|Donald Roderick McLaren
His C.O. wrote: "McLaren displays magnificent bravery and absolute fearlessness." He was a brilliant fighting pilot against enemy aircraft often far superior in number.
Captain D.R. MacLaren is a patrol leader of the greatest dash and judgement. He has been nearly eleven months in this squadron, and has brought down 48 enemy aeroplanes and six balloons in that period, making a total of 54. The above nine were brought down since he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His total of 54 places him in the six most successful pilots the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force have ever known. In spite of the numerous and heavy fights he has taken part in, he has almost always brought his patrol home. Also, I wish to emphasise that, in his many engagements with Fokker biplanes, he is up against a machine which is far superior to his own in performance, and has therefore been at a great disadvantage. This makes his record absolutely marvellous.
In addition to his fights he has led many low bombing expeditions with the greatest dash.
Altogether his exploits have set a magnificent example to this squadron, especially as he has had very few experienced pilots to back him up, owing to the casualties sustained.
The German AAA guns found their range and a shell smashed the centre struts on MacLaren’s machine and ripped off several stay wires. Another close burst damaged the wing more, but he couldn’t tell how bad it was. Being very careful he slowly approached the ground and managed to land. Such prudence was deserved, for on inspection they found that the leading edge of his wing had been cut in two and it was a miracle that it hadn’t failed in the air. MacLaren lead a charmed life.
The Sopwith Camel is perhaps the most famous World War I fighter plane alongside the Fokker Triplane, primarily due to a thirty-year battle between Snoopy and the Red Baron in the comic strip “Peanuts.” The Camel is deservedly famous, since it was the most successful Allied fighter of the world’s first air war in terms of enemy aircraft shot down, and the number of pilots who became aces flying it in combat during the last year of the war.
Whereas the Camel’s ancestors - the Sopwith “Strutter,” “Pup” and “Triplane” - each had a reputation as a beautiful flying machine that was easy for a pilot to master, the Camel had a reputation for killing more of its pilots than the enemy did. This was due to a design that grouped a powerful rotary engine, pilot, weapons and gasoline close together in the forward part of the fuselage. While this configuration incurred superb maneuverability, the powerful gyroscopic force created by the spinning rotary engine with most of the weight close to the center of gravity meant the Camel was inherently unstable and could spin easily if not handled carefully. Today’s fighters are built with the same sort of instability, but onboard computers give the pilot an ease of control that would not be possible if he was flying manually the way his Camel-borne predecessors did.
Donald MacLaren - The Top Camel Ace:
While there were many aces who flew the Camel, most of them - such as fellow Canadian aces Raymond Collishaw or William Barker - had flown other aircraft and scored with them earlier in their careers. The top-scoring Camel pilot of the First World War who only ever flew the Camel in combat was a young Canadian, Donald MacLaren, whose score of 54 victories during the last 8 months of the war is an impressive feat, indicative of the fact that 1918 was the toughest year of the Great War.
Donald MacLaren was born in Ottawa on May 8, 1893, but spent most of his formative years on the Canadian frontier, as the family moved to the then-small town of Calgary, Alberta, when he was 6. As a youth, his father taught him to shoot, and he put it to good practice hunting game on the Alberta prairie, in the process giving himself an “eye” that would lead to his later success. Donald attended public school before entering Western Canada College. He and one of his brothers later traveled back east to Montreal where they entered McGill University. Due to illness, Donald left school after two years. When he was recovered, he, his father, and brother Roy moved to Keg River Prairie, 200 miles north of the closest railroad and went into the fur trading business, where the young man thrived, joining a government exploration party which surveyed the 6th Meridian in the summer of 1916. On his return, he found his brother had gone to enlist; he did the same in Vancouver, and was accepted into the Royal Flying Corps.
