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Air Vice Marshal Raymond Collishaw CB, DSO & Bar, OBE, DSC, DFC, RAF (22 November 1893 – 28 September 1976) was a distinguished Canadian fighter pilot, squadron leader, and commanding officer who served in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and later the Royal Air Force.
He was the highest scoring RNAS flying ace and the second highest scoring Canadian pilot of the First World War. He was noted as a great leader in the air, leading many of his own formations into battle. As a member of the RAF during the Second World War, he commanded No. 204 Group (which later became the Desert Air Force) in North Africa.
Raymond Collishaw was born at Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada on 22 November 1893. His father was John Edward Collishaw from Wrexham, Wales and his mother Sarah "Sadie" Jones from Newport, Wales but raised in Pantygog, Garw Valley.
At the age of 15, he joined the Canadian Fisheries Protection Services as a cabin boy. He was a lower class sailor onboard the Alcedo when it sailed into the Arctic Circle in search of the Stefansson expedition. Unfortunately, it turned out that the expedition was too late to rescue the Karluk.
When war broke out in 1914, his first idea was to join the Royal Navy in England, and he crossed the Atlantic at his own expense for that purpose. By 1915, he had worked his way up to first officer. Toward the end of 1915, Collishaw joined the Royal Naval Air Service.
He qualified as a pilot in January 1916. He spent eight months patrolling the British coast then, on 2 August 1916, he joined the RNAS's 3rd Wing which was operating at Ochey, in France, flying the British Sopwith 1½ Strutters. Some of the Sopwiths were equipped as bombers, while others were designed as two-seat fighters.
Collishaw's first recorded victory came while he was flying escort on the Wing's first large-scale raid into Germany, on October 12th, 1916. The raid was against the Mauser Rifle Factory at Oberndorf, in Germany. The bombers had nearly reached their target when they were attacked by six German Fokkers. Collishaw got into position to allow his observer to fire on one, and he evidently damaged it. Collishaw then turned, gained height, and fired a burst with the front gun. The fokker dived out of control, and, according to the British crews, crashed to the ground, a total wreck. According to the German authorities, they lost no aircraft during the engagement, but it was not unheard of for combatants to attribute their losses to accident rather than enemy action.
Collishaw's next two victories were properly witnessed by thousands of French troops. He was ferrying a new aircraft from Wing Headquarters when six enemies dived out of the clouds and attacked him. It was six to one, and the Germans had the advantage of height. Collisaw, like Barker and McKeever, was happiest when close to the ground in such a spot. He went down. At tree-top level the advantage of numbers meant much less. In two quick bursts, he sent two Albatroses crashing into the trees, after which the others flew off. The flight so impressed the French that they awarded him the Croix de Guerre.
On December 27th, while returning from a raid on the steel works at Dillingen, Collishaw's machine was damaged in flight; he only just succeeded in gliding back over French lines near Nancy [France], where he crashed, and his plane was a total wreck. It was the first of a number of crashes, and Collishaw on that occasion set the pattern which he followed throughout. He stepped out of the wreckage grinning, and ready to fly again.
In February, 1917, Collishaw was posted to No. 3 Naval Squadron, which was operating with the army near Cambrai. During his two months there, Collishaw was employed as escort to the Corps Squadron bombing planes, downing one German machine in the process.
In April 1917 he returned to the coast, being transferred to No. 10 Naval Squadron, engaging in mainly coastal patrols.
By the end of May 1917, the Royal Flying Corps was badly in need of reinforcements, much due to the after-affects of Bloody April. As a result, Collishaw was posted to his previous No. 10 Naval Squadron, as a Flight Commander. Collishaw's "B" Flight would be composed entirely of Canadians. Although British commanders had highly discouraged pilot's painting their planes, Collishaw's flight painted their Sopwith Triplanes dead black, and called themselves the All-Black Flight, later known more simply as the Black Flight.
The aircraft of the All-Black Flight were christened with suitable names. Ellis Reid, of Toronto, flew Black Roger; J. E. Sharman, of Winnipeg, flew Black Death; Gerry Nash, of Hamilton, called his machine Black Sheep; and Marcus Alexander, of Toronto, christened his plane the Black Prince. The flight commander, Collishaw, flew a machine which gloried in the name Black Maria.
During their first two months they claimed a record 87 German aircraft destroyed or driven down - which, strangely enough, brought Collishaw and the unit no wide publicity. Collishaw later claimed that this was because officials in the regular British Flying Corps were loathe to give credit to the naval pilots. He was the first Commonwealth pilot to claim six victories in one day (6 July 1917). There have been claims that Collishaw shot down German ace Karl Allmenröder, but this has been disputed.
Their first loss came when they had achieved an aggregate of fifty victories. On Jun 26th, the All-Blacks found themselves engaged with Richtofen's Jagdstaffel 11. Gerry Nash found that he was fighting two German pilots single-handed. One of the Germans was Lieutenant Karl Allmenröder, victor in some 30 air battles, and second only to Richtoften among the German pilots then in action. Nash's other opponent was Richtofen himself.
