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DukeIronHand

Billy Bishop and the great airfield raid

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I am a great fan of Billy Bishop - well, all WW1 fliers actually - but there has always been a big debate.

 

Any WW1 aviation fan is aware of it - the great debate on Bishop's raid on a German aerodrome that greatly contributed to him getting the V.C.

 

Over the years I have read much from both sides and heard him called both liar or a hero.

 

Whats is the latest and greatest word? Has there ever been concrete proof from the German side that this event ever occurred?

 

I remember that being the main argument against it - the lack of corresponding information from the Germans on this. Pro-Bishop people respond that most records of the German Jasta's were destroyed in WW2.

 

And so the debate goes back and forth.

 

What is the latest from historians and book writers?

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The Jury still seems to be out on the matter. Both sides have argued strongly for their own view.

 

However to my mind the strongest evidence regarding Bishop's failing as a credible man lies in the fact that both Grid Caldwell and Willie Fry (who both served with him in 60 Squadron) never backed him up. Indeed both remained close-lipped on commenting on his character for the remainder of their lives.

 

That speaks volumes.

Edited by Pips

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From everything I've read and discussed on the subject, the tale of the VC flight is a load of dross.

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That's also my understanding, though I'm no expert. There would need to be more proof of the event to make me believe everything happened exactly like Bishop claims. And like Pips said, the behaviour of Bishop's comrades speaks volumes. Even though the British system of confiming aerial victories was definitely less rigorous than what French and German pilots had to go through in order to get their kills confirmed, the VC was never awarded without witnesses, except in Bishop's case. (The VC for the Unknown Soldier is a different matter.)

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I believe, that many men might "beef up" an event they had no witnesses for.

Human nature, I suppose. Who is really completely free of this?

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I believe, that many men might "beef up" an event they had no witnesses for.

Human nature, I suppose. Who is really completely free of this?

 

Only very few people, I imagine. That's why witnesses are so important to have, and why it's only natural to be sceptical when somebody claims to have done something extraordinary but has no proof of it.

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There was a similar problem with Alan Jerrard's VC. He was awarded the Cross for an outstanding feat over Italy, 1918, i.e. for sacrifying himself to let his wingmen escape facing an outnumbering force, and destroying three planes in the process before being forced down and captured. Actually, only one Austrian plane was forced down and a second pilot injuried. Jerrard himself, after his release, only claimed one shot up. But the three kills remained to his credits, and the Cross as well with its exagerated citation. At least in Jerrard's case, the Cross could have been deserved for his spirit of self-sacrifice, staying behind to cover his wingmen, with actual witnesses here.

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.

 

I'm afraid I must also agree that Bishop's supposed exploits that won him his VC are, from all indications, very much exaggerated, (if not in fact outright falsehoods). As has been pointed out, even his squad mates wouldn't back him up. Also, taking into account his opportunistic nature, it does seem he did not do what he claimed he did in that raid. Still, he was one of the great WWI aces, (despite being an SOB), so he deserves his props for that.

 

.

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Still, he was one of the great WWI aces, (despite being an SOB), so he deserves his props for that.

 

Like all things with Bishop, even his number of claims is in dispute. A very detailed study by Russ Gannon determined that 59 of Bishops' ultimate 72 claims were made when he was flying alone. :blink: The 13 remaining claims were made in the presence of other pilots, and are broken down as follows:

8 OOC

5 destroyed (of which 2 were shared)

 

There's no argument that Bishop was a capable pilot and reasonable combat leader. 13 victories pretty well sums up his abilities. But he was immensly ambitious and self-seeking - and somewhere along the way he obviously caught the eye of senior officers who, for whatever reason, decided to promote him to the level of a hero.

Edited by Pips

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What is an SOB ?

 

SOB=Son of a Bitch

 

If all the above is true (and I am not arguing the point) why was Bishop, and his claims, given such special treatment by the higher ups?

 

Morale for the R.F.C.? The time of Bishop's exploits was kind of at a "low point" for the British.

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And here are some words form pilots actually around at the tiem of Bishop's claim.

 

The first concerns commenst by Josef Mai.

