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Today in History

Billy Bishop VC. Lone Wolf Hunter: The RAF Ace Re-examined
by Peter Kilduff
Hardcover: 192 pages
Publisher: Grub Street Publishing (October 19, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 190980813X
ISBN-13: 978-1909808133
Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 7 x 0.9 inches

   Veteran Forumites will recall that almost from the start of Scott's website in the late 1990s, Billy Bishop has been thoroughly "cussed and dis-cussed." Much of the controversy attending his reputation concerns not only his questionable Victoria Cross action in June 1917, but how few of his victory claims are substantiated by German records.
   Enter Peter Kilduff, one of the elder statesmen of Great War aviation history and arguably its leading biographer. Among his 15 previous books are studies of Manfred von Richthofen, Hermann Goring, Rudolf Berthold, and Carl Degelow.
   Kilduff's study of the leading British Empire fighter ace is marked by a willingness to examine the subject broadly and objectively. His bibliography and footnotes cover twenty pages, replete with passages from Bishop's correspondence and published works; other biographies; and especially official British and German documents.
   However, "Bish" began his wartime service as a cavalryman before becoming an aerial observer and proceeding to pilot training. The author provides a detailed account of that phase of the nascent ace's time in France in 1915-16.
   While Kilduff clearly admires his subject, the author maintains a proper historical approach, noting both Bishop's strengths and weaknesses. Clearly Bishop was driven to succeed, constantly measuring himself against his rivals (other British aces plus French and German heroes), and equally clearly coveting the highest decorations available. Bishop's revelations to his fiancee' and wife paint himself as an intensely ambitious young man, age 23 and 24 at the height of his combat career.
   Kilduff thoroughly examines Bishop's victory claims by meticulously sorting through British and German records. Of the ace's 72 credited victories, 10 are positively identified, 11 possibly match German losses, and the balance have no equivalent records or enemy documents are incomplete. The airfield that Bishop reputedly attacked on June 2, 1917, remains unidentified, and the three planes he claimed shot down cannot be verified. Nonetheless, he received the only VC ever awarded in violation of the requirement for witnesses to the action. That fact remains a permanent blot of Bishop's credibility.
   Yet, as Kilduff, demonstrates, Bishop was a tireless, aggressive combatant. He consistently outflew everyone in both of his fighter squadrons—No. 60 as a flight leader and No. 85 as commanding officer.
   Peter Kilduff has done a superb job in slicing through the fog and controversy of nearly a century to produce a readable, objective account of Billy Bishop—the lone hunter.
   Five stars.

   Review by Barrett Tillman

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