The History and the Aircraft of the Air Forces of Canada -  from 1914 to today.

The First World War  and Canada's Aces.

With the disbandment of the Canadian Aviation Corps, those who wished to fly had to serve with the British Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. At the beginning of the war only  qualified pilots were being accepted and, as a result,  civilian flying schools started up in Canada. Young men flocked to the Curtiss School of Aviation at Toronto Island and Long Branch where, with J.A.D. McCurdy as chief instructor, a hundred and twenty-nine pilots graduated in 1916 and 1916.

These civilian schools could not keep up with the demand for pilots and the Royal Flying Corps, early in 1917, set up training wings at Camp Borden, North Toronto and Deseronto.  When the United States entered the war,  American flyers trained in Canada during the summer at Camps Mohawk and Rathbun, near Deseronto. In winter, in turn,  the Royal Flying Corps moved to Texas. A total of  Not counting the Americans, 3,136 RFC pilots and 137 observers were trained in Canada during 1917 and 1918. Alittle later, Russian pilots were also trained in Canada to fight the Bolsheviks.

 Over twenty-two thousand Canadian men served with the three British services and 1,563 gave their lives. Three won Victoria Crosses.  Flying boat pilots from Canada shot down Zeppelins, fought enemy seaplanes, bombed submarines and escorted convoys. One, Maj Robert Leckie, DSO, DSC, DFC, later became Chief of the Air Staff. S.D. Culley gained recognition by flying his Sopwith Camel off the deck of a rudimentary carrier to shoot down a Zeppelin.

No 203 Squadron, consisting of  mostly Canadians,  was led by Squadron Commander L. S. Breadner, DSC, who was to become Chief of the Air Staff in the RCAF and its first Air Chief Marshal. Other outstanding fighter pilots were Maj D. R. Maclaren, DSO, MC, DFC with 48 aircraft and 6 balloon victories; Maj W. G. Barker, VC, DSO, MC, with 50 victories. Barker won his Victoria Cross for fighting off 60 Fokkers in one engagement before crash-landing, wounded several times, in Canadian lines. Capt A. Roy Brown, DSC, got credit for the kill of the legendary "Red Baron" – von Richthofen, who was at the peak of his own career. The third Canadian Victoria Cross was won by 2LT A. A. McLeod, who stepped out on the wing, because his cockpit was in flames, to control his aircraft to a crash-landing in No-Man's-Land, thus saving the life of his helpless observer.

Ten pilots were among the top 26 leading Allied "Aces" - all credited with 30 or more kills.  Heading this list was Major W.A. (Billy) Bishop VC, DSO, MC, DFC,  with 72 victories. Major Raymond  Collishaw DSO, DSC, DFC, was second with 60 victories.  R.H. Mulock,  was the first Canadian pilot to fly against the enemy in 191 5. Canadians flew on every front and distinguished themselves in every operation. They could be found flying fighters, day and night bombers, flying boats, in balloons and co-operating with the army in the skies of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Following the armistice, several flew against the Bolsheviks in Russia.

 Major W. A. (Billy) Bishop VC, DSO, MC, DFC. 

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Before dawn on June 2, 1917, a young Canadian pilot hedgehopped his silver Nieuport behind enemy lines to attack a German aerodrome single-handedly. He destroyed three Albatross biplanes – bringing his total kills to 47 in less than 3 months of combat flying on the Western Front. This exploit won Canada’s Billy Bishop the Victoria Cross.

Flying a 113-hp plane that had a top speed of 107 mph, which was armed with two .303 caliber machine guns, Bishop showed the world what a fighter pilot could do. In less than 6 months, he fought 170 air battles and scored 72 victories – 25 of them in just 12 days. As a veteran of only six weeks at the front, he once engaged 23 different enemy aircraft in a single day.

For his bravery in the air, Toronto-born William Avery Bishop became the first man in military history to receive the British Empire’s three highest decorations in one ceremony. He was then 23 years old.

Like Germany’s Baron von Richtofen and other war aces, Bishop hated mud. Early in 1917, he left the Canadian Mounted Rifles to join the Royal Flying Corps as an air observer. In March, he became a fighter pilot. Unlike the Red Knight of Germany, who waited for the enemy to come to him, Bishop was a raider. His French-built Nieuport biplane became the scourge of the skies over the Western Front.

Bishop relied on Corporal Walter Bourne, a conscientious British mechanic, to keep the Nieuport – particularly its temperamental Le Rhone rotary engine – in fighting shape. He cared for his guns and checked each round of ammunition himself. The Nieuport was introduced on the Western Front in 1915. Bishop and his fellow airmen found the plane highly maneuverable, despite its tendency to shed its wings in a power dive.

The Canadian ace scored 47 kills in Nieuports before he went on a tour of recruiting duty in Canada and the United States in the fall of 1917. He later was ordered to set up a fighter Squadron, and, in June 1918, the General Staff ordered him to report to London to begin organization work on what was to become the Royal Canadian Air Force. In the 12 free days he had left before reporting to London, Colonel Bishop went hunting in the skies over enemy territory. He brought down another 25 planes!

After the war, he returned to peacetime life unaware that he would be back in uniform 21 years later – as a full Air Marshal. Until Bishop’s death in 1956, he maintained a close friendship with his front-line mechanic, Walt Bourne. When he was buried in Toronto with full military honors, a dozen jet-age fighter planes from the air force he inspired dipped their wings in homage to Billy Bishop – the man who was without fear.

"The Man Without Fear" is from the "Heritage of the Air Collection" by Merv Corning, used with permission of Leach International Corporation, Buena Park, CA. In no event may these pictures be reproduced or used for commercial purposes.

Please follow the links  to see more of Canada's  World War 1 Aces:

 Note: The History and Aircraft Pages restart after Maj. Bill Barker's page.

Ray Collishaw McLeod & Hammond Roy Brown Bill Barker