Major Edward Corringham “Mick” Mannock, May 24, 1887 – July 26, 1918. A British fighter ace credited with 61 air victories and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Two Bars, Military Cross and Bar and a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Mick Mannock was one of the greatest aces of the war, and a very conflicted figure. He was renowned for his prudent and aggressive leadership, and was one of the world’s first theorists of aviation tactics, and yet he was also a nervous and high-strung man prone to phobias (he was notoriously afraid of burning to death in his plane - a reasonable enough fear, but was also neurotically tidy and paranoid). He was also famous for his zealous devotion to the British Empire and hatred of the Germans, saying of one air victory “I sent one of them to Hell in flames today … I wish Kaiser Bill could have seen him sizzle.” At another point, he crashed a German two-seater, but was unsatisfied with the fact that its two men survived and machine-gunned them down. When a squadron mate demanded an explanation for the slaughter of the helpless crew, Mannock’s response was, “The swines are better dead - no prisoners.”
And yet the escalating number of killings behind his name eventually began to catch up with Mannock:
“In his diary, he recorded visiting the site where one of his victims had crashed near the front-line: ‘The journey to the trenches was rather nauseating - dead men’s legs sticking through the sides with puttees and boots still on - bits of bones and skulls with the hair peeling off, and tons of equipment and clothing lying about. This sort of thing, together with the strong graveyard stench and the dead and mangled body of the pilot combined to upset me for a few days.’ Mannock became especially upset when he saw one of his victims catch fire on its way to the ground. His fear of ‘flamerinoes’ meant that from that date on, he always carried a revolver with him in his cockpit. As he told his friend Lieutenant MacLanachan, ‘The other fellows all laugh at me for carrying a revolver. They think I’m going to shoot down a machine with it, but they’re wrong. The reason I bought it was to finish myself as soon as I see the first signs of flames. They’ll never burn me.’”
The tragic irony, of course, was that this was in fact how Mannock’s plane finally went down on July 26th, 1918 behind the German frontline. A body was recovered from the wreckage, but it was never finally proven whether or not it was Mannock’s. Though he vowed to shoot himself should his plane catch fire, there were no gunshot wounds on the body.
Only four days earlier, Mannock’s squadron mate congratulated him on shooting down an enemy plane by saying that a red carpet would await Mick upon his return to Britain after the war. Mannock’s only reply was, “There won’t be any ‘after the war’ for me.”