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The Australian Flying Corps

Australia’s leading flying ace Captain Harry Cobby in his Sopwith Camel aircraft (AWM AC0158)


Posted on 7 February 2018

Australia’s airmen played a crucial role on the Western Front, flying reconnaissance and observation missions, and destroying enemy aircraft.

The Australian Flying Corps was established in 1914 as part of the Australian Imperial Force.

Its pilots were initially trained at Point Cook in Victoria and formed four squadrons, supported by a range of tradesmen, including welders, blacksmiths, engine fitters and electricians.

The 1st Squadron was deployed to Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine, while the 2nd, 3rd and 4th squadrons went to France.

Each squadron on the Western Front had 18 aircraft, including the RE8 reconnaissance and bomber biplane, and the Sopwith Camel, which was armed with twin synchronised machine guns.

Australia produced 57 flying aces who each destroyed at least five enemy aircraft.

The leading ace in the Australian Flying Corps was Captain Harry Cobby who destroyed 29 enemy aircraft in less than a year of active service.

Captain Cobby returned to Australia and transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force (established 1921) where he rose to the rank of Air Commodore and then served with the Department of Civil Aviation.

He was cited for “exceptionally sound judgement and far-sighted planning” and his record as a uniformed flying ace remains unbeaten.

A total of 460 officers and 2234 other ranks served in the Australian Flying Corps during the First World War, and another 200 served as aircrew for the British Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

Flight Commander Robert Little joined the RNAS and became Australia’s leading ace in the British service, shooting down 47 enemy aircraft.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, the Distinguished Service Cross and Bar and the French Croix de Geurre and Star, before being killed in aerial combat near Noeux, France in May 1918, at the age of 23.

Another Australian pilot, Major Stan Dallas also joined the RNAS, completing his training in England.

Major Stan Dallas
Captain Harry Cobby

During a reconnaissance operation he was shot in the leg three times and managed to return to base. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and Bar and the French Croix de Guerre and Palm.

He was killed in June 1918 during an air battle with Fokker Triplanes, his final tally being 39 enemy aircraft.

The Australian Flying Corps had a high casualty rate, peaking at 88 per cent and averaging 50 per cent during the war.


Further reading:

Jeffrey Grey. A Military History of Australia.

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