One of the most bizarre victories of the air war in WWI was accomplished by an Australian, George Ingle Finch, who was not a pilot or even in the Australian Armed Forces.
George Ingle Finch was born in Orange NSW in 1888 and was a chemist and Alpine climber who was also the putative father of Australian actor, Peter Finch (there is some speculation about whether he was in fact the biological father). He raised Peter and was his father figure. George was also famous as one of the first to try climbing Mount Everest in 1922, he and his companion Geoffrey Bruce reached the altitude record of 8,320 m but not quite to the summit.
During WWI George served in the Ordinance Corps of the British Army in Mesopotamia and it was here that he hatched a very innovative plan to bring down a German aviator Rudolf (Rudi) von Eschwege (The Aegean Eagle). An ace and one of the few German Fighter aviators on the front at the time, von Eschwege had scored 16 victories in the theatre and was regarded as the Best German pilot of the time. Von Eschwege decided that he would start shooting down British Observation balloons and shot several down much to the consternation of the British. Captain George Finch decided that he had a way of defeating the German ace and developed a plot to fill the basket of the observation balloon with as much explosive and shrapnel as possible and then installed a remote detonation device in the basket.
The balloon was then raised to a prominent height and eventually von Eschwege was tempted to attack the balloon and when in close proximity Finch detonated the balloon resulting in the destruction of von Eschwege’s Albatross DIII and his demise.
The Aegean Eagle’s body was identified and he was accorded a Military funeral by members of the RFC He had achieved 20 victories, including 3 balloons at the time of his death.
George Finch went on to have a successful life and was involved in many climbing innovations including the use of oxygen and insulated clothing and was regarded as the best climber in the world in the period before WWII.
The shooting down of Rudolf von Eschwege was one of the more unique events in the WWI air war although it is little known or recognized. There is a sense that even the RFC thought the action to have been a little unsporting given the effort it went to honor von Eschwege. A true moment in Australia’s WWI aviation history even if performed by a non-pilot in the British Army!
© John Parker 2015