Edward Rickenbacker : America’s Most Successful WWI Fighter Ace

The United States Air Force and Army have seen many skilled, brave, and incredible pilots – men and women willing to fly straight into battle, to face war in the skies. Among all of those heroic fighters, one in particular made his mark in history.

His name was Edward Vernon Rickenbacker.

A fighter ace in World War I, Rickenbacker remains America’s most successful fighter ace of that time with a total of 26 impressive aerial victories. Yet Rickenbacker was so much more than a skilled pilot. His life outside of the military was one of intrigue, excitement, and even dramatic brushes with death.

From government consultant to the head of a U.S. airline, Rickenbacker led a fascinating life – these are five standout facts about this famous ace.

1. Rickenbacker survived 135 brushes with death during his lifetime.

Although he’s best known as “America’s Ace of Aces,” the fighter pilot wasn’t always a smooth operator. In fact, over the course of his lifetime, Rickenbacker faced off with death an astonishing 135 times. Others nicknamed him “the luckiest man alive” because of his frequent brushes with death. Early on in his life, the trend began: Rickenbacker almost died after a run-in with a horse-drawn carriage, a tonsillectomy gone wrong, and even a mine cart crash that nearly crushed him.

Two of his more dramatic experiences made his survival seem even more unlikely; Rickenbacker spent weeks adrift at sea during World War II and survived a deadly plane crash while flying as a passenger in one of his very own airline’s planes. Fortunately, Rickenbacker survived each and every one of these horrific moments and died peacefully at the age of 82

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Eddie Rickenbacker in his SPAD S.XIII

2. Political opinions were problematic for Rickenbacker, who was banned from radio broadcasts at NBC for disagreeing with President Franklin Roosevelt.

During FDR’s terms as president, the pilot and the president clashed over differing opinions frequently and repeatedly. The source of their contention, surprisingly, was Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Although these policies were effective and did get Americans back to work in the midst of the Great Depression, Rickenbacker believed FDR was implementing socialism – and the famed fighter ace refused to stay quiet. He spoke out against President Roosevelt regularly and on public radio, criticizing the New Deal and the President himself.

FDR fought back, though; his administration ordered NBC Radio to forbid Rickenbacker from sharing any anti-Roosevelt opinions on the airwaves. Rickenbacker continued his critical expression, speaking out against another presidential decision to rescind airlines’ existing mail contracts and give the responsibility to U.S. Army Air Corps pilots – he even went as far to call Roosevelt’s decision “legalized murder.”

3. Rickenbacker faced a number of obstacles along his path to becoming a pilot, including his U.S. Army superiors attempting to block his progress.

In order to achieve his historic status as a famed fighter ace, Rickenbacker struggled. He enlisted in the military before WWI even began, so when the U.S. declared war on Germany, Rickenbacker was already in training. By 1917, he was stationed in France as a Sergeant First Class. However, Rickenbacker immediately faced difficult odds: the majority of his fellow pilots-in-training held college degrees. The future ace didn’t, and he struggled to get the permission to fly from his superiors.

The Army believed Rickenbacker wasn’t academically qualified to become a pilot. So, Rickenbacker took a different path and earned the assignment of engineering officer. During his free time, he practiced flying, building his skills. Finally, once Rickenbacker was deemed experienced enough to fly – yet another obstacle appeared. Because he’d become such a fantastic engineer with impressive mechanical skills, once again his superiors attempted to stop his progression to pilot.

It wasn’t until Rickenbacker provided his superiors with a replacement as skilled as he that they allowed him to take a place in the 94th Aero Squadron, an air combat unit.

4. Before his years as a fighter ace, Rickenbacker was a famous race car driver – he was so skilled, he even competed in the Indianapolis 500 four times.

Driving race cars and flying fighter planes may not appear to share many similarities, but the two skills certainly did for Rickenbacker. Before WWI, the ace was known as “Fast Eddie,” a sought after driver known for his expertise and speed on the racetrack. In the early 1900s, Rickenbacker drove for two different racing teams: Maxwell Racing Team and Prest-O-Lite.

He was such a skilled race car driver that he even traveled to London to source information about whether or not American race car manufacturers could develop an even speedier English car. At one point, Rickenbacker even suggested to the U.S. military that race car drivers would make excellent fighter pilot recruits thanks to their high-speed driving capabilities. Years later, Rickenbacker’s racing bug returned, and he purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1927.

1915 tucson 100 - eddie rickenbacker (maxwell) 4th

5. In the years between World Wars I and II, Rickenbacker founded his own automobile company, producing cars for the American public.

As a former race car driver, it comes as no surprise that Rickenbacker loved cars – yet this incredible ace enjoyed them so much that he founded his very own car company in 1920. Named the Rickenbacker Motor Company, Rickenbacker’s goal was to sell technologically advanced and innovative cars that incorporated the newest auto racing developments.

For nearly a decade, Rickenbacker Motor Company succeeded. In fact, the company’s vehicles were the first to come equipped with a four-wheel brake system. Unfortunately, other car manufacturers didn’t like this advancement and began spreading bad publicity about Rickenbacker’s cars; this forced the company into bankruptcy in 1927. However, the legacy of the company hasn’t disappeared – all vehicles manufactured in the U.S. were eventually required to have four-wheel braking.

