The Canadian author of this book, William Bishop, volunteered for imperial service as a cavalryman as the Great War called its colonial men to the colours. A brief encounter with aircraft—the cavalry of the clouds—and a prolonged encounter with mud persuaded him that his war should instead be fought in the skies with the RFC. Bishop flew first as an observer and eventually, on winning his double wings, as the pilot of a 'scout'—the famous early fighter aircraft of the pioneering 'dogfight days' of aerial combat. Most of us know that the lives of pilots over the Western Front were perilously short, but Bishop had found his vocation and he began destroying enemy aircraft with a ruthless efficiency. His final total of 47 kills established him as a notable allied 'ace' and earned him a succession of decorations including the Victoria Cross. Remarkably, through a combination of skill and good luck, he survived his combat experiences to be the author of this excellent first-hand account, written while the war still raged, of the First World War in the air from a pilots perspective. Readers can be assured that this exciting book is everything one could hope for, with vital descriptions of duels with the 'Red Baron' and his Flying Circus together with many other riveting experiences. Available in paperback and hardcover with dustjacket.
The clouds had been hanging low as usual, but after we had gotten well in advance of our old lines and into what had so recently been Hunland, the weather suddenly cleared. So we began to climb to more comfortable altitudes and finally reached about 9,000 feet. We flew about for a long while without seeing anything, and then from the corner of my eye I spied what I believed to be three enemy machines. They were some distance to the east of us and evidently were on patrol duty to prevent any of our pilots or observers getting too near the rapidly changing German positions. The three strange machines approached us, but our leader continued to fly straight ahead without altering his course in the slightest degree. Soon there was no longer any doubt as to the identity of the three aircraft—they were Huns, with the big, distinguishing black iron crosses on their planes. They evidently were trying to surprise us and we allowed them to approach, trying all the time to appear as if we had not seen them.<br>
Like nearly all other pilots who come face to face with a Hun in the air for the first time, I could hardly realise that these were real, live, hostile machines. I was fascinated by them and wanted to circle about and have a good look at them. The German Albatross machines are perfect beauties to look upon. Their swept-back planes give them more of a bird-like appearance than any other machines flying on the western front. Their splendid, graceful lines lend to them an effect of power and flying ability far beyond what they really possess. After your first few experiences with enemy machines at fairly close quarters you have very little trouble distinguishing them in the future. You learn to sense their presence, and to know their nationality long before you can make out the crosses on the planes.<br>
Finally the three enemy machines got behind us, and we slowed down so they would overtake us all the sooner. When they had approached to about 400 yards, we opened out our engines and turned. One of the other pilots, as well as myself, had never been in a fight before, and we were naturally slower to act than the other two. My first real impression of the engagement was that one of the enemy machines dived down, then suddenly came up again and began to shoot at one of our people from the rear.<br>
I had a quick impulse and followed it. I flew straight at the attacking machine from a position where he could not see me and opened fire. My “tracer” bullets—bullets that show a spark and a thin little trail of smoke as they speed through the air—began at once to hit the enemy machine A moment later the Hun turned over on his back and seemed to fall out of control. This was just at the time that the Germans were doing some of their famous falling stunts. Their machines seemed to be built to stand extraordinary strains in that respect. They would go spinning down from great heights and just when you thought they were sure to crash, they would suddenly come under control, flatten out into correct flying position, and streak for the rear of their lines with every ounce of horse power imprisoned in their engines.<br>
When my man fell from his upside down position into a spinning nose dive, I dived after him. Down he went for a full thousand feet and then regained control. I had forgotten caution and everything else in my wild and overwhelming desire to destroy this thing that for the time being represented all of Germany to me. I could not have been more than forty yards behind the Hun when he flattened out and again I opened fire. It made my heart leap to see my smoking bullets hitting the machine just where the closely hooded pilot was sitting. Again the Hun went into a dive and shot away from me vertically toward the earth.<br>
Suspecting another ruse, and still unmindful of what might be happening to my companions in their set-to with the other Huns, I went into a wild dive after my particular opponent with my engine full on. With a machine capable of doing 110 to 120 miles an hour on the level, I must have attained 180 to 200 miles in that wrathful plunge. Meteor-like as was my descent, however, the Hun seemed to be falling faster still and got farther and farther away from me. When I was still about 1,500 feet up, he crashed into the ground below me. For a long time I heard pilots speaking of “crashing” enemy machines, but I never fully appreciated the full significance of “crashed” until now. There is no other word for it.