Honourable senators, never in my wildest imagination would I have visualized a scenario like we are having today when, several years ago, I began my research on all the Canadians who flew in World War I. Over those years I met many pilots and observers, some of whom actually flew with Billy Bishop in World War I.
Getting right to the heart of the matter, during Bishop's tenure with 60 Squadron in 1917 there were only eight other Canadians who flew with him at one time or another. Most of those fellows, greenhorns, lasted two or three weeks. Of the eight who flew with him in France, four returned to Canada. Of those four, two returned to Canada minus some limbs.
I might say that age has not been kind to the men who flew with Billy Bishop nor was it kind to Billy Bishop. He died a comparatively young man.
Jack Rutherford, a Canadian from Montreal flew with Bishop longer than anyone else. He passed away in 1959 in Montreal. I recall vividly Jack Rutherford's son saying, when I was visiting him three years after his father had passed on, that his father's prized possession was a book written in 1921 by Jack Scott, Bishop's former CO of 60 Squadron.
As you get into the history you see that Jack Scott found, soon after Bishop arrived in the Squadron, that Bishop was somebody who had the goods. Of course, this is one of the things that you read now about these innuendos and whisperings that began in the squadron about Bishop, because he did, indeed, show the right stuff probably at the right time.
I have spoken with five veterans who flew with Bishop. One of them, J.B. Crompton, flew with Bishop in 60 Squadron. That was about six weeks after Bishop had finished his aerodrome raid. Crompton was born in Montreal; when I visited him in Toronto in 1968 he could not say enough about Bishop. When he was first posted to the squadron he was posted to another flight commanded by a chap named Molesworth, an English fellow, who was a devotee of Bishop; but then, so was the other third flight commander. Each Squadron has three flight commanders. The third flight commander was a New Zealander by the name of Grid Caldwell and he could not say enough about Bishop. Crompton was then posted to Bishop's flight and he said that right away Bishop almost hugged him as another member of the flight. He said very few flight commanders did that, whether they were Canadian or not, when they were welcoming a new greenhorn into the flight.
On his third patrol across the lines they ran into some enemy machines. Crompton said he never saw a flight commander - Bishop obviously had fantastic eyesight - spot something so quickly that no one else had seen - not even his deputy flight commander; but Bishop went down on this machine and shot it down and returned to the flight. Crompton said he never felt so comfortable as being posted to a flight with such a capable flight commander.
Bishop has been maligned as not being a good flight commander. No, he was not. He was trying to emulate Albert Ball, the first recognized English ace. Later, when I get into some actual historical criticisms of the transcript, you will find that the author of this, whatever is is, said that the generals had to create aces to keep the war going. That was not true in the British Military.
The first mention of English aces was not until June 1918. Very little was written about them in the papers, the reason being that the senior service - the navy - did not want all the publicity going to this new upstart, the Royal Flying Corps.
The Governments of France and Germany did create aces very early - in late 1915 and 1916. The English remained mum throughout the entire war about the exploits of their flyers, with the exception of Albert Ball.
There has also been criticism that a lot of Bishop's claims were not witnessed. No, they were not witnessed because Bishop, like Ball, was given a roving commission in the Royal Flying Corps. This was very rare and only given to the most outstanding pilots, Ball being the first one, Bishop being the second, and a former defence man with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Art Duncan, whom I also knew very well, being given the third roving commission. A few others also had commissions of that type. They could take off and do whatever they wanted to do.
Bishop was such an outstanding pilot that he survived when he went after the enemy, where most pilots played a safe game. Jack Scott, Bishop's CO, was one of the most highly praised men in the Royal Flying Corps. His credentials are beyond criticism. He came from a fairly well to do family, was a practising lawyer before he joined the Royal Flying Corps and attended Sandhurst and some of the finest riding schools in England before he joined the Flying Corps. He was a respected flight commander in an earlier squadron. He was wounded in both legs but managed to crawl into his aircraft and come back. He was given command of 60 Squadron, the one we are talking about which Bishop eventually joined in March 1917.
Jack Scott made that squadron into a first class fighting outfit. It was stationed in a very vulnerable position on the Western Front in March 1917. It faced the very best German pilots, who were flying much superior aircraft. It is difficult to realize that Bishop could survive that holocaust.
In March 1917 the German Air Force was at its zenith in the First,World War. It was really downhill from then on, with the exception of April 1917 which, in aeronautical history, is known as "Bloody April". More Royal Flying Corps machines were destroyed then than in any other period during the First World War. Interestingly, it is the only period of the Great War when the German airmen flew over our side of the lines. Ninety-nine percent of the aerial righting took place over enemy lines.
The Germans had high altitude reconnaissance machines that came over around noon hour, because of the weather conditions, to take photographs. They attained such great heights, however, that we could not really catch them. They flew at altitudes of 17,000 to 23,000 feet. They had supercharged Maybach engines and oxygen, a fact that is probably not well known.
