Today, Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker of the 94th Aero Squadron, who went on to become the highest scoring ace from the United States, scored his first victory. He was on patrol with his wingman Captain James Norman Hall.
Both were flying Nieuport 28 C1s, an aircraft that the French had rejected in favour of the SPADXIII. The new US Squadrons had been forced to use the Nieuports due to a shortage of SPADs.
Rickenbacker recalled the fight Chapter 4 of his book Rickenbacker: Fighting the Flying Circus.
“Yes! There was a scout coming towards us from north of Pont-à-Mousson. It was at about our altitude. I knew it was a Hun the moment I saw it, for it had the familiar lines of their new Pfalz. More. over, my confidence in James Norman Hall was such that I knew he couldn’t make a mistake. And he was still climbing into the sun, carefully keeping his position between its glare and the oncoming fighting plane I clung as closely to Hall as I could. The Hun was steadily approaching us, unconscious of his danger, for we were full in the sun.
With the first downward dive of Jimmy’s machine I was by his side. We had at least a thousand feet advantage over the enemy and we were two to one numerically. He might outdive our machines, for the Pfalz is a famous diver, while our faster climbing Nieuports had a droll little habit of shedding their fabric when plunged too furiously through the air. The Boche hadn’t a chance to outfly us. His only salvation would be in a dive towards his own lines.
These thoughts passed through my mind in a flash and I instantly determined upon my tactics. While Hall went in for his attack I would keep my altitude and get a position the other side of the Pfalz, to cut off his retreat.
No sooner had I altered my line of flight than the German pilot saw me leave the sun’s rays. Hall was already half-way to him when he stuck up his nose and began furiously climbing to the upper ceiling. I let him pass me and found myself on the other side just as Hall began firing. I doubt if the Boche had seen Hall’s Nieuport at all.
Surprised by discovering this new antagonist, Hall, ahead of him, the Pfalz immediately abandoned all idea of a battle and banking around to the right started for home, just as I had expected him to do. In a trice I was on his tail. Down, down we sped with throttles both full open. Hall was coming on somewhere in my rear. The Boche had no heart for evolutions or maneuvers. He was running like a scared rabbit, as I had run from Campbell. I was gaining upon him every instant and had my sights trained dead upon his seat before I fired my first shot.
At 150 yards I pressed my triggers. The tracer bullets cut a streak of living fire into the rear of the Pfalz tail. Raising the nose of my aeroplane slightly the fiery streak lifted itself like the stream of water pouring from a garden hose. Gradually it settled into the pilot’s seat. The swerving of the Pfalz course indicated that its rudder no longer was held by a directing hand. At 2000 feet above the enemy’s lines I pulled up my headlong dive and watched the enemy machine continuing on its course. Curving slightly to the left the Pfalz circled a little to the south and the next minute crashed onto the ground just at the edge of the woods a mile inside their own lines. I had brought down my first enemy aeroplane and had not been subjected to a single shot!”
Both men were offered the Croix de Guerre by the French Government but had to turn it down to American policy on not accepting foreign awards.