot at nearby Colombey-les-Belles to pick up new planes. Thus, when orders came late in the afternoon for the 20th and the 11th to set out on a bombing mission, men were chosen based on who was at Amanty, rather than on an established rota.49 The ten crews from the 11th on this mission included commanding officer Hooper, and his observer Ralph Randall Root; the flight leader was Roger Fiske Chapin, with observer Clair Blossom Laird.50 Planes from the 20th Aero set out at 4:24 p.m.51 The 11th followed at 4:45 p.m.52 Hooper was afterwards recalled as saying “I know this is murder, but the swivel chair commanders don’t know it, and all we can do is to go and trust to luck.”53

The objective of this mission is variously described in surviving records. Rath’s “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations” suggests that both the 20th and the 11th were charged with bombing Mars-la-Tour, a town about seven miles over the lines.54 The 11th Aero’s raid report simply gives the objective as “Lachaussie” [sic], i.e., the small village at the eastern edge of a three-fingered lake, L’étang de Lachaussée, just over the lines.55 Observer Laird is recorded as describing the raid as : “a bombing mission of railroad yards at Mars le Tour [sic]”56 but also as a mission with “two targets . . . a village with a number of troops and . . . an airdrome ten kilometers across the line.”57 When Laird and Chapin were interrogated after their capture, they were recorded as describing the mission as a “Bombenangriff auf Erdziele im Raum Conflans-Etain” (“bombing raid on ground targets in the area of Conflans-en-Jarnisy and Etain”—both to the north of Lachaussée and Mars-la-Tour).58 The same interrogating German officer understood from Hooper and Root that the mission’s purpose was a “Bombenangriff . . . auf Reserven im Raume Conflans-Etain” (“bombing raid on reserve troops in the area of Conflans-en-Jarnisy and Etain”).59

In any case, ten planes from the 11th flew due north from Amanty to St. Mihiel and then turned northeast for Lachaussée.60 The planes piloted by Cyrus John Gatton, Charles Gross Slauson, and Ector Orr Munn had to drop out before reaching the lines.61 Clouds made flying, navigating, and keeping formation difficult and also forced the planes to fly at a comparatively low altitude, only 7,000 feet as they crossed the lines just short of Lachaussée.62 A fourth plane, piloted by John Eliot Osmun, turned back after the flight entered a disorienting bank of clouds.63 Thirty-five minutes into the mission, at 5:20, and somewhat east of Lachaussée, the planes of the 11th Aero were attacked by German planes.64

Unusually, there is an account, albeit second-hand, from one of the German pilots, Hans Besser, which establishes that the attacking planes were Fokker DVIIs of Jagdstaffel 12.65 Flying at about 13,000 feet, the Fokkers were well positioned to spot the American planes, despite the cloud cover, and dive on them.66 Three DH-4s, those piloted by Tyler, Lester Stephen Harter, and Edward Theodore Comegys, went down in flames. Chapin and Laird’s plane was hit evidently just east of Lachaussée and crash landed into telegraph lines near Chambley-Bussières.67 Hooper’s plane was also hit; he was injured but brought his DH-4 down safely somewhat farther north, in the vicinity of Olley.68 Hooper, Root, Chapin, and Laird were taken prisoner.

Besser recounts how, after he and the other Jasta 12 pilots landed at their aerodrome at Giraumont, about three miles east of Conflans, he and others set out by car before dark in the direction of Conflans to inspect the remains of the downed American planes. Besser concluded that the crews of the three that had been shot down in flames had not succeeded in releasing their bombs over the target, as the degree of wreckage indicated that the bombs had exploded on the planes’ impact. The bodies of the crews, however, lay some few hundred meters from the crash sites, suggesting that the men had jumped or fallen.69 Indeed, the bodies of Tyler70, Harter71, and Comegys72, and their observers Henry Harry Strauch73, MacCrea Stephenson74, and Arthur Reynolds Carter75, were recovered for burial, and their graves found after the area was retaken by the Allies. All (possibly excepting Tyler) were returned to the U.S. for reburial.

Oatis and Guthrie’s report on enemy plane markings (Air Intelligence, Second Section, G.S., p. 53 sss).

