Major Lanoe George Hawker V.C. England’s 1st Ace 1890/1916 Part 4
Promoted to Major in early 1916, Hawker was placed in command of Squadron No.24 the RFC’s first (single – seater) fighter Squadron. No.24 was based at Hounslow Heath aerodrome and was equipped with D.H.2 pushers. after two fatalities in flying accidents, the new fighter which had a forward firing machine gun, soon earned a reputation for spinning; its rear mounted rotary engine and its sensitive controls made it very responsive.
Hawker countered this concern by taking up a D.H.2 over the airfield and in front of the watching Squadron pilots, put it through a series of manoeuvres, including spins and each time recovered safely. Upon landing, he carefully described the correct procedures to recover from a spin. Once the pilots became used to the D.H.2’s characteristics, confidence in the aircraft rose quickly, as they learned to appreciate its manoeuvrability.
Hawker the led his Squadron to Bertangles, north of the Somme in February 1916. where his Squadron quickly helped to counter the threat of the Fokker Eindekker monoplanes which were dominating the Western Front in the run up to the Somme offensive. Spurred on by Hawker’s personal aggressiveness 24 Squadron claimed 70 victories at the loss of 12 aircraft and 21 pilots killed, wounded or missing. As the year went on the Germans introduced more advanced fighter aircraft, initially with the single gun armed Halberstadt D.II and shortly afterwards by the Albatros D.1 an even more advanced twin machine gun biplane.
On the 23rd of November 1916 while flying a D.H.2 as part of ‘A’ flight commanded by Capt.J.0. Andrews. Andrews led the flight in an attack on two German aircraft over Achiet. Andrews spotted a lager flight of German fighters above them, he was just about to signal to abort the attack, but Hawker had swooped down and begun the fight, so the reminder of the flight followed. Hawker had begun a lengthy dogfight with an Albatros D.II flown by Manfred von Richtofen. The Albatros was faster and had more fire power but Hawker was holding his own until he realised he was running low on fuel, he broke off the fight and headed for home. The Red Baron’s guns jammed just short of the Allied lines, but unfortunately his last burst had hit Hawker in the back of his head, killing him instantly. He became the Red Baron’s 11th victory. He went down fighting, a fitting end for a great airman.
(C) Damian Grange 2018