Sunday, February 8, 2015

SPAD XIII of Lieutenant Robert Delannoy, SPA80, Spring 1918

Robert Joseph Delannoy was born on September 2, 1890, in the town of Roubaix, which close to Lille on the Belgian border. He was called up to do his basic military training with the 21st Dragoon Regiment in Saint Omer on October 2, 1911, and he returned to civilian life on November 8, 1913. Following the general mobilization in 1914, Delannoy was assigned to the 2nd Heavy artillery Regiment, and on November 1 he transferred to the 101st Heavy Artillery Regiment, although he was subsequently assigned to the 107th Regiment d'Artillerie Lourde on November 14.

Eventually, Delannoy asked to be transferred to flying school, and on February 16, 1916, Delannoy's application to flight school was granted. He started training in Nieuports in March at the fighter school in Avord, and he was given piulot's license No. 3962 on July 18, 1916. Delannoy finished the fighter school on July 25, gunnery school at Cazaux on September 18 and the combat and aerobatics school at Pau on October 2. It is worth noting that despite the ongoing war, the French flight training remained thorough, with  ten months time between elementary flight school and assignment to a combat unit.

Robert Delannoy was indeed assigned to a new combat unit, N 80 commanded by a capitaine Glaize, in December 1916. The unit spent the latter half of December organizing itself before deploying to the Marne on January 5, 1917. The unit was deployed at the Bonne Maison farm close to Courville. It was equipped with Nieuport 17s and assigned to the 5th Army. N 80 was tasked with patrolling, armed reconnaissance and photographic reconnaissance missions as well as balloon attacks. The squadron was equipped with Le Prieur rockets for this purpose.
Delannoy in his rocket-armed Nieuport.

In March 1917, groupe de chasse (GC) 14 was formed from squadrons N75, N80, N83 and N86. The fighter group was also re-equipped with SPAD VIIs. As winter tumed into spring, the battle pace increased, and Delannoy flew several patrols in April during the second battle of the Aisne. After having converted to SPAD VIIs, Delannoy obtained his first victory in SPAD VII No. 1126 when he shot down his first enemy, an unidentified two-seater, at 5:45 on the morning of May 5 just northeast of Juvincourt. He gained a probable victory against another two-seater on May 19. Delannoy was not one to refuse a fight, and he did gain a confirmed second victory at 9:45 AM on June 17, when he shot down another enemy two-seater while flying SPAD VII No. 1205. He was mentioned in dispatches by the 10th Army as an "...excellent pilot with lots of guts. Shot down an enemy two-seater on May 5." Delannoy was mentioned again by the 10th Army on July 3 as a "very good pilot with brilliant courage and also excellent military qualities. A third enemy aircraft shot down on June 19" (in all likelihood referring to his victory on June 17). On July 8, N80 redeployed to Souilly on the Meuse to support the fighting around Verdun, and on October 11, the entire GC 14 was transferred to the 6th Army. N 80 was based at the Vauberon farm near Coeuvres on the Aisne. At the same time capitaine Claize was replaced by a lieutenant Ferrand, and the squadron was renamed SPA80. Robert Delannoy was given a temporary promotion to sous-lieutenant on November 6, 1917.

GC 14 was once again re-deployed between November 21 and 28, this time to Cattigny in the north to support the British offensive at Cambrai before returning to Vauberon in early December. At around 9:30AM on December 15, 1917 while patrolling at an altitude of 5,000 meters in the Soissons-Reims area, Delannoy observed an enemy two-seater  crossing over the French lines. He caught up with the enemy aircraft above Prosens just as it was being attacked by aircraft of SPA 48. Delannoy fired several rounds at the two-seater at short distance, and all of a sudden the enemy aircraft exploded, with debris hitting Delannoy's SPAD. The winshield was broken, the radiator pierced and the motor stalled while Delannoy tried to protect himself from scorching oil and boiling water spurting from the engine. After what seemed like an eternity, Delannoy managed to nurse his damaged aircraft down from 4,000 to 300 meters, where he spotted a small clearing in the woods near Sept-Vaulx. Delannoy managed to crash-land his SPAD "like a flower", according to Delannoy. The victory was shared with adjutants Sabatier and Renauld of SPA 48.

