Tipton Had Distinguished Career in War and Peace

  • Published
  • By Capt. Wayde Minami
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
When the Maryland National Guard's first flying unit formed in 1921, its founding members included a number of distinguished veterans of World War I.

Among these pioneers of Maryland military aviation was Capt. William Dolley Tipton, a flight commander in the newly-formed 104th Observation Squadron.

Tipton had been born on Dec. 11, 1892, in Jarettsville, Md. He had earned a bachelor of arts degree from Western Maryland College in 1910 and would later earn a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1921.

Although he would go on to amass a respectable military record, Tipton's first wartime "action" actually occurred before he entered the Army.

On April 1, 1917, he was one of several prominent Baltimoreans who gathered to oppose an anti-war speech being given at the Academy of Music on Howard Street. As the speech progressed, the crowd grew in size and anger and eventually rushed the theater, forcing the speaker to beat a hasty retreat through a rear exit.

Tipton's military career began on June 5, 1917, when he enlisted as a private first class and entered training as a flying cadet. As a cadet, he attended flight training at Ohio State University's School of Military Aeronautics, and later trained at the British Royal Air Force training brigade at Oxford University in England. On March 9, 1918, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

Tipton initially served with British forces but was assigned to the U.S. 17th Aero Squadron on June 20, 1918. The 17th had been fragmented since arriving in Europe, with ground personnel divided up amongst various Royal Air Force squadrons while the squadron's flying officers continued to train in Britain. The unit did not reassemble until May, when it was equipped with Sopwith Camels and attached to the RAF's 3rd Squadron.

The Sopwith Camel had a reputation for being difficult to handle, but was well-armed and one of the most agile planes of the war. Tipton was quite successful with the Camel, eventually being officially credited with four aerial victories.

By the time the 17th flew its first offensive patrol as a unit on July 15, Tipton had already scored his first official kill, an enemy balloon, while flying with the RAF on June 7. Tipton's second kill, also a balloon, occurred on Aug. 22. But his most significant dogfight occurred four days later, on Aug. 26, 1918, near Queant, France.

At about 5 p.m. that day, Tipton's six-plane patrol observed five German Fokkers attacking a lone Camel from the 148th Aero Squadron. As Tipton and his comrades flew to assist the Camel, they were set upon by dozens of additional German fighters.

In the ensuing fight, Tipton managed to shoot down two enemy aircraft before he was shot down by Lt. Hermann Frommherz of Jadgstaffel 27. Tipton was the 14th of 32 allied planes Frommherz would down during the war, including three during the Aug. 26 engagement. Only one member of Tipton's patrol escaped the German onslaught.

Although slightly wounded in both legs, Tipton survived being shot down and was captured. He remained a prisoner of war until after the armistice in November 1918.

By the time of his discharge on Jan. 21, 1919, Tipton had participated in the Somme and Lys campaigns, had served in the Picardy and Flanders defensive sectors, and had been awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross.

The lure of flying proved irresistible and on Aug. 18, 1919, he returned to the military as a member of the Air Corps Reserve. At the same time, he was working as the "staff aviator" for the Evening Sun in Baltimore, the first American newspaper to use aircraft to gather news. In this role he was employed as both a pilot and the author of a regular aviation news column.

In March 1921, Tipton was one of five Air Corps Reserve officers involved in the initial meeting that led to the creation of what would become the Maryland Air National Guard. On June 29, 1921, the 104th Observation Squadron was federally recognized and Tipton officially became a Maryland National Guard officer.

Tipton would go on to play other important roles in the nascent Maryland aviation industry. He served on the State Aviation Commission, which studied aviation conditions in Maryland and recommended legislation to promote aviation within the state, from 1921 to 1928, and leased and ran the Curtiss-Wright aviation facility northwest of Baltimore during the 1930s and 40s.

By the time of the Maryland National Guard's mobilization for World War II on Feb. 3, 1941, Tipton had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel and had served in a variety of capacities, including commander of the 104th Observation Squadron and Division Air Officer for the 29th Infantry Division.

During the war, Tipton attained the rank of full colonel and the rating of command pilot. On Dec. 12, 1945, the P-47 he was flying crashed near Adena, Ohio, killing him. At the time of his death, Tipton was assigned to the 204th Army Air Force Base Unit in Texas.

In 1962, Tipton Army Airfield at Fort Meade, Md., was named in his honor. In 1995, the facility was transferred to civilian control and in 1999 it became operational as Tipton Airport in Anne Arundel County.

William D. Tipton is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.