By Daniel C. Williamson, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S.A. (Retired)
Aviation Lead – Doughboy M.I.A.
A man is only missing if he is forgotten.
Awarded France’s Croix de Guerre with Palm Shot for his actions on 5 July 1918 while flying only his third mission of the war on July 5th, 1918, our Doughboy MIA of the month is First Lieutenant Sidney Paul Thompson of the 95th Aero Squadron. Since he had such a short combat history, little is known about Lieutenant Thompson. Very few of his squadron mates mention him in their memoirs and letters, but this is what we do know of this brave flyer.
Sidney P. Thompson at Cornell University
Sidney Paul Thompson was born the third child to Frederick C Thompson, a carpenter, and Mary V. Westervelt Thompson, on 23 January 1895 in Jacksonville, New York. His mother can trace her Westervelt family roots over 200 years to Epke Jacobse, an early Dutch settler of New Amsterdam, now Manhattan, New York, who came to North America from Holland in 1659. Frederick and Mary would move to Ithaca, New York after their marriage in 1880 and would give birth to a daughter Mildred in 1883 and then two boys, Harold in 1893 and Sidney in 1895. There Frederick would join the Rescue Steamer Company 2 of the Ithaca Volunteer Fire Department and work in his carpentry trade.
Sidney graduated from Ithaca High School in 1913. Though the school was destroyed by fire on 14 February 1912, in Sidney’s junior year, he still managed to finish on time to begin attending Cornell University in its Architecture program. After the United States joined the war Sidney Thompson, while a junior at Cornell, most certainly was one of the many students and faculty members who signed a petition requesting the U.S. War Department establish an aviation ground school at Cornell. This petition was approved creating the U.S. Army School of Military Aeronautics at Cornell University.
To apply, Sidney Thompson just presented himself to the school for admission and he was immediately accepted. Thus, he began his aviation career on 2 June 1917, enlisting as a Private First Class and started training on 23 June 1917. During his course Cadet Thompson would have to pass exams in operation and care of aeronautical engines; theory of flight including construction, care, and rigging of aircraft; cross-country and general flying including meteorology, astronomy, photography, and instruments; aerial observation including artillery observation, map reading and reconnaissance; gunnery including care and operations of machine guns, bombs, and bombing; signaling and radio; and finally military regulations.
Private First Class Sidney Thompson completed the course as one of the top Cadets in his class and was sent to Mineola, New York to begin flight training. Before completing this training and as a top Cadet he was selected to travel as an Aviation Cadet to Europe to receive his formal flight training overseas. He departed from New York Harbor with fifty other Cadets as part of the U.S. Army’s Foreign Detachment 13 aboard the American Line SS Kroonlands on 2 November 1917. Once in Europe Cadet Thompson was sent to the 3rd Aviation Instruction Center at Issoudun, France for Basic and Primary Flight Training. He would successfully complete his flight training after proving he could perform sideslips, loops, a simulated uncontrolled fall, and other advanced aerobatic maneuvers as well as navigation flights that required a set distance and altitude within an establish time. He received his pilot’s wings in early January 1918 and then on 31 January 1918 formally commissioned a First Lieutenant.
1LT Sidney P Thompson
Proving himself a master of Issoudun’s training aircraft, Lieutenant Thompson was selected for training as a pursuit pilot. Aerial combat was his next course followed by machine gun and aerial marksmanship training. Lieutenant Thompson’s training would be interrupted due to an unknown illness that caused him to be hospitalized. But he would finally complete his last training courses in early June and on 7 June 1918 he and another new pilot, First Lieutenant Grover C. Vann, reported to the 95th Aero Squadron stationed at the Toul aerodrome in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department. The 95th Aero Squadron was one of four Squadrons assigned to the First Pursuit Group.
As new additions to the Squadron, both pilots were required to go on familiarization flights to learn the layout of the lines, learn landmarks, and gain experience navigating in their sector. On 29 June 1918 the First Pursuit Group moved to the Chateau-Thierry sector and stationed its four squadrons, the 27th, 94th, 95th, and the 147th to the Touquin Aerodrome in the Seine-et-Marne department. The squadrons would take several few days to get acquainted with the area but began combat patrol operations almost immediately on 1 July 1918. The Squadron’s first day of active combat would be Lieutenant Thompson’s last day on earth.
Wall of the Missing at Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France
According to the First Pursuit Group’s Operation Order number 26, dated 4 July 1918 outlining patrol operations for 5 July 1918, the 95th Aero Squadron mission was conducting a “High Patrol” covering the regions between Faverolles and Belleau of the Aisne region, from 0745 to 0915 hours in the morning. The Group’s Operations Report for 5 July 1918 states the 95th Aero Squadron put up a patrol of eleven aircraft at an altitude of 4200 meters (just under 14,000 feet). At 0830 the patrol leader, Lieutenant John C. Mitchell leading the lower element of the eleven aircraft with four other pilots in his flight (First Lieutenants Summer Swell, Waldo Heinrichs, Sidney Thompson, and Carlyle Rhodes) reported encountering six enemy fighters at 4500 meters (just over 14,700 feet). He attacked the enemy aircraft and a ten minute air to air battle started. Lieutenant W. H. Heinrichs stated they were attacked by a second set of six enemy fighters. Now outnumbered twelve to five a desperate fight for survival began as the enemy Fokker DVII fighters outperformed the American’s obsolete Nieuport 28s. In the ensuing fight Heinrichs, Swell, and Mitchell managed to team up and shoot down one enemy Fokker over Saint-Gengoulph 8.5 kilometers Northwest of Belleau. The three pilots were able to disengage and return to base with damaged Nieuports. The flight was so heavily engaged no one saw what happened to Lieutenants Rhodes and Thompson.
After the war Lieutenant Rhodes provided the best details, he could on what happened to Lieutenant Sideny Thompson. “Four of us were flying about 4000 meters above Chateau-Thierry doing line patrol: We sighted 6 biplane Fokkers – “The Von Richthofen squadron” and attacked at once, each engaging one. I saw Lieut. Thompson go down while fighting one of the planes – either because he had been hurt or his motor (was damaged). The Germans followed him shooting constantly. He probably landed in the village of Gengoulph near the Belleau Woods.”
Captain Karl Bolle, the German Squadron Commander of Jasta 2 (Jasta Boelcke), who was leading the German patrol and credited with shooting down Lieutenant Rhodes confirmed the death of Lieutenant Thompson. He stated the “other machine” fell in flames two kilometers east of Courchamps. German records confirm that two American Nieuports shot down in locality of Courchamps on the same date (5 July 1918), occupant taken prisoner (Lieutenant Rhodes) and the other (Lieutenant Thompson) fell in flames two east of Courchamps.
Lieutenant Sidney P. Thompson was shot down at approximately 0830 in the morning, by German ace Leutnant Hermann Frommherz of Jasta 2 for his fifth of ten victories he had during the war. Efforts after the war to locate Lieutenant Sidney Thompson’s crash site and grave proved unsuccessful. His family was officially notified the Army changed their son’s status from Missing to Killed in Action in April 1919.
First Lieutenant Sidney Paul Thompson is memorialized with 1,059 other missing American Service men on the “Tablets of the Missing” in the chapel at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, France.
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