Who's Who - Roland Garros

Roland Garros Roland Garros (1888-1918) was a leading pre-war French aviator and gained renewed fame during the First World War.

Garros' interest in aviation stemmed from a visit to the Reims air show of 1909; until this point he had studied music with the intention of becoming a concert pianist.  However his career aspirations underwent a rapid change in the wake of the air show.

Following a series of air lessons he himself practiced exhibition and stunt flying, setting numerous records during 1911-12.  In 1913 he flew from France to Tunisia - some 800 km - and was teaching military aviation in Germany when war broke out in August 1914.  Undeterred he smuggled his way back to France - via a night flight to Switzerland - and signed up with the renowned Storks squadron.

Garros' initial wartime achievement - a notable one - was his development of a forward firing machine gun which despatched bullets through the rotating blade of his Morane-Saulnier L aircraft; to protect the propeller he attached steel deflector plates, a somewhat crude if effective safety device.

In a two week period in March 1915 Garros downed no fewer than five German aircraft, an achievement that led to his being dubbed an "ace" in an American newspaper; the term stuck and was consequently attributed to other Allied pilots who similarly achieved five successes.

Garros' run of good fortune deserted him however the following month, April 1915, when he was obliged to crash land his aircraft behind German lines.  Caught trying to burn his aircraft so as to protect the secret of his forward firing machine gun Garros was placed into captivity and his aircraft handed over to aircraft designer Anton Fokker.  Fokker subsequently designed a far superior (and safer) form of forward firing mechanism using an interrupter gear.

Held prisoner in a German camp for the following three years, Garros escaped in February 1918 and promptly returned to air service in France, scoring several more victories.  He was however shot down and killed in action on 5 October 1918 while flying a Spad above Vouziers.

A "salient" is a battle line that projects into territory nominally held by enemy forces.

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