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Rene Fonck

Rene Fonck


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René Fonck was born in France on 27th March 1894. On the outbreak of the First World War he joined the French Army but in early 1915 he transferred to the French Air Service. He flew with an reconnaissance unit on the Western Front and it was not until April 1917 that he became a fighter pilot.

Flying a Spad S.VII, Fonck soon developed a reputation as an excellent shot. On two separate occasions he shot down six enemy aircraft in a day. A pilot who did not take unnecessary risks, Fonck had scored 75 victories by the time the war ended in November, 1918.

René Fonck died in June 1953.

On 26th September 1918 I obtained permission to take off. That date marks one of the toughest days of my fighting career. I remained in the air from morning to night, and if my machine gun had not jammed, I would have added eight planes to my credit.

Our infantryman had advanced several kilometers and menacing Boche patrols were flying above them. The first patrol that I attacked consisted of five Fokkers. Without giving them the time to work out by signals their plan to attack me, I dived into them at full speed, guns blazing. Letting myself then fly on my wing, I turned over completely in order to rocket up behind one of the planes which had already fired at me. But I had also had fired, and two of the German aircraft crashed to earth in the vicinity of Somme-Py. The others, fearing for their safety, had thought it more prudent to take to their heels.

I then gained altitude and saw in the direction of Suippes an enemy plane being fired at by our own anti-aircraft artillery. I headed there at full speed and reached it at an altitude of 18,500 feet above Perthesles-Hurles. With the first burst that I fired at 30 yards, the observer was killed. The defenceless pilot became frightened and his vertical dive was so sudden and steep that his companion, whom I had just sent off to join his ancestors, toppled overboard and almost fell on me at the moment of me finishing my loop. I must admit, an odd feeling at suddenly seeing a body falling in space. The corpse, like a sack, dropped down and little by little seemed to shrink as it approached the ground - but I did not have time to analyze my feelings; it was necessary to fight and win.

Without further delay I charged again. Through a sudden bank, I caught the enemy plane under the tail and sent a few incendiary bullets through his fuselage. A little later, while I expected to see him in flames, one of his wings broke off and the plane came crashing down to the ground.


1 November 1918

1 November 1918: At 2:20 p.m., Lieutenant Paul-René Fonck, Escadrille 103, Aéronautique Militaire, shot down a Luftstreitkräfte Halberstadt C, east of Vouziers, France. Its pilot, Gefreiter W. Schmidt of Flieger-Abteilung 297b, was killed.

This was the 75th confirmed enemy aircraft which Fonck had destroyed. (As many as 52 aircraft claimed by Fonck, including another Halberstadt C over Semuy, fifteen minutes later, were not confirmed.) Lieutenant Fonck was the highest-scoring Allied fighter pilot of World War I.¹

Lieutenant René Fonck with a SPAD S.XVII, 1918. (Photo SHD section Air de Vincennes transmise par Jon Guttman)

The chasseur flown by René Fonck on this date was a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVII, Nº. 682. The S.XVII was an improved S.XIII, with stronger wings and fuselage, additional bracing wires and a more powerful engine. Its more closely-spaced longerons gave the fuselage a more circular cross-section and a bulkier appearance.

The S.XVII had the same length, wing span and height as the S.XIII, but was heavier. Its empty weight was 687 kilograms (1,515 pounds) and the gross weight was 942 kilograms (2,077 pounds).

The S.XVII was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.265 cubic inch displacement) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single-overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine. This was a right-hand-tractor, direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.3:1, and was rated at 300 cheval vapeur (296 horsepower) at 2,100 r.p.m. The Hispano-Suiza 8Fb was 1.32 meters (4.33 feet) long, 0.89 meters (2.92 feet) wide and 0.88 meters (2.89 feet) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).

Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVII C.1 (flyingmachines.ru)

The S.XVII had a maximum speed of 221 kilometers per hour (137 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet). It could climb to 2,000 meters in 5 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Its ceiling was 7,175 meters (23,540 feet).

