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February 25, 2013
Julius Buckler by Mark Postlethwaite
On 12th May 1917, German Albatros pilot Julius Buckler of Jasta 17 achieved his seventh confirmed victory when he shot down a French air-service Nieuport 17 over La Malmaison.
Buckler, born in Mainz-Mombach, Germany came from a humble background. The son of a roofer, Buckler left school early to work as an apprentice in his father’s footsteps. However he soon developed an interest in architecture and began to study that field but was interrupted in 1912 by compulsory military service in the infantry.
As a reservist, Buckler was immediately called up when the Great War commenced. He was wounded in action in France in September 1914. Whilst recuperating he requested a transfer to the German air-service and this was granted. He was assigned to a reconnaissance unit as an observer in the summer of 1915 and he trained as a pilot early the following year. In November 1916, he was assigned to Jasta 17, a fighter unit recently equipped with the new Albatros scouts. His first confirmed victory was a French Caudron which he destroyed in December.
Buckler remained an NCO throughout most of 1917 despite his growing success, largely due to his humble background in the class-conscious German air-force. Nonetheless, Buckler flew and fought throughout that year and he was twice wounded in aerial combats. By the time his overdue promotion to Leutnant was finally approved on 18th November, he had achieved 26 confirmed victories and, as if to celebrate, he added a further three to his tally that very day.
Buckler achieved his 30th victory on November 29th 1917 but he was wounded (for the fourth time in the war) the following day. He was hit by bullets in both arms and his chest and, although he managed to survive the subsequent crash-landing, he also broke both arms on impact. He crashed in territory recently captured by British troops during the Battle of Cambrai but he lay un-discovered beneath the wreck of his plane until he was rescued by counter-attacking German infantry later that day.
Whilst recovering in hospital, Buckler was awarded the Blue Max. He returned to Jasta 17 in April 1918 and scored three more victories before being severely wounded yet again the following month. It was October before he was able to return to his unit, this time flying a Fokker DVII. Buckler achieved three more victories before the Great War came to an end. His final tally was 36 Allied aircraft plus two more unconfirmed.
Buckler was left permanently disabled by his multiple wounds. He remained living in Germany and he survived the Allied bombings during the Second World War. He spent his final years in Bonn in West Germany and died in 1960.
February 25, 2013
Catching an Albatros– by Mark Postlethwaite.
On 19th May 1917, Lieutenant William Fry, a British pilot serving in No 60 Squadron RFC, took off from his units aerodrome in his silver Nieuport 17 after receiving an urgent report that an enemy Albatros scout had been sighted over Le Hameau. It was relatively rare for German pilots to venture over Allied territory, especially lone scouts. Fry soon sighted the enemy plane, an Albatros D3, over St Pol.
Fry pursued the German fighter, damaging it with an accurate burst. The Albatros pilot descended to low level, Fry flying alongside it. Unable to escape, the German landed in a nearby field and French troops were quickly on the scene, capturing the pilot and the aircraft, the latter still almost intact. The German flier, Leutnant Georg Noth of Jasta 8, became a POW.
William Fry, a 20-year-old from Middlesex, had flown with the RFC since the summer of 1916, having flown outmoded BE2s with No 10 & 11 Squadrons during the Somme Campaign. His entire Flight had been transferred to No 60 Squadron in 1917 and, now flying a single seat French-built Nieuport 17, he scored his first success on May 2nd. Two days later, he shared his second victory with emerging Canadian ace and fellow No 60 Squadron pilot Billy Bishop. A third success came on May 13th. Leutnant Noth’s Albatros on May 19th was Fry’s fourth confirmed victory.
Fry achieved his fifth success in mid-June, sharing it with New Zealand ace Keith Caldwell. Now officially an ace, Fry continued to fly fighters until the autumn of 1918, serving with No 23 and No 79 Squadrons, flying SPAD XIIs and Sopwith Dolphins. He finished the Great War with a final tally of 11 victories to his credit.
Fry remained serving in the RAF until he voluntarily retired in 1934. He was recalled to service during the Second World War and was promoted to Wing Commander. He left the service again after the end of the war in 1945. He died in London in 1992 at the age of 95, one of the last surviving pilots of the Great War.
February 25, 2013
Bristol F2b Fighter – by Ivan Berryman.
On 21st May 1917, the Bristol F2B crewed by pilot Captain W G Mostyn and his observer/gunner Sergeant John H Jones successfully downed a German LVG two-seater. Mostyn used his forward-firing weapon to damage the LVG before positioning his aircraft alongside in order for Jones to finish off their opponent.
Sergeant Jones became one of the most successful observer/gunners in the RFC, achieving a total of 15 confirmed victories before the end of the war.
February 25, 2013
‘Unsung Hero‘ by Terry Jones.
On 25th May 1917, Captain Stuart Harvey Pratt, a Flight-Commander serving with 46 Squadron RFC in France, achieved his third confirmed victory when he shot down an Albatros D3.
It was Pratt’s first victory whilst flying a Sopwith Pup with which the squadron had recently re-equipped, trading in their out-dated two-seater Nieuport 10s. Pratt, a Londoner, had enlisted in the infantry when the war began, serving in the Royal Fusiliers. Wounded in action, Pratt had transferred to the RFC after his recovery and he had been assigned to No 46 Squadron in August 1916 after his pilots training. Flying a two-seater Nieuport, he and his observer had achieved their first victory in February 1917, fatally shooting down the Albatros D3 of 11-victory ace Hans von Keudell. Pratt achieved a second success in March before he began flying the Sopwith Pup the following month.
Pratt, flying a Pup decorated with a skull & crossbow insignia on the wheel-covers, would go on to bring down four more enemy machines- three Albatros scouts and a DFW two-seater- in June 1917, bringing his total wartime tally to seven. He was then transferred to No 112 Squadron, a home-defense unit based in England and also equipped with Pups. In mid-August 1917, he unsuccessfully attacked a German Gotha bomber during a night action but he was forced to break off when his guns jammed. Less than two weeks later, Pratt’s aircraft crashed during routine gunnery practice at Herne Bay and he lost an eye and a foot in the accident.
Pratt was invalided out of the service. He would later volunteer to serve in the Royal Air-Force Reserve during the Second World War.
February 25, 2013
Billy Bishop VC – by Les Urwin
On 2nd June 1917, William Bishop of No 60 Squadron RFC flew a solo patrol behind enemy lines and attacked a German aerodrome where he shot down three of the Albatros fighters that took off. For this feat, he was awarded a Victoria Cross despite the fact that there were no Allied eye-witnesses to collaborate the event. Of all the VCs awarded in history, Bishop’s is one of only two that had been awarded without statements by witnesses (the other was the posthumous VC awarded to the WW1 serviceman in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey). It appears possible that Bishop may have exaggerated his achievements that day as his claims of three fighters shot down are not backed up by German records. Indeed, because of his frequent solo patrols, many of Bishop’s claims were credited to him without any witnesses to verify them. However regardless of the true number of enemy planes he actually downed, Bishop often flew into dangerous situations, a fact borne out by the battle damage on his aircraft he often returned with.
