First American Aerial Victory in WWI – Stephen Thompson

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Stephen Thompson in the uniform he was wearing on February 5, 1918. Note the French Croix de guerre with Palm. (Wikipedia)

Stephen Thompson in the uniform he was wearing on February 5, 1918. (Wikipedia)

Stephen W. Thompson was born March 20, 1894 in West Plains, Missouri. Went to the University of Missouri as Senior Electrical Engineering, before their appeal for seniors to join the military in 1917 as the U.S. entered World War I. He enlisted in the Army and received his basic training at Fort Riley than Fort Monroe for training in Coastal Artillery before making his final decision to join the Air Service. He arrived in France in September 1918 and was assigned as Observer to the United States 1st Observation Squadron, under command of Major Ralph Royce, for training in Amanty.

Since the French day bombardment Squadron Br. 123, equipped with the Brequet 14 B2, was nearby so Major Ralph Royce occasionally send one of his men along together with the French on a raid.

United States & Thompson’s First Aerial Victory 

The 5th of February 1918, Stephen Thompson visited a nearby French unit with a fellow member of the 1st Observation Squadron (which at that time did not begun with combat operations) and both were invited to flight along as Gunner-Bombardiers on a bombing raid over Saarbrücken, Germany. All went well until they were attacked by Albatros D. III Fighters, after dropping their bombs. Cpt. Stephen W. Thompson shot one of the Albatros D. III fighters down. It was not only Thomspon’s first aerial victory but also by any member of the U.S. Military. For this action he was awarded the French medal Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Croix de Guerre with Palm (Wikipedia)

Croix de Guerre with Palm (Wikipedia)

In May 1918, Cpt. Thompson was assigned to the new 12th Aero Squadron at Ourches airdrome, under comand of Capt. Lewis Brereton.

28th of July 1918

Another air battle occurred. On this day, while doing artillery spotting during a battle near Chateau-Thierry, his Salmson 2 A-2 was attacked by four Fokker D. VIIs from Jagdgeschwader 1 (nicknamed Richthofen’s Flying Circus), under command of Hermann Göring. 1Lt. Thompson shot down the first two planes but a bullet from the third hit his machine gun and disabled it. He was then hit in the leg, and his pilot was hit in the stomach, but the pilot still managed to crash land the plane before he died of is wound.

The German pilot who shot them down was famous German ace Erich Löwenhardt.

After the War

He worked several years as an engineer before becoming a high school mathematics teacher. During World War 2 he taught preflight and meteorology. He died at the age of 83, on October 9, 1977 in Dayton/ Ohio. His uniform, from when he shot down the Albatros D. III, is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

(Left) British Royal Flying Corp cap, tunic, trousers and flying equipment worn by Capt. William C. Lambert during World War I. The bar decoration below the RFC wings on the tunic was the ribbon design for the original British Distinguished Flying Cross. (Right) Uniform items worn by Lt. Stephen W. Thompson on Feb. 5, 1918, when, while flying as an observer with the French, he became the first person in U.S. uniform to down an enemy airplane. (U.S. Air Force photo)

(Left) British Royal Flying Corp cap, tunic, trousers and flying equipment worn by Capt. William C. Lambert during World War I. The bar decoration below the RFC wings on the tunic was the ribbon design for the original British Distinguished Flying Cross. (Right) Uniform items worn by Lt. Stephen W. Thompson on Feb. 5, 1918, when, while flying as an observer with the French, he became the first person in U.S. uniform to down an enemy airplane. (U.S. Air Force photo)

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Argunners Magazine is an independent online historian and collector's magazine, dedicated to the militaria and history of both Axis and Allied powers during the World War 1 & 2. Argunners is a central resource offering the latest militaria and war history news, journals, articles and press releases related to these themes.

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