Original U.S. WWI 50th Aero Squadron Framed Yardlong Portrait Featuring Medal of Honor Recipient Lt. Erwin R. Bleckley, Finder of “The Lost Battalion”

Item Description

Original Item: Only One Available. "Sir," Goettler informed Lieutenant Dan Morse before taking off on the final flight of the day, "Erv and I have decided we're going to find that bunch of doughboys or die trying."
Not all of the pilots of World War I aviation were flamboyant, one-man fighting forces. The pilots were certainly the men who took to the clouds to dogfight with enemy airplanes, record a tally of victories, and claim the title "Ace". Of no lesser importance, however, despite the rather mundane nature of their work, were the pilots who flew to watch friendly troop movements, observe and report on enemy positions, and map terrain for those planning the tactics of ground warfare.
One of these observation units was the 50th Aero Squadron. Mustered at Kelly Field on August 6, 1917, the squadron was working under the 130th Field Artillery and flying out of its aerodrome at Remicourt near Verdun. The squadron adopted the image of a Dutch girl, painting it on the sides of their DH-4 airplanes.
The squadron conducted its missions from two-seat bi-planes designed by British Captain Geoffrey de Haviland and designated as the DH-4. The American version was a hardy airplane, well-constructed behind a powerful 400-hp Liberty engine with a top speed of 128 miles per hour. Two forward-firing, synchronized Marlin machine guns, and two swivel-mounted Lewis machine guns provided both offensive and defensive firepower. The pilot flew in the forward cockpit with his observer behind. Between the two open cockpits, directly in the line of fire from attacking airplanes or ground fire, lay the fuel tank. It was perhaps the only major design flaw in the sturdy airplane, but so fatal a flaw that the DH-4 was labeled the Flaming Coffin by the men who flew it.
The tenuous situation of the Lost Battalion resulted in requests for support from the 50th Aero Squadron. Initially, the aircraft flew observation or dropped messages, but on the morning of October 6, the squadron's DH-4 engines warmed up for something previously unheard of in military aviation. On this day pilots of the 50th Aero Squadron would attempt the first air-drop in the history of U.S. military aviation, in efforts to resupply the battered and starving men tucked helplessly into a pocket of the slope above Charlevaux Creek.
This is an incredibly detailed “yardlong” featuring the members of the 50th Aero Squadron. All of the faces are clear and easily recognizable, one of those faces being Lt. Erwin Bleckley who can be found standing towards the center. Be sure to look for the circled soldier in the photo section!
This is a wonderful yardlong with incredible history! This 44” x 11” portrait would be a welcomed addition to any WWI collection. Comes more than ready for display!
Lt. Harold Goettler and Lt. Erwin Bleckley
First Lieutenant Harold Goettler banked the wings of his DH-4 and pointed it towards the foreboding terrain of the Argonne Forest. The 28-year old Chicago native had enlisted in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army fourteen months earlier, earning his wings and joining the 50th Aero Squadron in France less than two months earlier. Behind him sat Second Lieutenant Erwin Bleckley. During the same month in 1917 that Goettler had enlisted in the Army, Bleckley had been commissioned a second lieutenant in the National Guard of his own home state of Kansas.

Lieutenant Bleckley had arrived in France in March of 1918 as a member of the 130th Field Artillery. When the new US Army Air Service sent out a call for artillery officers willing to volunteer for observer's school at Tours, Bleckley had raised his hand, earned the single right wing of an aircraft observer, and joined the 50th Aero Squadron on August 14th.
Goettler had piloted his first combat mission during the opening of the St. Mihiel Offensive on September 12th with Bleckley seated behind him. Over the following weeks, the two men operated as a team in the air, performing their usually mundane observation missions in the region. Today, things were different. The DH-4 carried a number of small, tightly bound parcels. The mission was to fly into the enemy's lair within the Argonne forest, drop low across the ravine bisected by Charlevaux Creek, and drop the badly needed supplies to the waiting arms of a lost battalion of doughboys below.
From the heights of the heavens, the rugged mountains and valleys of the Argonne Forest began to loom ahead. Goettler eased up on the stick and dropped the nose of his airplane to descend lower. Soon small white clouds could be seen coming from the trees as the enemy turned his weapons on the advancing DH-4. With a sharp eye, Goettler located the ravine through which the Charlevaux Creek wended its way, parallel a dirt road and railroad track. Enemy bullets swarmed past his head and tore through the canvas and plywood body of his airplane, but Lieutenant Goettler ignored the danger to reduce airspeed as he dropped even lower into the Argonne. Behind him, Lieutenant Bleckley scanned the broken forest for some sign of the Lost Battalion.
Though the general location of Whittlesey's pocket was known because of the messages sent out by carrier pigeon, the forest and the terrain hid the desperate doughboys from view. In moments the DH-4 was climbing out the other side of the ravine, and no sign of the American force had been noted.
Glancing to either side, Goettler noted the torn canvas of his airplane's wings. He had taken a brutal beating on the first pass, but the sturdy de Haviland had weathered the storm, and no rounds had found the airplane's Achilles heel between the two cockpits. Determined to deliver the badly needed food and ammunition, the intrepid pilot banked for a second pass. Coming in even lower this time, he was dangerously exposed to not only ground fire below, but to ground fire from the high sides of the ravine towering above him. He was virtually caught in a deadly crossfire from three directions: from both sides of the ravine as well as from overhead. Still, he ignored the threat, reducing airspeed and flying at a nearly tree-top level while Lieutenant Bleckley leaned from his exposed rear cockpit to drop the neatly tied parcels in the general vicinity of the dirt road, where they knew Whittlesey's men waited.
The first pass of Goettler's DH-4 had been five hundred feet above the valley floor. On the second pass, he had dropped to a dangerous 300 feet, while enemy fire literally ripped his airplane to shreds. Having dropped parcels but not having located Whittlesey's pocket, he banked for a third pass, this time skimming tree-tops at less than two hundred feet. Bleckley continued to drop parcels until the last of them had fallen into what he hoped was the range of Whittlesey's men. With the wind whipping through the thin wires that held their DH-4 together, the two men returned to the aerodrome. There were more than 40 holes in the airplane, two of them large gashes ripped by large pieces of enemy shrapnel. While mechanics worked feverishly to repair the aircraft, other pilots of the 50th Aero Squadron flew out on similar missions.

