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#4494073 - 10/22/19 02:57 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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A while ago, we had a short discussion on this very topic in our current DID thread. To sum it up, NCO pilots were very common in all the air services of the Great War era, except the British (there were some) and the American (there were none).

Generally speaking, the societies of the early 20th century were frightfully class-conscious. But some countries seem to have taken it much farther than others. IMO, it's very interesting that in some ways, the British society was actually less democratic than the German one of the 1910s, although it's now very common to think of Imperial Germany as an authoritarian military society. For example, all German males could vote in elections. In Britain, it was a different matter. You could vote only if you owned a certain amount of property. It took until 1918 to change the legislation.

There was definitely plenty of hypocrisy to share between all the belligerents, when you contrast the high ideals presented in their propaganda with the actual social conditions of their peoples.


"Upon my word I've had as much excitement on a car as in the air, especially since the R.F.C. have had women drivers."

James McCudden, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps
#4494076 - 10/22/19 03:05 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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So true Hasse, so very true. Thanks for chiming in here. And I wonder how many times over the years we've had this very discussion. It's always a lively one. smile2

One minor correction, the Americans did have a handful of NCO pilots, but none served in combat as they were all relegated to repair squadrons.

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#4494083 - 10/22/19 03:26 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: RAF_Louvert]  
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Originally Posted by RAF_Louvert
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One minor correction, the Americans did have a handful of NCO pilots, but none served in combat as they were all relegated to repair squadrons.


I stand corrected.

For learning about such details, this forum is the best (IMHO).


"Upon my word I've had as much excitement on a car as in the air, especially since the R.F.C. have had women drivers."

James McCudden, Five Years in the Royal Flying Corps
#4494084 - 10/22/19 03:31 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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I was going to bring up the apparent irony, after the Buckler and McCudden stories, of the latter (certainly American) concept of class conscious, authoritarian, and rigid Germany versus our fair and freedom loving cousins the British - to paint the whole thing with a huge brush - but decided not to start potentially causing offense to someone in this day and age. Since my mother is from Germany and my fathers family Great Britain I get to play both sides of the street. smile
But since Hasse broke the ice...

#4494086 - 10/22/19 03:39 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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This is a very informative thread Gents! Thanks.


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#4494094 - 10/22/19 04:39 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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Thanks. I definitely would not expect the rank and breed not to matter on the ground in an early 20th century British or German military. Even the modern armies of the most egalitarian societies rely on the inequality of ranks simply to be functional.

As a modern example, during my year of national service in the Finnish army, I saw first hand how cumbersome and volatile (although still effective) a unit progressively gets when the meaning or rank and organization erodes among the conscripted over the year. As orders become less absolute, effective leadership becomes increasingly reliant on social skills of the leaders. The chain of command and limits of each individual's authority become increasingly smudged as skill and personality of the personnel shift the on-paper organization of the unit.

Of course that mainly concerns the internal hierarchy of conscripted reserve part of the army (which in practice means all the personnel and wartime leaders up to platoon or even company level). The professional part of the army (which consists of the professional under-officers and officers) maintains the organization more strictly and there's no question about their authority over the conscripted.

There still are some exceptions though. All young (professional) officers acknowledge and use the experience of older (professional) under-officers and ask rather than formally order them to do things. Some commissioned specialists like engineer-officers with minimal military training tend to get very or even completely informal with their (few) conscripted underlings. In serious situations the formal part of the hierarchy usually diminishes. e.g. In Finnish UN peacekeeping units the personnel (volunteers, mostly from among the conscripted) and officers (professionals) can even be on first name basis.

...

It's especially the practical combat arrangements, like the peculiar case of J. Buckler that Creaghorn mentioned, that interest me the most. That kind of overriding of the rank and chain of command can easily and irreversibly erode the authority and credibility of the yielding leader in the eyes of his subordinates. No matter how practical the reasons for the exceptions were, even a minor doubt about the absoluteness of the authority can be debilitating when a leader is ordering a subordinate to risk his life.

