HOW MANY AIRCRAFT DID BIGGLES SHOOT DOWN IN WWI?
BY ROGER HARRIS
I thought this would be a very simple question to answer. Just read all the stories and make a note of every plane Biggles shoots down. Of course, when I tried to do it – it proved to be impossible. What do you count? In Johns’ World War One air stories he often has two planes collide. Have they been shot down by Biggles? Or bought down by Biggles? Do they add to his score? In a mass dog-fight do they count for everybody? Or if it is just Biggles in the sky and they collide, does that count? It’s difficult isn’t it? Then of course, there are times when planes go down in flames but we are not told who shot it down. Or various people are shooting at various planes at different times. What about planes that are not “shot down” but destroyed in other ways. In one story, Biggles gets a German plane to fly into a balloon cable. That has to count as a “kill” surely? Then on another occasion, Biggles is flying a German plane and he crashes it. Does that count? Surely not? What about when Biggles shoots down a Sopwith Camel being flown by a German? That must count, mustn’t it? Do Balloons count? Or should they be counted separately? If a plane is forced to land, that counts doesn’t it? You can see the problems.
Johns hits the nail on the head in the story “Biggles’ Surprise Packet” when he says “The huge dog-fight lost height quickly, as such affairs nearly always did, and was soon down to five thousand feet. It was impossible for any pilot to know exactly what was happening; each man picked an opponent and stuck to him as long as he could. If he lost him he turned to find another. That was precisely what Biggles did, and it was utterly out of the question for him to see if he shot anyone down. If a machine at which he was shooting fell out of the fight, someone else was shooting at him before he could determine whether his Hun was really hit or merely shamming.”
I decided the best way to approach this was to list every story and note when Biggles is involved in the destruction of an enemy plane in some way and then reason it out as to whether it “counts” or not. Other people will have different opinions. I want to look at the ones that definitely count so I can say “Biggles has a score of X number of planes.” I suppose what is important is that it is not some ridiculously high number – higher than the “Red Baron”. It needs to reasonable and realistic and comparable to what a real “Ace” would have got, otherwise it becomes incredible. And Johns’ World War One flying stories are very realistic.
Here I list all planes “downed” by Biggles and put the number I counted in brackets.
THE CAMELS ARE COMING (1932)
1. THE WHITE FOKKER
Biggles shoots down the White Fokker of the title, a D.VII (ONE)
2. THE PACKET - None
A Hanoverana – A Fokker – Sopwith Camel (No. J-9982) of the story title (THREE)
4. THE BALLOONATICS
A Triplane – One Balloon shot down in flames and One Balloon captured
If we are just counting the planes then this will be a total of one. (ONE)
5. THE BLUE DEVIL
Blue German Albatros. (ONE)
6. CAMOUFLAGE - None
7. THE CARRIER – None
8. SPADS AND SPANDAUS
Jazzed Albatros. (ONE)
What is interesting in this story is that before Biggles gets the Albatros, Wilks is talking to an American officer about Biggles. “His name’s Bigglesworth,” said Wilkinson, civilly. “Officially, he’s only shot down twelve Huns and five balloons, but to my certain knowledge he’s got several more”. Wilks has got eighteen, he says, when asked. Wilks tells the American about the Richthofen circus and says “They hunt together, and are led by Manfred Richthofen, whose score stands at about seventy. With him he’s got his brother, Lothar – with about thirty victories.” (In reality, Manfred von Richthofen scored his 70th victory on 26th March 1918 and got another three the next day. He had reached 80 victories by the time he was killed on 21st April 1918. Lothar scored his 29th victory on 12th March 1918 and didn’t get his 30th until 25th July 1918 due to injuries). So that would date this story about March 1918, but discussing continuity in the Biggles stories is a whole other subject!
9. THE ZONE CALL
Pfalz aircraft forced to land. (ONE)
10. THE DECOY
Green Rumpler. Two chasing Albatroses spin wildly downwards either as a result of a collision or due to cracking up on the dive. This was caused by Biggles’ dive and the Albatroses were chasing him. Do they count? Is that one or three? I’m going to say that Biggles was responsible for the destruction of all three enemy aircraft. (THREE)
This story presents a bit of a problem because Johns writes this “The Rumpler had become an obsession with him. For eight hours a day he hunted the sky ……… He was due for leave, but refused to accept it. He fought many battles and, although he hardly bothered to confirm his victories, his score mounted rapidly.” Well, there is nothing to count there! We are not told over what period of time this is. We can only assume that other adventures occurred during this period and those victories are counted there!
