Edward ‘Mick’ Mannock was one of the most famous fighter aces of World War One. Mannock is credited with being the Royal Flying Corp’s most successful fighter pilot in World War One. Despite major advances in aeroplanes leading up to 1939, Mannock’s ‘Fifteen Rules’ for flying in combat were used in World War Two such was their importance to fighter pilots.
When World War One was declared in August 1914, Mannock was in Turkey working for a telephone company. Turkey was allied to Germany and Mannock realised that as an Englishman he was in danger by simply being there. But before he could leave, the Turks interned Mannock. After several sessions in solitary confinement – the result of his persistent attempts to escape – Mannock was allowed to return to England in April 1915 because of poor health.
There can be little doubt that Mannock’s experiences at an internment camp changed him. Socialists had been very vocal at the start of World War One that the war itself was being conducted by capitalists for their own benefit at the expense of the workers. Despite his previous allegiance to socialism, Mannock ignored this protestation and immediately signed up for the British Army on his return.
However, Mannock’s time in internment had been debilitating and the army considered him unfit for military duty. Also as a young child Mannock had been temporarily blinded by illness. Though he recovered from this, he had little vision in his left eye for the rest of his life. Undeterred by this, Mannock transferred to the Royal Engineers in March 1916. They were so impressed by his ability that he was awarded a commission and became a second lieutenant.
In August 1916, inspired by the tales of Albert Ball, Mannock transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. James McCudden, a fellow ace, was one of his instructors and he noted that Mannock was a natural flier who needed little encouragement or instruction. Mannock was sent to the Western Front in April 1917. He did not endear himself with other pilots as from the start Mannock felt that he had the right to give advice to pilots who had been there for some period of time. Many apparently felt that he should have remained in the background and listened to what they had to say.
Despite the early reputation that Mannock acquired for arrogance, he soon gained a different reputation for being a highly skilled pilot. On August 16th 1917, he shot down four German aeroplanes in one day. The next day he shot down two other German aeroplanes. On September 17th, Mannock was awarded the Military Cross. In October he was awarded a bar to his MC.
Despite his success and increasing fame, Mannock did not fully abandon his support for the ‘little person’. He made visits to the front line and witnessed what the troops experienced in the trenches. He was appalled by their suffering and made graphic entries into his diary as to what he saw. Mannock also clashed with senior commanders of the RFC regarding parachutes. The pilots in the German Air Service were issued with parachutes and Mannock argued that the pilots in the RFC should also be issued with one. However, senior officers in the RFC believed that the issuing of parachutes would dilute the fighting fervour and spirit of a pilot.
On July 22nd, 1917, Mannock was promoted to captain and he became a flight commander. He wanted to instil in his men certain rules about flying while in combat. To an extent his ’15 Rules’ became the bedrock not only for the RFC but also for the fighter pilots of the RAF of the future.
On July 26th 1918, Mannock, now a major, was shot down by ground fire and killed. His body was found about 250m from his doomed aeroplane, which suggests that Mannock may have jumped from his stricken aeroplane. He greatly feared being burned to death while in flight and this could explain why his body was found so far away from the aeroplane as it crashed.
In recognition of the work that he had done for the RFC, Mannock was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross.