Superior airmanship

…sometimes means flying the plane from outside the cockpit.

Consider the actions of one Second Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, VC, a native of Stonewall, Manitoba.  Ninety-two years ago today, McLeod and his gunner Lt. A.W. Hammond were flying an Armstrong Whitworth FK8 bomber, on a mission to bomb and strafe German artillery positions near Bray-sur-Somme, France.   They were jumped by a fighter patrol of eight aircraft from Jagdgeschwader 1 (JG1), the famous “Richtofen’s Flying Circus”.  Despite being wounded several times and the aircraft being aflame, McLeod managed to save himself and his gunner with some unorthodox and skilful flying.  From the May 1st, 1918 edition of the London Gazette:

“His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officer of the Royal Air Force, for services displaying outstanding bravery:

2nd Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, Royal Air Force.

While flying with his observer, Lieutenant A. W. Hammond, M.C., attacking hostile formations by bombs and machine gun fire, he was assailed at a height of 5,000 feet by eight enemy triplanes which dived at him from all directions, firing from their front guns. By skilful manoeuvring he enabled his observer to fire bursts at each machine in turn, shooting three of them down out of control. By this time Lieutenant McLeod had received five wounds, and while continuing the engagement a bullet penetrated his petrol tank and set the machine on fire.

He then climbed out on to the left bottom plane, controlling his machine from the side of the fuselage, and by sideslipping steeply kept the flames to one side, thus enabling the observer to continue firing until the ground was reached.

The observer had been wounded six times when the machine crashed in “No Man’s Land” and 2nd Lieutenant McLeod, notwithstanding his own wounds, dragged him away from the burning wreckage at great personal risk from heavy machine-gun fire from the enemy’s lines. This very gallant pilot was again wounded by a bomb whilst engaged in this act of rescue, but he persevered until he had placed Lieutenant Hammond in comparative safety, before falling himself from exhaustion and loss of blood.”

While Lieutenant McLeod’s wounds were quite serious, he had recuperated sufficiently to appear at Buckingham Palace on September 4th, 1918 and receive his Victoria Cross from the hand of King George V. His father, Dr. A. N. MacLeod of Winnipeg, was also present at the investitute, having sailed over from Canada to attend to his ailing son. Regrettably, McLeod the younger was too unwell to attend the King’s subsequent luncheon invite to Windsor Castle.

Alan Arnett McLeod returned home and eventually succumbed to the Spanish influenza pandemic that was sweeping the nation.  The 19-year-old passed away on November 6th, 1918, five days before the Armistice ended the war.

For more information, see the Veterans Affairs Canada record of 2Lt McLeod’s citation, along the associates images which appear here.  Miles Constable’s site dedicated to Canadian Air Aces and Heroes also has a much more detailed account of the life and times of Second Lieutenant Alan Arnett McLeod, including a descriptive account of the battle that also draws upon information gleaned from German war records.


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