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Old 5 August 2008, 05:19 AM   #1
Pete Hill
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Sorting Myth from Fact- The Aces.

Hi everyone,

Okay, when I was younger and maybe a bit more impressionable I read (devoured!) books such as Alan Clarke's 'Aces High', Quentin Reynolds' "They Fought for the Sky" & Lou Cameron's "Iron Men with Wooden Wings".
From these books, then regarded as standard classics of the history and understanding of the Great War in the Air, I came away with, what I thought, with treasured knowledge of the exploits of the great Aces.
Since that time, with the depressing marching of time, many things that I took to be Gospel about that war have been either challenged or totally debunked outright.
For example:-
# The Great American ace Frank Luke, after crash-landing on his final sortie, did not lose his life in an heroic shoot-out with a batch of German infantry. It now seems the poor man was already mortally injured when his SPAD crashed and if he did fire his side-arm, it was to probably to attract the attention of anyone who could come to his aid.

# Werner Voss did not single-handedly take on seven SE5s in his Fokker Tripe on his final tragic-glorious mission. It now appears he had at least 2 helpers, namely a pair of Pfalz (even if they weren't much help in the end).

So, I now am asking you, fellow Forum-members, most of whom have much more knowledge on this subject than I do, are any the following actually TRUE?:-

# Did French ace Rene Fonck actually locate and shoot down Leutnant Wisseman who was credited with the bringing down of Georges Guynemer in September 1917?

# Did RFC ace Albert Ball perish because he became dis-orientated in dense cloud and fly upside-down into the ground, or did he meet his end when he flew too close past a church steeple which contained a German machine-gun nest? Is either true?

# Did RFC ace Mick Mannock actually attack a German training aerodrome and shoot down 5 un-armed pupils in one sortie?

# Did RFC ace William Barker actually single-handedly take on 50-60 enemy Fokkers in October 1918 and did he bring down 4 of them like he claimed?

# Did Canadian ace Billy Bishop really achieve all the exploits that he wrote of in 'Winged Victor' ?

# Did Max Immelmann perish when his Eindecker's Interruptor-Gear failed?

# Did early RFC ace Lanoe Hawker achieve his first victories with precision shots from a rifle?

I welcome any comments. Cheers, Pete
"Rrrh Ew Reddy Fore Sum Fut-Baoull!?"

The train stopped with a jerk. The jerk got out.

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Old 5 August 2008, 05:44 PM   #2
R Gannon
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Stirring the Pot


You'll start WW3, but I'm gaim - will get back on a few of these.

Cheers Russ
Our hearts so stout has got us fame
For soon 'tis known from where we came
Where'er we go they fear the name
Of Garryowen in glory.
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Old 5 August 2008, 07:01 PM   #3
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Immelmann disintegrated in mid air - probably when his propellor was shot - either by malfunctioning interupptor gear or return fire from the FE2b with which he was engaged.

In the end his aircraft ended up as so much scrap when it made contact with mother earth. It would have been tough to tell exactly what caused it to fall apart.
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Old 6 August 2008, 12:08 AM   #4
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Hello Pete,

I am not sure if it is helpful to "force" so many different "cases" in one thread - the upcoming discussion could be chaotic and not very helpful.

As well some of the topics were already discussed "to death" in earlier threads. For example it makes no sense to re-hash Foncks wrong victory claim concerning Leutnant Wissemann. This claim was sheer nonsense.

However, some of the other questions are probably unsolvable with the current knowledge. Now, 90+ years after the war even well-researched cases are providing room for different opinions because modern forensic medicine was not existing in this time, witnesses are dead and many contemporary documents are lost. The result will be the exchange of more or less well-founded opinions about the different cases. And that is not enough to cope with myth.