Lone Wolf at Dawn– by Rich Thistle
William Avery ‘Billy’ Bishop was born in Ontario, Canada in 1894, the son of a lawyer. Whilst at school he was noted for being strong and able to stand up to bullies but also a quiet loner who preferred solitary physical activities such as horse riding & shooting rather than team sports and class-room studies. At age 17, he began studying at the royal military college in Ontario but failed his first year after being caught cheating.
Bishop enlisted in a cavalry regiment when the Great War began in 1914. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant but he fell ill with pneumonia before the unit was sent overseas. After recovering, Bishop transferred to the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles which sailed for England in June 1915 (two other ships in the convoy were sunk by German submarines en route). The regiment was soon sent to France and, acting as dismounted infantry, were marched into the frontline trenches. Bishop soon grew fed up with the boredom and discomfort of the stagnant ground war and he applied to enlist the Royal Flying Corps, commenting, ‘Up there it is clean, no mud or horseshit on you, if you die up there at least it is a clean death!’
Veni Vidi VC ?- by Tim Jenkins
Bishop’s application was successful but at that time there was a glut of cadet pilots so there were no places left at flying school. Bishop trained as an observer instead in September 1915 and he was assigned to No 21 Squadron which arrived in France in January 1916, equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory RE7s. Bishop flew as an observer and artillery-spotter on numerous missions but he and his pilot encountered no enemy aircraft. In April, his RE7 crashed on take-off, badly injuring Bishop’s knee. It became painfully inflamed, requiring hospitalisation. Bishop was allowed to recuperate in Canada and he didn’t return to Britain until September 1916.
Upon his return, Bishop was accepted for pilot training and he qualified in November 1916. He was first assigned to No 37 Home-Defence Squadron based in Essex and operating obsolete BE2s in night-flying sorties against Zeppelins. Bishop disliked this posting and he requested a transfer to a unit in France. In March 1917, he arrived at the aerodrome of No 60 Squadron in Arras.
Bishop came to France as a pilot during the RFC’s lowest ebb in the Great War and just before the infamous ‘Bloody April’. At that time, the RFC were losing five of their own planes for every German machine they managed to bring down. Ordered to maintain an offensive stance, the RFC was continuously sending half-trained young pilots in outmoded and vulnerable machines across the German lines every day to support the Allied offensive on the ground. Bishop’s service with his new unit began badly. As was common at frontline units, the oldest and most worn-out machines went to the new, in-experienced pilots and Bishop was allocated a clapped-out Nieuport 17. On his first sortie on 22nd March, Bishop nearly crashed after having trouble maintaining control and then became separated from the other pilots and was nearly shot down by ‘friendly’ anti-aircraft fire. The next day, he crashed his aircraft on landing after a practice flight. Bishop’s angry CO ordered the Canadian newcomer to return to Britain for additional training but another officer convinced him to let Bishop to be given another chance to prove himself.
Two days later on March 25 Bishop, flying another Nieuport, fought in an engagement with Albatros D-III fighters and was credited with one shot down. After the action, Bishop’s aircraft suffered engine-trouble and he crashed landed in no man’s land. Bishop managed to run to the nearest Allied trench and he spent the night there, surviving an artillery bombardment. The order for him to return to training school was overturned and Bishop was allowed to stay. He was promoted to Flight-Commander and he scored his second victory on March 31st. Bishop was allowed to fly ‘lone-wolf’ patrols in addition to unit sorties and as a result his score grew rapidly. By 8th April he had achieved the status of ‘ace’ with his fifth victory and to celebrate, he had his silver Nieuport’s nose cowling painted blue. Bishop flew aggressively and often attacked enemy formations head-on. After one sortie, his mechanics counted 210 bullet-holes in his aircraft. Bishop developed a technique of attacking enemy machines from below and behind and his score reached 15 by the end of April, a notable achievement considering the heavy losses the RFC suffered during this month. On the last day of April, Bishop survived an encounter with the Albatros D-III flown by Manfred von Richthofen. By now, the Germans had noticed the exploits of the blue-nosed Nieuport ace and they called Bishop ‘Hell’s Handmaiden’. By the end of May, Bishop’s score had climbed to 22.
By July, No 60 Squadron had re-equipped with SE5s. Bishop insisted on flying the smaller but nimbler Nieuport for as long as possible until lack of spare parts forced him to switch to the larger, heavier SE5. However the Canadian ace soon valued the SE5’s stability as a gun platform and its rugged reliability. By the end of August 1917, Bishop’s tally of victories had reached 50. After this milestone, he was sent home to Canada on leave. He spent seven months there and during that period he married his fiancé Margaret, wrote an autobiography Winged Warfare and visited Washington DC as a consultant on the planned formation of the new United States Air-Force.
Bishop returned to Britain in April 1918 and was given command of No 85 Squadron of what was now the Royal Air-Force. The squadron’s nickname was The Flying Foxes. Bishop was allowed to hand-pick many of the pilots and the unit arrived in France in late May. The new CO flew a patrol on May 27th, his first since August the previous year, and Bishop destroyed a German observation balloon for his 51st victory. He destroyed eight more enemy aircraft over the next five days. With his score standing at 59, Bishop had surpassed the totals of Georges Guynemer and James McCudden and was now the leading Allied ace. By 17th June, Bishop’s tally had reached 67.
The Canadian Government grew worried that Bishop would be killed which would be a massive blow to public morale back home. On the 18th June, Bishop received an order to return home to assist in developing the new Canadian Air-Force. He was angered and disappointed at the order but he had no choice but to comply. On the following morning on June 19th, Bishop flew a final combat sortie before leaving and he brought down five German planes, bringing his wartime total to 72.
Bishop worked in commercial aviation in Britain during the 1920s and achieved considerable success but his finances were ruined in the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Returning to Canada with his family, he worked as a senior CEO for an oil company before he joined the Canadian air-force in 1936 as an Air Marshal. He served as the RCAF’s director during the Second World War and was instrumental in organising the highly successful Commonwealth Air Training Plan which trained 167,000 aircrew in Canada alone. He was forced to retire from the air-force in 1944 due to health reasons as the demands and stresses of his position had taken a heavy toll. He worked in private commercial aviation for another four years before he retired in 1952. Bishop died peacefully in his sleep in 1956 at age 62.
Bishop’s official score of 72 victories marks him as the highest scoring British Empire Ace of the Great War and the third-highest of any nationality after Frenchman Rene Fonck (75 victories) and German ace Manfred von Richthofen (80). Bishop’s VC and his other war medals are on display at the National Canadian War Museum whilst his home in Ontario is now a museum.
