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Aces of Aviation

Sopwith 7F 1 Snipe of William G. Barker

Sopwith 7F 1 Snipe of William G. Barker

Sopwith 7F 1 Snipe from the 201st Squadron of the RAF (Royal Air Force), piloted by Major William G. Barker, in France, the 27th October 1918.

Wingspan: 9.17 meters.

Length: 6.02 meters.

Height: 2.67 meters.

Engine[s]: Bentley BR2 of 230 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 195 kilometers/hour.

Service ceiling: 6100 meters.

Range: 580 kilometers.

Armament: Two Vickers 0.303-inch machine guns.

The most famous pilot of the Royal Air Force who flew over the Italian Front during the First World War, Major William Barker, made history, however, through a brilliant action performed on the Western Front only fourteen days before the end of the war. Born the 3rd November 1894 in Dauphin, Manitoba, Barker was an observer onboard BE2c airplanes of the 9th Squadron, receiving combat order in April 1916 and downing his first enemy aircraft, a Roland, the 29th July. After serving in the 4th and 15th Squadrons, he was selected for pilotage training and received the Military Cross before returning to the 15th Squadron, in which he flew a RE8 airplane in the early 1917. After a short period as instructor in England he joined the 28th Squadron, with which he moved to France as Flight Commander in a Sopwith Camel airplane. After one month he had already downed another five German aircraft.

In November, the 28th Squadron was sent to the Italian Front and Barker took his Sopwith Camel number B6313 with him. With this airplane he achieved another 19 victories, including airplanes and dirigibles, until the late March 1918, when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In April he took command of the 66th Squadron, based in Italy as well, retaining his Sopwith Camel with him. During the following three months he increased his record with another 16 victories and in July he was awarded a second bar for his Military Cross and the Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor. In the late month he took command of the 139th Squadron and, albeit this unit was equipped with Bristol fighters, he continued flying on his Sopwith Camel. He shot down another six enemy airplanes before being sent again to England in September, when his Sopwith Camel, already wholly damaged, had to be withdrawn as scrap. With this aircraft he had achieved almost fifty victories.

Back in England he was awarded a bar for his Distinguished Service Order and, once again, worked as flight instructor. However, at his own request, he returned to France as refresh pilot in the 201st Squadron, taking with him one of the new Sopwith Snipe fighter aircraft, marked with the number E8102 (as depicted in the illustration). During some weeks he missed any combat and the 27th October his staying in France ended. After packing the parachute in his Sopwith Snipe, he could not resist the temptation to have a last look into the enemy lines.

While flying at 6500 meters above the Mormal Forest he spotted and downed an enemy two-seater, but in turn was immediately spotted by a formation of Fokker fighters. After being hit in a thigh, Barker lost consciousness. After regaining it, he downed one of the enemies before being hit again, this time in the other thigh. He lost consciousness again and his aircraft fell into a spin. When he regained consciousness he saw himself surrounded by enemies, but responded by destroying another two Fokker. Then a bullet pierced his elbow and he lost consciousness again, but regained it when he was at low altitude and managed to land his airplane next to a British dirigible, suffering a nose break on the subsequent crash.

William Barker recovered from his wounds and received from King George V's hands the Victory Cross in recognition for this last feat. With a record of 52 victories, Barker placed himself in the seventh place in the list of British and Commonwealth champion pilots. His decorations, which include the Victory Cross, the Distinguished Service Order with bar, the Military Cross with two bars, the French Légion d'Honneur and Croix de Guerre, and two Italian Silver Medal of Military Valor, were equalled only by Major Edward Mannock. After the war Barker associated with Billy Bishop, another Canadian ace, in a Sopwith aircraft sale business. Later, in 1920, they opened a short-lived charter air service. In 1922 Barker joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was, during a brief time, Military Attaché of the RCAF in London. He died in an aerial accident the 12th March 1930.