Throughout the afternoon the ravine was filled with the roar of the big 400-hp Liberty engines and the crash of small arms and machinegun fire. Fourteen missions were flown before the afternoon was spent. Two DH-4s were shot down and crashed in no-man's land, and a third limped back to the aerodrome with its bloody pilot struggling to keep his airplane aloft long enough to reach safety. As shadows began to creep across the eastern horizon, dozens of small bundles lay scattered across the ravine, but no pilot had as yet made visual contact with the Lost Battalion. They could only hope that their best guesses had placed the bundles near enough that some could be recovered.

The mechanics had finished making temporary repairs to the battered DH-4 of Lieutenants Goettler and Bleckley, and the two men volunteered to make one more trip to the ravine before darkness fell. Lieutenant Goetler planned to fly even lower than before, intentionally drawing enemy fire in hopes of locating the hidden pocket by the simple process of elimination. Then Bleckley would be able to drop the packages directly into the midst of the starving soldiers. "Sir," Goettler informed Lieutenant Dan Morse before taking off on the final flight of the day, "Erv and I have decided we're going to find that bunch of doughboys or die trying."

Half an hour later, Major Whittlesey, Captain McMurtry, Lieutenant Holderman, and the demoralized men of the Lost Battalion witnessed one of the most amazing air shows in history. From a distance, they heard the roar of yet another Liberty engine as the DH-4 approached. Slowly the roar grew louder, drowning out even the crash of the heavy enemy barrage. Wings vibrating against the laws of aerodynamics, struts whining against the whipping wind, Lieutenant Goettler was running the gauntlet so low at times it seemed the large DH-4 would actually touch the ground. Fighting the stick, the airplane would rise just in time to clear a tall tree, then drop on the other side to scour the terrain for any signs of the Americans. From time to time as he skillfully navigated the ravine, Goettler strafed enemy positions with his forward Marlin machine guns. Behind him, Lieutenant Bleckley ignored the whine of enemy fire zipping past his exposed torso to carefully sketch out the enemy positions. By mapping these, it was becoming much easier to locate the one spot in the ravine devoid of incoming fire. That had to be the location of The Pocket.

Nearing the far side of the ravine, Goettler pulled back sharply on the stick to clear the slopes, then banked for a second pass. To run the gauntlet again seemed sheer suicide, but perhaps with one more pass he could enable Bleckley to finish his map and pinpoint the Lost Battalion. Shadows were starting to creep across the floor of the ravine and the DH-4 dropped into the valley of death one more time. The forest literally blinked with the flashes of tracer rounds, and a pall of spent gun powder hung low to obscure the terrain. Still, Lieutenant Goettler stayed his course.

Enemy machine-guns fire shattered the windscreen, and then the instrument panel disintegrated before Lieutenant Goettler's eyes in a hail of incoming bullets. Behind him, Lieutenant Bleckley's Lewis gun fell silent and the young soldier, formerly of the Kansas National Guard, slumped in his seat. With blood flowing unchecked from his own ruptured body, Goettler pulled back on the stick, gripping it tightly lest it slips from his bloody hands, and headed over the ridge to the west. Moments later the battered airship pancaked with a loud crash in front of the French lines and slid sideways to a halt.

Surprised French infantrymen raced to the scene of the crash. "Ces aviators--ils sont morts!" shouted the first to arrive..."Both aviators are dead!" Quickly they set about removing the bodies for fear the airplane would burst into flames. The pilot was indeed dead, yet somehow the airplane had "landed itself". The legend of the Lost Battalion was soon supplemented by the legend of the Ghost Plane.

As the French pulled the body of Lieutenant Bleckley from the rear cockpit, they found he was still breathing, though quite shallowly. Somehow the intrepid observer mustered the strength to press a piece of paper into a nearby hand before he died. When the paper was neatly pressed out it contained the detailed map of enemy positions in the ravine and the most accurate estimate of the Lost Battalion's location since they had entered the ravine.
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