Canada's Fighting Airmen

In six short weeks of furious conflict Bishop became a captain and won his first decoration

MAJOR GEORGE A. DREW February 1 1929

Canada's Fighting Airmen

In six short weeks of furious conflict Bishop became a captain and won his first decoration

MAJOR GEORGE A. DREW February 1 1929

Canada's Fighting Airmen

In six short weeks of furious conflict Bishop became a captain and won his first decoration

MAJOR GEORGE A. DREW

TWO: BISHOP WINS HIS SPURS

COMBATS IN THE AIR

SQUADRON: No. 60

TYPE and No.

of AEROPLANE: Nieuport Scout A-306

WHEN Lieutenant W. A. Bishop crossed to France on March, 1917, he joined the 60th Squadron, of which Captain Albert Ball, who was then the leading British pilot, was a member. Ball was in England on leave when Bishop arrived, but once more the similarity of experience between Bishop and Richthofen appeared. Nearly six months earlier the latter had joined the famous Jagdstaffel 2 under Boelcke, who was then the idol of the German Air force, so that each started his career as a fighting pilot under the inspiration of belonging to the unit which claimed the outstanding aviator of their respective armies.

At the time of Bishop’s arrival, the 60th Squadron was equipped with the Nieuport Scout, a small fast singleseated machine designed essentially for fighting. It was fitted with a Lewis gun fixed immediately in front of the pilot. The firing of the machine-gun was synchronized with the speed of the engine in such a way that the bullets passed between the revolving propeller blades.

This comparatively recent innovation had added greatly to the offensive power of the scouts, as it made it possible to take aim directly over the gun and follow through the sights the course of the tracer bullets.

It also called for a nice balance of firing accuracy and flying skill, as the guns were fixed in a rigid position, making it necessary to point the whole machine in the required direction to bring the sights on the target.

Many excellent shots were not sufficiently skillful in the handling of their machines to get the best results from their guns : many of the most expert pilots were not good enough shots to take advantage of their flying skill: but when, occasionally, a pilot was equally good at both, a Guynemeyer, Richthofen or Bishop was the result.

The First Fight

ALTHOUGH Bishop had * *■ already done a good deal of flying, the Nieuport was so different to anything he had yet flown that it was necessary

for him to spend some days after joining the squadron, getting the “feel” of the new machine. While he had already spent considerable time at the front as an observer, it must be remembered that he had yet to prove himself in action as a pilot.

His first visit to German territory, flying his own machine, was in an observation patrol with five others. This was no more eventful than his earlier experiences as an observer had been, as the report of the patrol for the day discloses. “While on observation patrol two machines engaged five Albatross Scouts. One other was chased. Clouds and wind prevented decisive results,” he reported.

On March 25, he had his first real fight, and very nearly his last. The great strategical retreat of the German armies to the Hindenburg line was in full swing and the British airmen were constantly at work observing enemy movements, bombing their supply centres, and photographing the country over which the advancing forces must pass. The scouts bore a vital part in this important work, protecting the slower observing and bombing machines from hostile aircraft during their flights over the enemy’s lines. On the 25th, Bishop was on a patrol with three other scouts when they encountered three German Albatrosses. What followed is described in the briefest sort of outline by his combat report for the day.

ARMAMENT:

DATE:

TIME:

DUTY:

PILOT:

OBSERVER:

LOCALITY:

HEIGHT:

1 Lewis Gun 25-3-17 5.00 p.m.

Defensive Patrol Lieut. W. A. Bishop

Between St. Leger and Arras 9000 feet

REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE:—TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

Albatross Scout NARRATIVE

While on Defensive Patrol, 3 Albatross Scouts approached us, one separating from the rest, lost height and attempted to come up behind our 2nd to the rear machine. I dived and fired about 12 to 15 rounds. Tracers went all around his machine. He dived steeply for about 600 ft. and flattened out. I followed him and opened fire from 40 to 50 yds. range, firing 40 to 50 rounds. A group of tracers went into the fuselage and centre section, one being seen entering immediately behind the pilot’s seat, and one seemed to hit himself.

The machine then fell out of control in a spinning nose dive. I dived after him firing. When I reached 1500 or 2000 feet, my engine had oiled up and I glided just over the line. The Albatross Scout when last seen by me was going vertically downwards at a height of 500 to 600 ft. evidently out of control and appeared to crash at — (Signed) Lt. W. A. Bishop.

It will be noticed that Bishop was not sure of the exact location where the enemy machine had crashed and in fact was not apparently absolutely certain that it had been destroyed. The reason for this appears in his report. “My engine had oiled up and I glided just over the line.” He had something else to think about than the German machine. There • was, however, no doubt about it, as the complete destruction of the machine had been observed by other pilots and he was officially given credit for his first victory.

