1 November 1918: At 2:20 p.m., Lieutenant Paul-René Fonck, Escadrille 103, Aéronautique Militaire, shot down a Luftstreitkräfte Halberstadt C, east of Vouziers, France. Its pilot, Gefreiter W. Schmidt of Flieger-Abteilung 297b, was killed.
This was the 75th confirmed enemy aircraft which Fonck had destroyed. (As many as 52 aircraft claimed by Fonck, including another Halberstadt C over Semuy, fifteen minutes later, were not confirmed.) Lieutenant Fonck was the highest-scoring Allied fighter pilot of World War I.¹
The chasseur flown by René Fonck on this date was a Société Pour L’Aviation et ses Dérivés SPAD S.XVII, Nº. 682. The S.XVII was an improved S.XIII, with stronger wings and fuselage, additional bracing wires and a more powerful engine. Its more closely-spaced longerons gave the fuselage a more circular cross-section and a bulkier appearance.
The S.XVII had the same length, wing span and height as the S.XIII, but was heavier. Its empty weight was 687 kilograms (1,515 pounds) and the gross weight was 942 kilograms (2,077 pounds).
The S.XVII was powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 18.473 liter (1,127.265 cubic inch displacement) Société Française Hispano-Suiza 8Fb single-overhead camshaft (SOHC) 90° V-8 engine. This was a right-hand-tractor, direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 5.3:1, and was rated at 300 cheval vapeur (296 horsepower) at 2,100 r.p.m. The Hispano-Suiza 8Fb was 1.32 meters (4.33 feet) long, 0.89 meters (2.92 feet) wide and 0.88 meters (2.89 feet) high. It weighed 256 kilograms (564 pounds).
The S.XVII had a maximum speed of 221 kilometers per hour (137 miles per hour) at 2,000 meters (6,562 feet). It could climb to 2,000 meters in 5 minutes, 24 seconds, and to 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in 8 minutes, 20 seconds. Its ceiling was 7,175 meters (23,540 feet).
Armament consisted of two water-cooled, fixed Vickers 7.7 mm (.303 British) machine guns above the engine, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. The guns’ water jackets were left empty.
The SPAD S.XVIIs were delivered to Escadrille 103 in June 1918. It is believed that 20 were built.
Paul-René Fonck was born 27 March 1894 at Salcy-de Meurthe, the first of three children of Victor Felicien Fonck, a carpenter, and Marie Julie Simon Fonck. His father was killed in an accident when he was four years old, leaving Mme. Fonck to raise Paul-René and his two sisters. He was sent to an uncle who placed him in a religious boarding school in Nancy. He was a good student. After six years, he returned to live with his mother and finished his education in a public school.
At the beginning of World War I, Fonck joined the French Army. He was assigned to an engineering regiment, building roads and bridges and digging trenches. In February 1915 Corporal Fonck was transferred to flight school at St. Cyr. He received his military pilot rating 15 May 1915 and was assigned to Escadrille C47, an observation squadron, where he flew the twin-engine Avion Caudron Type G. 4.
In 1917, Fonck was transferred to Escadrille 103. He flew the SPAD S.VII, S.XII, S.XIII and the S.XVII.
For his military service during World War I, René Fonck was awarded the Croix de Guerre avec 28 Palmes, Croix de Guerre (Belgium); and Great Britain awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Military Cross and Military Medal.
René Paul Fonck died in Paris 23 June 1953. He was buried at the Saulcy-sur-Meurthe Cemetery, near the place of his birth.
¹ Rittmeister Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, Luftstreitkräfte, had 80 confirmed victories and was the leading fighter ace of World War I. Captain (Acting Major) William George Barker, Royal Air Force, is credited with 50. Count Maggiore Francesco Baracca, of Italy’s Corpo Aeronautico Militare was officially credited with 34 before being killed 18 June 1918. Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, American Expeditionary Force, shot down 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. Alexander Alexandrovich Kazakov was the leading ace of Imperial Russia with 20 confirmed victories (another 12 were not officially credited).
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officers of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of bravery of the highest possible order :—
Capt. (A./Major) William George Barker, D.S.O., M.C., No. 201 Sqn., R.A. Force.
On the morning of 27th October, 1918, this officer observed an enemy two-seater over Fôret de Mormal. He attacked this machine, and after a short burst it broke up in the air. At the same time a Fokker biplane attacked him, and he was wounded in the right thigh, but managed despite this, to shoot down the enemy aeroplane in flames.
