Billy Bishop’s early morning raid

May 29, 2019 by Sharon Adams

William “Billy” Bishop as credited with destroying 72 enemy aircraft during the first World War.
William Rider-Rider/LAC/PA-001654
In the first two months of Billy Bishop’s flying career, from the end of March to the end of May 1917, the flying ace had brought down 22 planes and earned the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. And his most famous exploit was yet to come.

On June 2, he took off in his Nieuport 17 aircraft from the home base of No. 60 Squadron in northern France, deliberately early in the morning, intending to destroy an aerodrome. “Dawn was the hour I considered advisable, as there would be very few machines in the air, and I would have a great chance of evading trouble on the way to the aerodrome,” he wrote in Winged Warfare.

He flew over enemy lines and, when his original target proved unsuitable, spotted, near Cambrai, a group of canvas hangars and six aircraft, some with their engines running.

He took out one aircraft while it was taxiing; shot at a second that crashed into some trees; and downed the third after a dogfight. His own aircraft resembled a slice of Swiss cheese.

The exploit garnered the Victoria Cross, the first to be earned by a Canadian airman, presented to him in August by King George V. It was one of many career honours, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Deemed too valuable to lose, Bishop was pulled from combat in August and sent home to help with recruitment and to take some leave. In 1918, he was appointed commander of the Flying Foxes squadron and returned to France. That June, he was recalled to England to organize a Canadian flying corps.

On his last sortie on June 19, he downed five enemy aircraft within 15 minutes, bringing his total to 72.

After the war, he went into the oil business, but maintained his connection with the Royal Canadian Air Force between the world wars, and served again in the Second World War, as RCAF director of recruiting.

After the war, he returned to the oil business. His offer to serve in the Korean War was not accepted.

Bishop died in 1956. He was given a military funeral in Toronto, where 25,000 people lined the route of the procession.

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