Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Nieuport 24bis of Escadrille 97

The Nieuport 24 and 24bis were developed from the very successful Nieuport 17 scout that entered service in 1916. The designer, Gustave Delage, added a 130HP Le Rhone engine as well as various aerodynamic improvements to the Nieuport 17, but due to various problems with mainly the new tail assembly the Nieuport 24 wasn't ready to enter service until the summer of 1917. It was actually preceded by the Nieuport 24bis, and interim version with a tail identical to the Nieuport 17 as well as a 120HP Le Rhone engine. However, by then the scout was outclassed by new allied aircraft such as the SPAD XIII, the British SE.5 and the Sopwith Camel, so the Nieuport 24bis saw fairly limited use. The fact that the Nieuport was armed with a single synchronized Vickers or a wing-mounted Lewis machine gun also limited the use of the aircraft, since by 1917 most if not all enemy scouts were armed with two machine guns. The Nieuport 24 as well as the later 25 and 27 models saw the practical end of the development of the Vee-strut, and later Nieuports had conventional strut arrangements.

Fifty Nieuport 24s were used by the Royal Flying Corps Nos. 1, 40 and 113 Squadrons as well as Nos. 6 and 11 Squadrons Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) up to mid-1918 in theaters ranging from the West Front to Palestine owing to a shortage of SE.5s. The Nieuports earned a bad reputation within the RFC, supposedly through rumors emanating from the French that had the aircraft suffer from deficient lateral control. The British eventually removed the canvas aileron sealing to address this issue. Aéronautique Militaire, the French Air Force, also used Nieuport 24s and 24bis, and the French ace Charles Nungesser flew the Nieuport 24. Most of the Nieuport 24, 24bis and the later Nieuport 27 were used as trainers by the United States Air Service (USAS). The USAS operated 240 Nieuport 24 and 24bis trainers. The Nieuport 24 was also used in small numbers by Russia, the Soviet Union, Japan, Romania and Poland, and a few Nieuports may have been shipped to Belgium and Italy. 

The Roden kit of the Nieuport 24bis was easy to assemble, and the silver dope meant that this was a fairly quick build. The kit came with US, French and Soviet markings, and although the decals were in register and printed with sharp colors, they were also remarkably brittle, even with the application of generous amounts of decal softener. The tail had to be painted, since the two tricolor decals simply refused to settle on the surface without cracking.

I chose French markings, since I find that the French effort over the fronts of the First World War has been marginalized, perhaps due to the language barrier and the impact on popular culture of images constantly portraying the RFC engaging their German counterparts over Flanders. Yet, the Aéronautique Militaire was considered the first air force in the world, and it was established on October 22, 1910. The French were world leaders in aircraft design, and the Aéronautique Militaire had 132 aircraft in 21 Escadrilles when the war broke out. The French also became the main suppliers of aircraft to the allies, and Nieuports and SPADs were used by most of the allied nations. As early as 1916 the French aircraft industry produced approximately 500 aircraft per month, and when the war ended in November 1918 the Aéronautique Militaire consisted of 127,630 men and 3,222 aircraft. The aviators of France had claimed 2,049 enemy aircraft, 357 balloons, but at the cost of some 3,500 airmen killed in action, 3,000 wounded or missing and approximately 2,000 killed in accidents. 

This Nieuport is painted in the markings of the commander's aircraft belonging to escadrille N 97 - SPA 07. The aircraft is the third aircraft from the left in the photograph below: This photograph was taken during the second half of 1917. The first aircraft from the left is Number  4479, and the second one is marked with a "5".

Escadrille N 97 was established by combing detachments 511 and 519 on July 1, 1917 at Froidos under the command of Capitaine Francis de Castel. The escadrille was initially part of the VI Army on the Aisne front, and it was equipped with Nieuport 23, 24 and 24bis. The unit was tasked with supporting reconnaissance and fire direction missions as well as protecting French artillery positions and ground support. It earned several mentions in dispatches. Late in 1917, the unit was combined with Groupe de Chasse 15, and the unit was renamed SPA 97 on December 1, 1917. The escadrille was part of the l'escadre de combat n° 1 together with escadrilles SPA 37, SPA 81, SPA 93, SPA 97, SPA 48, SPA 94, SPA 153 - SPA 155, SPA 73, SPA 85, SPA 95 and SPA 96. The unit insignia was the fanion aux hermines, the ermine pennant. Aces included André René Celestin Herbelin with eleven victories, Julien Anatole Guertiau with eight, and the Comte Pierre Fortaner with seven, although all of these pilots served with several other units. SPA 97 ended the First World War with 21 aerial victories and eight balloons to its credit, but it also lost nine pilots. Most of the victories may have been scored after the unit was re-equipped with SPAD XIIIs and given more air-to-air combat opportunities.

This is Caporal Maurice Caulier in a Nieuport 23 or 24 at the Villeneuve-les-Vertus base in January 1918. Notice that this Nieuport is unarmed - Caulier may have been flying off this particular aircraft to Bourget-Dugny, since at this time SPA 97 was being re-equipped with SPAD XIIIs. Maurice Caulier continued to serve with SPA 94 from April 12 to August 19. 1918 (Maurice Caulier via Delcampe France )


Insignia of SPA 97. The pin on the bottom is from the 1970s.


Cheesman, E. F. (ed.) Fighter Aircraft of the 1914-1918 War. Letchworth: Harleyford Publications, 1960
Nieuport Fighters in Action. Carollton: Squadron/Signal Publications