Hawker was posted to France in October 1914, as a captain with No. 6 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, flying Henri Farmans. The squadron converted to the RAF B.E. 2c and he undertook numerous reconnaissance missions into 1915.
On 22 April he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for attacking a German zeppelin shed at Gontrode by dropping hand grenades at low level (below 200 ft) from his B.E.2c.
Hawker was a natural pilot and his aggressive tactics saw him become the first flying 'ace' of the RFC.
The 6th squadron received several single seat Bristol Scouts, and some early F.E.2 'pushers'.
One Scout that Hawker, with assistance from Air Mechanic Ernest Elton (who later became an Ace Pilot himself), equipped with their design of Lewis gun mount, enabling the machine gun to fire forward obliquely at an acute horizontal angle to the axis of flight, missing the propeller arc.
On 25 July 1915, in that Scout he brought down three German aircraft near Ypres and by September 1915, Hawker had added four more victories.
Also in the same month Hawker was sent home to take command of the newly-formed 24 Squadron, RFC. This fighter unit was the first to be equipped exclusively with Airco DH2 single-seater scouting aircraft intended for combat. As a 'pusher' with the engine located behind the pilot, the DH2 had a good field of fire for its Lewis gun mounted at the front.
Hawker led 24 Squadron to France in February 1916 and established it at Bertangles, north of the Somme. It was during this period that he invented the fleece-lined, thigh-length boots that became known as 'fug boots' and later became standard issue.
Hawker's innovative ideas at this time greatly benefited the still fledgling RFC. He helped to invent the Prideaux disintegrating link machine-gun belt feed, and initiated the practice of putting fabric protective coverings on the tips of wooden propellers and devising a primitive 'rocking fuselage' for target practice on the ground. In 1916 he also developed (with W.L. French) the increased capacity 97-round 'double drum' for the Lewis machine gun.
In early 1916, the German Fokker E1 monoplane was still dominant over the Western Front. But the arrival of 24 Squadron, motivated by Hawker's concise philosophy - 'Attack Everything!' - soon helped the Royal Flying Corps to turn the balance. On 1 July, the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the squadron flew a number of patrols and Hawker personally led two reconnaissances. Soon, British airpower dominated the skies over the Somme and 24 Squadron had claimed 70 victories by November.
In September 1916, the arrival of new German aircraft once again shifted the balance of power away from the Royal Flying Corps. On 23 November, a week after the Battle of the Somme ended, Hawker took part in a patrol near Bapaume.
After attacking up to eight German aircraft over Achiet, he began a long dogfight with one in particular. The pilot was German 'ace' Manfred von Richthofen, who later wrote, 'I discovered that I was not meeting a beginner. He had not the slightest intention of breaking off the fight…' The battle lasted for more than 30 minutes until, with Hawker running out of fuel, he was finally brought down and killed, von Richthofen's eleventh victim. Hawker was aged just 25 when he died.
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