Two Upper Dauphin Pilots Killed in November 1918

Within two weeks at the end of World War I, two “aeronauts” were killed in airplane crashes in Europe. Karl West, Lykens, was killed when the bomber he was piloting was shot down behind enemy lines during a bombing raid over occupied France. Irwin Werdt, Williamstown, was killed when the plane he was observing in malfunctioned and crashed to near his base in England, killing him and the pilot. He died in the weeks after a ceasefire went into effect, ending the Great War. Below are the notices published in the Lykens Standard. 

Karl G. West

Karl West Died a Hero’s Death. [published January 10, 1919]

Confirmation of the death in France of First Lieutenant Karl G. West, son of Mr. and Mrs. Isaac D. West, [Danville], was received here yesterday in the form of a letter from the young aviator’s commanding officer, who describes the sublimely thrilling battle in the air which was Karl’s last flight. 

Lieutenant West was some time ago officially reported as missing in action, but the parents and relatives here have up to this time hoped that he might still be living. The letter received here yesterday, however, leaves no doubt but that the brave youth has given his life to the cause for which America fought. 

The letter telling of Lieutenant West’s last combat in the clouds is as follows:

“Hdqrs. 20th Aero Squadron, Frist Day Bombardment Group, A.E.F., France, Dec. 10, 1918.

My Dear Mr. West: 

As you probably know by this time Karl was reported missing in action on November 6, 1918. Karl and I were great friends. He came to France in August 1917 in the same detachment and we went thru (sic) flying schools on this side at the same time and also were in the same group at the front. 

The details of Karl’s last raid are as follows: His flight was sent out to bomb Mouzon, a town far behind the German lines. Before reaching the objective [14] Hun scouts attacked our formation of eight planes. Karl was evidently having motor trouble as he had dropped a short distance behind our formation but he held a position in the rear of the formation and slightly below it until the objective was reached. As our formation dropped its bombs on the town, six more Huns came up from below and joined the 14 that had already attacked us. At this time Karl was seen spiraling down. 

We believe his motor had been hit by several bullets, causing it to go absolutely dead. Three Huns followed him down, firing constantly. We think Karl’s observer, Lieutenant Frank, was killed or severely wounded by the enemy’s fire as at this time he was not firing on the enemy. Karl’s plane was next seen to burst into flames and we know nothing further than this. 

During the fight, Karl and his observer shot down at least one Hun plane before they themselves went down. In a previous flight on October 23, Karl and his observer shot down an enemy scout and received official confirmation on the same. I cannot speak too highly of Karl’s work at the front. He was a brave and courageous officer and a credit to his organization. Karl was always eager to go on all bombing missions and was an exceptionally good flyer. His loss was deeply felt by the entire squadron. In his last combat, Karl bore himself with his accustomed bravery and he went down only because of the overwhelming odds against him. He died a noble death for his country. 

Sincerely yours, 

Lewis F. Turnbull, First Lieutenant A.S., U.S.A. Commanding Officer

Karl G. West was born and raised in Montour County, but came to Lykens, PA in 1915 to work at the Susquehanna Colliery as an engineer. He was 23 at the time of his death.

Irwin Werdt

Williamstown Aeronaut Dropped to Death [published December 20, 1918]

Andrew Werdt, of Williamstown, last week received notification that his son Irwin while aflight November 22 [1918] was killed by reason of his pilot losing control of his machine and being dropped to earth. The pilot also lost his life. The parents also received word from his captain Tuesday of this week to the above effect. Werdt was aged about 20 years and was buried with military honors. He was connected with the 472nd Aero Squadron stationed in England. Besides his parents he is survived by one brother, Elmer, and two sisters, Mary and Pearl. He enlisted [in] the latter part of 1917.

Irwin Werdt grew up along Pottsville Street in Williams Township. His father and older brother worked in the mines at Williamstown. Werdt is buried in Calvary United Methodist Cemetery in Wiconisco.

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