" Jasta 5 strafed by Billy Bishop on 02 Jun 1917: (The other side of the coin)

On 02 Jun 1979, the Estourmel Air Marshal William Avery Bishop (VC) is depicted on a Post card in which he is attacking Jasta 5 on 02 Jun 1917. This cover was flown from London (RAF Northolt) to Germany (RAF Wildenrath) by No. 60 Squadron to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of this attack. It is personally signed (and then scratched out) by Ltn. Josef Mai who joined the German Air Force in 1915 and became a pilot the following year. He achieved his first eleven victories flying an Albatros D.V easily identified by his personal insignia: a star and a crescent. Mai was commissioned in Sept 1918 and wounded in the upper left leg on 03 Sept 1918.

Joseph Mai‘s has put a pen mark through his signature as he disagreed with William Avery Bishop‘s account of events of his 30th Victory.

Below is a copy of the letter he typed in response as to why he (Herr Mai) lined through his name after signing it: (there are copies of the letters in my book 'Ltn. der Reserve Werner Voss and the pilots of Jasta 10')

―I could not sign the errors of Mr. Bishops, as I would have jeopardized the honor of the Jasta 5. The whole mater is easily explained.– Information Courtesy of ‗Derek Reynolds‘; ‗Royal Air Force Museum

He continues:

―Dear Mr. Rossback

Unfortunately I must disappoint you today. I had already started to sign when my nephew translated the heroic deed of Mr. Bishop (I do not know English) and with my signature I would confirm something that does not correspond with the facts.

According to my logbook the Jasta 5 (hunter formation Jagdstaffel) flew on 02 Jun 1917 at 17.00 – 18.00 at a level of 1500m (approximately 4650 feet) above Cambrai – Blécourt, France and had no contact with the enemy, and landed safely after one hour. The attack could therefore not have taken place on the Jasta 5 airfield. The plane shown on the picture has two Struts (Stiele) whilst the German one man planes only had one. Capt Bishop‘s 60 Squadron received the Victoria Cross for the attack on the 2nd of Jun 1917 above Estourmel near Cambrai. This must be a mistake. Another Squadron must have been attacked. The Jasta 5 flew over Blécourt. The time has not been mentioned either. I cannot sign the envelope unfortunately and I apologize for the one that I did sign and crossed out again. – Information Courtesy of Derek Reynolds; Royal Air Force Museum."

 

The second is by Grid Caldwell, a member of 60 Squadron at the time of Bishop's claim.

"Surviving 60 Squadron pilots of the era where also invited to sign. Of the four men contacted, only one agreed to do so, the others flatly refused.

One of the men who would not sign was Keith "Grid" Caldwell. He explained in a letter to Willie Fry,

"I cannot do what they wish,sign and endorse the picture of Bishop doing his V.C. act,when I have to doubt its authenticity...I do not expect you to do anything about it as it would put you in a similar difficult spot, as I think we hold alike views on the V.C. incident".

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Sounds pretty damning alright and Caldwell, as far as I know, has always been credible.

 

What I did not know was that a actual aerodrome (Estourmel) and Jasta (5) had been firmly identified.

 

Part of the claim problem had been, I thought, was that the airfield and Jasta were not a positive I.D., i.e., Bishop was not sure where he was at.

 

Jasta 5 was a famous enough unit, with lots of Kannones, that the raid should have been recorded or at least remembered I reckon!

 

Too bad.

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It's more a case of Estourmel being the aerodrome considered to be the one that Bishop attacked, as it's reasonably accessible for 60 Squadron. However it wasn't the only one in the area, and as Josef says, it definitely wasn't attacked on that date.

 

More to the point no aerodrome recorded any attacks on the date claimed by Bishop. And given such dramatic losses claimed by Bishop, if that in fact happened, it would have made it into the records of some Jasta.

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I believe, that many men might "beef up" an event they had no witnesses for.

Human nature, I suppose. Who is really completely free of this?

 

I'm not so sure. Many, if not most, might elaborate in order to avoid the embarassment of a failure or a mistake. But to bend the truth in order to aggrandise oneself, in time of war, through acts of bravery one did not commit when unsung heroes are doing it in truth takes a special kind of self-centeredness and a casual disregard for one's fellows and for morals in general.

 

I adhere to the belief that most folks are rather more decent.

