6 July 1917 – Red Baron shot down

A six strong patrol from 20 Squadron RFC was on patrol in their FE2ds when they were attacked by a formation of 8 aircraft from Jasta 11. They were then joined another 20 plus enemy aircraft and then 4 Triplanes from 10 Naval Squadron.

A large scale fight ensued. Lieutenant Donald Charles Cunnell and 2nd Lieutenant Albert Edward Woodbridge from 20 Squadron claimed to have driven down four aircraft, and their colleagues Lieutenant Cecil Roy Richards and Lieutenant Albert Edward Wear, and 2nd Lieutenant W Durrand and Stuart Fowden Trotter also claimed to have driven down an Albatross scout each.

Their Naval 10 colleagues also got in on the action with Flight Lieutenant Raymond Collishaw, Flight Sub-Lieutenant William Melville Alexander, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellis Vair Reid all claiming victories.

In the end only one confirmed loss was confirmed by the German authorities and that was Manfred Von Richthofen himself. He was hit in the head by a bullet. He was temporarily blinded and paralysed, and fell for some distance, but succeeded in making a forced landing in friendly territory.


Richthofen’s downed aircraft

Cunnell and Woodbridge have traditionally been credited with the victory including in the Official History (Volume 4, p142), though I have my doubts as to whether this is true. They claimed to have forced down an all red Albatross though didn’t claim a victory as they did not see it crash. Photographic evidence seems to suggest that Richthofen was not flying an all red Albatross that day, though serial number of the aircraft is unknown. Some theorists has suggested he was hit by friendly fire as he was hit behind the left ear. Even the Baron’s own account is unclear:

““After some time we approached so close to the last plane that I began to consider a means of attacking him. (Lt. Kurt) Wolff was flying below me. The hammering of a German machine gun indicated to me that he was fighting. Then my opponent turned and accepted the fight but at such a distance that one could hardly call it a real air fight. I had not even prepared my gun for fighting, for there was lots of time before I could begin to fight. Then I saw that the enemy’s observer (Woodbridge), probably from sheer excitement, opened fire. I let him shoot, for a distance of 300 yards and more the best marksmanship is helpless. One does not hit the target at such a distance. Now he flies toward me and I hope that I will succeed in getting behind him and opening fire. Suddenly something strikes me in the head…”

Nevertheless he was out of action until 16 August 1917, and returned against medical advice with an unhealed wound. The injury plagued him for the rest of his life.

All the British aircraft returned except for FE2d A6419 fron 20 Squadron whose pilot 2nd Lieutenant Durand force landed at 1 Squadron’s aerodrome. His observer Trotter was badly wounded and later died. (Wia; dow), 20 Sqn, FE2d A6419 – took off 09:53/10:53 FE2d A6419 force landed 1 Sqn after engagement with EA on offensive patrol 10:30/11:30

5 July 1917 – Royal Visit

As part of their tour of the armed forces in France, the King and Queen paid a visit to RFC stations in France. They visited 52 Squadron at their Base at Bray-Dunes. They then visited RFC Headquarters at St Omer. Aware of the propaganda value, official photographers recorded the visit. Copies of photographs are retained by the Imperial War Museum and reproduced below.


King George V receiving officers of No. 52 Squadron of the Royal Flying Corps near Bray-Dunes. On the left are seen Brigadier General John Harold Whitworth Becke, commanding the 4th Brigade RFC, and General Sir Henry Rawlinson.© IWM (Q 5590)


King George V with Brigadier General John Becke at the Bray-Dunes aerodrome. Edward, the Prince of Wales, is looking at a Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 biplane.© IWM (Q 11891)


Queen Mary of Teck’s visit to the Royal Flying Corps Headquarters at Saint-Omer, 5 July 1917. Mabell Ogilvy, the Countess of Airlie; Brigadier-General Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury (extreme left); and other members of the suite watching a flight. The aeroplane on the left is a Bristol Fighter and that on the right an R. E. 8. Other identified members of the suite are: Lieutenant-General Arthur Sloggett (second left); Major Maurice Baring (wearing a monocle); General Hugh Trenchard (second from the right).© IWM (Q 11850)


