Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

17 September 1916

Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richtofen. (Portrait by C. J. von Dühren)
Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiher von Richtofen. (Portrait by C. J. von Dühren, 3 May 1917)

17 September 1916: At approximately 11:00 a.m., near Villers-Pouich, Nord, France, Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, of Jagdstaffel 2, Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (the Luftstreitkräfte), while flying an Albatros D.II, serial number 491/16, spotted a flight of enemy aircraft. Attacking one, he closed to within 10 meters and fired several bursts of machine gun fire.

2nd Lieutenant Lionel B. F. Morris, R.F.C.

The British airplane, a Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B scout bomber, serial number 7018, was flown by Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris, with Captain Tom Rees as observer and gunner. Both officers were assigned from their original regiments to No. 11 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.

The F.E.2B’s engine stopped and it started down. Captain Rees continued firing at von Richthofen until he was killed by the Baron’s gunfire.

Lieutenant Morris was wounded but was able to land the crippled airplane near a German airfield. Von Richthofen landed his Albatross alongside. Lieutenant Morris died while being taken to a field hospital by ambulance.

The body of Lieutenant Morris was buried at Porte-de-Paris Cemetery, Cambrai, France. Captain Rees was buried at Villers-Plouich.

Morris and Rees flew this Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B, serial number 7018, shown surrounded by enemy soldiers. (Unattributed)
Morris and Rees flew this Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2B, serial number 7018, shown surrounded by enemy soldiers. (Wikipedia)

Von Richthofen had just joined Jasta 2 after becoming a fighter pilot. Originally a cavalry officer, he had become an aerial observer before training as a pilot. This action was his first confirmed aerial victory. 83 more would follow and he would become known as The Red Baron.

Captain Tom Rees
Lieutenant Tom Rees, 1915

The Royal Aircraft Factory F.E. 2 (also designated Fighter Mk.I) was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. He had made the first flight in the prototype at Farnborough, Hampshire, 18 August 1911. The F.E. 2B was a two-place, single-engine, pusher biplane used as a scout bomber. It was 32 feet, 3 inches (9.830 meters) long with a wingspan of 47 feet, 9 inches (14.554 meters) and height of 12 feet, 7½ inches (3.848 meters). It had an empty weight of 2,105 pounds (955 kilograms) and gross weight of 2,827 pounds (1,282 kilograms). The airplane’s three-bay wings had a chord of 5 feet, 6 inches (1.676 meters) and were spaced 6 feet, 3½ inches (1.918 meters), vertically. The wings had a 3° 30′ angle of incidence and were not staggered. There was 4° dihedral.

The F.E. 2B was powered by a water-cooled 13.937 liter (850.48 cubic inches) William Beardmore and Company inline six-cylinder engine rated at 120 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. It could produce a maximum 154 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. This engine was a license-built Austro-Daimler 6, which had been designed by Dr.-Ing. Ferdinand Porsche.

The airplane had a maximum speed of 73 miles per hour (117 kilometers per hour) at 6,500 feet, and 72 miles per hour (116 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). The airplane could reach 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) in 19.5 minutes, and 10,000 feet in 45.5 minutes. Its service ceiling was 9,000 feet (2,743 meters).

The F.E. 2B had fuel to remain airborne for 3½ hours.

Boulton & Paul Ltd.-built F.E. 2B A5478 (Aviation News)
Boulton & Paul Ltd.-built F.E. 2B A5478 (Aviation News)

The F.E. 2B was armed with one or two .303-caliber Lewis guns. The second gun was mounted on a telescoping post between the cockpits, and in the raised position could fire over the upper wing to defend the airplane from attacks in the rear. This required the gunner to stand in his seat.

A total of 1,939 F.E.s were built.

An Albatros D.II, similar to that flown by Manfred von Richthofen, 17 September 1916.
An Albatros D.II, similar to that flown by Manfred von Richthofen, 17 September 1916.

