November 19

This Day in History

World War I

Nov 19, 1915:

British pilot makes heroic rescue

In one of the most exciting episodes of the air war during World War I, the British airman Richard Bell Davies performs a daring rescue on November 19, 1915, swooping down in his plane to whisk a downed fellow pilot from behind the Turkish lines at Ferrijik Junction.

A squadron commander in the Royal Naval Air Service, Davies was flying alongside Flight Sub-Lieutenant Gilbert F. Smylie on a bombing mission. Their target was the railway junction at Ferrijik, located near the Aegean Sea and the border between Bulgaria and Ottoman-controlled Europe. When the Turks hit Smylie's plane with anti-aircraft fire, he was forced to land. As he made his way to the ground, Smylie was able to release all his bombs but one before making a safe landing behind enemy lines. Smylie was then unable to restart his plane and immediately set fire to the aircraft in order to disable it.

Meanwhile, Davies saw his comrade's distress from the air and quickly moved to land his own plane nearby. Seeing Davies coming to his rescue and fearing the remaining bomb on his plane would explode, injuring or killing them both, Smylie quickly took aim at his machine with his revolver and fired, exploding the bomb safely just before Davies came within its reach. Davies then rushed to grab hold of Smylie, hauling him on board his aircraft just as a group of Turkish soldiers approached. Before the Turks could reach them, Davies took off, flying himself and Smylie to safety behind British lines.

Calling Davies' act a "feat of airmanship that can seldom have been equaled for skill and gallantry," the British government awarded him the Victoria Cross on January 1, 1916. The quick-thinking Smylie was rewarded as well; he received the Distinguished Service Cross.

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