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On this day : The 23rd September 1917

German pilot Werner Voss shot down over Western Front

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On this day in 1917, the German flying ace Werner Voss is shot down and killed during a dogfight with British pilots in the skies over Belgium, on the Western Front during World War I.

Voss, born in 1887, enlisted as a cavalry soldier in 1914, but soon transferred to the Luftstreitkrafte or German Air Service, where he was posted to the Jasta 2 squadron, commanded by the renowned pilot Oswald Boelcke. After serving as a wingman to Manfred von Richthofen—the ace pilot later known as the Red Baron—Voss quickly established a reputation as a leading pilot in his own right, and a rival to Richthofen. By May 1917, Voss had amassed 28 victories in the air, earning the prestigious Pour le Merite award.

At Richthofen’s request, Voss was attached to his own squadron, Jasta 10—known as the “Flying Circus.” He earned another 14 victories there before September 23, 1917, when he was involved in a dogfight with the renowned British 56 Squadron “B” Flight—including the ace pilots James McCudden and Arthur Rhys Davids—above the Western Front in Belgium. Though Voss skillfully eluded his pursuers for some 10 minutes in his silver-grey Fokker triplane, he was shot down by a British attack and crashed north of Frezenburg. As McCudden later observed: “I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single handed, fought seven of us for ten minutes. I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder.”

The attack was generally credited to Davids, who also shot down the German pilot Carl Menckhoff when the latter came to Voss’ aid. Menckhoff survived the fight—one of the best-known aerial dogfights of World War I—to lead his own squadron throughout the end of the war. As for Voss, his bravery and skill was celebrated posthumously on both sides of the line. In James McCudden’s words: “His flying is wonderful, his courage magnificent and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see.”

See more here https://offtheclothboff.com/category/heros/fighter-aces/

Captain Frederick Robert Gordon McCall

Frederick McCall

Frederick McCall

Frederick Robert Gordon McCall (1896-1949) scored 35 confirmed victories as a Canadian air ace during 1918.

Born on 4 December 1896 in Vernon, British Columbia, McCall enlisted with the 175th Overseas Battalion attached to the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF) in February 1916.  Some ten months later McCall was in England as a Sergeant with the battalion.

With his evident desire to participate in the aerial conflict McCall received a commission as a Lieutenant pilot trainee the following March.  Much of the rest of 1917 was spent in pilot’s training: consequently it wasn’t until December that he was assigned to 13 Squadron on the Western Front.  His initial duties saw him fly lumbering two-seater R.E.7 aircraft on reconnaissance missions along with fellow airman F.C. Farrington.

In spite of being assigned reconnaissance duties McCall nevertheless scored his first aerial victory while flying the R.E.8, shooting down an enemy German aircraft intent upon downing McCall.  Within two months McCall was awarded the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty” – or, more specifically, for destroying an attacking enemy aircraft while observing artillery fire.

Within two weeks of winning the Military Cross he awarded an accompanying Bar, this time for downing an enemy scout aircraft while engaged on photographic work.

McCall was next transferred to 41 Squadron and given a single-seater S.E.5a aircraft.  Four ‘kills’ in May 1918 resulted in the award of a Distinguished Flying Cross.  Promoted to Captain McCall remarkably downed five German aircraft in a single day, 30 June – four in the morning and another in the evening.  Only two days earlier he had brought down a further four enemy aircraft.  By now his tally of confirmed victories ran to 20 aircraft.  For his success on 30 June McCall was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.

On 17 August, while out flying with William Claxton and another airman, McCall ran into some 40-60 German aircraft.  While McCall managed to escape back to Allied lines Claxton was forced to land in enemy territory and was taken prisoner.

Suffering from illness McCall was sent to recuperate initially in England and then back home in Canada.  The armistice was announced while he was in Canada.  His overall tally of confirmed victories had reached 35, with a probable further two unconfirmed victories.

Following the armistice McCall embarked upon a variety of civil aviation ventures, ranging from stunt flying to management of his own company, McCall Aero Corporation Limited (formed in 1920).  With this company McCall flew commercial freight and passengers across Canada.  McCall also worked to encourage the formation of Canadian flying clubs in the inter-war years.

With the arrival of the Second World War McCall was recalled to service with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a Squadron Leader, based at numerous western Canadian bases.

McCall died on 2 January 1949 in Calgary.  He was aged 52.

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Canadian Ace – Captain Frederick Robert Gordon McCall who shot down 37 enemy aircraft, seen here probably at the time with No. 41 Squadron RAF (RFC), Arras. February 22 1918.

William Avery “Billy” Bishop

Canada’s Leading Ace with 72 Credited Victories

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The combat report reads:

I fired on 7 machines on the aerodrome, some of which had their engines running. One of them took off and I fired 15 rounds at him from close range 60 ft. up and he crashed. A second one taking off, I opened fire and fired 30 rounds at 150 yds, range, he crashed into a tree. Two more were then taking off together.

I climbed and engaged one at [less than] 1,000′ finishing my drum, and he crashed 300 yds. from the aerodrome. I changed drums and climbed E.