February 25, 2013
The Young Stallion– Ivan Berryman
On the morning of 3rd June 1917, Italian ace Francesco Baracca shot down a Hansa-Brandenburg C.I two-seater of the Austro-Hungarian air-force over the Isonzo River. It was his 13th confirmed victory.
Born into a wealthy land-owning family in Lugo di Romanga in 1888, Baracca, having completed his schooling in Florence, entered the Modena Military Academy at age 19. He served in the Royal Italian Cavalry for three years before learning to fly in 1912 and joining the air-service. He was an experienced aviator when Italy joined the war in 1915.
He flew with the 8th Squadron but the French-built Nieuport 10s proved slow and sluggish. However in the spring of 1916, his unit re-equipped with the smaller but faster and more nimble single-seat Nieuport 11 ‘Bebe’ scouts. On 7th April 1916, Baracca achieved his first confirmed victory with his new mount, downing an Austrian Hansa-Brandenburg C.I two-seater. His first success was also the first achieved by any Italian pilot.
Later that year, Baracca was transferred to the 70th Squadron and his score rose to nine enemy aircraft downed. He was then assigned to the 91st Squadron in May 1917, destined to be the best Italian fighter unit of the war. Baracca was a mild-mannered and modest man, fatherly and helpful to younger pilots and gracious to his enemies. He would often go to hospitals to visit wounded enemy aircrew of aircraft he had shot down or even place flowers on the graves of those who didn’t survive. In June he was appointed commander of the 91st Squadriglia and he now flew a SPAD fighter.
By the end of 1917, Baracca’s score had risen to 30. He was withdrawn from frontline duties to assist in the testing and evaluation of new aircraft. Baracca resented being away from the fighting and he tried whenever he could to return to his unit. In March 1918, he was allowed to resume operational flying but his administrative duties curtailed his flying. Baracca added four more victories to his total, raising it to 34, making him the top-scoring Italian of the Great War.
On 19th June 1918, Baracca’s SPAD VII failed to return from a ground-attack sortie in Montello. His aircraft was found wrecked and burnt out on a hillside after Austrian troops retreated and Baracca’s body was discovered several metres from his aircraft, his revolver still clutched in one hand, a bullet wound in his head and his uniform and face heavily scorched. It was likely that Baracca, either because his aircraft was burning or because he didn’t want to be taken prisoner, had elected to take his own life. Whether it was an Austrian aircraft or ground fire that shot him down cannot be known for certain.
February 25, 2013
Udet versus Guynemer– by Benjamin Freudenthal.
Although the exact date is not certain, 5th June 1917 is the most likely day that saw a chance encounter between two of the most famous aces of the Great War. German ace Ernst Udet was, at the time, a junior Leutnant flying with Jasta 15, having served with that unit since the previous autumn. He had six confirmed victories to his credit, all achieved over a lengthy period. Unlike some other aces, combat skills came slowly to Udet and achieving his modest tally thus far had been a painfully slow process.
By contrast, French pilot Georges Guynemer was France’s most famous and beloved ace. By this day (5th June), he had an impressive 43 enemy aircraft to his credit. His desert-yellow SPAD VII, emblazoned with the Stork emblem of Escadrille N3, had become a well-known sight across the skies over the Western Front.
Udet, flying an Albatros D-III, encountered Guynemer’s SPAD and what followed was later described by the former as ‘the longest twenty minutes of my life’. The two aces duelled each other fiercely and Udet found himself up against one of the skilled aviators the Allies possessed.
Udet thought he had the SPAD in his sights only to have his weapons jammed. Before long, Guynemer was on Udet’s tail again and the German braced himself for the end. Then, to Udet’s astonishment, the SPAD drew up alongside him for a brief moment, performed a victory roll and then flew away, the French pilot giving a friendly wave.
Udet remained convinced that the famous French ace, evidently realising the German’s predicament, had decided to spare his quarry in a rare, old-fashioned gesture of knightly chivalry. Udet’s account is the only proof the dogfight took place but if the incident was true, some have criticised Guynemer’s decision, saying that his act of mercy was a selfish indulgence that condemned a large number of Allied airmen to perish in the future as Udet’s total tally of victories would eventually climb to 62 by the autumn of 1918, making Udet the second-highest scoring German ace of the war. Others argue that it was a touching gesture that restored a fragment of humanity to the grim slaughter of the air war.
Ironically, later that day, Guynemer would shoot down two other German aircraft, raising his official score to 45.
February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
‘FE2b‘ – by Brian Knight
On 5th June 1917, a Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b of No 22 Squadron RFC became German ace Werner Voss’ 33rd victory. The aircraft crash-landed behind German lines north of Vaucelles. The crew, pilot Captain Francis Don and his observer Lieutenant Herbert Harris both survived to become POWs.
February 25, 2013
Voss’ 34th– by Steve Anderson
The very next day, 6th June 1917, Voss achieved his 34th victory when he downed a British-flown Nieuport 17 of No 6 Squadron RNAS over Graincourt-les-Havrincourt. The pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Fabian Reeves, was killed.
Shortly afterwards, Voss was attacked by another Nieuport, flown by one of Reeves’ squadron-mates, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Charles Draper. Voss managed to escape his attacker and make it back to German territory where he force-landed. He sustained a wound which was not serious but he was given three weeks leave. Draper was credited with an ‘out-of-control’ victory.
Voss would spend much of July test-flying the new Fokker F1 triplane before he commenced serving with Jasta 10 as its new commander.
February 25, 2013
Combat Over Messines– by Mark Postlethwaite
On 7th June 1917, Australian pilot Lt Patrick Gordon Taylor, flying a Sopwith Pup of No 66 Squadron, brought down a two-seater Albatros CVII over Messines. It was the second of his five eventual victories in 1917.
Taylor, born in Mosman, Australia in 1896, had originally applied to join the new Australian Flying Corps but had been rejected. Like a sizeable number of Australian pilots, Taylor had travelled to Britain to enlist in the RFC. He flew with No 66 Squadron throughout 1917, achieving five victories. Taylor was promoted to Captain and served with No 88 and No 94 Squadrons in 1918.
After the war, Taylor worked in civil aviation. He served as the second-pilot and/or navigator on several of the pioneering trans-pacific flights made by famous Australian aviators Charles Ulm and Charles Kingsford-Smith in the early 1930s. In 1935, whilst acting as co-pilot with Smith on a New Zealand-Australia flight, the aircraft suffered engine trouble, the starboard motor failing entirely whilst the port one overheated. Taylor climbed out onto the starboard wing, braving the strong winds, and, using an empty coffee flask, drained the oil from the starboard engine and, taking six trips, transferred it to the port engine, saving the aircraft. Taylor was awarded the Empire bravery medal.
Taylor served in Australia as a ferry pilot during WW2 and was knighted in 1954 although he never achieved the fame that was posthumously bestowed on Smith and Ulm. Taylor retired to Hawaii and died there in 1966.