In most service branches the benefits of clear and absolute command hierarchy will far outweigh the benefits of some "common sense" deviations that undermine the order of things. Generally (not counting generals) any one man does not make a difference in a war and the overall smooth function of the war machine is what's truly important.

From individual's point of view, there is no common sense in going over the top or up to the sky in a desperate attempt to get temporary control over a bit more mud and dirt in war to decide which of the inbred nobles get the formal domain over certain parts of Europe. From military point of view, individual's common sense is something to be mercilessly strangled with military hierarchy then wrapped in a shroud of patriotism and buried under six feet of honor and duty.

Common sense is definitely not a word often associated with most military decisions in WW1 but with air war it seems to have been more prevalent. Maybe the relatively small size of the flying element of air units meant there were so few moving parts that the organization could afford not to be a perfectly tuned machine with standardized parts. There were also undoubtedly far more one-man-armies among the pilots than there are in the ranks of any other service branch. For example Kurt Wolff is not that famous ace but he's still credited with shooting down 22 planes during Bloody April. If those were all British then he was responsible for about 9% of the total of 245 RFC planes shot down during that month. There's of course also the fact that air war was breaking new ground at the time so any experience and innovation was valued and more easily accepted than it would have been in well established military branches.

#4494117 - 10/22/19 06:34 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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While doing a bit of searching on the HA’s in my new DID Jasta, I came across this bit of info on Carl Holler. When his Jasta was attached to the command of Boelcke “he was much happier, as Boelcke allowed all pilots in the mess and downplayed rank.” This confirms what the scholars here have said.


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#4494137 - 10/22/19 08:30 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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yeah, I guess the Brits were pretty bad about class distinctions in WWI... but it seems like they're still better than Japan in WW2! I mean, if somebody had done what Saburo Sakai had done for the RFC during WWI they would have probably made him a squadron commander. the RFC still respected results enough to let guys like McCudden have a go at it.

#4494142 - 10/22/19 08:57 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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And then not to do anything when one of their own squadrons tells this decorated hero, appointed by them to lead said Squadron because of unquestioned ability, to drop dead?
I must strongly disagree.

#4494181 - 10/23/19 12:19 AM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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In Australia we are very intolerant of people who "put on airs". Tall poppies get cut down to size very quickly here so it would make sense to me that our units were more "democratic" for cultural reasons. Probably partly to colonial heritage but also because Australia was a very unforgiving place back in those days. Being a pompous idiot and not listening to reason and experience in an environment where you can walk for days without finding water... well you can see how that would end.

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#4494222 - 10/23/19 10:08 AM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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What we should all remember is that times were different then... we are looking at things with our modern heads on and thinking 'oh, how unfair and , how terrible' which it was of course.
Also remember, there was still a very Victorian attitude in Britain, where everyone had their place, and not only that, people knew their place too...

#4494239 - 10/23/19 12:36 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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That is understood. This wasn’t a case of not being invited to afternoon tea.
To me it’s essentially a mutiny - and I don’t use that word lightly - far outstripping a “you have the wrong school tie” thing.
As disappointed as I am with the officers of the 85th I am more disappointed in the reaction (or more correctly apparently a non-reaction) of RAF command.

I am keeping in mind though I lack details of the before, during, and aftermath of this sordid affair. I’m sure the event was not talked about outside of people in the know in the air service. I hardly think they would dare leak it out for general consumption even back then.

#4494245 - 10/23/19 01:37 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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An interesting conversation indeed. I think it would be good to know on what basis the members of 85 squadron rejected (or should that be objected) to James McCudden becoming the CO. Was it based on their perceived concern as to leadership skills, or that they considered him an 'oik' and not worthy. Either way that nothing was done by the 'higher ups' suggests connivance on their part or at least a lack of leadership themselves, in that they allowed a load of Pilot Officers and Lieutenants to decide who will or won't lead them.