A fourth H. [Hun or Hostile] A. [Aircraft] came after me and I fired one whole drum into him. He flew away and I then flew [less than] 1,000′ under 4 scouts at 5,000′ for one mile and turned W. climbing. The aerodrome was armed with one or more machine guns. Machines on the ground were 6 scouts (Albatross type I or II) and one two-seater.

That was Billy Bishop’s uncorroborated combat report for June 2, 1917.

For it he was awarded the Victoria Cross and prime spot in the “Controversial Fighter Pilot Claims Hall of Fame.”

Major William Avery ‘Billy Bishop was in his element for what he knew would probably be the last time in World War I. The powerful roar of his SE-5a’s Wolseley Viper engine filled his ears. Damp wind buffeted his head and face over the short windscreen. Bishop’s keen blue eyes searched all quadrants for what he desperately hoped would be there, but while the heavy drizzle that had started that morning had abated somewhat, he did not actually expect to meet the Hun today.

Bishop was scheduled to leave the aerodrome at Petit Synthe that same day — June 19, 1918 — at noon, less than a month after he had brought his new command, No. 85 Squadron, Royal Air Force (RAF), known as the Flying Foxes, to northwest France and 14 months after his first successful combat sortie with No. 60 Squadron. Having promised to lend his support to the formation of a proposed Canadian Air Force, he could hardly argue the point when he was recalled to England. But that did not stop him from being mad as hell during his last sortie. He had written to his wife, Margaret, in London: I’ve never been so furious in my life. It makes me livid with rage to be pulled away just as things are getting started.

In less than six months of actual flying time, Bishop had downed 67 enemy planes. He was proud of his success and had relished the game of collecting victories. He was also enjoying the notoriety his victories brought him in Britain as well as at home in Canada. Bishop was by now the top-scoring ace of the British empire, but in his heart he knew this was it, his last combat flight. What he could not have known that morning of June 19 was that history was about to be made.

A few miles over the lines in enemy territory, Bishop dropped out of the clouds to check his position. It was 9:58 a.m. He recognized the landmark of the Ploegsteert Wood, south of Ypres, and he also immediately identified the three aircraft flying away from him to his left at about 300 yards — Pfalz D.IIIa scouts. This solidly constructed German single-seater carried two Spandau guns internally in the front fuselage and had proved to be a steady platform capable of absorbing a great deal of battle damage. It could be dived harder and faster than the Albatros and had played more than a small part in the revival of German air superiority in the early spring of 1918. Three Pfalzes together were not a threat to be taken lightly.

Having spotted Bishop, the German scouts began to turn, and Bishop followed them. By the time he had drawn a bead on one of the three, they had come halfway around the circle. Suddenly they dived on him, guns blazing. Bishop saw the tracers tear through his lower left wingtip as he got in a short burst himself. The three fighters slipped beneath him. Banking to the left to bring his machine to bear again, Bishop took a quick look behind him. Two more Pfalz scouts were diving on him at high speed. His instinctive glance had probably saved his life.

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Now time was of the essence. Deciding to make a quick attack on the original three before the other two could enter the fray, Bishop opened fire quickly from what was for him an unusually long range. One of the three aircraft was struck instantly and its pilot killed. It fell away, out of control. The other two began to climb while the two newcomers, still diving and finally in range, opened fired on the SE-5a. Bishop pulled up into a steep turn, and the two German scouts passed beneath him. Then the two that had been climbing toward the cloud layer collided. Both aircraft disintegrated in a shower of wood, metal and fabric.

Turning his attention to the remaining two Pfalzes now climbing toward the safety of the clouds, Bishop sent tracers into one of them at 200 yards, starting the enemy aircraft spiraling toward the ground, only 1,000 feet below. The fifth Pfalz escaped into the clouds.

With the ceiling down to 900 feet, Bishop continued his patrol somewhere between Neuve Eglise and Ploegsteert. He was beginning to think of returning to base when out of the misty drizzle appeared an outline with which he had become very familiar in recent months — a German two-seater. Without being spotted, he slipped into the blind spot beneath and behind the reconnaissance aircraft and, raising his nose, sent a short burst from both guns into its belly. It shuddered, seemed to hesitate in the air and then fell toward the ground. With the pilot struggling desperately to regain control of the aircraft and the observer slumped lifeless in the rear seat, the two-seater smashed into the ground and went up in flames.

Then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. Bishop was alone in the sky again. He hardly realized it at the time, but this had indeed been his finest achievement in the air. During his final sortie he had downed five aircraft in the space of 15 minutes. It was a fitting way to end a remarkable combat flying career.

The young Canadian who would one day become Canada’s ace of aces was born in Owen Sound, a small town in Ontario, on February 8, 1894. Blond, blue-eyed William Avery was the third son in William and Mary Bishop’s family of four children. His father, the Grey County registrar, held conservative views typical of middle-class fathers in the late 19th century. Young Billy became the target of teasing when he was sent to school dressed as a miniature bureaucrat in gray suit and tie, but he quickly learned to stand up for himself — and often for his younger companions. His fists usually did the talking.

Although Billy Bishop did not like team sports such as football and lacrosse, he did enjoy individual pursuits like shooting, riding and swimming. He was handsome, intelligent and charming, but he was always an indifferent student. In fact, he came to hate school, cutting classes in high school to play pool downtown. His teachers rarely succeeded in hiding their low expectations for him. Realizing he would never excel academically, he refused to apply himself to his studies.

