William W. Whitson




(Photographs reprinted by permission of the San Diego Air and Space Museum)

The Aircraft Manufacturing Company (AIRCO) produced the prototype of the De Havilland 2 in July, 1915. It was a single-seat pusher with a 100hp Gnome rotary engine, permitting the pilot to fire a single machine gun forward. The first fighter squadron in history, 24 Squadron, commanded by Major L.G. Hawker, VC, was equipped with the DH.2s when it went to France in February, 1916. With a ground speed of  93mph and a ceiling of 14,000 feet, the DH.2 became popular with pilots because it was strong, easy to fly and slightly better than their principal adversary: the German Eindekker (87mph; ceiling of 12,000 feet).

It was with the DH.2 that RFC pilots achieved temporary air superiority before the Battle of the Somme began in 1 July, 1916. Flying a DH.2, Major L.W.B. Rees won a Victoria Cross on that day when he single-handedly attacked ten German two-seaters, forcing down two and dispersing the rest. Through the winter of 1916-1917, it was such an agony for the pilot that McCudden wrote after one patrol, "I was so utterly frozen that I did not care whether I was shot down or not."


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