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“Lives of the Aces in Pictures – Part 21: Willy Coppens” by Eugene Frandzen

Link - Posted by David on August 16, 2017 @ 6:00 am in

STARTING in the May 1932 issue of Flying Aces and running almost 4 years, Eugene Frandzen’s “Lives of the Aces in Pictures” was a staple of the magazine. Each month Frandzen would feature a different Ace that rose to fame during the Great War. This time around we have Belgian balloon buster—Lt. Willy Coppens!

Willy Omer François Jean Coppens de Houthulst was the Belgian Ace of Aces. He got his initial training as a soldier and officer in the cavalry division of the army. He transferred later on to the Flying Corps and began immediately to compile the record of victories that gained him top ranking among sky fighters. (a YouTube video exists that shows footage of Coopens demonstrating downing a balloon and talking about it years later.)

Because the German armies had overrun all but a narrow strip of his own country, he did all of his flying from foreign bases, usually being stationed in the sectors in Flanders occupied by the British forces. Flying foreign machines from foreign bases, he nevertheless built up a remarkable record of successful combats. When his time on the front was ended, unhappily but gloriously, he was officially credited with 32 victories and awarded practically every medal under the sun, chiefly among there were the Order of Leopold II with swords, Order of the Crown, Belgian Croix de Guerre 1914-1918 with 27 Palms and 13 Bronze Lions, French Legion d’Honneur, Serbian Order of the White Eagle, British Distinguished Service Order, British Military Cross, and French Croix de Guerre with 2 Palms!

After the war, Coppens served as a military attaché to France, Britain, Italy and Switzerland. He retired in 1940 to Switzerland, where he spent his time organising resistance work and marrying. His war memoirs, Days on the Wing was published in 1931 and was subsequently revised and re-issued in paperback forty years later in 1971 with the title Flying in Flanders.

In the late 1960s he returned to Belgium and lived his last five years with fellow Belgian ace Jan Olieslagers’s only daughter until his death in 1986. He was 94.