Tag Archives: Billy Bishop

2 June 1917 – Billy Bishop VC?

Today saw the raid after which Billy Bishop from 60 Squadron RFC was awarded the Victoria Cross flying a Nieuport 23 (B1566). At the time the RFC communique reported it thus:

“Captain W A Bishop, 60 Squadron, when 17 miles over the lines, saw seven machines, some of which had their engines running, on an aerodrome. He waited and then engaged the first one that left the ground from a height of 60 feet and the HA crashed. Another left the ground and Capt Bishop, who was hovering around immediately dived at it and after 30 rounds had been fired the HA crashed into a tree. Just after that two more left the ground at the same time, so Capt Bishop climbed to 1,000 feet and then engaged one of them and it fell and crashed within 300 yards of the aerodrome. The fourth was driven down after a whole drum had been fired into it. After this exploit Capt Bishop returned safely, but with his aeroplane considerably shot about by machine gun fire from the ground.”

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Billy Bishop with his Nieuport Scout B1566

Writing some years later the Official History reported the raid in a very similar way. :

“An example of what surprise and daring could achieve had been afforded by a low-flying feat of Captain W. A. Bishop of No. 60 Squadron, south of the main battle area, on the 2nd of June. This officer had been flying alone in a Nieuport Scout, in search of German aircraft, when he saw seven aeroplanes lined up on an aerodrome near Cambrai. He flew low over them and opened fire with his machineguns. One of the German aeroplanes left the ground, but was attacked by Captain Bishop from a height of sixty feet, and, after fifteen rounds had been fired, the enemy crashed. A second aeroplane took off and was in turn attacked until it fell into a tree. By this time two others had got into the air and Captain Bishop climbed to engage them. He caught up with them at about 1,000 feet and, after emptying part of a drum of ammunition into one, had the satisfaction of seeing it fall to the ground near the aerodrome. He fired his last drum into the fourth German aeroplane and then flew home: his aeroplane had been shot about by machine-gun fire from the ground.”

More recently there has been some scepticism about some of Billy Bishop’s claims, especially about some of these “stunts”. In 1982, the Canadian National Film Board released the pseudo-drama, “The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss,” a meld of fact and fiction that suggested portions of Bishop’s combat career were fabricated including this raid. It was suggested further that he landed behind Allied lines on the return trip and shot up his own aircraft to simulate battle damage.

Various authors have come forward over the years to support or refute the claim and since many of the German records have been destroyed it may not be possible to know for certain. One area which seems to cause much debate is the identification of the airfield which was attacked as Bishop did not state specifically which one. Lieutenant-Colonel David Bashow’s 2002 article in the Canadian Military Journal discusses some of these topics (though Bashow is a known Bishop supporter). Also see the recent Aerodrome thread on this. The Aerodrome forum in fact has many threads devoted to this and ity is probably one of their most discussed topics.

What is clear however, is that both the communique and the Official History make this seem like a random act of Bravery when this was clearly not the case. Bishop wrote to his fiancé on 31 May 1917:

“I have a great plan in mind, a real hair raising stunt which I am going to do one of these days. It should help to another decoration. It will be done long before you get this.”

Also as Bashow admits he sought and received permission from his commanding officer for the mission and requests for volunteers to accompany him went unheeded.

No doubt the debate will continue.

20 April 1917 – Minor losses

The weather improved enough for some flying and various RFC units took the chance to carry out photographic work. Two aircraft were hit by anti aircraft fire and did not return, the crews were taken prisoner. These were:

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George Alexander Newenham

2nd Lieutenant Alfred Ernest Crisp and 2nd Lieutenant George Alexander Newenham from 43 Squadron in Sopwith Strutter A1098.

Sergeant John Dangerfield and 2nd Class Air Mechanic E D Harvey from 16 Squadron in BE2c 2553.

We are more aware of the circumstances of Crisp and Newenham as officers captured were required to submit a report to the War Office to ensure their capture was legitimate. Enlisted men were not.

Lieutenant Billy Bishop from 60 Squadron also claimed to have shot down a German two-seater in flames near Biache-Saint-Vaast but the Germans conceded no losses and the combat was not seen by anyone else.

16 April 1917 – 60 Squadron destroyed again

If the last few weeks have seemed pretty grim for 60 Squadron RFC then today was even worse. After the mauling of A flight on 7 April and B Flight on 14 April today it was C flight’s turn.

Better weather returned today and reconnaissance aircraft were sent out from 11 Squadron RFC to photograph the Drocourt-Queant line to assist preparations for British actions to support he French offensive which opened today.

Strong precautions were taken to deal with enemy opposition to the mission. In addition to a close_ escort of four Nieuport single-seaters, offensive formations from 48 Squadron RFC, 60 Squadron RFC, and 1 (Naval) Squadron were ordered to patrol the area while the photographs were being procured.