Oatis, flying as usual with Guthrie, was the only pilot able to elude the Fokkers, and they were the only team to shoot down one of the attacking planes.76 Rath noted in his diary that Oatis and Guthrie “had had cloud flying,” and this evidently served them well as they were “forced to fly by compass and sun in the general direction of the American lines.”77 After twenty minutes of dodging and diving, pursued by enemy aircraft, and hindered by the fact that the plane’s “bomb dropping device . . . refused to operate so that there was further hindered [sic] in manoeuvring [sic] by 200 kilograms of dead weight,”78 Oatis and Guthrie crossed the lines at Damloup north of Verdun and then flew south, still pursued by a German plane until they reached the vicinity of Ambly-sur-Meuse.79 They arrived back at Amanty “at 6:30 and said ‘we are the formation’.80 Afterwards they filed a report describing a German plane they had sighted at 5:35 near Mars-la-Tour.81

The squadron waited in vain for other planes from the mission to return. Seven teams of pilot and observer had now been lost—two on September 14, and five on September 18, 1918—whether killed or taken prisoner, the squadron could not know.

No missions were flown by squadrons of the First Day Bombardment Group from September 19 through September 25, 1918. On about September 24, 1918, the squadrons were relocated from Amanty twenty miles northwest to Maulan, from the St. Mihiel to the Meuse-Argonne front (they were joined there by the not-yet-operational 166th Aero). Just before the move, new pilots were assigned to the 11th, including Dana Edmund Coates, Ralf Andrews Crookston, Charles Louis Heater, and George Dana Spear from the second Oxford detachment and Alfred Clapp Cooper of the first Oxford detachment, as well as William Wallace Waring; Uel Thomas McCurry, of the second Oxford detachment, would arrive soon after the move to Maulan. Of these men, only McCurry and Heater had had operational experience.82 Heater’s, with No. 55 Squadron R.A.F. was extensive and warranted his being appointed the squadron’s new commanding officer.

Heater lectured the remaining and new pilots of the 11th Aero “on the primary importance of close, tight formations and also my confidence in the D.H.4, although I had not flown one with a Liberty motor.”83 He had them watch as he put a D.H.-4 through its paces, and when weather permitted he had them practice formation flying. Meanwhile, there was consultation among squadron leaders and higher-ups that led to the decision to fly larger formations over the lines—twelve to eighteen planes, combining planes from more than one squadron as needed to make up a flight.84 The squadron history describes “the reconstruction of a broken outfit and its complete transformation into a high grade, competent unit, confident of its ability and proud of its record.”85

Map showing the Meurse-Argonne and the St. Mihiel fronts, from p. 553 of William Mitchell’s “The Air Service at the Argonne-Meuse” with some places important to the 11th Aero marked (note: “Conflans” has been labeled “Conilans.”)

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

The Meuse-Argonne Offensive opened in the very early hours of September 26, 1918. That morning the First Day Bombardment Group was tasked with bombing Dun-sur-Meuse, an important German transport center, approximately fifty miles north of Maulan and approximately twelve miles over the lines. Four flights set out between 8 and 9:00, two from the 20th, and one each from the 96th and the 11th.86 Sources are incomplete and contradictory, but it seems clear that Oatis and Guthrie in DH-4 no. 12 were part of the flight of ten teams from the 11th led by Gatton. One source indicates that this flight did not cross the lines, another that two teams—not including Oatis and Guthrie—reached the target.87 In the afternoon the 11th, followed by the 20th, targeted Etain, a few miles over the lines east of Verdun. Seven of eight teams from the 11th, again led by Gatton, and including Oatis and Guthrie, reached an altitude of 13,000 feet in good weather, encountered no enemy aircraft, and dropped bombs on the town.88 “This was the first successful raid we had made in comparative safety and everyone could notice the improved morale resulting from it.”89

Proposed formation for the mission on September 27, 1918, with pilots of the 11th, 20th, 96th squadrons flying Bréguets (“11th Squadron,” p. 22).