Bishop was fighting the cream of the German air force, which was comprised of the Jagdstaffel XI, which stands for "Hunting Squadron." To the east of the Filescamp Farm, where the actual 60 Squadron aerodrome was, about 25 miles due east beyond Arras on what is known as the Douai Plain, a very flat area, the cream of the German fighter squadrons were located within a 35 mile radius. The Jasta XI, led by Baron von Richthofen, was the main thorn in the side of the allies. The Baron, alone, accounted for six or seven machines from 60 Squadron. In recounting this to honourable senators, I am simply setting the scene in which Bishop was required to fight when he first joined the squadron. On his second operational patrol on March 25, 1917 he had a decisive combat. The next day he was given command of a flight. He had only been over the lines twice and he was given command of a flight - that was unheard of. The reason he was given that command was that such bad casualties were suffered and the flight was depleted. There was no one to lead it. However, a seasoned pilot from another flight could have been given command. In all the years of research I have done, I could not find a comparable situation. Naturally, in the first flight that he had over the lines on March 27, two days later, he ran into trouble. No matter how much natural ability he had, he still went for a decoy. The Germans were great for using low flying two-seaters while, lurking in the clouds above, would be four or five Albatros fighters.
Speaking of the German fighting machines, they were far superior to the lightly built Nieuport Scouts that Bishop and the rest of his pilots were flying in 60 Squadron. The German machine had twin machine guns which fired 500 to 600 rounds of ammunition. Those machine guns were synchronized to fire right through the propeller. It was a modern adaptation. The Allied machine, on the other hand, had a strange little Lewis gun mounted on the upper wing. On that Lewis gun was a drum of ammunition which fired 97 rounds. When those 97 rounds were fired, the pilot had to pull the gun into the quadrant and try to change the drum of ammunition. The planes only carried three drums of ammunition so that, at most, we could fire 220 rounds. Trying to change those drums in the slipstream during combat was an art mastered by very few pilots. Honourable senators can imagine trying to keep out of the way of the German fighters while changing the drum on that gun. These drums were not reclaimed or recycled; as they became empty, they were thrown overboard.
The Allied pilots had problems in even hitting a German machine with a gun mounted above the wing, which was an unnatural position, although it was synchronized to fire 75 yards or so before the bullets lost their trajectory and splayed away. When one considers the difference in armament and considers also that the German machines could take terrible punishment when they crashed, one can see the odds that the Allied pilots were up against. The German machines had a solid plywood fuselage. When they went down out of control and crashed, the pilot, because he was cradled in that fuselage, was protected and could walk away, even though the machine might have been destroyed. On the other hand, the Allied machine was built of canvas and wood. Those machines would take no punishment whatsoever.
The Nieuport Scout which Bishop flew was purported to have crashed four times in his first fights during training. That, however, is no intimation that he was a bad flyer. When he arrived in the squadron, he was given an old hack-a sodden old hack that had been around. As a matter of fact, when he first went over the lines with the machine on March 17, 1917, he was flying an aircraft that had been in the squadron since Boxing Day, 1916. It was a real handicap to him, yet he managed to accomplish what he did.
The CO did not play favourites with Bishop. Joe Warne, the historian of 60 Squadron, said that anyone who crashed four machines when he first arrived in the squadron should have been sent back. He wondered why Bishop wasn't sent back. I could point out to him a litany of similar situations. Raymond Collishaw, the noted Canadian flyer, had the devil of a time learning to land. He should have been washed out after two months, but the instructors could see something in him so they allowed him to crash these machines and they were written off. Joe Warne maintains that Bishop crashed four machines, but actually he burst a tire, destroyed a prop and broke a longeron - that is not crashing four machines. In the official history that this 60 Squadron historian has written, he has maligned Bishop.
After Bishop got rid of his initial nerves-and obviously that is what it was-he picked up an aircraft on April 17, 1917--B-1556, the most famous Nieuport Scout ever flown. That lightly built Nieuport had lots of drawbacks. The wings shed because of the type of construction. So you could not dive it too steeply or you might pull the wings off. Bishop flew the same Nieuport from April 20 until July 24, 1917, and that aircraft required only one stop in the shop. It was re rigged only once; and any. one who tries to tell me that Bishop could not fly or was a poor flyer-well, I am sorry, but the records speak for themselves: he was a very good flyer.
Bishop had this plan in his mind Apparently a month or so before, according to some historians, Albert Ball had suggested to Bishop that they raid a German aerodrome, something that had never been done before-2 lone raid on a German aerodrome. Ball never lived to execute that plan. He was killed on the same front early in May. Everybody in Bishop's squadron knew that he wanted to attempt this flight. Bill Fry says in his book that Bishop came to him the night before and said that he was going to do it, and Fry said that that was fine. Bishop arose early that morning at about 3 o'clock-and Fry was Bishop's deputy leader-and asked if Fry was coming. Fry turned over and went back to sleep. In a situation like that you are separating the men and Fry did not want to have anything to do with it. Probably most of the other pilots did not want to have anything to do with it either. So Bishop took off at 3.50 in the morning.
