Winged Sabres, One of the RFC’s Most Decorated Squadrons

The RFC’s 20 Squadron was the highest scoring fighter squadron and was known as the Winged Sabres in RFC and RAF service. This new book provides an insightful study of the history of 20 Squadron fought through the changing air war over the Western Front. – Most Highly Recommended

NAME: Winged Sabres, One of the RFC's Most Decorated Squadrons
FILE: R2727
AUTHOR: Robert A Sellwood
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back 
PAGES: 300
PRICE: £25.00
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: WWI, World War One, World War 1, First World War,
The Great War, air war, fighter aircraft, design, innovation, FE2, Bristol F2FB, 
fighter-reconnaissance, Western Front

ISBN: 978-1-84832-105-2

IMAGE: B2726.jpg
DESCRIPTION:  The RFC's 20 Squadron was the highest scoring fighter 
squadron and was known as the Winged Sabres in RFC and RAF service.  
This new book provides an insightful study of the history of 20 Squadron fought 
through the changing air war over the Western Front. - Most Highly Recommended

20 Squadron flew two distinctive aircraft types in the fighter/fighter-reconnaissance roles during a 
period of amazingly rapid technical progress.

The FE2 was an interesting but cumbersome attempt to dog fight enemy aircraft. The basic challenge 
for all WWI fighter aircraft, beyond the relative frailty of construction and flammability, was the propeller. 

It was quickly appreciated the the most effective fighter design was able to fire its machine gun(s) 
forward and enable the pilot to manoeuvrer into a position  of advantage, ideally being an aircraft where 
the pilot was also the gun aimer, pointing his aircraft at the enemy. Unfortunately, the propeller was a 
considerable barrier to achieving that tactical operation because the most effective aircraft had their
engine and propeller in front of the pilot. The only WWI solution was to employ interrupter gear to stop 
the gun firing as a propeller blade crossed the muzzle, or to place a light air-cooled drum magazine gun on 
the upper plane to fire above the arc of the propeller. At that time the relative frailty of the wings made the 
WWII approach of wing mounting guns to fire on either side of the propeller, converging at a chosen point 
ahead of the aircraft, impossible.

The consequence of interrupter gear and drum fed machine guns was in the rate and duration of available 
fire. The Lewis gun provided a light drum fed gun but when mounted on the upper wing, it was very
 difficult to change magazines. The pilot had to stand and fly the aircraft while bringing the Lewis gun 
closer on its mounting rail and removing the empty magazine before fixing a new magazine, a physically 
very difficult operation that had to be followed several times in combat because of the small capacity of the 
drum magazines. The typical fixed gun was a Vickers that was belt fed, providing a long belt of ammunition 
that provided good duration of fire, but at a much reduced rate of fire, due to the interrupter gear.

The FE2 met the challenge in an awkward way that was a cumbersome compromise. A pusher design, with 
the engine and propeller behind the pilot, it could have provided a simple solution with a fixed gun, or a pair, 
being mounted in front of the pilot with an uninterrupted field of fire and with the pilot having a clear view 
through the sights to bring his gun(s) to bear. The FE2 was built as a two seater and that meant the gunner 
handled the guns but had to sit in front of the pilot restricting his view ahead. Instead of mounting two guns 
with restricted traverse, fired by a sitting gunner, the designers had placed one gun to fire forward and another, 
on a large post mount, to fire to the rear. That meant that the gunner had to stand to fire to the rear and sides, 
blocking the pilots view, and then to switch over to the forward gun and fire from a seated position if the 
enemy flew past. He was also unlikely to see an enemy attacking from the front if already engaging aircraft 
behind, while the pilot's vision was blocked by the gunner's body so that he couldn't spot the new threat either.

Given the limitations of the FE2, it was amazing that Winged Sabre crews survived, much less achieved a 
commendable kill rate.

The second aircraft was a massive step forward for 20 Squadron. The F2FB was a two seater but also a 
superlative design. It was fast, manoeuvrable, powerful and versatile. It was intended as a fighter-
reconnaissance aircraft and therefore required a second crew member but its crews developed a very 
effective tactic. In a fight, the pilot flew and fought the enemy with his fixed forward firing machine gun 
as a single seat fighter pilot would do. As he flew and fought, his observer behind him watched for any 
aircraft getting on their tail and shot at the enemy with a flexibly mounted machine gun. As the F2FB 
could be equipped also with bombs, it was an early tactical fighter that could range across a battlefield 
strafing and bombing enemy ground forces but still able to dog fight enemy fighters and win. This also 
made it a pioneer of 'shock and awe' when it was used in the Middle East to bomb and shoot up tribal 
villages as a flying policeman.

The author has made a very good job of presenting the history of 20 “Winged Sabres” Squadron and their 
aircraft. From the detail packed into this book, it is easy to see why the author spent more than fifteen 
years in researching for it.