The Lafayette Escadrille: A Photo History of the First American Fighter Squadron
Author: Steven A. Ruffin
Publisher: Casemate Publishers
Every now and then you'll come across a book that pleasantly surprises. This is just such a book. Reading the title, I was fully expecting a photo rich book, and while this book is very likely the most complete photographic documentation of the Lafayette Escadrille, it is the text that really sets it apart. The author clearly has a strong passion for the subject, enough so to warrant traveling to France to discover some of the locations shown in period photos. This helps take the story of the Lafayette Escadrille to a whole new level, as seeing the locations today help provide a connection to events from a hundred years ago.
While there were many Americans fighting with other nations before the United States officially entered the First World War, there were only 38 American pilots in the Lafayette Escadrille. This book doesn't just tell the story of the unit itself, rather the author goes into detail on the individuals as well. These personal histories include background on their lives before heading to France, as well as their operational story and aftermath. While most of these individuals came from East Coast Ivy League schools, but there were a few that came from less auspicious backgrounds.
The majority of the book covers the operational history of the Lafayette Escadrille, and as the title suggests, this history is thoroughly covered photographically. As a unit with interest internationally, perhaps more photos were taken, or just as likely those photos taken survived afterward because of their notoriety. Either way, we are lucky to have them, and they are put to great use in this book. As noted earlier, the author builds on the visual history of these photos by matching them up to photos taken a hundred years later. Empty farmlands from today still provide the visual cues seen in the period photos, pulling the viewer back in time.
In addition to these location photos, there are also photos showing various memorials throughout France, as well as maps and color profile illustrations that all add a splash of color to a part of history that is usually only told in black and white. Some of the color photos show surviving pieces of Lafayette Escadrille aircraft, fragments that provide the only physical clues as to how these aircraft looked. A couple of appendices add some additional information in summaries of operating locations and operational roster.
For those looking for an excellent reference on the Lafayette Escadrille, look no further. The perfect balance between written history and photographic documentation is achieved, and as a result this is a book that is hard to put down. My thanks to Casemate Publishers for the review copy.