The Albatros D.II was a single-place, single-engine biplane fighter designed and built by Albatros Flugzeugwerk GmbH, Johannisthal, Berlin. It was also built under license by Luft-Verkhers-Gesellschaft and Oesterreichische Flugzeugfabrik AG. It was 7.40 meters (24 feet, 3-1/3 inches) long with a wingspan of 8.50 meters (27 feet, 10-2/3 inches) and height of 2.59 meters (8 feet, 6 inches). It had an empty weight of 637 kilograms (1,404 pounds) and gross weight of 888 kilograms (1,958 pounds).

The D.II was powered by a water- and air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 14.778 liter (901.68 cubic inches) Mercedes F1466 (D.III) single-overhead cam inline six-cylinder direct-drive engine with a compression ration of 4.50:1, which produced 162.5 horsepower at 1,400 r.p.m. The engine weighed 618 pounds (280 kilograms).

The Albatros D.II had a maximum speed of 175 kilometers per hour (109 miles per hour) and a service ceiling of 5,180 meters (16,995 feet).

The fighter was armed with two fixed air-cooled 7.92 mm machine guns.

A total of 291 Albatros D.II fighters were built before production shifted to the D.III.

Manfred von Richtofen with an Albatross D.II. (Unattributed)
Manfred von Richtofen with an Albatross D.II. (Unattributed)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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9 September 1972

Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, U.S. Air Force, with his F-4D Phantom II at Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

9 September 1972: Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, United States Air Force, a Weapons System Officer flying on F-4D and F-4E Phantom II fighters, became the high-scoring American Ace of the Vietnam War when he and his pilot, Captain John A. Madden, Jr., shot down two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19¹ fighters of the Không Quân Nhân Dân Việt Nam (Vietnam People’s Air Force), west of Hanoi.

Captain DeBellevue was assigned to the 555th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 432nd Tactical Reconnaissance Wing, at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. With Captain Richard S. Ritchie, he had previously shot down four MiG 21 fighters using AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles. Then while flying a combat air patrol in support of Operation Linebacker, he and Captain Madden, aboard F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, call sign OLDS 01, used two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles to destroy the MiG 19s. These were Madden’s first two aerial victories, but for DeBellevue, they were number 5 and 6.

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG 19

Madden and DeBellevue had fired two AIM-7 Sparrow radar-guided missiles at a MiG-21 which was on approach to land at the Phúc Yên Yen air base northwest of Hanoi, but both missiles missed. The MiG was then shot down by gunfire from an F-4E flown by Captain Calvin B. Tibbett and 1st Lieutenant William S. Hargrove (after two of their missiles also missed). The flight of Phantoms was then attacked by MiG 19s. DeBellevue reported:

We acquired the MiGs on radar and positioned as we picked them up visually. We used a slicing low-speed yo-yo to position behind the MiG-19s and started turning hard with them. We fired one AIM-9 missile, which detonated 25 feet from one of the MiG-19s. We then switched the attack to the other MiG-19 and one turn later we fired an AIM-9 at him.

I observed the missile impact the tail of the MiG. The MiG continued normally for the next few seconds, then began a slow roll and spiraled downward, impacting the ground with a large fireball. Our altitude was approximately 1,500 feet at the moment of the MiG’s impact.

— Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III  at Pages 104–105.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 17.44.20The first MiG-19, damaged by the Sidewinder’s close detonation, crashed on the runway at Phuc Yen.

After becoming the war’s highest-scoring American ace, Chuck DeBellevue was sent to Williams Air Force Base, Arizona, for pilot training. He became an aircraft commander of F-4E Phantom IIs. He retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1998, after 30 years of service.

DeBellevue’s F-4D, 66-0267, was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was reassembled with parts from other damaged Phantoms and is on display as a “gate guard” at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida.