Bishop did, however, show great determination to perfect the skills he enjoyed. One of these was shooting. When his father gave him a .22-caliber rifle for Christmas and offered him 25 cents for every squirrel he bagged, Billy — who had a great eye and steady hand — turned his marksmanship into entrepreneurial success at home and throughout his neighborhood. He became a crack shot.

After reading newspaper accounts of the first heavier-than-air flight in Canada (and the British empire) by Canadian John McCurdy in his Silver Dart in 1909, 15-year-old Bishop determined to build his own aircraft. His version of the now famous biplane, crudely constructed from wood, cardboard, wire and strong string, carried him — mostly vertically — from the roof of his family’s Victorian home to crash in a heap on the lawn below. Out of the wreck crawled the irrepressible Billy, slightly injured but not in any way cowed. As it turned out, he would live through many violent landings as a real pilot. In fact, Bishop’s landing skills remained relatively underdeveloped during his whole flying career.

Billy and his younger sister, Louie, were very close. Bribed by Louie to entertain a visiting girlfriend, Bishop secretly checked out the girl he was later to marry through the parlor curtains before agreeing. Margaret Burden, granddaughter of the great Toronto retailer Timothy Eaton, would marry Billy while he was home on leave from the front several years later in 1917. Although he was secretly impressed with Margaret on their first meeting, he charged his sister $5 for his entertainment services.

At age 17, Billy followed his elder brother, Worth, to the Royal Military College (RMC) at Kingston, Ontario, Canada’s equivalent of England’s Sandhurst and America’s West Point. He was following in the footsteps of a brother who had achieved a sterling record there. Having been more or less his own master up to this point in his life, however, the younger Bishop chafed under the strict discipline of the RMC. He also found it hard to accept the standard rough treatment given recruits by upperclassmen. Not surprisingly, his first year at RMC was a flop. His second year went better, but in his third year his resolve deteriorated and things fell apart. Bishop was caught cheating on an exam when he absent-mindedly handed in his crib sheet with his exam paper. He was awaiting word of his punishment, which almost certainly would have been dismissal, when the outbreak of war saved him that embarrassment. Even though his military training was far from complete, he was accepted as an officer in a Toronto militia regiment, the Mississauga Horse. Like future German ace of aces Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen, he entered the war as a cavalryman. Before he embarked for England, he proposed to Margaret and she accepted.

As many a military horseman was soon to discover, modern warfare had dramatically reduced the role of the cavalry. The day of the cavalry charge was over. Even reconnaissance on horseback was impossible in the world of trench warfare. The reality, as Bishop soon discovered after arriving in England with his unit — now known as the Canadian Mounted Rifles — was dust and mud, and more dust and mud. He could not decide which was worse.

One rainy day, when Bishop was up to his ankles in mud checking a line of horses, he heard the unmistakable sound of an aircraft engine. Out of the soggy gray sky a nimble scout biplane appeared and set down in a nearby field. The pilot asked directions and then was off, winging his way skyward again. When I turned to slog my way back through the mud, my mind was made up, Bishop later recalled. I was going to meet the enemy in the air.

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Bishop completed observer training and, on September 1, 1915, joined No. 21 Squadron Royal Flying Corps (RFC) as a gunner-observer. Since pilot trainees were not needed at the time, he had taken the advice of a friend who told him that, knowing what sort of pilot you’re likely to be, someone else should do the flying.

It was less than a dozen years since the first controlled powered flight by Orville Wright. In those early days of World War I, the role of aircraft was generally limited to ground support through aerial observation. Bishop’s training included wireless transmission in Morse code, dropping hand-held bombs, spotting for artillery and aerial photography. He wrote: They teach you what to observe and what not to observe. This is not a joke. If an observer lets his gaze wander to too many non-essentials he cannot do the real observation that is expected of him.

But flying as an observer in what might have been the worst combat aircraft of the war, the underpowered and ungainly Reconnaissance Experimental No. 7, or RE-7, had not really been what he had had in mind when he transferred from the cavalry. Bishop did not like not being in control. He hated being caught in anti-aircraft fire and was once slightly wounded in the forehead by a piece of anti-aircraft shrapnel. It was little more than a bruise, but if it had struck him harder it could have finished him. Bishop soon found his duty with No. 21 Squadron beginning to grind him down. This sort of flying was dangerous and boring at the same time. In four months’ duty as an observer he never got to fire his gun at an enemy plane.

To top it all off, Bishop was proving to be increasingly accident-prone. He was involved in a truck accident, which shook him severely. Then he was struck in the head by a snapped cable while inspecting his aircraft on the ground and remained unconscious for two days. The most serious incident involved an engine failure on takeoff. The RE-7 he was in crashed, and Bishop’s knee was badly injured. As it turned out, however, this was fortune in disguise. While Bishop was in England recuperating, his squadron was almost completely decimated in the Battle of the Somme. The next time he came to the front it would be as a pilot.

