DEAN IVAN LAMB, (1886 - 1956),
Soldier of Fortune, Pioneer Pilot, World War 1 Ace in the Royal Flying Corps,
Barnstormer, Air Mail Courier and later Test Pilot, Lieutenant-Colonel USAF
Dean Ivan Lamb was born at Cherry Flats, Pennsylvania, on January Jan. 25, 1886, the son of son of Henry Horatio Lamb (Died at Canton, 1939) and Viola Mary (English) Lamb. He was educated at the Public and High School, Canton, Pa. State Normal School, Mansfield, Pa. (The Pennsylvania Education Dept did not keep records that far back and suggested I get in touch with Mansfield High School. Have yet to do so).
He was a sailor in 1900, presumably in the US Navy (I have contacted US Army, Navy and Air force for service records) and served in the US Quarter-Masters Department in Manila during the Philippines War (1900-01). He was then a pearler in the Philippines, worked in China as a customs officer, worked on the Panama Canal, and took part in two short revolutions in Colombia (1907), was deported from Venezuela and fought in the Nicaraguan revolution of 1909/10, in which he was badly wounded and lucky to escape with his life. (During the period up to 1911 virtually no records exist that can back up his statements. However there is no doubt he wandered around Central and South America and dabbled as a 'soldier of fortune.')
He caught the 'flying bug' in LA while recuperating from Nicaragua, drifted around Central America, worked on the Brazilian Railroad, mined for minerals (was attacked by indians once) trying to raise money before returning to New York where he attended the flying school at Hammondsport, New York. He made his first solo flight on May 6, 1912, FAI license 116. (The license cannot be checked from records because of the length of time. And Number 116 is held by another airman) and later built two aircraft himself, both of which he crashed.
In 1913 Lamb claimed to have fought for General Hill of the Carranza faction in the Mexican Revolution. He was a participant in the world's first recorded air battle over Naco (November 30, 1913 - although various dates are given) with Phil Rader, an American journalist/mercenary. Both used pistols in what was a 'put-up' job to please their respective employers.
(As stated this 'duel' never happened in 1913 - or not the way Lamb describes. The only possible date is November 1914, and by then the 'first' air duel had been fought over France - (Actually the first recorded air duel of WW1 is alleged to have occurred over China when a Japanese pilot fired a revolver at another aircraft (Shades of Lamb's version!). Lamb might have fought in the Mexican revolution for several months, he might even have flown a plane - but I have so far been unable to turn up historical records. I have discounted newspaper articles because their only source was Lamb's information that he recounted to journalists many years later. Dan Hagendorn of the Smithsonian dismisses Lamb's account as fiction).
Lamb bought an aircraft in 1913 and gave demonstration flights (barnstorming) at San Francisco. He headed for the Balkan Wars and was in England when World War 1 broke out on 1914. Joined the Royal Engineers, served in France until January, 1915, when he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and is credited with having shot down either five or eight aircraft. (I have seen records for both five and eight German craft downed). Flying Rating: Central Flying School, Upavon, Cert. No.242 (granted in France) 1915. Training Squad. London, 1917; wounded July 1917, discharged, commissioned Oct. 1917. He is also listed as instructor and as a "London defence" pilot, test pilot, Air Service Journal (1917). (I have no idea whether the commission to Second lieutenant was a British or US commission).
Lamb mentions that he flew RFC 'plane 2122' in France. (He is reported in later newspaper articles to have been the first pilot to down a Gotha bomber over Britain. However this feat is attributed to another RFC pilot in November/December, 1917). He was awarded the British Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Medal with citations, and the French and Belgian Croix de Guerre, and Star of 1914. (He also held numerous decorations from Central and South American countries. These were awarded later).
The DCM citation from the US 'Blue Book' of aviation (1926) reads: citation for Distinguished Conduct Medal: "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Notably on July 7, (presumably 1917) when, flying at an altitude of 15,000 ft., he attacked a large formation of Gotha biplanes, driving one down, where it was captured with its crew. He immediately engaged three more of the enemy, continuing the combat until his Observer was killed and himself severely wounded in the right foot. He fainted from loss of blood and exhaustion but retained sufficient consciousness to land his machine. This non-commissioned officer has previously destroyed seven enemy aeroplanes and has proven himself a skilful and courageous pilot."
All Lamb himself says is that he was sent from France and Belgium to England for a badly needed rest in 1917, was badly wounded and shot down by German raiders and invalided back to the US late in 1917.
The newspaper records that I have for the week following this second attack on London by Gotha bombers tallies with Lamb's DCM citation, although the names of pilots are not given. One german Gotha was brought down on that day. The Germans claim that it was downed at sea.
