Garros was born in Saint-Denis, Réunion. He started his aviation career in 1909 flying Santos-Dumont's Demoiselle monoplane, an aircraft that only flew well with a small lightweight pilot. In 1911 Garros graduated to flying Bleriot monoplanes and entered a number of European air races with this type of machine. He was already a noted aviator before World War I; by 1913 he had switched to flying Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, a vast improvement over the Bleriot, and gained fame for making the first nonstop flight across the Mediterranean Sea from Fréjus in south of France to Bizerte in Tunisia.
The following year, Garros joined the French army at the outbreak of the conflict. After several aerial missions he decided that shooting and flying at the same time was too difficult, so he fitted a machine gun to the front of his plane so the tasks became one and the same. In order to protect the propeller from the bullets, he fitted metal wedges to the prop. Starting from April 1, 1915, he soon shot down three German planes and quickly gained an excellent reputation.
On April 18, 1915, his fuel line clogged and he glided to a landing on the German side of the lines. After examining Garros's plane, German aircraft engineers designed an improved system known as the interrupter gear. Soon the tables were reversed against the Allies due to Fokker's planes shooting down nearly every enemy aircraft they met, leading to what became known as the Fokker Scourge.
Garros managed to escape from a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany in February 1918 and rejoined the French army. On October 5, 1918, he was shot down and killed near Vouziers, Ardennes, a month shy of the end of the war.
Places named after Roland Garros
In the 1920s, a tennis centre was named after the pilot, Stade de Roland Garros. The stadium accommodates the French Open, one of tennis' Grand Slam tournaments. Consequently, the tournament is officially called Roland Garros.
Peugeot Car Manufacturers (French) commissioned a 'Roland Garros' limited edition version of its 205 model in celebration of the Tennis Tournament that bears his name. The model included special paint and leather interior. Due to the success of this special edition, Peugeot later created Roland Garros editions of its 106, 206, 306 and 806 models.