David Ingalls, US Navy Ace in WWI

Published: 1 May 2024

By Narayan Sengupta
via the American Aviators of WWI website

Lt. David S. Ingalls with Sopwith Camel

Lt. David S. Ingalls the US Navy's first ace, flew a Sopwith Camel while recording his six victories in WWI.

Lt. David S. Ingalls was the US Navy’s first ace and its first Top Gun. Ingalls was a Sopwith Camel pilot and the grand nephew of former President William Howard Taft. He enlisted in naval aviation before the United States joined the war and was a member of the First Yale Unit. He crossed the Atlantic in September 1917 to head to Gosport, England for training. He trained with various British units before getting two weeks of on the job training with 213 Squadron flying escort for bomber raids striking Bruges, Zeebrugge and Ostend, but to his chagrin, he never encountered any enemies.

Ingalls was also sent to Clermont-Ferrand, France for bomber training. There he promptly showed up his instructor, turning the tables on him during a mock engagement designed to teach him what it was like to be in front of an enemy fighter. Though in an underpowered trainer, he got behind the instructor and tailed him relentlessly in view of hundreds at the aerodrome below. Not surprisingly, Ingalls was returned to RAF 213 Squadron.

His scoreless streak changed on August 11, 1918. Over the port of Dixmude, Ingalls and his leader in Camels bounced an Albatros flying 4,000 feet below them at 10,000 feet and plugged short bursts into it as it dove to return to base. They last saw it heading into a slow spin and out of control.

Two nights later he ran a low level strafing raid on the German aerodrome of Varsenaere, 10 miles south of Zeebrugge. Flying so low that he almost hit the ground and skating through vengeful Archie, he slammed 450 rounds into the aerodrome, circled around and then dropped four bombs knocking out searchlights and causing chaos at the German field.

On August 21st, Ingalls shared a victory with another pilot by knocking down an LVG.

On September 15th, he attacked another enemy base – Uytkerke – along the coast just four miles before Zeebrugge. This time he unloaded 400 rounds and dropped his bombs on Fokkers parked below. Returning to base, he and a fellow Camel pilot spotted a Rumpler and scored.

On the 18th, he and two other Camel pilots pounced on a kite balloon at 3,500 feet. The Germans saw them too and started to winch the balloon. By the time the Camels hit it, it was at 900 feet. The two German balloonists jumped out to their safety though their balloon went down in flames.

On the 20th he scored his fifth victory over a Fokker D.VII. He was now the US Navy’s first ace ever, and he had made it in less than six weeks.

On the 24th he and another pilot hit a Rumpler from 100 yards. Each fired approximately 200 rounds at it sending it down in flames. This was his sixth and final victory of the war. He had achieved glory and survived. For Ingalls it had been a good war.

Read the entire article on the USAWW1 web site.
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