Kiffin Rockwell, the Lafayette Escadrille and the Birth of the United States Air Force. By T. B. Murphy. Jefferson NC: McFarland & Co, 2016. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Index. Pp. x, 187. $35.00 paperback ISBN: 978-1-4766-6401-9
T.B. Murphy is a USAF officer with nearly 15 years of fighter aircraft experience. He is an avid student of history with a particular interest in exploring the links between early combat aviation and the fighting spirit that characterizes today's Air Force.
This relatively short book is, fundamentally, an argument. Murphy's thesis is that the Lafayette Escadrille created (and has never truly received credit for) the character of the Air Force--its spirit. And Kiffin Rockwell, more than any other man in the group, epitomized the spirit that now defines the USAF.
To support this thesis, Murphy covers a great deal of ground briskly. The first three chapters are a brief biography of Kiffin Rockwell up to the time he and his brother went to France at the start of World War I to enlist in the French Foreign Legion. Chapters 4-7 chronicle their time in training and as infantrymen in the Foreign Legion. In chapters 8 and 9, their training as pilots and the creation of what became the Escadrille Lafayette are described. The history of the Escadrille Lafayette is recounted in Chapters 11-13, and its transition to the US Air Service is described in Chapters 14-15. In the final two chapters, Murphy attempts to defend his thesis based on the previous chapters. He fails to do so.
One can easily agree that Kiffin Rockwell epitomized the spirit of a fighter pilot in the USAF or any other first-class air force. However, this is not the same as saying that he is the origin of the spirit or character which flows in an unbroken line to the present day USAF.
Kiffin Rockwell was wounded in the Battle of Artois. When recovered, he transferred to aviation and eventually became one of the first seven American members of the Escadrille Americaine (N.124), five of whom had previously flown in other French squadrons. Rockwell was apparently a natural pilot and was the first member of the Escadrille to shoot down an enemy aircraft. In general, the narrative of the creation of the Escadrille Lafayette, its operations in combat, and its very messy transfer to the US Army Air Service is well told. However, small errors crop up at times and make one cautious about accepting everything at face value.
Murphy's views on the creation of the US Air...