Air Aces of World War One

Major Roderic Stanley Dallas – Australian Ace – 1891 / 1918 Part Two

On the 3rd of December 1915, Dallas joined No.1 Naval Wing and began flying combat missions using single seat Nieuport 11 fighters and two-seater Caudrons out of Dunkirk, France. Early in his career there, a practical joker imitating the Commanding Officer telephoned Dallas who was the Duty Officer and peremptorily ordered him to take off in a propeller less Breguet. Upon learning that he had been tricked, Dallas joined in the laughter, he not only accepted the resulting nickname of ‘Breguet’ but also used it as a signature on his letters to home. Having made two unconfirmed claims in February 1916 Dallas scored his first confirmed victory on the 23rd of April. He outmanoeuvred a German Aviatik C. and shot it out of control, following his victim down to 2.000 feet , though heavy anti-aircraft fire holed his plane in several places. he went on to three more victories flying the Nieuport 11.

On the 23rd of June 1916, Dallas took delivery of the newest R.N.A.S. fighter Sopwith Triplane # N 500. This was the original prototype, having undergone Admiralty trials before being shipped to France. Though still only a test plane, it was flown in combat just 15 minutes after its arrival. Dallas named it ‘Brown Bread’ and it was the first of a series of ‘Tripes’ that he would fly and fight in over the next year. He achieved his first victory with ‘Brown Bread’ on the 1st of July 1916, the same day that he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant. Three days later he was recommended for further promotion. He scored his last Nieuport-mounted kill on the 9th of July 1916, earning the Croix de Guerre and a mention in despatches for coming to the aid of a French Maurice Farman biplane. On the 7th of September 1916, Dallas was awarded The Distinguished Service Cross, ‘For the gallant manner in which he has carried out his duties,’ since first seeing action in December 1915. By the end of the year he was numbered amongst the earliest of the R.N.A.S. aces, with 8 confirmed, and 4 unconfirmed victories, and had been raised to the rank of Flight Commander.

Dallas became one of the best-known pilots of Sopwith Triplanes in the R.N.A.S. He opened 1917 by setting an altitude record of 26.000 Feet in the Triplane while testing a prototype oxygen set, he endured frostbite and oxygen intoxication in the process. By now No.1 Wings fighter squadron had been renumbered as No.1 Squadron R.N.A.S. and had totally re-equipped with production Triplanes. It also shifted airfields from Veurne in Belgium to Chipilly in France, leaving behind R.N.A.S. control by transferring to No.14 Wing, 4th Brigade of the R.F.C. Formation flying became the order of the day, as the practice of fighter pilots soloing into combat dwindled. The last three weeks of March were also filled with Dallas’s responsibilities for flight and gunnery testing. As British losses in the air began to mount during ‘Bloody April’, Dallas and his squadron moved airfields once more to La Bellevue. They were then in position to take a prominent part in the subsequent battle of Arras, where the intense aerial fighting saw Dallas add to his burgeoning score. The combat of the 23rd of April became known as one of the classic air battles of the war. Dallas and his wingman Thomas Culling took on a squadron-sized formation of 14 German aircraft, having gained an altitude edge on their foes. The naval aces exploited this edge by making quick diving attacks from opposite sides, culminating in short bursts of machine-gun fire. Using the Triplanes superior climbing abilities, they would then bob back up to position themselves for the next assault. In contrast to the usual hit and run tactics of most dogfights, the R.N.A.S. duo launched at least 20 gunnery runs over 45 minutes. The Germans were forced progressively lower, into disarray and then chased back over their own lines. While they shot down three of the enemy aircraft, Dallas and Culling also achieved a more important outcome by blocking and then breaking up a determined enemy effort against the British ground offensive. The action led to the award of a Bar to the Distinguished Service Cross for Dallas and for Culling the Distinguished Service Cross, which were gazetted on the 29th of June 1917.