Let's not delude ourselves though that this is something that stopped happening 100 years ago, it's happening still, in just about every facet of life. Look at who gets in to Oxford and Cambridge (no matter what 'Stormzy' might try and do otherwise), or who gets into Sandhurst. It's not impossible for the lower classes to get in, but having attended public school clearly gives you an advantage for no tangible reason at all.

That someone's upbringing and social standing should play any part in deciding their worthiness for a particular role is abhorrent but is the basis of the pyramid class system we continue to live in.


"A great deal of an aeroplane could be holed without affecting its ability to fly. Wings and fuselage could be—and often were—pierced in 50 places, missing the occupants by inches (blissfully unaware of how close it had come until they returned to base). Then the sailmaker would carefully cover each hole with a square inch of Irish linen frayed at the edges and with a brushful of dope make our aircraft 'serviceable' again within an hour." Cecil Lewis
#4494249 - 10/23/19 02:18 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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Word.

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#4494305 - 10/23/19 10:13 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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Perhaps I'm just old-fashioned, but I think we are in danger of bringing a 21st-century sensibility to the dawn of the 20th century. I think we have to consider the class distinctions of the First World War in terms of intimate solitudes. This was a time when one of the better career options for working-class men and women was to be "in service." Let's examine that dynamic because it sheds some light on the officer-NCO relationship as it evolved in the British Army.

Imagine yourself as the head of the household with several servants. While far from a universal sentiment, the middle to upper classes, had a sense of "noblesse oblige." The done thing was to treat one servants with a mixture of decency and firmness. Being overly familiar was an invitation to disrespect and embarrassment. The families who employed servants were not ogres, nor were they fools (in many cases, by the late 19th century the employing family was upwardly mobile and only a generation or two removed from being in service themselves). From time to time, they could share a friendly word or a personal insight with a household servant. But they always knew that if one "crossed the line," they would be the subject of whispers below stairs and their authority in the household would be eroded.

Now, imagine yourself as a servant in that same household. Among the household staff (if the household was wealthy enough to have more than one servant), there was a pecking order. Even downstairs, "class distinctions" applied. There was pride in one's trade. And in many cases, there was a genuine loyalty towards the family that one served.

This same dynamic has long carried into the British Army. Officers and NCOs generally work well together, but there is the same familiar distance between them. Class barriers have certainly broken down in the last 70 years, but the intimate solitudes of the 19th-century household survive in the traditions of the officers' mess and the sergeants' and warrant officers' mess. When it comes to dining arrangements, an officer knows that the sergeants' mess is their holy ground and may be entered only by invitation (unless one is the orderly officer on duty). The senior NCOs must have the freedom to talk openly there and to be able to discuss their officers without fear of repercussion. The officers must have the confidence in their sergeants major to know that lines will not be crossed.

Any good officer should have the greatest of respect for the veteran NCO, and should seek his advice openly. Any good NCO should realise that the officer bears accountabilities greater than his own, but that both the officer and the men under that NCO require that the NCO provide solid and respectful advice and technical expertise. It is very easy to mess up this relationship, but when it is well established. It is a wonderful thing in practice. In reading about the RFC in the First World War, you see this relationship often when pilots write about their maintenance crew or when the members of the maintenance crew speak of their pilots.

When this system was exported to France with the RFC there were consequences that had not been anticipated. Sergeant pilots naturally messed with their fellow senior NCOs. But those senior NCOs were by and large skilled tradesmen employed as mechanics, riggers, et cetera. The poor NCO pilots had few if any peers with whom they could share their experiences in the air. To the officers, inviting the NCO pilots into the officers mess would be an unthinkable crossing of the line. Nothing in the normal dynamics of Army life anticipated this problem. The solution ultimately was to minimise the number of NCO pilots in combat squadrons. I believe that the idea that the officers looked down on NCO pilots as pilots is generally wrong. But they could not abandon their upbringing enough to disregard rank. And while NCO pilots may have bemoaned the lack of company in the sergeants' mess, I have never read of a British NCO pilot expecting or wanting to dine in the officers' mess. That would have been "not on."

Is this a class problem? Yes, but not exclusively.

