The nature of warfare changed completely on August 26, 1914 when Lieut. It was on that glorious day Hubert Dunsterville Harvey-Kelly became the first pilot to down an aircraft in aerial combat. Lieut. Harvey-Kelly had spotted a German Taube below him , he dove on the lone craft armed only with a pistol. The art of aerial combat was born , along with came birth to the Ace, a premiere calliber of pilot who stood above the rest. Two of history’s most regonized aces from the first world war, are Manfred von Richthofen of Germany and Billy Bishop of Canada.
Two very distinguished pilots and debated to be the worlds best but on April 30th 1917. To of the world best square up for one of the most famous dogfights of the great war. But as with every story there is series of events leading up to the main famous event. Both also have life telling tales that are noteworthy before and after there major fight. Would both crash on there first flights both underdogs each witht thter own tactics wnr monevours One major character for Germany in the great war was Manfred von Richthofen. He was celebrated by Germans as der rote Kampfflieger, the Red-Battle Flyer.
The Allies thought of him as the ‘ace of aces. ‘ The French called him ‘le petit rouge, known to the English-speaking world as the Red Baron. Manfred von Richthofen was born 1892 in Breslau, Germany which today is Wroclaw, Poland. He graduated from the Royal military academy, he became a cavalry officer in the 1st Regiment. After the war broke out, he saw action as a very briefly as a Calvary officer. The new machine gun and trench warfare tactics made cavalry obsolete. But he still wanted to fight for his country ,So Richthofen transferred to the German Army Air Service.
He made his first solo flight after only 24 hours of training but crashed the two-seater Albatros on landing. He received his first official kill on Sept. 17 1916 To celebrate this achievement, the pilot purchased a silver cup engraved with the date and type of plane he shot down . He did this for his first 60 kills. He loved the battle and many historians surmise von Richthofen conquored fear believing he was invulnerable. “I am a hunter,” von Richthofen once wrote. “My brother, Lothar, is a butcher. When I have shot down an Englishman, my hunting passion is satisfied for a quarter of an hour.
With his 16th confirmed kill in January, 1917, Richthofen was given the Blue Max award and his own command. The Jasta 11 fighter squadron, which became known as the “Flying Circus,” in it were some of the best pilots in the German air force. Richthofen then painted his Albatros aircraft red. Which started his new nickname as the red baron with his distinctive red aircraft. On April 29, 1917, he shot down 4 planes in a single day. During the “Bloody April” air battles, the Red Baron had 21 victories in the month of April. Richthofen was having some impressive numbers, but he was not necessarily going around as the only champion in the air.
The top ace for the Allies was French aviator Rene Fonck other aces included Germany’s Ernest Udet and Britain’s James McCudden In the top 10 aces who fought in the war 3 of them were Canadians. Fourth from the top was perhaps Canada’s greatest fighter pilot, William Avery “Billy” Bishop, from Owen Sound, Ontario. He was sent to Royal Military College in Kingston at 17 years old but he did not impress his instructors. They almost expelled him from RMC but the favoured Bishop to stay in due to the fact the needed men as war broke out. Bishop headed for England with the 7th Canadian Mounted Rifles.
After being hospitalized, he decided to become a fighter pilot for the allies. The only job he could get in the air was as an air observer. He flew several months as an in-flight observer until November, 1916 when he began learning how to fly. He initially flew on coastal defence patrols until he was transferred to 60th Squadron, the top fighter unit in the RAF, which immediately flew to Filescamp Farm near Arras. It was here that he crashed on his first mission and was almost grounded by his commander. He got his first victory on March 24, 1917. 2 weeks later, he received the tittle as an ace with his fifth kill.
Bishop developed a new tactic of fighting which was getting a high altitude and using cloud cover before diving in on his enemy, catching them unready and having the advantage of seeing them but them not seeing you. Once in a dogfight, he would dive in close, firing one or two wellaimed rounds before escaping to circle around and go on the attack again. It proved effective, as he claimed 12 German planes in the “Bloody April” campaign alone. This is what displayed his prestige as a fighter ace. The event was inevitable that Bishop would run into the Red Baron.
Two of the best fighter pilots of there time were about to have a little encounter and it is there only documented dogfight. On the afternoon of April 30, 1917, two of the best fighter pilots of all time were about to have a showdown like no other in the war. Billy Bishop and his commander seen 4 enemy scouts and engaged them. He quickly identified them as four red aircraft. Manfred von Richthofen was piloting one of the aircarft. This was the first time that Bishop has seen The Red Baron and the Red Baron seen him and it will be the last time they see each other in combat. 2 of the world’s greatest fighter pilots were facing each other.
It was the fight the propaganda world had been waiting for. Bishop described the encounter in a newspaper account for war propaganda: “In my turn I opened fire on the Baron, and in another half minute found myself in the midst of what seemed to be a stampede of bloodthirsty animals. Everywhere I turned smoking bullets were jumping at me; and although I got in two or three good bursts at the Baron’s ,red devil like tail I was rather bewildered for two or three minutes, as I could not see what was happening to the major, and was not at all certain as to what was going to happen to me.
Around we went in cyclonic circles for several minutes, here a flash of the German machines, then a flash of silver as my squadron commander would whizz by. All the time I would be in the same mix-up myself, every now and then finding a red machine in front of me, and letting in a round or two of quick shots. It was a lightning fight, and I have never been in anything just like it. ” During the account the Red Baron twisted and banked with to not give Bishop a clear target.
At the same time Bishop’s machine gun jammed when he couldent get a clear shot as Bishop was all about accuracy and persicion he managed to hit a few rounds into Richthofen’s fuselage. When a British naval squadron, the Red Baron and his escorts headed back towards German lines for safety. Bishop later remarked that it was a “close shave, but a wonderful, soul-stirring flight. ” Two months later, Billy Bishop achieved his greatest military accomplishment which he is famous for. On June 2, 1917, he flew a solo mission behind enemy lines where he attacked a German air base near Cambrai.
He engaged and downed three aircraft taking off to attack him, while he destroyed even more on the ground. For his successful dawn attack, Bishop was awarded the first Victoria Cross. Meanwhile, the Red Baron’s continued his fight in the air . But Richthofen had no sense of his own mortality, the high Command began to worry about the aces many close calls and what his death from an allied pilot would mean as a propaganda tool against them. They pleaded that Richthofen should retire. The Baron would hear none of it. Then, he was shot down. Though he landed safely, the ace had been wounded by a bullet which grazed his head.
After this accident, the command dispatched Richthofen on a speaking tour as a propaganda tool, however, the Baron would eventually return to the skies as the war became desperate for Germany. That September 1917, he scored his 60th victory in the sky. Richthofen had the mindset that he was going to win and survive any conflict. He had fought with the best of the best and came out alive each time. His dominance of the skies over France would come to an end, but not at the hands of a allied Ace such as Billy Bishop, but from another Canadian anti aircraft gun.
Two of the best pilots in the first world war and among the top of the best ever to fly , Billy Bishop of Canada with his unique fighting style and expert marksmenship and Manfred von Richthofen of Germany with his dominance over the sky and his ignorant attitude. Both thought they were the king of the skies, each with amazing back story’s and an amazing turn of events that led up to them becoming aces. Eventually the two men were going to meet in battle it was the fight the propaganda world was begging for. So they got it the “close shave” between Billy Bishop and the Red Baron.