When Bishop returned to England on leave, he fell while disembarking from the Channel boat and re-injured his knee. But even though he was suffering from considerable pain as well as severe physical and emotional exhaustion, he was determined to enjoy the pleasures of London. He resisted getting medical attention until the very last day of his leave. The diagnosis included a cracked knee and a heart murmur, and Bishop was confined to bed rest for an indefinite period.In the hospital he met Lady St. Hellier, a fashionably rich and politically influential widow who saw it as her patriotic duty to visit convalescent servicemen. She looked up Bishop after recognizing the family name. On a trip to Ottawa, St. Hellier had met his father, Will, at a social gathering — a chance encounter that would have a lasting effect on Bishop’s flying career.

When Bishop was allowed to leave the hospital, St. Hellier invited him to continue his recuperation at her mansion in London. Their relationship blossomed. He called her Granny, and she began to introduce him in her influential circles as my grandson. His newfound friend spared no effort to help him.

Possibly through her influence, Bishop was granted indefinite home leave in Canada for health reasons. Back in Owen Sound, he quickly recovered. He gave Margaret an engagement ring but decided to put off the wedding until he was more certain of his future prospects in the RFC. He had decided to become a fighter pilot.

By early September 1916, Bishop was back in England. His hopes of becoming a pilot seemed remote, however, as he was repeatedly rejected as medically unfit. To add insult to injury, all his service records had somehow vanished. But Lady St. Hellier pulled strings, and by November 1, 1916, Bishop was ready for his first flying lesson. At that time, so soon after the beginnings of powered flight, pilot training was anything but a well-defined, formal science. Instruction was by older pilots resting from the battle over France and Flanders or by younger pilots with little more experience than the trainees. The instructors were often reluctant to give their charges hands-on experience in the flimsy and marginally airworthy training aircraft. More casualties occurred in training than on actual missions.

But Bishop survived training and soloed. Once finally alone in the cockpit of a Maurice Farman, he felt lonelier than at any other time in his life. Once in the air, I felt better, he wrote to Margaret that night. I flew as straight ahead as I could….Suddenly an awful thought came to me: sooner or later I would have to get that plane down to earth again.Finally, gathering up all his courage, he pancaked the trainer from eight feet up. Bishop was not disappointed at his first landing, however — he was just happy that the ambulance that had sat, engine running, at his takeoff was not needed. Although he would fly 200 times into danger and return safely, the young Canadian’s landings never really improved very much. The Bishop landing would become a little legend in itself.

After joining a home defense squadron in England for advanced flight training, he made good progress, gaining his wings and the freedom he wanted to pursue a lone war against the enemy. Bishop was posted to No. 37 (Home Defense) Squadron east of London, where he accumulated a good deal of night-flying time, patrolling for the bombers and airships that were doing considerable damage in the city. In his two months in No. 37 Squadron, Bishop never engaged any enemy planes, but he became a better and more confident flier.

Anxious to get into the real war, Bishop applied several times for transfer to the Western Front. After an advanced course in single-seat fighters, he received orders to join No. 60 Squadron, which was then based at Filescamp Farm on the eastern part of Le Hameau aerodrome, 12 miles west of Arras, France. Number 60 Squadron was the top British fighter group on the Western Front and the first squadron to be fully equipped with French-made Nieuport scouts. Bishop was impressed. He had never before seen the beautiful little fighter close up. His arrival preceded by only a few days a major British air offensive on the Western Front.

Bishop flew his first patrol in a Nieuport 17 on March 17, 1917. Powered by a 120-hp Le Rhne rotary engine, the Nieuport was armed with a single .303-inch Lewis machine gun on the upper wing firing forward outside the propeller arc. More maneuverable but slower and more lightly armed than its chief opponent, the Albatros D.III, the little sesquiplane (biplane with a very narrow lower wing) was a potent weapon in the hands of several outstanding Allied aces. Its chief proponents included the Englishman Albert Ball, whom Bishop idolized, and Irishman Edward Mick Mannock. The young Canadian’s first sortie lasted two hours, and although the enemy was sighted, No. 60 Squadron’s pilots were unable to engage him.

Three uneventful patrols followed in the days ahead. Then, on the afternoon of March 25, Bishop was involved in his first dogfight. He was flying fourth in a four-ship flight of Nieuports led by No. 60 Squadron’s New Zealander commander, Captain Alan John Lance Scott. Their patrol climbed through low clouds and mist toward St. Leger. In clear air at 9,000 feet they came upon three Albatros D.IIIs. It all happened very quickly. Attaching himself to the tail of an Albatros, Bishop dived on it, firing tracers and seeing his bullets strike the enemy for the first time. The Albatros turned over and seemed to fall out of control. With surprising savvy for a rookie flier, Bishop followed him down through the clouds. He knew that this could be a ruse. Sure enough, the German pilot leveled out, but Bishop was right on his tail. Opening up again with his Lewis gun from almost point-blank range, he aimed at the fuselage near the pilot.

The Albatros fell away again, with Bishop in hot pursuit. This time, following in a 200-mph dive, Bishop was elated to see his first victory completed when the Albatros crashed nose first into a field. But his exaltation turned to desperation when, as he pulled up abruptly from his dive, his engine coughed and died. The Le Rhne had oiled up, and try as he might, Bishop could not get it restarted. He had lost his bearings during the air battle, and when he saw a village in ruins beneath him and heard the ominous rattle of machine-gun fire, he became convinced that he was over enemy territory.