As for the refusal by pilots of 85 Squadron to accept McCudden as their CO, I do not see this as a comment on McCudden's social standing. McCudden was well-known to be a solo act. The men of 85 Squadron needed and wanted a true leader. In the end, they chose Mannock – despite being born in barracks and a vocal socialist. It is clear that Mannock's reputation as a leader and as a developer of competent pilots motivated their choice. Perhaps the Old Etonians would have little desire to talk politics with Mannock over a drink, but they knew he was the man to bring them success and keep them alive.

The role played by military life in changing the social structures within the United Kingdom is a fascinating tale. We should not reduce it to a 21st-century cartoon image of posh officers looking down their noses at competent NCOs. Ironically, some of the most stuck-up officers I have read about were those in higher commands in the USAS.

#4494310 - 10/23/19 10:56 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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I must say I feel like a fire-eating anarchist in this thread.
Most amusing.

#4494315 - 10/23/19 11:33 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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I say, Duke - one must choose the correct wine before eating the rich! readytoeat

#4494316 - 10/23/19 11:39 PM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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smile stirthepot

#4494329 - 10/24/19 03:11 AM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: Raine]  
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Originally Posted by Raine

As for the refusal by pilots of 85 Squadron to accept McCudden as their CO, I do not see this as a comment on McCudden's social standing. McCudden was well-known to be a solo act. The men of 85 Squadron needed and wanted a true leader. In the end, they chose Mannock – despite being born in barracks and a vocal socialist. It is clear that Mannock's reputation as a leader and as a developer of competent pilots motivated their choice. Perhaps the Old Etonians would have little desire to talk politics with Mannock over a drink, but they knew he was the man to bring them success and keep them alive.


This paragraph struck me as odd so I did some checking to get dates and you may make of it what you will.
First though McCudden was renowned and revered as a Flight Leader during his time with 56. Going by memory his Flight had the most confirmed victories and the fewest losses in the Squadron under his leadership.
I’m not sure where the “solo act” thing is coming from. If you are referring to his solo flights to destroy high flying German two-seaters that was a mission given 56 by HQ mainly, I think, because of the high skill level of 56 and the Se5. Other pilots in 56 were assigned to these solo jobs also. He was just, by far, the most successful at it (and volunteered for them when not flying with his flight) due to a combination of skill and mechanical aptitude. As far as I am aware he was not the Albert Ball type flying over the lines on his own. If you have information otherwise I’d be curious.

The above is from memory. Now the dates I looked up.
85 went to France in May 1918 under the command of Major William Bishop who was the biggest soloist in the history of the RFC. Mannock (McCudden?) was ordered to take over from Bishop who had claimed 25 victories (IIRC) in a month and did so on 18 June 1918. At this time McCudden was an instructor in England. McCudden did receive orders for 60 Squadron and died 9 July while in route there. In casual checking I can find no reference of McCudden and 85 but I will look as time permits.

#4494330 - 10/24/19 03:33 AM Re: OT: Treatment of NCO Pilots? [Re: DukeIronHand]  
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Duke,

My comment was from memory, but I had to hit the books and find out what I was thinking of. I found the following...

Mac Grider, an American in 85, wrote in his diary: "The General came over and had tea with us and asked us who we wanted for CO. He wanted to send us McCudden but we don’t want him. He gets Huns himself but he doesn’t give anybody else a chance at them.… We asked for Micky Mannock who is a flight commander in 74. He’s got around sixty Huns and was at London Colney when we were, in January. He wanted to take the three of us out with him in February but we weren’t thru at Turnberry. They say that he’s the best patrol leader at the front — plans his squadron shows a day in advance and rehearses them on the ground. He plans every manoeuvre like a chess player and has every man at a certain place at a certain time to do a certain thing, and raises merry hell if anyone falls down on his job."

Odd, given that Grider got along with his old boss -- the ultimate "solo act," Bishop -- and Grider was probably unfair to McCudden. But that's what I was thinking of. My point was that they didn't seem to turn McCudden down because of his social status - his background and Mannock's were pretty much identical.

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