Who's Who - Willy Coppens

Willy Coppens Willy Coppens (1892-1986) was Belgium's highest-scoring fighter pilot during the First World War, scoring 37 victories by the war's close.

Coppens, who was born on 6 July 1892 in Watermaal-Bosvoorde, joined the army in 1912, serving with the 2nd Grenadiers.  In 1914 he transferred to the Compagnie des Aviateurs.  He subsequently trained at his own expense (along with 39 other Belgians) at a civilian flying school in Hendon.  This was followed by further training in France.  It was not therefore until 1916 that Coppens began his active wartime aviation career on the Western Front.

Coppens developed an especial expertise in shooting down enemy observation balloons.  Therefore all but two of Coppens' 37 victories were against balloons - regarded as perfectly legitimate by all sides in adding to a pilot's 'kill' total, such attacks being considered an especially hazardous undertaking.

His wartime career came to an end however on 14 October 1918 - less than a month prior to the armistice - when he was struck in the leg by an incendiary bullet while achieving victory number 37 - his final 'kill'.  This resulted in a severed artery and a crash landing from which he emerged in the safety of Allied lines.  His left leg nevertheless had to be amputated.

Having served as a post-war military attaché to France, Britain, Italy and Switzerland, Coppens retired in 1940.  He published his war memoirs, Days on the Wing, in 1931.

He died on 21 December 1986 aged 94.

Both British and German fleets had around 45 submarines available at the time of the Battle of Jutland, but none were put to use.

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