The entire fight had been observed by balloonists of the 57th Balloon Company, and Delannoy was offered a good breakfast, while Capitaine Thévenot, the aerial commander of the 4th Corps offered him an aircraft to fly back to SPA 80, where he was greeted by his orderly Mesona, his mechanic Régis and his dog, Diane. Following this feat, Delannoy was made knight of the Légion d'Honneur for being a "a pilot of great value, remarkable by his bravery and intrepidity. He has distinguished himself during the course of numerous combats with enemy planes by his skill and disregard of danger. On 15 December 1917, he downed his fourth enemy plane."

GC 14 continued conducting operations during the winter of 1917-18 despite bad weather, and in February SPA80 received SPAD XIIIs to replace the old SPAD VIIs, and SPAD XIII No. 2287 was allocated to Delannoy as his personal aircraft, carrying the blue diagonal band of SPA 80 as well as the numeral "3" in white. However, a few weeks later Delannoy crashed his new SPAD. According to Delannoy, "my aeroplane ran into a power line. It lost speed and fell on its wing". The airplane was severely damaged, but Delannoy sustained only light injuries, probably due to the sturdiness of the SPAD and a generous amount of luck.

In March 1918, GC 14 was engaged against the German offensive in the Lassigny-St. Germain area with patrolling, reconnaissance and strafing of ground troops and columns. GC 14 finally left Vauberon on April 15 for Feinvilliers and on May 5 the unit deployed to Bray-Dunes to defend against a German offensive in Flanders only to be deployed at Oise Thiers as part of the defense of Paris on June 1.

The squadron was once again redeployed in September, this time to Boursonne on the Oise, and October 9 saw SPA 80 deployed to Royallieu near Compiègne. Delannoy was once again mentioned in the dispatches of the 10th Army on October 16 for being a "very bold pilot that came to the rescue of his comrades despite fire and still sought to fight tirelessly with tenacious will and tireless energy. On August 20, 1918, he engaged two two-seaters during the same patrol, shooting down one in flames and forcing the other to land."

These two claims were to be Robert Delannoy's final victories. They occurred while flying a patrol together with sous-lieutenant Compagnion and adjutant Tonnac Villeneuve. They spotted two German Halberstadt C-types and attacked at once. One of the Halberstadts went down in flames after a couple of minutes, and facing the onslaught of the French, the remaining Germans decided to surrender and land behind the French lines, where the crew was made prisoners-of-war. Delannoy could finally call himself an ace.

Cliquez pour agrandir 
Delannoy in his SPAD XIII

The final wartime redeployment of SPA 80 happened on October 31, when the squadron moved to Seraucourt on the Aisne. At the end of the war, SPA 80 had conducted 3,096 patrols, lost 13 pilots, claimed 17 victories and shot down one enemy balloon. The units sole ace was sous-lieutenant Robert Delannoy. He fought in the Second World War as well before being retired in 1943. Robert Delannoy passed away in 1979. The tally of 13 lost for 17 victories may not go down as one of the great achievements in the history of aviation, but bear in mind that French fighter units weren't Trenchard's RFC: the French tended to engage mainly enemy aircraft that flew over French airspace or above the front, and reconnaissance and artillery observation aircraft seem to have been the priority. The highest scoring French air force unit, SPA 3, scored 172 victories, while the entire French air force claimed 2,406 aircraft and balloons for the cost of approximately 3,500 dead and missing. By contrast, the RFC/RAF claimed 7,054 enemy aircraft and balloons while they lost a staggering almost 9,400 dead and missing. Conducting aggressive patrols over enemy-held territory was costly business.

The kit is the ESCI SPAD XIII in 1/72 scale from the early 1970s, and it is painted as the aircraft that Delannoy crashed early in 1918. The fit is good, but the cockpit is non-existent, the machine guns are just blobs of plastic and the wheels are far too small. The overall dimensions are adequate, except for the wingspan, which is a couple of millimeters too short. Fit is good, and I replaced the aforementioned parts, although I did not attempt to increase the wingspan. Since I wanted to add a pilot to cover up the lack of cockpit, I depicted the model in flight with a propeller disc. I am not entirely satisfied with the propeller, but I will have a go at another flying model in an attempt to refine the technique. The decals are from the spares box.


Jon Guttman. SPAD XII/XIII Aces of World War I.