Charles Tricornot de Rose

Charles de Tricornot de Rose in a supplement to L’Illustration,1923

Charles de Rose, father of the art of the fighter pilot

Jean-Baptiste Marie Charles Tricornot de Rose, aka Carlo, Baron de Tricornot, Marquis de Rose, is unknown to the general public. But this inventive free spirit was the emblematic figure behind fighter aircraft, of which he was the founding father.

Born in Paris on 16 October 1876, Charles de Tricornot de Rose chose to carry on with the family tradition of taking up a military career. Indeed, for six generations the Tricornots had been cavalry officers. Admitted to Saint-Cyr in 1895, has was then assigned to the 9th Dragoon Regiment in Lunéville. The brilliant career that lay ahead of him was cut short in 1906. Carlo de Rose was arrested for refusing to expel a priest from his church in application of the law on the separation of Church and State.

Acquitted by the Council of War, he was nonetheless inactive for three years. Carlo de Rose took advantage of this difficult situation to study mechanics and internal combustion engines, even finding work at the Brillié automobile company. This experience, which was to be decisive for the rest of his career, revealed a free spirit, a man who was curious and imaginative, who understood the changes that were to lead to future technical advances. His time in limbo came to an end on 25 March 1909, when he was reinstated into the French Army.

Assigned to the 19th Dragoon Regiment in Carcassonne, Carlo de Rose nonetheless did not hesitate to volunteer at the end of the year for pilot training as General Roques was setting up the Army Aeronautical Service. He received his civilian licence from the Aéro-club in December 1910 and made a name for himself by participating in several races. Carlo de Rose had found his calling in aviation, where his inventive, energetic spirit was able to express itself to the fullest.

In pursuit of enemy aircraft

In May 1911, he was officially attached to the establishment in Vincennes where he carried out several research projects in the aviation field. De Rose undertook many experiments, performing the first aircraft artillery fire adjustments the following August. He had a passion for aircraft weaponry, and his meeting with Roland Garros in 1912 turned out to be a decisive step in this process.

When the war broke out, he was put in command of the 5th Army’s aeronautical division, and his experience was invaluable. Frantz and Quenault’s victory, shooting down a German aircraft on 5 October 1914, was clear proof for de Rose that his intuitions were justified. In March 1915, he entrusted the pilots in his unit, the MS 12, recently equipped with Morane-Saulnier planes, with a new mission: hunting down enemy aircraft and shooting them down. He thus laid down the first bases of fighter aircraft, although firing synchronisation remained a problem that worried him, but it was finally solved by Sergeant Alkan of the MS 12 in the spring of 1916 after months of hard work. His foresight convinced the high command to implement the first fighter squadrons along the front.

When the terrifying Battle of Verdun began in February 1916, one man was clearly qualified to turn around the situation, which was not then favourable for France – Commander de Rose. General Pétain entrusted him with a mission that he summed up in a now famous quote: "Rose, sweep the sky! I am blind." De Rose managed to have 15 squadrons equipped with the famous Nieuport XI airplane, called "Bébé", and brought together the best pilots including the famous Navarre, Guynemer, Brocard, Garros, Heurtaux, Nungesser, Dorme, etc. After fierce fighting, the French patrols finally managed to gain control of the airs in April.

On 11 May, during a demonstration flight south of Soissons at the commands of his Nieuport decorated with a rose, his personal insignia, Commander de Rose fell victim to an engine failure and was accidentally killed after having giving the art of the fighter pilot its credentials.

Marie-Catherine Villatoux - French Defence History Service, Air Force Department. In Les Chemins de la Mémoire, 193/April 2009