F-4D-29-MC 66-7463, in which he scored his first and fourth kills with Steve Ritchie, is on display at the United States Air Force Academy. Like DeBellevue, this airplane is also credited with 6 victories. DeBellevue’s F-4E-36-MC, 67-0362, in which he and Ritchie shot down their second and third MiG 21s, was sold to Israel in 1973.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-0267, flown by Madden and DeBellevue, 9 September 1972, on display at the main gate, Homestead AFB, Florida. (© Europix)

¹ Many VPAF MiG 19s were the Chinese-built Shenyang J-6 variant.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 September 1940

A twin-engine Heinkel He 111 medium bomber over “the U-bend in the Thames, the heart of London’s dockland, and a landmark known to every Luftwaffe bomber crew” at 1748 hours GMT, 7 September 1940. (Luftwaffe photograph)

7 September 1940: at about 4:00 p.m., the Blitz of London began with the German Luftwaffe attacking the city with 348 bombers escorted by 617 fighters. After dark, a second wave of 247 bombers attacked using the fires from the earlier attack to guide them.

Hauptman Hajo Hermann reported:

“A very clear night. . . everywhere, the German bombers were swarming in. . . Everything was lit up by fires, like a huge torch in the night.” Until 7 September, orders were very strict to not bomb indiscriminately, “But now, for the first time, we were allowed to bomb regardless.”

Duel of Eagles, Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, C.V.O., D.S.O., D.F.C. and Bar, R.A.F. Cassell Publishers Limited, London, Chapter 27 at Pages 393–394.

Approximately 1,000 Londoners were killed that first night. During the Blitz, London was bombed for 76 consecutive nights.

Smoke rises over the City of London, during the first air raid, 7 September 1940. (NARA)

German military leaders believed that England could only be defeated by invasion. Before Germany could stage a cross-channel invasion, though, it had to gain air superiority. After weeks of relentless devastating attacks against British airfields, Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Göring made a fatal mistake. He shifted to attacking population centers.

A bomb crater at the  Elephant and Castle, London, 8 September 1940.

The primary purpose of the Blitz of London was to force the Royal Air Force to defend the City. Luftwaffe commanders believed that they could destroy the RAF in battle. And the RAF had to be destroyed for an invasion of England to go forward.

By the end, losses in airplanes and crews to both sides were about even, but the RAF survived, thus Germany failed in its goal. There was no invasion.

The crew of this Heinkel He 111 on its way to London is easily visible. (Luftwaffe photograph)

The Heinkel He 111 was the primary Luftwaffe bomber. It had a crew of 5 or 6. The airplane was powered by two liquid-cooled Junkers Jumo 211 inverted V-12 engines, producing 1,200 horsepower each, giving the He 111 a maximum speed of 254 miles per hour (409 kilometers per hour). The bomber was 59 feet (17.98 meters) long with a wingspan of 77 feet (23.4 meters). It was armed with three or more 7.92 mm machine guns, and could carry up to 4,400 pounds (2,000 kilograms) of bombs. It had a maximum range of 1,420 miles (2,285 kilometers).

Fires burning at the Surrey commercial Docks, 7 September 1940.

The Bomb Sight Project, sponsored by the University of Portsmouth, The National Archives, and the Joint Information Systems Committee (“Jisc”), has scanned the geographic data of every bomb that fell on London from 10 July 1940 to 6 June 1941. Interactive maps can be seen at

http://bombsight.org/#15/51.5050/-0.0900

By clicking on individual icons, information on the location and type of bomb is provided.

Below is the location of every bomb which fell on London before midnight of the first night of The Blitz, 7 September 1940:

First Night of the Blitz—7th September 1940. (The Bomb Sight Project)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 September 1944

LT William H. Allen in the cockpit of his P-51D Mustang, Pretty Patty II, along with his ground crew, TSGT F.S. Westbrook, SGT W.G. Holmes and CPL F.W. Bandy. (F. Birtciel)

5 September 1944: Lieutenant William H. Allen, U.S. Army Air Corps, was a fighter pilot assigned to the 343rd Fighter Squadron, 55th Fighter Group, based at RAF Wormingford, Essex, England. After escorting a bombing mission to Stuttgart, Lt. Allen, flying his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-14049, Pretty Patty II, (identification markings CY J) and his flight, which included Lieutenant William H. Lewis, attacked an airfield north of Göppingen, Germany.