It was very misty, although it turned nice later on. However the mist was enough to cause him to lose his bearings Slightly as he flew south-east over Cambrai approximately 17 miles, There were three German aerodromes there. The one furthest east was called Estourmel. At that aerodrome was stationed Jagdsta V, an outfit so renowned that it was their job to look after half the Cambrai front, which is quite a sizeable territory.
At Estourmel there were permanent wooden hangers, like the old driving sheds that existed in Canada behind the houses built in the 1800s. There was no activity at that aerodrome, Again Bishop had lost -his direction. He had never flown over that particular section of the front. The reason he had flown over that section was that the air activity on his own front-on the Lens front in the Arras area near Vimy Ridge where Canadians made such a name for themselves-had been con. siderably reduced in May 1917. It had been reduced because the German concentration of air power was then directed to Flanders, where the battle of Ypres was about to commence. All the German outfits, including Jagdsta XI and Jagdsta IV were going north. So, to create some interest and look for some German machines, Bishop flew south over the Cambrai front,
After flying over Estourmel, he flew south, almost south west, and curving back came to a place called Esnes. In a Field nearby he found canvas hangers and six German Albatros IIIs and one LVG two seater on the ground. That is where he shot the squadron up. He dove down to 200 feet, 100 feet and 50 feet. The first German machine to take off was hit and it crashed. The pilot was not hurt but the crash destroyed the machine. Another aircraft took off at 100 feet and spun in, Once again, the pilot would probably not have been hurt. The three machines went in low and the third one crashed into a group of trees at the end of the aerodrome.
People have often said, that Bishop raided Estourmel, and somewhere along the line Arthur Bishop was misled when he said that his father raided the Estourmel aerodrome. He did not. Even the records and the intelligence reports, copies of which I have with me, indicate that it was either Aisne or a place called Awoignt, but Awoignt is too far east so it is out. People have said that they could not find any records of the German Jagdsta V Squardron being at Esnes. Fortunately, I have been in touch with some very good historians both in Germany and in the United States. What records we have were gleaned from the Reich archives between 1934 and 1936. After that Goering said nobody could write to the Reich archives.
The Jagdsta V records are spotty, but we do know where they were located at specific times. What transpired was this, and it is 99.9 per cent true. There was a Jagdsta XX operating from a place called Guise down in the Somme, about as far south as the British troops were located, and the call came from Flanders that they needed reinforcements for the impending allied advance. Jagdsta XX was notified that they had a week to fly north directly across the path of Esnes, up into Flanders to a place called Middelburg where they were to operate. They had their last combat on the Somme front on the 24th of May, 1917. A day later, they commenced to move by kette; in other words, in groups of three, four, five, six or seven. In this case, the weather closed in on the 28th and there was little flying. On the 29th, the weather was bad. Probably the first group of five machines got away on the lst of June or perhaps the 31st of May. On the night of May 31, the weather was good.
The last group of German machines, seven albatros and one LVG two-seater, left on the lst of June. They flew as far as Esnes for refuelling and landed on what was almost an emergency landing ground. They figured there would not be any Allied aircraft there because there were only three or four Allied squadrons opposite the Cambrai front at that particular period, so they thought they were safe. The machines were left in the open and when Bishop came along, he saw the seven and it is documented right down. As a matter of fact, I have the names of the German pilots who flew with Jasta XX at that time.
This was, then, the particular outfit involved. If you want specific names of German pilots shot down by Bishop, I can supply them, and that is very rare. Even when you go through the combat reports of Mannock and McCudden, you can only come up with about 10 per cent of the victories being confirmed by names. I have about 22.
The brass really had no doubt about Bishop. Right up to General Allenby, who was commander of the Third British Army, which was the unit that 60 Squadron was attached to, they took his statement at full value. They implicitly trusted him and they implicitly trusted Jack Scott. It was one of the rare occasions during the First World War where a VC was given without actual confirmation. You must bear in mind that that German unit, Jagdsta XX was in transit, and German aviation units are usually attached to one army or another. This unit was transferring from the Second German Army to the Fourth German Army, and that is the period when they were unattached, so they would not have kept any records, other than the Jasta XX War Diary, which was lost during the Allied bombing in 1944.
As a matter of fact, Jagdsta XX were not, because of the loss of machines to Bishop's raids, active until July 18, 1917. By the time some of those pilots had been shot down, they had to make their way north on crowded German trains because the trains were jam-packed with troops from the southern front going to the north.
I have a confidential letter Joe Warne wrote to me. This is a critique on his 60 Squadron article and never mentions Billy Bishop, but he does say this:-which leads me to the Bishop film by NFB Canada. I enjoy that film more each time I see it, in practice! Initially I tried to count the historical/factual/chronological errors but gave up! I have numerous 60 Squadron connections in Canada from whom I get the press cuttings, particularly Ontario, obviously! (I should mention that I did my pilot training at Centralia 1951-2).He mentions that certain people discussed with him their criticism of the film, but that is the attitude of a so-called historian and a very biased individual.