February 25, 2013
‘Fonck Gets His No 6’– by Michael O’Neal
On 12th June 1917, Frenchman Rene Fonck achieved his sixth success when, flying his SPAD VII of Escadrille 103, he surprised and shot down a German Albatros D-III over Cauroy-Cormicy at 0900hrs in the morning.
It was victory no 6 of a tally which would eventually grow to 75, making Fonck the highest-achieving Allied pilot of the Great War and second only to Manfred von Richthofen’s 80 victories. Indeed, if unconfirmed claims were included, Fonck’s total would exceed 100.
Fonck, born in the Vosges region of north-east France in 1894, studied engineering before the war and was known for his skills in mechanics, shooting and athletics, being a serious young man with a rigourous work ethic and high ambition. Enlisting in the French air-service in February 1915, Fonck was a qualified pilot by the following May and he flew in a reconnaissance unit- Escadrille C47 which operated Farmans and Caudrons. Fonck flew with them for two years, amassing over 500 operational flying hours and he was credited with two confirmed victories whilst flying two-seaters.
In April 1917, Fonck was invited to transfer to a fighter unit as his impressive skills as a pilot, not to mention his staunch professionalism, was widely known. He was assigned to Escadrille Spa103 in the 12th Combat Group which operated the SPAD VII. Fonck commenced flying with them on 15th April and within less than 4 weeks, he had achieved three confirmed victories which, added to the previous two he had gained whilst a two-seater pilot, made Fonck officially an ‘Ace’.
Fonck was not a popular figure, neither with his comrades nor with the French public. The latter fact rankled him as he craved attention and accolades. He was inclined to be aloof, cold-mannered and boastful. Rather than socialise with his fellow pilots, he stayed in his quarters during his off-duty hours, studying flight and tactical manuals. Fonck was also obsessive with his appearance, carefully ironing his uniform each evening. He made precious few friends with his abrasive manners and arrogance although some have speculated whether his outward personality was merely a mask for a deep-seated insecurity and loneliness.
Georges Guynemer, the second-ranked French ace of the Great War, stood in stark contrast to Fonck. Friendly, gentle-mannered and shy, he became a popular and much beloved figure amongst the French people who recoiled from the perceived icy ruthless demeanour of his rival Fonck. The latter bitterly resented the greater popularity and fame of Guynemer and the two never became friends. Guynemer’s more sensitive character resulted in him becoming increasingly combat fatigued and sombre as the war progressed whilst Fonck apparently managed to retain a steel-like resolve.
The above painting featured on the cover of ‘Over the Front’ Magazine, a publication for serious enthusiasts of the Great War in the air.
February 25, 2013
Bombers of the Kaiser– artist- ?
On 13th June 1917, the first large-scale daylight bombing raid on London was carried out by new Gotha G.IV heavy bombers of K3 Bomber Wing under the command of Hauptmann Ernst Brandenburg.
Bombing raids had been carried out on targets in the United Kingdom since November 1914 when two-seater German naval planes had carried out bombing attacks on coastal ports in south-east Britain. These small-scale raids, usually comprising only one or two aircraft, occured intermittently throughout the Great War and, aside from their nuisance value, rarely did any serious damage.
Airship bombing raids had begun in January 1915. Proposals for such attacks had been made as soon as the war had begun the previous August but Kaiser Wilhelm II had been initially reluctant to authorize such raids, fearing his relatives in the British Royal Family would be harmed.
Airship attacks on Britain were carried out on a number of occasions in 1915 and 1916, comprising Schutte-Lanz airships and the more famous Zeppelins. The attacks, usually nocturnal, reached their peak in September-October 1916, concentrating on London. These raids had no significant material impact on the Allied war effort as the bomb-loads able to be carried by the airships was too modest to have any appreciable effect. However the psychological impact of these raids was far greater.
The attacks of the dreaded and much-hated Zeppelin ‘Baby-Killers’ as the British Press soon dubbed them caused much fear, anger and panic amongst the civilian population. The actual number of civilian casualties caused by airship raids during the Great War was relatively modest when compared to the enormous military losses on the Western Front (and to strategic bombing in the Second World War). In the 51 airship raids mounted between January 1915 and May 1918, total civilian casualties were less than 2,000 including 557 dead. As grim as this total was, it can be put into perspective when compared to the over 57,000 casualties suffered by the British army in a single day on 1st July 1916 on the Somme. Although the British Press made much of the children listed amongst those civilian losses, cynical observers pointed out that far more children died of malnourishment and disease in London’s poorer districts during the same period yet the media barely mentioned it.
Nonetheless there were immense pressure on the government and the army to do more to stop the Zeppelin threat. Soldiers and airmen on leave from France were more than a little bemused to listen to Londoners complaining of how tougher life was under the threat of the airship raids than the supposedly ‘safer’ war on the Western Front. The government was eventually forced to cave in to such pressure and it diverted precious resources and aircrew from France to form Home Defence units in south-east Britain.
Mounting losses during the latter months of 1916 saw the airship units forced to change their tactics. Zeppelins now operated at a higher altitude in order to avoid attacks by British fighters. However this also reduced accuracy of the bombing, especially in cloudy weather, made navigation more difficult and made the crews more exposed to cold and oxygen deprivation. After October 1916, the German army refused to send any more airships on raids against London but their counterparts in the German navy remained determined to go on attacking the English capital.
Gothas over London– by Mark Postlethwaite
In early 1917, there were plans to commence large-scale attacks by fixed wing bombers, the first of which, the Gotha G.IV, was now available. A lone two-seater LVG had carried out the first fixed-wing attack on London back in November 1915, dropping six bombs which landed near Victoria Station but there had been no further daylight attacks since then. The more rugged Gothas, protected by three machine-gunners, were more challenging targets for defending British fighters and the German High Command determined that daylight raids could be carried out, allowing for far greater accuracy of bombing.
Kagohl-3, under the command of Brandenburg, began its first bombing mission on 25th May 1917, sending a formation of 23 Gothas to attack London. Thick cloud over the city forced the attackers to switch targets and they bombed the Channel Port of Folkestone instead, killing 95 people, including 77 civilians, and injuring another 195. One Gotha was shot down by Sopwith Pups of the RNAS and two more turned back early with engine problems.
A second attack on London was mounted on 5th June but bad weather and dense cloud again diverted the attackers who dropped their bombs on Sheerness in Kent.
‘Gothas over London’– by Brian Knight
The third attack, on 13th June, got through to the English capital. This assault, comprising 20 Gothas, proved to be the most deadly single bombing raid on Britain during the entire war. Two of the Gothas suffered engine trouble over the Channel and had to turn back, and four others, also experiencing mechanical problems, had to divert to secondary targets and bomb those. But the remaining 14 aircraft reached the city and this time the skies over London were clear.
