FIRST ARMY I CORPS, AIR SERVICE
FOR OFFICIAL USE
The facts surrounding Lt. Theriot’s discharge are controversial, though corroborated by several witnesses. Therefore I have appended this explanation to provide a record of the events.
Lt. Reginald “Reggie” Theriot enlisted in the year 1917, immediately after the declaration of war, and served as an infantry man in the trenches before he signed up for flight training. He proved to possess a natural talent for flying and within three months of his reassignment he was engaging in regular air sorties (or “dogfights”) behind enemy lines. By the summer of the year 1918 he had four confirmed kills and was therefore only one victory away from being declared a “Flying Ace”. His fellow pilots all agree he remained cheerful and excited about the prospect, eager to take on more combat missions. He showed no sign of “nerves” or shell-shock, and was of healthy body.
On 25 July of 1918 he set off on a routine mission to scout out enemy positions and engage the German air presence. Accompanying him were two other pilots. In their Spad XIII machines they began patrol over the Chateau-Thierry sector, offering assistance to an English tank formation and scouting German trenches.
At this point they were set upon by a group of Fokker DR.I triplanes, numbering no less than fourteen aircraft. Lt. Theriot’s two wingmates were both rendered hors de combat immediately, one of them going down in flames while the other managed a crash landing behind the lines. Lt. Theriot, distinctly outnumbered and with his aircraft severely damaged, evaded pursuit and set down in a deep fog, landing in a field he believed to be just within our territory. In this he was mistaken. He had actually come down in No Man’s Land, a fact he ascertained when his landing gear snagged on a coil of concertina wire and he “nose-downed” into a shell crater.
The fog continued thick throughout the day as he attempted desperate repairs to his machine. It was perhaps only because of this reduced visibility that he was not machine gunned or shelled by enemy artillery. He reports that while he worked he kept one eye always on the horizon, praying that the mist would not break and he would not see the entire German army marching toward him.
He also reports that at this time he began feeling “eyes” on him, that is, that he was being watched. As he repaired the damaged engine cowling of his Spad, he heard an animalistic growl coming from somewhere in the fog, and he thought perhaps German troops were using dogs to sniff him out. This turned out to be an incorrect guess.
He was just finishing the repairs when the animal struck. He attempted to fight it off with his wrench but was unsuccessful. The animal got its teeth into his leg, injuring him grievously. Eventually he was able to ward it off, at which point he got his first good look at the thing.
“It was no dog,” he would report later, “it was a German wolf, of all things! Slavering fangs and bristly coat, like something out of a fairy tale. Its eyes were red with bloodlust and I knew it would be back to finish the job.”
Barely able to walk, he pulled himself into his cockpit and performed what must have been a harrowing take-off, barely getting his Spad into the air before the fog cleared. Enemy “archie” fire followed him home, exploding on every side in clouds of black smoke. Bullet holes appeared in his wings and fuselage, missing him by inches.
One of these shots did strike true, though not on Lt. Theriot. Immediately following one heavy spate of ground-based machine gun fire, he heard a blood-curdling yelp. Looking back, he saw a massive hole torn in the fuselage of his aircraft, and hanging out of it was the paw of the German wolf.
While he was still on the ground, the creature had bitten its way through the canvas side of his aircraft and crawled inside his airframe, incredible as it may sound. He had flown for miles with an undiscovered and certainly unwanted passenger, which helped explain the poor fuel efficiency of his engine on the return flight.
All the way back he could hear the German wolf inside the canvas behind him, clawing and groping its way toward him. Had he stayed airborne much longer, he believes it would have chewed its way into his cockpit and slaughtered him while he was flying.
Having exhausted his supply of fuel and with his aircraft off balance due to its unexpected load, he flew in just over the treetops and attempted a landing at a British aerodrome just our side of the lines. Though Lt. Theriot was an expert pilot, with the odds against him the best he could manage was to “pancake” his aircraft on the runway, crumpling his airframe and shattering his propeller. Once on the ground he jumped from the cockpit and crawled away from the Spad as quickly as possible. A pair of mechanics rushed to help him, but when they approached the aircraft he shouted for them to stay away, warning them of the wolf in the airframe. They appear not to have believed him, as one mechanic went over to the machine and was promptly mauled. This mechanic did not survive the attack.
Lt. Theriot and the other mechanic took shelter in a nearby fuel truck, rolling up the windows despite the day’s heat. They remained there until the German wolf lost interest in them and loped away into the woods. It has not been seen since. The fuel truck was damaged with claw marks ruining its paint and one tire slashed as if by a serrated knife with a six inch blade.
British authorities investigated the crash and the death of the mechanic and found no reason to doubt Lt. Theriot’s story. The commander of the aerodrome only had one question for Lt. Theriot, which was as follows:
Major Yancy DesPlaines, BEF: My dear boy, every time you describe this beast, you call it a “German wolf.” But certainly animals haven’t a nationality like you or me. A wolf’s a wolf, what? So why do you keep calling this one a—
Lt. Reginald Theriot, USAAS (interrupting): Because it was wearing one of those d—d pickle helmets the whole time!
This fact was confirmed by the surviving mechanic.
Lt. Theriot’s leg injury was considered highly severe by British “medicos”, and he was returned to the American airfield at Le Havre with the expectation that he would require an amputation. On his arrival it was found that the injury was not as bad as reported. While Lt. Theriot is recovering speedily, and can even walk with crutches now (whereas the Brits claimed he would never walk again), I have conformed with his doctor’s recommendation and am now releasing him from active service, with an honorable discharge.
Unfortunately, given that his wound was sustained not through enemy action but through misadventure, regulations will not permit my awarding him a Purple Heart.
At Le Havre, 7 August, 1918,
Colonel William Mitchell,
U.S. Army Air Service