The next day, September 27, 1918, the First Day Bombardment Group squadrons, perhaps more out of necessity than by design, flew in a single large formation for the first time. The 96th Aero had lost many pilots and observers, but was well supplied with Bréguet 14 B.2 planes. For that day’s single mission, the 11th and the 20th each loaned at least seven teams to supplement the two teams from the 96th. Pilots from the 11th included Oatis (with Guthrie) and Stahl; neither had previously flown Bréguets in combat, but they were presumably familiar with the French planes from their training at Clermont-Ferrand. Thus a formation of about sixteen teams, all flying Bréguets, left Maulan late in the afternoon “for the purpose of bombing Mouzay, but on account of adverse weather conditions, this formation changed its objective, and dropped 2 ½ tons of bombs on the town and railroad station at Etain.”90 Mouzay, beyond Dun-sur-Meuse, was about fifty-six miles due north of Maulan; Etain was slightly closer and farther east. Twelve teams, including three from the 11th, reached Etain; all planes returned safely.91 Enemy aircraft were sighted, and “A few shots were exchanged between our rear planes and enemy aircraft, which remained at a considerable distance.”92 The 96th’s historian later wrote that “The success of the big formation, in spite of the prevalent idea that a six-plane formation was best, did more to raise the spirits and courage of the squadron than any incident in its history. When attacked, the planes could form a tighter fighting rear line than in a small formation, and often the sight of a well organized large formation was enough to warn enemy scouts of the hot reception to expect should they attack.”93

A similar combined mission to bomb Bantheville early the next morning (September 28, 1918) returned before crossing the lines when it was apparent that a storm was approaching from the east.94 On the 29th, a late afternoon mission composed of a formation of (initially) nineteen Bréguets flown by pilots of the 96th and the 11th,, followed by a formation of (initially) twenty DH-4s piloted by men from the 11th and 20th, bombed Grandpré and Marcq. Oatis is not listed among the pilots on this mission, although Guthrie is recorded as participating as flight leader Gatton’s observer in the DH-4 formation.95 No missions were flown on the last day of the month.

Stocktaking at the end of September 1918 showed impressive numbers of missions undertaken by the squadrons of the First Day Bombardment Group, but also a distressing number of casualties—thirty-eight men “missing,” distributed fairly evenly among the three squadrons (the 166th was not yet operational).96

On October 1, 1918, Oatis, with Guthrie as his observer, served as flight leader for the first time. As on September 29, 1918, the mission consisted of a large formation of Bréguets flown mainly by men from the 96th but also some loaned from the 11th, followed in short order by a large formation of DH-4s piloted by men from the 11th and 20th. All but two of the DH-4s returned before reaching the lines.97 “. . . the formation was in fearful shape when they approached the lines. Lieutenant Guthrie lost his helmet and goggles at this juncture and became blinded by the cold wind. Oatis attempted to get him down from the high altitude and succeeded only in breaking up the entire formation, which followed him mournfully home.”98 The History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A. also blames the mission’s failure on the formation’s configuration that day: “the 11th Squadron . . . on the left side of a tremendous formation and the 20th on the right side of the ‘V’.”99 Operations orders often included a sketch of the day’s formation configuration, but the one for October 1, 1918, is not extant. (Orders for September 29 and October 2, 1918, show large V formations with seven or eight planes on either side, but also with a plane inside and some across the back of the V.100)

The next day’s mission was similarly constituted, i.e., a formation of Bréguets followed by one of DH-4s. The flight leader for the DH-4 formation was a pilot from the 20th, with Oatis’s plane just behind him and to the left. Guthrie was scheduled to fly with Oatis, but William F. Jacobs, one of the enlisted man who volunteered when observers were in short supply, flew instead; Guthrie was perhaps still suffering from flying at high altitude without helmet and goggles the previous day. While the Bréguets bombed Cornay, fourteen of the DH-4s, flying at nearly 15,000 feet, reached and bombed St. Juvin, about forty-eight miles north-northeast of Maulan, at 11:25 before returning home safely.101 The efforts of this day were noted in the First Army’s intelligence report for October 2, 1918: “Our bombing planes dropped a considerable amount of bombs on the town [sic] of St-Juvin and Cornay.”102

The men in front of this DH-4 are almost certainly Guthrie (on left) and Oatis. The photo, not dated or captioned, was kept by Guthrie in a photo album now among his papers in Rauner Special Collections at Dartmouth College. Courtesy of Dartmouth College Library.