The Bristol Fighters of 48 Squadron and the Sopwith Triplanes of 1 (Naval) Squadron flew for twenty-five minutes over the German aerodrome at Douai, but they were not challenged and their patrol as well as the photographic reconnaissance passed off without incident.

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Trevor Langwill

C Flight from 60 Squadron were not so lucky. Regular Flight Commander Lieutenant Billy Bishop was absent and so the six strong offensive formation from 60 Squadron was led by A Flight’s commander Captain Geoffrey Arthur Henzell Pidcock. The other pilots were 2nd Lieutenant Richard Eveson Kimbell (Nieuport 23 A6769), 2nd Lieutenant David Norman Robertson (Nieuport 23 B1501), 2nd Lieutenant Trevor Langwill (Nieuport 23 B1507), Lieutenant John Maccreary Elliott (Nieuport 23 B1509) and 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Hastings Leckie.

They were attacked by a flight from Jasta 11 when they went to the assistance of a BE2. Kimbell, Robertson, Langwill and Elliot were all shot down and killed. The first three were claimed by Leutnant Kurt Wolff, Oberleutnant Lothar von Richthofen and Vitzfeldwebel Sebastian Festner. Pidcock and Leckie escaped and Pidcock claimed to have shot down two enemy aircraft – though no losses were noted by the Germans.

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Geoffrey Arthur Henzell Pidcock

The fate of Elliot is unknown though it is likely that his aircraft shed its wings while diving. 60 Squadron were at a distinct technological disadvantage despite being equipped with single seat Nieuport fighters. The Nieuports suffer from inherent weaknesses in the lower wing, reducing manoeuvrability and risking break up. There was also a bad batch of Nieuport 23s doing the rounds at this time.Not only that but they do not even have synchronising gear, most being equipped with overwing Lewis guns which are harder to aim and have to be reloaded frequently. All the new German fighters have twin synchronised guns.

The other factor is the fact that the patrol was very inexperienced. All four pilots lost were new to the Squadron and therefore new to the Nieuports as there were none at the training schools in England. Pidcock had also only been appointed a flight commander on 14 April (though he had been with the Squadrons since August 1916).

7 April 1917 – 60 Squadron takes another beating

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George Orme Smart

Two flights of 60 Squadron were on patrol over Wacourt, some 4km over the German lines, when they were jumped by a five strong patrol from Jasta 11 led by Manfred Von Richthofen.

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Charles Sidney Hall

During the fight, 2nd Lieutenant George Orme Smart was shot down in his Nieuport 17 (A6645) – his aircraft was later found burnt out between the lines. Lieutenant Charles Sidney Hall in Nieuport 23 A6766 was also shot down in flames and killed. Their colleague 2nd Lieutenant Hamilton E Hervey was badly shot up in his Nieuport 17 (B1517) but managed to get back over the lines.

Richthofen, Kurt Wolff and Karl-Emil Shaeffer all made claims. The traditional record is that Smart was shot down by Richthofen but this seems to be a case of pulling rank by Richthofen and it is more likely he attacked Hervey as their records of the encounter are similar. This would leave Schaeffer as the victor over Smart. Kurt Wolff accounted for Hall.

Also shot down, but taken prisoner, was Captain Maurice Baxendale Knowles in Nieuport 17 A6773. He was attacked by Leutnant Wilhelm Frankl from Jasta 4.

Lieutenant Billy Bishop claimed to have shot down an Albatros Scout and a balloon destroyed, but there was no evidence to substantiate his claims. Lieutenant Alan Binnie also had a go at a balloon but it failed to set it alight.IMG_0919.PNG

9 January 1916 – Near miss

Poor weather continues to hinder flying on the Western Front. Similar weather conditions prevailed in England where 21 Squadron RFC were preparing for the front. A short break in the clouds enabled some to get up for some practice time in their new RE7s.

However the weather soon turned, leaving them in a vulnerable spot. Observer Billy Bishop described his flight:

“A dense mist closed in and we ran for home, only being able to see about
200 yards in front of us. Suddenly another machine appeared, heading straight for us. Oh Lord, I was scared; I thought we were gone. But he dived and we zoomed, and we missed [each other] by a few feet. I’m shaking yet.”

24 November 1915 – An artistic limp

Billy Bishop, one of the new observers has been in training since joining 21 (Training) Squadron at Netheravon for elementary air training on 1 September. He arrived in England from Canada in July and had quickly transferred to the RFC as an observer – as there were no places for pilots.

He went to the gunnery school at Dover on 2 October and then returned to Netheravon for further training.

Today he had his first crash. He went up with a new pilot Captain Wadham to carry out a ranging exercise, but crashed on landing and wrote off the machine.

He wrote of the incident:

“While landing we had a real ,live crash and “did in” the machine. Both of us got off very lightly. I got my foot bruised a bit and now have an artistic limp, of which I am very proud. The pilot was also very lucky and got off with a few bruises.”