Mansell Richard James

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Mansell Richard James
Born (1893-06-18)18 June 1893
Leamington, Ontario, Canada
Died c. 2 June 1919(1919-06-02) (aged 25)
Unknown; disappeared in New England
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Royal Air Force
Years of service 1917–1919
Rank Captain
Unit No. 45 Squadron RAF
Battles/wars World War I
 • Italian Front
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross

Captain Mansell Richard James DFC (18 June 1893 – c. 2 June 1919) was a Canadian-born World War I flying ace credited with 11 confirmed aerial victories. He disappeared after setting a postwar aviation record for prize money, and was the object of repeated searches throughout the years.

World War I[edit]

James was living in Watford, Ontario when he enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps,[1] and was commissioned as a temporary second lieutenant on 22 September 1917.[2] After the completion of his training, he was posted to No. 45 Squadron in Italy on 12 February 1918 as a Sopwith Camel pilot. On 3 June 1918, he scored his first aerial triumph, destroying an enemy Albatros D.V over Feltre. Four days later, he destroyed two Albatros D.IIIs, one over San Marino and the other over Colicella. His next two victories over Albatros D.Vs that he destroyed east of Feltre on 20 July made him an ace.[1]

On 5 August 1918, he destroyed the only reconnaissance plane of his career, an AEG. The next day, he sent down two Albatros D.Vs over Segusino and destroyed a third. On the last day of August, he rounded out his victory string by destroying two Albatros D.Vs near Arsiero.[1]

On 23 September 1918, Lieutenant James was promoted to temporary captain,[3] and in November 1918 was awarded Distinguished Flying Cross, with the following citation:

"An excellent scout pilot who has at all times shown great skill, courage and determination in attacking enemy machines. During a short period of time he has destroyed nine enemy aeroplanes."[4][5]

Post World War I[edit]

On 6 May 1919, James surrendered his commission in the Royal Air Force upon being transferred to the unemployed list.[6] He shipped out to the United States. On 28 May 1919 James flew what was reputedly the first Sopwith Camel in the United States, from Atlantic City, New Jersey to Boston, Massachusetts. He was competing for a $1,000 prize offered by The Boston Globe for fastest flight between the two cities. At 115 miles per hour despite headwinds, he was much faster than a prior competitor's 90 mph gait. After landing at a field eight miles north of Boston, James departed again at 6 PM, supposedly for a stop at Mitchel Field on Long Island en route to Atlantic City, both of which are southwest of Boston. He buzzed and frightened spectators watching his takeoff.[7]

It was Captain James' intent to follow railroad tracks from Boston on his return flight. He apparently guided on the wrong set of railroad tracks,[8] as he later landed at Tyringham, Massachusetts, (near Lee), about 100 air miles west of Boston, to have his aircraft serviced.[9] On 29 May, he was reportedly seen at 11:30 AM at an altitude of about 5,000 feet over Connecticut after departing Lee, Massachusetts; he apparently had a sound engine at that sighting and was headed southeast.[10][11]

A more reliable report tells a somewhat different story. On the morning of 2 June 1919, he took off from Tyringham toward the south, then turned west, away from Boston. He drew a crowd of spectators for his departure because the local populace was not used to aircraft. Because of his direction of flight, they thought he might be returning to the field he departed, but he did not reappear.[9]

On 5 August 1919, a berry picker in a ravine on Mount Riga outside Millerton, New York found aircraft wreckage. It was speculated to be James'.[12][13]

In 1921 there was a report that his aircraft could have gone down in a river at Poughkeepsie, New York.[14]

Years later, on 17 December 1925 near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, several search parties went into woods trying to relocate plane wreckage discovered by a lost hunter from Brooklyn several days previously. They were spurred by a reward offer of $500 posted by James's uncle six years previously.[8][15]

On 19 May 1927, U. S. Coast Guard Boat 290 found an aircraft wing floating in Fort Pond Bay, Long Island Sound. Captain James's brother, E. D. James, wrote a letter requesting a description of the wing, hoping to identify it.[10]

Despite extensive searches for him spurred partially by rewards offered, no sign of James has ever been found.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Mansell Richard James". The Aerodrome. 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  2. ^ "No. 30405". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 November 1917. p. 12492. 
  3. ^ "No. 30953". The London Gazette. 15 October 1918. p. 12126. 
  4. ^ "No. 30989". The London Gazette (Supplement). 2 November 1918. p. 12967. 
  5. ^ "Awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross". Flight. X (515): 1249. 7 November 1918. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  6. ^ "No. 31422". The London Gazette. 27 June 1919. p. 8113. 
  7. ^ "In 360 Mile Flight". The Sun. Lowell, Massachusetts. 29 May 1919. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  8. ^ a b "Lost Canadian Flyer Sought in Woods". The Border Cities Star. Windsor, Ontario. 17 December 1925. p. 1. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  9. ^ a b "Death of Aviator May Clear Up Old Mystery". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. Saskatoon. 3 October 1930. p. 11. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "Missing Plane Wing Claimed". Meriden Daily Journal. Meriden, Connecticut. 7 June 1927. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  11. ^ "British Air Ace is Still Missing". Pittsburgh Press. Pittsburgh. 2 June 1919. p. 1. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  12. ^ "Have Found Airplane of Canadian Ace?". The Toronto World. Toronto. 6 August 1919. p. 3. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  13. ^ "Lost Ace's Plane Seen". The Sun. New York City. 6 August 1919. p. 6. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  14. ^ "Captain James's Plane Believed Found in River". New-York Tribune. New York City. 6 August 1919. p. 5. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  15. ^ "Search Tyringham Woods for 'Plane". Ottawa Citizen. Ottawa. 17 December 1925. p. 5. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 

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