Armament consisted of two water-cooled, fixed Vickers 7.7 mm (.303 British) machine guns above the engine, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. The guns’ water jackets were left empty.

The SPAD S.XVIIs were delivered to Escadrille 103 in June 1918. It is believed that 20 were built.

Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés (SPAD) S.XVII C.1 (aviafrance)

Paul-René Fonck was born 27 March 1894 at Salcy-de Meurthe, the first of three children of Victor Felicien Fonck, a carpenter, and Marie Julie Simon Fonck. His father was killed in an accident when he was four years old, leaving Mme. Fonck to raise Paul-René and his two sisters. He was sent to an uncle who placed him in a religious boarding school in Nancy. He was a good student. After six years, he returned to live with his mother and finished his education in a public school.

At the beginning of World War I, Fonck joined the French Army. He was assigned to an engineering regiment, building roads and bridges and digging trenches. In February 1915 Corporal Fonck was transferred to flight school at St. Cyr. He received his military pilot rating 15 May 1915 and was assigned to Escadrille C47, an observation squadron, where he flew the twin-engine Avion Caudron Type G. 4.

Caudron G.4 en vol, 1915. Les avions utilisés durant les premières années du conflit ne sont pas spécifiquement conçus pour l’observation. C’est le cas du Caudron G.4, mis au point pour le bombardement mais affecté à la reconnaissance quelques mes après sa mise en service en 1915. (© Droits réservés / Coll. musée de l’Air et de l’Espace–Le Bourget, noº MA 23532.)

In 1917, Fonck was transferred to Escadrille 103. He flew the SPAD S.VII, S.XII, S.XIII and the S.XVII.

For his military service during World War I, René Fonck was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec 28 Palmes, Croix de Guerre (Belgium) and Great Britain awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Cross and Military Medal.

René Paul Fonck died in Paris 23 June 1953. He was buried at the Saulcy-sur-Meurthe Cemetery, near the place of his birth.

René Fonck with a SPAD S.XII Canon fighter. The stork painted on the fuselage is the insignia of Escadrille 103, “Les Cignones.” (Historic Wings)

¹ Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, Luftstreitkräfte, had 80 confirmed victories and was the leading fighter ace of World War I. Captain (Acting Major) William George Barker, Royal Air Force, is credited with 50. Count Maggiore Francesco Baracca, of Italy’s Corpo Aeronautico Militare was officially credited with 34 before being killed 18 June 1918. Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, shot down 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. Alexander Alexandrovich Kazakov was the leading ace of Imperial Russia with 20 confirmed victories (another 12 were not officially credited).


You've only scratched the surface of Fonck family history.

Between 1958 and 2004, in the United States, Fonck life expectancy was at its lowest point in 1989, and highest in 1986. The average life expectancy for Fonck in 1958 was 45, and 83 in 2004.

An unusually short lifespan might indicate that your Fonck ancestors lived in harsh conditions. A short lifespan might also indicate health problems that were once prevalent in your family. The SSDI is a searchable database of more than 70 million names. You can find birthdates, death dates, addresses and more.


Flight Stories

“I achieved my greatest victory on May 9, 1918. For some time, I longed for a triumph in a single 24 hour period, to down five opponents, which I felt would be so many that none other could exceed it.” So began René Fonck’s recollection of that day, 95 years ago today in aviation history, when he finally had his chance.

That morning, two other pilots, Edwin C. Parsons and Frank Baylies, were engaged in a competition that Fonck could not ignore. It was a competition, however, that did not suit him either. While Fonck’s desire was to down at least five enemy aircraft in a single day, the two men instead wanted to wager a bottle of champagne on who could down the first aircraft of the day. For them, the wager was also a challenge to Fonck’s authority and position as the squadron’s leading fighter pilot. It was a dark wager too, made as an angry rejection of Fonck’s not very likable, often arrogant character. Fonck would have none of it.

SPAD S.XIII fighters of Les Cigognes, with which René Fonck flew.

