(18”x 24" Oil on Belgian Linen - 1998)
At about 3 o’clock in the afternoon, 23 November 1916, a patrol of English DH-2 fighter planes led by Major Lanoe Hawker, VC were attacked by several German Albatros fighters. Hawker was arguably Britain’s most famous fighter pilot. Early in the war, when air-to-air engagements were rare, Hawker shot down two aircraft in the same day using a machine gun mounted obliquely on his Bristol Scout. He scored seven victories before being posted to England to form a new fighter squadron, #24 Squadron one of the first homogenous fighter units. Hawker was twenty five years old on 23 November, just a month short of his 26th birthday.
By the time 24 Squadron reached France with their DH-2’s, the German engineers had already provided their pilots with a superior airplane. The DH-2’s were much inferior to the Albatros in many ways. Slower in a climb, slower on the level and with only one gun to the Albatros’s twin guns, the DH’s were disadvantaged from the start. The fight soon broke up into individual combats and Hawker was pressed by a particularly aggressive German.
The young Prussian Lt. had recently scored his 10th victory and was quickly gaining a reputation as a fine leader. At 24 he was older than most of his fellow pilots, and his age and previous combat experience in the Calvary gave him an unusually calm demeanor. As he with Hawker, the fight drifted lower and lower.
“We must have come down at least six thousand feet, as now we were little more than three thousand feet above the ground. The wind was in my favor….I saw now that we were even behind the German lines in front of Bapaume, and my opponent must have noticed that it was time for him to back out of the fight because he was getting farther into my territory.”
“But he was a plucky devil . With me behind and above him, he even turned and waved his arm at me, as though to say ‘Wie gehts?’. We went into circles again-fast and furious and as small as we could drive them. Sometimes I estimated the diameter of the circles between eight and a hundred yards. But I always kept above him and at times I could look down almost vertically into his cockpit and watch every movement of his head.”
“Apparently the idea of landing and surrender never occured to this sportsman, because suddenly he revealed his plans to escape by going into several loops….As he came out of them, heading for his own lines, my first bullets began whistling around his ears, for up to now, with the exception of his opening shots, neither one of us had been able to range on the other.”
“The battle is now close to the ground. He is not a hundred yards above the earth. Our speed is terrific. He knows my gun barrel is trained on him. He starts to zig-zag, making sudden darts right and left, right and left, confusing my aim….but the moment is coming. I am fifty yards behind him. My machine gun is firing incessantly. We are hardly fifty yards above the ground-just skimming it.”
“Now I am within thirty yards of him. He must fall. The guns…jams. The it reopens fire….One bullet goes home. He is struck through the back of the head. His plane jumps and crashes down. It strikes the ground just as I swoop over.”
Hawker was killed instantly. His DH-2 crashed and cartwheeled without reaching the British lines. Later, the victorious German pilot retrieved Hawker's machine gun and hung it in his quarters. It was a habit he had built since he was a young man - saving hunting trophies. By April 1918 he had collected 80 such trophies. On the afternoon of April 21st, 1918, it would be his plane that was being souvineired by the British. And by that time everyone on both side of the lines knew his name - Manfred von Richthofen - the Red Baron.
- Commissioned for Flying Machine Press DeHavilland Aircraft of World War One, Volume 1
- Awarded “Par Excellence Award” at the EAA Sport Aviation Art Competition, in 2000
- Appeared in the American Society of Aviation Artists Annual International Exhibition at Warner Robbins, Georgia, 1999
- Appeared on rear cover of Vinatge Airplane, the magazine of the EAA Vintage Aircraft Association, February 2001