Fortunately, by the fall of 1916, flying training was more comprehensive than it had been in earlier years. Training at Long Branch, just outside Toronto, MacLaren soloed in the Curtiss JN-4 “Canuck” after three and a half hours of dual instruction. After intermediate and advanced flying training and aerial gunnery training, he received his pilot’s wings on August 19, 1917. Even then his training wasn’t over. Arriving in England in September, he was given aerobatics training on the Avro 504, graduating on to the deHavilland D.H.5, then the Bristol Scout and finally the Sopwith Camel, on which he was given 9 hours of flight training during which he received instruction on the most recent RFC and German tactics. By the time he was declared ready to enter combat in November 1917, MacLaren had nearly 100 hours of flight training, far more than would have been the case only a year previously, and - most importantly - nearly double that of the German pilots he would meet in the coming months.
Following his graduation, MacLaren was assigned to 46 Squadron on the Western Front, equipped with the Sopwith Camel. His timing was fortunate, since there was not a lot of action at this point. With Russia now out of the war following the Bolshevik Revolution, the Germans were conserving their forces as they planned for what they expected would by the final offensive of the war in the coming Spring. Because of this, the young 2nd Lieutenant had the luxury of learning about combat flying from reconnaissance and ground strafing sorties before he finally entered aerial combat on March 6, 1918.
That morning, on patrol between Arras and Cambrai with four other Camels, MacLaren’s flight leader spotted three Germans to the east. With the sun behind them, the Camels gained altitude without being spotted. As he dove into the attack, MacLaren recognized the Germans as Hannover Cl.IIIs. Latching onto one that attempted to dive away, MacLaren followed the Hannover down. Just as he lined up for his first shot, the German banked sharply. MacLaren followed, closing to 100 feet before opening fire. As he came around for a second pass, he found the Hannover spinning down out of control. He followed it till it crashed and exploded, to confirm the victory.
Within a matter of days, Operation Michael - the great German Spring Offensive of 1918, designed to knock the French and British out of the War before the newly-arrived Americans could make their presence felt - opened across the Western Front. With reinforcement from these units on the Eastern Front, the Germans sent 100 divisions against 60 Allied divisions and came within an ace of breaking through the Allied front in desperate fighting through March and April. Despite rainy weather, aerial activity also increased, and MacLaren scored his second victory on March 10 when he shot the tail off an Albatros D.V.
The Germans had brought forward several enormous railway artillery guns to support their offensive. One was shelling the British rear from a railway junction at St. Pol. On March 21, MacLaren and six other pilots from 46 Squadron made a low-level attack, each dropping four 20-pound Cooper Bombs. MacLaren scored two direct hits on the mountings and tracks, and the gun was put out of action.
Now separated from the others, he spotted an LVG C.VI, which he attacked and shot down. While climbing away to avoid anti-aircraft fire, he nearly collided with a German observation balloon, which he turned and attacked. Setting it afire, he turned for home, when he spotted another LVG just behind the German lines at Graincourt. This German put up a good fight, scoring hits with both the nose gun and the observer’s gun, ripping the wings of MacLaren’s Camel. He then dove on the LVG and shot it out with the observer, killing him. The pilot nearly evaded further attacks, but was now so low he had to straighten out to head for safety. As he did so, MacLaren bored in again and shot the plane into the ground where it exploded. Now an ace, MacLaren received the Military Cross and promotion to 1st Lieutenant for this action.
From this point to the end of the war, combat was close to a daily experience. Jagdgeschwader 1, led by Baron Manfred von Richtofen, had moved into the area where 46 Squadron operated, and the British pilots came up against numerous large German formations, which soon led to the various British squadrons operating together. Air battles over the front could now include over 100 airplanes in a single fight. By the end of March, MacLaren had shot down six more German aircraft, including a heavily armored Junkers J.1 ground attack plane.
On April 1, 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service became the Royal Air Force, and MacLaren received a promotion to Captain in recognition of his achievements in the previous month of combat, with his score now 11 aircraft and two balloons.
A few days later, MacLaren’s career almost came to an untimely end. Leading a flight, he attacked a gaggle of German fighters and shot down two. German “Archie” found his range and a shell smashed two of his Camel’s cabane struts and ripped away several bracing wires, with a second close burst damaging his wing. With careful flying, he was able to return to his field at Baupaume and land. On inspection, the ground crews found the leading edge of the upper right wing had been separated - it was a miracle it hadn’t failed during the flight home.
