Canada's Fighting Airmen

Twenty enemy planes destroyed in six weeks! Thus did Bishop soar to eminence as an ace

MAJOR GEORGE A. DREW February 15 1929

Canada's Fighting Airmen

Twenty enemy planes destroyed in six weeks! Thus did Bishop soar to eminence as an ace

MAJOR GEORGE A. DREW February 15 1929

Canada's Fighting Airmen


Twenty enemy planes destroyed in six weeks! Thus did Bishop soar to eminence as an ace


THE nine fights recorded in Bishop’s remarkable combat report for April 30, 1917, took place in a little more than two hours in the air. They not only set up a new high record of activity for this extremely active pilot, but also furnished a wide variety of fighting. The report is worth examining again as it requires very little imagination to understand the vivid story which it tells.

At ten o’clock he was leading an offensive patrol over the lines south of Lens at a height of 10,000 feet when he saw an enemy machine below him.

Down he went after the enemy, firing fifteen rounds at close range with no apparent result.

The enemy dived eastward for home and safety. “No apparent result,” may mean much or little. Every bullet may have found its target, the pilot himself may have been wounded but still able to fly, the machine may have been seriously damaged, but still under control. No result of his firing was, however, apparent to Bishop.

Only ten minutes after this first fight he was north of Lens on his own side of the lines climbing up to two hostile aircraft at 11,000 feet. He opened fire on one of these from underneath as he climbed up to it, but after fifteen rounds his machine-gun jammed and he found he could not adjust it in the air, so was forced to return to his aerodrome some miles away. These were two very large machines which Bishop afterward identified as the first of the great Gothas which were later to become so well known in the daylight raids on London. He was naturally chagrined at the failure of his gun just when it

seemed that he had one of the largest of the enemy machines at his mercy.

Three to One

T_TE WAS soon up in the air again, and less than an hour later was back over the lines alone south of Lens attacking two-seated observation machines which were serving as eyes for the German artillery. He got ten rounds away at the leader, who then sought protection by diving under five Halberstadt scouts. Bishop then turned his attention to the scouts, firing twenty rounds as he dived at them, but without result. Having lost his advantage of height he flew away.

Only seven minutes later he again encountered the three artillery observation machines which had evidently decided that it was reasonably safe to proceed with the work of ranging their batteries. Bishop immediately attacked, firing twenty rounds into the second of the three machines. It went down in a spinning nose dive completely out of control. As soon as his victim went down, Bishop turned and attacked the third machine. Evidently its pilot had lost heart, as he dived away and Bishop followed, emptying the remainder of the drum of bullets on his gun into him. The third machine also disappeared, so that in a few minutes’ fighting the particular batteries which these machines were serving had lost their eyes, and some target behind the British lines was for the time being relieved from enemy shell fire.

The record of these fights in Bishop’s reports sounds so uneventful that it is well to remember that a fight with three enemy planes, each of which mounted two machine-guns, was a very formidable undertaking because each of these German machines had an observer

with a gun which he could fire in any direction and to which he was able to devote his whole attention while the pilot manoeuvred for position. True, Bishop had the advantage of speed, but with bullets pouring at him from six guns, many of which passed through the wings and body of his machine, the odds were far from being wholly in his favor. A single chance shot among the hundreds of smoking bullets that were streaming past him and he would have been the victim instead of the victor.

Having disposed of the artillery observers Bishop flew south to Monchy where ten minutes later he found the same five Halberstadt scouts, which he had already engaged, about to attack some B. E.’s which were observing for the British guns. He was higher than the German machines and had the advantage of position. He dived at them, opening fire when very close, then zoomed up with the speed he had gained in his descent and dived again. This he repeated three times, when the German scouts found it too hot for them and turned for home, leaving the slow moving B. E.’s to continue their work for the artillery.

These last two fights which had taken place in the brief space of ten minutes vividly demonstrate the rôle of the fighting scouts and the tremendous importance of their work to the troops far below. In the fight near Lens he had driven the German observers from the sky, thus protecting the particular British targets upon which they had undertaken to range their batteries, while in the fight at Monchy, ten minutes later, he had

engaged enemy scouts which contemplated the same treatment for the B.E.’s. Bishop’s single-handed success in driving off the Halberstadts made it possible for the old Blériot Experimentáis to carry on with the ranging of the British guns.

