Dramatic firsthand accounts of air combat in the Great War written by an iconic South Carolinian
Ranked among the top five American flying aces of World War I, Elliott White Springs (1896–1959) was credited with shooting down twelve enemy aircraft during his tour in France. In the postwar years, he was a prolific writer whose nine books include War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator, a classic air combat narrative. After his father's death in 1931, Springs inherited Springs Mills and quickly became one of South Carolina's most innovative and successful textile mill owners. Edited by David K. Vaughan, this engaging collection of Springs's wartime correspondence follows the derring-do of an accomplished World War I fighter pilot before he became one of the best-known tycoons in modern South Carolina history.
Following enlistment at Princeton University, Springs was sent to England, where he trained with the Royal Flying Corps and joined the prestigious British 85 Squadron, commanded by Canadian ace William "Billy" Bishop. Springs had earned four kills before being wounded in a crash landing in June 1918. On return to duty he transferred to the 148th Aero Squadron of the U.S. Army, where he remained for the next four months. By the end of the war, Springs had amassed eight more kills and was awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross and the American Distinguished Service Cross.
Because of his unique career as a pilot in both British and American flying squadrons, Springs was able to offer especially colorful descriptions of his flight training and aerial combat experiences from both perspectives. Grouped into sections according to his training and combat assignments, Springs's letters from his combat years are rife with the wit, bravado, and fatalism of a young aviator deeply enthralled with the wartime culture of England and France. His detailed accounts of dogfights bring readers into the action with all the vigor and danger of the era. In contextualizing this correspondence, Vaughan explores Springs's complex relationships with his father and young stepmother on the home front and maps the connections between Springs's firsthand experiences and his subsequent literary endeavors.
This collection highlights the thrills, tactics, and technical aspects of early air warfare from the candid perspectives of a brave young flyer with deadly aim, unflinching nerves, and a prosperous future waiting for him back in his native South Carolina.
David K. Vaughan is a pilot and educator who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1962 to 1982. He is a professor emeritus at the Air Force Institute of Technology and the author of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, An American Pilot in the Skies of France: The Diaries and Letters of Lt. Percival T. Gates, 1917–1918, and Runway Visions: An American C-130 Pilot's Memoir of Combat Airlift Operations in Southeast Asia, 1967–1968.
"David K. Vaughan's Letters from a War Bird: The World War I Correspondence of Elliott White Springs provides a glimpse into an accomplished fighter pilot's experiences during World War I. Vaughan's thorough editing of South Carolina's most noted pilot of this massive conflict is long overdue. Letters from a War Bird is fascinating, comprehensive, and a must read for anyone interested in the air war during World War I and even for those with a general interest in the Great War itself."—Dr. Fritz Hamer, Curator of Published Materials at the University of South Carolina Caroliniana Library and author of Forward Together: South Carolinians in the Great War