Raymond "Ray" Collishaw

RFC & RAF AVM - CB, DSO & Bar, OBE, DSC, DFC, CdeG [Fr] +

use switches
Fighter Pilots
Air Gunners
Navigators/Radar Operators
Other Aircrew
Gallery Gallery
Misc. Miscellaneous

Ray Collishaw

use switches
Site Map Sitemap
Sources Slang
Acknowledgements Thanks/
About Us About
Links Links


Born 22 November 1893 in Nanaimo BC

Died 28 September 1976 in W. Vancouver BC



AIR COMMODORE RAYMOND COLLISHAW has fought in the air over Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Russia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Palestine, Egypt and at the present time holds a vital post with the Royal Air Force in the Middle East.
This fabulously varied career has brought him the reputation of being the D' Artagnan of British airmen; a career that began at the age of 18 with a Polar expedition into the Antarctic. Having ranged through the personal conquest of 60 planes between 1915 and 1918 and the participation in numerous post-war campaigns, it is proceeding in characteristic pace with the Royal Air Force in the conduct of the Second Great War.
Raymond Collishaw was born at Nanaimo, B.C., in 1893, in an atmosphere of ships, hunting and fishing that gave him a nose for adventure. Up and down the Pacific coast he sailed as a youthful pilot and second officer; then came the opportunity to go with Scott to the Antarctic as navigating officer. Upon his return, he resumed Pacific Coast shipping duties but with the start of the war, he sought naval service in England. Just before enlisting, however, aviation caught his imagination and by 1916 he was a qualified pilot in the Royal Naval Air Service.
His first plane was brought down, October 12, while with the 3rd Wing R.N.A.S. operating in France and just two weeks later he won the Croix de Guerre for meeting six German scouts and destroying two of them before the remainder dispersed.
Collishaw's toll mounted gradually but in May of the following year he was given command of a flight of the 10th Squadron R.N.A.S. and promptly destroyed 29 planes between May 30 to July 27 — a record still unparalleled.
On June 6, 1917, the day before the Allied attack from the Ypres salient, Collishaw fought from dawn till dark; but in one flight before seven in the morning he led his whole squadron into a pitched battle with a German squadron of Albatross scouts. Eighty planes fought out this duel that ended in a broken German retreat. Collishaw himself engaged the German leader at the outset and sent him down in flames. Two others he destroyed before the fight was over. This and other actions of that time gained him the Distinguished Service Cross.
Another red letter day followed shortly after. On June 15 he brought down four hostile craft, an action chiefly responsible for the award to him of the Distinguished Service Order.
In the furious and continued fighting he thrust upon himself, Collishaw was bound to have some grief — but he came to be known as the miracle man. Twice he had been disabled in the air and only just managed to glide his machine behind his own lines. Once in January he came face to face with the enemy only to find his guns were frozen. But rather than lead his flight into retreat he flew on with them. Once in a heavy fog he landed by mistake on a German aerodrome and only just managed to get into the air again before enemy hands could take him prisoner. Thousands of bullets had passed through his machine — once smashing the goggles from his face. Another time his machine was shot out of control and he crashed to the ground amid its complete wreckage, without even a bruise.
Collishaw was the leader of an all-Canadian quintet of black planes that was as formidable as any unit on the Western front. In successive flights, they destroyed 66 enemy planes. On June 26, 1917, one member of the quintet, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Nash, was shot down by Lieut. Karl Allmenroeder, Baron Von Richthofen's first man. It was a sad day for the other four Canadians but Nash was not killed. The following day while lying in a temporary cell Nash heard the tolling of a church bell. It was the funeral of the late Lieutenant Allmenroeder who had been shot down by Collishaw in a racing, diving, circling, climbing fight that had been carried out within full view of the remainder of the quintet.
That was Collishaw's 25th victory; but by July 27 his record had mounted to 37 and he was granted several months leave to return to Canada. Collishaw was virtually unknown to the public at this time and spent his holiday quietly with his family at Nanaimo before returning to the fray in command of No. 13 Naval Squadron operating from Dunkirk along the coast with the fleet. Submarines became his prey, together with the general assignment of protecting the fleet from attack from the air.