There had been no Zeppelin attacks on London since the previous October and there had never been any attacks during daylight. As a result, Londoners had grown complacent after a relatively quiet nine month spell and they believed themselves to be safe during daytime. Large numbers of people ignored the air-raid warnings and instead crowded out onto the streets, gazing at the strange new big aeroplanes droning overhead.
The Gothas released their ordnance, each aircraft dropping six 110lb bombs. They detonated throughout the city, killing 162 people and injuring another 462. One bomb struck a primary school, killing 18 children. As one historian later wrote ‘This was the beginning of a new epoch in military history’.
The First Battle of Britain– by Stan Stokes
The RFC and the RNAS flew over 90 sorties in an attempt to intercept the attacking formation but the technical limitations of their aircraft meant that few of the pilots were able to reach sufficient altitude in time to even get near the German bombers. One plane, a Bristol F2B of No 25 Training Squadron, managed to make several passes at the Gothas, braving the heavy fire from multiple gunners on the bombers. But the British fliers inflicted no damage and the Bristol’s observer, Captain C H Keevil, was killed by return fire from the Gothas.
All of the Gothas returned to their bases and Hauptmann Brandenburg, who had personally led the raid, was decorated with a Pour le Merite. Ironically he was badly injured in an accidental crash several days after the raid whilst returning home from the awards ceremony.
February 25, 2013
‘MVR’s 54th’– by Steve Anderson
Manfred von Richthofen was credited with his 54th victory on 23rd June 1917. At 2130hrs in the fading light of a long mid-summer’s day, von Richthofen engaged a British-flown SPAD VII of No 23 Squadron RFC north of Ypres. He scored hits on the British fighter and was credited with a definite victory.
However it is now known that the SPAD, most likely the one flown by Lieutenant Robert Wallace, actually returned to base with only slight damage. This was one of at least three credited victories of von Richthofen’s official tally of 80 that recent research has revealed actually survived to return to their respective bases. The other two were both BE2s which Richthofen was credited with destroying in February and March 1917 but both of which actually returned to their aerodromes more or less intact. It is un-officially now known that Richthofen’s true score was 77 instead of the official 80 he has been traditionally credited with.
To be fair to Richthofen, the official victory lists of most Great War aces do not survive rigorous scrutiny without being reduced to some degree. In the confusion and uncertainty of aerial combat, numerous ‘destroyed’ or ‘out-of-control’ planes were only damaged or simply startled and they often managed to recover and reach their bases after their opponents lost sight of them. Backfiring exhaust smoke was easily mistaken for battle-damage or a pilot putting his aircraft into a controlled spin as a evasive tactic could be perceived by an opponent as being ‘out of control’.
Lieutenant Robert Wallace Farquhar, a 19-year-old pilot from Dulwich in Britain, had served in the RFC since 1916. He survived the incident on 23rd June without injury and was eventually credited with six victories. Wallace was killed in action in October 1918.
February 25, 2013
‘Tango With Naval 10’ by Steve Anderson.
On 24th June 1917, a dozen Sopwith Triplanes of No 10 Naval Squadron RNAS flew as escort for a pair of RFC Airco DH4 two-seaters performing photographic reconnaissance work over Menin. Leading the fighter escort was Canadian ace Captain Raymond Collishaw, at the head of ‘B Flight’, the so-called ‘Black Flight’ due to the black green colours of their triplanes. Following him was C Flight, commanded by another Canadian, Flight-Lt John Sharman.
As the formation passed over Moorslede, an enemy gaggle appeared above, in the form of 15 Albatros D3 fighters of Jasta 11 and Jasta 6, led by Manfred von Richthofen. The German pilots dived to attack, the leaders concentrating their attentions on the DH4s whilst the others engaged the navy triplanes. Collishaw swung round behind a red-painted Albatros and fired a burst at close range, tearing off one of the wings, sending the German fighter tumbling to destruction, killing the pilot, Leutnant Erich Reiher of Jasta 6. Collishaw had not time to savour his victory as four other Albatrosses were quickly on his tail. The Canadian veteran performed a series of tight turns in a desperate attempt to shake off his pursuers before he opted for the tactic of diving to ground level. With his undercarriage almost brushing the grass, Collishaw made it back to Allied lines.
Elsewhere in the melee, Flight-Lt Sharman attacked one of the enemy fighters, firing a 60-round-burst at close range, seeing hits sparkle over the Albatros’ fuselage and wings. The enemy fighter dived away, seemingly out of control. Sharman’s attention was diverted as he shook off the attentions of another attacker and when he looked again, the first Albatros was 2,000 feet below, still falling and beginning to break apart. Sharman survived the action and his victory was one of a total of eight confirmed successes. He would be killed in action on 22nd July.
No 10 Squadron suffered losses of their own in this action. Two of the Sopwith fighters were shot down, both from Sharman’s ‘C’ Flight, Lieutenant Robert Saunders who was killed and Lieutenant Alan Holcroft who survived to become a POW. Saunders was shot down by Karl Allmenroeder for the latter’s 28th victory.
The German fighters were able to keep the Sopwiths occupied enough to allow Von Richthofen and five others to attack the pair of DH4 two-seaters. As the famous ace later wrote in his report “With six machines of my Staffel, I attacked an enemy formation consisting of two reconnaissance machines. Unimpeded by enemy aircraft, I managed to break one of the reconnaissance aeroplanes in my fire.”
Richthofen’s victim was 27-year-old Captain Norman McNaughton and his observer Lieutenant Angus Mearns of No 57 Squadron RFC. Their DH4 crashed near a windmill in Beselare. Both men were killed. McNaughton, the son of a South Kensington Barrister, had previously flown with No 20 Squadron the previous year, piloting FE2b Pushers before sustaining a leg wound. After his recovery, he had been transferred to No 57 Squadron in February 1917, also equipped with FE2bs. Between March and April, McNaughton had been credited with five confirmed victories, earning him an MC. He had switched to the new DH4 only a few weeks prior to his death.
Richthofen was credited with the DH4 for his 55th victory.
February 25, 2013
‘Von Richthofen’ – by Troy White
On 6th July 1917, Manfred von Richthofen was leading a 9-plane patrol late in the morning when they sighted a flight of six British FE2ds. The two-seater FE2ds were of No 20 Squadron RFC, a veteran unit which had achieved an impressive tally of victories with the out-moded ‘Pushers’. Von Richthofen had achieved his 57th confirmed victory- a two-seater RE8- four days previously and the famous ace was at the peak of his game. He confidently swung into the attack, bolstered with the knowledge that his upgraded Albatros DV was significantly superior to the slower FE2s.
As the Germans approached their target, another flight of enemy fighters became visible nearby- these were Sopwith Triplanes of No 10 Naval Squadron, flying as escort for the FE2s. Richthofen continued his attack nonetheless.
The FE2s wheeled to meet the approaching Germans and the two formations met head-on, tracer rounds filling the air as pilots and observers on both sides opened fire.
