Frederick Sowrey

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Frederick Sowrey
Born (1893-08-25)25 August 1893
Twigworth, Gloucestershire, England
Died 21 October 1968(1968-10-21) (aged 75)
Eastbourne, Sussex, England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Royal Air Force
Years of service 1914–1940
Rank Group Captain
Unit Royal Fusiliers
No. 39 (Home Defence) Squadron RFC
No. 37 (Home Defence) Squadron RFC
No. 19 Squadron RFC
Commands held No. 143 Squadron RAF
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Air Force Cross
Relations Air Marshal Sir Freddie Sowrey (son)

Group Captain Frederick Sowrey, DSO, MC, AFC (25 July 1893 – 21 October 1968) was a British officer began his career as a World War I flying ace credited with thirteen aerial victories. He was most noted for his first victory, when he shot down Zeppelin L32 during its bombing raid on England. Having risen rapidly in rank during the war, he remained in service until 1940.

Early life and infantry service[edit]

Frederick Sowrey was one of three sons of John Sowrey, Deputy Chief Inspector of Inland Revenue. Young Frederick was home schooled until he was thirteen. He then won a scholarship to King's College School, Wimbledon. He earned a BS degree there, and was completing his graduate study when World War I began. He immediately volunteered for military service;[1] on 31 August 1914 he was appointed as a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers.[2] He went to France as an infantry officer, and was wounded at the Battle of Loos in 1915.[3] After three months in hospital, he was invalided out, turned around, and joined the Royal Flying Corps[1] in December 1915.[4]

World War I aerial service[edit]

He was posted to 39 Squadron on 17 June 1916;[3] he was duly appointed a Flying Officer.[5] It was during this assignment that he scored his first and most notable victory. On the evening of 23 September 1916, Second Lieutenant Sowrey launched from Sutton Farm at 2330 hours in a Royal Aircraft Factory BE.2c to patrol toward Joyce Green. Flying at 13,000 feet, he spotted Zeppelin L32 at about 0110 hours and closed with it. He fired three drums of incendiary ammunition into the belly of the gasbag before it exploded into flame. There were no survivors from the aircrew; most of the bodies recovered were charred and burned. The burning wreckage at Billericay drew enormous crowds.[6] Sowrey received the Distinguished Service Order for his feat,[7] which was gazetted on 4 October 1916.[8] That same day, Temporary Second Lieutenant Sowrey was nominated for a regular commission in the Fusiliers.[9] Shortly thereafter, on 1 December 1916, he was appointed a Flight Commander with the accompanying rank of Temporary Captain.[10] Sometime in late 1916, he transferred to 37 Home Defence Squadron.[11]

Sowrey went on liaison duty to France, and while there transferred to 19 Squadron on 14 June 1917 and resumed his success in combat. In the four months between 17 June and 15 October 1917, he scored a dozen times, both by himself and teamed with aces Alexander Pentland, John Candy, and Richard Alexander Hewat, as well as three other pilots.[4] His final summary for the twelve victories other than the L32 tallied six enemy airplanes destroyed and six driven down out of control.[11]

On 1 January 1918, Sowrey was promoted from Flight Commander to Squadron Leader; this meant that Second Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Frederick Sowrey was now a Temporary Major.[12] On 4 April 1918, he was finally promoted from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant.[13] He assumed command of 143 Squadron until war's end.[11]

After World War I[edit]

On 1 August 1919, Sowrey received a permanent commission in the new RAF, with the rank of squadron leader. Sowrey's postwar career saw him promoted from Squadron Leader to Wing Commander on 1 July 1928.[14] He eventually retired as a Group Captain on 26 May 1940.[15]

Honours and awards[edit]

Awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 4 October 1916.[16]

Awarded the Military Cross (MC) on 23 November 1917.

"For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in shooting down in less than two months two Albatross scouts and a Rumpler two-seater and a Fokker scout, and in two engagements flying very low and engaging and scattering hostile infantry." (Citation text from Supplement to the London Gazette, 6 April 1918)[17][18]

Awarded the Air Force Cross on 1 January 1919.[19]

Sources of information[edit]

  1. ^ a b Walters (2009), p. 86.
  2. ^ "No. 28894". The London Gazette. 8 September 1914. p. 7099. 
  3. ^ a b Castle & Hook (2008), p. 77.
  4. ^ a b "Frederick Sowrey". The Aerodrome. 2016. Retrieved 2 March 2010. 
  5. ^ "No. 29656". The London Gazette. 7 July 1916. p. 6745. 
  6. ^ Castle & Hook (2008), pp. 75–77.
  7. ^ Bowker (1917), p.173.
  8. ^ "No. 29773". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 October 1916. p. 9635. 
  9. ^ "No. 29812". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 November 1916. p. 10642. 
  10. ^ "No. 29882". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 December 1916. p. 12644. 
  11. ^ a b c Shores, Franks & Guest (1990), p. 347.
  12. ^ "No. 30539". The London Gazette (Supplement). 23 February 1918. p. 2396. 
  13. ^ "No. 30737". The London Gazette (Supplement). 10 June 1918. p. 6883. 
  14. ^ "No. 33400". The London Gazette. 3 July 1928. p. 4501. 
  15. ^ "No. 34876". The London Gazette. 18 June 1940. p. 3704. 
  16. ^ "No. 29773". The London Gazette (Supplement). 3 October 1916. p. 9635. 
  17. ^ "No. 30399". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 November 1917. p. 12321. 
  18. ^ "No. 30614". The London Gazette (Supplement). 6 April 1918. p. 4228. 
  19. ^ "No. 31098". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1919. pp. 97–98. 


  • Shores, Christopher F.; Franks, Norman & Guest, Russell F. (1990). Above the Trenches: a Complete Record of the Fighter Aces and Units of the British Empire Air Forces 1915–1920. London, UK: Grub Street. ISBN 978-0-948817-19-9. 
  • Walters, E. W. (2009) [1917]. Heroic Airmen – And Their Exploits. Read Books. ISBN 978-1-44465071-6. 
  • Information Annual. 2. R.R. Bowker. 1917. 
  • Castle, Ian; Hook, Christa (2008). London 1914–17: The Zeppelin Menace. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84603-245-5.