|Donald Charles Cunnell|
Norwich, Norfolk, England
|Died||12 July 1917 (aged 23–24)
near Wervicq, Belgium
|Buried||Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension North, Bailleul, France|
|Years of service||1915–1917|
No. 20 Squadron RFC
|Battles/wars||First World War|
Donald Charles Cunnell (December 1893 – 12 July 1917) was a British First World War flying ace who was killed in action over Belgium. He is known for having shot down and wounded the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen.
Cunnell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment on 2 November 1915, and saw active service on the Western Front. On 24 November 1916 he was seconded for duty with the Royal Flying Corps, and appointed a temporary flying officer.
On 1 March 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant. On 14 May 1917 Cunnell was appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain. Between 2 May and 11 July, Cunnell claimed nine victories (five claimed destroyed, four "out of control") flying a FE2d with No 20 Squadron.
On 6 July 1917, Cunnell, flying with Second Lieutenant Albert Edward Woodbridge was part of a patrol of six aircraft attacked by a flight of German Albatros D.Vs including one flown by Manfred von Richthofen. During the clash Richthofen was wounded in the head and forced to land near Wervicq. The victory was credited to the crew of Cunnell's A6412.
It is often falsely stated that this was the only time Richthofen was shot down in air-to-air combat, overlooking Edwin Benbow's victory over the Red Baron on 6 March 1917. However, this was the only time the Red Baron was wounded in action.
Woodbridge later described the action:
|“||Cunnell handled the old FE for all he was worth, banking him from one side to the other, ducking dives from above and missing head-on collisions by bare margins of feet. The air was full of whizzing machines, and the noise from the full-out motors and the crackling machine guns was more than deafening ... Cunnell and I fired into four of the Albatroses from as close as thirty yards, and I saw my tracers go right into their bodies. Those four went down ... Some of them were on fire - just balls of smoke and flame - a nasty sight to see. Two of them came at us head-on, and the first one was Richthofen. There wasn't a thing on that machine that wasn't red, and how he could fly! I opened fire with the front Lewis and so did Cunnell with the side gun. Cunnell held the FE on her course and so did the pilot of the all-red scout. With our combined speeds, we approached each other at 250 miles per hour ... I kept a steady stream of lead pouring into the nose of that machine. Then the Albatros pointed her nose down suddenly and passed under us. Cunnell banked and turned. We saw the all-red plane slip into a spin. It turned over and over, round and round, completely out of control. His motor was going full on, so I figured I had at least wounded him. As his head was the only part that wasn't protected by his motor, I thought that's where he was hit.||”|
Richthofen's subsequent medical treatment disclosed that the bullet that hit him may have come from behind. Despite Cunnell and Woodbridge's confirmed claim for this aerial victory, Richthofen may have fallen from fire from one of the other FE.2s of 20 Squadron, from being shot down by Raymond Collishaw, or even from one of Collishaw's wingmen from 'B' Flight, 10 Naval Squadron such as William Melville Alexander, Ellis Vair Reid, or Desmond Fitzgibbon.
Cunnell was killed by German anti-aircraft fire a few days later on 12 July 1917, near Wervicq, Belgium; his observer, Lt. A. G. Bill, successfully flew his fighter back to base. He was buried at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension North at Bailleul, France, close to the Belgian border, in grave number III.C.263.
|Date & time||Cunnell's aircraft||Foe||Location|
|2 May 1917 @ 1115||FE2D serial number A6431||Albatros D.III 'destroyed in flames' (DESF)||Comines|
|26 May 1917 @ 1035||FE2d serial number A6431||Albatros D.III destroyed (DES)||Comines-Quesnoy|
|31 May 1917 @ 1920||FE2d serial number A6430||Albatros D.III (DES)||Comines|
|5 June 1917 @ 0810||FE2d serial number A6414||Albatros D.V (DESF)||Coucou|
|6 July 1917 @ 1030||FE2d serial number A6412||Albatros D.V 'out of control' (OOC)||Wervicq|
|Albatros D.V (OOC)||Wervicq|
|Albatros D.V (OOC)||Wervicq|
|Albatros D.V (OOC)||Wervicq|
|11 July 1917 @ 1400||FE2d serial number A6412||Albatros D.V (DESF)||Wervicq-Menin|
- "No. 29353". The London Gazette. 5 November 1915. p. 10925.
- "No. 29855". The London Gazette. 8 December 1916. p. 12070.
- "No. 29862". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 December 1916. p. 12198.
- "No. 30005". The London Gazette. 30 March 1917. pp. 3115–3116.
- "No. 30129". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1917. p. 5847.
- Gibbons, Floyd Phillips. The Red Knight of Germany : the story of Baron von Richthofen, Germany's great war bird. New York: Bantam Books. p. 152.
Four days after his 57th victory, Richthofen himself went hurtling down from a fearful height with an English bullet wound in his head. It was the first wound he had received in almost three years of war. He had had many narrow escapes, but this was the first time that the enemy had touched him. The man who shot Richthofen down that 6 July morning was Second Commander Albert Edward Woodbridge, who was a Second Lieutenant at the time and was acting as observer for pilot Captain D. C. Cunnell, commanding a wing of the Twentieth Squadron, R.F.C. Cunnell was killed six days afterward, but Woodbridge survived the war to tell this story.
- Guttman & Dempsey (2009), pp. 85–86.
- Guttman & Dempsey (2009), p. 86.
- Guttman & Dempsey (2009), pp. 87–88.
- Guttman & Dempsey (2009), pp. 88–89.
- "Captain D. C. Cunnell". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
- "Donald Charles Cunnell". The Aerodrome. 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014.