Von Richthofen wrote what happened next:
“After some time we approached so close to the last plane that I began to consider a means of attacking him. (Lt. Kurt) Wolff was flying below me. The hammering of a German machine gun indicated to me that he was fighting. Then my opponent turned and accepted the fight but at such a distance that one could hardly call it a real air fight. I had not even prepared my gun for fighting, for there was lots of time before I could begin to fight. Then I saw that the enemy’s observer, probably from sheer excitement, opened fire. I let him shoot, for a distance of 300 yards and more the best marksmanship is helpless. One does not hit the target at such a distance. Now he flies toward me and I hope that I will succeed in getting behind him and opening fire. Suddenly something strikes me in the head…”
The Eagle and the Butterfly– by Russell Smith
The FE2d that Richthofen had been aiming at was crewed by Captain Donald Cunnell and his observer/gunner 2nd-Lieutenant Albert E Woodbridge. The latter described his version of events:
” Cunnell handled the old FE for all he was worth, banking him from one side to the other, ducking dives from above and missing head-on collisions by bare margins of feet. The air was full of whizzing machines, and the noise from the full-out motors and the crackling machine guns was more than deafening … Cunnell and I fired into four of the Albatroses from as close as thirty yards, and I saw my tracers go right into their bodies. Those four went down … Some of them were on fire – just balls of smoke and flame – a nasty sight to see. Two of them came at us head-on, and the first one was Richthofen. There wasn’t a thing on that machine that wasn’t red, and how he could fly! I opened fire with the front Lewis and so did Cunnell with the side gun. Cunnell held the FE on her course and so did the pilot of the all-red scout. With our combined speeds, we approached each other at 250 miles per hour … I kept a steady stream of lead pouring into the nose of that machine. Then the Albatros pointed her nose down suddenly and passed under us. Cunnell banked and turned. We saw the all-red plane slip into a spin. It turned over and over, round and round, completely out of control. His motor was going full on, so I figured I had at least wounded him. As his head was the only part that wasn’t protected by his motor, I thought that’s where he was hit.”
The Lucky Shot– by Mark Postlethwaite
Von Richthofen had been hit behind his left ear. He momentarily blacked out as his fighter span earthwards and when he came to a few seconds later, he was temporarily blinded and semi-paralysed. Regaining some of his vision, Richthofen, having lost considerable altitude, managed to recover from the spin, regain control and level out. With impressive flying skill, he managed to perform a safe crash-landing despite being only semi-conscious and in great pain. German infantrymen rushed to the scene and carried the famous ace to medical assistance.
The injury required several operations in order to remove bone splinters from the impact site on his skull. Doctors examining the wound reported that the bullet may have come from behind Richthofen. Cunnell’s FE2 had attacked from the front so the actual round that struck Richthofen may have instead been a ‘friendly fire’ round from another German fighter or a chance shot from one of the RNAS Sopwith Triplanes which were near the action at the time. Nonetheless, Cunnell and Woodbridge were offically credited with the victory.
Contrary to popular belief, this was not the first time Richthofen had been shot down. On 6th March 1917, Richthofen had been surprised and shot down by an FE8 single-seat Pusher flown by Lieutenant Edwin Benbow of No 40 Squadron RFC. The ace had force-landed with a badly punctured fuel-tank and smoking engine but had escaped injury. However the incident on 6th July was the first time Richthofen had been wounded.
Cunnell and Woodbridge were credited with four Albatros fighters ‘OOC’ (Out-of-Control) for the 6th July action- the WW1 equivalent to a ‘Probable’ in WW2). Cunnell, from Norwich, England, had served two years in the British army on the Western Front 1915-1916, reaching the rank of 2nd-Lieutenant, before being transferred to the RFC in November 1916. Qualified as a pilot and promoted to full Lieutenant, Cunnell was assigned to No 20 Squadron RFC in the spring of 1917. Between 2nd May and 5th June, he was credited with four German Albatros fighters confirmed destroyed. The 6th July action rose his official tally to eight.
Cunnell achieved a ninth success- another Albatros- on 11th July. It was his final victory as on the following day, his FE2 was hit by anti-aicraft fire and Cunnell was fatally wounded by shrapnel. His observer, Lieutenant A G Bill, managed to fly the damaged aircraft back to their base but Cunnell was found to be dead when they landed.
Woodbridge was wounded in action on 31st July but returned to No 20 Squadron later in the year, achieving three more victories in the late Autumn, bringing his total tally to seven. He qualified as a pilot at the end of 1917 and continued to serve in the air-force until the end of the war although he achieved no additional victories. Woodbridge was killed in 1929 when the Imperial Airways mail-plane he was flying from England to India crashed in Iran.
Richthofen insisted on returning to duty on 25th July despite having spent less than three weeks in hospital, ignoring the advice of his doctors. However he soon began suffering regular severe headaches, fatigue, blurred vision and nausea. Despite these symptoms he managed to achieve four more victories between mid-August and early September but he finally accepted that he needed additional respite to fully recover from his injury and he commenced a seven-week convalescent leave on 5th September.
Despite the longer rest, it was noted by his closest comrades that Richthofen was never the same after his wounding on 6th July. He was more sombre, irritable and moody, prone to uncharacteristic outbursts of anger and bouts of depression. He was also more reckless in the air and prone to exhibiting poor judgement. Richthofen continued to be troubled by headaches and fatigue and the once razor-sharp reflexes and eyesight were also never quite the same. It is likely that he was suffering from what would nowadays be termed an acquired brain injury (ABI).
February 25, 2013
“Lieutenant Armand de Turrene”- by Iain Wyllie
On 6th July 1917 shortly prior to 1100hrs, Lieutenant Armand de Turrene, a French pilot serving with Escadrille 48 and piloting a SPAD VII, shot down two German Albatros DV fighters within the space of three minutes. The first one he downed over St Thierry, the second he destroyed north-west of nearby Brimont.
Turrene, from Le Mans, France, had been a professional soldier prior to the Great War, serving in the Cavalry. After the war commenced, he secured a transfer to the French air service, qualifying as a pilot in 1915. He was assigned to a fighter unit- Escadrille 48- in the autumn of 1916 and, flying a Nieuport 11, he achieved his first victory in November.
The pair of victories he achieved on 6th July brought his total score to four. Turrene achieved two more confirmed victories by the end of September. He was transferred to Escadrille 12 as its new CO at the end of the year and, flying a newer SPAD XIII, he achieved nine additional victories between January and September 1918, including another pair on a single day, bringing his Great War total to 15.
Turrene survived the Great War and lived until 1980.