That morning, however, a lingering drifting fog covered the aerodrome and surrounding area on the Allied side of the lines, grounding the men. Seeing a brief thinning, Frank Baylies took off on patrol. Shortly thereafter, he returned to report that he had won the wager, having shot down a German Halberstadt CL.II reconnaissance plane.

Angrily, Fonck demanded that the bet should be more reflective their real skills — not who was first, but who was most. Instead, he told them, the bottle should be awarded to the one who could bring down the most planes in a single day. Reluctantly, they went along — and thus, amidst low hanging clouds, mist and fog, Fonck’s greatest day began.

René Fonck stands in front of his SPAD fighter plane. The symbol of his fighter group, Les Cigognes, is blazoned on the side of the fuselage.

Fonck’s History

Although the fog of the early morning kept the three men grounded for a time, the weather on the German side of the lines was clearer. Many German planes were already aloft in clear skies above the trenches. They were at work directing artillery fire against French soldiers down in the mud. The most deadly instrument of the Great War was artillery fire, not bombing from the air. Unopposed, the German aircraft would be able to signal their artillery units to carefully and steadily correct their fire, and thereby cause many casualties. Finally, at 10:45 am, René Fonck took off in his SPAD XII. In his own words, which we’ve translated from the original French language text, what transpired was as follows:

Around 10:00 am, the fog began to dissipate and three quarters of an hour later, I could finally take off with Captain Battle and Lieutenant Fontaine. Just over the front lines, we came upon a patrol consisting of a reconnaissance aircraft protected by a two-seat fighter plane.

Plans of the SPAD fighter.

By a pre-arranged hand gesture, I gave the signal to attack and with the first burst from my guns, I hit the enemy pilot. Without a second thought, to avoid being hit by defensive fire, I turned into a rapid reversal followed by a slip. This put me under the wing of the other Boche plane, whose gunner tried to respond, but it was already too late. A second time, I opened fire and this second opponent tumbled down, even as a third plane escaped the attacks from my comrades.

Seeing me approach to fire, the third one thought me unable to pursue if he dove to the right, yet this error brought his end. Following, I was about a second behind him and coming into a position to fire, so I immediately took advantage of my positioning. His aircraft was shattered and fell in pieces he had suffered the same fate as his compatriots. The fight had lasted just 45 seconds. The three two-seaters came down near our trenches and were found next to Grivesne, all within 400 meters of each other.

We were barely back on the ground when from all points of the horizon, the phones rang to confirm my triple kill.

Fonck poses in front of a SPAD.

The Second Sortie

After lunch, the men celebrated at the aerodrome for a time before word came that more German artillery spotters were aloft over the front lines again. Fonck and two others ran to their planes and took — what transpired next is again related in his own words:

All around me, there was an explosion of enthusiasm, but there wasn’t a minute to lose, and at 5:30, I took off again with the Sergeant Brugère and Lieutenant Thouzelier. In the skies, there were scattered clouds carried by the wind, forming a large screen behind which we could hide and quietly make our approach.

At 6:20 pm, I recognized a Boche plane flying above Montdidier. A field of mist separated us. I boldly flew through the mist which, like cotton wool, soon wrapped itself around me entirely.

Fonck in the cockpit of his SPAD during early 1918.

It is easy to kill the enemy when you surprise him, shooting the instant you come out of the cloud. Leading him 30 meters, I surprised his observer who was at that moment looking over the side making adjustments. A hail of bullets overtook the man. Though I had lost sight of my companions, I wasn’t all that upset about it as I prefer to fly alone into the midst of the enemy without having to worry about covering the others. Coordination requires us to get each other out of trouble and help when one falls into a position of disadvantage. Even if I try to never fail in that duty, above all I still love my freedom to attack on my own — it is essential for success in my business.

A SPAD, the favored type of Les Cignoges and René Fonck.