“Just Over the Line”

THE brief report gives an outline which the imagination must complete. It does not tell us of the rushing machines, spinning, twisting and looping, nearly two miles above the ground, nor of the mad dives at perhaps 200 miles an hour with the engine roaring under a wide-open throttle. And then above the roar of the engine would sound the deadly chatter of the machine-guns as they spat forth their streams of tell-tale, smoking bullets. It is, however, enough to give us a fairly accurate picture of the fight. As the two patrols met, Bishop got “on the tail” of one of the German machines, dived down and fired twelve or fifteen rounds. Apparently the German airman was not seriously hit but dived steeply for about 600 feet in an effort to get out of his dangerous position under Bishop’s gun. Bishop followed him down, however, and, as the lower machine flattened out, closed to within forty or fifty yards and fired another burst of tracers into the fuselage which appeared to hit the pilot. The German machine then fell in a spinning nose dive. But this might be only a trick to get away from the hopeless position in which he had placed himself, because once an enemy machine was above and behind at close range, or “on his tail” as the airmen expressed it, only luck or bad shooting could save him. Bishop was taking no chances of letting his quarry escape, however. Down he went in a great dive of nearly 7000 feet firing all the way, and then when he had reached 1500 or 2000 feet he found his engine had filled with oil and would not work.

Well within the German lines, less than 2000 feet from the ground, with a dead engine and the enemy trenches bristling with machine-guns, there was every prospect that his first fight was to be his last and that the best he could hope for was to spend the remainder of the war in a prison camp. There was nothing to do but glide in the direction of his own lines and hope for the best. His luck, however, was with him when he needed it most. He “glided just over the line.”

It was one of those strokes of chance which were so important a factor in the success of even the greatest pilots. Richthofen had a similar experience while flying as an observer on the Russian front late in 1915, long before he had a victory to his credit. His pilot flew over a burning town and the engine became choked

Continued on page 38

Continued from page 5

with smoke. With very little Idea of where they were, they barely succeeded in reaching their own troops. In either case, just a little less height, a little less speed, an adverse wind or a lucky shot from the machine-guns which the infantry turned on them and the names of Bishop and Richthofen would never have been known.

On March 25, 1917, Bishop’s record of one machine looked small beside those of the leaders of that time. Earlier on the same day Richthofen, who had been a fighting pilot for six months, had shot down his 31st victim. Guynemeyer, the great Frenchman, had thirty-five to his credit and Ball, twenty-nine. Probably Bishop was the last to think that he would very soon exceed those figures.

Richthofen’s report for the 25th is interesting as it emphasizes a fact which has already been commented upon. On that day of Bishop’s first victory, he fought beyond the German lines. Richthofen fought over his own territory. With a few exceptions it was the same as long as they fought. Bishop sought his foe. Richthofen waited for his.

REQUESTING ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF MY 31st VICTORY

DATE:

TIME:

PLACE:

PLANE:

OCCUPANT:

March 25, 1917 8.20 a.m.

Tilley

Nieuport. Burned Lieutenant Gilbert.

An enemy squadron had passed our lines. I went up and overtook their last machine. After only a few shots, the enemy’s propeller stopped running. The adversary landed near Tilley, thereby upsetting his plane. I observed that, some moments later, the plane began to burn.

(Signed) Baron von Richthofen.

His Second Victory

THOSE were busy days for the air force. The British artillery was busy all along the line, and particularly around Vimy Ridge where the great Canadian attack was to be launched on April 9. Fights followed daily for Bishop as he and the other machines in his squadron escorted photography and observation planes over the German lines. On March 31 he won his second victory. His report for the day was typically brief but it told all that was necessary to his superiors.

COMBATS IN THE AIR

SQUADRON: No. 60

TYPE and NO.

of AEROPLANE: Nieuport A-6769 ARMAMENT: Lewis Gun

PILOT: Lieut. W. A. Bishop

LOCALITY : 10 miles N.E. of Arras

DATE: 31-3-17.

TIME: 7.30

DUTY: Escort

HEIGHT: 15,000 ft.

REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE: TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

Albatross Scouts 5 seen 1 engaged

NARRATIVE

While on escort, I went to the assistance of another Nieuport being attacked by an Albatross Scout. I opened fire twice, the last time at 50 yds. range, my tracers were seen to hit his machine in the centre section. Albatross seemed to fall out of control, as he was in a spinning nose dive with his engine on. Albatross crashed at 7.30: Ref. 51B.29-30.

(Signed) Lt. W. A. Bishop.

