Canada’s Fighting Airmen
ELEVEN : MACLAREN WINS THE D. S. O. Concluding the story of the one-time fur trader who destroyed forty-eight enemy planes in six months
MAJOR GEORGE A DREW
MACLAREN’S first serious encounter with the new Fokkers, whose arrival so noticeably revived the flagging spirits of the German airmen, came a few days after the final turning-point of the war, when the great British attack on August 8, 1918, with the Canadian Corps in the centre of the line, routed the Germans in front of Amiens. The situation was critical for the German army and none knew it better than those who saw the whole picture from the sky. The German squadrons realized that they must hold the British in the air if the men below were to have a chance of victory, and they fought with a fury born of desperation and fresh confidence in the superiority of their new machines.
MacLaren was leading a flight of seven machines between Albert and Bapaume when he sighted a German formation of some twenty machines in the distance. It was a dull morning and the enemy machines were almost hidden in the mist. The British artillery was putting over a heavy bombardment and the German airmen were obviously waiting for any slow-moving observation machine that might stray across the line.
MacLaren decided to surprise the enemy, so climbed into the clouds where he found a wide rift extending for a considerable distance in the direction of the enemy.
Presently he saw four of the new Fokkers come out of the mist and start to cross the clear space below them. Like a flash MacLaren dived at the leader, and got away about fifty rounds from his guns before he “zoomed” to avoid a collision. As he turned back he saw the enemy machine spinning toward the earth, followed by another which one of his companions had shot down.
This was his first contribution toward the success of the Allied drive, but there was no time for thinking about it, as five new German machines suddenly appeared out of the mist and attacked.
This time the enemy had the advantage and MacLaren, finding bullets ripping through his machine dangerously close, decided to lose himself in the clouds. As he emerged
on the other side, he was overjoyed to find the remainder of his flight, but his elation was short-lived, for just as he rejoined them, they were attacked by a very large formation, all flying the new Fokkers. The odds now were hopelessly uneven, and they dived for the British lines, having by then learned that nothing was to be gained by sacrificing -good pilots in such one-sided encounters.
TO MEET the new German tactics—previously only Richthofen had led large groups—the British began to fly in squadron formation, the three flights which comprised the squadron usually flying one above the other. This led to massed aerial battles with vast numbers of machines engaged, and each side devised new tactical methods for deceiving the enemy.
One bright morning a few days later the whole 46th Squadron took off together and headed beyond the German lines in the direction of Roye to see what they could find. They were flying at twelve thousand feet, but far above them and part of the same fighting scheme was a squadron of S.E.5’s following every move they made. After flying for some distance behind the enemy lines, and just as they were nearing the wreckage that had been Péronne, a large formation of Fokkers was seen heading toward them from the east. The Fokkers had climbed above the 46th and flew in perfect formation over them ready to dive for the attack, quite unaware of another British squadron far above. This was the trap which had been carefully planned, and as the Fokkers dived at the 46th, the squadron of S.E.ô’s came roaring down out of the clouds, pouring bullets from their guns among the surprised Germans. At the same time
MacLaren turned his squadron to meet the attack, and the Fokkers were caught between the two formations.
During the confusion which followed MacLaren found himself suddenly attacked by an enemy he had met before and one he was to meet again. This particular German flew an all black machine, whereas the rest of his squadron were white. MacLaren had met the same black machine alone in an indecisive combat some two months before and it was the first of the new Fokkers he had seen. Finding some tracers coming unpleasantly close he turned and saw the black machine again. He manoeuvred for position and attempted to finish their unsettled score, but his opponent was too quick, and after a short burst of fire MacLaren found himself unable to get the black machine within range.
Before the Germans escaped, five of their machines had been destroyed, one of them falling in flames under MacLaren’s guns. Returning to their aerodromes they found that the two British squadrons had not suffered a single casualty.
IN SPITE of the large formations the British still crossed the lines, at times in small groups or even alone, and a few days later MacLaren was on an offensive patrol behind the German lines accompanied by two other pilots of his squadron when they met four German machines. This was just the chance they were looking for and they immediately attacked. Three against four was a fair fight, but they had come to realize that three against thirty or forty was senseless. MacLaren led the attack and they quickly succeeded in getting the upper hand, forcing the enemy to dive in an effort to escape. During the fight which followed, the whole four German machines were destroyed, two of them by MacLaren and one by each of his companions, but only after they had fought all the way down to within a few feet of the ground far behind the German lines.