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I only have this to say. VC's were not handed out from the King without some thorough research into the action that they were awarded for. I wasn't present at the time and I don't think that many of us were. Was he a SOB? From all accounts he was, and he was not that well liked by many of the men in his squadron. Some of it was from his arrogance and some was just plain envy. Unless we were present we cannot tell what the interraction was in the squadron. Any of us who were in the military should remember the one guy in the troup who was not popular. After all these years I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt. After all he was also awarded The Distinguished Service Order & Bar, The Military Cross, and The Distinguished Flying Cross among others. He must have done something to earn these other awards. I met Billy Bishop III on numerous occasions, but at that time I was not too interested in WW1 history so our conversations never got around to his grandfather. I remember him as a hard nosed hockey player on the ice and a great guy to have a drink with after the game.

 

As a matter of fact I used to go to Owen Sound on business about 3 times a week and much to my regret I never once visited Billy Bishop Museum. I was not even aware of it at that time. I hope to rectify that this summer.

 

Tony

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.

 

Tony,as I mentioned above, Billy Bishop remains one of WWI's, (and Canada's), greatest aces, despite any issues that may cloud his VC. He was indeed highly decorated and went on to become an Air Marshal of the RAF. You don't have to like the guy to show him respect for what he accomplished, no matter how arrogant or self-serving he might have been. I repeat, he deserves his props.

 

.

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Again I have to ask, and to kind of echo Typhoons comments - if "Bishop the blowhard" is the apparent consensus here why did the R.F.C. lavish him with promotions and medals?

 

All on just his word alone? Have to believe if that was the case there would be alot more VC's around.

 

Something just does not add up all around.

Edited by DukeIronHand

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.

 

Duke, I would say it was a combination of factors. He was a very gifted pilot with excellent marksmanship, and he developed a true killer instinct in the skies in very short order. He had friends in high places, the first being Lady St. Helier who helped him get into flight school in the first place. He was lucky, drawing his first posting as a pilot to the premier 60 Squadron. After winning his MC he went on leave to London on May 7, 1917, the day Ball was killed, thus making Bishop England's top ace and thrusting him immediately into the limelight, (which he dearly loved and which clearly, at the time, dearly loved him).

 

Kismet, Duke...kismet.

 

.

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Not to quibble, Lou, but I'll amend "any issues that may cloud his VC" to "the issues that do cloud his VC." The former is much too passive for this subject.

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This reminds me of at least two other stories of false claims during WW2. The first one was an arranged fraud that took place during the war over North Africa, between aces of the German JG 27 willing to boost their scores. Four notable aces flying together claimed to have downed between them ten Brits over the desert; but reports from German infantrymen on the gound proved that they had actually emptied their magazines into the dunes! As all of them were aces of note with otherwise unquestionable scores, the CO chose to avoid any hierarchical consequences, and the following career of these pilots seems to have remained honorable.

 

The second story took place in the Regiment Normandie-Niemen, the French unit fighting alongside the Soviets. A young pilot flying alone claimed to have downed two German planes before being shot down, but Soviet infantrymen on the ground reported to have seen him jump in an empty sky, without any other planes flying or falling. A Soviet pilot would have been shot dead after a swift trial, but the Soviet General in charge chose to let the French CO decide, and he decided to let another chance to the young pilot. The moral ending was that the pilot finally scored ten actual, confirmed kills before being killed in the last days of the last campaign, with a cleared honor.

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It's all good, Lou! :drinks: I just didn't want us straying into 60 Minutes territory.

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"You know what I don’t get? I don’t get how we can belittle a hero 90 years after-the-fact. I mean; William Bishop WAS a hero...by all definitions of the word...no matter how you slice it, and he was a heck of a nice guy too, despite what anybody says. I once saw him rescue a baby muskrat from a tree, and if that's not nice I don't know what is…"

(done in my best Andy Rooney impression)

 

 

:grin:

 

.

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Here is a link to a good pdf book on the subject...

 

http://www.journal.d...c/61-64-eng.pdf

 

As a Canadian I have this innate desire to believe that Bishop was the hero he made himself out to be, but reading this certainly makes it look otherwise. The book makes a strong case that he was a brave man, poor leader, lone wolf, and a patheological liar.

Edited by 77Scout

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