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Archive Report: Allied Forces
1914 - 1918

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
Edmond Thieffry

Edmond Thieffry: Belgian Who Overcame Clumsy Flying to Become Ace

An attorney when the war began, Thieffry joined the army but was soon captured by the Germans.

He escaped on a stolen motorcycle and was interned when he entered the Netherlands. Employing all his legal skills, he successfully argued for his release and was promptly back on the stolen motorcycle, heading for home.

In July 1915, Thieffry transferred to the Belgian Air Service where he crashed more aircraft during training than any other Belgian pilot. As a result, his superiors were reluctant to assign him to a two-seater squadron for fear he would kill the observer in a crash. Instead, he was assigned to fly single-seat fighters.

Thieffry soon crashed his first Nieuport scout and as he attempted to extract himself from the wreckage, he inadvertently fired his machine gun, scattering the onlookers who were rushing to his aid.

His skills as a pilot eventually improved and Thieffry went on to become an ace. In February 1918, he was shot down in flames but survived and was captured.

Victories:


Date

Time

Unit

Aircraft

Opponent

Location

15 Mar 1917

p.m.

5me

Nieuport

Two-seater

23 Mar 1917

a.m.

5me

Nieuport

Two-seater

Ghisteles

12 May 1917

0700

5me

Nieuport

Two-seater

Houthulst Forest

14 Jun 1917

2030

5me

Nieuport

Albatros D.III

Westende

03 Jul 1917

1330

5me

Nieuport

Albatros D.III

N of Dixmude

03 Jul 1917

1332

5me

Nieuport

Albatros D.III

N of Dixmude

16 Aug 1917

0915

5me

SPAD

Albatros C

Houthulst Forest

22 Aug 1917

1015

5me

SPAD

Scout

Beerst

26 Aug 1917

1940

5me

SPAD

Scout

Slype

16 Oct 1917

1140

5me

SPAD

Scout

Merckem


Video honouring Thieffry (in French)

Thieffry was born in Etterbeek, a municipality of Brussels, and went on to study law in Leuven (hence his nickname 'The Flying Judge'). After qualifying he was conscripted into the Belgian Army, joining the 10th Regiment in 1913. At the start of the First World War he saw service as a staff attaché to General Leman, but was captured by the Germans. He escaped on a stolen motorcycle to the neutral territory of the Netherlands, where he was arrested by Dutch military police. Using his legal knowledge and Dutch language skills he managed to talk his way out of internment, and travelled to Antwerp to rejoin the Belgian army.

In 1915, Thieffry joined the Compagnie des Ouvriers et Aérostiers —the Belgian Army Air Corps— and with some difficulty qualified as a pilot at Étampes. On 1 February 1916 he joined the 3rd Squadron as an observer for artillery, where he was appreciated for his exactitude and courage. He crash-landed so many aircraft that he was promptly assigned to a single-seat fighter squadron, as no one would fly with him! He was rapidly transferred to 5th Squadron (The Comets) under Captain Jules Dony based at De Panne in December 1916.

His first confirmed victory was on 15 March 1917, flying a Nieuport 11. His second followed eight days later[1] above Gistel, and his third on 12 May above Houthulst. His fourth was on 14 June—an Albatros D.III above Westende. The 5th Squadron then relocated to Les Moëres, and was equipped with Nieuport 17s. Thieffry gained official status as an "ace" when he shot down two German fighters over Diksmuide on 3 July. In August he received the first SPAD VII fighter in the Belgian Air Force, bought by the Belgian prince. He gained three more victories with it.

On 31 August his aircraft was badly damaged by two German Albatros D.V fighters, but he managed to land behind the Belgian lines. He continued to fight and he claimed his 10th and last confirmed kill on 10 October 1917. He also had five 'probable' kills. This placed him third on the list of Belgian aces, behind Willy Coppens and André de Meulemeester. Shortly afterwards he was shot down and wounded by return fire from a German two-seater aircraft of FAA 227 over Kortrijk on 23 February 1918. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in Germany. He tried to escape on 13 April 1918 but was caught ten days later.