He then found himself in the middle of a large formation of Fokkers, who attacked him from all directions; and was again severely wounded in the left thigh, but succeeded in driving down two of the enemy in a spin.
He lost consciousness after this, and his machine fell out of control. On recovery he found himself being again attacked heavily by a large formation, and singling out one machine, he deliberately charged and drove it down in flames.
During this fight his left elbow was shattered and he again fainted, on on regaining consciousness he found himself still being attacked, but, notwithstanding that he was now severely wounded in both legs and his left arm shattered, he dived on the nearest machine and shot it down in flames.
Being greatly exhausted, he dived out of the fight to regain our lines, but was met with another formation, which attacked and endeavoured to cut him off, but after a hard fight he succeeded in breaking up this formation and reached our lines, where he crashed on landing.
This combat, in which Major Barker destroyed four enemy machines (three of them in flames), brought his total successes up to fifty enemy machines destroyed, and is a notable example of the exceptional bravery and disregard of danger which this very gallant officer has always displayed throughout his distinguished career.
Major Barker was awarded the Military Cross on 10th January, 1917; first Bar on 18th July, 1917; the Distinguished Service Order on 18th February, 1918; second Bar to Military Cross on 16th September, 1918; and Bar to Distinguished Service Order on 2nd November, 1918.
— The London Gazette, Second Supplement to The London Gazette of FRIDAY, the 29th of NOVEMBER 1918, Number 31042 at Pages 14203, 14204
The Victoria Cross was presented to Major Barker at Buckingham Palace, 1 March 1919. Still recovering from his wounds, Barker could only walk a few paces to receive the medal.
William George Barker is Canada’s most highly-decorated military serviceman. He was born 3 November 1894 at Dauphin, in the Parkland Region of Manitoba, Canada. He was the first of nine children of George William John Barker, a farmer, and Jane Victoria Alguire Barker.
At the opening of World War I, Barker, having previously served with the 32nd Manitoba Horse, enlisted as a trooper with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles. He was trained as a machine gunner and sent to Europe with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. His unit fought in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. In early 1917, Barker volunteered as a gunner in the Royal Flying Corps, and after training, was commissioned a second lieutenant. He flew as an observer and gunner aboard a Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2. Lieutenant Barker shot down at least two enemy aircraft, and was instrumental in calling artillery fire on massed enemy troops. He and his pilot were awarded the Military Cross.
From December 1916 to February 1917, Lieutenant Barker went through pilot training in England. It is reported that he soloed after less than one hour of instruction. After qualifying as a pilot, he returned to the Continent, serving with No. 15 Squadron. In May 1917, Barker was promoted to the rank of captain and placed in command of one of the squadron’s flights. During this period, Captain Barker was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross (a second award). Barker was wounded in August 1917 and was returned to England to recuperate, then spent some time as a flight instructor. He returned to France in October.
Captain Barker was transferred to 28 Squadron and assigned a Sopwith Camel F.1, B.6313. The squadron was sent to Italy, where Hawker engaged in attacking balloons and enemy facilities. He was promoted to major and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and a second bar to his Military Cross (a third award).
Barker was very seriously wounded in the battle in which he earned the Victoria Cross. In addition to the decorations of the United Kingdom, he was awarded the Croix de Guerre of France, and Italy’s Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare.
Barker flew more than 900 hours in combat during World War I. He is officially credited with destroying 50 enemy aircraft, including 9 balloons. All but the last four enemy airplanes were destroyed while flying B.6313, his personal Sopwith Camel.
Returning to Canada at the end of the War, he and fellow Canadian ace Billy Bishop formed Bishop-Barker Company, Ltd., and then Bishop-Barker Aeroplanes, a charter, aircraft sales and maintenance company.
William Barker married Miss Jean Bruce Kilbourn Smith, 1 June 1921, at Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. They had one daughter, Jean Antoinette Barker.
Billy Barker returned to military service with the newly-formed Canadian Air Force and was commissioned a wing commander. He was assigned to command Camp Borden Air Station. In 1924, Wing Commander Barker was assigned as Acting Director, the highest position in the C.A.F., until the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force. Barker was then assigned as a liaison officer to the Royal Air Force. He attended the Royal Air Force Staff College from May 1925 to March 1926. Barker resigned from the R.C.A.F. in 1926, refusing to serve under an officer he did not respect.
After leaving the military service, Barker worked at several positions, including the first president of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team. In 1930, he joined Fairchild Aircraft as a vice-president.
