On this day in history : 27th October 1917 – The death of Arthur Rhys-Davids – flying ace of the First World War and the victor of one of the most famous dog fights of the War….

Portrait of Lieutenant Arthur Rhys-Davids – From the collections of the Imperial War Museums – Public domain

As soon as he had finished his schooling Arthur deferred his entry to Oxford University and joined the Royal Flying Corps…. He first reported for duty on the 28th of August 1916 as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps Special Reserve in Oxford and began his training…. He was then to join 56 Squadron at London Colney….

At the beginning of April 1917 the Squadron flew to France and were to based at Vert Galand…. Arthur was to get his first taste of aerial combat on the 7th of May…. He was to encounter a German pilot far more experienced than he was; despite being shot down he lived to tell the tale…. Others were not so lucky; it was a disastrous day for the Squadron, only five aircraft returned to Vert Galand….

Royal AircraftFactory S.E.5 – the type of aircraft Rhys-Davids would have flown – Public domain

On the 23rd of May Arthur scored his first victory – shooting down an Albatross D.111 fighter…. The following day he had three more victories – in just one hour…. And on the 25th he succeeded in bringing down another aircraft – with five victories to his name Arthur was now a flying ace…. On the 25th of June 1917 he learned that he had been awarded the Military Cross….

During an evening flying patrol on the 23rd of September 1917 several members of 56 Squadron, including Arthur, encountered German flying ace Werner Voss…. Credited with 48 victories Voss was much feared but also much admired…. Only at this stage Arthur and his comrades were unaware of who it was they had come across….

The six aircraft of Arthur’s patrol had become involved in a dog fight involving large numbers of aircraft from both sides – when suddenly Voss appeared amidst them…. “The German triplane was in the middle of our formation, and its handling was wonderful to behold. The pilot seemed to be firing at us all simultaneously, and although I got behind him a second time, I could hardly stay there for a second. His movements were so quick and uncertain”…. ~ James McCudden – (one of the most highly decorated airmen in British history and who was flying in the same patrol as Arthur that particular evening…. McCudden was eventually killed in action on the 9th of July 1918)….

The German made no attempt to escape and the six British pilots were now engaged in a ferocious battle with him…. Voss fired and hit McCudden in the wing, then forced two more of the British aircraft out of the fight with hits to their engines…. More British and German planes joined in but still Voss in his Fokker triplane managed to evade them…. Eventually he made a flat turn and Arthur saw an opportunity and managed to get on his tail…. Arthur fired and the Fokker dived towards German lines with the young British pilot still behind him…. But then Voss made an error…. Arthur made a turn away – and the German, mis-reading the situation, turned with him – bringing his aircraft back into Arthur’s firing line – who let him have it full pelt, taking the Fokker down….

When the patrol returned to base it was still unknown to them who the mystery pilot was…. When the Germans announced that their ace pilot Werner Voss was missing in action jubilation broke out in the ranks of 56 Squadron, with showers of congratulations for Arthur….who was later to say…. “If only I could have brought him down alive”….

Werner Voss – a card from the private collection by Scinke, Berlin 1917 – PD-US

On the 27th of October 1917 Arthur was promoted to Lieutenant, backdated to the 1st of September…. Later that same day he took off on a routine patrol and was last seen chasing after a group of German Albatross fighters…. It was just a month after his 20th birthday – he was never found….

2 thoughts on “On this day in history…. 27th October 1917

  1. All that and so young………..
    Two young men, amongst many, fighting for what they believed in and both (Voss and Rhys-Davids) dying at the age of just twenty…….

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    1. I know – such bravery and such sacrifice…. So many families devastated by the loss of their sons – this is really brought home to me, having a son who is about to turn 20…. I can only just begin to imagine what it must have been like….

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