Who's Who - Jean Navarre

Jean Navarre Jean Marie Dominique Navarre (1895-1919) carried the distinction of being the first officially designated French air ace of the First World War and eventually amassed a total of twelve aerial success between 1915-18.

Born on 8 August 1895 in Jouy-en-Morin to a family of industrialists Navarre's childhood was a troublesome one, his education at various schools oft-interrupted by truancy and suspension.

However in the period immediately prior to the outbreak of war in 1914 Navarre developed a budding interest in the nascent field of civil aviation.  The arrival of war abruptly brought to an end Navarre's immediate plans to gain a civilian pilot's brevet.

Nevertheless Navarre was prompt in enlisting with the French air service and was eventually assigned to the first French fighter squadron, MS12.  This did come soon enough for the combative Frenchman.  According to legend he indulged his lust for action by taking aim at enemy German aircraft using a rifle while simultaneously piloting his Morane-Saulnier L aircraft.

Highly risky as his aerial combat strategy may have been, it nevertheless proved highly successful.  In the skies above Fismes Navarre scored his first 'kill' of the war by downing a German Aviatik aircraft on 1 April 1915.

The titanic Franco-German struggle at Verdun from February 1916 brought Navarre to the sector, where he gained a well-deserved reputation as the 'sentinel of Verdun', generally flying solo for lengthy hours at a spell, tracking enemy aircraft from below and behind, machine gun at the ready.  Flying the Nieuport 11 aircraft he downed two German aircraft in a single day on 25 February, the first Frenchman to achieve the feat.

On 17 June 1916 Navarre's aircraft was shot down above the Argonne, an accident which brought with it the severe head wound that ultimately led to Navarre spending some two years in a Parisian asylum; at around this time his twin brother was similarly involved in a (fatal) air accident.  Navarre's aerial tally at the time had reached 12, and was the first Frenchman to be considered an 'ace' (reaching five victories).

Eventually returning to the Western Front in 1918 Navarre - by no means fully recovered from his head wound - did not however take to the skies in aerial combat again.

Following the armistice of November 1918 Navarre, by now intent upon a career in civil aviation, was chosen in 1919 to fly through the Arc de Triomphe in a celebratory event planned for the same year.  The recipient of both the Medaille Militaire and the Legion d'Honneur he was killed in an accident while practicing for the occasion on 10 July.  He was 23.

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

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