Aces high

Some of the most fa­mous fig­ures of World War I were lethal fighter pi­lots.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - INSIGHT - By TAN YI LIANG star2@thes­tar.com.my

THEY were li­on­ized as he­roes, por­trayed as knights of the sky for their feats and dar­ing. These pi­lots, who took down 20 op­po­nents or more in the skies above the trenches of con­ti­nen­tal Europe in their can­vas-and-wood steeds, have gone down in his­tory as the top fly­ing aces of World War I by virtue of their kill count, and there­fore the first aces in avi­a­tion his­tory. They have been ranked ac­cord­ing to their of­fi­cial tally.

1. Man­fred von Richthofen: This ace, more com­monly known as the Red Baron, earned his place in the his­tory books by shoot­ing down 80 en­emy pi­lots over a three year pe­riod, from Oc­to­ber 1915, when he took his first solo flight, to his death on April 21, 1918, pur­su­ing a pi­lot deep be­hind Bri­tish lines where he was ul­ti­mately shot down and killed.

In his ca­reer, Richthofen was made the com­man­der of a “Fly­ing Cir­cus” made up of Ger­many’s top pi­lots. This Fly­ing Cir­cus was de­vised to be highly mo­bile in re­spond­ing to the spots along the Western Front where they were most needed, prov­ing their worth in Au­gust and Septem­ber 1917 over Ypres, France.

2. Paul Rene Fonck: Fonck, the top Al­lied and French ace brought down 75 en­emy pi­lots in his World War I ca­reer, which spanned from ba­sic flight train­ing in 1915 to the end of the war. Fonck scored his first kill in Au­gust 1916, and con­sis­tently racked up kills through 1917 and 1918.

Fonck also sur­passed his French con­tem­po­rary, Ge­orges Gune­meyer, with his kill tally, was never as pop­u­lar as Gune­meyer due to his con-

repli­cas of a Bri­tish ‘Soph­with 1 1/2 Strut­ter’

bi­plane (above) and a Ger­man Fokker dr1 tri­plane

(left) re­play a dog­fight at a com­mem­o­ra­tive avi­a­tion fair in the Czech repub­lic ear­lier this

month. — ePa stant need to boast of his achieve­ments in the me­dia, leading to Fonck be­ing branded a brag­gart and shame­less self pro­moter by a friend and fel­low pi­lot, Mar­cel Haege­len.

Fonck sur­vived WWI and took up work as a demon­stra­tion and rac­ing pi­lot af­ter the end of hos­til­i­ties, be­fore work­ing as an in­spec­tor of fighter avi­a­tion in the French Air Force. He died in 1953.

3. Ed­ward “Mick” Man­nock: De­spite be­ing blind in his left eye, Man­nock rose to be­come Bri­tain’s top ace, scor­ing 73 kills by the time of his death on July 26, 1918.

Man­nock, who was 31 when he was killed by ground fire, won the Mil­i­tary Cross twice and the Distin­guished Ser­vice or­der three times for his feats; he was awarded a post­hu­mous Vic­to­ria Cross on the rec­om­men­da­tion of his peers.

Man­nock was known for his ha­tred of his Ger­man ad­ver­saries, com­ment­ing that he hoped Man­fred von Richthofen “burned the whole way down” upon learn­ing of the Red Baron’s death and ma­chine-gun­ning the crew of a downed Ger­man fighter to fin­ish them off.

4. Wil­liam Bishop: This Cana­dian ended World War I as the high­est scor­ing Bri­tish Em­pire ace, with a to­tal kill tally of 72 en­emy air­craft. He earned the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross for scor­ing 25 kills in 12 days, and a Vic­to­ria Cross for a one-man at­tack on the Ger­man air­field at Ar­ras, France – he earned the moniker “the Lone Hawk” for his pref­er­ence for solo mis­sions.

Bishop was ul­ti­mately with­drawn from ser­vice in June 1918 to pre­vent the risk of him be­ing shot down and killed – which would have caused a huge loss of morale, deemed the air­force. He wrote about that and his ex­pe­ri­ences in his mem­oirs, Winged War­fare.

Af­ter the end of the war, Bishop trav­elled the United States giv­ing lec­tures be­fore form­ing an air­line that went bank­rupt, and then be­com­ing a sales di­rec­tor for Fron­tenac Oil in Canada. Dur­ing WWII, the Royal Cana­dian Air Force made Bishop an hon­orary air mar­shal; his fame drew fresh re­cruits to the RCAF. Bishop died on Nov 9, 1956, in Florida.

5. Ernst Udet: Udet, who scored 62 kills dur­ing World War I, was the sec­ond-high­est scor­ing Ger­man pi­lot af­ter the Red Baron him­self. Udet made his first kill on March 18, 1916, and pro­ceeded to earn him­self a place in Richthofen’s “Fly­ing Cir­cus”.

Udet was ul­ti­mately forced out of ac­tive ser­vice in Septem­ber 1918 due to com­bat in­juries, end­ing a World War I ca­reer that saw him be­come one of the first pi­lots to use a para­chute to es­cape his air­craft.

Post-WWI, Udet worked as a stunt pi­lot be­fore work­ing with an­other ace, Her­mann Gor­ing, to rebuild the Ger­man air force for World War II. Udet was made a colonel in the Ger­man air­force, the Luft­waffe, in 1935 and rose to the rank of ma­jor-gen­eral when he was ap­pointed the Di­rec­tor Gen­eral of Equip­ment and then Head of the Of­fice of Air Ar­ma­ment in Fe­bru­ary 1939.

How­ever, a ri­val, Gen­eral Erhard Milch, blamed Udet’s of­fice for Ger­many’s fail­ure in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain, and when Gor­ing re­fused Udet’s re­quest to re­sign, the ace com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1941.

In­for­ma­tion sourced from first­world­war.com (tinyurl.com/ kgayu4y) and wwiavi­a­tion.com (tinyurl.com/kj63zmq). Pi­lot pho­tos in the pub­lic do­main.

Wild blue yon­der:

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