Four Fokkers then appeared and right above them there were five Albatros planes as well. One against nine, alone, my situation suddenly became perilous. I hesitated, wondering whether to attack or slip away, but my desire to set a new record prevailed over whatever prudence I felt. I chose to risk combat. The Fokkers filed into a triangular formation and, at the higher altitudes where I found myself, I was quick to make my plan of attack. I closed directly with my adversaries at a speed that was a little less than 240 km per hour and, slid myself between the two flights. I reached the trailing Fokker as it monitored the Albatros planes. At just 30 meters, I fired my first salvo at him from behind and saw immediately how he fell before me.

Warned by the crackling of my gun, the two closest Boche planes turned at the same time meet me, but I was traveling 8 meters in each passing second and they had no chance to finish turning into me. I managed to pass between the two of them. It took them 8 seconds to rejoin into their formation. They had had enough as I had killed the leader of their patrol.

In the cockpit of his SPAD, a French commemorative postcard from mid-1918.

The Albatros Fighters Attack

Fonck’s attack had surprised the Fokkers and, having downed one, he had driven the others off. Clearly, they were less experienced and, perhaps recognizing the speed of the attack and accuracy of Fonck’s fire, had chosen to depart the area of the fight. Yet there were still five Albatros fighter planes left. Worse yet, they were above him, positioned perfectly to swoop down and attack. Fonck related what happened next:

Next, the Albatros fighters took their turn and dove on me. At first, all were surprised by the boldness of my maneuvering, but now they were reevaluating. I was at a disadvantage, on my back foot — or talons, so to speak — and I began spinning like a meteor. I turned back and saw then as if drawn against the sky a grand arc of movement, a circle of enemies converging from all around me. Yet I had the satisfaction of perceiving, at a distance the gap and with two quick bursts, I watched as one of their number fell in flames. Then, turning away quickly, the distance separating us increased and soon, finding myself out of their range, I turned back toward my field.

I cannot describe the reception that awaited me. There were endless ovations and I was carried along triumphantly by the men. Later at the bar, it all seemed fantastic. At 8:00 pm, my victories were confirmed. This gave me great satisfaction, surpassing the number of victories I had set for myself to achieve in a single day.

Albert Lebrun (left), as Minister of the Blockade of Germany, in conversation with René Fonck in 1918. Source: Bibliothèque nationale de France

René Fonck’s career as a fighter pilot was short — not because he was shot down or injured, but because, unlike the other great aces of France, he had started late in the war, flying for only the last year in combat. Guynemer, by comparison, had flown from 1914 to the end. Yet it was Fonck who ended the war as the leading ace with 75 confirmed victories.

His squadron was one of four within the famed Les Cigognes fighter group (these being SPA.3, SPA.26, SPA.73 and SPA.103) and of Escadrille SPA.103’s 111 claimed victories, he had accounted for all but 36. His confirmed victories, however, falls well short of the number of those he probably actually downed. Unlike some who, once seeing smoke or damage to their opponent, would break away and later declare a kill, Fonck ensured that those he hit were actually downed, typically observing that he had hit the pilot or watching the plane burst into flames or fall to the ground. Thus, Fonck was supremely confident of his personal score.

Even if only less than half of those he shot down were official confirmed, by his own reckoning, he had certainly downed fully 142 German aircraft. This was a score that surpassed that of Germany’s famed Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen, widely reputed to have the highest score of the war. However, the Red Baron’s 80 victories over Allied aircraft are only those that were officially confirmed. Like Fonck, Baron Manfred von Richthofen too kept a personal tally of those he knew with absolute confidence to have downed. The Baron’s person total, however, still fell short of Fonck’s — it was 120 Allied aircraft shot down.

Diagram from the SPAD XII Pilot Operating Manual, 1918, showing the mounting of the 37 mm canon through the center of the engine.

Fonck’s confidence in his score was due to the tactics he used. He preferred a high speed ambush from which he took a deflection shot from point blank range, usually hitting the pilot. He was an expert marksman and rarely missed. For a time, he flew a SPAD XII that carried a single shot, hand-loaded 37mm Puteaux “moteur-canon” that fired through the engine shaft, so that the cannon round emerged from the center of the propeller hub. With that weapon, he shot down 11 of his opponents — using just one cannon round for each kill. As for the rest, his extremely short bursts with his machine guns typically fired less than five rounds to achieve each kill.