11. THE BOOB – None
12. THE BATTLE OF FLOWERS – None
13. THE BOMBER
The Friedrichshafen Bomber. (ONE)
Interestingly, Biggles is shot down himself in this story and has to make a forced landing. It is not uncommon in the stories for him to be bought down by anti-aircraft fire or engine failure but rarely by another aircraft shooting at him.
14. ON LEAVE
One Brandenburg Seaplane and another Sea plane forced to land which crashes. (TWO)
Fokker Triplane (ONE)
16. AFFAIRE DE COEUR – None
17. THE LAST SHOW
Biggles is well and truly shot down in this story. He is engaged in a huge aerial dog-fight and Biggles is caught in a hail of gunfire. “A burning pain paralysed his leg.” Biggles fights on and shoots down a Fokker but his plane is hit again and he goes down. “Biggles knew his time had come. He knew he was going down under a hail of lead in just the same way as he had seen dozens of machines go down, as he himself had sent them down. He knew he was going to crash, but the knowledge left him curiously unmoved.”
SO IN “THE CAMELS ARE COMING! BIGGLES SCORE IS 16 PLANES DOWNED (AND TWO BALLOONS).
BIGGLES OF THE CAMELS SQUADRON (1934)
1. THE PROFESSOR - None
Biggles and Algy attack and shoot up a German Aerodrome known as Aerodrome 32. Two Albatroses collide on take-off and another Albatros gets in the air and Biggles shoots at it and hits it, before Algy finishes it off. Is this one or three? And the credit it shared between two of them so is it one and a half each? I don’t think I should count the collision on the ground. And surely Biggles would give all the credit for the other ‘kill’ to Algy. So I will call this NONE.
2. THE JOY RIDE - None
Although Biggles does crash the German plane he himself is flying but you can’t really count that. It was no doubt counted in Algy’s score when it was forced down by Algy! (NONE)
3. THE BRIDGE PARTY - None
Biggles and Algy both shoot down a Pfalz scout. “Biggles and Algy simultaneously started pumping lead through their props”. The plane plunges down to oblivion. Again, I say that Biggles would give all the credit for this ‘kill’ to Algy. (NONE)
4. THE BOTTLE PARTY – None
Biggles sees two triplanes meet head on and break up but he is not responsible for this.
5. THE TRAP – None
6. THE FUNK
An Albatros. Two Fokker collide and one Fokker sheds it wings. Again it is hard to say that Biggles is responsible for the Fokkers so I only count the Albatros. (ONE)
7. THE PROFESSOR COMES BACK – None
8. THE THOUGHT READER – None
9. THE GREAT ARENA – None
10. BIGGLES FINDS HIS FEET
Biggles is manning a machine gun in the trenches and shoots down a German aircraft.
“I wonder will that one count on my score?” he asked the Colonel. “Although I don’t suppose they’ll believe it, anyway.” “I’ll confirm it,” said the Colonel vigorously. (ONE)
11. THE DRAGON’S LAIR - None
12. BIGGLES’ DAY OFF – None
But bizarrely Biggles does get a German submarine! Can’t count it as a plane though.
13. SCOTLAND FOREVER! - None
SO IN “BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON”, BIGGLES SCORE IS ONLY (SURPRISINGLY) 2 PLANES DOWNED (AND ONE SUBMARINE).
THE ACE OF SPADES (1934)
This story was published in THE COCKPIT and then collected in THE RAID and later in Biggles of the Special Air Police so I have just listed it on its own. Biggles shoots down the German plane with the distinctive mark. It was a Fokker DVII in the original story but became a Fokker DVIII in Biggles of the Special Air Police. (ONE)
BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY (1935)
1. BIGGLES LEARN TO FLY - None
2. BIGGLES’ FIRST FLIGHT
Biggles flies a two-seater when at 169 Squadron and his gunner is Mark Way. Initially, Biggles doesn’t have his own gun – but he does have his own gun in addition to his rear gunner when their aircraft is upgraded. If Mark shoots down a plane that would count for the score of both of them I assume. I will count these in this list and then refer to a separate note of the planes that Mark Way shoots down in order to establish the number of planes that Biggles himself, actually shoots down. Mark Way gets a blue and yellow German aircraft (which Biggles doesn’t even see!). (ONE)
3. BIGGLES THE SCOUT
Two German Albatrosses attack Biggles and Mark but Biggles swerves out of the way and the two German planes collide. As Biggles was under attack and Mark was firing on the German planes at the time and there are no other planes in the sky, it would appear to me that these should be counted. It’s a different situation from a huge melee in the sky involving loads of planes when two German planes happen to collide and you can’t really give the “credit” for that to anyone. (TWO)
4. SPY IN THE SKY – None
5. CRASHED FLYERS! – None
6. KNIGHTS OF THE SKY
Mark Way shoots down and gets a Triplane, blue with white wing tips, and a Yellow Hun. (TWO)
7. THE LAUGHING SPY – None
8. BIGGLES’ BULLS EYE – None
9. BIGGLES BUYS THE SKY
In this story, Mark Way has been wounded and he is temporarily replaced by a new gunner called Harris. When attacked Harris opens fire. “One Albatros went down in flames; another glided down out of control with its engine evidently out of action.” Biggles then gets a chance to fly a new Bristol Fighter where Biggles has a gun as well as his rear gunner. Harris is killed and Biggles goes fighting mad and shoots down the red and silver Albatros responsible. As these are the “first” Biggles stories time-wise, this is in fact Biggles first personal “kill”! Biggles is then chased and he leads one of his attackers, another Albatros, into a balloon cable. The top and bottom left wing is cut off and the plane destroyed. So here we have Harris getting two planes and Biggles himself getting two planes. (FOUR)
10. BIGGLES’ BIG BATTLE – None
11. BIGGLES’ SURPRISE PACKET
Biggles moves from 169 Squadron to 266 Squadron at the beginning of this story and now flies a single seater fighter. Initially it’s a Sopwith Pup.
