One of the least known Canadian air aces of the First World War is Raymond Collishaw, who was born and raised in Nanaimo, British Columbia.
Collishaw, along with William Avery (Billy) Bishop and William George (Billy) Barker are acknowledged as the three leading Canadian air aces of the First World War serving with the British armed forces.
In 1989, British researcher Timothy Graves concluded there is evidence to suggest that Collishaw took down up to 81 enemy aircraft, much higher than his official victory score. Graves attributes some of the difference to the rivalry between the two air services. In an article published in the World War II Investigator, Graves writes that of Bishop’s 72 victories, only 13 were witnessed by other pilots; on the other hand, 60 of Collishaw’s WW I “kills” were witnessed. Graves also observed that if both Bishop and Collishaw were credited with all the victories they claimed, the final score would be 81.5 for Collishaw and 74.5 for Bishop.
Collishaw was born in 1893 in Nanaimo. At age 15, he found employment as a cabin boy on a Canadian fisheries patrol ship. By age 22, he was a first officer. With this background, it was natural that Collishaw would enlist in the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), qualifying as a pilot in January, 1916. After eight months flying naval patrols along the English Channel, he was sent to France for combat duty over Western Front trenches. He quickly scored air victories. His aggressive, risk-taking flying often resulted in damage to his own aircraft and a number of crashes. He was, however, rarely injured.
Although British commanders discouraged pilots from painting aircraft, Collishaw’s mates painted their five Sopwith’s midnight black, and called themselves the “All-Black Flight,” a name later simplified to the “Black Flight.” Each plane was given a name: Black Maria, Black Roger, Black Death, Black Sheep, and Black Prince.
At Ypres, where Von Richthofen was already a German ace, the Black Flight attacked with vengeance. In just five days, Collishaw recorded four victories while his flying mates scored additional victories. By June 6, Collishaw’s record stood at 16. On June 26, the Black Flight sustained its first loss when Nash was shot down; he landed safely behind enemy lines, destroyed his machine, was captured, and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner.
Collishaw finished WW I at age 25 with an official record of 60 aerial victories – the highest scoring RNAS ace, the sixth best record in the world, the highest scoring ace to fly the Sopwith Triplane, and the first pilot to claim six victories in one day. Among Canadian WW I aces, Collishaw was ranked second to Bishop.
Two years before his death, Collishaw was inducted into the Canadian Aviation Hall of Fame with the following citation: “No airman has served on more enemy fronts with greater distinction, and his indomitable spirit, despite adversity, gave such leadership to those under his command, as to have been of outstanding benefit to Canadian aviation.”
Excerpt from Altitude, the quarterly magazine of the Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada, Spring 2012.