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William George Billy Barker Essay, Research Paper

William George Billy Barker

William George Barker was born in Dauphin, Manitoba on November 3, 1984. When he was a boy, he spent most of his free time riding his horse and hunting birds with his shotgun. As a teenager, he had a great interest in shooting and spent much of his earned money on ammunition. While shooting on a variety of shooting ranges around Dauphin and Winnipeg, he became quite proficient with the service rifle. After his family moved to Winnipeg, it seemed natural that he joined the cavalry as his sense of balance on a horse stood him in good stead in the air.

After completing basic military training, Barker went overseas in June, 1915 with the First Canadian Mounted Rifles, selected as a machine gunner. One day, after he arrived in France, he sat back and watched as a Fokker Eindecker shot down an enemy plane. Like many others, he decided the best way out of the trenches was to join the Royal Flying Corps. At that time, the RFC was low on observers and were accepting men with minimal qualifications. He was rejected after his first application, but reapplied and was accepted at the rank of Corporal. After he completed his six days of training as an observer, he was given his observers badge and posted to No. 9 Squadron in Bertangles, France.

The RFC flew the outdated, dangerous (to their occupants), and sluggish BE2c reconnaissance airplane in their battles. These were the same planes they used in the Battle of the Somme on July 1, 1916. Amongst the fighting, they were also trying to photograph the developments on the front and act as aerial artillery spotters. Both of these duties were crucial, and also highly dangerous. Almost all of the original crews died or were shot down, but Barker managed to survive, and even shot down a German pilot flying a Roland Scout in July. Two weeks later, he downed a second Roland Scout in flames and was Mentioned in Despatches, the lowest form of recognition in the British military for having done something unusual, and useful, in battle.

In April 1916, he was promoted to 2nd Lt. and posted to No. 4 Squadron as an observer. As No. 4 was a Corps Squadron, their duties were to conduct reconnaissance of the enemy lines, bombing, photography, artillery spotting, contact patrol and general harassment of the enemy troops. Above all, the most important function was in the photo reconnaissance of the enemy lines.

Prior to the First Battle of the Somme, Barker was wounded, but as it was not serious, he was bandaged and sent back to flying. The Somme offensive was a very hazardous duty for Corps Squadrons, with never ending demands for photographs and bombing of trouble spots. Barker provided top notch service at this time, flying dangerous missions to provide information on enemy troop concentrations. With this information, the Corps were able to direct artillery fire to the German s positions. His work undoubtedly made a difference, as his reports broke up several German counter


During mid-July, Barker was transferred to the No. 15 Squadron. Several days later, Barker and his pilot were to photograph the new defensive work of the Germans. Over German lines, they were attacked by two German scouts. They fought off the two Albatros DII s, doing such damage that they both fled. They proceeded to photograph the area but again were intercepted by four more Germans, which they also drove off. This work combined with the high quality of his previous work brought him his first decoration, the Military Cross.

Being more ambitious than most of the observer corps, Barker applied for pilot training. In the beginning of 1917, he was accepted into flight school. He was a natural pilot, soloing after a short 55 minutes of dual instruction. After being posted back to No. 15 Squadron, he now sat in the cockpit of an RE8 doing reconnaissance and artillery spotting. He also shortly commanded C Flight and was made a Captain. The RE8 was a marginal improvement over its predecessor, but not much. Still, Barker managed to shoot down an enemy plane in March and rapidly became known as the best recon pilot on the front. During the Arras Offensive in April, he earned another Mentioned in Despatches for directing fire on a trench full of German troops. Moments after he directed shell fire onto two long range artillery guns, earning him a bar to his Military Cross and a promotion to Flight Commander.

In September, he was sent to England to train pilots. Here, Barker flew a Sopwith Camel for the first time. He then renewed his efforts to be posted to a fighter squadron and after an extremely low pass over HQ buildings, was posted to No. 28 Squadron flying Camels.

His first combat mission as a fighter pilot was part of a bombing mission to Rumbeke Aerodrome. As a counter attack, a swarm of Albatros DIII s came after the Allied aircraft. After a 15 minute dogfight, Barker literally shot the wings off of one Albatros. Two days later, he made ace status by downing two more Albatroses. He then downed his seventh fighter two days later.

Barker would likely have become a top ace if it had not been for the

Austro-Hungarian offensive in Italy. Over 800,000 Italian troops had been captured and the RFC was ordered to send four squadrons to help the Italians regain their balance, including No. 28 Squadron.

The British aircraft in Italy were arranged into one Corps Squadron doing various duties. The three Scout Squadrons were to provide escort for the RE8s, intercept enemy aircraft, shoot down observation balloons and carry out offensive patrols behind enemy lines. Their first task was to let the Austrians know they were there. Barker opened the killing by downing on of their opponents.

Observation balloons on both sides became primary targets for both fighters. Denying enemies knowledge of activities was important, so orders were made to attack balloons as son as they appeared. Balloon busting was risky business that killed many aviators on both sides, as balloons were given much protection. In late January, Barker and another pilot, Hudson, sighted two balloons in a field which they attacked and destroyed in flames. During mid-February, Barker and Hudson again went during thick ground mist to destroy balloons. This attack worked flawlessly, as the machine gunners were too busy avoiding death to worry about balloons.