Eleven Enemies in an Hour

TN THOSE busy days in the spring of 1917, a scout cruising over the lines at ninety miles an hour rushed from one stirring incident to the next in less time than it takes to tell it, particularly if he sought battle as Bishop did. Only five minutes after he had driven off the five Halberstadts he attacked two two-seated machines observing for the artillery at a height of 5,000 feet east of Wancourt. They flew to the rear and he followed them as far as Vitry, more than five miles behind the German lines where he again fired at them. They were persistent, however, and flew back toward the lines again, and this time he finished the remainder of his second drum of ammunition into one of them without apparent result.

After putting a fresh drum on his machine-gun he again attacked, and this time singling out one of the enemy he flew at him head-on, both of them firing as they approached. This proved too much for the Germans, who dived out of the fight and did not come back.

About twenty minutes later he had climbed to 11,000 feet when he discovered another artillery observation machine below him south of Lens. He got above it and then dived vertically, opening fire at close range. The German dived steeply to the east and Bishop followed, firing in all some sixty rounds which finished his last drum. During this time the observer in the German machine was, of course, returning the fire. This machine was forced to land in a field not far behind the German lines.

In one hour from 11.08 to 12.08 Bishop had singlehanded engaged eleven different enemy planes, five of which were fighting scouts. The fact that in that length of time he had forced six enemy two-seaters to discontinue their artillery observation, had destroyed one machine, thus killing two of the enemy, and forced another to land, at the same time making it possible for the British observers at Monchy to continue their flight by driving off the threatened attack of the five Halberstadts, gives some estimate of his immense value as an individual fighting unit in the British army.

Nor was his fighting over for the day. After lunch at his aerodrome, he and his squadron commander, Major Scott, went over the lines together at three o’clock. Before long they encountered four Albatrosses at a height of 11,000 feet. Bishop climbed above them and then dived at the leader, firing short bursts of five rounds each. The fight continued, with Bishop and the Major firing as they saw their chance, but with no apparent result. Seeing four more machines diving from above, Bishop “zoomed” up out of the fight to see whether they were friend or enemy and found they were triplanes of one of the British naval squadrons which had just come to that part of the front. The four Albatrosses evidently decided the odds were too much against them and disappeared.

These German machines were painted a brilliant red which indicated that they belonged to Richthofen’s squadron of skilled pilots. Bishop believed that

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Richthofen himself was the leader whom he had engaged and there is reason to believe that he was correct, as Richthofen at this time frequently flew with three others of his squadron, his brother Lothar, Schaeffer and Wolff. In any event it is almost certain that these two must have come together at some time during that month of April when both of them were fighting many times a day nearly every day on the same part of the front.

The Foe Dons Color

'“PHE coloring of the German aeroplanes L was an interesting development of 1917. Early in the spring the German fighting machines began to appear in startling hues. Richthofen had adopted red as his distinctive color which was the source of the names by which he became popularly known. On the British side he was commonly called “The Red Devil,” while to the world at large he has since become known as “The Red Knight.” Others quickly followed his lead without any apparent limitation on the expression of individual taste.

Doubtless the coloring of the wings and bodies of the aeroplanes was in the first place simply part of the effort to camouflage the machines, but these experiments met with comparatively little success and it is likely that the later efforts, when every color of the rainbow flashed across the sky, had less to do with camouflage than with that light-hearted braggadocio which characterized the airmen of both sides. After all the colors of the rainbow had been employed, fantastic combinations gave considerable scope to individual ingenuity and the Teuton pilots pursued their errands of death on gaudy wings whose vivid tints outshone the brightest of their feathered friends of the air. Pink planes with green noses; black planes with yellow bodies; blue bodies and orange wings; silver planes with gold noses; there was no end to the possibilities of this spring fancy of the German airmen.

The British did not follow the Germans in the painting of their machines, although many of the pilots wanted to do it, and for once the Teuton mind had an opportunity to display a lighter side in the war. In spite of the many variations of coloring, Richthofen’s squadron generally used red machines with smaller distinctive markings. At first only Richthofen himself used an all red machine, but eventually all of his squadron employed the same color. Richthofen’s idea had originally been to make his own machine easily distinguishable from his comrades, but early in the spring it was decided that this placed too great a risk upon one whose inspiring successes did so much to maintain the morale of the German air

fighters, and thereafter it became impossible to single him out with absolute certainty.

Bishop Gets the D.S.O.