By June 1917, Dallas had achieved over 20 victories in aerial combat, this experience and his leadership ability, led to his appointment as Commanding Officer of No.1 Naval Squadron on the 23rd of June 1917. The unit had been forced to cut back its operational strength from 18 to 15 aircraft due to lack of pilot replacements and a shortage of spare parts for their aging Triplanes. It had also moved airfields, to an unprepared site at Bailleul. On the ground, Dallas proved to be an efficient organiser, designing and direc ting construction of the new airbase. It was also during this time that he wrote a treatise on air combat tactics, extracts of which have survived. Both the air base layout and the treatise displayed his talent has a sketch artist. On the 2nd of November 1917, No.1 Squadron moved airfields once more, to Middle Aerodrome which put it back under overall R.N.A.S. control. The unit received its first eight new Sopwith Camels on the 9th of November as replacements for the aging Triplanes. On the 11th of November, Dallas was once again mentioned in dispatches, this time by Field Marshal Haig. After receiving its full complement of Camels, N0.1 Squadron was transferred back to England, and took up Home Defence duties at Dover. On the 16th of February 1918, Dallas led his Squadron back to France, where it was based at Teteghem, supporting units on operations along the Belgian coast. He commanded this unit until the 31st of March.

As part of the amalgamation of the R.N.A.S. and R.F.C. to form the Royal Air Force on the 1st of April 1918, Dallas was promoted to Major and given command of No. 40 Squadron R.A.F. flying Royal Aircraft Factory S.E.5s. The squadron boasted several aces in its ranks, and its former R.F.C members were suspicious of Dallas’s naval background. He was nevertheless able to overcome their misgivings and established himself as the new C.O. with his personal demeanour and courage, The nickname of ‘Admiral’ that they bestowed upon him was an affectionate one. Ten days after taking over, he had adapted well enough to his new mount with its inline engine to score his first victory with his new unit. His men also saw that he would not only look out for his rookie pilots, but would not shirk the dangers of ground attack sorties. His offhand attitude to two leg wounds he received during a strafing mission on the 14th of April, after which he made a perfect landing, especially impressed his subordinates, as did his appreciation of all ranks for the hard work they put in. His studious bent continued to serve him, he kept notes on his methods of attacking enemy aircraft, which often exploited their structural weaknesses and used them to tutor pilots under his command.

Dallas was briefly hospitalised by wounds to his thigh and heel on 14th of April, but sneaked out four days later to rejoin his squadron, his departure may have been spurred by the news of the capture of his friend Richard Minifie. As soon as he was able, Dallas was flying again. By the 26th of April he had increased his official score to 37, and been awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his part in the operations at Dunkirk. He had also been recommended for the Victoria Cross on several occasions, but it was never approved. His somewhat casual attitude towards claiming victories was noted by a member of No.40 Squadron, Cecil Usher who noted that Dallas once remarked of an opponent, ‘He went down belching a lot of black smoke and after he had gone down someways one of his planes came off, but I didn’t see him crash so I shan’t claim him’ On the 2nd of May, during a lull in the fighting at Flanders, Dallas took off in his S.E.5 to taunt his foes. He strafed the German base at La Brayelle to ‘attract attention’ before dropping a package on the Aerodrome with a note reading, ‘If you won’t come up here and fight, herewith a pair of boots for work on the ground, pilots for the use of’ he then circled in mist until troops came to handle the bundle, whereupon he dropped two bombs and once again shot up the base causing ‘general panic.’ The news of this singular exploit reportedly provoked laughter from Field Marshal Haig and founder of the R.A.F. General Sir Hugh Trenchard, men not known for their sense of humour. Whilst adding to his score and leading his squadron in combat, Dallas had began thinking beyond the war. He was pleading with his father to quit the dangerous job of mining, with hints that he would support his parents by pioneering aviation in Australia. He also harboured a long – standing ambition of flying from England back to Australia, which would be a record setting journey.

Dallas was raised to Lieutenant Colonel and appointed to the command of a Wing, but he would never read the message that came from Headquarters, that arrived on June the 1st 1918 advising of his promotion and ordering to cease flying. He disappeared on a solo mission the same day. It was later learned that he was killed over Lievin during combat with three Fokker Triplanes from Jagdstaffel 14, probably by its commander Leutnant Johannes Werner. So ended the career of one of the leading lights of the newly formed Royal Air Force. Dallas’s official victory score stands at 39, but his Squadron colleagues say that this should be over 50, due to Dallas’s cavalier attitude to claiming.

(C) Damian Grange 2020

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