Croye Pithey

Croye Rothes Pithey
Born 19 August 1895
Natal, South Africa
Died 21 February 1920
Allegiance British Empire
Service/branch Aviation
Rank Lieutenant
Unit No. 12 Squadron RAF
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross with Bar

Lieutenant Croye Rothes Pithey was a South African World War I flying ace credited with 10 aerial victories. He was one of the war's handful of bomber pilots to become a balloon buster; he may have been the only pilot to do it twice. He was also celebrated for his feats of visual and photographic reconnaissance under hazardous circumstances.


Early life

Croye Rothes Pithey was born on 19 August 1895 in Natal, South Africa;[1] his home of record in his military records was Rothesdale, Scheepersnek, Natal, South Africa.[2]

He worked as an accounting clerk in Johannesburg from June 1916 to May 1917; his fluency with Zulu may have been helpful. He then joined the Royal Flying Corps.[3]

World War I

On 13 September 1917, he was appointed as a second lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps.[4] After training, he was posted to 152 Squadron, but his stay with them was truncated by his hospitalization. After recovery, he was assigned to 12 Squadron on 17 April 1918 as a Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 pilot. He was slightly wounded a week after his arrival. His first aerial success with his new unit came when he achieved the unusual feat of destroying an enemy observation balloon with a bomber on 7 May 1918. He and his observer Hervey Rhodes repeated the feat on 4 June. A triple victory three days later made them aces.[5] Pithey was reported wounded on 15 August 1918.[6] The crew of Pithey and Rhodes continued their victory streak through 3 September 1918, becoming the most successful aces to operate the clumsy and obsolete RE.8. On 27 September 1918, they were both wounded during a sortie, ending their flying career together. They had both earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, as well as each earning a Bar in lieu of a second award apiece.[7]

Post World War I

On 1 August 1919, he was granted a permanent commission in the reorganized Royal Air Force as a lieutenant.[8]

On 21 February 1920 at 1406 hours, Pithey launched in favorable weather from Shotwick, leading a ferry formation of three towards Dublin. All three planes were seen between Denbigh and Rhyl in Wales shortly after departure. Pithey crashed fatally shortly thereafter.[9]

Pithey is buried at Hollybrooke Memorial Cemetery, Southampton, England.[10]

Honours and awards

Text of citation for the Distinguished Flying Cross:

When on reconnaissance 8,000 yards behind the enemy lines he saw a hostile balloon on the ground; descending to 1,700 feet, he and his observer engaged and destroyed it. He then completed his reconnaissance. On another occasion, when on photography work, he was attacked by nine hostile scouts. By skilful manoeuvring he enabled his observer to shoot down three; the remaining six dispersed. He displays the greatest courage and determination in photographic and reconnaissance work.[11]

Text of citation for the Bar to the Distinguished Flying Cross:

Lieut. Pithey and his observer, Lieut. Rhodes, have crashed five enemy aeroplanes and driven down five out of control; in addition, they have shot down two balloons in flames, displaying conspicuous courage and skill on all occasions. On 1st September, they attacked an enemy two-seater on contact patrol; this machine at first retired east but returned, accompanied by six scouts, to the attack; after a short engagement they were driven off, and Lieut. Pithey, although his machine was badly shot about, continued his patrol and brought back a most valuable and accurate report. (Both D.F.C.'s gazetted 3rd August, 1918.)[12]

List of aerial victories

Croye Pithey's observer/gunner for all victories was Hervey Rhodes.

No. Date/time Aircraft Foe Result Location Notes
1 7 May 1918 Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 two-seater reconnaissance plane Observation balloon Destroyed by fire
2 4 June 1918 @ 0845 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 Observation balloon Destroyed by fire
3 7 June 1918 @ 0920 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 serial number B7715 Pfalz D.III fighter Destroyed Map grid 57C B8
4 7 June 1918 @ 0920 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 s/n B7715 Pfalz D.III fighter Driven down out of control Map grid 57C B8
5 7 June 1918 @ 0920 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 s/n B7715 Pfalz D.III fighter Driven down out of control Map grid 57C B8
6 21 August 1918 @ 1130 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 s/n E47 Fokker D.VII fighter Driven down out of control Béhagnies, France
7 23 August 1918 @ 1740 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 LVG two-seater reconnaissance plane Destroyed by fire Boyelles, France
8 28 August 1918 @ 0945 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 s/n F6097 DFW two-seater reconnaissance plane Destroyed East of Saint-Léger, France
9 30 August 1918 @ 1650 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 s/n F6097 Fokker D.VII fighter Destroyed by fire Bullecourt, France
10 3 September 1918 @ 1715 hours Royal Aircraft Factory RE.8 s/n F6097 LVG two-seater reconnaissance plane Destroyed Lagnicourt[13]

See also

Aerial victory standards of World War I


  • Above the War Fronts: The British Two-seater Bomber Pilot and Observer Aces, the British Two-seater Fighter Observer Aces, and the Belgian, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Fighter Aces, 1914-1918: Volume 4 of Fighting Airmen of WWI Series: Volume 4 of Air Aces of WWI. Norman L. R. Franks, Russell Guest, Gregory Alegi. Grub Street, 1997 ISBN 1898697566, 9781898697565.


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