Twelve Air Combat Kills

The following biography was submitted to for inclusion in the upcoming Arkansas Biography Dictionary project at the University of Arkansas. It is copyright material of the Arkansas Biography Project, and is posted here by the author. It may not be reproduced in part or in its entirity without the expressed written consent of the author and the Arkansas Biography Project.


FIELD E. KINDLEY
(March 13, 1896 — Feb. 2, 1920)

An ace fighter pilot for the Army Air Service in the First World War, Field Kindley ranked third in downed aircraft among U.S.A.A.S. pilots with 12 confirmed kills. Recepient of the British Distinguished Flying Cross and an Oak Leaf Cluster for the American Distinguished Service Cross, Kindley commanded the 148th Squadron in France from August 1918 until the end of the war. Born March 13, 1896, near the Civil War battlefield at Pea Ridge, Ark., to George C. and Ella Kindley, his mother died before his third birthday. After Ella’s death in 1898, George accepted a teaching position in the Philippines, leaving young Field to be raised by his grandmother, Cynthia Kindley, of Bentonville. At seven, Field rejoined his father in Manila for five years, then in 1908 moved back to Arkansas to live with his uncle in Gravette. After high school graduation, he moved to Coffeyville, Kan., to become a partner in a motion picture theater.

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It was from Coffeyville that Kindley enlisted in the Kansas National Guard after America’s entry into the First World War. Originally posted as a foot soldier, Kindley volunteered for transfer into the aviation branch of the Army Signal Corps. Sent to the School of Military Aeronautics at the University of Illinois, Kindley’s natural talents moved him into the first class of American pilots transferred from ground school to England for flight training in September 1917. He was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the American Air Service on April 15, 1918.

His first assignment was as a ferry pilot moving aircraft from England to the western front. It almost was his only assignment as heavy fog on May 5, 1918, resulted in his crashing a Sopwith Camel biplane into the famous White Cliffs at Dover, England. Recovering from injuries in an English hospital, Kindley’s his first combat assignment was to the Royal Air Force’s 65th Squadron. It was with the 65th Squadron that Kindley scored his first kill over Albert, France. Kindley shot down Lieutenant Wilhelm Lehmann, commanding officer of the German Jagdstaffel 5, on June 26.

In July 1918, the Americans formed the 148th Squadron, which was assigned to serve in the British sector of the western front. Kindley was one of the first pilots posted to the new unit. On July 13, Kindley earned the 148th’s first victory by shooting down a German Albatros D-3 over Ypres. The win earned Kindley brief celebrity on the British front, and he soon became the commanding officer of the 148th after “Bim” Oliver was forced into an English hospital in late July. Later promoted to captain, Kindley’s twelve confirmed kills ranked him third in aircraft shot down during the war behind Captain Eddie Rickenbacker and Major Raoul Lufbery.

His most stunning day of combat was September 27. Kindley led his patrol of Camel biplanes out on a bombing mission just before 9:00 a.m. He dropped four small bombs on a group of German transports leaving them in flames. Climbing from the attack, he spotted an observation balloon which he riddled with gunfire and forced down. Minutes later, he straffed a German infantry column, then took out a machine gun nest which had pinned down a British infantry advance. He climbed back to 2,000 feet searching for targets of opportunity, and found another German machine gun emplacement. As he focused on the ground, a German Halberstadt two-seat biplane fixed on his tail. Kindley wheeled right upon hearing the machine gun fire, and opened up with his guns beneath the German. The Halberstadt burst into flames, becoming his 11th kill. He continued to strafe German infantry until out of ammunition for his Vickers machine guns. On his way back to his home base at Baizieux, Kindley noticed two Germans attacking an Allied plane. He jumped into the dogfight without ammunition in hopes of scaring off the two Fokker biplanes. The bluff worked. For this furious period of just over two hours combat, Kindley earned his Oak Cluster and the British DFC.

His final action came on Oct. 28 with his 12th kill, a Fokker near Bapaume, France. After the war, Kindley was posted on December 17, 1919, to the 94th Aero Squadron at Kelly Field near San Antonio, Texas. As a member of the “Hat-in-the-Ring” 94th, Kindley was assigned to take part in a demonstration for General John J. Pershing in February 1920. His flight of SE-5 biplanes was scheduled to perform strafing and bombing runs. On February 1, the day before Pershing’s visit, Kindley rehersed the bombing run. Diving into his target, he discovered a group of enlisted men had wandered into the area. In an attempt to warn the troops, Kindley buzzed the area. When he pulled up, the engine stalled and the SE-5 fell from an altitude of almost 100 feet, killing Kindley. The subsequent inquiry found that support wires broke from the strain of his maneuver to warn the soldiers. Kindley’s body was returned to Gravette for burial. Several monuments remain to the World War flying ace. Gravette’s city park, a Coffeyville high school and a Second World War air base in Bermuda were all named for Kindley.

(SOURCES: James Hudson, “Air Knight of the Ozarks: Captain Field E. Kindley,” Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society (Winter 1959); James Hudson, In Clouds of Glory; Field Kindley Files, Arkansas Aviation Historical Association Archives, Little Rock, Ark; Field Kindley Files, Arkansas Aviation Museum, Fayetteville, Ark.)
William M. Smith, Jr.