Within a few months, Collishaw was appointed commander of No. 3 Naval Squadron and when this fighting unit became the 203rd, with the linking of the R.N.A.S. and the R.F.C. into the R.A.F., he returned to service over land. His machine gun resumed its deadly work and again his victories were notable for his superlative marksmanship that seemed to break up the enemy planes in the air because of his excellent grouping of fire. The Distinguished Flying Cross came to him in August 1918 — with his enemy toll at 47— and in September, he was awarded a bar to the Distinguished Service Order. Said the Air Ministry of him on this occasion:
"A brilliant squadron leader of exceptional daring, who has destroyed 51 enemy machines. Early one morning he, with another pilot, attacked an enemy aerodrome. Seeing three machines brought out of a burning hangar he dived five times, firing bursts at these from a very low altitude, and dropped bombs on the living quarters. He then saw an enemy aeroplane descending over the aerodrome; he attacked it and drove it down in flames. Later, when returning from a reconnaissance of the damaged hangars, he was attacked by three Albatross Scouts, who pursued him to our lines, when he turned and attacked one, which fell out of control and crashed."
Collishaw brought his total to 60 enemy planes by a double victory on September 26 in another attack upon a German aerodrome — the last of his record in that war. A few days later he was assigned to England to take part in the organization of the Canadian Air Force and the Armistice caught up with him just after he had been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.
This great airman, who ranked second only to Bishop among British pilots, was headed for a career in commercial aviation after the armistice but the British government offered him command of an R.A.F. squadron to go to the assistance of Denikin in South Russia in the struggle to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. Of 62 flying officers under his command, 53 were Canadians. Here was a colorful war, wild and dramatic, and fought under very different circumstances than the long, hard struggle of 1914-1918. But Denikin was forced to retreat at the end of 1919 and Collishaw was sent to Egypt to command a squadron for service against the Bolsheviks in Persia. Here again was war under new conditions. "We maintain our aerodrome landing field," he wrote to a friend, "in decent condition by using some 500 camels and 700 horses to trample it down after each snow." Persia had become a protectorate of Great Britain, under the Treaty of Versailles, and the British were faced with the task of protecting the population from the Russians. Collishaw was given full command of the R.A.F. in Persia — a job of hard work under hard conditions that was only occasionally brightened by such a ceremony as that of his presentation to the Shah of Persia during which the Shah sat upon the historic peacock throne taken from Delhi centuries ago.
To the long list of awards for bravery in the air was now added the C.B.E. for broader services. In the King's New Year's Honor List of 1921, Collishaw's services in the East were recognized by his creation as a Commander of the British Empire. But the British expedition to Persia was withdrawn in February and Collishaw and his men returned to Mesopotamia to fight rebellious Arabs amid the fierce heat of summer with temperatures ranging between 110 and 130. In Persia the difficulty had been to squeeze enough heavy clothing into the tiny cockpits!
Finally, after three years of adventure in the East, Collishaw returned to England for general service with the R.A.F. with the rank of Wing Commander. His duties were varied and spread over a wide territory. In 1929 he was in command of the Fleet Air Arm operating from H.M. Aircraft-carrier Courageous in suppressing recalcitrant Arabs in Palestine, but during less troublesome periods he had taken a most active part in the development of tactics that have marched ahead with the power and efficiency of aeroplanes and the skill of aviation science.
Just before the outbreak of the Second Great War, Collishaw held one of the R.A.F.'s most important commands in the Middle East, with the rank of Air Commodore. The man who was known as the gay, roaring attacker of the first great war had stayed at the controls and become one of the "master minds" behind the Royal Air Force.

Painting & text from Clyde Scollan's booklet - Canada's Air Heritage

Featured in the booklet are

Billy Barker  Billy Bishop  Ray Collishaw  Alan McLeod




top     home

All content should be considered the property of the contributers and/or The Canadian Fighter Pilot & Air Gunner Museum - unless otherwise noted