Willis Haviland

Willis Bradley Haviland (1890 - 1944)

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Willis Bradley Haviland
Born in Minneapolis, MNmap
Ancestors ancestors
[sibling(s) unknown]
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Riverside, CAmap
Profile last modified | Created 10 Dec 2016
This page has been accessed 159 times.



Willis Bradley Haviland (1890-1945) was a pioneer military pilot in World War I and a Naval Air Station C.O. in World War II. As the sixteenth American volunteer in the Lafayette Escadrille, he was among the first air combat pilots to fight the Germans in WWI, before the U.S. officially entered the war. He was primarily an escort and reconnaissance pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille, and occasionally was assigned a bombing run. He was permitted only to engage in air combat with the enemy in defense. Consequently, he earned only two confirmed "kills" in this time period, not nearly as many as his ace peers who had more aggressive assignments. He was adept at keeping his plane out of the enemy's firing angle, and if provoked he was skilled enough to send the German and Austrian pilots into retreat when he turned on them.

After the United States joined the war, Haviland became Executive Officer of a Naval Air Station at Dunkirk, France with one month of special duty in the 13th Squadron RNAS flying a Sopwith Camel single-seater biplane. In July, 1918, Lt. Haviland was reassigned to command the Naval Air Station near the village of Porto Corsini in Italy and train pilots there.

Following the war, Lt. Haviland was assigned to the USS Texas (BB-35) near Guantánamo Bay as a combat pilot. There, he became the first pilot to launch a plane off a U.S. battleship, and the first pilot to launch a military aircraft off any ship, motivating the United States to begin developing the first military aircraft carriers. The idea was inspired by experiments in 1910 when stunt aviator Eugene Ely launched a Curtiss Model D (non-military) biplane off of a custom platform built onto the United States Cruiser USS Birmingham.

Haviland's idea, which he had proposed to Captain Nathan C. Twining on the USS Texas (BB-35), was to build a 40-foot long, 12-foot wide runway of timbers lashed together on the Number 2 guns of the Battleship's forward deck. His Sopwith Camel biplane would then be winched down on the runway and its wheels held by a bridle to be released at Haviland's command, after the plane's propeller had sufficient speed for takeoff. "Haviland climbed into the cockpit and revved and raced the plane's motor until it seemed to the nearby sailors that the prop blast and vibration would tear the fuselage apart. Haviland signaled for the cables to be released. The straining aircraft roared down the runway, dropped precipitously toward the sea, then climbed into the sky.”

Lt. Haviland subsequently served on the USS Okahoma, one of the ships later destroyed at Pearl Harbor in 1941. In 1942, Haviland became the Executive Officer assigned to the establishment of a Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island, Washington which was commissioned 21 Sept 1942. He assumed the role of Commanding Officer of that station in November, 1943 upon the detachment of the previous CO, Captain Cyril T. Simard. On February 18, 1944 Captain Willis B. Haviland was appointed the role officially by the Bureau of Personnel, which he held until 1 Sept 1944 when his superior officers, impressed by his efficient management of the facility, asked him to relinquish command for a special assignment in the Central Pacific War Zone. He died suddenly before taking that assignment.

Two movies were produced about the Lafayette Escadrille: Lafayette Escadrille directed by William Wellman in 1958 (starring Tab Hunter and Clint Eastwood) and Flyboys directed by Tony Bill in 2006 (starring James Franco). Most of the characters were fictional, though they were based on the pilots of the Escadrille during the time that Willis Haviland was among them.

Excerpts from miscellaneous biographies on Willis B. Haviland:

"The Commander spent his early training at Kemper Military Academy and went from there to Iowa State College at Ames. His education was interrupted by the commencement of hostilities in Europe and it was shortly thereafter that he joined the forces of the French Foreign Legion. It was at this time that the Commander became one of the 18 Americans in the Foreign Legion to form the world-famous Escadrille Lafayette.

"Following this period, Commander Haviland served for a short time as Executive Officer of a Naval Air Station at Dunkirk, France.

"At about this time the United States entered the first world war and Whidbey’s Commanding Officer joined the U.S. Navy and was assigned as Commanding Officer of a naval air station in Italy. While serving in this capacity he led his bombing squadron on some of the early bombing raids of that war. Pilots of the Commander’s squadron were awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor and sixteen Navy Crosses. The Congressional Medal, which was the only one awarded to a naval aviator in the last war, went to Ensign Charles Hammann for whom the destroyer USS Hammann, sunk in the battle of Midway, was named.