For this daring and successful attack, which brought his total of machines destroyed up to thirty-seven, he received his third decoration, the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was officially announced about six weeks later.
London Gazette No. 30913 Air Ministry,
21 September, 1918.
His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to confer the undermentioned reward on officers of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of gallantry in flying operations against the enemy:
Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross Lieut. (T./Capt.) Donald Roderick MacLaren, M.C.
Accompanied by two other pilots, this officer attacked four enemy airplanes; all of
these were destroyed; he himself fought two down to within 200 feet of the ground, destroying both. The two pilots who were with him each accounted for one of the remaining two. It was a well-conceived manoeuvre ably carried out, reflecting credit on all concerned. This officer has in four-and-a half months accounted for thirty-seven hostile aircraft and six balloons, displaying great resolution and exceptional tactical ability.
It will be seen from this brief announcement that MacLaren had not been confining his activities to airplanes. Following the successful raid on the long range gun at Brebière in March when he had destroyed the gun, two machines and a balloon during one flight, he had attacked the great “sausages” whenever he saw an opportunity arid had been successful in destroying five more of them during the succeeding months.
An Air Tragedy
NOT long after the fight for which MacLaren won the D.F.C., an incident happened which meant promotion for him, but was a great blow to the squadron. Their commanding officer made a practice of leading the new pilots over the lines on their first offensive patrols. MacLaren was with one of these flights, having two of the new pilots under him. His group separated from the main formation in the hope of attracting an enemy patrol. Presently eight Fokkers, seeing only the three machines, dived to attack and MacLaren in turn dived under the main formation led by the squadron commander. The Fokkers, however, saw the trap, and all except one drew away. This one machine was destroyed by one of the new pilots with MacLaren. While this was going on, one of the pilots with the main formation, probably excited by the proximity of the Fokkers for the first time, swung his machine sharply and rammed the squadron commander’s machine, both of them going to pieces in the air.
The death of comrades in the heat of battle was depressing enough, but such an apparently unnecessary loss of one whom they had all loved cast a temporary gloom over the squadron, which had its reaction in an even greater determination to come to grips with the enemy.
Upon , the death of his commanding officer MacLaren was appointed to command the squadron—only a few months before he had been one of the junior subalterns—and they were moved the next morning at dawn to a new aerodrome at Athies which had been built up by the Germans before their retreat. Then for the next week the weather was so bad that very few patrols were possible but the squadron was far from idle. As in the case of Bishop, Collishaw and Barker, we find MacLaren insisting upon the importance of shooting, and during the following week several ground targets were devised at which the pilots practised continuously. One of the Canadians with the squadron made an ingenious target for his own use. He built a large box kite to which he attached a sheet of cloth with a black cross painted on it. When there was sufficient breeze he flew this kite, and when it was up about a thousand feet he would take off in his machine and fire at the sheet of cloth hanging below the kite until he had exhausted his ammunition. Then on landing he would pull down the kite, examine the target and see the result of his shooting. Such practice as this in their spare time greatly developed the skill of his squadron and showed itself later, not only in fighting but in their deadly work against troops on the ground.
Late in August the 46th again resumed its full activity. The German army was staggering under the heavy Allied blows, and the airmen were instructed to attack troops on the ground whenever the opportunity presented itself. Each of the Sopwith Camels was fitted with a bomb rack carrying four twenty-pound Cooper bombs, which were extremely deadly against men and animals in the open, and these, added to the fire of their twin Vickers machine guns, made the fastflying scouts a serious menace to moving troops on the ground. One day at the end of the month MacLaren was instructed to attack German troops who were reported to be congesting the roads east of Le Cateau. Leading his squadron over the lines he soon found the enemy troops— thousands of them—moving in a solid mass along the road. Stringing his machines out in single file he led them along the road, barely clearing the tops of the trees, and as they passed over the moving troops they dropped their bombs. At the height they were flying it was impossible to miss their target and the bombs did appalling damage. Then as each machine dropped its last bomb it turned and swept the road with machine gun fire. Men and horses stampeded in every direction leaving dead and dying on the road amid the shattered wreckage of guns and transports, but the relentless pursuit continued until all their ammunition was expended, before the 46th turned for home. What they were doing other squadrons were doing then all along the line, and German prisoners freely admitted the terrifying effect of these sudden attacks against which the men on the ground seemed so helpless.
