Edmond Thieffry
Edmond Thieffry was a Belgian First World War air ace
Flying ace
A flying ace or fighter ace is a military aviator credited with shooting down several enemy aircraft during aerial combat. The actual number of aerial victories required to officially qualify as an "ace" has varied, but is usually considered to be five or more...

 and aviation pioneer. He made, with Léopold Roger and Jef de Bruycker, the first successful flight between Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 and Congo (then the Belgian Congo
Belgian Congo
The Belgian Congo was the formal title of present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo between King Leopold II's formal relinquishment of his personal control over the state to Belgium on 15 November 1908, and Congolese independence on 30 June 1960.-Congo Free State, 1884–1908:Until the latter...


First World War

Thieffry was born in Etterbeek
Etterbeek is one of the nineteen municipalities located in the Brussels-Capital Region of Belgium. It neighbours the municipalities of the City of Brussels, Ixelles, Auderghem, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, Woluwe-Saint-Lambert and Schaerbeek....

, a municipality of Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, and went on to study law in Leuven
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
The Katholieke Universiteit Leuven is a Dutch-speaking university in Flanders, Belgium.It is located at the centre of the historic town of Leuven, and is a prominent part of the city, home to the university since 1425...

 (hence his nickname "The Flying Judge"). After qualifying he was conscripted into the Belgian Army, joining the 10th Regiment in 1913. At the start of the First World War he saw service as a staff attaché
Attaché is a French term in diplomacy referring to a person who is assigned to the diplomatic or administrative staff of a higher placed person or another service or agency...

 to General Leman
Gérard Leman
Gerard Mathieu Leman was a Belgian general. He was responsible for the military education of King Albert I of Belgium. During World War I he was the commander of the forts surrounding the Belgian city of Liège. The German Forces had to use heavy artillery to break through the defences and capture...

, but was captured by the Germans. He escaped on a stolen motorcycle to the neutral territory of the Netherlands, where he was arrested by Dutch military police. Using his legal knowledge and Dutch language skills he managed to talk his way out of internment
Internment is the imprisonment or confinement of people, commonly in large groups, without trial. The Oxford English Dictionary gives the meaning as: "The action of 'interning'; confinement within the limits of a country or place." Most modern usage is about individuals, and there is a distinction...

, and travelled to Antwerp to rejoin the Belgian army.

In 1915, Thieffry joined the Compagnie des Ouvries et Aérostiers—the Belgian Army Air Corps—and with some difficulty qualified as a pilot at Étampes
Étampes is a commune in the metropolitan area of Paris, France. It is located south-southwest from the center of Paris . Étampes is a sub-prefecture of the Essonne department....

. On 1 February 1916 he joined the 3rd Squadron as an observer for artillery, where he was appreciated for his exactitude and courage. He crash-landed so many aircraft that he was promptly assigned to a single-seat fighter squadron, as no one would fly with him! He was rapidly transferred to 5th Squadron (The Comets) under Captain Jules Dony based at De Panne
De Panne
De Panne is a municipality located along the North Sea coast of the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the towns of Adinkerke and De Panne proper. On 1 January 2006 De Panne had a total population of 10,060. The total area is 23.90 km² which gives a population...

 in December 1916.

His first confirmed victory was on 15 March 1917, flying a Nieuport 11
Nieuport 11
|-See also:-References:NotesBibliography* Angelucci, Enzio, ed. The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft. New York: The Military Press, 1983. ISBN 0-517-41021-4....

. His second followed eight days later above Gistel
Gistel is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Gistel proper and the towns of Moere, Snaaskerke and Zevekote. On January 1, 2006 Gistel had a total population of 11,125. The total area is 42.25 km² which gives a population...

, and his third on 12 May above Houthulst
Houthulst is a municipality located in the Belgian province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the towns of Houthulst proper, Jonkershove, Klerken and Merkem. On January 1, 2006 Houthulst had a total population of 9,051...

. His fourth was on 14 June—an Albatros D.III
Albatros D.III
The Albatros D.III was a biplane fighter aircraft used by the Imperial German Army Air Service and the Austro-Hungarian Air Service during World War I. The D.III was flown by many top German aces, including Manfred von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Erich Löwenhardt, Kurt Wolff, and Karl Emil Schäfer...

 above Westende
Westende is a town in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium, and in the Flemish province of West-Flanders. It lies on the Belgian coast, also called Flemish coast. It used to be the far west of the island Testerep which lay along the Belgian coast....

. The 5th Squadron then relocated to Les Moëres
Les Moëres
De Moeren or Les Moëres are a marshy region in the Westhoek, politically divided between the French-Belgian border. At one time the area was inhabited by the Gallic people known as the Morini; they are believed to have lent their name to the territory.For many centuries, beginning around 800,...

