World War I
Excerpts from the Handbook for Air Force Non-Commissioned MembersThe Heritage
The Book of Remembrance in the Memorial Chamber of the House of Parliament in Ottawa records the names of the 1,563 airmen who gave their lives during World War I. Over 800 decorations were awarded to Canadian airmen, including three Victoria Crosses (VCs). The VC was instituted by Queen Victoria during her reign in the 1800s, and was the British Empire's highest award for bravery.
The Battle Front
Canadians flew on every type of operation and on every front of the war. They distinguished themselves as fighter, bomber, and flying-boat pilots, army co-operation crews, and balloon observers. They flew over the Western Approaches, the English Channel, the North Sea, and the Western Front in Belgium and France. Other areas of involvement included the Italian Front, the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, Macedonia and Thrace, the Aegean Sea and the Dardanelles, Egypt, Palestine and Mesopotamia, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and German East Africa. The achievements of Canadians during the World War I are part of the rich tradition of the Air Force.
Major WA Bishop VC, DSO, MC, DFC
It was as fighter pilots that Canadian airmen won their greatest fame. Of the 27 leading "aces" in the RAF, all credited with 30 or more victories, ten were Canadians who between them had accounted for 438 enemy Aircraft. Heading the list was Major W.A. "Billy" Bishop, VC, Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Bar, Military Cross (MC), Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC), whose total of 72 victories was unequalled in the British air service.
After seeing some action as an observer, Bishop became a pilot, and in March 1917, joined No. 60 Squadron at the front. March 25, 1917, he shot down his first enemy Aircraft. Five months later, at the end of August, Bishop was credited with 47 air victories. In the spring of 1918, while commanding No. 85 Squadron in France, he won 25 further victories in a period of 12 days. Bishop received the VC - the first awarded to a Canadian airman, for his exploits on June 2, 1917.
Flying alone, miles behind the enemy lines, Bishop circled over a German aerodrome and attacked the Aircraft as they took off to engage him. He crashed three and drove down another enemy Aircraft before returning to base with his Nieuport Scout badly damaged by ground fire.
Major R Collishaw DSO, DSC, DFC
Second in Canadian air victories to "Billy" Bishop was a naval pilot, Major Raymond Collishaw, DSO, Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), DFC, with a total of 60 enemy Aircraft. Flying with RNAS fighter squadrons that were attached to the RFC on the Western Front, Collishaw ran up a record of 29 enemy Aircraft destroyed in less than two months, including seven shot down in flames in one period of six days.
Major WG Barker VC, DSO, MC
Major W. G. Barker distinguished himself as an observer and pilot on the Western Front, twice winning the MC. In Italy he added many more victories to his record and had the distinction of commanding a squadron of two-seater fighters.
Following his numerous decorations, Barker was transferred to England in the fall of 1918, to become an instructor. He requested to be attached temporarily to a fighter squadron on the Western Front to gain experience in the latest developments of air combat. On his last day of duty Maj Barker fought a combat mission which has become legendary in the history of air warfare. High above the lines he attacked and shot down one enemy machine, but was himself set upon by other formations of Fokkers, numbering in all about 60. Repeatedly wounded in the arms and legs, Barker fought them off and destroyed several of his opponents before crash landing in Allied lines. His heroic combat against such heavy odds won for Barker the VC as the culmination of a brilliant career.
Captain AR Brown DSC
Among the Canadian "aces", mention should be made of Capt A. R. Brown, DSC, who, in April 1918, was credited with shooting down the leading German airman Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen, known as the "Red Baron." The "Baron" had won 80 victories in air combat.
2Lt AA McLeod VC
The third Canadian airman to win the VC was 19 year old 2Lt A.A.McLeod from Stonewall, Manitoba. He joined his squadron in France a few months before the German spring offensive of 1918. Within a short time he demonstrated his courage and skill, handling his big two-seater Aircraft as if it were a fighter.
March 1918, when the enemy smashed through the British Front, McLeod's squadron, like many others, sought to stem the advance by shooting up troops and batteries and by bombing ground targets. On one such mission McLeod and his observer had their Aircraft shot into flames by eight Fokker triplanes. Despite the flames they fought on. When the heat became too intense, McLeod climbed out on the wing and piloted his machine from there, side-slipping it to a crashlanding in No-Man's-Land. Then, in spite of his five wounds, he carried his helpless observer to safety, receiving yet another wound while doing so.
Other outstanding fighter pilots:
Maj D.R. MacLaren, DSO, MC, DFC (48 Aircraft and six balloons)
Maj W.G. Barker, VC, DSO, MC (50 Aircraft)
Capt W.G. Claxton, DSO, DFC (37 Aircraft and two balloons)
Capt F.R. McCall, DSO, MC, DFC (37 Aircraft)
Capt F.G. Quigley, DSO, MC (34 Aircraft)
Maj A.D. Carter, DSO (31 Aircraft)
Capt J.L.M. White, DFC (31 Aircraft)
Maj A.E. McKeever, DSO, MC (30 Aircraft).
The somewhat glamorous aspect of air fighting in World War I tended to overshadow other phases of air operations which were, in the overall picture, at least equally important. The work of the army co-operation squadrons, which ranged and targeted artillery fire in the battle area, was seldom spectacular, but it was of vital importance for the success of ground operations.