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George Edward Henry McElroy

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Captain George Edward Henry McElroy MC and Two Bars, DFC and Bar (14 May 1893 - 31 July 1918) was a leading ace fighter pilot of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force during World War I.

McElroy was born at Donnybrook, near Dublin, Ireland. He joined the Royal Irish Regiment promptly at the start of World War I, in August, 1914, and was shipped out to France two months later. For a time, he was a motorcycle courier.

He was commissioned in May, 1915. He was severely wounded by mustard gas while serving in France, and sent home to recuperate.

He was still in Dublin in April, 1916, when the Easter Uprising erupted. Because he was still in the military, he was drafted to help quell the insurrection. McElroy refused to fire upon his fellow Irishmen. Because of his refusal, he was transferred to a southerly garrison away from home until that autumn.

McElroy became intrigued by the air war. He transferred to the RFC in late 1916. He trained as a pilot at Upavon in February, 1917. From there, he joined 40 Squadron, where he benefitted from mentoring by Edward Mannock. He originally flew a Nieuport 17, but with no success in battle. By year's end McElroy was flying SE-5s and claimed his first victory on December 28.

An extremely aggressive dog-fighter who ignored often overwhelming odds, McElroy's score soon grew rapidly. He shot down two German planes in January, and by the 18th of February had run his string up to 11.

At that point, he was transferred to command a flight in Number 24 Squadron. He continued to steadily accrue victories by ones and twos. By March 26, 1918, when he was awarded the Military Cross, he was up to 18 'kills'.

He was injured in a landing accident on April 7; he brushed a treetop while landing. By then he had run his score to 27. While he was sidelined with his injury, on April 22, he was awarded a bar to his Military Cross.

Following convalescence, McElroy returned to 40 Squadron in June, scoring three times, on the 26th, 28th, and 30th. The latter two triumphs were observation balloons. That ran his tally to 30.

In July, he added to his score almost daily, a third balloon busting on the 1st, followed by one of the most triumphant months in the history of fighter aviation, adding 17 victims during the month. His run of success was threatened on the 20th by a vibrating engine that entailed breaking off an attack on a German two seater and a rough emergency landing that left him with scratches and bruises.

On July 26, his mentor and friend, Edward Mannock was killed by ground fire. Ironically, on that same day, "McIrish" McElroy received the second Bar to his Military Cross. He was one of only ten airmen to receive the second Bar.

McElroy's continued apparent disregard for his own safety when flying and fighting could have only one end. On the 31st, he reported destroying a Hannover C for his 47th victory. He then set out again. He failed to return from this flight and was posted missing. Later the Germans dropped a note saying that McElroy had been killed by ground fire. He was 25 years-old.

McElroy would receive the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously on August 3, citing his shooting down 35 aeroplanes and three observation balloons. The Bar would arrive still later, on September 21, and would laud his low-level attacks. It appears likely that just such an attack was the end of him.

In summary, McElroy shot down four enemy planes in flames and destroyed 23 others, one of which he shared destroyed with other pilots. He drove down 16 enemy craft 'out of control', and thus out of the fight; in one of those cases, it was a shared success. He also destroyed three balloons.

McElroy is buried at the Laventie Military Cemetery in northern France, along with his friend Mannock.

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