Donald Cunnell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Donald Charles Cunnell
Born December 1893
Norwich, Norfolk, England
Died 12 July 1917 (aged 23–24)
near Wervicq, Belgium
Buried Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension North, Bailleul, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1915–1917
Unit Hampshire Regiment
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.

Early life[edit]

Cunnell was born in December 1893 at Norwich, Norfolk, England, the son of Charles Donald Cunnell and educated at Gresham's School, Holt.

Military career[edit]

Cunnell was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Hampshire Regiment on 2 November 1915,[1] and saw active service on the Western Front. On 24 November 1916 he was seconded for duty with the Royal Flying Corps,[2] and appointed a temporary flying officer.[3]

On 1 March 1917 he was promoted to lieutenant.[4] On 14 May 1917 Cunnell was appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain.[5] Between 2 May and 11 July, Cunnell claimed nine victories (five claimed destroyed, four "out of control") flying a FE2d with No 20 Squadron.

The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2d fighter
Richthofen's Albatros D.V after his forced landing

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.[6]

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.[7]

Woodbridge later described the action:

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.[9]

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.[10] He was buried at the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension North at Bailleul, France, close to the Belgian border, in grave number III.C.263.[11]

War record[edit]

List of aerial victories[12]
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


  1. ^ "No. 29353". The London Gazette. 5 November 1915. p. 10925. 
  2. ^ "No. 29855". The London Gazette. 8 December 1916. p. 12070. 
  3. ^ "No. 29862". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 December 1916. p. 12198. 
  4. ^ "No. 30005". The London Gazette. 30 March 1917. pp. 3115–3116. 
  5. ^ "No. 30129". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1917. p. 5847. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Guttman & Dempsey (2009), pp. 85–86.
  8. ^ Guttman & Dempsey (2009), p. 86.
  9. ^ Guttman & Dempsey (2009), pp. 87–88.
  10. ^ Guttman & Dempsey (2009), pp. 88–89.
  11. ^ "Captain D. C. Cunnell". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  12. ^ "Donald Charles Cunnell". The Aerodrome. 2014. Retrieved 7 November 2014.