Sopwith Camel


The German soldiers on the ground panicked – they began to run about like ants when someone tramples on the anthill. Chaos took control of the entire airfield. The Camels passed low above the ground and made a tight turn over the wall of the forest. Now they were roaring above the margin of the forest at a tree top height and could watch the outcome of their attack – the hangar was in bright flames and clouds of smoke were rising above the destroyed barrack. Mechanics were running around the entire airfield in fear, but the machine gun positions were empty, as no one was able to think about defense now.
It soon became apparent why – in great rush, German mechanics rolled one, then a second, and finally a third biplane out of the burning hangar. The Camel pilots watched in surprise, but there was no time for analyses, as a first machine gun already rattled from a position protected by sandbags. Collishaw pointed the German defense to “Titch” in order that he distract it, and he himself directed towards the standing aircraft.
He dashed at some 10 m above the ground toward the hangar. From the corner of his eye he managed to observe small fountains of sand emerging around the machine gun position – it was Rochford in action. He set his sights on the first Albatros and activated both his machine guns with short bursts in order to prevent a jamming. He was very glad to see the Vickers’ rounds hit the wings and fuselage of the German machine. He passed just above it and u-turned for another attack.
Now his bullets also perforated the two biplanes next to the first one. On his third pass, one of them suddenly burst out into a huge ball of fire, Collishaw turning at the last instant to avoid flying into the cloud of smoke and fire. Burning petrol spilled onto the ground. At the same time single shots could be heard coming from the ground – it was German soldiers standing near the hangar and shooting at him from their guns, but they quickly had to run for cover, as they were fired upon by “Titch” Rochford. This allowed Collishaw to easily make two more attacks on the standing aircraft, even though a few bullet holes had appeared in his Camel’s wings. All three Albatroses were burning with bright flames against the smoke of the destroyed hangar.

F.1/3 was initially propelled by Clerget 9B, later by Le Rhône 9J of 110 hp and experimental Clerget LS  (Clerget 9BF) of 140 hp. [Kagero archive]


At some point Collishaw noticed an airplane approaching from the east. He left the airfield alone and began to ascend. A German biplane was just passing at 100 m, probably going to land on the airfield. The crew saw the coming danger and rapidly maneuvered close to the ground. It was too late, though. The excellent agility of the Camel did not let them escape the predicament unharmed. After a few violent turns Collishaw found himself forty meters behind the Albatros’ tail. Two short bursts hit the engine of the German machine. Fire appeared at once, and a moment later the plane crashed into the ground, the debris scattered on the airfield’s takeoff area.
He climbed and wagged the Camel’s wings as a sign to break off the action and return to base. “Titch” Rochford joined him and the two of them headed west. Collishaw saw “Titch” taking off his scarf and shouting something to him with a happy face. The sound of the engine and the blowing wind drowned the other’s voice, but Collishaw guessed what it was about. He only nodded his head and ordered Rochford to watch the sky around them – it would be a great shame to be jumped after such a successful action. Upon landing, “Titch” shook his hand for a long while, congratulating him on his success. But Collishaw knew that he owed everything to the very fact that he had not had to take care of ground fire.
Anyway, he decided to check what damage they had caused at Dorignies. He immediately had his aircraft refueled and rearmed, and he took off again. Rochford would have flown, too, but his machine appeared to have taken too much damage, whereas all the other planes were on patrol at the moment. Ray Collishaw flew alone.
This time Dorignies proved to have aerial protection – a lone Albatros fighter was patrolling the sky. Collishaw knew very well that his plane was far superior to the German machine. He at once turned his Camel in that direction and attacked from below. The Albatros pilot noticed him against the ground and a circling combat commenced. The aircraft circled like crazy in tight turns. The air filled with the roar of engines working at the top revs. Ray felt the Camel vibrated for overloads, but he was gradually getting advantage. Left and right turns followed one another, the Camel being apparently more agile. Finally Collishaw got his gunsight set on the cross-shaped Albatros. Short bursts came from the nose of the British fighter, piercing the enemy’s skin. The Albatros shook, flew on straight for a while, and then it was struck by a violent explosion. A hit in the tanks! The Albatros caught fire and glided down to the ground, smoke trailing behind. Seconds later it crashed amid the trees of the forest.

Ruston, Proctor & Co. Ltd. In late 1917. The machine in the foreground is probably B2428. [Kagero archive]