New Aircraft at Last

se5a

SE5a

Among several newly-formed RFC units at the Front in April 1917 was No.56. Initially equipped with the RAF SE5, then followed by the uprated SE5a, it became the best-known and highest-scoring of all the British fighter squadrons that served in ‘The Great War’. Top fighter aces such as Albert Ball VC, James McCudden VC, Arthur Rhys Davids and many others became household names and down the years their collective exploits have bordered on the legendary.  Appointed Flight Commander of No.56 in August, ‘Jimmy’ McCudden soon opened his score card bringing down four Albatros fighters in three days, despite frequent gun stoppages:

‘I have lost a lot of Huns over it’, he wrote: ‘This morning I got 20 yards behind a Hun and took a sight on the back of his neck and pulled the triggers, and neither gun fired a single shot and while I was rectifying the stoppage the Hun got away…’

Such malfunctions were commonplace but any respite German fliers might have enjoyed from McCudden’s frustrating gun jambs would be short-lived. Most of his victims were two-seaters and they would fall to his functioning guns with increasing regularity: by the end of the year his score had risen to 37.