Louis Strange MC, DFC (bar)

During the First World War there are many accounts of RFC (Royal Flying Corp) pilots modifying their aircraft. Whilst serving with No. 6 Squadron on the Western Front Pilot Officer Louis Strange decided to improve the fire power and accuracy of his aircraft by fitting a Lewis Machine Gun on the top wing above the cockpit of his Martinsyde S.1 Scout.

On 10 May 1915 Strange was engaged in aerial combat against a German Aviatik two-seater and during the lengthy dog fight Strange had to reload his Lewis Gun. After standing up in the cockpit to change the drum his aircraft immediately became unstable, flipped on its back and Strange was thrown from the aircraft but managed to grab the ammunition drum which was still attached to the Lewis Gun.

As his aircraft started to develop a slow spin towards the ground from five thousand feet strange was seen  hanging from his inverted aircraft.

Strange later explained: “I kept kicking upwards behind me until at last I got a foot and then the other hooked inside the cockpit. Somehow, I got the stick between my legs again and jammed on full aileron and elevator; I don’t know exactly what happened then, but the trick was done. The machine came over the right way up and I fell off the top plane and into my seat with a bump.”

It was later estimated Strange was only 500 feet from the ground before he eventually regained control of his aircraft.

On his return to the airfield Strange was reprimanded for causing unnecessary damage to his instrument panel and seat.

During the Second World War Strange was too old for operational flying and on 21 May 1940 was the control officer with No. 34 Squadron (RAF) at Mervile.  After the airfield had been evacuated and with no other pilots available, Strange flew a Hurricane fighter back to England. Apart from this being an advanced aircraft he had never flown before the guns had been removed and  most of the  instruments were missing.

 At 8000 feet Strange dodged anti-aircraft artillery before being attacked by several Messerschmitt Bf 109’s and was forced to fly at very low level to lose his attackers. One month later Strange was awarded a bar for his DSO.

Awards and citations

Distinguished Service Order

Lieut. Louis Arbon Strange, M.C., D.F.C.

For his exceptional services in organising his wing and his brilliant leadership on low bombing raids this officer was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross not long ago. Since then, by his fine example and inspiring personal influence, he has raised his wing to still higher efficiency and morale, the enthusiasm displayed by the various squadrons for low-flying raids being most marked. On 30th October he accompanied one of these raids against an aerodrome; watching the work of his machines, he waited until they had finished and then dropped his bombs from one hundred feet altitude on hangars that were undamaged; he then attacked troops and transport in the vicinity of the aerodrome. While thus engaged he saw eight Fokkers flying above him ; at once he climbed and attacked them single-handed; having driven one down out of control he was fiercely engaged by the other seven, but he maintained the combat until rescued by a patrol of our scouts.

 London Gazette, 7 February 1919[24]

Military Cross

Second Lieutenant (temporary Captain) L. A. Strange, The Dorsetshire Regiment and Royal Flying Corps.

For gallantry and ability on reconnaissance and other duties on numerous occasions, especially on the occasion when he dropped three bombs from a height of only 200 feet on the railway junction at Courtrai; whilst being assailed by heavy rifle fire.

— London Gazette, 27 March 1915[15]

Distinguished Flying Cross

Lieut. Louis Arbon Strange, M.C. (Dorset R).

To this officer must be given the main credit of the complete success attained in two recent bombing raids on important enemy aerodromes. In organising these raids his careful attention to detail and well-thought-out plans were most creditable. During the operations themselves his gallantry in attack and fine leadership inspired all those taking part.

— London Gazette, 21 June 1940[39]

Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross

Pilot Officer Louis Arbon Strange, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. (78522), R.A.F. Volunteer Reserve.

Pilot Officer Strange was detailed to proceed from Hendon to Merville to act as ground control officer during the arrival and departure of various aircraft carrying food supplies. He displayed great skill and determination whilst under heavy bombing attacks and machine-gun fire at Merville, where he was responsible for the repair and successful despatch of two aircraft to England. In the last remaining aircraft, which was repaired under his supervision, he returned to Hendon, in spite of being repeatedly attacked by Messerschmitts until well out to sea. He had no guns in action and had never flown this type of aircraft previously, but his brilliant piloting enabled him to return with this much needed aircraft.

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

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