On April 7th, MacLaren spotted an enemy two-seater and dove on it. When he pulled the trigger, the guns didn’t fire. Pulling off, he discovered both belts of bullets were broken. In the meantime, the German made no attempt to fire on him. When he approached, the observer stood up in his cockpit and pointed at his weapon, indicating it was jammed. With neither able to shoot the other, MacLaren waggled his wings and went home, in one of the rare displays of World War I aerial chivalry in 1918.
During heavy fighting throughout the month of May, MacLaren increased his score by 17 aircraft and two more balloons. During three fights, he scored multiple victories, clearly demonstrating he had “found his eye” as an aerial gunner. He then went through a “dry spell” for nearly the whole of the month of June, during which he only shot down two enemy aircraft, though his Squadron Leader commended him officially for his daring in leading attacks against the enemy even when outnumbered.
The month of June saw the superb Fokker D.VII - which had first appeared over the front the previous month - start showing up in larger numbers as Jagdgeschwader 1 was almost completely re-equipped with this outstanding fighter that outclassed anything the Allies had. For the rest of the war, MacLaren would be fighting enemies who had better equipment.
In July, he shot down eight airplanes - including two new D.VIIs in one fight - and two balloons, bringing him out of his slump and leading to a second award of the Military Cross.
The defensive battle waged by the Allies since the beginning of the German offensive ended with containment of the Germans in July. On August 8, 1918 the great Allied counteroffensive that would lead to final victory began at Amiens with the Canadian Corps in the lead. The German Jastas fought with a fury born of desperation and confidence in the D.VII, as they strove to protect the German troops in the trenches below.
On the opening day of the offensive, MacLaren was leading seven Camels on a dawn patrol between Albert and Baupaume when he sighted twenty German fighters in the misty morning. Leading the others into the clouds, he maneuvered into position to surprise four Fokkers. He dove on one and shot it down, when five more joined the two survivors out of the mist, and MacLaren’s Camel had its tail well-ventilated before he lost his pursuers in the clouds. He rejoined his flight just in time to be attacked by another 20 Fokkers. Recognizing a bad situation, the Camels dove for their lines and escaped.
Bad weather intervened for the next two weeks, but late August saw the weather improve and 46 Squadron went back to work as ground strafers, going after supply and troop columns moving to the front. This was dangerous work and several Camels were lost to ground fire. Despite the main mission being that of ground attack, MacLaren still found opportunity to score. At dawn on August 26, 46 Squadron encountered a large formation of Fokker D.VIIs around Peronne. The Germans were above the Camels, but had neglected to see the S.E.5a’s flying high escort to the Camels. As the S.E.5s dove on the Germans, 46 Squadron turned and trapped the enemy between the two British units. In the ensuing fight, five Fokkers went down, including one by MacLaren. The victory was made all the better by the fact that both British squadrons returned without loss.
The last two full months of the war saw some of the most intense fighting of the entire four years, as the American Army opened the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, while the British and French maintained their offensives against the Hindenburg Line.
While flying alone on September 15, 1918, MacLaren saw a British observation balloon in flames west of Havrincourt Wood. He dove and found six Fokkers around it. Pulling the trigger, he found he only had one working gun. He continued his attack and shot down one D.VII out of control, after which the others then attacked him and he had all he could do to escape. The next day he led two other Camels on a patrol behind German lines. Spotting four Fokkers, MacLaren led the attack and forced the Germans to dive to escape. During fight all four D.VIIs were destroyed, with two falling to MacLaren. The attack brought his score to 37, and he was awarded the DFC.
A few days later, 46 lost their Squadron Leader to a collision with a new pilot in the squadron during a dogfight and MacLaren was given command of the squadron, ten and a half months after having joined the unit as a junior Lieutenant, and only a bit longer than six months after his first promotion to 1st Lieutenant. On October 2, 1918, he led 15 Camels over the front in three flights of five, each at a different altitude. Over the German lines, eight D.VIIs attacked from out of the sun. MacLaren became involved in an intense dogfight with the leader, each exchanging bursts of machine gun fire. He used the Camel’s superb turning capability yo get on the enemy’s tail, sending the Fokker down in flames. Just at this moment, 20 more D.VIIs dove into the fight. Attempting to get away, MacLaren turned into the pursuing enemy and shot down the leading aircraft just as the two high flights of Camels dove to the rescue.