Biggles forces down a Rumpler two-seater and captures it intact. He is later involved in a huge dog-fight. Johns says “The huge dog-fight lost height quickly, as such affairs nearly always did, and was soon down to five thousand feet. It was impossible for any pilot to know exactly what was happening; each man picked an opponent and stuck to him as long as he could. If he lost him he turned to find another. That was precisely what Biggles did, and it was utterly out of the question for him to see if he shot anyone down. If a machine at which he was shooting fell out of the fight, someone else was shooting at him before he could determine whether his Hun was really hit or merely shamming.” Later in the story, Biggles’ Squadron of nine Pups attacks two Triplanes. “It was impossible to say which machine actually scored most hits.” Both are shot down but can’t be credited to Biggles. Biggles is then part of an attack on seven German aircraft and he personally gets a Triplane. A lonely straggler is also sent down under a hail of lead but we are not told that this is specifically Biggles. With the Rumpler and the Triplane that is two. (TWO)
12. BIGGLES’ REVENGE
Biggles Squadron has now been equipped with Sopwith Camels “for nearly a month now.” Biggles gets a dark blue Albatros. (ONE).
SO IN BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY BIGGLES SCORE IS 12 PLANES DOWNED (OF WHICH HIS GUNNERS GOT FIVE. MARK WAY GETTING THREE AND HARRIS GETTING TWO). BIGGLES HIMSELF THEREFORE GOT 7 PLANES AND THIS INCLUDES THE 2 IN THE COLLISON AND THE ONE THAT HIT THE BALLOON CABLE.
BIGGLES IN FRANCE (1935)
1. BIGGLES GOES BALLOONING
Biggles shoots down an Albatros and captures a German balloon. (ONE)
2. BIGGLES AND THE RUNAWAY TANK
Biggles gets a Roland Green two Seater. But with the “Runaway Tank” of the title he also destroys Mahoney’s Camel and probably others. Best not to count those! (ONE)
3. FLYING LUCK – None
4. BIGGLES AND THE MAD HATTER – None
5. BIGGLES SKY HIGH HAT TRICK
In an effort to try and break records, Biggles shoots down four aircraft in one day!
A dark green Hannoverana, a yellow Albatros, a Fokker Triplane and a Gotha.
