Billy Bishop And The War In The Air

By Nikola Tasic

Billy Bishop, the most successful World War 1 Canadian pilot

Beginning of Aviation Warfare

It was in World War 1 that air planes were first mass produced, as well as being the first time they would be used in the military. The initial use for planes in World War one was more tactical rather then strategic because pilots would work in contact with ground forces and act as eyes in the sky for the ground units. Pilots were to look for important enemy positions and locations suck as trenches, artillery and general battle positioning so that ground forces would know what they were up against (Wikipedia: Aviation in World War 1). The aircraft of World War 1 also had another important job to carry out and this was flying high in the sky and gathering reconnaissance information on enemy activity (Wikipedia: Aviation in World War 1). In the early stages of the war aircraft had next to no offensive ability which is why they were used mostly for gathering information on enemy whereabouts and positioning rather then going in themselves and fighting(G.W.Larkin, J.P.Matresky, "World War 1"), but nonetheless they still played an important role in early trench warfare in helping spot enemy movements and locations.

British Airco DH-1, an example of the early aircraft used to do reconnaissance missions.

Weapenization of Aircraft

On april 1915 the first forward firing machine guns were installed onto planes by Anthony Fokker, Roland Garros and Morane-Salnier. These three men all contributed knowledge and technology to create the first forward firing weapons, Anthony Fokker worked on and developed a synchronization device that worked in conjunction with an interrupter gear and Roland and Morane both worked on metal deflector wedges that attached to the propeller blades. This system all together is what let Roland Garros achieve the first ever shooting down of a plane by firing through the propeller blades on April 1, 1915 (Wikipedia: Roland Garros (aviator). This is when air combat really started to happen and when the true potential of air planes in the war effort was being seen.

Billy Bishop in the cockpit of his nieuport 17

Letters From Billy Bishop

Dear Brother William                                                                              January 1916

                I have just returned from a reconnaissance mission over France. I was an observer for British artillery (Wikipedia:Billy Bishop) on the mission and my job was to spot and relay back the co-ordinates of German artillery form the soldiers on the ground. Before you get worried brother know this, the missions was a great success. Me and my pilot were able to locate them so our allies on the ground could destroy them before they could deal any damage to our trenches. I am almost 100 Percent sure that without the information ground regiments were receiving from us, they would have never been able to locate the enemy artillery locations and destroy them and in turn our trenches would have been overrun.  Many men were impressed with our work up there and thanked us for the help. This is it for now but I will keep sending you messages on my progress and what I am doing William, also I am almost certain they quite soon I will be flying my own plane into combat but for now goody bye.


Billy Bishop

This was the aircraft assigned to Billy Bishop on November 1916

Dear William                                                                                        March 25, 1917

                     William you wont believe what I have accomplished in the last day! Me and 3 other pilots were out flying when we  were engaged by 3 enemy German planes. It was a very intense and difficult battle for me since I was still fairly new but I was able to claim my first kill as well as badly wound another enemy plane. Though it was one of my first successes it was shortly celebrated because I hadn't noticed before but my engine was about to fail. I was able to crash land my plane in no man's land, but I was still not safe because I was only 300  meters from the German front line. As soon as I gathered my wit after the crash landing I got myself back onto my feet and ran for my life across no man's land back to safety in allied trenches. To conclude this great adventure I spent the night in a dugout 300 meters from out front lines during a rainstorm which is where I wrote this letter to you. It was the greatest adventure of my life and even though my life was in danger many times throughout this adventure of mine I am still happy I was able to have it.


Billy Bishop

(Base information gained from Wikipedia:Billy Bishop:Aerial Combat)

Dear William                                                                                                       April 7, 1917

I come bearing great news brother! I have recently been promoted to the position of flight commander after my recent triumphs. You might ask yourself what these triumphs might have been, I have reached 5 official victories as well as many unofficial "Lone Wolf" missions deep in enemy territory. This has earned me the title of ace pilot and to celebrate these recent successes my mechanic has repainted the nose of my plane blue which is the mark of an ace. Sadly I have not come only bearing good news, the style of flying I do is quite reckless and dangerous to me and those flying with me because my mechanic counted 210 bullet holes after one of my recent flight missions. With this in mind I have developed a new form of attack that uses the element of surprise to get the job done before the enemy has time to shoot us out of the sky. I have also heard rumours that the Germans have come up with a nick name for me the "Hells Handmaiden", seems im making quite a name for myself with both sides of this war. My success is also giving a large moral boost to our soldiers as well, seems me and my fellow pilots are making quite the difference in the war by not only distracting the Germans to constantly watching the skies but also encouraging our soldiers. My final message is that I will soon be returning to Canada because it seems our people need a great deal of inspiration to keep supporting this war.


Billy Bishop

(Base facts gained from Biography base: Billy Bishop Biography)

Diary entry from his return to canada

fall 1917

On my return to Canada I instantly saw why they had wanted me to go and boost their moral. Canadians looked to have grown tired of the war and as a famous pilot I seemed to be a symbol of hope to them and reignited their desire to win the war. I went through Canada and speaking with the general public to re inspire them. It seems that me being there has helped quite a bit because I am a pilot which is still something that amazes the people because it is so dangerous and difficult to do.

(facts obtained from Biography base: Billy Bishop Biography)

Since Billy Bishop had become a hero among the allies and a source of hope the government became evermore concerned about how his death might affect the public and on June 18 he was ordered back from the fighting end to help organize the new Canadian Flying Corps. Billy returned even though he was not happy with this decision as he wrote back to his wife "This is ever so annoying" (Biography Base: Billy Bishop Biography). This is why Billy Bishop and the war in the air were significant to the World War 1 effort because they provided valuable information on enemy locations kept enemy's on edge, gave assistance to ground forces from the air and became heroes among the general public for the extraordinary work (Biography Base: Billy Bishop Biography).

Other Related Websites


Wikipedia. "Aviation in World War I." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 13 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Duffy, Micheal. "" First World N.p., 22 Aug. 2009. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Wikipedia. "Billy Bishop." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Biography Base. "Billy Bishop Biography." Billy Bishop Biography. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Wikipedia. "Roland Garros (aviator)." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

Comment Stream

2 years ago

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