February 25, 2013
The Great London Air Raid Scare– by Mervyn Corning
On 7th July 1917, the German bomber wing Kagohl-3 launched their fourth major daylight raid on London. It was the second attack to actually reach the city. A formation of 22 Gotha G.IVs crossed the Channel. Like the previous raid in June, the attackers were blessed with clear skies and the bomber formation arrived over the capital, scattering their bombs across London’s East End and the city centre. The death-toll was fewer than on the June attack- this time 57 Londoners perished and another 193 were injured. But the attack provoked just as much, if not more, anger and panic than the previous raid as the air-raid warnings had been too few and too late and the city’s fire and rescue services were overwhelmed and slow to respond to some of the affected areas. Despite their experiences of the destruction of the June raid, many Londoners again refused to seek shelter, instead standing out in the open streets, gazing at the attackers droning overhead. Some people refused to believe the attackers were German, insisting they were British planes…..until the bombs started falling.
A young office worker employed in a firm located in central London described the effects of a bomb landing less than a hundred metres from where he was working:- “(there was) a blinding flash, a chaos of breaking glass, and the air thick-yellow dust and fumes. Five men had been struck by bomb fragments and a boy of my own age, also hit, died in the afternoon. Outside was a terrible sight, the horses twisted and mangled (the carts had disappeared except for a few burning bits of debris), the front of the office next door, which had caught the full force, blown clean away. They brought into our building people from the ruins there and I helped to carry them – it was a relief to do something. All the unfortunates had ghastly wounds. I had never seen a dead man before and I was too dazed to realise until afterwards that they must have been stone dead. A fireman, with his axe, put the last horse out of its anguish. The curious thing is that I did not hear the bomb at all and yet I was quite deaf for three days.”
The RFC flew nearly 100 sorties against the raid but again, only a handful of fighters were able to achieve sufficient altitude in time to intercept and most were kept at bay by the fierce defensive fire of the Gotha’s gunners. One Gotha was shot down and three others damaged in exchange for two British fighters lost, either due to fire from the Gothas or from ‘friendly fire’ by AA gunners on the ground.
After the raid, anti-German hysteria swept through the city. The capital’s few remaining German-born citizens were expelled to quieter parts of the country and anyone with a foreign-sounding accent or surname found themselves targets of abuse and assault- Dutch, Poles, Danish and numerous others all felt the lash of angry prejudice. More productively, the city’s authorities worked to improve the air-raid warning systems, fire-fighting services and public air-raid shelters whilst the military committed more defenses to the city.
German Gotha Bombers over London 7 July 1917– by Norman G Arnold
K-3 continued to mount daylight raids on Britain but losses steadily increased, although more bombers were lost to accidental crashes, bad weather or navigation errors than to enemy fire. A raid on August 12 cost K-3 five aircraft but only one was lost to the British defenses, the other four were written off in crashes on landing. On 18th August, K-3 attempted their largest attack yet with a force of 28 Gothas. However the formation encountered severely high head-winds, the commanders having dis-regarded weather reports warning them of such. The winds were so strong, it took the formation three hours to even come within sight of the English coast by which time they were running dangerously low on fuel and the formation leader ordered the raid to be cancelled and his men to turn back. Two Gothas went into the sea after running out of fuel, two more veered off-course and landed in Neutral Holland where they were interned and five more were written off in crashes on landing. Another raid comprising 15 aircraft on August 22nd also met with heavy cost with three Gothas shot down and five more turning back en route.
The Germans abandoned daylight raids and staged their first night raid with fixed-wing bombers on the night of 3/4 September. Five Gothas bombed Chatham, a number of bombs hitting the Royal Navy training academy. Of the 152 people killed, 130 were young naval cadets who were lost when their dormitories were hit. Encouraged by the success of this, K-3 staged nocturnal raids between September 1917 and May 1918. Some raids achieved success but others were disrupted by weather conditions such as fog or high winds or by navigational errors. London’s AA batteries proved in-effective and falling stray AA shells caused a number of civilian casualties. But the RFC proved increasingly effective at night-interceptions although accidental crashes on landing on darkened airfields continued to cause more bomber losses than the British defenses. In late September 1917, K-3 began using the new and massive Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI bombers, the largest bomber of the Great War, with a wingspan only slightly smaller than the Boeing B-29s of the Second World War! The bomber proved resistant to fighter attack, mostly due to its sheer bulk and heavy defensive firepower, and none were lost over England but they were only available in small numbers, too few to have any strategic impact.
On 19th May 1918, K-3 launched their largest and final raid of the Great War. A total of 43 aircraft took part, including 38 Gothas, three Zeppelin-Staakens and a pair of two-seaters acting as weather-spotters. The Royal Air-Force flew over a hundred sorties in what was the largest aerial battle fought over Britain in the Great War. Six Gothas were shot down and a seventh force-landed on a British aerodrome and was captured. London was bombed with at least 1,250kg of explosives and 49 people were killed with another 177 injured. It was the swansong of the German strategic bombing campaign as afterwards K-3 was designated to provide close support for German ground troops in France.
There were a total of 27 raids on England by fixed wing aircraft, dropping over 111,000 kg of explosives. The raids caused total casualties of 835 dead and 1,972 injured with over 1.4 million-pounds worth of material damage. In return, the Germans lost a total of 62 aircraft.
February 25, 2013
Georges Guynemer – by Mark Postlethwaite
On 7th July 1917, French ace Georges Guynemer achieved a pair of victories. Shortly after 1100hrs, he shot down a German Albatros DV over Villers Francheux and an hour later, a two-seater DFW over Moussy-sur-Aisne became his next success. It brought Guynemer’s total of confirmed victories to 48. The French ace was flying the new SPAD XII. He was at the time the highest scoring French ace and was beloved by the public, as much for his gentle, shy and modest persona as for his prowess as an aviator. But privately, Guynemer was by now exhausted, both physically and mentally. The rigours of operational flying had shed considerable weight from his already slender frame and during a visit home on leave, his parents were shocked by their son’s gaunt, drained appearance. The once optimistic, cheerful flier was now sombre and withdrawn. ‘I shall not survive this war’ he would remark to a friend in August.
Later in July, Guynemer began flying a SPAD XII specially fitted with a 37mm cannon which fired through the propeller shaft. When used at close range, it had potential as an effective weapon but the weight of the cannon affected the stability of the plane, the location of the breech necessitated a modified instrument panel with separate elevator and aileron controls (making the aircraft more difficult to fly), the weapon was only single-shot, requiring it to be reloaded by hand and finally the weapon filled the cockpit with head-swimming fumes after each shot. Nonetheless Guynemer persisted with the device and he destroyed two German planes with it on 28 July, raising his score to 50.
Three additional victories followed in August, bringing his Great War total to 53. On September 10th 1917, Guynemer had an exasperating day when he had to abort two sorties early because his aircraft suffered mechanical problems and was driven from an engagement after a chance round from a German plane disabled his SPAD’s engine. As one observer noted, Guynemer looked ‘visibly annoyed’ by the end of the day.
