Charles George Gass holds records and medals for gallantry for his prowess against enemy aircraft in the First World War. Yet Gass was no pilot. Seeing action in the Hundred Days Offensive, Charles Gass was an observer, flying as the gunner in twin seated ‘Brisfit’ planes.
Brisfit planes were Bristol F.2b’s. They were a new generation of fighter plane. These fighters had two seats. One for the pilot, the second for an observer. The Brisfit had a Vickers Machine Gun fitted to it. This was fixed so that it could sweep from side to side, or up and down. It gave the observer a wide range of fire as a gunner.
It was with this new weaponry that Gass earned a reputation as an ace. Despite only being assigned to 22 Squadron in late March of 1918, he became one of it’s highest scoring aces.
Gass made his first ‘kill’ in April. He shot down a German Albatros plane, leaving it out of control. This was a period of many dogfights. The Germans had launched the Spring Offensive that threatened to break through Allied lines.
The early phase of this offensive saw both sides attempting to assert their authority on the battlefield and in the skies above it. Aircraft had by now become very significant. As observers they could track troop movement and identify a build up of reserves. They could harass supplies and strafe advancing troops.
May 1918 proved to be a record breaking month for Gass. On 7th May he was the observer/gunner on one of two Brisfit planes that attacked a force of twenty German scouting planes. The odds may seem incredible but the plane was faster than its German opponent, reaching 123 mph. Gass was credited with taking down 5 of the German planes in this dogfight. Amazingly, the feat of taking down 5 opponents in a day was repeated just two days later on 9th May.
Over the course of the month Gass was credited with taking 28 German planes out of the skies. His total count for the war was 39, having flown with 5 different pilots.
Gass was awarded the Military Cross for his endeavors. At the end of the war he returned to civilian life, working as a Post Office clerk. He continued the flight training that he had begun toward the end of the war and in the period immediately after and gained his wings in the inter-war period, while a member of the Reserve of Air Force Officers.
In the Second World War Gass was called up and served as Flying Officer in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch. He was promoted to Flight Lieutenant then Squadron Leader.
His feat in May 1918 is a record for the number of ‘kills’ attained by an ace in the First World War. A full list of his victories can be found here.
The Development of Weapons in the First World War.