By attacking quickly in a slashing pass, he rarely entered into a dogfight. Using his superior eyesight, he would spot the enemy first and position himself for the most advantageous attack. His tactics were to attack only on his terms. If the situation did not favor victory, he would break away. If he could fly to a position of advantage, he would do so. Typically, after climbing above the enemy, he would dive down and in a single pass to shoot down one or two enemy aircraft before continuing in a dive away to safety. Then he would return to his base.

As a result of his slashing, hit and run tactics, over his entire career in combat, Fonck’s aircraft was only hit once by enemy fire — and that was just a single bullet that had pierced its fabric harmlessly. Fonck’s tactics would later become the dominant approach used by many leading World War II aces.

Fonck poses in front of a new, high-wing Nieuport in 1919, after the end of the war.

Final Thoughts

How many enemy aircraft did René Fonck actually shoot down? We’ll never know, but one thing is certain, and that is that his official total of 75 victories is far less than what he himself knew he had actually achieved. His claims — nearly twice as many as the official tally — were made with absolute confidence based on his tactics. Those who fell behind German lines were not confirmed and many of those that fell over No Man’s Land were left unverified.

As for his own personal record of shooting down six enemy aircraft in a single day — on September 28, 1918, just four and a half months later, he would repeat that score. Over St. Marie-a-Py, St. Souplet, Perthes-les-Hurles and Souain, he downed three Fokker D.VIIs and two Halberstadt C types as well as a DFW C.

To this day, René Fonck remains the leading Allied ace in all of air combat history. There were German fighter pilots who scored higher, though if we are to take his personal tally as accurate, that number is limited to only a handful during WWII and those flew predominantly on the Russian front, against inferior aircraft with pilots of less skill and experience.

His fame, however, was limited not by his prowess, but by his attitude. Even if Fonck was widely recognized as a deadly ace, and one who was both unmerciful and brilliant in the air, he was his own worst enemy in the public eye. He was arrogant and unforgiving. He would lecture the others on combat tactics, his tone patronizing and superior. Even though he was the greatest French combat pilot in history, men like Guynemer and Nungesser, even if less successful, enjoyed the admiration of the public and the popularity of the press. They were the superstars of the air war, while Fonck was ignored and spurned.

For René Fonck, however, the question of popularity was unimportant. He was a warrior to the bone. The knowledge of his own successes, that he was deadly in the skies over the trenches, that was all that really counted. In the end, he was satisfied with himself, and that was all that mattered.

Today’s Aviation Trivia Question

Fonck’s one error was his thought that no pilot could match his score of five shot down in a single day. World War II would demonstrate that with increasingly deadly planes, so too the best pilots could achieve even greater successes. What is the record for the most planes shot down by a pilot in a single 24 hour period?


There are 3 census records available for the last name La Fonck. Like a window into their day-to-day life, La Fonck census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 642 immigration records available for the last name La Fonck. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name La Fonck. For the veterans among your La Fonck ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.

There are 3 census records available for the last name La Fonck. Like a window into their day-to-day life, La Fonck census records can tell you where and how your ancestors worked, their level of education, veteran status, and more.

There are 642 immigration records available for the last name La Fonck. Passenger lists are your ticket to knowing when your ancestors arrived in the USA, and how they made the journey - from the ship name to ports of arrival and departure.

There are 1,000 military records available for the last name La Fonck. For the veterans among your La Fonck ancestors, military collections provide insights into where and when they served, and even physical descriptions.


History

This plane came into service in June 1918. It was probably the best French patrol floatplane of the WW1. It remains in use until 1926. It had a Renault 280hp V12 and is known also as GL40, Levy-Le Pen or Georges-Levy 280hp Renault.

The plane depicted was based at the CAM of Lorient (First CAM to receive this plane).