Neither Oatis nor Guthrie took part in the missions undertaken on October 3 and 4, 1918. On October 5, 1918, during the second mission of the day, Oatis flew DH-4 no. 3 with observer Jacobs in a twenty plane DH-4 formation made up of teams from the 11th and 20th.103 Oatis and Jacobs were among the fifteen teams that, flying at about 15,000 feet, reached their targets: Saint-Juvin,104 Aincreville,105 and Doulcon106—three towns lying between Grandpré and Dun-sur-Meuse.

Oatis did not fly in the next day’s missions (nor did Guthrie), and no missions were flown on October 7 and 8, 1918. Oatis and Guthrie flew as a team again the next day, October 9, 1918, during an early afternoon mission in which ten DH-4s from the 11th set off at 2:10 p.m., followed ten minutes later by a slightly larger flight from the 20th. Flying DH-4 no. 12 again, Oatis and Guthrie were among the six teams from the 11th that reached and bombed Bantheville at 3:25; all planes returned safely to the aerodrome.107

Oatis was not among the pilots on the two large multi-squadron missions flown on October 10, 1918, although Guthrie served as observer to the flight leader of the 11th, Gatton, on both of them. In passing I note that these were the last missions that involved the 11th and 20th squadrons loaning pilots to the 96th to fly their Bréguets. A period of bad weather followed, and the squadrons of the First Day Bombardment Group had a week in which no missions were flown.108

Clouds and mist hindered visibility on October 18, 1918; nevertheless a large mission, now including planes from the 166th Aero, set off in the early afternoon to bomb Bayonville, very slightly farther north than the previous objectives. Oatis, with Guthrie as his observer, was flight leader for the sixteen teams from the 11th, eleven of which, including Oatis and Guthrie, reached the objective and returned safely a little over two hours after setting out.109 In the 11th’s raid report for this day there is for the first time a cryptic reference to “the spads.” In a turnabout from what occurred during the opening days of St. Mihiel, when DH-4s from the 11th and 20th were tasked with protecting Spads of pursuit squadrons, said Spads were now protecting the bombers.110

Over the course of October and early November, the 11th Aero, in coordination with the other squadrons of the First Day Bombardment Group, flew every day that weather permitted, eleven missions in all. Oatis with his observer Guthrie flew eight of these, always as the lead plane (DH-4 no. 12 whenever a plane number is given). On each of three days, October 23 and 30, and November 3, 1918, Oatis and Guthrie took part in two missions, bombing targets ever a bit farther north as the First Army and the French closed in on the railway hub at Sedan, which was the objective of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On November 3, 1918, the 11th dropped bombs on Martincourt-sur-Meuse in the morning and Beaumont-en-Argonne in the afternoon; these towns were sixty miles north of Maulan, and the flight out and back in the afternoon took nearly two and a half hours.111 During the afternoon mission, the 11th Aero was attacked by eight Fokkers just south of Beaumont; in the course of the combat, two of the Fokkers were seen to go down out of control. All members of the flight, including Oatis and Guthrie, were given credit for the downed planes.112 The objective specified for Oatis and Guthrie’s last flight, on November 5, 1918, was Mouzon, yet farther north; however, by the time they reached Bayonville, five of the original ten planes had dropped out, and “clouds completely obscured the earth”; the 11th’s part in the mission was cut short.113 This was the last operational mission flown by the squadrons of the First Day Bombardment Group.

Oatis was able to return to the U.S. comparatively quickly after the armistice; he sailed from St. Nazaire on the U.S.S. Princess Matoika on January 30, 1919; Stahl was also on board.114 They arrived at Newport News, Virginia, on February 11, 1919. Later that year, Oatis and Guthrie were awarded the Silver Star for their actions on September 18, 1918, when, alone of their formation, they succeeded in returning from the mission, having shot down an enemy aircraft.115

Oatis initially returned to his family in Ohio, but soon resettled in Illinois, residing in Evanston and working in Chicago as an investment banker at V. P. Oatis, a successor firm to Sydney Spitzer & Co.116

mrsmcq March 23, 2021

Notes

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

1  Oatis’s date and place of birth are taken from Ancestry.com, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917–1918, record for Vincent Paul Oatis. His place and date of death are taken from “Vincent P. Oatis.”  The photo is a detail from Payden’s photo of Oatis, Pudrith, and Middleditch.