On Christmas day 1917, Barker, Hudson, and another pilot decided to send

seasons greetings to the Austrians. On a large piece of cardboard, they wished them a Merry X-Mas and proceeded to open fire into their open hanger doors. This action angered the Austrian commander, and after a day of drinking, the Austrians went out on a reprisal attack, still hung over. The British spotted them a long way off and a large melee ensued, resulting in the loss of 12 Austrian aircraft, one by Barker.

One Austrian plane managed to land on the British field. The RFC pilots

expected an injured pilot, but found him out cold from booze. Eventually, they got the story of the Christmas Day raid, which was reported to the British commander. Because of the great results of the bombing, the three pilots were not disciplined for the event for disobeying orders, but were not decorated as they would have been.

On New Year s Day ,1918, Barker added to his rising score while escorting RE8 bombers. He noticed an Albatros stalking him, and managed to send him tumbling into a mountain side. Four days later, he received word that he had been awarded the second highest award for valor on the battlefield, the Distinguished Service Award. In early February, he downed another Albatros and an Aviatic reconnaissance plane.

When not flying, Barker was not exactly a role model, and probably not a lot of fun. He did not drink or smoke, or take part in parties and pranks. He was more likely to be doing aircraft maintenance or talking to mechanics. Barker loved to fly and fight.

British Headquarters became so impressed that they started to use him for many more difficult missions, which included dropping spies behind enemy lines. After many failed attempts, Barker and a mechanic rigged the spy s seat in the gunner s position attached to a trap door. Once they came into position, he would spring the door and the spy would drop out, eliminating the risk of a courageous leap over the side of the plane. These drops became so successful that the Italian King awarded him the Silver Medal for Valour, the highest award available to non-Italian combatants.

On April 10, Barker was promoted to Flight Commander and moved to No. 66

Squadron. His number of kills continued to climb, shooting down an Albatros on the 17th and 8 more in May. All of the air activity made for a very peaceful time in the Corps Squadron. Barker was awarded another bar to his Military Cross for his work done in the first two months of 1918, equivalent to him receiving it three times, had it not been for his Christmas Day attack.

After some excellent work done by one flight of Bristol FE2 Brisfits in the No. 66 Squadron, British command formed a new squadron almost entirely of them. Thus, No. 139 Squadron was born and on July 14, Barker promoted to Major and given command of it.

The next day, No. 139 was in action, downing two of a formation of five

Austrians. On the 18th, Barker and a few others shot a flight down a flight of five Austrians. Two days later, Barker interrupted an Austrian attack, downing two Albatros s. By now, Barker had 33 aircraft and 9 balloons to his name, and also earned a bar on his Distinguished Service Order.

In September, he was ordered to take command of a flight training school in England. Upon arrival, he immediately tried to return, arguing he couldn t teach without current knowledge. The school eventually gave in and provided him with a new fighter, the Sopwith Snipe. At this time, the Germans had new aircraft capable of flying higher that the British Camel s and SE5a s, so naturally the Germans were not expecting trouble at 24,000 feet. Barker was able to pick off several twin seaters who were not sufficiently attentive, using his Snipe. His total now stood at 46 German aircraft.

Eventually, Barker was ordered back to command, but before he set off, he decided to take a final flight over the front. As he flew higher, he noticed a large German aircraft doing reconnaissance of the area. Barker could not resist and using his deadly accuracy, shot the gunner dead from 200 yards. However, he had become so involved in the fight that he had not noticed the plane tailing him until a bullet shattered his right femur, but Barker s troubles were just beginning. He had meanwhile dropped into a flight of nearly 60 German Fokkers. Several times Barker passed out and almost crashed from blood loss. Barker managed to down two planes, but eventually his gas tank was

shot off and he crashed at top speed.

Barker remained unconscious for many days in a hospital. On November 20, 1918, he was awarded the Victoria Cross and received congratulations from Prime Minister Borden, and Lt. Col. Billy Bishop. By January, he was moved to England and promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Air Farce.

In 1924, Barker returned to Canada. After a brief involvement in the tobacco industry, Barker became president of the Fairchild Aviation Cooperation of Canada. In March of that year, Fairchild held a show demonstrating their newest aircraft. Before the formal testing, Barker decided to take the plane for a test run. After 10 minutes, he returned flying over the airstrip at full throttle. He then pulled up into a steep climb at which point the engine seemed to stall. The plane flipped over and crashed, killing Barker immediately. There had been no indication of a faulty engine, spawning numerous suggestions, such as suicide.

William Barker was an excellent and fearless pilot. His extraordinary combat skills definatly contributed to the defeat of the Germans. Barker made an excellent role model for any fledging pilot and was a dedicated leader. His developed combat techniques were later revived and used in WW II, first by the Germans, then be the Allies. William Barker pioneered ground to air combat, and was not only an ace, but also a hero.

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