On 12 March 1930, while demonstrating a Fairchild KR-21, CF-AKR (s/n 1021) at Rockcliffe Air Station near Ottawa, Ontario, the airplane went out of control and crashed onto the ice-bound Ottawa River. William George Barker was killed. He was just 35 years old.
Following a state funeral, the body of Wing Commander William George Barker, V.C., D.S.O. and Bar, M.C. and Two Bars, Royal Canadian Air Force, was interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. More than 50,000 people lined the streets leading to the cemetery.
The Sopwith Camel F.1 was a British single-place, single-engine biplane fighter, produced by the Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Canbury Park Road, Kingston-on-Thames. The airplane was constructed of a wooden framework, with the forward fuselage being covered with aluminum panels and plywood, while the aft fuselage, wings and tail surfaces were covered with fabric.
The length of the Camel F.1 varied from 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters) to 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters), depending on which engine was installed. Both upper and lower wings had a span of 28 feet, 0 inches (8.534 meters) and chord of 4 feet, 6 inches (1.372 meters). They were separated vertically by 5 feet (1.524 meters) at the fuselage. The upper wing had 0° dihedral, while the lower wing had 5° dihedral and was staggered 1 foot, 6 inches (0.457 meters) behind the upper wing. The single-bay wings were braced with airfoil-shaped streamline wires. The overall height of the Camel also varied with the engine, from 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) to 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters).
The heaviest Camel F.1 variant used the Le Rhône 180 h.p. engine. It had an empty weight of 1,048 pounds (475 kilograms). Its gross weight of 1,567 pounds (711 kilograms). The lightest was equipped with the Gnôme Monosoupape 100 horsepower engine, with weights of 882 pounds (400 kilograms) and 1,387 pounds (629 kilograms), respectively.
The first Camel was powered by an air-cooled 15.268 liter (931.72 cubic inches) Société Clerget-Blin et Cie Clerget Type 9 nine-cylinder rotary engine which produced 110 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. and drove a wooden two-bladed propeller. Eight different rotary engines¹ from four manufacturers, ranging from 100 to 180 horsepower, were used in the type.
The best performance came with the Bentley B.R.1 engine (5.7:1 compression ratio). This variant had a maximum speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 114.5 miles per hour (184 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It could climb to 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) in 4 minutes, 35 seconds; to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 8 minutes, 10 seconds; and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 15 minutes, 55 seconds. It had a service ceiling of 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Two other Camel variants could reach 24,000 feet (7,315 meters).
The Bentley B.R.1 rotary engine was designed by Lieutenant Walter Owen Bentley, Royal Naval Air Service (later, Captain, Royal Air Force), based on the Clerget Type 9, but with major improvements. It used aluminum cylinders shrunk on to steel liners, with aluminum pistons. The Bentley B.R.1 (originally named the Admiralty Rotary, A.R.1, as it was intended for use by the Royal Navy) was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 17.304 liter (1,055.9 cubic inches) nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was rated at 150 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m. The B.R.1 was 1.110 meters (3 feet, 7.7 inches) long, 1.070 meters (3 feet, 6.125 inches) in diameter and weighed 184 kilograms (406 pounds.) The engine was manufactured by Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England.
The Camel was armed with two fixed, forward-firing .303-caliber Vickers machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller. These guns were modified for air cooling. Some night fighter variants substituted Lewis machine guns mounted above the upper wing for the Vickers guns. Four 25 pound (11.3 kilogram) bombs could be carried on racks under the fuselage.
The Sopwith Camel was a difficult airplane to fly. Most of its weight was concentrated far forward, making it unstable, but, at the same time making the fighter highly maneuverable. The rotary engine, with so much of its mass in rotation, caused a torque effect that rolled the airplane to the right to a much greater degree than in airplanes equipped with radial or V-type engines. A skilled pilot could use this to his advantage, but many Camels ended upside down while taking off.
Twelve manufacturers² produced 5,490 Sopwith Camels between 1916 and 1920. By the end of World War I, it was becoming outclassed by newer aircraft, however it was the single most successful fighter of the war, shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft.
One single fighter, Major William Barker’s Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Camel F.1 B.6313, shot down 46 enemy aircraft, more than any other fighter in history. According to an article by Bob Pearson in “History in Illustration” (http://www.cbrnp.com/profiles/quarter1/barkers-camel.htm), between 2 October 1917 and 29 September 1918, Barker flew 379 hours, 10 minutes in this airplane.
It is believed that only seven Sopwith Camels still exist.