Major Lanoe Hawker VC DSO

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by Adrian Roberts, Jan 5, 2009.

  1. Adrian Roberts

    Adrian Roberts Active Member

    I have copied this from the thread on Hauptman Roser, so that Lanoe Hawker VC has his own thread.

    The passage below is lifted straight from Hawker's Wikipedia entry, but since I contributed a considerable chunk of it, including the discussion as to why the VC was merited, I don't have too much compunction about reproducing it here!

    Lanoe George Hawker VC, DSO (30 December 1890 –23 November 1916) was a World War I English fighter pilot. He was the third pilot to receive the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was killed in a dog fight with the legendary German ace Manfred von Richthofen ("The Red Baron").

    Son of a distinguished military family, Hawker was born on 30 December 1890 at Longparish, Hampshire, England. Lanoe was sent to the Royal Navy College in Dartmouth, but although highly intelligent and an enthusiastic sportsman, his grades were disappointing. As a naval career became more unlikely, he entered The Royal Military Academy in Woolwich before joining the Royal Engineers, as an officer cadet. A clever inventor, Hawker developed a keen interest in all mechanical and engineering developments. During the summer of 1910 he saw a film featuring the Wright Flyer and after attending an aircraft flying display at Bournemouth, he quickly found an interest in aviation, learning to fly at his own expense at Hendon. On 4 March 1913, Hawker was awarded his Private Pilot's Certificate from the Royal Aero Club.
    He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, reporting to the Central Flying School at Upavon.

    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 Be-2c and he undertook numerous reconnaissance missions into 1915, being wounded once by ground fire. 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 200ft) from his BE-2c. He used a tethered German balloon to help shield him from enemy ground fire as he made successive attacks.
    The squadron now received several single seat scouts, and some early F.E.2 'pushers'. One aircraft received was a Bristol Scout that Hawker, with assistance from Air Mechanic Ernest Elton, equipped with their design of Lewis gun mount, enabling the machine gun to fire forward obliquely at an angle, missing the propeller arc.
    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, the use of fur-lined thigh boots, 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. It was issued for trials in July and after modifications was issued generally to the RFC and RNAS.

    Following an initial air victory in June, on 25 July 1915 when on patrol over Passchendaele, Captain Hawker attacked three German aircraft in succession, flying Bristol Scout C, serial No. 1611. The first, after he had emptied a complete drum of bullets from his aircraft's single Lewis machine gun into it, went spinning down. The second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third – an Albatros C.I of FA 3[1] – which he attacked at a height of about 10,000 feet, burst into flames and crashed. (Pilot Oberleutnant Uebelacker and observer Hauptmann Roser were both killed.) For this feat he was awarded the Victoria Cross. This particular sortie was just one of the many which Captain Hawker undertook during almost a year of constant operational flying and fighting. He claimed at least 3 more victories in August 1915, either in the Scout or flying an F.E.2.
    Hawker was posted back to England in late 1915, with some 7 victory claims (inc.1 captured, 3 destroyed, 1 'out of control' and 1 'forced to land') making him the first British flying ace, and a figure of considerable fame within the ranks of the RFC.
    It has since been argued that shooting down three aircraft in one mission was a feat repeated several times by later pilots, and whether Hawker deserved his Victoria Cross has been questioned. However, in mid-1915 it was unusual to shoot down even one aircraft, and the VC was awarded on the basis that all the enemy planes were armed with machine guns. More significantly, later fighter pilots had machine guns that fired through the propeller by means of a "synchronizer gear" that prevented the bullets striking the propeller. Therefore, they could aim the whole aircraft, thus presenting a small target to the enemy while approaching from any angle, preferably from a blind spot where the enemy observer could not return fire. Hawker flew before Britain had a workable synchronizer gear, so his Bristol Scout had its machine gun mounted on the left side of the cockpit, firing forwards and sideways at a 45 degree angle to avoid the propeller. The only direction from which he could attack an enemy was from its right rear quarter - precisely the direction from which it was easiest for the observer to fire at him. Thus, in each of the three attacks, Hawker was directly exposed to the fire of an enemy machine gun.

    Promoted to Major early in 1916 Hawker was placed in command of the RFC's first fighter squadron, Number 24 flying the Airco DH.2 pusher. After two fatalites in recent flying accidents, the new fighter soon earned a reputation for spinning. Hawker countered this by taking a DH.2 up over the Squadron base and, in front of the Squadron pilots, put the aircraft through a series of spins, each time recovering safely. After landing he carefully described to all pilots the correct procedures to recover from a spin. Once the pilots became used to the DH.2's characteristics confidence in the aircraft rose quickly [2]
    He then led the squadron back to Bertangles, north of the Somme in February 1916, where the squadron quickly helped counter the Fokker Eindecker monoplanes of the German Air Force which were dominant over the Western Front in the run up to the Somme offensive in July 1916. Motivated by Hawker’s aggressive philosophy of (quote) ‘Attack Everything’, 24 Squadron had claimed some 70 victories by November.
    By mid 1916 RFC policy was to ban Squadron Commanders from operational flying, Hawker included. However, he continued to make frequent offensive patrols and reconaissance flights, particularly over the Somme battlefields.
    However, as the year wore on, the Germans introduced far more potent fighters to the front, rapidly making the DH.2 obsolete.

    On 23 November 1916, while flying an DH-2 Serial No. 5964 left Bertangles Aerodrome at 1300 as part of 'A' Flight, led by Capt J. O. Andrews and including Lt (later AVM) R.H.M.S Saundby. Andrews led the flight in an attack on two German aircraft over Achiet. Spotting a larger flight of German aircraft above, Andrews was about to break off the attack, but spotted hawker diving to attack. Losing contact with the other DH-2's, Hawker began a lengthy dog-fight with an Albatros D.II flown by Leut.Manfred von Richthofen of Jasta 2. Running low on fuel, Hawker eventually broke away from the combat and attempted to return to Allied lines. The Red Baron's guns jammed 50 yards from the lines, but a bullet from his last burst had struck Hawker in the head, killing him instantly. His plane spun from 1,000 feet and crashed 200 metres east of Luisenhof Farm, just south of Bapaume on the Flers Road, becoming the German ace's 11th victim. Richthofen claimed Hawker's Lewis gun from the wreck as a trophy and hung it above the door of his quarters.
    Hawker's original VC was lost when the Hawker family belongings were left behind after the fall of France in 1940. On their return after World War II, they found that their possessions, including the VC, had been stolen. A replacement was issued to Hawker's brother on 3 February 1960, and is now is displayed at the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon.

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