As he pointed the nose of his now silent Nieuport in the direction of what he hoped was friendly territory, Bishop wondered whether his real flying career — just begun — was about to come to an end. The ground came up quickly to meet him. He picked the only clear line he could see among the shell holes and set the little plane down, rolling roughly to a stop. At least he was still alive. Grabbing the only weapon available, his Very pistol flare gun, he leaped down, sprinted to the first available shell hole and dived in head first. In the next tense moments he saw four figures cautiously approaching his position. To his intense relief they were British soldiers. In an instant my whole life outlook changed, he later related in his book Winged Warfare. He soon learned that his landing site had been in German hands only a few hours before.

April 1917 turned out to be Bishop’s month. Bloody April, as it would come to be known, saw the air war intensify to new levels. Bishop’s No. 60 Squadron and Manfred von Richthofen’s Jagdstaffel 11 faced off across a narrow no man’s land. By April 7, Bishop had earned his first decoration — the Military Cross — for two victories on that day, a balloon and an Albatros D.III. On April 8, Easter Sunday, Bishop scored five times in 40 minutes. When he got back to Filescamp Farm, his mechanic called for a tin of blue paint. Although personal identification on British aircraft was officially frowned upon, it was allowed in a very few instances. Bishop’s idol, Albert Ball, had painted the cowling of his Nieuport red. Now, in his new position of squadron ace, Bishop’s Nieuport Serial No. B1566 would sport a blue cowling. By the end of the month, even though the overall air war in April had been decisively in the Germans’ favor, Bishop had claimed 20 victories.

By now he flew with such joyful disregard that an awed comrade described him as incapable of fear. He was made a flight leader, and within a month of his first operational flight he was given the freedom to fly his own roving missions on his days off in addition to his normal quota of patrols.

Bishop had found himself as a combat pilot. He was driven to succeed, and he counted his victories with pride. His extraordinary skill in deflection shooting probably had everything to do with the hours he had spent shooting squirrels and leaning over a pool table as a youth. Although Bishop was admittedly a heavy-handed pilot, that very characteristic seemed to give him the advantage in a dogfight, since he flew his little Nieuport and later the SE-5 with a certain sense of abandon. A natural tactician, he maintained that surprise was the most important factor for success in an air battle and did not hesitate to disengage when the element of surprise had been lost.

His victories mounted steadily, and by May 31 Bishop had claimed 29, including two balloons. Always searching for any advantage, he determined that the best time to attack a German would be just at dawn, when — catching the aircraft on the ground — he could attack enemy planes singly as they rose to challenge him. Allied pilots who tried the same tactic in World War II had similar success.

Bishop had planned to accompany Albert Ball on just such an early-morning raid, but Ball — at that point the British empire’s leading ace with 44 victories — was killed on May 7. So, early in the morning of June 2, which was supposed to have been his day off from flying, Bishop set out on what would be his most famous sortie. Taking off in his blue-nosed Nieuport 17 just before 4 a.m., Captain William Avery Bishop would go it alone.

Flying in the faint glow of pre-dawn, Bishop found himself slightly disoriented. He had already dived on a German aerodrome, Estourmel, only to find there was no activity there. Disappointed, Bishop continued flying low as he searched for some other target of opportunity. Then, circling at about 300 feet over the hamlet of Esnes, he spied a group of canvas hangars and six Albatros D.IIIs on the ground — some with their engines running — along with one two-seater. Making a strafing pass at 50 feet, Bishop scattered the men on the ground and then withdrew to the airfield’s perimeter as German machine-gun defenses opened up, holing his aircraft in several places. Doing his best to evade their fire, he waited until an Albatros began its takeoff run. Diving on it from behind, Bishop opened fire just as it lifted off the ground. Immediately the Albatros side-slipped and crashed.

Turning sharply, he caught sight of a second machine just off the ground. I opened fire and fired 30 rounds at 150 yards range, Bishop later recalled. He smashed into a tree. Two more enemy planes were taking off in opposite directions. Climbing to 1,000 feet, Bishop engaged one and downed it. The D.III fell to the ground a few hundred feet from the airfield. Changing the drum on his Lewis gun, Bishop expended a whole drum at the fourth Albatros. Luckily, at the moment I finished my ammunition, he also seemed to have had enough of it, said Bishop, as he turned and flew away. I seized my opportunity, climbed again and started for home.

Bishop’s early-morning solo raid won him even greater recognition and notoriety than he had yet received. His tactics were imitated by other fliers as the war progressed. For his June 2 sortie Bishop received the Victoria Cross, the 10th to be awarded to airmen and the first to a Canadian pilot. But fame had its price. In August, with his score at 47, the young Canadian was removed by General Hugh M. Trenchard from operational flying because he was deemed too valuable to lose; he was sent home to Canada to aid in recruitment.

Bishop did not return to active flying until May 22, 1918, when he came back as the leader of newly formed No. 85 Squadron, Royal Air Force, the Flying Foxes. Number 85 was equipped with the new SE-5a — the first British two-gun, single-seat fighter and some say the best and most sophisticated of all British World War I single-seaters. Almost one-third of Bishop’s aerial victories were achieved in the SE-5a in less than a month, raising his total to 72 — with 12 of them scored during his last four days of active flying.

