Henry Winslow Woollett
|Henry Winslow Woollett|
|Born||5 August 1895
|Died||31 October 1969(aged 74)|
|Service/branch||Royal Air Force|
|Unit||Lincolnshire Regiment, 24 Squadron, 43 Squadron|
|Commands held||No. 23 Squadron RAF|
|Battles/wars||World War I
- Western Front
|Awards||Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross & Bar, Legion d'Honneur, Croix de Guerre with Palm
Henry W. Woollett grew up in Southwold, Suffolk, England and was educated at Wellingborough School (1907–1913). A doctor's son, he was pursuing medical studies when World War I began. He immediately enlisted and on 19 November 1914 was commissioned a second lieutenant in an infantry unit, the Lincolnshire Regiment. He then served in the Gallipoli Campaign, landing at Suvla Bay. In 1916, he requested and received transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. He qualified as a pilot after only 3.5 hours flight time.
His Career as an Ace
In November 1916, he was assigned to No. 24 Squadron to fly the Airco DH2. These early fighter planes had a rear "pusher" engine format and a forward firing machine gun with a clear field of fire making synchronisation unnecessary. It was flying one of these that Woollett claimed his first victory, on 5 April 1917, destroying an Albatros D.III.
In the summer of 1917 No. 24 squadron switched to flying the Airco DH.5. The DH.5 was unusual in design with the top wing having a 'back stagger', behind the lower wing, to give the pilot good visibility, especially overhead. Given its lack of power (top speed was 102 miles per hour) and poor performance at higher altitudes, it was used more for ground attack than air combat. Nevertheless, it was while flying the DH.5 that Woollett destroyed three more German planes and drove another down 'out of control'. On 17 August 1917, he became an ace, and was promoted to flight commander. He was posted back to England as a flight instructor at Eastbourne in August 1917. On 9 January 1918, he was awarded the Military Cross; a Bar in lieu of a second award would follow on 22 June.
He returned to combat in France in March 1918 with No. 43 Squadron, operating Sopwith Camels. He achieved ten victories in March and was a triple ace by month's end. Beginning on 24 March, he began a series of 22 victories with Camel number D6402, making it one of the more successful airframes in the war. Victories 14 and 15 were over observation balloons, considered highly dangerous targets due to their heavy anti-aircraft protection and fighter cover.
Even in an era of relaxed garb and standards, Woollettt was colourful. He wore a leopardskin flying helmet and gauntlets when he flew. His airplane was equally distinctive, with the propeller spinner painted as a Native American's face and a dragon trailing down the length of the fuselage. He also briefly adorned his plane with white 'splotches' as experimental camouflage to aid his balloon busting, but his superiors made him remove them.
Eccentric he may have been, but he was also effective. April saw him claim six more German airplanes and five more balloons. He shot down six planes on a single day—12 April. It was a record day unsurpassed by any pilot in the entire war. Belgium's top ace of World War I, Willy Coppens described Woollett's exploits:
"Captain H. W. Woollett of No. 43 Squadron...whilst leading a patrol, he saw a German machine, out-manoeuvred it, fired about thirty rounds and saw it spin down and crash. During this fight he had been attacked by several other machines. Without delay he climbed rapidly above his attackers and dived on to a two-seater, firing as he went, causing this machine also to crash. Once again he out-climbed his opponents, looped away from two attacking Fokkers, made a vertical bank, and again dived on the tail of an Albatross. After he had fired about 40 rounds, this machine burst into flames and fell to pieces. He then went home. At 5 p.m. the same evening he attacked thirteen enemy aircraft.... He first fired 30 rounds into one of the enemy aeroplanes, which turned over on its back and fell to pieces. He then climbed again, manoeuvred rapidly among the remaining twelve machines, avoiding the fire of his opponents until he could fire a burst into an Albatross, which spun down and crashed. He then made for home. On crossing the lines he saw another enemy machine above him. Once more the climb of his 'bus enabled him to get over his enemy, and he crashed his sixth machine for the day."
Woollett downed a balloon and two planes in May, an enemy fighter and two balloons in July, and finished up by destroying a Fokker D.VII to end his war with 35 victories. He had scored at least 23 of his triumphs in the same Camel, serial number D6402, which he overturned and damaged on 21 July. His final wartime duty was a posting back to England to command a training wing.
His account consisted of 20 enemy planes destroyed, (including 4 shot down in flames), 4 more aircraft down 'out of control' and 11 balloons destroyed.
Woollett was awarded the French Legion d'Honneur on 30 November 1918, and the Croix de Guerre with Palm on 15 July 1919. He served in Iraq during the 1920s, being appointed Squadron Leader as of 11 December 1928. He also was Squadron Leader of No. 23 Squadron in 1930–1931. One of the pilots assigned to his command was Douglas Bader, the World War II ace.
He died on 31 October 1969.
Honours and awards
T./Lt. (T./Capt.) Henry Winslow Woollett, Gen. List and R.F.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in engaging three enemy aircraft and following them down to a low altitude behind the enemy's lines, destroying one and driving down another out of control during the operations. He has done excellent work as a patrol leader, and has always displayed great gallantry in aerial combats, having brought down three other enemy machines in addition to those already mentioned.
—Supplement to the London Gazette, 9 January 1918 (30466/654).
Bar to Military Cross
T./Capt. Henry Winslow Woollett, M.C., R.F.C.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. On one occasion, when on offensive patrol, he dived on to an enemy plane, which was attempting to cross our lines, and fired 100 rounds into it at 100 yards range, causing it to burst into flames and crash to the ground. He then dived on to another hostile machine, which went down in a spin and finally crashed to earth. On a later occasion he attacked and brought down in flames two enemy observation balloons. The gallantry and skill exhibited by this officer have been most inspiring to his flight.
— Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 June 1918 (30761/7401).
Distinguished Service Order
T./Capt. Henry Winslow Woollett, M.C., Gen. List, attd. R.A.F.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during recent operations. In two days during three patrols he destroyed eight enemy machines, making his total twenty-two. His leadership, dash and courage were of the highest order.
— Supplement to the London Gazette, 16 September 1918 (30901/10875).
- "Who's Who: Henry Woollet". First World War.com. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 4 December 1914. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- "Henry Winslow Woollett". The Woollett Family History Site. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- Balloon Busting Aces of World War I. p. 29.
- "Henry Winslow Woollett". The Aerodrome. www.theaerodrome.com. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- "Airco D.H.5". The Aerodrome. www.theaerodrome.com. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- "World War I Military Medals and Decorations – Great Britain – Military Cross". The Aerodrome. www.theaerodrome.com. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- Balloon Busting Aces of World War I. p. 92.
- Sopwith Camel Aces of World War I. p. 56.
- The London Gazette: . 29 November 1918. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 11 July 1919. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 11 December 1928. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- "43 Squadron". The Aerodrome Forum. www.theaerodrome.com. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 23 May 1941. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 8 January 1918. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 21 June 1918. Retrieved 2009-08-21.
- The London Gazette: . 13 September 1918. Retrieved 2009-08-21.