An Opinion of a slightly different Kind!

The following was posted by Air Historian Frank Olynyk, to The Aerodrome's forum, in a thread titled "The Numbers Game". I think it says a lot to people on both sides of the Billy Bishop Controversy.

I have said it before here, and I will say it again. NOBODY has ever attempted to match the complete list of Allied claims with the complete list of German & Austro-Hungarian losses. To use the list of victims in Above the Trenches to praise one ace, and denigrate another is flat out wrong. The reason we have such a high proportion of matches for German claims is that we have a high proportion of the times for German claims, and basically all the times for British losses, together with the information known to the British at the time about the circumstances of the loss. For the Germans we have a very low proportion of times of losses available, and no collection of the circumstances of those losses. The basic list of German losses does not even include the aviation unit. Matching claims and losses in these circumstances is at best extremely difficult, time consuming and tedious.

What has been attempted is to review a few of the famous, high scoring aces, Mannock, McCudden, Bishop in particular. Claims and victims for almost any other ace are on a hit-or-miss basis. The difference in the length of the victims list for Mannock and McCudden, and for Bishop, is striking. That is the basis for the "Bishop controversy". Did Bishop lie? NOBODY KNOWS. He can't be asked, and he never said so. Under the circumstances, to say that he lied, or that he was 100% honest, is a leap of faith that cannot be justified by the evidence. At some point in historical research you have to say "I do not know", accept it, and leave it at that.

The British divided claims into two types, Decisive, and Indecisive. In 1918 the Combat in the Air forms allowed three specific categories: Destroyed, Out of Control, and Driven Down Out of Control. The first two were considered Decisive, the latter was not. Destroyed claims included aircraft seen to crash, seen in flames, seen to break up in the air (and "break up" can be strong or weak; "wings folding up" is strong, while "pieces falling off" is weak), or the crew jumping out at altitude. Out of control claims can also be strong or weak, and frequently weak claims were not accepted. A strong claim might be that the victim was last seen at a low altitude (under 1000 feet) out of control and diving. Or that the plane was seen tumbling, somersaulting, or other fantastic gyrations, for a substantial distance. Too many out of control claims are for aircraft diving steeply, which disappear in the clouds/haze/mist. These I would characterize as weak, better left as Indecisive, and Driven Down Out of Control; and in some units that is how they were handled. If a pilot states that the victim was last seen under control, he never makes a claim for an out of control. The wording of the claim is important; "absolutely OOC" is better than "diving steeply". Whether someone would deliberately choose positive phrasing rather than neutral, or even negative, is doubtful (the culture of those times, not ours), but possible. Prove it? Never.

Frank Olynyk.

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Created: March 11, 2001
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