However, Johns says this about it at the outset “The occasion on which he scored four successes was a very different proposition, and not without a certain amount of humour, although it must be admitted that only three of these victories were confirmed. The anti-aircraft gunners put in a claim for the last one, and although Biggles was quite satisfied in his own mind that he shot it down, the subsequent court of inquiry, for reasons best known to themselves, gave the verdict to the gunners.” So I am afraid we can only credit him with three for this! However, the story also relates how Biggles has previously got three German aircraft “before breakfast”. Three “enemy scouts”. So although this would appear to add seven to Biggles score, we can only give him six because the court of inquiry said so. (SIX)
6. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING CAMERA
The high flying Halberstadt. (ONE)
7. BIGGLES SKY HIGH SPY
Biggles gets an Albatros. Another Albatros dives into the ground but we are not told who is responsible. (ONE)
8. BIGGLES CARVES THE TURKEY
An Albatros. (ONE)
9. BIGGLES PAPERCHASE – None
10. BIGGLES AND THE FLYING WARDROBE – None
11. FLYING CRUSADERS
Biggles takes on an Albatros which burst into flames, although it wasn’t Biggles shooting at it. He gets an orange and black Hun and another plane with green streamers. (TWO)
12. BIGGLES’ BORROWED PLUMES – None
SO IN “BIGGLES IN FRANCE” BIGGLES SCORE IS 13 PLANES DOWNED (AND ONE BALLOON)
BIGGLES – AIR ACE (1999)
1. BIGGLES’ XMAS BOX
Fokker DVII. Bizarrely, Biggles brings this German plane down by throwing a package of sausages at it. “Fancy having to admit you were shot down with a packet of dead pig.” (ONE)
2. BIGGLES CHRISTMAS TREE – None
3. BIGGLES AND THE JOKER – None
4. BIGGLES’ NIGHT OUT – None
5. THE FLEDGLINGS – None
6. BIGGLES ON THE SPOT
Blue Albatros. Later there is an attack on a German Aerodrome by Biggles’ Squadron. Two German planes collide on the ground and a third piles into them. It is not possible to credit those three to Biggles though. (ONE)
7. BIGGLES’ EXCITING NIGHT
Red and Silver Fokker Triplane. (ONE)
8. BIGGLES TAKE THE BAIT
Biggles shoots down two Fokkers and the second one crashes into a third Fokker on the way down. Biggles is therefore responsible for the destruction of all three aircraft. (THREE)
SO IN BIGGLES – AIR ACE BIGGLES SCORE IS 6 PLANES DOWNED
BIGGLES FLIES EAST (1935)
THIS WAS A FULL LENGTH NOVEL
In chapter four, Biggles (flying a Sopwith Pup) shoots down Leffens in his Pflaz Scout and in chapter thirteen; Biggles borrows Algy’s Camel to shoot down Kurt Hess in his new red and white Pfalz D.III scout. (TWO)
THE RESCUE FLIGHT – A BIGGLES STORY (1939)
THIS WAS A FULL LENGTH NOVEL
In chapter three, Biggles shoots down a German scout. In chapter four, Biggles shoots down an Albatros with a purple stripe. In chapter eight, Biggles and Algy turn and fight pursuing German planes to protect the young hero of the novel. He sees a red Triplane fall smothered in flame and another Triplane with a dead propeller going into a spin. He sees Algy nearby. We are not told who shot down these two planes but the inference appears to be Algy. So these are not to be credited to Biggles. In chapter ten, two Albatroses collide wing tips and one goes down spinning and the other goes down under control. There is no reason these should be credited to Biggles either. In chapter twelve a German Albatros is shot down, by either Biggles or Algy but we are not told by whom. As I can’t be sure it was shot down by Biggles, I won’t count it. In which case, in this novel, Biggles gets two German planes. (TWO)
THE CAMELS ARE COMING – 16 planes and 2 balloons
BIGGLES OF THE CAMEL SQUADRON – 2 planes and 1 submarine
BIGGLES LEARNS TO FLY – 12 planes (but 5 were shot down by the rear gunners) so 7
BIGGLES IN FRANCE – 13 planes and 1 balloon
THE ACE OF SPADES – 1 plane
BIGGLES: AIR ACE – 6 planes
BIGGLES FLIES EAST – 2 planes
THE RESCUE FLIGHT – 2 planes
In which case Biggles has a “score” of 49 aircraft, 3 balloons and 1 submarine. (Wilks has said Biggles had got 5 balloons officially) If it wasn’t for that court of inquiry (see story 5 from Biggles in France) denying Biggles a plane he was certain he got, then it would be a nice round 50! Biggles was sure he got that one. So as far as Biggles is concerned it is 50! If you were to add on the score of his rear gunners you can add another 5 to that figure.
THE TOP TWENTY AIR ACES OF WORLD WAR ONE
1. MANFRED VON RICHTHOFEN (“THE RED BARON”) 80
2. RENE FONCK 75
3. WILLIAM BISHOP 72
4. ERNST UDET 62
5. EDWARD MANNOCK 61
6. RAYMOND COLLISHAW 60
7. JAMES McCUDDEN 57
8. ANDREW BEAUCHAMP-PROCTOR 54
9. ERICH LOWENHARDT 54
10. DONALD MACLAREN 54
11. GEORGES GUYNEMER 53 - 54
12. WILLIAM BARKER 50 - 52
13. JOSEF JACOBS 48
14. WERNER VOSS 48
15. GEORGE McELROY 47
16. ROBERT LITTLE 47
17. FRITZ RUMEY 45
18. ALBERT BALL 44 - 47
19. CHARLES NUNGESSER 43 - 45
20. RUDOLF BERTHOLD 44
So Biggles “score” would put him just outside the first dozen of the real Air Aces.
Researched and written by Roger Harris. www.wejohns.com