General Hugh Trenchard and Queen Mary of Teck during her visit to an aerodrome at the Royal Flying Corps Headquarters at Saint-Omer, 5 July 1917. Brigadier-General Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, is also present (far right).© IWM (Q 11847)


General Hugh Trenchard (right) and Queen Mary of Teck inspecting a Bristol Fighter biplane.© IWM (Q 11849)


Queen Mary of Teck’s visit to the Royal Flying Corps Headquarters at Saint-Omer, 5 July 1917. Lieutenant-General Arthur Sloggett, Brigadier-General Anthony Ashley-Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and another officer watching a flight. Bristol Fighter biplane can be seen in the background.© IWM (Q 11852)


General Hugh Trenchard (right) and Queen Mary of Teck inspecting Bristol Fighter biplanes during her visit to an aerodrome at the Royal Flying Corps Headquarters at Saint-Omer, 5 July 1917. Her female companion, visible in the right background, is Mabell Ogilvy, the Countess of Airlie.© IWM (Q 11848)


Queen Mary of Teck and her suite, including General Hugh Trenchard, Brigadier-General Anthony Ashley Cooper, the Earl of Shaftesbury; Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Sloggett; and General Charles Foulkes, watching an airman “looping the loop”.© IWM (Q 2536)

4 July 1917 – Back again

The Germans resumed their daylight bombing of England today with two attacks.
At 0700 eighteen Gothas appeared over Harwich.

Coincidentally Captain John Palethorpe, from the RFC testing squadron at Martlesham Heath, was in the air in a DH4 and je attacked at once. Unfortunately his front gun jammed and then his observer air Mechanic James Oliver Jessop, was shot through the heart and killed, and the pilot had to break off the fight and land. He went up again with a new observer but by then the raid was over.

At this point the bombing squadron divided into two. Four Gothas attacked Harwich. Nineteen bombs fell on Harwich doing little damage to the town or ships in the harbour, However, three naval ratings were killed at the nearby RNAS Balloon station at Shotley. Ships in the Harbour opened fire but to no effect.

The remaining Gothas moved on to Felixstowe, 2 bombs fell on a camp of the 3rd Suffolks and killed five soldiers and wounded ten. Other than that damage to the town was superficial from the other bombs dropped.

However, the squadron moved on the attack the Felixstowe seaplane base only two bombs hit but the damage was considerable. Six naval ratings and three civilian workmen were killed and eighteen ratings and one workman injured. A flying-boat was destroyed by fire and another damaged, and the telephone system was put out of action.

The anti-aircraft guns of the Harwich defences were in action for nineteen minutes and fired 135 rounds, but no hits were made. Eighty-three airraft went up from the coastal stations but none found the enemy.

Over in France. 66 Squadron in Calais received the communication too late and missed the returning bombers. Twenty naval pilots from Dunkirk were in the air some time before those of 66 Squadron, and five of them, in Sopwith Camels found and attacked sixteen bombers around 0830. They reported that they had shot one down in flames, but the German records do not show any Gothas lost on this day.

Palethorpe was subsequently awarded the Military Cross.

3 July 1917 – Tracing U

Back in May 1917 the navy finally cottoned on the to the fact that its seaplanes would have the best chance of destroying enemy u-boats if
intelligence about U-boats was received without delay at the RNAS air stations. At that point, orders were issued that all reports of U-boat movements were to be communicated direct to air stations in a position to take action.

Now, in an effort to improve matters further, and to maintain secrecy, a special form of squared chart, called Tracing U (Unterseeboot), to cover the North Sea east of a line running from Flamborough Head to the Straits of Dover, was issued to the East Coast air stations required to take anti-submarine action. IN addition the Admiralty arranged that the positions of U-boats as determined by directional wireless would be plotted at the Admiralty and passed immediately to the air stations according to the code of the squared chart.

