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British Industrial History

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Charles George Gass

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Second Lieutenant Charles George Gass MC (1898-1977) was the highest scoring observer ace during World War I, with a total of 39 victories (16 solo) scored serving as a gunner flying with various pilots.

1898 April 18th. Born at Chelsea the son of Charles Gass, master baker, and his wife Ellen. Both parents were born in Germany.

Gass originally joined the London Regiment of the British Territorial Army as a Second Lieutenant. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.

On 26 March 1918, he was assigned to No. 22 Squadron as an observer on Bristol F.2bs, flying in France. The two seater "Brisfit" had a maximum speed of 123 mph, which made it as fast or faster than most enemy fighters, and was maneuverable to boot. It had a forward pointing Vickers machine gun for the pilot, and two or three Lewis machine guns that could be slid around on their Scarff ring mount by the observer/gunner to cover a wide field of fire.

Gass soon showed his proficiency with the Lewis guns. He began by driving an Albatros D.V down out of control on 22 April 1918. Then he began one of the most spectacular months in World War I aerial warfare.

On 7 May, Gass was gunner on a Bristol piloted by ace Alfred Atkey. It was one of two Brisfits that took on 20 German scouts. Gass and Atkey destroyed five of the attackers, sending two of them down in burning meteors of falling wreckage.

He nailed another German on the 8th. Then on the 9th, he and Atkey repeated themselves. Once again they flamed two Germans; additionally, they destroyed another German and drove two down out of the battle.

They then reeled off a series of multiple victory days. Two on the 15th; three on the 19th; three more on the 20th; two each on the 22nd, 30th, and 31st; three on the 27th. Gass had scored 28 times in the month, all but one in conjunction with Atkey.

Gass and Atkey scored another double on 2 June, which were Atkey's final victories. Then Gass was teamed with another pilot, and scored twice on the 5th. On 26 July, he shot down another German while teamed with still a different pilot.

In August, he was teamed with Lieutenant John Everard Gurdon, who had been the pilot of the other Brisfit on 7 May. They tallied five wins together, with the last coming on 13 August. Gass was transferred for pilot training soon after, and the war ended before he qualified for his wings.

Gass's final tally totaled 39. Broken down, they amounted to 5 destroyed in flames, including one victory which was shared with other planes; 12 others destroyed; 22 down 'out of control'.

It was the sort of performance that had garnered multiple decorations for single seat fighter pilots. For Gass, it brought a Military Cross awarded after the fact, on 16 September 1918.

Gass left the Air Force in April 1919 and lived in South London after the war.

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