APRIL had been a month of intense AY fighting for both Bishop and Richthofen. On May 1, Richthofen left the front for a six weeks holiday with the then unheard of total of fifty-two machines to his credit. Bishop on the other hand began an even more active period of fighting. May 1 was comparatively uneventful but May 2 was a day of almost continuous fighting during which he won his second decoration. He turned in three combat reports that day and they tell a thrilling story.








No. 60

N. S.B. 1566 One Lewis Gun Capt. W.A. Bishop,





O. P. (Offensive Patrol) S. of Henin-Lietard


1 Single-seater 1 Two-seater 1 Two-seater


At 9.50 at 13,000 N.E. of Monchy, while returning from photographic escort I attacked 1 single-seater H.A. (Hostile Aircraft), and fired two bursts of five rounds each. I was unable to catch him and evidently did not hit him.

Later I saw five H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) about 6,000 doing Art. Obs. (Artillery Observation). I manoeuvred to catch one party of three when just W. of the Queant-Drocourt line, as that was the nearest they were coming to our lines. attacked the rear one and after one burst of fifteen rounds he fell out of control and crashed near V 1 or 2 just E. of Queant-Drocourt line. While watching him another two-seater came up under me and opened fire. I attacked him firing about forty rounds. He fell out of control and I followed about 1,500 ft. finishing my drum. He was in a spinning nose dive and my shots could be seen entering all around the pilot’s and observer’s seats. Three more H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) being above me I returned.

(Signed) Capt. W. A. Bishop.

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(1) At 12.15 E. of Lens 8,000 ft.

I attacked two H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) doing Art. Obs. (Artillery Observations) firing twenty rounds into one. They then escaped. Watching five minutes later I saw only one H.A. there, the other evidently having been forced to land.

(2) At 12.35 E. of Monchy at 6,000 ft.

I attacked 2 H.A. (Hostile Aircraft)

doing Art. Obs. (Artillery Observations), but only succeeded in driving them away.

(3) At 12.40 over Monchy at 9,000 ft.

I attacked from underneath a two-

seater returning from our lines. I fired a whole drum into him but there was no apparent result.

(4) At 1.05 over Peloes at 6,000 ft.

I attacked the same two H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) as in (2) and fired a drum from long range. No apparent result. I returned to Aerodrome as I had no more ammunition.

(Signed) W. A. Bishop.



(1) At 3.45 S. of Vitry at 11,000 ft.

While leading the O.P. (Offensive

Patrol) I attacked two H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) firing into the rear one. He turned and I fired sixty rounds at him. He dived on me while I was correcting a stoppage. I then turned and finished my drum at him. I opened fire again from underneath firing twenty rounds, but he flew away and I was unable to overtake him.

(2) At 4.30 Wancourt.

I attacked one H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) from above, firing seventy rounds at him. He turned on me while I was changing my drum and I fired a whole drum with the exception of about five to ten rounds at him.

(3) At 5.00 o’clock I fired the remainder from long range at six H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) attacking one of our machines.

(Signed) Capt. W. A. Bishop.

Two Decorations in Six Weeks

THE second fight recorded in the first of these three reports earned for him the Distinguished Service Order. The following brief official citation covering this award appeared in the London Gazette on June 18, 1917.

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the appointment of the undermentioned officers to be Companions of the Distinguished Service Order in recognition of their gallantry and devotion to duty in the Field:

Captain William Avery Bishop, Canadian Cavalry and R.F.C.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. While in a single-seater he attacked three hostile machines, two of which he brought down, although in the meantime he was himself attacked by four other hostile machines. His courage and determination have set a fine example to others.”

His first fight had been on March 25, Thus in less than six weeks of fighting he had won both the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty,” had been promoted to the rank of Captain, and had destroyed many German aeroplanes and balloons.

The report of the fight on May 2, for which he was decorated, contains a naive statement which once more emphasizes the fact that Bishop was always the pursuer. “I manoeuvred to catch one party of three when just west of the Queant-Drocourt line, as that was the nearest they were coming to our lines.” Bishop was not boasting. It was a simple statement of the fact that no matter how far back the enemy observers chose to do their work, that was where they must be attacked.

One Day’s Fighting: Bishop vs. Twenty-three Others

'"PHESE three reports are worth examinL ing closely to appreciate what this twenty-three-year-old Canadian, whose courage and determination had “set a fine example to others,” was really doing. They disclose that in that one day he had engaged twenty-three different German aircraft, had completely destroyed two two-seaters and thus killed four of the enemy, had fired seven drums of machine-gun ammunition, and must have had several thousand rounds fired at him.