Note : CAM means Centre d'Aviation Maritime

The kit

This is the DUJIN 1/72 resin kit. There is a lot of work to do to make a pretty decent finished kit. I added the MG, which is not provided in the kit. The engine is heavily modified and upgraded, the inside of the fuselage was thinned down and completely scratchbuilt without any documentation, only comparison with other floatplanes and my thought. The control horns come from PART.

The decoration

The whole plane was first painted with "Skull white" from Citadel (spray can, which is very useful to fill some little gaps. Very easy to sand and to have a smooth surface.

The paints are from Humbrol for the 2 grey tones and for the black under the fuselage, and from Misterkit for the tail blue and red.

The cockades come from Americal Gryphon and the "25" are home made on Carpena decal sheet --> too thick and not very easy to work with.

The whole plane is sprayed with Prince August Air semi-gloss varnish.

The rigging

The rigging is mainly made of monofilament, but also of brass rod 0.2mm thick.

Conclusion

This is a very nice plane IMO, I tried to give him justice. I would like to have more WW1 French floatplane.


Who's Who - Rene Fonck

Paul Rene Fonck (1894-1953) was the Allies' most successful fighter pilot of World War One, and also the highest-scoring survivor of the war (second only to Manfred von Richthofen).

Fonck was conscripted into the French Army in 1914 and attended Flying School the following February. During the early stages of the war he flew with a French reconnaissance unit before transferring in time to the more active fighter service. He claimed his first 'kill' (a German aircraft on the Western Front) on 6 August 1916.

A brilliant shooter rather than an accomplished pilot (and reputed for his conservative use of ammunition), Fonck claimed no fewer than six victories in a single day, all German aircraft on 9 May 1918 over Montdidier (a feat he was later to repeat).

His tally by the close of the war, 75, made him not only the highest scoring French and Allied ace, but also the most successful fighter pilot to survive the war. Never an especially modest man, Fonck personally claimed to have downed some 127 aircraft - at least - during his service.

In addition to innumerable French honours Fonck was also the recipient of the British Military Cross and DCM.

Following the armistice Fonck worked as a racing and demonstration pilot. From 1937-39 he acted as Inspector of fighter aviation within the French Air Force. However his later record of working with the Vichy government following the fall of France in June 1940 later besmirched his reputation.

Saturday, 22 August, 2009 Michael Duffy

The German word "U-Boat" was derived from "Unterseeboot" (undersea boat).

- Did you know?


WWI aces: Fonck and Baron von Richthofen

In an old post about French aviation pioneers I had already written about René Fonck. He was the top French (and allied) ace during WWI, second only to the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen. In a previous post I wrote about the Musée de l’Air et de l’Espace, in Le Bourget. In that museum you may find a section dedicated to WWI aces.

There is an article in the Wikipedia about WWI aces. Figures with the top 2 aces match: 80 for the Red Baron and 75 for Fonck, not so for the 3rd, as in the museum Mannock is credited with 73 and in the Wikipedia is only credited with 61, even if the claim of 73 is referenced.

I wanted to write this article for a couple of reasons:

  1. Despite of the fact that aviation has just over a century of history, I find that there are lots of controversies as to the history of aviation, while it should ideally be rather easy to get the facts right with the information technologies at our disposal nowadays and possibly having the records of the different happenings still in existence. We are not talking about archaeology here.
  2. At this respect, museums play an important role in trying to get history right. In relation to the aces and the official figures about the 2 top aces, the museum in Le Bourget seems to get them right. The 3rd ace seems not to be so correct, but this does not bother me. What bothers me is the reference attached to Fonck’s victories tally in the panel at the museum, which claims that counting not officially recognised victories the tally could reach 127 (from 75 official ones). The museum then fails to mention that von Richthofen also has a number of claimed victories unaccounted for.

What is the role of the museum here? Trying to educate and teach about aviation, convey some history facts or rather play a game in such a way that a French ace seems to be on top no matter what?

I would expect more fact-based independent treatment of information on the part of museums and historians.


The Most Decorated Soldiers in History

Whether it is America or Britain, World War One, Two or anything that’s come since, in every war and conflict there are soldiers who carry out incredible acts of bravery. From saving lives to dodging bullets, these guys make sure no-one gets left behind.

