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James Fitzmaurice

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James Fitzmaurice {DFC}(January 6, 1898 – September 26, 1965) was an aviator pioneer. He was a member of the crew of the Bremen, which made the first successful Trans-Atlantic aircraft flight from East to West on April 12, 1928 – April 13, 1928.

James was born in Dublin, Ireland on January 6, 1898. His parents were Michael FitzMaurice and Mary Agnes O' Riordan. The family was then residing at 35 Mountjoy Cottages on Dublin's North Circular Road.

May 23, 1902 At age four, James moved with his parents to a house on Dublin Road, Portlaoise, Ireland. James attended St. Mary's, a Christian Brothers School in Maryboro (Portlaoise) until shortly before his 16th birthday.

In 1914 James joined the Irish National Volunteers. Later that year, James enlisted in the Cadet Company of the 7th Battalion of the Leinsters. He was then 16 years of age although the "required" minimum age was 19. James was taken out by his father for being underage.

In 1915, James enlisted in the British Army, 17th Lancers (a cavalry unit). He was sent to France, was wounded, and was twice recommended for a commission. James arrived in France circa May 1916. He was then posted to another English unit, the 7th Battalion of the Queen's Royal (West Surrey) Regiment of Foot as an acting sergeant. It was part of the 55th Brigade in the British 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

In July 1916, James fought in the Battle of the Somme.

On his 19th birthday in January 1917, Fitzmaurice held the rank of Corporal, was an acting Sergeant, and commanded Platoon No. 13 of D Company, 7th Queen's. He was approved for a commission in May. On June 8, Fitzmaurice left for England "to take up commission". He was sent for training to Cadet College and gazetted to the 8th (Irish) Battalion, King's (Liverpool Regiment) as a Second Lieutenant on November 28, 1917. Fitzmaurice was then posted to the School of Military Aeronautics at Reading.

June 1, 1918 James began his "practical flying training" at Eastbourne Aerodrome.

October 28, 1918 Having completed his elementary training at Eastbourne, James was posted to the No. 1 School of Fighting and Aerial Gunnery at Marske-by-the-Sea, near Middlesbrough. James completed his training as a fighter pilot and was posted to sail to France on November 11, 1918 the day that the Armistice with Germany became effective. His sailing was cancelled when the Armistice was announced.

James married Violet "Bill" Clarke on his 21st birthday. James continued in the Royal Air Force, flying the mails with 110 Squadron. He served in the "Army of Occupation" until 1919.

He joined the Army Air Corps in 1919 and was appointed to the rank of Lieutenant. In May 1919, James was selected to undertake the first night mail flight (Folkestone to Boulogne).

In 1919, James was selected for a Cape to Cairo flight (which did not materialize). From Sep - Nov 1919, James commanded the 6th Wing Working Party of the RAF. He was assigned the task of removing useful material from six aerodromes which had been deactivated. In December James was demobilized and spent most of the following 18 months selling insurance for the North British and Mercantile Insurance Company.

Circa May 1921, Patricia Fitzmaurice was born. She was the only child of Violet and James. James was recalled in May 1921 after 18 months and was attached to 25 Squadron. He accepted a Short Service Commission for four to six years. August 1921 James resigned his RAF commission.

In February 1922 James joined the Irish Army Corps following the formation of the Irish Free State. Early 1923 James was promoted to Captain. On October 25, 1925 James was promoted to Acting Commandant and was appointed second-in-command of the Irish Air Corps, with headquarters in Baldonnel. He was later promoted to Commandant on September 1, 1927.

September 16, 1927 The Princess Xenia (a Fokker Vila aircraft) took off from Baldonnel Aerodrome headed for New York with a planned landing at Newfoundland. The pilot was Captain Robert Henry MacIntosh. Co-pilots were Maurice Walker Piercey and James Fitzmaurice. Because of bad weather, the flight was aborted when the Xenia was about 300 miles out over the Atlantic. The flight lasted five and a half hours.

April 12-13, 1928 James flew in the crew of the Bremen on the first transatlantic aircraft flight from East to West. The crew consisted of:

  • Captain Hermann Köhl (15 Apr 1888 — 7 Oct 1938), pilot;
  • Captain James Fitzmaurice, (6 Jan 1898 — 26 Sep 1965) co-pilot
  • Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld (1 May 1892 — 5 Feb 1929), owner.

Köhl made a "perfect three-point landing" on a shallow, ice-covered, water reservoir (which James called a "lagoon") at Greenly Island. Just as the Bremen came to a stop, it broke through the ice. The tail then projected about 20 feet (6 m) into the air. Everybody got wet but were safe.

April 14–26 1928 Reporters and photographers rushed towards Greenly Island to cover the story of the Bremen and its crew. At the height of the activity, there were 60 reporters who were covering the story from the field. Canadian Transcontinental Airways pilot C. A. "Duke" Schiller, acting as a reporter for the Toronto Daily Star, arrived at Greenly on Sun April 15, 1928. Shortly afterwards, Canadian Transcontinental Airways Chief Pilot, Roméo Vachon arrived with four passengers: photographers Roy Fernstom of Associated Press and Edward N. Jackson of Pacific and Atlantic Photos, with reporters Leslie Roberts of Hearst and James Stanton of the Quebec Chronicle Express.

Roméo Vachon was not only a pilot but also a licensed engineer. He is reported to have declared that the Junkers could not fly because its engine's crankshaft was bent. This did not prevent others from trying to fly the Bremen off Greenly Island. However, they were never able to start the engine.

26 Apr 1928: After 13 days of fruitless attempts to repair the Bremen and fly it to New York, the three flyers left Greenly Island on a Ford Trimotor Aircraft flown by Bernt Balchen. They flew to Curtis Field, Long Island, New York with a stop at Lac Ste. Agnes, Quebec. Also aboard the plane were Charles J. V. Murphy (reporter from the New York World|New York World) and Ernest Köppen (mechanic from Junkers).

The crew of the Bremen then began a two-month tour of cities in North America and Europe to be celebrated as heroes. They were termed,"The Three Musketeers of the Air":

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