Monday, July 10, 2017

Willy Coppens, Belgium's highest-scoring Ace of The Great War.

Coppens was born on July 6, 1892 in Watermaal-Bosvoorde. He joined the army in 1912, serving with the 2nd Grenadiers. In 1914 he transferred to the Compagnie des Aviateurs. At his own expense he enrolled in a civilian flying school in Hendon and received further military aviation training in France.

1916 saw Coppens on the Western Front where developed an especial expertise in shooting down enemy observation balloons.

On 19 August Coppens was promoted to Adjutant. He continued his nervy but unsuccessful combat career against enemy aircraft until 17 March 1918. On that day he carried out his first attack on German observation balloons, as an aid to a ground assault by the Belgian Army. Though handicapped by lack of incendiary ammunition he punctured two balloons, causing the observers to bail out and the balloons to collapse to the ground.

Finally, on 25 April Coppens scored his first victory by downing a Rumpler two seater. On 8 May he finally found his metier, when he shot two balloons down in flames.

All but three of Coppens' 37 victories were against balloons - regarded as perfectly legitimate by all sides in adding to a pilot's 'kill' total, such attacks being considered an especially hazardous undertaking.

“On one occasion, the balloon he was attacking shot upward and Coppens actually landed his Hanriot HD.1 on top of it. Switching off his engine to protect the propeller, he waited until his aircraft slid off the top of the balloon, then restarted the engine and watched as the German balloon burst into flames and sank to the ground”.

His wartime career came to an end however on October 14, 1918 - less than a month prior to the armistice - when he was struck in the leg by an incendiary bullet while achieving victory number 37 - his final 'kill'. Despite a severed artery and intense pain, he shot down his target and managed to crash land within the safety of his Allied lines.The severity of a severed artery resulted in an amputation.

For his wartime service he was knighted, becoming Willy Omer Francois Jean Coppens de Houthulst, for a forest in his squadron's operating area. Before he retired from the army in 1940, Coppens served as a military attaché in France, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland.

Among Coppens’ many decorations were;

Order of the White Eagle  Serbia.jpg

The Order of the White Eagle, Serbia, The Order of the Crown, Belgium, The Order of Leopold II, Belgium, The Legion of Honor, France, The Croix de Guerre, France, The Belgian War Cross, Belgium, The Military Cross, Britain and The Distinguished Service Order, Britain

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