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‘The Millionaire’s Unit’: The Birth of Naval Aviation

By: Friedrich Seiltgen

Copyright © 2021

In 1915, the war drums in Europe were beating louder, and a group of Yale College students wanted to prepare for America’s inevitable entry into the Great War.

The First Yale Unit, as they named themselves, was founded by Frederick Trubee Davison. Davison spent the summer of 1915 in France with the American Ambulance Corps. While serving there, he spoke with members of the Lafayette Escadrille, which was a group of volunteer American fighter pilots, commanded by the French. Since Davison’s friends were as interested in aviation as he was, he decided he would form his own “Flying Militia.” The unit started out learning to fly with a Curtiss Model “F” Flying Boat and began training in Port Washington on Long Island. By the next year, the unit had accumulated four aircraft for training, and later moved its operations temporarily to Palm Beach, FL to take advantage of the weather.

They met with Admiral Robert Peary – yes, the first man to reach the North Pole Robert Peary – to see about the unit helping the military and hopefully get his blessing. Initially, they were civilian volunteers, but in 1917, Congress created the U.S. Naval Reserve Flying Corps, and the club became the very first Naval Reserve Unit. Most of the unit members were given the rank of Ensign.

Shortly before America’s entrance into the war, the original group expanded to 29, and 25 of them made it to service in Europe. Unfortunately, the unit founder Davison had a mishap during qualifications, breaking his back, which kept him from deploying overseas. Some flew convoy escorts and were credited with dramatically reducing the attacks on allied shipping by German U-Boots, some fly bombing missions. Three were trained to fly the Sopwith Camel fighter by the RAF, and some flew patrols of the U.S. Coastline to thwart enemy attacks.

One became an Ace, one of them went on to become the crucial force behind the Army Air Corps strategic bomber units during WWII. One was shot down over Dunkerque, taken prisoner, thrown into a POW camp, and then escaped! At the war’s end, many went into politics, some returned to run their family businesses, two became Secretary of War, and three never returned home.

This group of men came from families of privilege. A Rockefeller, the son of a railroad magnet, etc., but all of them felt a debt of gratitude for the life they were given. In stark contrast to many college students of today, the First Yale Unit felt they owed their country instead of their country owing them! They served with honor and distinction in defense of freedom. A book and a documentary film about this group of men dubbed them “The Millionaire’s Unit.”

That’s all for now folks! Please keep sending in your questions, tips, and article ideas. And as always – “Let’s be careful out there.”

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Master Police Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, Firearms, First Aid, Active Shooter Response, and Law Enforcement Vehicle Operations in Florida. His writing has appeared in RECOIL, The Counter Terrorist Magazine, American Thinker, Homeland Security Today, and The Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International. Contact him at polizei22@msn.com.@msn.com.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons: Robert Abercrombie Lovett (1895-1986), David Hugh McCulloch (1890-1955), Albert Dillon Sturtevant (1894-1918), John Martin Vorys (1896-1968), Rear Admiral Earl Clinton Barker Gould (1895-1968), Frederick Trubee Davison (1896-1974), Artemus Lamb Gates (1895–1976), John Villiers Farwell III (1895-1992), and Allan Wallace Ames (1893-1966) in July 1916 at Port Washington, New York.

 
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