, and was equipped with Nieuport 17
Nieuport 17
|-Specifications :-See also:-Bibliography:* Bruce, Jack. "Those Classic Nieuports". Air Enthusiast Quarterly. Number Two, 1976. Bromley, UK:Pilot Press. pp. 137–153....

s. Thieffry gained official status as an "ace" when he shot down two German fighters over Diksmuide
Diksmuide is a Belgian city and municipality in the Flemish province of West Flanders. The municipality comprises the city of Diksmuide proper and the former communes of Beerst, Esen, Kaaskerke, Keiem, Lampernisse, Leke, Nieuwkapelle, Oostkerke, Oudekapelle, Pervijze, Sint-Jacobs-Kapelle,...

 on 3 July. In August he received the first SPAD VII fighter in the Belgian Air Force, bought by the Belgian prince. He gained three more victories with it.

On 31 August his aircraft was badly damaged by two German Albatros D.V
Albatros D.V
|-See also:-Bibliography:*Bennett, Leon. Gunning for the Red Baron. College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 2006. ISBN 1-58544-507-X....

 fighters, but he managed to land behind the Belgian lines. He continued to fight and he claimed his 10th and last confirmed kill on 10 October 1917. He also had five 'probable' kills. This placed him third on the list of Belgian aces, behind Willy Coppens
Willy Coppens
Willy Omer Francois Jean Coppens was Belgium's leading fighter ace and the champion "balloon buster" of World War I.-Background and Early Military Service:...

 and André de Meulemeester
André de Meulemeester
Lieutenant Andre Emile Alfons de Meulemeester was a Belgian flying ace during World War I. He was credited with eleven confirmed and seventeen unconfirmed aerial victories.-World War I:...

. Shortly afterwards he was shot down and wounded by return fire from a German two-seater aircraft of FAA 227 over Kortrijk
Kortrijk ; , ; ) is a Belgian city and municipality located in the Flemish province West Flanders...

 on 23 February 1918. He spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 in Germany. He tried to escape on 13 April 1918 but was caught ten days later.

Flight to Congo

At the end of the war Thieffry returned to Brussels by way of Switzerland, arriving home on 6 December 1918. He returned to his practice as a lawyer, but remained active in aviation, being one of the founders of Sabena
SABENA was the national airline of Belgium from 1923 to 2001, with its base at Brussels National Airport. After its bankruptcy in 2001, the newly formed SN Brussels Airlines took over part of SABENA's assets in February 2002, which then became Brussels Airlines...

 in 1923. He then devised a plan to inaugurate an air link between Belgium and the Belgian Congo. At the start of 1925 he obtained permission from the government for this hazardous flight. Sabena supplied a Handley Page W8
Handley Page W8
-Bibliography:* Barnes, C. H. Handley Page Aircraft Since 1907. London: Putnam & Company, Ltd., 1987. ISBN 0-85177-803-8.* Clayton, Donald C. Handley Page, an Aircraft Album. Shepperton, Surrey, UK: Ian Allan Ltd., 1969. ISBN 0-7110-0094-8....

f, which Thieffry named "Princesse Marie-José
Marie-José of Belgium
Marie José of Belgium was the last Queen of Italy...

", after getting the support of his friend King Albert
Albert I of Belgium
Albert I reigned as King of the Belgians from 1909 until 1934.-Early life:Born Albert Léopold Clément Marie Meinrad in Brussels, he was the fifth child and second son of Prince Philippe, Count of Flanders, and his wife, Princess Marie of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen...


He left from Brussels (presumably from Haren airfield, the present national airport would only be created in 1940 at Melsbroek, its Zaventem
Zaventem is a municipality in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders, one of the three regions of Belgium. The municipality comprises the towns of Nossegem, Sint-Stevens-Woluwe, Sterrebeek and Zaventem proper. On January 1, 2006 Zaventem had a total population of 28,651...

 terminal dates from 1956) on 12 February 1925, with mechanic Joseph "Jef" de Bruycker and co-pilot Léopold Roger, heading for N'Dolo airfield at Leopoldville (now Kinshasa
Kinshasa is the capital and largest city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The city is located on the Congo River....

). Thieffry himself acted as navigator. The flight plan called for stops at Marseille
Marseille , known in antiquity as Massalia , is the second largest city in France, after Paris, with a population of 852,395 within its administrative limits on a land area of . The urban area of Marseille extends beyond the city limits with a population of over 1,420,000 on an area of...

, Oran
Oran is a major city on the northwestern Mediterranean coast of Algeria, and the second largest city of the country.It is the capital of the Oran Province . The city has a population of 759,645 , while the metropolitan area has a population of approximately 1,500,000, making it the second largest...

