Major Lanoe Hawker, Commanding Officer of 24 Squadron, with a score of seven victories, is dead. Hawker left Bertangles Aerodrome at 1300 hours as part of ‘A’ Flight, led by Captain J. O. Andrews and including Lt (later AVM) R.H.M.S Saundby. The flight attacked two German aircraft over Achiet. Spotting a larger flight of German aircraft above, Andrews was about to break off the attack, but spotted Hawker diving to attack. Andrews and Saundby followed him to back him up. Andrews drove off one of the Germans attacking Hawker, then his engine was hit and he was forced out of the fight. Losing contact with the other DH2’s Hawker ended up in a one-on-one with Manfred von Richthofen. They then spent 30 minutes attempting to outmanoeuvre each other. Hawker’s DH2 (5964), whilst outgunned by Richthofen’s Albatross, was very agile. Eventually Hawker’s engine began to give out and he made a run for the lines. At this point the superior speed of the Albatross told and Richthofen was able to follow Hawker down. A burst of fire hit Hawker in the head and he was killed instantly.
To compound the bad news for 24 Squadron, 2nd Lieutenant Henry Berners Begg was shot down and killed earlier in the day in DH2 A2554.
The loss is severe for the RFC as Hawker had been instrumental in ensuring the survival of the RFC during the grim autumn of 1915. He had also inspired confidence in the much maligned DH2 by demonstrating how to get it out of a spin.
Richthofen wrote of the combat:
“I was extremely proud when, one fine day, I was informed that the airman whom I had brought down on the twenty- third of November, 1916, was the English Immelmann.
In view of the character of our fight it was clear to me that I had been tackling a flying champion. One day I was blithely flying to give chase when I noticed three Englishmen who also had apparently gone a-hunting. I noticed that they were ogling me and as I felt much inclination to have a fight I did not want to disappoint them.
I was flying at a lower altitude. Consequently I had to wait until one of my English friends tried to drop on me. After a short while one of the three came sailing along and attempted to tackle me in the rear. After firing five shots he had to stop for I had swerved in a sharp curve.
The Englishman tried to catch me up in the rear while I tried to get behind him. So we circled round and round like madmen after one another at an altitude of about 10,000 feet.
First we circled twenty times to the left, and then thirty times to the right. Each tried to get behind and above the other. Soon I discovered that I was not meeting a beginner. He had not the slightest intention of breaking off the fight. He was traveling in a machine which turned beautifully. However, my own was better at rising than his, and I succeeded at last in getting above and beyond my English waltzing partner.
When we had got down to about 6,000 feet without having achieved anything in particular, my opponent ought to have discovered that it was time for him to take his leave. The wind was favorable to me for it drove us more and more towards the German position. At last we were above Bapaume, about half a mile behind the German front. The impertinent fellow was full of cheek and when we had got down to about 3,000 feet he merrily waved to me as if he would say, “Well, how do you do?”
The circles which we made around one another were so narrow that their diameter was probably no more than 250 or 300 feet. I had time to take a good look at my opponent. I looked down into his carriage and could see every movement of his head. If he had not had his cap on I would have noticed what kind of a face he was making.
My Englishmen was a good sportsman, but by and by the thing became a little too hot for him. He had to decide whether he would land on German ground or whether he would fly back to the English lines. Of course he tried the latter, after having endeavored in vain to escape me by loopings and such like tricks. At that time his first bullets were flying around me, for hitherto neither of us had been able to do any shooting.
When he had come down to about three hundred feet he tried to escape by flying in a zig-zag course during which, as is well known, it is difficult for an observer to shoot. That was my most favorable moment. I followed him at an altitude of from two hundred and fifty feet to one hundred and fifty feet, firing all the time. The Englishman could not help falling. But the jamming of my gun nearly robbed me of my success.
My opponent fell, shot through the head, one hundred and fifty feet behind our line. His machine gun was dug out of the ground and it ornaments the entrance of my dwelling.”