Brave Ace observer is awarded Military Cross

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Brave Ace observer is awarded Military Cross

Balancing precariously in an open cockpit at 10,000 feet with nothing but a gun to hold on to, flying ace Giles Blennerhassett managed to shoot down eight enemy Albatros D. II fighter planes in just three months.

The courageous 22-year-old 2nd lieutenant was awarded the Military Cross for his skill as an F.E.2b aircraft observer, which involved firing a .303 Lewis machine gun on a swivel mount, from an exposed platform at the front of the plane. On one occasion he attacked two hostile aircraft, forcing both to lose control.

Giles’ son-in-law Denis O’Neill, 78, from Dublin, said: “He would've been standing on a metal floor, no doubt sliding around in his hob nail boots. Sometimes he would’ve been required to stand on his seat in order to fire the weapon.

“The plane was manoeuvring over the battle field up to its maximum altitude of 11,000 feet. He would’ve been thrown all over the place in ‘dog fights’ with other planes. There were no safety belts or parachutes - how he didn’t fall out defies imagination. He was a very brave man.”
Giles, from Sligo, was 20-years-old in March, 1916, when he was seconded from the 4th Irish Rifles, where he had fought in the trenches in France, to become an observer with the Royal Flying Corps, later the RAF. He became a pilot in 1917.

The F.E.2b was a two-seater aircraft with the observer sitting in the nose of the plane and the pilot sitting above and behind him. The propeller was behind the pilot, enabling the observer to fire forwards and backwards, over the wing.

Giles’ son Brian, 93, who contributed his log book and a series of photos of him in uniform, said: “My father used to mock the F.E.2b pilots and call them ‘taxi drivers’ as the position of the observer at the front of the plane was extremely exposed and he felt he was taking all the risks.”

By Jackie Storer . 
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