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Pilotage Handbook 1917 | G. H. Bowman, 56 Squadron RFC

Price £175.00 Sale


An Elementary Text-Book
For the use of Junior Officers Afloat

printed by Eyre & Spottiswode, London, 1918

A rare original WW1 Royal Navy Pilotage handbook, published in 1917. The book originally belonged to a Royal Flying Corps fighter pilot, G. H. Bowman, one of the best known aces of 56 Squadron RFC, and is signed by him on the front endpaper. He would have been issued with this handbook while attending an RAF Naval co-operation course at RAF Calshot in late 1918. The book includes a great deal of information on navigation at sea and the latest compasses that were in use with the armed forces - including the Chetwynd, the Sperry and the Anschutz gyro. The book is well illustrated with line drawings, diagrams, coloured plates, and coloured fold-out maps. One of the diagrams (showing how to work out compass bearings) has been carefully annotated and initialled by G. H. Bowman.

Geoffrey Hilton Bowman (1891-1970): Geoffrey Hilton "Beery" Bowman, DSO, MC & Bar, DFC was a British WW1 fighter ace credited with 32 victories. After attaining the rank of Major in the Royal Flying Corps, he later became a Group Captain in the Royal Air Force. Bowman was first commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 3rd Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 15 August 1914. After serving with his regiment in France, on 20 March 1916 Bowman was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps. He was awarded the Royal Aero Club's Aviator's Certificate No. 7977 on 27 June, and was appointed a flying officer in the RFC two days later.

Bowman joined No. 29 Squadron on 7 July 1916, based at Abeele, flying the Airco DH2. His first victory was against a Roland C.II two seater, with which he unintentionally collided head-on on 3 September. Bowman somehow managed to fly his crippled aircraft home. His second victory, on 27 September, was a run-away German observation balloon which he downed after finding it drifting over the lines; although he crashed while trying to land alongside the balloon wreckage on Mount Kemmel. On 1 January 1917 he was appointed a flight commander with the temporary rank of Captain.

On 11 May 1917 he was posted to No. 56 Squadron as a flight commander, flying the S.E.5. He arrived just after the squadron’s most famous pilot, Albert Ball, had been shot down and killed on 7 May. By July Bowman had claimed another five victories, and on 23 September he was one of the eight British aces who fought and shot down German ace Werner Voss. Bowman was awarded the Military Cross on 14 September, and a bar on 26 October. H.N. Charles, who was 56 Squadron’s engineering officer in 1917, described Bowman as ‘A genius as a pilot and a wonderful personality. I never knew a finer personality than Beery Bowman in all my life’. During his ten months with 56, Bowman scored a remarkable 22 confirmed victories and flew alongside legendary aces including James McCudden (who was a close friend and had been Bowman’s flying instructor in 1916), and Cecil Lewis, author of the classic memoir of WW1 flying, Sagittarius Rising.

In February 1918 Bowman was posted to command of No. 41 Squadron. He had been very unwilling to leave 56 squadron. As he later told Alex Revell (author of the definitive history of 56 Squadron, High in the Empty Blue), ‘I was the one doing the blood and thunder stuff and I thought I ought to have the choice of where I did it. And that was with 56’. It took the personal intervention of General Higgins to finally persuade Bowman that he would have to take up his new command. One of his most celebrated exploits occured when he was almost killed by his own Lewis gun in May 1918. On 25 May, while Diving in pursuit of a German Rumpler, the drum magazine of his Lewis gun flew off and hit him on the head, knocking him unconscious. His S.E.5 fell 5000 feet out of control before Bowman regained consciousness and pulled out of the dive. Well known for his sense of humour and appreciation of a good joke, Bowman would undoubtedly have seen the funny side of this near-fatal escapade.

Awarded the Distinguished Service Order in March 1918, Bowman's final tally at the end of the war was one aircraft shared captured, one balloon destroyed, 15 aircraft destroyed and 15 driven down 'out of control'. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 30 May 1919, and the Croix de Guerre in July 1919. In February 1919 Bowman completed the Naval Co-operation Course at RAF Calshot. On 7 June he was appointed as the commander of No. 3 Squadron, Slavo-British Aviation Corps, an Anglo-Russian unit based near Archangel, fighting with the White Russians during the Russian Civil War. Bowman went on to have a long and distinguished career in the RAF, before finally retiring in January 1937. As a fellow officer once put it: ‘One would go into the mess in some God-forsaken spot and there would be Beery, keeping everybody on their toes with tricks and jokes and generally being the life and soul of the party.'


In good condition. The boards show general signs of wear and some marks. The binding and hinges are good and secure. The text, plates and illustrations are in very good condition, with just a few marks to the endpapers. Signed in red pencil on the front endpaper by ‘G. H. Bowman’. (The signature matches Bowman’s signature on another book - his RAF Lewis Gun Handbook -  photos of Bowman's Lewis Gun Handbook can be found in the Militaria/RFC section of the shop). The book is also annotated and initialled by G. H. Bowman in ink on page 7, next to a diagram of a compass rose, and in pencil on one of the maps. There are also ink stamps of the 'Navigation Course, R.A.F. Calshot' on the front endpapers.

Published: 1917
Blue boards, with white titling
Illustrated with diagrams, colour plates, and coloured fold-out maps
Dimensions: 160mm x 245mm
Pages: 170