Thursday, May 2, 2013

Winged Warfare in World War I by Billy Bishop

Why I read it: One of my earliest history passions, military aviation.

Summary: The story of Billy Bishop, Canada's most successful fighter pilot of the Forst World War.

My Thoughts: Imagine being so far ahead of everybody else, at anything that you want to do, that no one can even see your smoke. Then imagine being lucky on top of that.

Billy Bishop had it all. He "got it" long before anyone else in the aerial combat world. Just more than a decade after the plane first flew, it was being used as a weapon of war. Imagine the learning curve. Few people knew how to fly before the war; during the war they had to become experts at pursuit and evasion.

So Billy was thinking on a different plane (ha ha) than the rest. He scored 72 confirmed victories during the war. Ace status comes at just 5 downed enemy planes. He squared off against Baron von Richtofen, strafed German airfields, and took on the enemy in lopsided mismatches. He came back alive every time, but often with bullet holes in his machine just inches from where he sat - and therein lies the luck.

His book details not only his aerial victories, but his downtime as well, what passed for fun and relaxation on the front lines in World War I France.

World War I was a different animal than its sequel. With aviation in its infancy, and the world coming out of the Victorian Age, a lot of bravado and machismo still reigned. Pilots found it unmanly to wear parachutes. For every victory tallied when a machine went down, at least one man went to his death.

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