Douglas John Bell
|Douglas John Bell|
|Born||16 September 1893|
|Died||27 May 1918 (aged 24)
Near Thiepval, France
|Arras Flying Services Memorial||Pas de Calais, France|
|Years of service||ca 1916 - 1918|
|Unit||No. 78 Squadron RAF, No. 27 Squadron RAF, No. 3 Squadron RAF|
|Awards||Military Cross with Bar|
Captain Douglas John Bell was a 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. He became the leading ace of the nine in No. 3 Squadron RAF.
Early flying service
South African Bell enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps on 1 June 1916. He received his pilot's certificate on 22 September 1916. That same day, as a second lieutenant, he was appointed a Flying Officer. The following month, he was assigned to 27 Squadron, to fly the Martinsyde G.100. Despite the poor performance of a bomber so ungainly that it was nicknamed "the elephant", Bell managed to score three victories flying the Martinsyde. 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. On the 15th, he was awarded the Military Cross for his performance of a long-distance bombing mission.
Bell was promoted to Flight Commander as a Temporary Captain on 9 April 1917. He was then reassigned to No. 78 Squadron, which was flying Sopwith 1½ Strutters on Home Defence duty back in England. While with 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.
Sopwith Camel ace
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.
He was awarded a Bar in lieu of a second award of the Military Cross on 13 May 1918.
Killed in action
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. . Bell's burial site is unknown. 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.
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'.
Honors and awards
Military Cross (MC)
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.
'Military Cross (MC) Bar
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.
Sources of information
- Sopwith Camel Aces of World War I. p. 54.
- 'Above the Trenches', Shores (1990) page 72
- Sopwith Camel Aces of World War 1. Norman Franks. Osprey Publishing, 2003. ISBN 1-84176-534-1, ISBN 978-1-84176-534-1.