2 July 1917 – On the beach

With the planned offensive in Belgium, the Navy has been readying itself with plans for an amphibious landing on the Belgian Coast. The places chosen for the landings of the military force were three beaches, a mile apart, between Nieuport and Middelkerke. The plan is to land troops off long pontoons (500 feet by 30 feet beam), pushed into place by monitors.

Early photography showed that the beaches were uneven and that the pontoons might ground on ridges with the surrounding water too deep for the troopsto get ashore. To avert this danger, it was imperative that the Navy carry out a close survey of the beaches.

Admiral Bacon took a two-fold approach, First he carried out a preliminary survey, to get the rise and fall of the tide curves along this stretch of coast. A submarine was sent to lie on the bottom off Nieuport for twenty-four hours and the height of water above her hull was continuously registered from readings on the depth gauge.

Second, he carried out an air photography survey. In preparation for the air survey, two surveys were made of a comparable section of beach near Dunkirk, one by air photography and calculation, the other by direct observations. The photography worked by observing the rise and fall of the sea at specific intervals to calculate the exact contours of the beach. The two independent results coincided almost exactly. It showed that it was possible to deduce the slope of the beach to within an accuracy of six inches from photographs taken 14,000 feet up in the air.

Today, 2 Squadron RNAS carried out the main photographic survey of the beaches From 1125 to 1736, batches of photographs were taken at intervals of twenty minutes. So that the attention of the enemy should not be unduly attracted to the vital beaches, other photographs were taken east of Ostend.

From the air photographs, charts and sections of the beach were compiled by a scientific officer on the Vice-Admiral’s staff.

In the end the effort proved fruitless as the failure of the offensive in Belguin led to the abandonment of the plans.

2 July 1917 – Expansion

Following the German Air Raid on London on 13 June, such is the public outrage that the Government has been discussing over the last few weeks what should be done. On the one hand the German bombing campaign has resulted in Sir John French demanding more aircraft to be dedicated to Home Defence, whilst Sir Douglas Haig warns of the impact on army operations of removing fighting squadrons from the front.

The War Cabinet met on 13 and 14 June and at the second meeting the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, urged that there should be a large-scale increase in the number of aeroplanes, even at the expense of other weapons. The War Cabinet agreed in principle and ordered the departments concerned to confer together to draw up a scheme for the expansion of the air services.

Various memoranda were prepared, and after the preliminaries had been explored departmentally, a general conference was held at the War Office, under the chairmanship of Lord Derby, on 21 June. Lord Derby began by saying that the War Office proposed to double the Royal Flying Corps, even if it proved necessary in consequence to reduce the supply of tanks and of motor transport. The conference discussed this proposition and the logistics of it and then put it to the War Cabinet

Today, the War Cabinet agreed to the scheme and called:

“for an increase to commence at once, of the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps from 108 to 200 service squadrons, with the necessary aerodromes and establishment, and for a progressive increase in the output of aero engines to 4,500 a month, including certain supplies from overseas”.

and that there should be a “corresponding expansion and increase of the Royal Naval Air Service”.

It was easy to ask for an extra 92 Squadrons, but it was going to be very difficult to resource and man such as large increase given the current difficulties in keeping the existing Squadron’s supplied.

1 July 1917 – Training in Canada

Basic Military and generic flying instruction has been going on in Canada since 28 February 1917 with the opening of a cadet school at Long Branch airfield. A further School at Camp Borden, began training on 30 March 1917.

The long awaited plans to provide actual ground training for pilots as well, by opening a School of Military Aeronautics similar to that at Oxford, have now been realised.

The staff of instructors for the new School arrived in Canada from England early in June and today School No. 4, began its activities with 204 cadets. Over a four-week period, cadets will be instructed on engines, rigging, wireless, artillery observation, machine guns, instruments and bombs.

The school took over the existing Cadet Wing organization and a new Cadet Wing was formed at Toronto on the 11 July, but did not begin an independent existence until 23 July when it moved to Long Branch.