With his final sortie on June 19, 1918, during which he downed five Pfalz scouts within five minutes, Billy Bishop entered the realm of legend. For succeeding generations, names such as Bishop and Richthofen would inspire awe, admiration and imitation. The century of the ace had begun.

Honours

Victoria Cross (1917)

Distinguished Service Order with Bar (1917)

Military Cross (1917)

Distinguished Flying Cross (1918)

1914–1915 Star (1918)

British War Medal (1918)

Victory Medal with Mentioned in Dispatches Emblem (1918)

Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur (1918)

Croix de Guerre avec Palmes (1918)

George V Jubilee Medal (1935)

George VI Coronation Medal (1937)

Companion of the Order of the Bath (1944)

1939–1945 War Medal (1945)

Elizabeth II Coronation Medal (1953)

Canadian Efficiency Decoration

Canadian Volunteer Service Medal

On this day : The 21st April 1918

Red Baron killed in action

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In the skies over Vauz sur Somme, France, Manfred von Richthofen, the notorious German flying ace known as “The Red Baron,” is killed by Allied fire.

Richthofen, the son of a Prussian nobleman, switched from the German army to the Imperial Air Service in 1915. By 1916, he was terrorizing the skies over the western front in an Albatross biplane, downing 15 enemy planes by the end of the year, including one piloted by British flying ace Major Lanoe Hawker. In 1917, Richthofen surpassed all flying ace records on both sides of the western front and began using a Fokker triplane, painted entirely red in tribute to his old cavalry regiment. Although only used during the last eight months of his career, it is this aircraft that Richthofen was most commonly associated with and it led to an enduring English nickname for the German pilot–the Red Baron.

On April 21, 1918, with 80 victories under his belt, Richthofen penetrated deep into Allied territory in pursuit of a British aircraft. The Red Baron was flying too near the ground–an Australian gunner shot him through his chest, and his plane crashed into a field alongside the road from Corbie to Bray. Another account has Captain A. Roy Brown, a Canadian in the Royal Air Force, shooting him down. British troops recovered his body, and he was buried with full military honors. He was 25 years old. In a time of wooden and fabric aircraft, when 20 air victories ensured a pilot legendary status, Manfred von Richthofen downed 80 enemy aircraft.

On this day : The 18 April 1915

Germans shoot down French pilot Roland Garros

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A member of the German Bahnschutzwache, or Railway Protection Guard, shoots down the well-known French airman Roland Garros in his flight over German positions in Flanders, France, on a bombing raid.

Garros, born in 1882, gained renown early in his career as an experienced practitioner of aerial acrobatics, the first French pilot to fly across the Mediterranean Sea and a two-time winner of both the Paris-Madrid and Paris-Rome flying races. In 1914, while working as a test pilot for Morane-Saulnier, an aircraft manufacturer, Garros set the then-world record for the highest flight: 4,250 meters. When war broke out in Europe that same year, he was sent to serve with the French air service, L’Aviation Militaire, on the Western Front.

At the end of 1914, Garros took leave from his regiment and returned to the Morane-Saulnier factory to work with Raymond Saulnier to test a recently developed device that enabled a pilot to fire bullets from a machine-gun through the blades of the propeller of his plane. The device, employed successfully by Garros in the early spring of 1915, allowed him to approach his enemies head-on in the air, giving him a vast advantage. Garros shot down his first German victim, an Albatross reconnaissance aircraft, on April 1, 1915; in the next two weeks, he downed four more.

Garros’ run ended on April 18, however, when he was flying his single-seater plane, a Morane-Saulnier Type L, low in the skies above the German positions in Flanders. A member of the German Bahnschutzwache described the events of that day: At that moment we saw a southbound train approaching on the railway line Ingelmunster-Kortrijk. Suddenly the plane went into a steep diveHe flew over the train in a loop and as he rose up into the sky again with his wings almost vertical, he threw a bomb at the train. Fortunately it missed the target and there was no damage.As the plane had swooped down over the train the Bahnschutzwache troops had fired on it following my order to open fire. We shot at him from a distance of only 100 metres as he flew past. After he had thrown his bomb at the train he tried to escape, switching his engine on again and climbing to about 700 metres through the shots fired by our troops. But suddenly the plane began to sway about in the sky, the engine fell silent, and the pilot began to glide the plane down in the direction of Hulste.

A German bullet had apparently hit the gas pipe on Garros’ plane, forcing him to land. Although the daring airman attempted to set the plane on fire and escape on foot once he hit the ground, both he and the plane were captured by the Germans. Garros later managed to escape from captivity and rejoin L’Aviation Militaire. Killed in battle at Vouziers on October 5, 1918, he is remembered as one of France’s most celebrated war heroes; the famous tennis stadium in Paris bears his name.

The propeller of Garros’ Morane-Saulnier plane and its innovative machine-gun firing device were sent immediately after his capture in April 1915 to the Fokker aircraft factory in Germany. A few weeks later, the first Fokker EI—a single-seater airplane fitted with machine guns, deflectors and interrupter gear that could synchronize the rate of fire of the gun with the speed of the propeller—was sent to German forces on the Western Front. From mid-1915 until mid-1916, the Fokker E-types of the German Air Force were the menace of the skies, shooting down a total of over 1,000 Allied aircraft.