2  Information on Oatis’s family is taken from documents available at Ancestry.com.

3  “Vincent P. Oatis.”

4  Ancestry.com, 1940 United States Federal Census, record for Vincent Oatis.

5  “City Council”; “New Firm Takes over Spitzer Organization.”

6  “Ground School Graduations [for September 1, 1917].”

7  For the names of the men sent to training squadrons in mid-November, see Foss, diary entry for November 15, 1917.

8  Cablegram 652-S.

9  Cablegram 900-R.

10  On Stahl’s training at Marske see “When Hell Broke Loose,” p. 9.

11  Biddle, “Special Orders No. 109″ and Coulter, “Special Orders No. 105.”

12  On Stahl’s presence at the 7th A.I.C. see “When Hell Broke Loose,” p. 9.

13  Patrick, “Final Report,” p. 50, states that “it was not until September, 1918, that the school [at Clermont-Ferrand] received DH-4 airplanes.” However, “Seventh Aviation Instruction Center, Clermont-Ferrand (Puy-de-Dome), France,” p. 221, indicates that DH-4s began arriving on July 18, 1918, and Allsopp’s Carnet (log book) records his flying a “Liberty” (presumably an American DH-4 with a “Liberty” engine) on August 30, 1918. Note: Conventionally, “DH.4″ refers to the British plane, “DH-4″ to the American-built version of the same plane.

14  “11th Squadron,” p. 4. It is worth noting that Shoemaker indicated September 12, 1918, as the date of his arrival at the 11th when he was interrogated as a P.O.W.; see Kraft, [Documents], p. [33].

15  Thomas, The First Team, p. 56 (I have not been able to review his source, S.O. No. 184); see also p. 80.

16   History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 147. See also the account of the numbers of pilots and observers available on September 10, 1918, on p. 92 of Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” which would support the September 9, 1918, date.

17  Tyler, Selections from the Letters and Diary, p. 125.

18  “First Day Bombardment Group,” p. 4.

19  Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 3, p. 120 (editorial comment). Note: many of the documents in this volume were included in Gorrell, but I have not always chased them down to that source.

20  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 147.

21  This odd tasking may have been part of what prompted the 11th Aero and/or the First Day Bombardment Group to call themselves, according to Paul Stevens Greene, the “Bewilderment Group” (Ticknor, New England Aviators, vol. 1, p. 101).

22  Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 3, pp. 87–8; see also orders reproduced ibid., pp. 148, 268, and 274. The order was repeated for September 15 and 16, 1918; see pp. 485 and 573.

23  Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 3, pp. 147 and 148; p. 274.

24  Ibid., pp. 147 and 274.

25  Ibid.

26  Toulmin, Air Service American Expeditionary Force 1918, p. 363.

27  Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 3, p. 147.

28  Thomas, The First Team, p. 68.

29  See the reports of these missions on pp. 69–74 of History of Second Pursuit Group. It is not clear that this represents a complete listing of the missions in which the 11th and 20th participated on these two days. Tyler’s diary entry for September 12, 1918, indicates that he went on patrol with the 139th that day (Selections from the Letters and Diary, p. 126), although no planes from the 11th are recorded as flying with the 139th in the missions listed on pp. 69–74 of History of Second Pursuit Group.

30  Brooks, “22nd Aero Squadron (Pursuit),” p. 9.

31  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 149.

32  On Stahl flying out of Maulan at the opening of the St. Mihiel Offensive, see “When Hell Broke Loose,” pp. 8 and 10; History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 149. On Paul Daniel Nelson of the 11th Aero and on pilots Merian Coldwell Cooper and George Marter Crawford of the 20th Aero flying out of Maulan, see Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War, vol. 3, p. 340, and p. 247.

33  “22nd Aero Squadron,” p. 145.

34  I should note that there are sources I have not been able to consult that may at some point provide information. Oatis kept a scrap book that was auctioned in 2008 and that has not resurfaced. I have not been able to locate the diary of Clifford Walter Allsopp (11th Aero). I have not yet seen Contact by Charles Russell Codman (96th).

