The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

MARCH  2006

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.






The Big Duck Was Dead Drunk

Bizarre, Fascinating, and Wacky World War I & ll Secrets.

by Cecil Owen

A beautiful blue nosed silver fighter plane came hurtling down out of the clouds from 30,000 feet above. It was a Nieuport 17 Scout, that belonged to the Royal Flying Corps (British). It was also one of the finest Allied Aircraft of World War One.

The blue nose and the number B1566 on the rudder identified the pilot as Captain William Avery Bishop who would later become the highest scoring allied ace of the war. He first went into combat on March 25, 1917 and by May 20 had twenty confirmed "kills." In one day Captain Bishop "Flamed" (shot down) six German fighter planes and one observation balloon. When the war was over on November 11, 1918, he had 72 confirmed kills.

Now it almost sunset, Captain Bishop and his wingman, Major Scott are heading for their home base. Suddenly, Captain Bishop sees five bright red planes in the distance. Sometimes he was called "Bishop with the Eagle Eye" for he could spot airplanes long before anyone else could. Captain Bishop and Major Scott headed straight for the five "Huns" (German airplanes), for they considered a two-to-five margin would be a good test of their flying skill. The other flyers were saying Captain Bishop was so good that he could make his Nieuport do anything but talk. As Captain Bishop came closer, the leader pulled away from the rest of the pack. He waved and signaled that he wanted a private dog fight... one-on-one.

Cecil Owen

Captain William "Billy" Avery Bishop
with his Nieuport 17 Scout

Flying from the rudder and wing tips were the streamers of the leader of the "Flying Circus." So called because of the bright colors, mostly red or scarlet, that the whole squadron Fasta One painted their aircraft. And the leader of the Flying Circus was Rittmeister (Captain) Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, the famous Red Baron.

At last Captain Bishop has met his match. At this time, Captain Von Richthofen had shot down sixty confirmed kills. He would go on to become the highest scoring Ace of World War One, with eighty confirmed kills. Many observers believed that

both young men had shot down at least one hundred planes each, but this could not be confirmed. (A confirmed kill is a plane or balloon shot down and verified by witnesses). As Captain Bishop plummeted to within fifty yards of Captain Von Richthofen his gun sight was right on the red tail. A whole drum full of lead spurts from his Lewis machine gun.... but the  target vanished. The crafty "Head Hunter" will not be tricked so easily. The Flying Circus was also called The Head Hunters because of their style of dog fighting. They would hide up in the clouds and then pounce down upon a surprised enemy plane.

Captain Von Richthofen had gone into a lightening loop. As Captain Bishop turned his head to locate the red tri-plane, a bullet grazed his temple. More lead whistles by and shattered his windshield. The cunning German had made a complete circle and zinged directly behind Billy Bishop. The air duel continued as the two planes danced around each other. They were like two prize fighters, both feinting and seeking an opening. The two pilots were just about evenly matched. Although the red Fokker tri-plane is nine miles faster than the Nieuport scout, 115 mph.  Both airplanes can exceed 200 mph in a steep dive. Captain Bishop was taken by surprise but he quickly pulled into an upward loop. As he came down he now has a chance for a good broadside shot at the Red Baron. He pulled the trigger, not once, not twice, but three times. But his worst fear was realized... his machine gun jammed. Bishop yells and beats on his gun, "I guess this is certainly curtains for me. I just wish I could have flamed more "Huns" before death embraced me," he said.

As the Red Baron swooped down for the kill he noticed Captain Bishop desperately trying to fix his

machine gun. Now Captain Bishop watched in amazement as Captain Von Richthofen circles him repeatedly and never fired a single shot. Then he flew close beside Captain Bishop and saw that his machine gun just will not work. With a wave of his hand the Red Baron flies off into the sunset.

Von Richthofen was well known for his chivalry. After he had shot down an enemy plane he would land nearby, would rescue the pilot and make sure he was given first aid as needed. Then he would always take a souvenir off the airplane.

In the cockpit the Red Baron resembled a big fat walrus. It was hard to keep warm in an open cockpit at 30,000 feet. Most of the time he wore a fur cap, a large fur overcoat and fur boots. Of course, under this he wore his immaculate uniform with all of his medals. At the same time, Bishop was wearing leather boots, a large overcoat and a pair of bright yellow pajamas.

In many ways the two young men would become much alike. Both had entered the service in the horse cavalry. But taking care of horses and stomping in the mud was not for either one. So they both transferred into the Air Corps and became fighter pilots. Although they came from very different backgrounds. Captain William "Billy" Avery Bishop was 23 years old. He came from Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada. This was a small town of around 13,000 population. It was located on the western shore of Lake Huron, approximately 100 miles from Toronto, Canada and 200 miles from Detroit, Michigan. Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr Von Richthofen, the Red Baron. (Richtmeister is German for Cavalry Captain and Freiherr is German for Baron) was of noble blood. He was 25 years old and came from Swidnica, Poland. This was a small town of around 18,000 population. The Von Richthofen's owned a large estate nearby. Germany ran completely out of medals to pin on Manfred, and the British ran out of medals to pin on Billy.

The Red Baron was shot down and killed on April 21, 1918. He was given a full military funeral by the British fliers who had opposed him. He was shot down near a British airfield. His body was returned to Germany after the war in 1925. 

Before the First World War had ended, on November 11, 1918, Billy Bishop was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the British Royal Flying Corps. He retired and moved back to Canada. When World War Two started, he became Air Marshal in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Bishop enjoyed flying and leading Squadron Sixty, but he also went up solo many times. His main goal in life was to shoot down the Red Baron. And although they had several air duels together, neither got shot down. They were too evenly matched.
It remains a mystery today, who did shoot down the Red Baron? Some believe that Captain Arthur Brown was responsible, he was flying a British Sopwith Camel F.1. But Von Richthofen's plane was

so low at least two machine gunners with the Australian infantry were also firing at it.

Because death was always so near, Bishop's pilots in Squadron Sixty looked for different ways to relax and unwind. Some of the things they did were a little weird, but this was the craziest. Next door to the airfield, a farmer had a large pond. He was raising a large flock of ducks. One afternoon a bunch of Mallard ducks came up out of the pond but something very peculiar was happening to them. They were all flopping and staggering like they were drunk... because the whole flock was indeed very drunk. But this one drake (male duck) was bigger than the rest, obviously he was their leader. He was a beautiful drake, his feathers were shining in the sun. He staggered dizzily around, then he fell on the ground. Next he rolled over on his back with his feet sticking straight up. He barely managed a couple of weak quacks, and expired. Yes, this duck was not only dead drunk, but drunk dead. Captain Bishop and his gang were feeding the ducks bread soaked in brandy. After the ducks were drunk, the pilots would try to line them up in flight formation. But this time their playful prank had gone too far!

The Red Baron had a large room in his family home in Schweidnitz full of souvenirs. These were of planes that he shot down. Captain Bishop had a red part from the Red Baron's airplane. It was on the wall in his office. In March 1928, Billy Bishop was the guest in Berlin, Germany, of the surviving German aces. He was a honorary member of the German Ace Association. The Captain of that group was Ernst Udet who was the second highest scoring German ace of World War One, with sixty-two confirmed kills.

William "Billy" Avery Bishop passed away on September 11, 1956. He was sixty four years of age. All of Canada mourned the death of their national hero.