I was behind Lt. Bishop and saw the

Albatross Scout go down in a spinning nose dive.

(Signed) 2nd. Lt. L. H. Leckie.

The above is confirmed by A. A. (AntiAircraft Battery).

Again the destruction of the machine was confirmed by another pilot and the Anti-Aircraft observers as the footnotes indicate. The notation “10 miles N.E. of Arras,” indicates that the fight took place far behind the German lines.

Wiping Out Gas-Bags

A FEW days more of escort work protecting the bombers which were dropping tons of high explosives on the enemy defences, the photographers and the artillery observation machines, and then a new duty was added. The German observation machines and balloons which would detect the great concentration of British troops, were to be driven from the sky. This meant almost continuous fighting for the scouts and gave Bishop the chance he always sought to go over the lines alone in search of enemy machines.

On Saturday, April 7, 1917, Bishop was ordered to destroy a particular observation balloon about five miles behind the German lines. As he was about to dive on the balloon, he was attacked by an enemy scout which he drove down after a short fight. Then he proceeded to finish the job he had started on. While he had been engaged with the enemy aeroplane, the balloon had been hauled down, but he went down after it, firing bursts of tracer bullets into the bag, and at the crew on the ground. Again his engine failed, for the second time in a few days, and he was very nearly forced to land miles within enemy territory. However, when only a few feet from the ground his engine came to life again and he was able to get safely home. It was learned afterward that the balloon had been completely destroyed by fire. Bishop won his first decoration for this exploit, the following concise official notice appearing in the London Gazette on May 26, 1917 :

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to confer the Military Cross on the undermentioned Officers and Warrant Officers in recognition of their gallantry and devotion to duty in the Field:

CANADIAN FORCE Lt. William Avery Bishop, Can. Cav. and R.F.C.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He attacked a hostile balloon on the ground, dispersed its crew and destroyed the balloon, and also drove down a hostile machine which attacked him. He has on several other occasions brought down hostile machines.”

The day following the fight for which he had received the Military Cross, was Easter Sunday, but it was not to be a day of rest, for Easter Monday was the day set for the great attack on Vimy Ridge. It was a beautiful, clear day and at nine o’clock in the morning he crossed the lines with an offensive patrol of six machines under his squadron leader, Major Scott. They flew for miles behind the German lines before meeting the enemy they sought. Bishop became separated from the others in the course of the first fight and his report for the day in a few words describes what most men would consider more than enough fighting for a lifetime, to say nothing of having it packed into about three-quarters of an hour on Easter Sunday morning.

SQUADRON: No. 60 Squadron

TYPE and NO.

of AEROPLANE : Nieuport No. A-6769 ARMAMENT: 1 Lewis Gun

PILOT: Lt. W. A. Bishop

DATE: 8-4-17

TIME: 9.30 to 10.15

DUTY : Offensive Patrol

HEIGHT: 10,000 ft.

REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE: TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

1 Double Seater

1 Albatross Scout

1 Balloon

1 Albatross Scout

2 Single Seaters

2 Albatross Scouts

and 1 Double Seater.

NARRATIVE

While on Offensive Patrol at 9.30, I dived after Major Scott, on a two seater, opening fire twice as he was already diving. Then I engaged a single seater, he flew away eastwards after I had fired 40 rounds at him, tracers hit his machine in fuselage and planes. I then dived at a balloon from 5000 feet and drove it down to the ground. It did not smoke. I climbed to 400 and engaged an Albatross Scout, fired the remainder of my drum at him, dodged away and put a new drum on, and engaged him again. After two bursts he dived vertically and was still in a nose dive when about 500 feet from the ground. I then climbed to 10,000, and 5 miles N.E. of Arras I engaged 2 Single Seaters flying toward our lines. 3 more machines were above and behind. I fired the remainder of my drum into the pair, one burst of 15 at one and the rest at the 2nd one. The former turned and flew away with his nose well down, the 2nd one went down in a spinning nose dive, my tracers hit all round the pilot’s seat and I think he must have been hit. Then I climbed and got behind the other three about the vicinity of Vitry, I engaged them and one double seater went down in a nose dive but I think partly under control, I engaged the remaining 2 and finished my third drum at them. They both flew away eastwards.

(Signed) W. A. Bishop.

It was afterwards learned that two of these machines had been completely destroyed. His record was mounting fast and it was still only two weeks since his first fight.

