Purpose of this blog

Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Scanlon's Knock-Out Punch

There is a constant problem in doing these articles. Sources can conflict quite badly. Sometimes you need to glue snippets together from multiple sources, other times they seem contradictory, so let’s see how we get on this week!

We start, early one morning with a French farmhouse near Issy les-Moulineaux before the First World War. Out of nowhere a 37mm shell smashed into the farmhouse and ploughed through the building. The projectile was recovered and there was much curiosity as to where this could have come from. Such a projectile was normally used by the Navy, but there were hundreds of miles between them and the nearest naval firing range. Equally, all the eyewitnesses had not reported a gunshot being heard. A local newspaper reporter then got onto the case and begun investigating this curiosity. He very quickly worked out what had happened. It was a stray round fired by a Voisin aircraft that had been testing 37mm guns fitted to planes for the French military. This, by the limited source we have, solved the mystery to the satisfaction of everyone who heard about it, but upset the authorities who had wanted to keep this project rather more secret.
A Voisin IV, with its 37mm gun
The plane’s designer, Gabriel Voisin, had a history of strapping large guns to planes, having first displayed such a weapon on a plane in 1912. Although that plane never flew, and it is unrecorded what type of plane this experimental model was as the internet seems to confirm that the first such 37mm armed aircraft was the Voisin IV of 1915, and yet some sources state that a squadron of 37mm aircraft were used to defend Paris at the start of the war.
Voisin's 1912 display piece.
Voisin's best efforts with this new project would be rewarded, when it is claimed two US aircrew from the Lafayette Escadrille in a Voisin aircraft, with a 37mm mounted in the rear seat of a plane, managed to score a direct hit on a German plane on the 10th of January 1915.

The pilot was stated as Norman Prince, who was born in Beverly, Massachusetts in 1887. He had ties to France with an estate being bought there by his family in 1910. In January 1915 he travelled to France to persuade the French authorities to set up the Lafayette Escadrille, which became operational in 1916. For that reason, I fear we can assume the date of the air to air kill was wrong.
Norman Prince
Prince would serve in the Lafayette Escadrille until October, when with four kills under his belt he flew an escort mission for bombers hitting the Mauser works at Oberndorf. During the mission he achieved his fifth air to air victory. On return to his base, as he was approaching the landing strip, he flew too low and his undercarriage caught on a set of telegraph wires, and his plane crashed killing him.
Bob Scanlon
The gunner on the aircraft was listed as being Bob Scanlon, a person much harder to locate documents for. He was born in 1886 in Mobile, Alabama (or Milwaukee...). As a black he found life in the Land of the Free very unpleasant and soon moved abroad at the age of 16. His first job was a cowboy in Mexico, but he then moved to the UK as a middleweight boxer. Up until 1914 he lived in London working several of the boxing event clubs there. In 1914 he seemed to have moved to Paris. When war broke out he appears to have joined the French Army serving in the front line, at first with the Foreign Legion, then the regular Army. A newspaper story mentions Scanlon by name, when woken during an alert one night he grabs his rile and scrambles up out of his bunker and onto the firing step. He stands there with his rifle until stand down is called. It is at this point the exhausted Scanlon realizes he had grabbed a plank of wood used for shoring up the bunkers rather than his rifle. To make matters worse an inspection is immediately called, there he was, with no rifle in the middle of an alert! Scanlon snapped to attention shouldering the plank and hoped that the officer will not notice. The inspecting officer halted and stared at Scanlon. This officer was quite provincial, and not familiar with Colonial regiments, or the novelty of meeting an American. He assumed it was some traditional tribal weapon, and thus a good display of bloodthirstiness and eagerness to get to grips with the Germans, congratulated Scanlon and moved on.

By December 1915 (Or January 1916) Scanlon had moved to the machine gun company of his battalion, when he suffered an injury to the hand in the closing days of Verdun. This seems to have caused him to be discharged out of service. There is a newspaper article mentioning Scanlon, and it is entitled "Chops of finger to stay in the war", although details are non existent. Thus, it is likely that Scanlon could have joined Lafayette Escadrille as a gunner after this time, with his expertise in a machine guns serving him in good stead for a role as an aircraft gunner.

After the war Scanlon returned to boxing, living in Paris, until 1923 (or 1927). By one account his boxing career was ended when a jealous woman shot him! With that he seems to fade from the records.

Image credits:
www.ww1-planes.com and boxrec.com