The Black Fokker Again
'T'HE day after this raid MacLaren L again met the black Fokker whom he had twice previously engaged in battle. He was leading his squadron over the lines opposite St. Quentin at sixteen thousand feet when he saw a large number of Fokkers slightly below him attacking a De Havilland two-seater. The Germans were circling about the single British machine, which was putting up a magnificent fight and apparently giving such a good account of itself that the enemy hesitated to come to close quarters. MacLaren immediately gave the signal to attack and they dived at the Fokkers with roaring guns. The first warning the Germans had of the arrival of the British scouts was the deadly stream of lead which preceded them. Instantly they attempted to climb out of the fight with their faster machines, but the Camels were on their tails. MacLaren singled out the leader of the German formation, and as he attacked from the side saw for the first time that it was the all-black machine again. This time, however, there was no escape. After a short exchange he zoomed above his enemy, turned and dived, and as the black Fokker filled his sights, opened fire and a stream of tracers raked the cockpit where the German pilot sat. Down went the enemy machine completely out of control, but MacLaren followed to make certain that it was not a trick. There was, however, no doubt this time, and his last vision of the black machine was as it crashed beside the Oise River, a mass of shapeless wreckage.
One of his companions had also been successful and after a short fight sent another of the Fokkers down in flames. By this time the remaining enemy machines were out of range and MacLaren reformed his squadron and led them home without a casualty.
On through September and October the relentless pressure on the German army was maintained, and the scouts were called on more and more to attack the moving troops. The sum total of their work is difficult to gauge, but there can be no doubt of the large part the air force played in disorganizing enemy movements by their nerve-shattering attacks, of which there was no warning and against which troops on the ground felt so completely helpless. In spite of the time devoted to this work, however, MacLaren continued his successful attacks on scouts, and by the middle of October his record of victories was only exceeded by two British pilots then at the front, and these were his fellow-Canadians, Collishaw and Barker.
A Last Encounter
T-TIS last fight came at the end ot October just about two weeks before the Armistice. It was a clear sunny afternoon and he led fifteen machines of his squadron over the lines near Le Nouvion on an offensive patrol, in three flights of five machines, with each flight flying separately and at different levels. As they crossed the lines eight Fokkers, which had been using the sun to hide their movements, dived at the formation with which MacLaren was flying. He immediately engaged the leader, and after a stiff fight in which both exchanged several bursts of fire at close range, succeeded in getting the upper hand and a short burst into the fuselage sent the German down in flames. At the same time one of his companions shot down another Fokker which was painted a brilliant yellow.
Just as MacLaren was about to follow the remaining machines down he saw a new formation of twenty Fokkers preparing to attack. As he only had four machines with him, the other two flights being far above, he was badly outnumbered; accordingly he led his formation westward toward his own lines, but as he did so some of the Fokkers attacked. As they closed in MacLaren did a stall turn, and instead of waiting for the attack, himself attacked the leading Fokker. His companions followed him, and in spite of the bullets which ripped through their planes succeeded in driving the enemy off. In the meantime the remaining Fokkers had dived to the attack, but as they did so the upper flights of the 46th Squadron dived at them in a dashing attack and sent one of the Germans down in flames. Suddenly the enemy leader decided they had had enough, and his whole formation dived away to the east, leaving the 46th free to return home unmolested. It was the last time MacLaren saw a German fighting machine. It was his last victory and his last fight, but it brought his total of confirmed victories up to forty-eight machines and six balloons.
The next day he had his first bad luck at the front. After living an apparently charmed life, and surviving hundreds of battles without receiving even a scratch, his leg was broken during a friendly wrestling match with one of the members of his squadron. This put him completely out of action, and it was a tough blow leaving his squadron just at a time when all their arduous training in shooting seemed to be bearing full fruit in those stirring, days of rapid movement, for nene of them, of course, then knew that the war would be over in a very few days. He arrived back in England on November 6th, and spent the period of celebration following the Armistice in the Royal Flying Corps Hospital in Lonodon.
For his conspicuous bravery and skill as a squadron leader during his last few weeks at the front he was awarded his fourth decoration, the Distinguished Service Order. The following official announcement appeared in the London Gazette:
London Gazette No. 31170 Air Ministry,
8th February, 1919.
