10 Deadliest Fighter Aces of the First World War

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Billy Bishop. Canada

Billy Bishop was a cadet at the Royal Military College of Canada when World War One broke out, and he quickly left the school and eventually went to Europe with a mounted infantry unit. Bishop’s keen eyesight made him an excellent rifleman, but he was soon fed up with the inactivity of the trench warfare in the summer of 1915. He applied to flight school and when there were no openings for pilots he applied again as an observer.

He was at the front as an aviator observer when his father suffered a stroke, and after leave in Canada he returned to training as a pilot in England. After completing training he was retained for a time in England to fly protective cover of London against the German Zeppelins. Not until March of 1917 did Bishop arrive at the front in France, at a time when the life expectancy of a newly arrived Allied pilot was 11 days.

By the end of March Bishop was a flight leader. Unlike the calculating Fonck, Bishop tended to plow ahead straight at the enemy, once taking so much enemy fire that his mechanic counted over two hundred bullet holes in his airplane when he returned to base. Bishop soon modified his tactics, preferring the advantage of surprise. Bishop became well known to the Germans, one German Squadron announced a bounty on the Canadian. In April Bishop and Richthofen encountered each other in the air, an event which they both survived.

Bishop often flew as a lone wolf. On one such mission he attacked a German airfield well behind the German lines and claimed to have destroyed several German airplanes on the ground as well as three in the air which had taken off to attack him. Despite there being no witnesses to the feat he was awarded the Victoria Cross for the action, based on his own report. When Bishop was under orders to return to England to set up the Canadian Flying Corps he disobeyed the orders to fly one more mission, destroying five German airplanes in a fifteen minute span.

Bishop claimed a total of 72 enemy aircraft destroyed, including two balloons, often the deadliest targets for the World War One aviator. Some historians, after comparison of German records and Bishop’s claims, find that total to be unlikely. He survived the First World War, served in the Second as the Director of the Royal Canadian Air Force, and offered his services again during the Korean War. He died in 1956.

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