During the first World War, Canadian's served in the Royal Flying Corp (the British arm of the air force) in large numbers and distinguished themselves in many ways. Canadians who wished to serve in the Royal Fling Corps or the Naval flying units had to agree to fight in any unit they were assigned to and swear an oath of loyalty to King George the Vth. Eventually more then 23,000 Canadians were to serve as airmen within the British units with over 1,500 killed.
When the war broke out, the airplane was a relatively new machine that was utilized by the military. The initial missions were for reconnaissance reasons and the planes would fly over the enemy lines and determine movements and actions of the opposing troops. This information was relayed back to the HQ of the British or French military where it was combined with other collected intelligence and formulated into a plan of action for opposing the German movements.
Eventually some of the pilots and observes began to carry weapons on their missions with the intent of using them on other planes or on enemy ground troops. This quickly led to the evolution of the plane as a weapon with machine guns mounted on them for both shooting down other planes and for defence against attacking planes. Another usage of the plane was as a platform for dropping bombs on enemy troops and facilities. This was the birth of the bomber. Both initiatives quickly took off and the air war quickly developed into an important and deadly front in the war.
The technological problems of developing the plane into a more powerful weapon were overcome one at a time. Mounting machine guns so that they would fire in synchronization with the propeller rotation was a major breakthrough and by 1915 the German's introduced the a Fokker fighter that was specifically designed fro air to air combat. By 1916 air combat was fierce, constant and deadly. Large Zeppelins or air ships were bombing England, observation balloons were common on all battlefields and bombers with strategic objectives were coming into their own.
Canadian fighters had begun to emerge as some of the most accomplished and effective air warriors of the conflict. Of the top 12 fighter aces of the First World War, 4 were Canadian.
M. von Richthofen (Germany) 80 kills - The Red Baron
R. Fonck (France) 75 kills
E. Mannock (Britain) 73 kills
William Avery Bishop aka Billy Bishop (Canada) 72 kills
E. Udet (Germany) 62 kills
Ramond Collishaw (Canada) 60 kills
J. McCudden (Britain) 57 kills
A. Beauchamp Proctor (Britain) 54 kills
D. MacLaren (Canada) 54 kills
G. Guynemer (France) 54 kills
William George Barker (Canada) 53 kills
E. Lowenhardt (Germany) 53 kills
The top 15 Canadian aces were
Bishop, William Avery - 72
Collishaw, Raymond - 60
MacLaren, Donald Roderick - 54
Barker, William George - 50
Atkey, Alfred Clayburn - 38
Claxton, William Gordon - 37
Fall, Joseph Stewart Temple - 36
McCall, Frederick Robert Gordon - 35
Quigley, Frank Granger - 33
McKeever, Andrew Edward - 31
Carter, Albert Desbrisay - 28
Hoidge, Reginald Theodore Carlos - 28
McEwen, Clifford Mackay -27
Soden, Frank Ormond - 27
Whealy, Arthur Treloar - 27
Canada's most famous fighter pilot of the war was Billy Bishop. Bishop had attended RMC (Royal Military College - Kingston) and on the outbreak of war he joined the 8th Canadian Mounted Rifles. He served in France with the Canadian Expeditionary Force but in December of 1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. In 1917 he was awarded his flying certificate. Although he had been a below average student at RMC and was considered a mediocre pilot during his training, once he enter combat in 1917 he quickly became the most notable and recognized allied pilot of the war.
His success was attributed to his extraordinary eyesight, his constant practice and a superior awareness of circumstances during air combat. He quickly began to accumulate kills and was rapidly promoted to the command the Flying Foxes squadron. During one 12 day period he shot down 25 German aircraft which earned the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for him.
He followed up this accomplishment when in the early hours of June 2nd, 1917, he took off from his airfield and flew behind enemy lines on the Arras front and single handily attacked a German Aerodrome, inflicting heavy causalities on the German planes and facility. Bishop was awarded a Victoria Cross for this action making him the first Canadian flyer to receive this honour.