35  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” pp. 94; “11th Squadron,” p. 61; Tyler, Selections from the Letters and Diary, p. 127; History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 151, and Thomas, The First Team, p. 72.

36  “11th Squadron,” p. 61. Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 97, records one enemy plane shot down and one plane from the 11th missing.

37  “Confirmed Victories 11th Aero Squadron,” p. 6.

38  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 95

39  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 153, and Rath, diary entry for September 14, 1918; Tyler, Selections from the Letters and Diary, p. 127.

40  “11th Squadron,” p. 9.

41  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 98; “11th Squadron,” p. 63. “Hopper” and “Strauck” in the former are misspellings.

42  P. 153.

43  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 99; “11th Squadron,” p. 10.

44  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” pp. 100–03; Thomas, The First Team, pp. 75–76. History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 153, notes only the raid on Longuyon, and this is the only mission for which there is a raid report in “11th Squadron” (p. 64).

45  “11th Squadron,” p. 14.

46  Thomas, The First Team, p. 79. According to Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 1, p 371: “In preparing for the Argonne-Meuse operations the 1st Day Bombardment Group was ordered to carry out bombing expeditions to objectives east of the Moselle river. The object was to convey the impression of an impending attack on Metz, and thus avert the enemy’s attention from the real point of attack.” Documents presented in Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I , vol. 2, pp. 234 and 239, indicate that the targets assigned to the 1st Day Bombardment Group in preparation for Meuse-Argonne were along the Meuse, west of the Moselle.  The sources available to me do not record any missons having been undertaken by squadrons of the 1st Day Bombardment Group after September 18 and prior to the opening of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; see for example, Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” pp. 105–06.

47  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 103; History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 153.

48  “11th Squadron,” p. 54 (Norris), and p. 65 (raid report)

49  Rath, diary entry for September 18, 1918.

50  See Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 104, for the names of the ten crews, and the raid report on p. 66 of “11th Squadron” for the leaders.

51  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 103; Rath, diary entry for September 18, 1918. The 20th Aero’s raid report records the departure time as 16:10 (“History of the 20th Aero Squadron, 1st Army,” p. 217).

52  “11th Squadron,” p. 66; Rath, diary entry for September 18, 1918.

53  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 153.

54  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” pp. 103–04.

55  “11th Squadron,” p. 66.

56  See his account on p. 175 of Presenting the Experiences of Air Service Officers who were Prisoners of War in Germany.

57  “Captured by the Germans.”

58  Kraft, [Documents], p. [28].

59  Ibid., frame 29.

60  This according to the raid report on p. 66 of “11th Squadron.”

61  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 153.

62  Ibid.; cf. “11th Squadron,” p. 66.

63   History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., pp. 153 and 155; “11th Squadron,” p. 66.

64  “11th Squadron,” p. 66.

65  The account is transcribed on pp. 84–86 of Möller’s Kamp und Sieg eines Jagdgeschwaders; Möller does not indicate how he came to have the account. See also the largely accurate translation of Besser’s account on pp. 355–57 of Duiven, “Das königliche preussische Jagdgeschwader Nr. II,” part 2.

66  Besser, quoted by Möller, p. 84.

67  See Laird’s statement on p. 175 of Presenting the Experiences of Air Service Officers who were Prisoners of War in Germany”; in Kraft, [Documents], p. [27], the location is given as east of Hagéville.

68  See Root’s statement on p. 267 of Presenting the Experiences, and Kraft [Documents], p. [29].

69  Besser, quoted by Möller, p. 85. Excerpts from an account by MacCrea Stephenson’s brother, based on interviews with French farmers from the area, indicate that the bombs had been dropped and that Germans pulled the teams’ bodies from the wreckage of the planes. See Graydon, Butler College in the World War, p. 233. I am grateful to Mike O’Neal for bringing Besser’s account and that in Graydon to my attention. See also “Lester Harter Died Bravely.”

70  “Memorial Service for Lieutenant John C. Tyler.” This article indicates his grave in France was located; there is a record of his family visiting the grave there. There is a marker for him in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, but it is not clear to me whether this is a memorial or a grave marker. There is presumably a burial file for him at the National Archives, National Personnel Records Center, St. Louis, Missouri, which would clear this up, but it will not be available until Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.