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Last edited by rammjaeger; 6 August 2008 at 05:02 AM. Reason: sp
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Old 6 August 2008, 12:19 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by rammjaeger View Post
...I am not sure if it is helpful to "force" so many different "cases" in one thread - the upcoming discussion could be chaotic and not very helpful...
good advice from hannes.
your best bet is to get familiar with the "search" function and navigate the "archives" which contain a wealth of discussion by the "old foxes" on this forum.

of course we do occasionally re-fight old battles in "real" time as well. if you can hang on until next april 21, then we will have a fresh round of speculation as to whether von richthofen was a cold-blooded killer, or merely depressed (or a depressed cold-blooded killer) while getting shot from the ground -- or was it from the air?
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Old 6 August 2008, 12:47 AM   #6
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Good advice from Rammjaeger and Crankcase! All I will add is that
you can find the current "most likely scenarios" in Norman Franks'
WHO DOWNED THE ACES IN WWI (1996, Grub Street; ISBN 0760707782).
Franks says 56 Squadron pilots (either Hoidge or Bowman) accounted
for Wissemann--definitely not Fonck! Regarding Ball, Franks gives an account favoring Ball's becoming disoriented after flying into a cloud
whilst pursuing an Albatros: Franks offers eyewitness testimony from
four German officers who witnessed Ball's exit (inverted) from the cloud
and subsequent crash. That old story about the machine gun in the
clock tower is vintage Arch Whitehouse; it made a good television
script back in the 1960s, anyway!
regards josquin
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Old 6 August 2008, 08:49 PM   #7
R Gannon
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Current Knowledge


I fervently feel it is important to force the issues so we can dispel the many myths that still dominate the WW 1 air - they may be beyond the current knowledge of some - but the knowledge is there for those prepared to do the hard yards in research.

Bowman of 56 Sqn got Wisseman of Js 3 have no doubt - its been in print for quite a long time. Alex's Revell's HITEB gives the most authorative account.

As I understand it the French were keen to trump the unfortunate crew of an FA 18 machine (Hptm Speer & Ltn Schumm kia) shot down by Fonck on 30 Sep 17 as being those responsible for downing Guynemer.

Again as to Ball, this has been recently debated yet again in a still open thread. Revell's HITEB and Chaz Bowyer's 'Ball VC' give the most pragmatic accounting which strongly favours the disorientation resolution. Germanophiles of course still place their 'faith' in the propaganderised notion that Lothar did him in a head on attack which also saw Lothar's machine hit and having to make a forced landing.

The Mannock thing is a pure Furphy - with serious material to support it. Again Graeme has run up on this site an authorative list of Mannock's victories which can also be found in Over the Trenches.

Now William Barker's VC effort on 27 Oct 18 probably needs a closer look. In 2002 OTF ran a 'fun but dangerous' article called 'Myths & Mysteries of the Great War in the Air', which attempted to present a Germanophile take on several of your listed myths. It attempted to lump Barker's effort along side Bishop's VC raid of 2 Jun 17 - well discredited, in a great article by Philip Markham in OTF vol 10. The rather uncharitable 'Myths' article attempting to suggest, that like the Bishop raid, there was no evidence for the Barker fight. Like much of the article, this was pure BULL, as there was plenty of evidence from British grounds troops & AA units who confirmed the fight. The inuendo of the article of course was that there is seemingly no German evidence - sacred scripture to Germanophiles.

Now unlike Bishop, Barker was the real thing and had left a trail of confirmable dead German & Austro-Hungarian pilots up to the 27 Oct 18 fight. And if one looks into the German record, then there are possible German losses for the fight. The 2-seater he dispatched first may have been the FAA 207of Ltn Wattenberg KIA (pilot baled out). Then in my view the two fokker formations were probably from Hasso v Wedel's JdGp 12. Of that Gruppe on this date Ltn Hinky of Js 44 is recorded as being wounded. My suspicion is that Vfw Schymik KIA of Js 24 iwas another of his victims. Now I know Rick [Duiven] will throw his arms up and state that he was KIA by a Dolphin on 28 Oct 18 - as recorded in his excellent Js 24 history. However there is no British claim which would fit the time & loc of Schymik's demise. The three claims of 23 Sqn (Dolphins) are 3 hours out and 20 km to the SE. However the time & loc of Schymik's death fit tollerably well with Barker's well witnessed claims - my feeling being that the German record is in error as to the date - something I can cite in regards other records; both German & British. Easy thing to do. I know as an ex-soldier it is easy to loose track of the time when things are happening.

