Roland Garros

Roland Garros

Roland Garros was born in France in 1882. An experienced pilot, Garros was the first Frenchman to cross the Mediterranean by air. On the outbreak of the First World War, Garros was sent to serve on the Western Front.

Garros realised that he would have more success in dogfights if he could find a way of firing a machine-gun through the propeller. Working with Raymond Saulnier, a French aircraft manufacturer, Garros, added deflector plates to the blades of the propeller of his Morane-Saulnier. These small wedges of toughened steel diverted the passage of those bullets which struck the blades.

Now able to use a forward-firing machine-gun, went out searching for his first victim. On 1st April 1915, Garros approached an German Albatros B II reconnaissance aircraft. The German pilot was surprised when Garros approached him head-on. The accepted air fighting strategy at the time was to take 'pot-shots' with a revolver or rifle. Instead Garros shot down the Albatros through his whirling propeller.

In the next two weeks Garros shot down four more enemy aircraft. However, the success was short-lived because on 18th April, a rifleman defending Courtrai railway station, managed to fracture the petrol pipe of the aircraft that Garros was flying. Garros was forced to land behind the German front-line and before he could set-fire to his machine it was captured by the Germans. After finding out about Garros' invention, German pilots began using these deflector plates on the blades of their propellers.

In 1918 Garros escaped from Germany and returned to active service on the Western Front. Roland Garros was shot down and killed at Vouziers on 5th October 1918.

Primary Sources

(1) Wing Commander Maurice Baring described the invention of the interrupter gear in his memoirs published in 1920.

The problem of how to fire through the propeller was engaging everyone's attention at this time. The question was solved for the moment by having a deflector on the propeller, of which the bullet ricocheted, when it would, without a deflector, have hit the propeller. This system was invented by Garros, the French pilot, and copied by the Germans. They then adopted a gun which fired through the propeller, by virtue of an interrupter gear, a system which was definitely proposed by the Royal Aircraft Factory before the war, although it did not then get as far as the drawing stage. Our synchronizing gear first came into existence in 1916.