Douglas John Bell

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Douglas John Bell
Born (1893-09-16)16 September 1893
South Africa
Died 27 May 1918(1918-05-27) (aged 24)
Near Thiepval, France (KIA)
Commemorated at Arras Flying Services Memorial, Pas de Calais, France
Allegiance Union of South Africa
United Kingdom
Service/branch Union Defence Force
British Army
Royal Air Force
Years of service 1914–1918
Rank Captain
Unit Light Horse Regiment
No. 27 Squadron RFC
No. 78 Squadron RFC
No. 3 Squadron RFC/RAF
Battles/wars World War I
 • South-West Africa Campaign
 • Western Front
Awards Military Cross & Bar

Captain Douglas John Bell MC* (16 September 1893 – 27 May 1918) was a South African World War I fighter ace credited with 20 aerial victories. He was one of the first fighter pilots to successfully engage an enemy multi-engine bomber.[1] He became the leading ace of the nine in No. 3 Squadron RAF.[2]

Early service[edit]

Bell was born in South Africa, the son of Herbert Bell and of Christine (née Williams) of Johannesburg, Transvaal. He first served in the Transvaal Light Horse Regiment during the South-West Africa Campaign of 1914–1915.[3]

Bell enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps on 1 June 1916. He received his Aviator's Certificate on 22 September 1916.[1] That same day, as a second lieutenant, he was appointed a flying officer.[4] The following month, he was assigned to No. 27 Squadron, to fly the Martinsyde G.100. Despite the poor performance of a bomber so ungainly that it was nicknamed "The Elephant",[5] Bell managed to score three victories flying the Martinsyde.[6] He drove down an Albatros D.III on 1 May 1917; on 4 June, he shared the destruction of another D.III with another pilot, and drove a third down out of control. The performance made him one of the top two scorers with the Martinsyde.[1] On 15 June, he was awarded the Military Cross for his performance of a long-distance bombing mission.[7]

Bell was appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of captain on 9 April 1917.[8] He was then reassigned to No. 78 Squadron, which was flying Sopwith 1½ Strutters on Home Defence duty back in England. While with No. 78 he engaged a Gotha bomber on 25 September 1917. After nearly fifteen minutes of machine-gunning the Gotha, it crashed into the North Sea. His claim for this victory went unconfirmed; it would have been Home Defence's first victory.[1]

Sopwith Camel ace[edit]

On 13 February 1918, Bell was transferred to No. 3 Squadron in France as a flight commander. He used Sopwith Camel no. C1615 to score ten triumphs in March. Most notable was 23 March, when he became a balloon buster by destroying an enemy observation balloon, then driving down out of control two defending Albatros D.Vs, all within five minutes.[1]

In April, he had switched to Camel C6730 as C1615 had been lost in action on 24 March.[6] He scored six times in April, including another balloon on the 8th, which he shared with another pilot.[1]

He was awarded a Bar in lieu of a second award of the Military Cross on 13 May 1918.[9]

Killed in action[edit]

On 27 May 1918, Bell drove down an enemy two-seater with two comrades for his twentieth win. He was killed by machine gun fire from observer Leut. Heinzelmann in a two-seater flown by Gefr. Rosenau.[10] Bell's burial site is unknown.[1][6] Ironically, he was killed near Thiepval, which would later become the site of a Memorial for the Missing who had died in the Battle of the Somme.[11][12][13] As one of the many Allied airmen who died on the Western Front, but have no known grave, he is commemorated at the Arras Flying Services Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.[3]

List of aerial victories[edit]

His wartime tally of 20 victories consisted of 1 (and 1 shared) balloons destroyed, 7 ( and 4 shared) aircraft destroyed, and 6 (and 1 shared) 'out of control'.[10]

Combat record[1]
No. Date/Time Aircraft/
Serial No.
Opponent Result Location Notes
No. 27 Squadron RFC
1 1 May 1917 Martinsyde G.100 Albatros D.III Out of control Near Épinoy
2 4 June 1917
Martinsyde G.100
Albatros D.III Destroyed West of Sint-Denijs-Westrem Shared with Lieutenant D. V. D. Marshall
3 Albatros D.III Out of control Hausbeke
No. 78 Squadron RFC
u/c 25 September 1917 Sopwith 1½ Strutter Gotha G.V Destroyed South of Brentwood, EssexNorth Sea Shared with observer/gunner Lieutenant G. G. Williams
No. 3 Squadron RFC
4 11 March 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Out of control QuéantPronville
5 13 March 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed in flames Villers
6 16 March 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed Cambrai
7 Type C Destroyed
8 17 March 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed in flames Cagnicourt Shared with 2nd Lieutenant A. A. M. Arnot
9 22 March 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed in flames Havrincourt Wood
10 23 March 1918
Sopwith Camel
Balloon Destroyed Quéant
11 Albatros D.V Out of control
12 Albatros D.V Out of control
13 27 March 1918
abt 0700
Sopwith Camel
LVG C Destroyed Fricourt Shared with Lieutenants George Riley and W. C. Dennett
No. 3 Squadron RAF
14 1 April 1918
Sopwith Camel
Fokker Dr.I Destroyed Combles
15 8 April 1918
Sopwith Camel
Balloon Destroyed North of Mory Shared with Captain Cyril Ridley
16 11 April 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros C Destroyed in flames Ervillers Shared with Lieutenants Lloyd Hamilton,
Adrian Franklyn, and C. E. Mayer
17 12 April 1918
Sopwith Camel
Albatros D.V Destroyed Albert
18 Albatros D.V Out of control Pozières
19 20 April 1918
Sopwith Camel
Fokker Dr.I Destroyed North-East of Villers-Bretonneux
20 27 May 1918
Sopwith Camel
Type C Out of control Shared with Lieutenants Lloyd Hamilton and Will Hubbard

Honours and awards[edit]

Military Cross
2nd Lt. Douglas John Bell, R.F.C., Spec. Res.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when in command of a long distance bomb raid. Owing to his good leadership and skill a large ammunition dump was destroyed. Later, he single-handed carried out a difficult mission and succeeded in reaching his objective under extremely adverse weather conditions."[7]
Bar to Military Cross
2nd Lt. (T./Capt.) Douglas John Bell, M.C., R.F.C., Spec. Res.
"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has led his formation with great skill and has destroyed three enemy aeroplanes and driven down two others, one of which was seen to be completely out of control. The high state of efficiency which his flight has attained is due to his splendid example and fearless leadership."[9]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Douglas John Bell". The Aerodrome. 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  2. ^ "No. 3 Squadron". The Aerodrome. 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Casualty Details: Bell, Douglas John". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  4. ^ "No. 29783". The London Gazette. 13 October 1916. p. 9863. 
  5. ^ "Martinsyde G.100". The Aerodrome. 2015. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Franks (2003), p. 54.
  7. ^ a b "No. 30135". The London Gazette (Supplement). 15 June 1917. p. 5985. 
  8. ^ "No. 30051". The London Gazette (Supplement). 4 May 1917. p. 4313. 
  9. ^ a b "No. 30681". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 May 1918. p. 5695. 
  10. ^ a b Shores, Franks & Guest (1990), p. 72.
  11. ^ "Ruins of Thiepval". 2007. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  12. ^ "The Western Front Today - Thiepval Memorial to the Missing". First World 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 
  13. ^ Reed, Paul (2014). "The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing: The Missing of the Somme". Old Front Line Battlefields of WW1. Retrieved 9 December 2015. 

External links[edit]