Time is going to beat me so I will end here.

Cheers Russ.
Our hearts so stout has got us fame
For soon 'tis known from where we came
Where'er we go they fear the name
Of Garryowen in glory.
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Old 6 August 2008, 09:57 PM   #8
Willi Von Klugerman
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Mick attacking a trainer school?Are flight trainer schools well behind enemy lines?
"Here above us,there is a man twenty meters above the earth,imprisoned in a wooden frame,and defending himself against an invisible danger which he has taken on his own free will.But we are standing below,pushed away,without existence,and looking at this man."

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Old 7 August 2008, 12:29 AM   #9
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It did exactly happen what I had expected to happen!

After statements about some already dissolved obvious myth (Fonck, Mannock) a Forumite - who claims to be our all-wise guru – gave us his opinions in post 7. That requires some remarks:

Case Ball:
The “disorientation resolution” is a potential and pragmatic solution but nobody of us will ever know if Ball was really lost this way. It is a try to explain the incident, not more and not less. There is no way to know the truth absolutely safe 90+ years after (if one is not a pure dogmatist).

Case Bishop:
I did never believe him. However other people have another opinion and their own arguments or facts. The match is still open and an acceptable final solution would require more than the current knowledge.

Case Barker:
Did RFC ace William Barker actually single-handedly take on 50-60 enemy Fokkers in October 1918
Pete, these words give the reader the impression he attacked a single formation of 50-60 HA. That is not the same as described in the report about his combat and therefore it is wrong.

Did he really destroy 4 enemy airplanes in this combat (or rather series of combats)?
This requires not only 4 victory claims on one side – it also requires 4 documented losses on the other side. Otherwise you can not really prove the destruction of four enemy airplanes (if they did not come down on the Allied side of the lines). Therefore one can argue about the case till doomsday.
Barker is (different to Bishop) not to blame for the situation. He deserved the name top gun.
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Last edited by rammjaeger; 7 August 2008 at 12:56 AM.
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Old 7 August 2008, 05:30 PM   #10
R Gannon
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Pushing the Point


Re the Barker VC fight.

The problem with German records is that they are far from complete and what has survived is not in the same detail as the British record. As such they can leave plenty of scope for denial for those who do not want to move forward.

Now as stated the FAA 207 machine is a good bet for the first claim - again witnessed by Brit AA. Right area and date.

As one who has actually taken the time to log down all Brit claims & losses alongside all German claims and 'known' losses, then one gets a pretty good view of what was going on. And the Schymik loss is irreconcilable on 28 Oct, but would make perfect sense on 27 Oct - time / loc wise. The other point I was going to make, was that Barker was flying a new type of aircraft which the German's would not be able to identify and 'Dolphin' (ie the type cited as being responsible for shooting Schymik down) would be as good as description as any, baring in mind it like the Snipe had four sets of struts. MvR for example misidentified Dolphins as Bristols. If one can entertain this, and see that Js 24 & Js 44 were opperating in the same Gruppe and no doubt flying in close co-operation, then Js 44's Ltn Hinky who is recorded as wia (but no details) looms as a possibility for another of Barker's claims. Whilst it cannot be proved that he crashed, nor can it be proved that he did not. My long dabblings lead me to suspect it is probable that at the very least he made a forced landing.

So on the balance FAA 207, Js 24 & Js 44 may hold the clues to the famous and well witnessed fight. On another angle, it might provided the answer as to who got credit for downing Barker. Js 24's Ostv Altemier (a proven war bird) has an unresolved claim for an RE8 in the fighting in which Schymik was kia. Some sources suggest a 16 Sqn machine - however Altemier's victim is supposed to have broken up & crashed - the 16 Sqn RE8 simply returned shot up with a dying observer. Again one has to wonder as to the aircraft identification. Was it simply RE in the original Js 24 record? Maybe Rick can answer?

Open Minds

Our hearts so stout has got us fame
For soon 'tis known from where we came
Where'er we go they fear the name
Of Garryowen in glory.
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