Faced by the two deadliest German pilots, Nash fought a trementdous battle. He twisted and turned, looking for openings, but at last Allmenröder got in a telling burst, and Nash's controls were damaged. He fell out of the fight and managed to land safely - but behind the enemy lines, where he destroyed his plane before he was captured.
The four survivors were bitterly grieved by the loss, for they had grown into a band of brothers, and they swore to keep a sharp eye out for the Albatroses of Richtofen's squadron which had brought down Nash. At the same time they thought that Nash was dead. On the morning of June 27th the met the Richtofen Staffel near Courtrai, and this time Collishaw found himself engaged with the bright-green Albatros of Allmenröder - though he was not aware at the moment that he was fighting the conqurer of Nash. It was one of the classic dogfights of the war, like Barker against Linke, like Hawker against Richtofen - two skilled and experienced fighters, who knew every trick, had met.
They met head-on, then they went into the "waltz" <dogfighting>, but at last Collishaw found an opening, and Allmenröder went down out of control, to crash to his death near Lille. Nash, lying in a cell, heard a church bell tolling that afternoon, and learned from his guard that it was the funeral of Allmenröder, who had shot him down. Allmenröder, the guard said, he been shot down by the leader of the Black Triplanes.
In August, Collishaw returned to Canada for two months leave, the British Empire's second-highest scoring living ace. He was virtually unknown, in stark contrast to the grand reception given to the top-scoring living ace, Billy Bishop, when he returned on leave at about the same time. At this point, he had been awarded two British decorations during the summer: the Distinguished Service Cross, and the Distinguished Service Order. Returning to the war late November, he was given command of No. 13 Naval Squadron, which was operating from Dunkirk, doing escort duty with the Channel Patrol.
His most amazing experience on that tour of duty was an air battle between his squadron and a formation of German Scouts in which no shot was fired. The squadron was providing protection for an observation machine, which was ranging guns for a fleet firing on Zeebrugge. The German formation approached, and Collishaw led his pilots to the attack but found that his guns had jammed, owing to the congealing of the oil in the low temperature. Several times he turned to attack the Germans, and each time they withdrew, until the navy's shoot was finished. Then Collishaw learned that all the squadron's guns were jammed - possibly all the guns of the German Scouts as well.
On 23 January 1918, Collishaw returned to the embattled area of the Western Front to command of No. 3 Naval Squadron, which were equipped with the more deadly British Sopwith Camel fighters.
On 1 April, the RNAS and the RFC merged and 3 Naval became No. 203 Squadron Royal Air Force. Collishaw remained in command with the new rank of major, finding that serving as a Commanding Officer took up a great deal of his time with "paper work". But he was able to make time for flying, and by the end of the summer he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and a bar to his Distinguished Service Order.
Collishaw had quite a few close escapes during the war. He was shot down out of control and crashed several times. Once, lost in a fog, he landed on a German aerodrome, and was actually taxiing to the tarmac when he saw German insignia on the grounded planes, and German troops rushing out to arrest him. He opened his trottle wide, took off, and escaped. On another occasion, his goggles were shattered by an enemy bullet. He once had his controls disabled by German machine gun fire from the ground and had to ride out the flight until the aircraft crash-landed – luckily near the British front trenches.
In total, during the First World War, Collishaw was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Distinguished Service Order with bar and the French Croix de Guerre. He scored 60 victories, consisting 28 and one shared "destroyed", 28 and two shared "out of control" and one "driven down."
Collishaw was in England working on the formation of the Royal Canadian Air Force when the Armistice was signed. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel during this time. He took some leave in Canada in December before returning to England. He was planning on attempting to fly across the Atlantic using a long range bomber but his plans were interrupted by events.
The decision was made to send a squadron to help General Denikin's White Russian forces in the Russian Civil War and Collishaw was chosen to be in command. His squadron found itself fighting against the Bolsheviks, who had skilled German pilots manning some of their planes.This campaign initially went well but eventually turned into a retreat then a rout during which the squadron was withdrawn. Collishaw added another victory to his total during this conflict, as well as managing to sink an enemy gunboat with a bomb dropped from his Sopwith Camel.
After 47 Squadron was withdrawn from Russia, Collishaw was sent to Egypt to command 84 Squadron. The squadron was moved to Persia, which was made a British protectorate after the war, to defend against the Russians. In the 1921 New Year's Honours List, Collishaw was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
In 1935 and 1936, during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, Collishaw commanded No. 5 Wing.
During the Second World War, Collishaw attained the rank of Air Vice Marshal following distinguished service commanding the No. 204 Group in North Africa; he was awarded a Companion of the Order of the Bath during this time. He was then posted as AOC No. 14 Group RAF in the north of Scotland. He retired, involuntarily, from the RAF in July 1943 and spent the rest of the war as the Civil Defence Regional Air Liaison Officer.
His memoirs were titled Air Command, A Fighting Pilot's Story and were published in 1973.
Collishaw died on 28 September 1976 in West Vancouver, British Columbia at the age of 82.