(18”x 24“ Oil on Linen 1998)
“Left Luxieul at 1.53 PM with Sopwith B. Red Flight. With formation to enemy lines. Then dropped somewhat behind to close alongside Butterworth, whose engine seemed to be slowing down. The small (German) machine….closed in on attack on Butterworth who was abeam my portside. I immediately dived to intercept him with my engine full on and firing my machine gun.” It was 12 October 1916 and Flight Sub Lieutenant Raymond Collishaw was desperately attempting to stave off an attack by German fighters.
The Oberndorf raid was the first multi-national strategic bombing initiative undertaken during the First World War. More than sixty fighters and bombers of the French and British Air Services were organized during the fall of 1916 to carry out a long-range strike on the Mauser Munition works in Oberndorf, Germany. Using a mixed bag of Sopwith 1 ½ strutter single and two seat aircraft and French Breuget bombers, the mission attempted to prove the concept of long range strategic bombing.
Bad weather, faulty engines and poor navigation spread the formations thinly as they entered German airspace. Alerted by ground observers of the large force en route to Oberndorf, the Germans scrambled every available aircraft along the route.
F/S/L Butterworth’s balky engine help separate him from his flight, but he was shephered by Collishaw for several miles. Lt. Ludwig Hanstein, flying a Fokker D.II attacked Butterworth near Freiburg. Although Collishaw attempted to intervene, Hanstein pressed his attack wounding F/S/L Butterworth in the neck. Butterworth landed at an airfield near Freiburg, spending the remainder of the war as a POW. Hanstein later joined a fighter unit on the western front, scored 16 victories, but was KIA on 21 March 1918. Butterworth was his first confirmed victory.
Collishaw, a Canadian, failed to rescue his countryman, but would go on to a brilliant career as a fighter pilot. Flying Sopwith Triplanes and later Camels, he would rack up 60 confirmed victories before the end of the war. But on the 12th of October 1916, he was still earning his trade and never forgot the lessons learned on that long flight into Germany.
Though well conceived, the raid was a near complete failure. The British lost three aircraft, the French seven. Norman Prince, a Lafayette Escadrille pilot was killed attempting to land in the gathering darkness. Few of the original 60 aircraft made it to Oberndorf. Most dropped out due to engine trouble, some were shot down en route and many more never found Oberndorf. But the raid did not damped the Allied resolve to pursue such missions. Of the aircraft that arrived at Oberndorf, nearly all were Sopwith bombers.
“The Shepherd” recreates the moment in time when F/S/Lt. Collishaw turns to face Lt. Hanstein, now bearing down on Butterworth’s Sopwith.
- The Shepherd was featured in Volume 13, Number 4, 1998 Over The Front magazine