'Flight Fantastic' page 59

Captain D'Urban Victor Armstrong DFC

Camel Pilot Supreme

www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Camel-Pilot-Supreme-Hardback/p/16477

Available now with £5 discount 

Captain Armstrong gained fame in the First World War with the celebrated No 60 and 151 Squadrons in France, and No 44 and 78 Squadrons on Home Defence. Test pilot, exhibition pilot and instructor, 5 victories, and greatest exponent of the Sopwith F.1 Camel.

In this illustrated page from my book Flight Fantastic (Foulis/Haynes, 1986) DVA is standing at the centre of the group, wearing goggles. His Camel is having a new tail-skid fitted. 

The memorabilia shown below include a Parabellum from an enemy Gotha he shot down.

In 1917 DVA helped to pioneer home defence tactics hastily marshalled against the onslaughts of enemy Gotha bombers invading the South-East as far as London, generally known as the first Blitz. In 1918 he was at the leading edge of the dangerous new art of offensive night fighting in support of ground troops on the Western Front, flying intruder missions and intercepting German night-bombers. His skills were such that he was several times deployed instructing other pilots including many newly arrived from the USA.

Long before that, his first introduction to the war in the air was with the famed No. 60 Squadron in 1916. It's astonishing to remember that they were initially equipped with Morane-Saulniers which manoeuvred by means of wing-warping. The squadron fought right through the Battle of the Somme, July to November 1916. At the end of the Somme No. 60 Squadron was reduced to five operational pilots, of which DVA was the only survivor from his flight.

But Captain Armstrong is best remembered for his dazzling skill in aerobatting the Sopwith Camel. This famously tricky aircraft was responsible not only for the greatest aerial damage to the enemy but equally for the greatest number of casualties to unwary trainees. DVA was especially valued by the authorities for demonstrating that the most amazing performance could be wrung out of the unruly little fighter. His feats were breathtaking and are still remembered with disbelief in piloting circles.

I originally created this page in 2016 when I had been collaborating with my friend and colleague Rob Fletcher on his planned audio-visual tribute to DVA's skill and courage. The AV sadly didn't materialize, but my work on the biography has now seen publication under the title Camel Pilot Supreme (Air World/Pen & Sword, August 2019).

With 264 pages and over 170 illustrations, many of the photographs are taken from Armstrong's own wartime album and have never been published before. Plus a 16-page colour section features stunning action paintings of DVA's feats by renowned aviation artist Lynn Williams (some are available as art prints for framing - see my Online Shop). 

Until this biography little was known of DVA's wartime experiences and even less about his South African background. Here you will also meet the Sopwith Camel as her pilots knew her, along with many leading figures whose exploitrs have brought them fame. Armstrong takes his place among them as one of the legendary heroes of the first aerial war.