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2000 Closed threads from 2000 (read only)

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Old 26 December 2000, 07:39 AM   #1
Ray Kowalchuk
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I'm interested in opinions and other anecdotes about WWI (and other) aces whose thirst for glory led them beyond the fine line of heroism into the territory of foolhardiness. I'm sure there are a few VC, PLM & CMH winners (other than, say, Barker and Luke) whose "highest" achievements might be considered more glory-mania than a cool-headed accomplishment.

Especially in the case of Barker, with a career of exceptional accomplishments, he had to dive headlong into a cloud of EA before a VC would look his way.

I remain,
Old 26 December 2000, 08:37 AM   #2
Shot Down
Join Date: Jul 2000
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maybe add battle fatigue to the list? Both The Von and Mick Mannock were overdue a rest when they fell,while breaking every rule they drummed into their men.Always above,seldom same level,never below.
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Old 26 December 2000, 10:25 AM   #3
John L
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The first rule of any kind of combat is that there are no rules. The moment a pilot became predictable, he became a casualty. E.W. Springs likened it to planning football plays. You would seldom repeat a play because of its predictability.
All the same, fright played the leading role in aerial combat. Sudden, stark terror would strike a pilot when he saw danger approaching. The fight or flight effect dumped hormones into his blood stream and he went into another level of hearing, the hyperfocal distance of his eyes changed and he had a target fixation. (With Billy Barker, it was his opponent's spinner). It also kept a pilot from the effects of terror (such as felt by Wilfrid May when MvR dove on him and began a pursuit.) Read May's account, then compare it with different accounts of pilots like Cecil Lewis. Fright is not the same as stark terror.
I realize that you were not looking for this kind of reply. The study of pilots obcession with score is a carryover from the playing fields. The desire to make a score to impress the home folks or advance one's career caused the death of many pilots. I know of no account in the popular press.
The one motion picture explaining this attitude is "Aces High". Another that tries, but falls somewhat short of logic is "The Blue Max." The question left in the viewer's mind is why would anyone in his right mind risk life and limb for a small piece of silver and a ribbon? This, I fear, we will never be able to explain.
Old 26 December 2000, 11:43 AM   #4
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If you get away with it, you're heroic.
If it kills you, you're foolhardy.
Of course, the foregoing discounts the enormous role that luck (or misfortune) plays in the equation. You can be skilled, alert, smart, and still become a KIA. Over aggressiveness also plays a part, and it only takes once. Voss may be the ultimate WW I example: all skill & fight, I'm convinced he was intent on overtaking The Von since he'd been steadily closing the gap. In WW II, look no farther than Tommy McGuire.
As noted on this thread, there's no way of knowing how many combatants set out with malice aforethought to become Certified Heroes. Among hundreds of combat airmen, I've known just one, and he achieved his goal only to lose much of it thru hubris. The Greeks really had a handle on things: the scriptural paraphrase is "Pride goeth before a fall."
OTOH, I am reminded of the WW II USAAF drinking song: "Oh, those who want to be a hero, they number almost zero. Those who want to be civilians--Jeez! They number in the millions!"
You will not rise to the occasion: You will default to your level of training.
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Old 26 December 2000, 01:59 PM   #5
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>>>>If you get away with it, you're heroic.If it kills you, you're foolhardy.

I think Barrett has probably pegged it best right there. In the heat of battle I don't think any of them INTENTIONALLY took risks that they KNEW bordered on suicidal. From the cold hard light of day one might well assess them that way later. However a 19/20 year old with his blood up is not apt to make such assessments. Terror or its close cousin rage cuts in and there you go.

I saw "Malice" again last night.....abysmal movie with that red headed Australian trollop and the equally untalented Alec Baldwin in it.....Baldwin at one time is accused of having a God Complex. This probably applied to most pilots. But it is not the same as foolhardy. The greatest example of GC is, IMHO, René Fonck. He survived the war and was apparently very careful (and lucky) in combat.

Luke routinely took huge risks and had a shelf life comensurate with this. Did he consider they were huge? (the risks...not..oh, never mind)

Eye of the beholder to a certain extent. The ones who survived were right.

regards and the best for the new millenium.


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Old 26 December 2000, 03:09 PM   #6
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"A man won't sell you his life, but he'll give it to you for a piece of colored ribbon".

Old Soldier's Saying

Extracted from Neal O'Connor, Vol I. of Aviation Awards.
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Old 26 December 2000, 03:34 PM   #7
Tom Cervo
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According to Wayne Ralph's excellent bio, Barker was mortified by his final combat--he prided himself on never being surprised by the enemy. Notable that he gets the VC for THAT, instead of the numerous carefully led patrols, and the care he took of new men in his flight.
Old 27 December 2000, 03:39 AM   #8
Hugh A. Halliday
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The following is an excerpt from my latest book, NOT IN THE FACE OF THE ENEMY (Robin Brass Studio, Toronto, $ 25.95) and is posted in part to contribute to this discussion and in part shamelessly flog the book:

"On April 9, 1945, P/O John Bryden was giving instruction in a Mosquito of No.8 Operational Training Unit (Greenwood, Nova Scotia). Just after takeoff his port engine burst into flames. Bryden took over from his pupil and hit the extinguisher; the fire persisted. He then executed a gentle 170-degree turn and crash-landed on the airfield; neither he nor his pupil were injured.

"P/O Bryden was recommended for an AFC, but Eastern Air Command Headquarters queried this; they were inclined to charge him with dangerous flying. According to accepted procedure, he should have climbed the aircraft or made a straight-ahead forced landing rather than risk a turning stall at low level. His immediate superior, S/L H.C. Stewart, angrily wrote that 'the book' did not apply - in part because 'Mosquito landings away from aerodromes are practically always fatal crashes' and partly because the widely spread out town of Kingston, Nova Scotia lay directly in the path of the aircraft. The unit CO, G/C E.M. Reyno, concurred, adding, 'If this aircraft, which is of wooden construction throughout, had crash landed in or even near a populated area, with a full load of fuel on board, the results would have been most disastrous.' Eastern Air Command Headquarters relented, but the AFC recommendation was downgraded to a Commendation."
Old 27 December 2000, 04:25 AM   #9
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I think it was a sense of duty that propelled some men to both glory and foolhardiness. I am thinking of pilots like Guynemer and Berthold--whose repeated references to duty--kept them flying. Nungesser, who continued to fly and fight when he should have been in a hospital or at home resting, always seemed to me to be competing with some need to be the best. I have wondered about Ball and Voss plunging headlong into combats where long chances meant victories but also their deaths. Glory? Yes. Foolhardiness? Yes. Burned out and looking for an exit? When you consider the mishmash of emotions that propel us along then add the social forces of the day, it is indeed a muddy question.
Old 27 December 2000, 06:16 AM   #10
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It's hard for us to see into the early 20th century mind. I for one would not discount (at least for the RFC/RAF pilots) the "play the game" factor. Many of the British officers were public school educated (North American translation - private school educated), with the sports fixation that went with "muscular Christianity".

Read Newbolt's Vita Lampada again

"And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his Captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! play up! and play the game!"

Reread Robert Graves' "Goodbye to All That" if you still have doubts.

Adjt. Antonin Dominique Barthélèmy Gautier
Médaille Militaire, Croix de Guerre - SPA 80
October 2, 1895-September 15, 1918
Mort pour la France en combat aérien.
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heroism, foolhardiness

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