Hawker VC

Temp Grave Marker

The Temporary Hawker crash site grave marker

In 2009 a party from J Conversion and Training Flight on XXIV Squadron visited the Somme as part of Exercise Hawker Trail, which traced the path of 24 from its formation at Hounslow Heath via St Omer, the RFC depot, to Bertangles its first operational airfield.  They visited many notable sites around the Somme and Ypres, where Hawker won his VC, and laid a cross at his crash site.  It was felt that the site deserved a permanent marker and so the Squadron is now planning to erect a memorial to Hawker, to be unveiled on the ninety-fifth anniversary of his death in 2011. 

The Mayor of Ligny Thilloy, the nearest village, has agreed to maintain the memorial for the future, and we have the active support of the Somme Remembrance Association in France.  The Squadron is setting up the Hawker Memorial Fund to finance the construction and will be inviting donations in the near future.  It is hoped to have the design of the memorial finalised in time for the Squadron Association Day in the autumn of 2010.

Major Lanoe Hawker was the first RFC ‘ace’ and the first fighter pilot to win the VC, for shooting down three German aircraft in a single day, an unheard of feat for that early stage in the war.  Given command of No 24 Squadron on its formation in 1915, the first dedicated all – fighter squadron equipped with the new DH2 pusher aircraft, Hawker’s personal example and leadership helped to end the ‘Fokker scourge’ and wrest control of the skies over the Somme away from the Germans.  With his personal motto, ‘Attack everything’, he was very aggressive in the air and even after RFC squadron Commanders were forbidden to operate over the German lines he continued to fly on sorties.

On 23 November 1916 he was flying as wingman on a patrol of four aircraft. Two of the aircraft had turned back due to engine trouble when Hawker spotted a German formation of five new Albatross aircraft, a new fighter that was superior to the DH2.  Undeterred, Hawker immediately attacked, and found himself on a duel with a relatively new German pilot, Manfred von Richtofen, who was yet to become the ‘Red Baron’.  Hawker was the better pilot, but the German had the better aircraft, and their fight was one of the longest of the war, lasting nearly thirty minutes.  Hawker scored hits on von Richtofen’s aircraft but was unable to cause significant damage.

Eventually, blown ever eastwards by the prevailing wind, out of ammo and low on fuel, Hawker was forced to disengage and make for the British lines. Weaving at low altitude he had almost made it across when von Richtofen made another attack, Hawker turned to face it but with his final burst before his guns jammed the German hit him in the head, killing him instantly.  Hawker’s aircraft crashed just behind the German third line trench, and he was buried next to the wreck.  He was just twenty-five years old.

The Lewis machine gun from the aircraft was taken by von Richtofen and given pride of place in his collection of aircraft parts from his ‘kills’, as befits what he later described as his greatest victory.


One Response to “HAWKER MEMORIAL”

  1. Ian McLachlan Says:

    Many thanks for some superb info – I’m a an aviation historian & writer – mainly WW2 – but am doing a series of lectures through the WEA about WW1 air-war & this helps – will credit you in handouts.
    Thanks. Ian McLachlan.

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