Two courageous lieutenants launch aerial intelligence mission
Oct. 9, 1918
Astonished onlookers watched the first manned hot air balloon fly for a distance of five miles over Paris in 1783.
Benjamin Franklin, in Paris at the time, immediately recognized a potential military use for the technology: “such as elevating an engineer to take a view of an enemy’s army, works, etc., conveying intelligence into, or out of a besieged town, giving signals to distant places, or the like.”
Less than one hundred years later during America’s Civil War, Franklin’s vision became reality as Thaddeus Lowe telegraphed the location of enemy troops from his tethered hot air balloon to commanders on the ground, allowing them a “birds-eye-view” of the battlefield.
In 1903, the Wright brothers successfully flew the first powered airplane and the Army bought its first aircraft six years later. In 1915, conscious of the rapid advancements in aviation technology in Europe due to wartime demands, Congress established the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA. This group wanted to close the gap that American engineers had in aircraft design and production due to lack of experience, compared to their European counterparts. They were too late. When the United States entered World War I, the fledgling First Aero Squadron took the tenuous lessons learned during the Punitive Expedition and tried to make up for lost time – but they were three years behind.
However, the war would not wait. Pilots were recruited and trained. Observers were found in other fields and trained as aerial observers and photographers. The military scrambled together a fleet of aircraft. As historian Diane Hamm wrote in Military Intelligence: Its Heroes and Legends, “The story of the beginnings of U.S. Army photo intelligence is not one of a single individual, but rather, of a group of heroes: the pilots, observers, and cameramen who almost daily for a period of six months, between April and October 1918, risked their lives to gather vital information for the Allies. Theirs was a baptism under fire.”
Two of these men were 1st Lt. Edward Moore of Columbia, Mo., and 1st Lt. Gardner Allen of Milwaukee. They were both only 21 years old in 1918 and members of the 8th Aero Squadron, which activated in the summer of 1917 at Kelly Field, Texas. The men were sent to Selfridge Field, Mich., for three and one half months of training. Moore was a flight cadet, training to become a pilot. He learned to solo on a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” trainer, but would have to learn to fly missions on a precise course with consistent air speed and altitude within range of artillery in order for his observer to be able to take usable photos. Allen was trained as an observer. He would have had to learn how to operate the camera strapped to the side of an airplane, using a stop watch to ensure the correct overlap of each exposure.
The 8th Aero Squadron was ordered to France in July 1918. They were equipped with the Dayton-Wright DH-4 aircraft, only the second squadron equipped to reach the Western Front. They received two more weeks of intensive training on flying over enemy territory. Their training, skills, courage, and sheer grit, would all come into play on Oct. 9, 1918, when they found themselves under attack by German planes in the midst of a photographic mission. Both men received Distinguished Service Crosses for extraordinary heroism in action near Thiaucourt, France on that day; their citations were almost identical. 1st Lt. Edward Russell Moore, pilot, along with 1st Lt. Gardner Philip Allen, observer…
“took advantage of a short period of fair weather during generally unfavorable atmospheric conditions to undertake a photographic mission behind German lines. Accompanied by two protecting planes, they had just commenced their mission when they were attacked by eight enemy planes which followed them throughout their course, firing at the photographic plane. 1LT Moore, with both flying wires cut by bullets, a landing wire shot away, his elevators riddled with bullets, and both wings punctured, continued on the prescribed course, although it made him an easy target. 1LT Allen was thus enabled in the midst of the attack to take pictures of the exact territory assigned, and he made no attempt to protect the plane with his machine guns. Displaying entire disregard for personal danger, and steadfast devotion to duty, both officers successfully accomplished their mission.”
Both officers survived the mission and the war, and lived long lives. They were honored with induction into the Military Intelligence Corps Hall of Fame in 1988.