Prior to 0830hrs on September 11th, Guynemer prepared for a patrol where he was to be accompanied by two wingmen. At take-off, one of his wingmen’s SPADs failed to start but after the previous day’s frustrations, Guynemer was in no mood to delay and he took off with the other pilot, a rookie named Jean Bozon-Verduraz. Patrolling over the Langemark area, the two SPADs sighted a lone German two-seater Rumpler below them over the Poelkapelle sector at 0925hrs. Bozon-Verduraz later reported that Guynemer dove to attack the Rumpler but as he did so, the former looked up and spotted a number of enemy planes above them, diving to attack.
Bozon-Verduraz swung his aircraft away from the attacking enemy fighters and then turned around to look for his commander and the German two-seater. Both had vanished from sight despite the relatively clear weather. Puzzled, the in-experienced pilot flew back to his base alone and reported that he had lost sight of Guynemer. Worried, the pilots and ground-crew of Escadrille-3 waited anxiously for their beloved Captain to return. But Guynemer was never seen again.
Exactly what befell France’s most beloved ace remains a subject of fierce controversy among historians and experts. The French government officially announced that Guynemer was missing in action on 25th September, describing his final action as Guynemer single-handedly attacking a flight of five Albatros fighters only to be set upon by over forty more from above, led by von Richthofen himself. This account is now dismissed by most historians as largely fiction, designed as propaganda to make his death seem as heroic as possible. Some believe that Guynemer was surprised and shot down by a German fighter from above, others claim that the French ace, in his pursuit of the Rumpler, descended too low and was fatally hit by anti-aircraft fire from the ground. It is most likely that Guynemer was hit by return fire from the rear-seat gunner of the Rumpler itself. The crew would never get the chance to claim credit for shooting down the SPAD as the Rumpler was also shot down less than 30 minutes later in another sector, most probably by a Belgian pilot.
One reason for the air of mystery surrounding his death is that it is popularly believed that Guynemer’s body was never recovered. A German sergeant reported that he positively identified Guynemer’s body from the pilot’s identity disc and that the Frenchman had suffered a bullet wound to the head, a badly fractured leg and was missing a finger. The NCO also reported that the burial team was interrupted by British artillery fire and Guynemer’s body was abandoned and later vanished amidst the shelling. However an American Red Cross communique reported that the Frenchman’s body was actually retrieved in time before the artillery barrage in that sector and taken to Brussels. In a funeral arranged by a German general of the 5th Prussian division who was an admirer of Guynemer, the French ace was buried with a guard of honour and the coffin was covered with floral tributes from German pilots.
The French public was deeply saddened by his loss. Many refused to believe the beloved little ace was gone. One popular saying went ‘Guynemer flew so high, he forgot to come down again’.
February 25, 2013
Max Muller– by Terry Jones
On 10th August 1917, German ace Leutnant Max Muller, flying an Albatros DV of Jasta 28, achieved his 20th victory when he shot down a French-built, British-flown SPAD VII of No 23 Squadron RFC just after 10am. It was the first of two confirmed victories that day, as that evening he would bring down a British DH4 two-seater for his 21st success.
Max Muller was a Bavarian, born in 1887, one of eight children. The son of a merchant, Muller was originally apprenticed to a locksmith after he finished school and he became a journeyman, moving around to ply his trade. Muller was short, only five foot one inch but he kept fit, proving talented at gymnastics.
He joined the army in 1907 and soon displayed skills at mechanics, becoming a regimental driver and eventually an chauffeur for the Bavarian War Minister in whose ear he asked for a transfer to the air-force. Muller was posted to flying school at the end of 1913 and he qualified as a pilot in April 1914. When war erupted that August, Muller was flying with FF1 as a reconnaissance pilot. Less than three weeks after hostilities began, Muller broke both legs in an accidental crash but he returned to active duty two months later. In March 1915, he narrowly escaped from a French Farman which badly damaged his machine. In December 1915, Muller was awarded the Silver Bavarian Medal for bravery when he flew a reconnaissance mission deep behind Allied lines. He was one of only 17 Bavarians to receive that award during the war.
In May 1916, Muller was assigned to FA-32 and in September, he was transferred to the new all-fighter unit Jasta 2 commanded by Oswald Boelcke, operating the Albatros D-II. On 10th October, a British DH2 of No 24 Squadron became Muller’s first victory. By the end of November, Muller was an ace with five confirmed successes. In January 1917, he was transferred to Jasta 28 and, flying an Albatros D-III, Muller achieved two more successes in April, including the Sopwith 1&1/2 Strutter of Lieutenant William Wright who survived the crash-landing and later went on to become an ace with eight victories.
In May 1917, Muller scored six more successes and was promoted to Leutnant. Five more victories followed in June, raising his score to 18. In July, he brought down British ace Matthew Frew for his 19th victory (Frew survived the crash-landing).
After his successes on 10th August, Muller achieved five more prior to the end of that month, bringing his score to 26. In September, he was awarded the Pour le Merit (now known as the ‘Blue Max’). He was transferred to Jasta 2 the next month and by the end of 1917 his score had risen to 36 Allied planes confirmed, 22 of them single-engine fighters. Five of those successes were flown by Allied aces, a feat unmatched by any other pilot of the war.
On 6th January 1918, Muller was appointed CO of Jasta 2 after the previous commander was killed in action. Three days later on January 9th, Muller, on a solo patrol, encountered a British RE8 escorted by a pair of SE5s. After a lengthy dogfight, Muller’s Albatros DV was hit and the punctured fuel tank caught alight. Without a parachute, Muller jumped clear of his aircraft, preferring a quick death by a fall rather than a slow agonizing one in the flames.
Muller was posthumously awarded the Knights Cross of Max Joseph and his name became Max Ritter von Muller.
Billy Bishop– by Mark Postlethwaite
On 29th July 1917, shortly after 0700hrs, Canadian ace Billy Bishop, flying a Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a, achieved his 38th official victory when he was credited with downing an Albatros D-III over Beaumont. Bishop’s unit, No 60 Squadron RFC, had only received the SE5a earlier that month. Postlethwaite’s painting depicts Bishop’s SE5a as having the serial number ‘A8937’ with yellow banners on the engine cowling & fuselage. In actuality, Bishop’s SE5 had the serial number ‘A8936’ and had blue banners instead of yellow.
Bishop’s combat record remains a subject of fierce controversy with some experts and historians questioning or even attempting to outright discredit it whilst others remain fierce defenders of Canada’s most famous ace of the Great War. One reason for the controversy is that Bishop frequently operated alone and there were no Allied witnesses to corroborate his successes. Another reason is that a number of his successes were awarded officially to him without such witnesses while other Allied pilots usually had un-witnessed claims go unconfirmed. With numerous gaps in the German air-force’s records of losses, due to such records being lost, poorly or incorrectly kept or sometimes deliberately destroyed or tampered with in the final months or immediate aftermath of the war, the issue may never be resolved.
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