Flight to Congo

At the end of the war Thieffry returned to Brussels by way of Switzerland, arriving home on 6 December 1918. He returned to his practice as a lawyer, but remained active in aviation, being one of the founders of Sabena in 1923. He then devised a plan to inaugurate an air link between Belgium and the Belgian Congo. At the start of 1925 he obtained permission from the government for this hazardous flight. Sabena supplied a Handley Page W8f, which Thieffry named 'Princesse Marie-José', after getting the support of his friend King Albert.

He left from Brussels (presumably from Haren Airport as the present national airport would only be created in 1940 at Melsbroek, its Zaventem terminal dating from 1956) on 12 February 1925, with mechanic Joseph "Jef" de Bruycker and co-pilot Léopold Roger, heading for N'Dolo airfield at Leopoldville (now Kinshasa). Thieffry himself acted as navigator. The flight plan called for stops at Marseille, Oran, Colomb-Bechar, Gao, Fort-Lamy, Bangui and Coquilhatville, and should have taken seven days. However strong adverse winds and a broken propeller meant that it took 51 days. Finally on 3 April, after 8,200 kilometres, they arrived at Leopoldville. The first air connection was made, and Thieffry returned to a hero's welcome in Belgium

He made two further attempts to reach Congo. The first on 9 March 1928 in an ACAZ C.2 with Joseph Lang and Philippe Quersin, did not get any further than Philippeville. The second on 26 June in a Stampe et Vertongen RSV.22-180,[3] again with Philippe Quersin, also failed, this time ending in a marsh at Clapier, near Vauvert.[3] Thieffry then developed a plan to set up an internal air service in Congo. During his second test flight in Congo on 11 April 1929, flying Avimeta C.92, Thieffry, with fellow flyer Gaston Julien, was killed in a crash close to Lake Tanganyika (only a mechanic survived). He was 36 years old. It would be another 10 years before a regular air service was established between Brussels and Kinshasa.

Sources: Wikipedia, theaerodrome.com, Aircrew Remembered researcher

SY 4 Mar 2016

Acknowledgements: Sources used by us in compiling WW1 material include: Dunnigan, James F. (2003). How to Make War: A Comprehensive Guide to Modern Warfare in the Twenty-first Century. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-060090-12-8.Durkota, Allen; Darcey, Thomas; Kulikov, Victor (1995). The Imperial Russian Air Service: Famous Pilots and Aircraft of World War I. Mountain View: Flying Machines Press. ISBN 978-0-060090-12-8.Franks, Norman; Bailey, Frank W.; Guest, Russell (1993). Above the Lines: The Aces and Fighter Units of the German Air Service, Naval Air Service and Flanders Marine Corps, 1914–1918. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-0-948817-73-1.Franks, Norman (2005). Sopwith Pup Aces of World War I. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-841768-86-1.Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell; Alegi, Gregory (1997). Above the War Fronts: The British Two-seater Bomber Pilot and Observer Aces, the British Two-seater Fighter Observer Aces, and the Belgian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Fighter Aces, 1914–1918. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-1-898697-56-5.Franks, Norman; Bailey, Frank W. (1992). Over the Front: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the United States and French Air Services, 1914–1918. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-0-948817-54-0.Guttman, Jon (2009). Pusher Aces of World War 1. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-846034-17-6.Guttman, Jon (2001). Spad VII Aces of World War I: Volume 39 of Aircraft of the Aces. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-841762-22-7.Kulikov, Victor (2013). Russian Aces of World War 1: Aircraft of the Aces. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-780960-61-6.Newton, Dennis (1996). Australian Air Aces: Australian Fighter Pilots in Combat. Motorbooks International. ISBN 978-1-875671-25-0.Pieters, Walter M. (1998). Above Flanders Fields: A Complete Record of the Belgian Fighter Pilots and Their Units During the Great War. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-1-898697-83-1.Shores, Christopher (2001). British and Empire Aces of World War I. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84176-377-4.Shores, Christopher; Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell (1990). Above the Trenches: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-0-948817-19-9.Shores, Christopher; Franks, Norman; Guest, Russell (1996). Above the Trenches Supplement: A Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces. Oxford: Grub Street. ISBN 978-1-898697-39-8., Aircrew Remembered Databases and our own archives. We are grateful for the support and encouragement of UK Imperial War Museum, Australian War Memorial, Australian National Archives, UK National Archives and Fold3 and countless dedicated friends and researchers across the world.
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Last Modified: 12 March 2016, 20:13