Rene Dorme was born on the 30th of January 1894 in Aix – Aboucourt in the Meuse area of France. Dorme spent his youth in a Catholic and patriotic environment in Briey, where his father, Adolphe was the station master. he obtained his certificate of studies ( at this time passed by 20% of his age group ) and returned to working life fairly quickly. With the intention of studying law, he decided to advance his military service by three years and enlist at the age of 18. Dorme is called up in 1912, and posted to Bizerte in Tunisia with the 7th Artillery Group. His education allowed him to access the ranks of at first Brigadier and later Marechal de logis. On the 1st of August 1914, the day of General Mobilisation, He is a Marechal de logis, Quartermaster at the Bizerte camp. The details of his activity during the first days of the war from the personal diary he maintains.
His role, which consists of receiving and distributing uniforms to reservists, is a ‘moth guard’ job that holds no satisfaction for him. He wrote that he wanted to return to France where the first fighting was taking place. In response to a request asking for volunteers to serve in aviation, he embarked for France on the 9th of December 1914, writing, ‘I have a happy heart and I want to eat goat’s ears.’ After spending one month in Lyon, in the 2nd Aviation Group, he received on January the 17th, the order to join the Saint-Cyr aviation centre as a pyrotechnician. No post is assigned to him, ‘We have about thirty non-commissioned officers here who do nothing, even less than in Lyon. When artillery observers were recruited, Dorme volunteered, and received on the 1st of February 1915, the order to report to the Caudron school in Buc to begin his apprenticeship there. After a few days of flights he left Buc to go to Pau on February the 13th, where he took the civil patent tests on a Bleriot XI ( Gnome engine ) on April the 24th 1915. His diploma, No.1933 was awarded to him on the 6th of May. The school principal gave his assessment, ‘A very good student, thoughtful, calm and straightforward. Must make a great pilot.’ On his return to Saint-Cyr he passed his military certificate No. 1946 on the 5th of June 1915.
First assigned to the C.94 Squadron based in Villacoublay in which he won his first victory aboard a Caudron G.4 on April the 3rd 1916.in the company of Private Huillet above Carlepont. Rene Dorme served for a time in the N.29 Squadron, deployed in Pons. Then on May the 27th 1916 he joined the N.3 Squadron, This one, prestigious formation then commanded by Capitaine Antonin Brocard, was going to become at the the end of October 1916, one of the so-called ‘Stork ‘ Squadrons thus becoming a part of Combat Group 12 in the company of Squadrons 26. 73, and 103. Immersing himself in aerial combat, Rene Dorme, whom his squadron comrades affectionately called ‘Papa’ did not take long to make himself noticed, indeed, although freshly arrived, he declares no less than eight victories for the month of July 1916, this includes a double on the 27th. However, only two victories will be formalized, it must be said that the French homologation procedure put in place by Brocard is very restrictive, requiring three independent witnesses, which for the pilots is almost impossible to satisfy, especially as the combats have most likely taken place behind enemy lines and in consequence witnesses are not legion.
His career as a fighter pilot will be like the month of July, marked by heroic acts, on which, for lack of being formalized, history is silent. According to his mechanic’s recollections and the notes in his logbook, he claimed no less than 94 aerial victories. According to the list of French victories made by Bailey and Cony, and after examination of the victories listed by Chassard, He thus declared 63 in the registers and he will be credited with 23. His feat of arms earned him the Medaille Militaire, pinned on his chest by the President of the Republic. Chevalier de la Legion d’ Honneur and the Croix de Guerre with seventeen palms ( although it was said he subsequently kept his decorations in a pocket and never wore them. Rene Dorme is along with others like Rene Fonck and Georges Maddon, One of the French pilots of the First World War who was denied the most victories.
His reputation among his peers was quite unique, Capitaine Georges Guynemer when speaking of Dorme stated, ‘One comes down a day’ Commander Brocard said of him, ‘ He was neither more nor less then the best element with in the Storks.’ He disappeared in the evening of May the 26th between 7.00p.m and 9.00p.m. After a first exit in the morning and having probably shot down a Albatros ‘C’ type between Epoye and Berru at 8.10a.m. He took off again at 06.40p.m in the company of Lieutenant Albert Deullin to carry out a round of the enemy lines.
The French pilots flying SPAD.VII’s intercept a group of 4 to 6 German fighters, east of Reims and engage in combat despite the enemy’s superior numbers, Albert Deullin will report that he saw Dorme bring down one of the German planes in flames before losing track because he himself was forced to fight against other hunters. When the fight is over. he will see a French Plane smoking in the trenches on the way home. There appears to be little doubt that the aircraft was that of Rene Dorme, the one who proudly wore the Cross of Lorraine on his fuselage. However there remains uncertainty as to the conditions of his death and the identity of his nemesis.
His fall may seem to match the report by the German ace Heinrich Kroll of Jasta 9, however and like so many other instances of this type there will undoubtedly and forever remain grey areas. Leutnant Kroll mentions a fight that ended with the fall of his adversary, without stating objectively that he was the direct cause, on Fort de Pompelle which was at that time under the control of the French forces. However Rene Dorme fell behind German lines, so Kroll’s testimony is doubtful at best. Other German fighter pilots who patrolled the Reims area that day claimed a victory over a SPAD at the end of the day. They are Leutnant von Breiten – Landenberg, also of Jasta 9, as well as Hauptmann Eduard Ritter von Schleich, the commanding officer of Jasta 21, the latter declaring having lost a colleague who went down in flames, this loss could correspond at least in part with the attack carried out by Rene Dorme and witnessed by Albert Deuillin before he loses sight of him. Dorme’s death along with those of Albert Ball and Manfred von Richtofen will go down along with others as the unsolved mysteries of World Wat One.
The majority of this article was translated from the French, so please excuse any mistakes I may have made in translation. I am no scholar.
(C) Damian Grange 2021