A week later, MacLaren entered combat for what would prove to be the last time, when he shot down another LVG two-seater. The next day, while wrestling with a squadron mate, he managed to break his leg and was put out of action. He returned to England on November 6, and spent the Armistice in the Royal Flying Corps Hospital in London. His score of 48 aircraft and 6 balloons was only bettered by his countrymen Raymond Collishaw and William Barker as regards Canadians fighting in the First World War.
MacLaren’s combat career only used up four Camels, which was surprising given the level of operations in the final months of the war. He scored 19 victories in Camel B9153, 18 in D6418, 8 in D6603 and his final 9 in F2137.
After the Armistice, MacLaren was awarded the DSO. His final score of 54 left him tied as sixth-ranking Allied ace with the South African Allan Beauchamp-Proctor and legendary Frenchman Georges Guynemer. Overall, he is ranked 8th behind Manfred von Richthofen, Rene Fonck, Edward Mannock, William Bishop, Ernst Udet, Raymond Collishaw, and James McCudden. His victory score, all accomplished in a bit less than eight months of the heaviest fighting of the war, during which he rose from junior Lieutenant to Major commanding the squadron, is outstanding.
After the war, Donald MacLaren remained in the service and participated in the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force, becoming commander of Fighter Squadron 1 in 1920. After resigning his commission in 1921, he returned to Vancouver and started Pacific Airways Ltd., with one Curtiss HS-2L flying boat. In 1926, he led the effort to reorganize the RCAF to take it out of further civil aviation development through the Aeronautics Act of 1927, and led the effort to organize private flying clubs throughout the country to provide trained pilots in the event of emergency. He merged his company with Western Canada Airways in 1928 and expanded operations into the Yukon and Arctic. In 1929, he and H. Hollick-Kenyon flew the first airmail service for WCA between Regina, Moose Jaw, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge and Calgary.
Donald MacLaren eventually became a senior executive in Trans-Canada Airlines and retired from that company in 1958. Having participated in the development of Canadian aviation from its earliest days, he died in his sleep on July 4, 1989, at age 96.
Donald Roderick MacLaren was born on 28 May 1893 in Ottawa. Seven years later, Donald and his family moved to Calgary where he attended public school before entering Western Canada College. He and one of his brothers later travelled back east to Montreal where they entered McGill University.
Early in 1914, MacLaren left school because of poor health. When he recovered, he joined his father and brother in exploring the lower Peace Keg River. The trio then worked together operating a fur trading post.
Motivated by the news of setbacks encountered by British troops and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in May 1917, MacLaren decided to join the RFC, while his brother joined the Royal Navy.
MacLaren completed his training for the RFC at Long Branch, Armour Heights, and Camp Borden in Ontario. He received a commission as a second lieutenant in August, then travelled to England where he continued his training on advanced aircraft at Number 34 Training Squadron at Turnhill. MacLaren flew Avro 504s, Bristol Scouts, Nieuport 12s, Sopwith Camels, and de Havilland DH-5s.
At the end of November, he was sent to the front to fly with Number 46 Squadron. His first action over the lines of Flanders occurred on 13 December when he flew a Camel with Number 3 Squadron.
MacLaren was on a patrol with four others on 6 March 1918 flying a Camel when three German Hannover CL.III two-seat aircraft were spotted 1,000 feet above them. They ascended to meet the German aircraft and initiated an attack. MacLaren fired about 100 rounds at one aircraft, sending it into a spin. This was his first recorded victory. On 10 March, he engaged a German Albatros D.V. earning his second victory. MacLaren was then appointed deputy flight leader.