, Colomb-Bechar
Béchar , formerly known as Colomb-Béchar, is a capital city of Béchar Province, Algeria. The area is controlled by Algeria, though claims have also been made on it by Morocco. In 1998 the city had a population of 134,954....

, Gao
Gao is a town in eastern Mali on the River Niger lying ESE of Timbuktu. Situated on the left bank of the river at the junction with the Tilemsi valley, it is the capital of the Gao Region and had a population of 86,663 in 2009....

, Fort-Lamy
N'Djamena is the capital and largest city of Chad. A port on the Chari River, near the confluence with the Logone River, it directly faces the Cameroonian town of Kousséri, to which the city is connected by a bridge. It is also a special statute region, divided in 10 arrondissements. It is a...

, Bangui
-Law and government:Bangui is an autonomous commune of the Central African Republic. With an area of 67 km², it is by far the smallest high-level administrative division of the CAR in area but the highest in population...

 and Coquilhatville
Mbandaka, formerly known as Coquilhatville or Coquilhatstad , is a city on the Congo River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lying near the confluence of the Congo and Ruki Rivers. The capital of the Equateur District, it is home to an airport and is linked by ferry to Kinshasa and Boende...

, and should have taken seven days. However strong adverse winds and a broken propeller meant that it took 51 days. Finally on 3 April, after 8,200 kilometres, they arrived at Leopoldville. The first air connection was made, and Thieffry returned to a hero's welcome in Belgium.

He made two further attempts to reach Congo. The first on 9 March 1928 in an ACAZ C.2 with Joseph Lang and Philippe Quersin, did not get any further than Philippeville
Philippeville is a Walloon municipality located in Belgium in the province of Namur. The Philippeville municipality includes the old communes of Fagnolle, Franchimont, Jamagne, Jamiolle, Merlemont, Neuville, Omezée, Roly, Romedenne, Samart, Sart-en-Fagne, Sautour, Surice , Villers-en-Fagne,...

. The second on 26 June in a Stampe et Vertongen RSV 22-180, again with Philippe Quersin, also failed, this time ending in a marsh at Clapier, near Vauvert
Vauvert is a commune in the Gard department in southern France. It was known as Posquières in the Middle Ages.The commune comprises the town of Vauvert and the villages of Gallician and Montcalm. Over a third of the population work in industry, which is largely the food...

. Thieffry then developed a plan to set up an internal air service in Congo. During his second test flight in Congo on 11 April 1929, flying Avimeta C.92, Thieffry, with fellow flyer Gaston Julien, was killed in a crash close to Lake Tanganyika (only a mechanic survived). He was 36 years old. It would be another 10 years before a regular air service was established between Brussels and Kinshasa.


  • Croix de Guerre
    Croix de guerre
    The Croix de guerre is a military decoration of France. It was first created in 1915 and consists of a square-cross medal on two crossed swords, hanging from a ribbon with various degree pins. The decoration was awarded during World War I, again in World War II, and in other conflicts...

     (Belgium) 1914–1918
  • Knight of the Order of Leopold II
    Order of Leopold II
    The Order of Leopold II is an order of Belgium and is named in honor of King Léopold II. The decoration was established on 24 August 1900 by Leopold II as king of the Congo Free State and was in 1908, upon Congo being handed over to Belgium, incorporated into the Belgian awards system...

  • Knight of the Order of Léopold
    Order of Léopold
    The Order of Leopold is one of the three Belgian national honorary orders of knighthood. It is the highest order of Belgium and is named in honour of King Leopold I. It consists of a military, a maritime and a civilian division...

  • Croix de Guerre with Palm (France)
  • Silver Medal of Military Valor
    Silver Medal of Military Valor
    The Silver Medal of Military Valor is an Italian medal for gallantry.Italian medals for valor were first instituted by Victor Amadeus III of Sardinia on May 21, 1793, with a gold medal, and, below it, a silver medal...

  • Victory Medal
  • Commemorative Medal of the 1914–1918 War
  • 7 Frontstreep (Front Line Stripes)


  • On 10 July 1932 a plaque dedicated to Thieffry was unveiled in Etterbeek. It shows the route of his flight to Leopoldville. A metro station (Thieffry metro station
    Thieffry metro station
    The Thieffry Metro Station is one of the Brussels metro stations on the eastern branch of line 5. The metro station is located in the municipality of Etterbeek. It was formerly on line 1A until April 2009. The station was opened in 1976 and is named after the Belgian aviator Edmond...

    ) and a street (Rue Aviateur Thieffry / Vlieger Thieffry Straat) have also been named after him in Etterbeek.

External links

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