Honored with awards and medals for their courage, for the most daring of soldiers, the decorations soon start to stack up.

Putting the needs of others before themselves, these heroes have received so many medals for their selfless actions that they are considered the bravest soldiers in history.

Check out the crazy things that these badass soldiers did to become the most decorated soldiers ever!

Let’s do this in order, starting with World Wars One and Two, Vietnam and finishing with those currently serving.

The Most Decorated Soldiers WW1

Sergeant Alvin York

A religious pacifist who didn’t believe in killing another man, York was the least likely candidate for the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War One.

One of the most famous stories about York is when a German Lieutenant put down his weapon and surrendered himself and the 132 men under his command to York.

Sgt. York had shot six of the Lieutenant’s men, one after the other, on his own. The German Lieutenant had run out of ammunition trying to stop him. Sgt. York received the Medal of Honour for that feat – the highest U.S. military award for bravery

We have lots of detail about his experiences because he kept a diary throughout the war, which was turned into a book in 1922, and a film – Sergeant York – in 1941.

When we think about bravery on the battlefield, we forget about the medics who risk their lives to save their fellow soldiers, whilst under fire.

One of them is Britain’s most daring soldier of WW1.

Recommended: Read more legendary tales as we tell the story of Rob Hall’s battle with Everest.

Lance Corporal William Coltman

Lance Corporal William Coltman was famous for sticking to the motto – leave no-one behind. Coltman would stay on the battlefield until every man- whether injured or dead – was brought back to safety.

Serving on the Western Front, in No Man’s Land, this was no small thing. Coltman did not have a weapon and worked under constant enemy fire.

He once spent two days on the battlefield without a break, treating injured soldiers. When he finally took a rest, he heard that injured men had been left behind, so he went back and rescued them- on his own.

He even carried three men from the battlefield on his back– not once but three times!

William Coltman was never interested in the fame or the glory – he even snubbed the great party that was put on in his honor when he received the Victoria Cross. Instead, after leaving Buckingham Palace, he went straight home.

Lance Corporal William Coltman famously said that he hoped there would be a time when there were no wars and no-one needed to win a Victoria Cross.

What about the pilots? Don’t worry we haven’t forgotten about the aces in the sky.

A dogfight in the air, adds an extra level of impressiveness when you are looking at daring deeds during the war.

Read on to find out about these two most decorated flying aces of World War One.

Recommended: We tell all about Orthopnea in this guide.

Major Edward (Mick) Mannock

One of the first airmen to develop successful tactics for shooting planes out of the sky, top British Ace Edward Mannock, had 61 verified victories in the air.

After mastering the new art of dogfighting, his fame spread throughout the Allied troops. A respected trainer and flight commander, his mantra was:

“Gentlemen, always above seldom on the same level never underneath”

He was blasted with gunfire, when he swooped low behind enemy lines, to check on a plane that he had just shot down.

His body was never found. Watch the video below to find out what happened. It’s a pretty amazing story that still divides opinion to this day.

His highest award was the Victoria Cross – the highest possible reward for acts of bravery in the British army.

Colonel Rene Fonck

Not only topping the list as the top flying ace for the Allied troops in the First World War, with 75 confirmed victories in the air, Fonck is still the greatest allied ace in history.

René Fonck wearing the Légion d’honneur

A mathematician with a background in engineering, Fonck was famous for his accuracy. He once shot three German planes out of the sky in five minutes. The original badass ace, Col. Fonck was never injured and his plane was only hit once!

Like an eagle he would watch his prey from high in the air, then dart down in front of them, shooting them at close range – a now classic dogfighting maneuver.

His greatest achievement was the Legion of Honour, the highest award for any French citizen.

Next, let’s take a look at the most badass soldiers from World War Two.

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The Most Decorated Army Soldiers WW2

Major Audie Murphy

Desperate to join the army, Audie used fake ID to get into the U.S. army at the age of 16.