One of the greatest offensives by the Germans on the Western Front started on 21 March 1918. MacLaren carried out a mission that included dropping four 25-pound Cooper bombs on a German long-range run. He went on to flame a balloon that was over Biache St. Vaast, and continued on the same day to shoot down two LVG two-seater aircraft. The next day, he shot down two more German aircraft over Bullecort, one of which he shared with Captain Marchant. MacLaren shot down or assisted in downing three more enemy aircraft. On 24 March, he flamed another balloon, and caused a Junkers J.I to go down out of control.
On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and RFC merged, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) was born. On 6 April, the famous Rittmeister Manfred von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron, shot down Sydney P. Smith, leader of Number 46 Squadron. Don MacLaren was made new captain and leader of the squadron. Later that month, on 21 April, another Canadian, Roy Brown, shot down the Red Baron.
MacLaren increased his number of victories that day when he sent an Albatros D.V out of control. At the end of March, MacLaren received the Military Cross for the victories he had amassed over the month. May was another very active month for MacLaren and when his number of victories jumped up to 32, he was awarded a bar for his Military Cross. His victories continued to mount rapidly in July and August, resulting in his receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.
September and the first week of October continued to be very successful for MacLaren, as his total victories mounted to 48 aircraft and six balloons, which made him the highest scoring Sopwith Camel pilot, and third best of all Canadian aces.
On 10 October, Donald MacLaren was having a friendly wrestling match with one of the junior officers in his squadron when he broke his leg. Unable to fly, MacLaren was posted back to England on 6 November 1919. Five days later, on 11 November, the war was over as the Germans surrendered.
MacLaren was given the Distinguished Service Order on 6 February 1919. Added to the honours he already received, MacLaren was awarded the Croix de Guerre and was made a Compangnon de la Légion d’Honneur by France.
After the war, when the short-lived Canadian Air Force (CAF) was organized, MacLaren played an important role. He located and shipped to Canada surplus aircraft that could be used for the CAF and the Canadian Air Board.
After returning to Canada, MacLaren saved enough money to buy a Curtiss JN4, and formed a new company called Pacific Airways. Immediately successful, he was able to purchase a HS-2L flying boat that allowed him to carry out patrols for the Department of Fisheries on the Pacific Coast.
MacLaren’s Pacific Airways offered charter passenger service to Vancouver and Victoria by the time he sold it to Western Canada Airways in 1928. Western Canada Airways changed its name to Canadian Airways in 1931 and MacLaren was given a position as its manager. Also in 1931, MacLaren was appointed honorary wing commander with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was placed on the Reserve Roster as a squadron leader for the RCAF in 1932.
Canadian Airways eventually became Trans-Canada Airline (TCA) in 1937, and MacLaren became vice president of operations. Based in Ottawa, he selected pilots, who were often former bush pilots, for the airline. He retired from TCA as executive assistant to the president in 1958.
Donald MacLaren passed away on 4 July 1989.
Donald Roderick MacLaren (1893-1989) was the most successful fighter pilot of World War One to fly the Sopwith Camel aircraft.
Born in Ottawa, Ontario on 28 May 1893 MacLaren was a fur trader prior to starting his service with the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. He proved a natural fighter pilot and had amassed an impressive 54 kills (the last on 9 October 1918, and 43 within the space of four and a half months) when his war career was brought to an abrupt end after he broke a leg while wrestling with a friend in October 1918.
The third most successful Canadian ace of the war - behind Billy Bishop and William Collishaw - MacLaren assisted in the creation of the Royal Canadian Air Force after the armistice, and thereafter embarked upon a career in civil aviation.
The recipient of the Military Cross with bar, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, Donald MacLaren died on 4 July 1989 at the age of 94.
MacLaren, Donald Roderick, fighter pilot, businessman (b at Ottawa 28 May 1893; d at Burnaby BC 4 July 1988). MacLaren joined the RFC in 1917, served in 46 Squadron in France, and was credited with 54 "kills" (48 aircraft and 6 balloons) in less than 8 months, an unparalleled record. He was briefly director of air services for the CAF, but left in 1919 to enter commercial aviation. From 1945 until his retirement in 1958, he was executive assistant to the president of Trans-Canada Airlines.