71  “Memorial Services Held in Honor of Lester S. Harter.”

72  “Among the Veterans.”

73  “Soldier Laid to Rest.”

74  “Military Funeral for Mac Crea Stephenson.”

75  “Carbondale’s Hero Aviator’s Funeral to be Held Here Sunday.”

76  “Confirmed Victories 11th Aero Squadron,” p. 6. See also Rath, diary entry for September 18, 1918: “they shot down one E.A.”

77  Rath, diary entry for September 18, 1918; History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 155.

78  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 105

79  The raid report on p. 66 of “11th Squadron” indicates that they “crossed lines at “Damloue”; History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 155, indicates they were “north of Verdun” when they crossed the lines. This would match the location of Damloup.

80  Rath, diary entry for September 18, 1918.

81  Air Intelligence, Second Section, G.S., p. 53 sss.

82  Information on Cooper and Waring is scarce, but I find no record of their having been attached to an R.A.F. squadron or of work with an American squadron prior to their assignment to the 11th Aero.

83  Heater, quoted in Skinner, “Commanding the 11th,” p. 264.

84  Maurer, ed. The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 1, p. 372.

85  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 159.

86  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” 106–09  (which should perhaps be reordered 106, 108, 109, 107); “History of the 20th Aero Squadron, 1st Army,” p. 218.

87   History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 159; Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 109.

88  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 107; “11th Squadron,” p. 67.

89  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., pp. 159, 161.

90  United States, Department of the Army, Historical Division, United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919, vol. 9, p. 144.

91    Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 110; “11th Squadron,” p. 69; “History of the 20th Aero Squadron, 1st Army,” p. 220. There are some discrepancies in the accounts of numbers of teams. Rath’s list includes Allsopp; Allsopp’s Carnet (log book) has no entry for this date.

92  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 110.

93  Summersett, “96th Aero Squadron (Bombardment),” p. 21.

94  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 111.

95  Ibid., pp. 111–12; cf. “11th Squadron,” p. 71.

96  Ibid., pp. 113–14.

97  Ibid., pp. 115–16.

98  History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 163.

99  Ibid.

100  “11th Squadron,” pp. 25 and 27.

101  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” pp. 116–17; operations orders with formation sketch on p. 27 of “11th Squadron.” The raid report on p. 73 of “11th Squadron” indicates the altitude, as does the relevant entry in Coates’s log book.

102  United States, Department of the Army, Historical Division, United States Army in the World War, 1917-1919, vol. 9, p. 198.

103  The operations order on p. 33 of “11th Squadron,” p. 33, lists eighteen planes, while Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” pp. 120–21, lists twenty teams.

104  “11th Squadron,” p. 76. Note: Thomas, The First Team, p. 98, mistakenly identifies this mission as one undertaken at low altitude.

105  “History of the 20th Aero Squadron, 1st Army,” p. 226.

106  Rath, “First Day Bombardment Group, Account of Operations,” p. 121.

107  Ibid., pp. 123–24.

108  Ibid., pp. 125–28.

109  Ibid., pp. 129–30; “11th Squadron,” p. 80.

110  See pp. 43–44 of Maurer, The U.S. Air Service in World War I, vol. 1, for a sanguine account of this practice. And see History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 151, which mentions the involvement of Spads on September 14, 1918.

111  “11th Squadron,” pp. 87 and 88.

112  Ibid., p. 88; “Confirmed Victories 11th Aero Squadron,” p. 6. According to the latter, Oatis and Guthrie were each credited with a total of 4 victories. However, the “Individual Victory List,” pp. 51 and 52, credits Oatis and Guthrie with three victories each. It is not clear why Thayer, America’s First Eagles, credits Guthrie with four (p. 320) but Oatis with three (p. 321).

113  Allsopp, Carnet, entry for November 5, 1918; History of the 11th Aero Squadron U.S.A., p. 175.

114  Ancestry.com, U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939, record for V P Oatis; Stahl’s name appears on the same page.

115  “Vincent P. Oatis” [web page], and “Ramon H. Guthrie.”

116  See documents available at Ancestry.com.