Two days later he brought down his next victim. The story loses none of its dramatic effect in the brief statement contained in his report. After the word “Duty” appear the two letters H.A. The duty of Captain Bishop and Lieutenant Fry who accompanied him was to engage Hostile Aircraft. This they did.

SQUADRON: No. 60 TYPE and No. of AEROPLANE: N.S. B.1566 and B.1597 ARMAMENT: Lewis Guns PILOT: Capt. W. A. Bishop, M.C., Lieut. W. M. Fry. OBSERVER: None LOCALITY: Brebieres DATE: 4-5-17 TIME: 1.30 DUTY: H.A. HEIGHT: 5,500 REMARKS ON HOSTILE MACHINE TYPE, ARMAMENT, SPEED, ETC.

Two two-seaters


With Lieut. Fry following me I dived at two two-seaters. I fired twenty rounds at one and turned off. Lieut. Fry diving on and firing. I dived again as he stopped firing and fired about forty rounds, in the course of which the observer stopped firing. The machine did two turns of a spin and then nose dived to earth where we saw him crash. I fired a short burst at long range at the second one which flew away and did not return.

(Signed) Capt. W. A. Bishop.

The Passing of Ball

THE observers on the ground saw something with their glasses which Bishop and Fry did not see, and a footnote was added to Bishop’s report by the ground observers that during the fight five enemy scouts “were 1,500 feet above Capt. Bishop and Lieut. Fry, but during

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all this time they did not come down.” From Bishop’s reports and official citations it is quite certain that had the situation been reversed Bishop and Fry would have been streaking down to attack the five Germans.

His next victory came on May 7 after three more days of heavy fighting, when he brought down one of the fast Albatross scouts in flames.



1 Albatross Scout


I dived from the sun at one H.A. (Hostile Aircraft) going N. and with the speed from my dive, I overtook him flying underneath. I pulled my gun down and ouened fire from fifteen yards range firing twenty rounds. All of which

entered his fuselage. He fell in a spin and smoke was coming from the machine.

(Signed) Capt. W. A. Bishop.

May 7 had been favorable to Bishop, but it was a blue day for the 60th Squadron and the whole Royal Flying Corps. Late in the afternoon Captain Albert Ball, the leading British pilot at that time was killed during a fight with Richthofen’s squadron. The older Richthofen was away on .leave and his younger brother, Lothar, was in charge. During a general fight both Ball and Richthofen went down. Ball was killed but Richthofen, though badly injured, recovered. Although it is extremely doubtful if anyone knew whose bullets hit Ball, Lothar von Richthofen was given credit for this victory.

Ball’s death was a severe blow to the Royal Flying Corps and to Britain. He had more than fifty victories to his credit, was universally popular, had been idolized in England, was an inspiring figure to the younger pilots, including Bishop, and still stands out as one of the greatest airmen of the war. Having been in the same squadron Bishop undoubtedly had at least indirectly learned much of his flying skill from Ball and there was a marked similarity in their aerial tactics.

Ball had always preferred to fly alone and his favorite method of attack was to dive from above and behind, and then, with the added speed of his dive, zoom up under his enemy, pouring bullets into

the vital parts of the machine at close range. This was the exact nature of Bishop’s successful attack on May 7. Ball, like Bishop who followed him, had always spent a great part of his spare time practising with his machine-gun at the ground targets. He set a fine example to his squadron, and Bishop was one of those who had benefited by that example and had been stirred to ever greater efforts by the record of his success. Bishop, like Richthofen, had the inspiration of serving in the same squadron with the greatest airman of his own flying Corps, and Ball, like Boelcke, left in his squadron at the time of his death a pupil whose record would in time surpass his own.

A few days after Ball’s death Bishop left for two weeks’ leave in England, having destroyed more than twenty machines in a little over six weeks’ fighting. His airmanship, shooting and fighting tactics were steadily improving and his reports indicate that he had also begun to avoid taking unnecessary risks where nothing was to be gained. He returned from leave with fresh vigor and a fixed ambition to become the leading British pilot.

Editor’s Note: This is the third of a series of articles by Major Drew on Canadian aces of the Great War. Major Drew will conclude the story of Bishop in the fourth of the series, which will follow in an early issue.