Knights of the Air: Canadian Fighter Pilots in the First World War

Article excerpt

Knights of the Air: Canadian Fighter Pilots in the First World War by David L. Bashow. McArthur & Company Publishing, Limited (http://www. mcarthur-co.com/books.html), 322 King Street West, Suite 402, Toronto, Ontario M5J 1J2, 2001, 210 pages, $50.00 (hardcover).

Dave Bashow, assistant professor of military history at the Royal Military College of Canada, fills a void with his book Knights of the Air by telling a story that few American pilots are aware of: the significant contribution of Canadian fighter pilots to the history of airpower. He documents the fact that at least 171 of the 863 known British Empire aces of World War I were Canadian, and of the 26 with 30 or more kills, 10 were Canadian-including Billy Bishop, Canada's leading ace, with 72 kills and Raymond Collishaw, who tied with Edward Mannock at 61.

Of interest to the American military historian, most of these kills were made long before the United States deployed any military aircraft to Europe. British Commonwealth aviators, along with the French, fought the Germans in the skies over France for two full years before American heroes like Eddie Rickenbacker took to the air in combat. The author carefully records how young Canadians paid for their own training (the substantial sum of $400), mosdy in the United States, so they could enter British flying squadrons.

Early on, Canadian fighter pilots logged a number of (mosdy) firsts in air combat. Redford Mulock was the first to intercept a German airship over England; the first to spot for artillery at night, using flares; and the second to bomb a submarine. Mulock, flying with the Royal Naval Air Service, was the first Canadian ace of World War I. Capt Andrew McKeever scored all of his 31 confirmed kills flying the two-seat F2a, when pilots made most of their kills in single-seat aircraft. British Empire fighter pilots moved from single aircraft to formation tactics; specifically, they invented the "finger four" formation, known to US airmen down through the next 60 years or so as "fluid four. …