Known for going it alone, Audie would make sure the job was finished, even if it meant crawling out on his own to fire the last few shots. Again and again, Murphy would step out into the line of fire and show extreme courage.

One of his most famous decisions came after his friend was shot. Under continuous fire from the enemy in front of him, Audie launched a lone attack on the occupied house, killing six men, injuring two and capturing eleven.

Having received every U.S. military medal for his single-handed bravery (as well as awards from other countries), Major Murphy became a Hollywood actor when he was still only 19.

The greatest soldier of World War Two even played himself in ‘To Hell and Back’ – a film about his experiences during the Second World War.

He died in a plane crash when he was 45 years old.

Major Murphy is the most decorated US soldier of World War Two.

Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Blair Mayne

An Irish rugby international and an amateur boxer, Robert “Paddy” Blair Mayne is credited as being the model for today’s SAS – the British army’s special forces unit. A highly respected hero, Paddy is known as the soldier’s soldier.

Paddy Mayne in Egypt, 1942

Unpopular with his superiors during the war, Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Mayne was known to go rogue and do things his way.

It is still seen as an injustice to this day, that Lieutenant Robert Mayne never received the Victoria Cross from his commanders.

Although he still received enough medals to make him Britain’s most highly decorated soldier of the Second World War, there is still an active campaign for Paddy to receive the Victoria Cross posthumously.

Now on to a very different war – the Vietnam War.

The Vietnam War

Staff Sergeant Joe Ronnie Hooper

Sergeant Joe Hooper was another soldier who did not leave anyone behind.

Awarded many times for running into enemy fire to protect his troops and rescue injured soldiers, Sergeant Hooper’s courage rubbed off on the rest of his company. Hooper’s Company D was widely respected for fearlessly attacking the enemy whilst under fire.

Sergeant Ronnie Hooper is the most highly awarded soldier of the Vietnam War and one of the most internationally decorated soldiers in the world.

He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on February 21, 1968. While under heavy enemy fire he helped drag the wounded to safety. He was actually then seriously wounded himself but refused medical attention.

He then led a charge to overthrow enemy positions and protect his men until evacuation the following morning. Despite suffering from serious loss of blood from his wounds he led his men against intense enemy attacks throughout the night.

It is easy to forget that are still brave soldiers out there fighting today.

Listen to why this is the most badass army soldier amongst those currently serving today.

The Most Decorated Solider Currently Serving

Corporal Joshua Leakey

After rescuing an injured soldier under relentless machine-gun fire in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, British soldier Joshua shot 20 Taliban fighters – on his own. Inspired by Corporal Joshua Leakey’s courage, the rest of his troop ran back up the hill and joined the attack.

Corporal Leakey was awarded the Victoria Cross for his valor. The official VC citation can be read here.

Most Decorated US Soldier of Recent Times

Master-at-arms 2 nd Class (SEAL) Michael Monsoor

Words fail for the selfless act of US Navy SEAL, Michael Monsoor, in 2006, when he saved his two fellow soldiers.

Killed as he threw himself onto a grenade that landed in front of him and his two sniper team members, Michael was killed instantly.

The USS Michael Monsoor is a guided-missile destroyer that was named in his honor by the U.S. Navy.

He was awarded the Medal of Honour for his valor.

If you are wondering who holds the title for the most decorated soldier ever?

Audie Murphy.

So there we have it, the most celebrated soldiers in the world. The bravest men in history who put the needs of others before themselves. In the words of the much-loved military song ‘Only Remembered’:

‘These shall pass onwards when we are forgotten

Only remembered for what we have done. ’

What does it take to become the most highly decorated soldier in the world? Does it matter that Lieutenant Paddy Mayne be awarded the Victoria Cross?

Do today’s battles with all their technology stand up against the battles of the past? What do you think? Add your opinion below!

To hear a story about a daring but much less honorable person, check out our latest post on a famous prison escape artist.

There’s also a great story about a certain famous gangsters wife….

Image Sources:

Paddy Mayne : photo MH 24415 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums.


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