Air Aces of World War One

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Captain Arthur Roy Brown – Canadian Ace 1893 / 1944 Part 3

Colonel Raymond Collishaw noted that when he visited in April, Brown appeared to be exhausted: he had lost 25lbs ( 11kg ) Is hair was prematurely greying and his eyes were sunken and bloodshot, also contaminated rabbit had left him stricken with gastritis. Going against Collishaw’s suggestions, Brown continued flying and on the 11th and 12th of April shot down two more enemy aircraft. On the 1st of April 1918, the R.N.A.S and the R.F.C merged to become the Royal Air Force. Brown’s No.9 Squadron R.N.A.s became No.209 Squadron R.A.F.

On the morning of the 21st of April 1918, 209 Sqn became engaged in combat with fighters from Jagdstaffel 11, led by Manfred von Richtofen ( the Red Baron ) A newcomer to 209, Brown’s old college chum, Wilfred Reid ‘Wop’ May, who had been instructed to keep clear of the fighting and observe. May noticed an enemy pilot doing the same thing, that pilot was the Red Baron’s cousin, Ltn Wolfram von Richtofen, who had received the same instructions as May.

May attacked Wolfram and soon found himself in the main fight, firing at several fleeting targets until his guns jammed. May dived out of the fight and Manfred von Richtofen gave chase down to ground level. Brown saw May was in trouble and dived steeply to assist his friend. His attack was necessarily of short duration, as he was obliged to climb steeply to avoid crashing in to the ground. Losing sight of both Richtofen and May.

What happened next remains controversial to this day, but it seems highly probable that Richtofen turned to avoid Brown’s attack, and then instead of climbing out of reach of ground fire and prudently heading for home, remained at low altitude and resumed his pursuit of May, who was still zig-zagging as he had not noticed that Richtofen had been temporarily distracted.

It should be noted that it would be physically impossible for Richtofen to have done this, had he already received the wound from which he died. May and Richtofen’s route now took them at low level over heavily defended the Allied front lines. it has been suggested that Richtofen had become lost, as the winds were blowing the ‘wrong way’ towards the west, and the pursuit had drifted to the Allied side.

The front line was in a highly fluid state at the time, in contrast to the more static trench lines of the earlier period. And landmarks can be confusing when flying at low levels. Australian Army machine gunners on the ground fired at Richtofen, who eventually crashed close to the Australian trenches.

Brown’s initial combat report on his fight with Richtofen was Indecisive which his Commanding Officer altered to decisive. Modern historical consensus is that the man who fired the shot that bought down the Red Baron was Australian machine gunner Sgt. Cedric Popkin.

Brown was officially credited with the kill by the R.A.F, shortly after receiving a bar to his D.S.C. at least partly in recognition of this feat, the citation read: Lieutenant (Honory)Captain Arthur Roy Brown D.S.C. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On 21st of April 1918, whilst leading a patrol of six scouts, he attacked a formation of twenty hostile scouts. He personally engaged two Fokker triplanes, which he drove off, then, seeing that one of his flight was being attacked  and apparently hard pressed, he dived on the hostile scout firing all the while, this scout, a Fokker triplane, nose dived and crashed to the ground. Roy Brown was credited with 10 victories.

(C) Damian Grange 2018

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