Animation shows how the Allies bombed Hitler and Nazis into submission

The animation was created by the Imperial War Museum to mark the re-opening of the American Air Museum

It shows the progress of the Allied strategic bombing campaign against the Germans from 1939 to 1945 

The map is designed to highlight way the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces worked together

Bombing was essential to win the war for the Allies but has been criticised for killing thousands of civilians 

 

AIR CAMPAIGN THAT WON THE WAR

In the first few months of the war the British strategic bombing avoided targeting civilians and private property, as it was believed to be unjustifiable. But by 1945, entire German cities were being obliterated overnight.

No major German city avoided being bombed during the war and many were half-destroyed, including Cologne, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Dresden.

The RAF Bomber Command had dropped nearly one million tonnes of bombs in the course of 390,000 operations. The US Army Air Forces dropped more than 600,000 tonnes between 1942 and 1945.

The USAAF would carry out ’round the clock’ raids with its RAF counterparts – the American attacked by day and the British by night. German civilian deaths are estimated in the region of 400,000.

The progress of the Allied bombing campaign which helped to win the Second World War has been graphically illustrated in an extraordinary animation.

The map pinpoints the exact location of every bombing raid by either the Royal Air Force or the United States Army Air Forces from the start of the conflict in 1939 until its end six years later.

It vividly demonstrates the importance of the 1.6million tonnes of explosive deployed against the Nazis and their allies – and the way Britain and America collaborated in the war.

Map animation shows raids on occupied Europe from 1943 to 1945
  Beginnings: This image shows how the Allied bombing campaign against Germany was initially limited to just a few raids

Beginnings: This image shows how the Allied bombing campaign against Germany was initially limited to just a few raids

Allies: In December 1941, the US joined the Second World War; their raids are shown on the IWM map with red dots

Allies: In December 1941, the US joined the Second World War; their raids are shown on the IWM map with red dots

The animation was created by researchers from the Imperial War Museum in order to mark the re-opening of the American Air Museum in Duxford, Cambridgeshire.

It is the first time the full extent of the Allies’ strategic bombing campaign against Hitler has been documented in this graphic format.

The video shows how in the early years of the war bombing raids were deployed relatively seldom, becoming more important as the conflict went on.

The US joined the war in December 1941, and from then on the RAF and the USAAF worked together to defeat the Axis threat in Europe.

Turning point: Around the time of D-Day in 1944, the volume of bombing attacks by the RAF and USAAF began to increase

Turning point: Around the time of D-Day in 1944, the volume of bombing attacks by the RAF and USAAF began to increase

Destruction: The two air forces jointly shouldered the burden of attacking the Nazis, as shown by the mixture of blue and red dots here

Destruction: The two air forces jointly shouldered the burden of attacking the Nazis, as shown by the mixture of blue and red dots here

Toll: This final image shows the location of every Allied bomb dropped on Western Europe from 1939 to 1945

Toll: This final image shows the location of every Allied bomb dropped on Western Europe from 1939 to 1945

The IWM graphic depicts RAF raids in blue and USAAF ones in red, demonstrating how the burden which was initially shouldered by Britain became increasingly shared by both air forces.

More than 80 per cent of bombing raids took place in the final 18 months of the war as the Allies advanced against Germany, recapturing France and then moving eastwards towards Hitler’s capital of Berlin.

A sudden flurry of bombs can be seen in the map in June 1944 – marking D-Day, when the air forces worked to support ground troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy in the action which decisively turned the tide of the war.

The bombing campaign is often credited with winning the Second World War for the Allies – but the tactics were also controversial because they led to hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, with British commander ‘Bomber’ Harris eschewing precision targeting in favour of area bombing

Aircraft: Many of the bombing raids were carried out by the Lancaster Bomber, pictured here at a British airfield in 1942

Aircraft: Many of the bombing raids were carried out by the Lancaster Bomber, pictured here at a British airfield in 1942

Damage: This picture shows the city of Dresden in February 1945 after a campaign of bombing by the Allies

Damage: This picture shows the city of Dresden in February 1945 after a campaign of bombing by the Allies

The animation project was spearheaded by researcher Emily Charles, who pored over RAF and USAAF records to chronicle every single Second World War raid.

She told MailOnline that existing books which describe the raids often fail to give their exact targets, so she had to go back to the original documents to rediscover details of the missions.

Describing how the bombing raids ended up affecting most of Western Europe, she added: ‘You look at the map and there’s not much that’s not covered in colour.’

The animation chronicles how the bombing started in France, spreading east towards the Netherlands and Germany before pausing in 1944 as the Allies prepared for D-Day, and then returning with a vengeance and sweeping in to Hitler’s heartland.

An interactive version of the video as well as other animations will be available to visitors at the American Air Museum once it reopens on Saturday.

The museum, part of IWM Duxford, tells the story of collaboration between Britain and the US from 1918 until the present day.

Among its other displays are aircraft used in the Gulf War and in the recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as older planes from the Second World War.

Around 30,000 US airmen were killed while serving in Europe during the war against Hitler.

Diane Lees, director-general of IWM, said: ‘The transformed American Air Museum will tell the story of the relationship between Britain and America in very human terms.

‘Personal stories come to the fore, vividly demonstrating the consequences of war in the 20th and 21st centuries.’