(There is bitter dispute among specialists, particularly among Canadians, over whether Lamb was an RFC ace in World War One and whether he was was actually decorated. Some specialists have used the term 'bullshit' and 'liar' to describe Lamb. (I have contacted appropriate British Service organisations for records and am waiting to hear from them). He is listed in a National Geographic article (1918 before the end of the war) as having 8 confirmed victories. Lamb is also listed in Air Aces Homepage (compiled by Allan Magnus) as serving with RFC Number 4 Squadron with 5 confirmed victories as an American ace flying with the RFC.
I cannot find any official record or citation for Lamb's Distinguished Conduct Medal or the Military Medal. The Brits, and the Australians, were parsimonious when handing out medals for gallantry. To have won the decorations he would have to have been quite special; the DCM is a notch below the Victoria Cross). One of Australia's leading medal specialists cannot find any official records for Lamb's DCM and MM. He adds that it would have been hard for a sergeant serving in the British Forces to have won the DCM, MM and French and Belgian Croix de Guerres to "fall through the cracks' without a mention. However he does not discount the awards to Lamb.
(On balance I'd say that Lamb did serve in the RFC and possibly won or was recommended for the above medals. However without official verification it's a moot point. I'm still researching that.)
In 1918-19 Lamb was in the US as a civilian air instructor, test pilot, the first, or among the first pilots to carry Post Office mail out of Chicago, and barnstormer before the 'flying circus' market became overcrowded post-1918.
An email correspondent, Tom Lawton of Boston, Massachusetts, reports that in late summer early fall of 1918, Dean lamb became involved with Dr. William Whitney Christmas, inventor of the infamous Christmas Bullet. According to an Argosy magazine article published in the late 1950s, written by Vincent Burnelli, Lamb was contracted by Christmas to be test pilot for Cantilever Aircraft, the company Christmas formed around an already existing manufacturer - Continental Aircraft, based in Amityville, Long Island.
The article claims that Christmas also paid Lamb an exorbitant amount as a retainer but when the Bullet, then known as the Scout, was completed, Lamb got behind the stick once only to claim that it could not be flown. He immediately left Cantilever's employ after a heated scene with the excitable Christmas.
Lamb is recorded as having 1700 hours flying time when he applied (1918-19) as pilot for the U. S. Air Mail Service between November 1918 and Feb, 1919. He is credited in one article with making the first non-stop air mail flight between New York and Chicago. (I cannot find any record of this, other than he was definitely with the US air mail service at the time he himself recorded).
During this time he he had one bad smashup when he crashed in a forced landing at Selingrove, Pennsylvania while on route from New York to Bellefonte. He is also reported to have done some test and instruction flying for Horace Keane at Central park, Long Island, New York.
Basically Lamb was fired from the service for being "too cautious a flyer."
In 1919 be fought in revolutions as a mercenary in Honduras and Guatamala; is recognised officially as establishing the Honduran Air Force in 1921. At that time he claimed to be Director of Aviation, Honduras. He was also involved heavily in the bid for Union of Central American nations, and had to get out of Honduras after several asassination attempts. During this period he made the first non-stop flight and carried the first air mail across Central America. He knew presidents and leaders of several Central American Republics personally.
(The period between late 1917 and early 1922 can be verified from other 'official' sources - US Air Mail records, Web site for the Honduras Air Force etc.)
Lamb also claims to have been squadron commander in the Paraguay Civil War in 1922 and said to have stopped two 'invasions' and minor rebellions through the use of air power - among the first examples of the use of airpower in civil disturbances. (unfortunately for the biography neither I nor Don Hagendorn of the Smithsonian (and he is the leading US specialist on air power in South America) can find any official record for Lamb in Paraguay at that time.)
In 1923 Lamb claimed to to have taken part in the civil war in Rio Grande do Sul State in Brazil. This is probably the most interesting part of Lamb's career. He claimed to have fought in seven battles and engagements, killed a man in a pistol duel in Uruyguay. He kept a journal of his experiences during this time (Incurable Filibuster, which is notable for what he left out) - but the journal breaks off in March, 1924, with his escape from Brazil.
The journal reads like something from the old "Boys' Own Annual" with Dean Lamb performing like Superman and, incidentally, planning the world's biggest bank robbery. The Brazilian National library reports that the following section on Brazil (below) was largely correct in the names, casualties, battles and the historical figures mentioned. However it could find no mention of Dean Ivan Lamb in newspapers of that time. The Language barriers were difficult to overcome. I have included Lamb's alleged exploits in Rio Grande do Sul that I sent to the National Library - make of it what you will?