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Irish Ace of World War 1: Mick Mannock

mick mannock

Britain's Leading Ace

The Turks made a statistically good decision, which turned out not to work so well for their side in World War 1.

The middle of March seems like a good time to mention Edward "Mick" Mannock, one of the highest-scoring British aces, but whose greatest contribution to the war effort may have been the pilots he trained rather than the ones he shot down.

Mannock was only half Irish - his mother's half. Maybe his father's disappearance had something to do with his supporting the British Empire but also the Irish Home Rule Movement. Before the war he was a telephone mechanic in Turkey and got put in prison with the rest of the British in Turkey when war broke out. Eventually the Turks let him go home, on the fairly good assumption that a sick man with eye problems wouldn't be much help to Britain.

Are Older Pilots Maybe Wiser?

But Mannock was more interested in killing Germans than a comfortable life at home. He started as a sapper, digging tunnels under the enemy to plant explosives. You could say that starting from a position of negative distance in the third dimension, he decided positive distance on the z axis was better for fighting. He applied to be a pilot, somehow got around the vision test, and right about 100 years ago started flying. Interestingly, he was one of the older pilots, even older than another Edward (Rickenbacker). Considering the achievements of both, perhaps the air forces would have been better off recruiting someone older than college students!

Practicing Air Combat

Mannock was not well-liked to begin with and didn't fit in, being (like Ernst Udet and Eddie Rickenbacker in their respective air corps) from a different class than most of his fellow pilots. But both Edwards and Ernst earned respect through expertise in air combat. Mannock spent a lot of time practicing, learning how to fight in spite of his eyesight. Other pilots thought him too cautious - until he started racking up victories, including several balloons. Then the time he spent training benefitted him and everyone under the command he soon had. He put what he had learned into fifteen rules ("bullets are faster than aeroplanes") that were still in use in the next world war.

Practicality in Air Combat

Mannock wasn't impressed with those who were in the military for some other reason than fighting. As a sapper he wanted to blow up Germans, as a pilot he wanted to shoot them down. When the Red Baron died, he refused to join his fellow officers in toasting a worthy enemy. His opinion was closer to "the only good German is a dead German." Mannock himself died about three months later, apparently from ground fire. There is the usual confusion of which victories counted, so it is not clear whether he was Britain's Ace of Aces or "only" one of the top aces.

Chivalry or Practicality?

The practical and the gentlemanly attitudes existed, often side by side, in WWI. The movie The Blue Max is partly about the tension between those two attitudes. Mick Mannock would probably not have appreciated a t-shirt remembering another lower-class aviator who became a great ace, since he was a German. But a hundred years later, tensions are a bit lower and you can commemorate Ernst Udet on a t-shirt without being a traitor to the Allied side!

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