His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to confer the
undermentioned Rewards on Officers and Other Ranks of the Royal Air Force in recognition of gallantry in flying operations against the enemy:
AWARDED THE DISTINGUISHED SERVICE ORDER
Lieut. (A. Capt.) Donald Roderick MacLaren, M.C., D.F.C.
Bold in attack and skilful in manoeuvre, Captain MacLaren is conspicuous for his success in aerial combats. On 24th September he and his patrol of three machines attacked a formation of six enemy scouts, although the latter were protected by sixteen other enemy aircraft at a higher altitude. Firing a burst at point-blank range, this officer shot down one in flames. In all he has accounted for forty-eight enemy machines, and six kite balloons.
(M.C. gazetted 22nd June, 1918; Bar to M.C. 16th September, 1918; D.F.C. gazetted 21st September, 1918.)
He also was awarded the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre by France.
A Canadian Trained Ace
TN MANY ways MacLaren’s record was L unique. He rose to sixth place among so many thousand British pilots in a little over six months fighting. He was trained in Canada. When Bishop, Collishaw, and Barker enlisted there were no Canadian flying schools, and MacLaren was by far the outstanding pilot of those who received their training in the Dominion; and by his record he proved that the training he received was equal to that of any school in the world.
In order to appreciate the full meaning of his official record of forty-eight airplanes and six balloons destroyed in so short a time a few comparisons will be useful. The greatest Italian pilot, Major Francisco Baracca, who fought almost from the beginning of the war, had thirtyfour victories to his credit when he was killed over the Piave on June 18, 1918. Major Brumouski, the leading Austrian, destroyed the same number. Perhaps the most interesting comparison is with the record of Captain Rickenbacker, the leading American, who was officially credited with twenty-one airplanes and four balloons—interesting, because he started fighting at almost exactly the same time as MacLaren. These figures show that this young Canadian may well be considered one of the really great airmen of the war.
WHEN he left hospital he was attached to the newly organized Royal Canadian Air Force, in which he played an important part immediately after the war. He was in command of the cadre which absorbed the great number of Canadian pilots in England, and while engaged in this work was largely responsible for obtaining a grant from the Air Ministry of 112 airplanes and twelve “blimps.” These airplanes were later sent to Canada, and were the beginning of the highly efficient and well-equipped air force which Canada has today.
Major MacLaren remained with the R.C.A.F. until 1920. He returned on leave to Canada in the autumn of 1919 with his brother, Roy, who had served with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in the Antisubmarine patrols along the English coast, and the whole family spent Christmas together at Kamloops for the first time since 1914. After Christmas he went on to Vancouver, and shortly afterward married Miss Verna Harrison from Calgary.
After the war he had had considerable experience in handling seaplanes at Felixstowe, and while in Canada on leave Continued from page 32 was instructed by the Canadian government to choose the site for the seaplane base for the Pacific Coast. The present station at Jericho Beach near Vancouver was the result of his choice.
He returned to England in February, 1920, but resigned his commission in the latter part of the same year, and in the spring of 1921, was back in Vancouver, where he organized one of the first successful commercial flying companies in Canada, the Pacific Airways Limited. It was a small company, but MacLaren’s enterprise and reliability won public confidence in himself and the old flying boat he operated, which expressed itself in sufficiently remunerative contracts to keep his concern going while most of the other commercial aviation enterprises, started immediately after the war, were forced to discontinue operations through lack of public interest. In spite of the age of his machine MacLaren never had even a minor accident, and he succeeded in getting contracts from the Dominion Government for fishery patrols and survey
work, today an important part of the operations of the Jj^jstern Canada Airs ways Limited, wb-iorabsorbed the Pacific ; Airways frf ' ° ' a few years ago.
Major ,-\)Fnald MacLaren, D.S.O., M.C. and bar, D.F.C., Chevalier of the , Legion of Honor, Croix de Guerre, ! conqueror of forty-eight German airi planes and six balloons, is at present , superintendent of the Western Division of Western Canada Airways Limited with i headquarters at Vancouver. He is the ; outstanding fighting pilot actively asso> ciated with aviation in Canada today, : and the same efficiency and enthusiasm
; which won him high honors in France are : now devoted whole-heartedly to the
i development on the Pacific Coast of a : great aviation enterprise which is entirely
i Editor’s Note—Major Drew will con; tinue his series in Canada’s Fighting [ Airmen with two articles describing the i exploits of Colonel Raymond Collishaw, i the first of which will appear in an early ' issue.