On Easter Monday morning, April 9, 1917, the Canadian Corps won a brilliant victory when they swept over the formidable Vimy Ridge which had withstood so many earlier British and French assaults. Then followed days of attacks and counterattacks as the opposing troops fought beyond the ridge, during which all the British machines were actively engaged. Flying low over the enemy lines, the scouts attacked infantry formations on the ground with machine-gun fire, frequently dispersing counter-attacks before they had been launched. Bishop had several engagements during this period but his work was more with the enemy troops on the ground than with hostile aircraft.

On April 20 he won his next victory, the enemy machine on this occasion being the first he had destroyed in flames. His report tells the story in a few words:

SQUADRON: 60

TYPE and NO. of AEROPLANE: N.S. B.1566 ARMAMENT: 1 Lewis Gun

PILOT: Lt. W. A. Bishop

OBSERVER: None

LOCALITY:

DATE:

TIME:

DUTY:

20-4-17.

2.58 P.M. Hostile Aircraft

HEIGHT: 2000

REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE: TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

No. 329 1 Two-Seater

NARRATIVE

I engaged a two-seater by getting under him and firing with my gun pulled down at a range of 10 to 20 yds. I fired about 10 to 15 rounds, then dived twice, firing from 100 yds. range. I dived a third time, opening fire at 30 yds. range, and looking back after passing, saw smoke was coming out around the pilot’s seat. In a few seconds flames were visible and the machine fell in a volume of smoke. I fired 80 rounds in all.

(Signed) Lt. W. A. Bishop.

Furious Fighting

'“THEN followed a period of almost incredible activity. Day by day Bishop’s reports recorded fight after fight with an ever-increasing toll of German aeroplanes and balloons. At this time he was flying as much as seven and a half hours between sunrise and sunset and scarcely a day passed without several engagements. When one reads with astonishment to-day of some venturesome flight and wonders at the courage which such a risk demands, it is well to maintai.i some sense of proportion and remembsr that more than ten years ago men like Bishop were day by day and hour by hour for months at a time facing a more ceri ain prospect of death than even the most daring of pilots are forced to contemplate to-day, and there was nothing beyond the flight but the recognition of a duty performed.

It is impossible in this brief story to go into the details of all of Bishop’s fighting but a few of his reports at this time are well worth reading, as they show not only what Bishop was doing but also give a fair idea of what was being done by many other Canadian pilots.

On April 24, he attacked a balloon near Vitry, several miles behind the German lines. His report for the day tells of this without embellishment. “I attacked balloon on ground firing 20 rounds from 800 feet. Gun stopped and I flew away. I came back about five minutes later and again attacked from 800 feet to 300 feet firing remainder of drum. Bullets were seen hitting balloon but no smoke or flame was visible.” This was not the result which he was coming to expect, so he went back after it again three days later. His report for the 27th tells us that “While proceeding to attack the Vitry Balloon I lost my way in the clouds. I discovered a balloon about 800 yds. West of me about 600 ft. up. I attacked it and fired about 60 rounds of Buckingham into it. I passed over and turned to finish my drum, but saw the balloon smoking, I then fired about 10 rounds into the basket as I had seen no one jump up. I flew South then for a few minutes and came to Vitry where another balloon was up. I fired the remainder of my drum from long range at it, but cannot say whether I hit it or not.”

The following day, Bishop received notice of the award of the Military Cross and was promoted to the rank of Captain only six weeks after he had joined the squadron. He signalized his quick promotion by shooting down ànother machine in flames the next day. His report shows how little he had any intention of resting on his laurels.

SQUADRON: No. 60

TYPE and NO. of

AEROPLANE:

ARMAMENT:

PILOT:

OBSERVER:

LOCALITY:

DATE:

TIME:

DUTY:

HEIGHT:

N.S. B1566 One Lewis Gun Capt. Bishop None

Epinoy, E. of

29-4-17

11.55

Hostile Aircraft 14,500 ft.

Continued on page 40

Continued, from page 38

REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE: TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

(1) 1 Single-Seater

(2) 1 Single-Seater

(3) 1 Single-Seater

NARRATIVE

! 1 ) While flying at 17,000 feet, I saw one hostile aircraft 3,000 feet below me. I dived at him from the sun side, opening fire at 150 yds. I fired in bursts of 3’s and after about 12 shots he went down in a spin. I followed and fired the remainder of my drum with the exception of about 10 rounds at him. At about 11,000 ft. he burst into flames.

(2) I climbed again to 15,000 ft. and dived at another single-seater. He dived away and I fired about 30 shots at him with no apparent result.

(3) I then saw another hostile aircraft on my own level. I climbed above him and dived from the sun but he dived away before I could get within 400 yds. I fired the remainder of my drum at long range, but could observe no apparent result.

(Signed) Capt. W. A. Bishop.

It all sounds so ridiculously easy when reported in this simple form that it is well to remember how comparatively few pilots brought down more than five or six enemy machines.

