MODEST in manner, older than most of his companions, with a mop of dark brown hair over a sun-tanned face, Major Edward Mannock —“Mick” Mannock as he was called — was the pilot’s pilot. He was looked upon by other fighting men as the ace of aces. The story of his career has been told by Squadron Leader Ira Jones in his book King of Air Fighters. Jones fought and flew with him during the war of 1914-18.
MANNOCK WAS AN ACE OF ACES in the opinion of other fighting men although he did not receive much publicity. Mannock was older than most wartime pilots, being twenty-six when the war began. Seventy-three victories are officially credited to him. He was killed on July 26, 1918, when he crashed in flames over the German lines.
An astonishing personality and a born leader of men, Mannock tended so often to belittle his own achievements that his name was scarcely known to the larger public during the war. It was only the people who worked with him over the lines who knew his real worth.
Officially credited with seventy-three victories before he himself went down in flames, Mannock once brought down four enemy machines in one day. The contrast between the lurid accounts of those who saw the fighting with the first three of them and Mannock’s own terse official report is instructive and sheds light on Mannock’s essentially retiring character. The engagement was one of the few in which a loop was used for tactical purposes.
By special permission, Mannock’s own combat report, which is a Crown copyright, is given:
“Observed Pfalz machines (about 6),” he wrote in May 1918, “flying east from direction of Kemmel. Attacked from the south-west and above. Fired long burst at dark-coloured enemy aircraft, which went to pieces. Engaged another dark-coloured enemy aircraft and fired remainder of Lewis drum and proportionate number from Vickers. This machine spun and crashed. Engaged another Pfalz (silver) which was diving north. . . . Enemy aircraft looped and S.E.5 followed, firing Vickers when opportunity occurred. Followed enemy aircraft down to 4,000 feet, and watched it side-slip occasionally. At about 100 feet from the ground the machine spun and crashed.”
In those laconic phrases Mannock describes what must be regarded as one of the most brilliant pieces of individual flying and shooting of the war. Other members of the patrol who saw what happened give a better idea of what really happened. The fight began at 12,000 feet when Mannock attacked a formation of six Pfalz scouts. The first he shot at from directly above and behind and it went to pieces; the next he fired at as it was crossing his bows and he managed to hit it by exceptionally accurate shooting so that it span into the ground.
The third, which was silver coloured, put up a fine fight which brought out all Mannock’s supreme skill and courage. At first the two machines circled, like boxers sparring for an opening. Then Mannock, by careful flying, managed to tighten the circle so that he began to come into firing position. At once the German half rolled and went down a few hundred feet. Mannock followed the manoeuvre in every particular and came out in firing position. He gave the enemy machine a few short bursts.
In desperation the German pilot, seeking still to shake off his persistent adversary, flung his aeroplane into a loop. But Mannock looped behind it, still firing. At last the German pilot sought safety in a spin. But again Mannock followed, also in a spin, and, according to the accounts of members of the patrol, shooting while he was spinning. He told Squadron Leader Ira Jones afterwards that he did so only for moral effect.
When the German machine flattened out, Mannock was still on its tail. After it had twisted and turned a few more times in a hopeless effort to evade him, he shot it down and it crashed. The fourth enemy aircraft brought down on that memorable day was a Hannover-anner two-seater.
This was also brought down by accurate shooting as the machine crossed the path of Mannock’s S.E. Accurate shooting, indeed, as in all the successful fighting pilots, was one of Mannock’s most important abilities.
Mannock usually flew with two other pilots from his squadron and little of his work was done alone. In this he differed from other great war fliers. But in Mannock there undoubtedly lived the same spirit and the same ideals as those which inspired Captain Albert Ball, the pioneer fighter pilot. Mannock achieved his first victory, a balloon which he shot down in flames, on the day on which Albert Ball was killed, May 7, 1917.
It will ever remain a mystery how it was that an air pilot with so many victories to his credit, and one who among other pilots enjoyed a prestige exceeding anything previously known, should have been so little recognized by the general public.
But perhaps it is appropriate that one who was so highly regarded by others who were engaged on the same dangerous work should have remained comparatively unknown outside the Royal Flying Corps. It may be also that it was because Mannock was much older than most successful pilots that his personality appealed less to the uninstructed, for he was twenty-six when war broke out and twenty-nine when he was supreme as an air fighter.
His squadrons were No. 40 and No. 74 and he flew Nieuports and S.E.s. He was afterwards given command of No. 85 Squadron. On July 26, 1918, he was seen to go down in flames over the German lines after having attacked a two-seater.