"At the close of the last war Commander Haviland joined the fleet where he served as Air Officer aboard the USS Texas in 1919 and in the same capacity in the USS Oklahoma in 1920. It was during this period that the Captain became the first man to take off in an aircraft from the deck of a battleship. The experimental runways on these ships were approximately 40 feet in length by 12 feet wide and were laid on the turret guns.

"Commander Haviland holds combat decorations from four countries. These are, the American Navy Cross, three French Croix de Guerres, the Rolge’ Croix de Guerre and the Italian War Cross.” [1]

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Willis B. Haviland, United States Navy (Reserve Force), for distinguished and heroic service as a Seaplane Pilot in which capacity he made many flights for patrolling the sea and bombing the enemy coasts, showing at all times courage and a high spirit of duty. [2]

“’Our Command. Officer’ Lieut. W. B. Haviland.

“U.S. Navy, Jan 1907 - Jan 1911. American Ambulance Corp, 1915, in Alsace (17 continuous months at the front.)

“U.S. Navy, 1918 - Chief Pilot at Dunkerque; one month special duty with the 13th squadron. R.N.A.S. as pilot of ‘Sopwith’ (Camel) single-seater.

“Two years in French aviation.

“Commanding Officer, U.S. Naval Air Station Porto Corsini, Italy, 1918 - Jan 1919.” [3]


“Willis B. Haviland, Who Shot Down German Aeroplane From the Clouds, Is Known Here as Tennis Champ.


“Indianapolis friends of Willis B. Haviland, the young American aviator who shot down a German aeroplane in a thrilling air duel near Paris yesterday from an elevation of 4,000 feet, said today that while his adventure was the first to be mentioned in press dispatches, they have heard at various times of other feats hardly less startling.

“Mr. Haviland and his mother, Mrs. Grace K. Haviland, lived at the Glenn Martin apartments, St. Joe and Meridian streets, until he left about two years ago to join an ambulance corps, later to become a member of the French flying corps.

“Mr. Haviland’s mother followed him to France and now is doing hospital work there in order to be near her son. He has been a member of the flying corps for only a year, but, according to letters received from Mrs. Haviland by her Indianapolis friends, his exploits have earned him the name of the American fighting scout.


“Mr. Haviland was popular in Indianapolis during his period of residence here. He came here from Anderson about four years ago. In Anderson he is remembered as a champion tennis player and through his fondness for this sport he made the acquaintance of a number of members of the local Hawthorn Tennis club after he came to Indianapolis. He was employed by the Remy Electric Company and the Rotary Valve Company during his residence in Indiana.”

Member of “Friends of France” in 1916 (Field Service American Ambulance). [4]

"IN THE ANNALS of Naval Aviation in World War I, no exploit for daring of execution and success in pulling it off is exceeded by that starring Naval Aviator #1494, Ens. Charles Hazeltine Hammann, USNRF. He and his fellow pilots were a unit of Naval Aviators who operated out of Porto Corsini in Italian planes. This combination of American fliers and Italian aircraft had come about when the Italian government arranged for the U.S. Navy to take over and operate the air station at Porto Corsini, some 50 miles south of Venice. The take-over was accomplished July 24, 1918. Hoisting the flag, Lt. Willis B. Haviland, USNRF, put the new station in commission and air operations commenced. So successfully did the station carry out its mission that Admiral H. T. Mayo, USN, stated on the basis of his inspection November 10, 1918, that the station had 'the distinction of being the most heavily engaged unit of the U.S. Naval Forces in Europe.' Lt. Haviland had come from Pauillac, France, in a special train which transported 331 men, certain officers and over 250 tons of supplies for the station..." [5]



  1. Prop Wash. 18 Feb 1944. (The official news periodical of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.)
  2. Navy Cross Citation
  3. The Leading Edge. Porto Corsini, Italy; Vol 1 No 3, 25 Dec 1918.
  4. Indianapolis Daily Times, 1917.
  5. Pearson, Lee. Developing the Flying Bomb.


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Images: 3
Willis Bradley Haviland
Willis Bradley Haviland

Willis Bradley Haviland launching from USS Texas
Willis Bradley Haviland launching from USS Texas

Willis Bradley Haviland holding Whiskey
Willis Bradley Haviland holding Whiskey


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Categories: Lafayette Escadrille Pilots | USS Texas (BB-35), United States Navy