- Stevens, Errol
- Naval Aviation, History - WW1
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
R.A. LITTLE DSO,* DSC,* C de G. (1895 -1918)
On April 24 Little damaged a two seater German aircraft which crash landed behind Allied lines. He followed in a dive but his engine failed to respond at the bottom of the dive and Little had to make a forced landing nearby. He hit a ditch and overturned his Tripe but managed to extricate himself and then took the German pilot and observer as prisoners. That evening the three of them dined in Naval 8’s mess before the Germans were taken to a POW camp. The pilot Leut Neumuller sent a Christmas card to Mrs Little for many years in appreciation of his “amicable” treatment.
Whilst there has been some mention of Knights of the Air in WW I, in reality it was a deadly business. In June one of Little’s combat reports stated that he fired at a German two seater at close range. It flipped on its back and Little saw what he believed to be a man fall out. He closed again and saw another man trying to crawl along the fuselage away from the engine fire. Little fired again, the man fell off and the plane crashed. In those days air crew did not carry parachutes.
In July Naval 8 started re-equipping with Sopwith Camels. The Camel, named because of the hump on the fuselage which housed the twin forward firing Vickers machine guns, was the first British fighter/scout to be so armed. The Germans had been using two machine gun fighters for some time, which had given them an obvious advantage in terms of fire power. The Sopwith Triplane continued in service with other squadrons but there is no known record of any aerial engagement between them and the Fokker Triplane which entered service from August.
In August Little was posted to the Dover area for rest and instructional duties, plus Home air defence and coastal patrols. By this time he had been credited with 38 victories – 4 in Pups, 24 in Triplanes, and 10 in Camels, mainly in N6378. Apart from air to air combat, a great deal of his flying time had been spent in patrolling at altitudes above 10,000 ft without oxygen or heated flying suit in an open cockpit. He had also escorted reconnaissance, spotting, and bomber aircraft, and engaged in ground strafing and attacking observation balloons.
He had been awarded the French Croix de Guerre (C de G) in July, followed by the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and a Bar to his DSC in August. In September he received a Bar to his DSO, and a Mention in Despatches in December. The theme “For exceptional daring and skill…” and “For exceptional gallantry and skill in aerial fighting on many occasions…” constantly appeared in his citations. In his official report (Form S206 or ” Flimsy”) on Little made by his Commanding Officer Squadron Commander G. Bromet ( later Air Vice Marshal Sir …KBE CB DSO DL RAF) to cover Little’s service from October 26, 1916 to August 1, 1917, Bromet included “..a most loyal, keen and capable young officer with few, if any equals as a fighting pilot..“.
Naval 8 was one of several squadrons controlled by Brigadier G.S. Shephard, and he wrote to Little on August 2 saying “..how much your gallant work and example have been appreciated. I expect the German Aviators will rejoice if they hear you have left this front“.
In January Little was promoted to Flight Commander and volunteered to go back to France. In March he was posted to No. 3 RNAS Squadron which was equipped with Camels. On April 1 this squadron became No. 203 RAF Squadron because of the amalgamation of the RNAS and RFC, and Little, in theory, became a Captain RAF though the squadron continued to use Naval terminology for some time. During April and May he accounted for another 9 aircraft. A contemporary reported that he had vowed to “get the Red Baron”. Although Little clashed with aircraft from Richthofen’s “Flying Circus” on many occasions, as far as it is known, Little and Richthofen never fought each other. On April 21, the day that Richthofen was killed, Little shot down another German aircraft but had his own controls shot away and crash landed. He was thrown clear but other German aircraft strafed him. He emptied his revolver at them with no visible result.