The top world tennis championships, opens, that take place at the Roland Garros stadium, near Bois de Boulogne, seem to suggest that this name is that of a famous tennis player.Far from it! Roland Garros was a fighter pilot, a World War I volunteer serviceman who died on the battlefield.
Roland Garros was born on 6 October 1888 at Saint-Denis, Reunion.
At a tender age, this man fascination for aviation made him a star. In September 1911, soaring successively to a height of 3 900, 4 900 and 5 600 m above sea level, he set three altitude records. In September 1913, he was the first person to fly across the Mediterranean Sea, from Saint-Raphael to Bizerte, covering a distance of 780 km, in exactly 7 hours 53 minutes.
On 2 August 1914, when war broke out, and despite having been excused from military service, Roland Garros volunteered to serve as an ordinary soldier throughout the war.
As a war pilot, sent to the Morane-Saulnier MS23 flight, he participated in several operations including reconnaissance, bomb release, and combat missions with the assistance of an observer with a gun.
From November 1914 to January 1915, Roland Garros designed and developed the one-man fighter jet equipped with a machinegun that fires along the longitudinal axis through the propeller turning area.
Morane Saulnier equipped with a machinegun that fires around the propeller area,
designed by Roland Garros
Upon returning to the front, he recorded, in April 1915, three victories within the space of two weeks, with the first ones credited to the single-handed efforts of one person piloting a one-man fighter jet. On 18 April 1915, Second Lieutenant Garros, forced to make an unplanned landing behind enemy lines, was captured and taken prisoner before he could set fire to his jet. His system was immediately studied and enhanced by Anthony Fokker and adopted by the German aviation.
After three years of imprisonment, Roland Garros succeeded to escape with a buddy from the Magdebourg camp, both having disguised as German officers.
On 2 October 1918, Roland Garros obtained his fourth victory. As a war pilot once more, while on a mission, on 5 October 1918, in the Vouziers region of the Ardennes, he was attacked by enemy fighter jets. His plane exploded and went crashing down with its pilot.
Having obtained four air victories, officer of the Legion of Honour, holder of the war cross and several other awards, Lieutenant Roland Garros was barely thirty years old. His memory has been immortalized at several places. A monument has been erected in his memory at Saint Denis, Reunion and a street has been named after him, just like the Bois de Boulogne stadium constructed in 1928 and devoted to French international tennis competitions.