Lieutenant Allen became an Ace in one day when he shot down five Heinkel He 111 twin-engine bombers as they took off at two-minute intervals.

The flight of Mustangs shot down a total of 16 enemy aircraft.

LT William H. Allen and his ground crew pose with their P-51D Mustang, Pretty Patty II. (F. Birtciel)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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28 August 1972

Captain Richard Stephen Ritchie, United States Air Force
Captain Richard Stephen Ritchie, United States Air Force

28 August 1972: Captain Richard Stephen  Ritchie, United States Air Force, and Weapons System Officer Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, leading Buick flight with their McDonnell F-4D Phantom II, shot down a North Vietnamese MiG 21 interceptor. This was Ritchie’s fifth confirmed aerial combat victory, earning him the title of “ace.” [Chuck DeBellevue would later be credited with six kills.]

An official U.S. Air Force history reads:

     . . . Ritchie flew the lead aircraft of a MiGCAP flight, with Capt. Charles B. DeBellevue as his WSO, during a Linebacker strike mission. “We acquired a radar lock-on on a MiG 21 that was head-on to us,” Ritchie said.

     “We converted to the stern and fired two AIM-7 missiles during the conversion. These missiles were out of parameters and were fired in an attempt to get the MiG to start a turn. As we rolled out behind the MiG, we fired the two remaining AIM-7s. The third missile missed, but the fourth impacted the MiG. The MiG was seen to explode and start tumbling toward the earth. The kill was witnessed by Captain John Madden, aircraft commander in number 3.

McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463, flown by Captains Richie and DeBellevue, 28 August 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463, “Buick 01,” flown by Captains Richard S. Ritchie and Charles B. DeBellevue, 28 August 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

     “It was an entirely different situation,” Ritchie noted to newsmen. The MiG flew at “a much higher altitude than any of my other MiG kills and at a much greater range. I don’t think the MiG pilot ever really saw us. All he saw were those missiles coming at him and that’s what helped us finally get him.”

     The new ace complimented the ground crews who kept the F-4s combat ready: “There’s no way could have done it without them,” he said. In fact, I got my first and fifth MiG in the same plane. Crew Chief Sergeant Reggie Taylor was the first one up the ladder when the plane landed and you just couldn’t believe how happy he was. I think he was more excited than I.”

     DeBellevue, whose total victories rose to four with this day’s kill, commented on the teamwork: “The most important thing is for the crew to work well together,” he said. “They have to know each other. I know what Steve is thinking on a mission and can almost accomplish whatever he wants before he asks. I was telling him everything had to know when he wanted it, and did not waste time giving him useless data.” 

Aces and Aerial Victories: The United States Air Force in Southeast Asia 1965–1973, by R. Frank Futrell, William H. Greenhalgh, Carl Grubb, Gerard E. Hasselwander, Robert F. Jakob and Charles A. Ravenstein, Office of Air Force History, Headquarters USAF, 1976, Chapter III  at Page 103.

Captain Charles B. DeBellevue, U.S. Air Force, with his F-4D Phantom II at Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Charles Barbin DeBellevue, U.S. Air Force, with his F-4D Phantom II at Udorn RTAFB, 1972. (U.S. Air Force)

Flown by five different crews, F-4D 66-7463 shot down six enemy fighters from 1 March  to 15 October 1972. It is now on display at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"MiG Killer," McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463 at Holmstead Air Force Base, Florida. Six red stars on the splitter vane represent the six enemy fighters shot down by this airplane during the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force.
“MiG Killer,” McDonnell F-4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463 at Homestead Air Force Base, Florida. Six red stars on the splitter vane represent the six enemy fighters shot down by this airplane during the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force)
McDonnell F4D Phantom II on display at the Unted States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Unattributed)
McDonnell F4D-29-MC Phantom II 66-7463 on display at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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