Nine Fights in One Day

BISHOP was now reaching the point where he might have some hope of overtaking Ball who had returned from leave in England and was adding almost daily to his record. This personal rivalry

was a tremendous incentive in the flying corps and introduced a sporting element into the work which relieved it to a great extent of its more sombre aspect. Twentyfive machines destroyed was more like a score in some wildly exciting game than the cold record of the death of probably forty men killed in personal combat. Bishop was now filled with ambition to become the leading British pilot and almost daily he spent as much time as possible when off duty practising on the Petit Bosche. This was a target on the ground representing the vital parts of an aeroplane. The pilot would dive steeply at this target firing as he would at an enemy. He could see where his bullets hit, which gave valuable experience and an opportunity to correct defects in his sighting. This practice was not without dangers that in peace time might in themselves be considered formidable, as it was necessary to plunge at full speed to within a few feet of the earth before flattening out, the whole procedure duplicating the course followed when a pilot was successful in getting “on the tail” of an enemy machine. To the skill acquired in many hours of work on the Petit Bosche Bishop himself attributed most of his success.

On the last day of April, Bishop had nine fights during which he destroyed one enemy machine and forced two others to land. The latter landed on their own side of the lines as the fighting as usual was far over German territory. His report shows not only the almost incredible amount of fighting through which he came unscathed, but also gives some idea of the number of fights in which the best pilots engaged without decisive results on either side. It helps one to understand

the magnitude of the effort which his ultimate record of machines destroyed really represents.

SQUADRON: No. 60

TYPE and NO. of

AEROPLANE:

ARMAMENT:

PILOT:

OBSERVER:

LOCALITY:

DATE:

TIME:

DUTY:

HEIGHT:

N.S. BÍ566 One Lewis Gun Capt. W. A. Bishop, M.C.

None

Lens, Monchy le Preux, Wancourt 30-4-17

9.45 a.m. 12.15 p.m. Offensive Patrol

REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE: TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

Two-Seaters Halberstadt Scouts

NARRATIVE

At 10.00 a.m. South of Lens at 10,000 ft. while leading offensive patrol dived at hostile aircraft and fired 15 rounds with no apparent result. Hostile aircraft dived away Eastwards.

At 10.10 North of Lens at 11,000 ft. climbed up to 2 two-seater hostile aircraft on our side of the line. I fired at one from underneath, firing 15 rounds. Wire cocking device caught in slide, and I returned to aerodrome to adjust it.

At 11.08 South of Lens not having found the patrol I attacked 2 two-seaters doing artillery observation. I dived on the leader and fired 10 rounds at him. He dived away and flew under 5 Halberstadt Scouts. I was 500 ft. above these so I attacked them from above, firing 20 rounds. I then flew away as they had almost reached my level.

At 11.15 South of Lens at 8,000 ft. the three hostile aircraft doing artillery observation returned. I attacked them firing 20 rounds into 2nd machine. He went into a spin and I turned and attacked the last machine. He dived away and I followed finishing my drum into him. He continued diving Eastwards. I could now see 2nd machine still in a spin and only about 1,000 ft. from the ground. The last one evidently landed as he didn’t come back.

At 11.25 East of Monchy at 6,000 ft. I attacked from above 5 Halberstadt Scouts who were flying as if to attack the B.E.s. I dived at them three times and fired in all about 20 rounds. They flew away East.

At 11.30 East of Wancourt at 5,000 ft. I attacked two machines doing artillery observation firing at the rear one. They flew away East. I followed them to Vitry and again opened fire with no result. They came back to East of Monchy and I again attacked, finishing my drum into one.

At 11.45 North of Monchy, I attacked one of the above pair firing at him head on, he flew away East losing height and neither of them came back.

At 12.08 South of Lens at 11,000 ft. I dived on one hostile aircraft doing artillery observation and fired about 60 rounds finishing my last drum into him. He dived away East and landed about Sheet 36C, V 19, in a field.

(Signed) Capt. W. A. Bishop.

Even that wasn’t enough for one day and at 3 o’clock he was up again and handed in a second report for the same day which showed that he engaged four albatross scouts at a height of 11,000 feet. “I attacked four hostile aircraft from behind and above. I fired two bursts of 5 rounds each at the leader who had turned. I then fired ten rounds at the rear man with no apparent result. Seeing four more machines diving from above I zoomed up and found they were triplanes. The four hostile aircraft then disappeared."

Editor's Noteemdash;This is the second of a series of articles by Major Drew on the exploits of Canada’s war aces. The third, in which he will complete Colonel, Bishop’s story, will appear in an early issue.