29 December 1917 – Nineteen

The weather improved today on the Western Front, although the snow remained on the ground, and visibility remained poor. hampering artillery co-operation work. Photographic work and bombing was more successful including attacks on Ingelmunster and Staden aerodromes.

Albert Desbrisay Carter

19 Squadron RFC are based at Ballieul as part of 11 Army Wing and provided air cover for these operations. Like their 1 Squadron colleagues, they are also saddled with an obsolete aircraft in the SPADVII. They got into a scrap with German pilots from Jasta 3 shortly after 1000 near Houthulst Forest and claimed seven enemy Albatrosses out of control. Major Albert Desbrisay Carter claimed one, and Lieutenant John G S Candy attacked another which was diving on Major Carter from behind and shot it down out of control. Lieutenant Arthur Bradfield Fairclough destroyed one and shot down a second out of control, and Lieutenant John Dartnell De Pencier hit one which fell out of control, while Captain Patrick Huskinson shot down two out of control. German records suggest that none of claims actually resulted in any losses.

19 Squadron did however lose one of its own aircraft when 2nd-Lieutenant Howell Elias Galer was shot down and taken prisoner in his SPADVII (B6780). Leutnant Carl Menckhoff from Jasta 3 claimed the victory.

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27 December 1917 – Snowy weather

One of the official photographers, 2nd Lieutenant David McLellan visited Bailleul aerodrome today and captured the scenes there.

The photographs show 1 Squadron RFC and their Nieuport fighters. At this point the Squadron was equipped with a mixture of Nieuport 23 and 27 Fighters. The one in the foreground marked ‘H’ is a Nieuport 27 and the one marked ‘M’ is a Nieuport 23. The main visual distinguishing characteristic is the tail. The performance of both aircraft was very similar. Also clearly shown is the fact that they are armed solely with an overwing Lewis Gun, which was woefully inadequate, given all German aircraft at this stage had twin-synchronised guns.

Captain Wendell W Rogers

In fact, within a few weeks 1 Squadron would reequip with the SE5a. The Nieuports were not retired however but transferred to the only other squadron flying this type at this point in the war – 29 Squadron RFC, who were forced to solder on until March in these obsolete machines.

The photographs are likely staged as very little flying was possible today due to heavy snowstorms. Most of the pilots also seem to be dressed solely in their RFC uniforms whereas they would almost certainly have worn much warmer clothing for flying in winter.

The photos are in the Imperial War Museum collection (items Q 11956 and Q 11957). Their caption8ng seems little uncertain about the Squadron, but only 2 Squadrons we’re equipped with these aircraft, and only 1 Squadron at Bailleul.

26 December 1917 – Coastals clash

The various aircraft types have been doing their best to protect the convoys sailing from England. Often their presence is enough to cause u-boats to dive or call off attacks to avoid detection. The waters around the Cornish Coast were often too rough for seaplanes and much of the patrol work here is carried out by airships. In fact the base at Mullion was the busiest of all the airship stations during 1917 flying 2845 hours, sighting 17 submarines and bombing 12 of them.

Today, the Airship C23A left its base at Mullion around 1100 to patrol east of Falmouth to ensure that the way was clear for a convoy of 24 ships.

At 1420 the convoy was in line ahead with its escort of two destroyers and ten armed trawlers on the starboard side and the airship on the port side. At 1500 when the airship was steering east for the head of the line some distance away, one of the leading ships, the steamer Benito was hit by a torpedo.

The C23A moved at full speed towards the ship, which was about seven miles away, and three minutes later saw a second ship – the steamer Tregenna – torpedoed.

At 1510 the airship had reached the position, and within three minutes one of the ships sank. The other was abandoned. The airship continued to patrol between the derelict vessel and the convoy, and at 1540 spotted a torpedo breaking the surface astern of the last ship of the group. The airship located the beginning of the torpedo track and dropped two 100lb. bombs with delay-action fuses. The sea was rough and no results were observed. The airship crew kept watch over the rear of the convoy for another hour, but no trace of the U-boat was discovered. This also allowed the crews of both ships were rescued.

Subsequent records show that the attack was carried out by UB57, which sunk another ship on 28 December and clearly escaped unscathed.

25 December 1917 – Reginald David De La Cour Corbett

There was little in the way of air activity on any of the fronts today. However one fatality was recorded nevertheless.

Major Reginald David De La Cour Corbett of 30 Squadron RFC (formerly of the 48th Indian Pioneers) died in captivity at a Turkish Prisoner of War Camp at Changri, apparently from rupture of the heart due to strain. Sadly he was one of the many who failed to return .

He was one of the group of RFC personnel left behind in Kut-al-Almara following the surrender of British Forces there on 29 April 1915. This consisted of 5 officers and 35 other ranks – the majority of the rank and file of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights of 30 Squadron RFC and the Australian Mesopotamian Half Flight. They surrendered along with 277 British and 204 Indian officers, 2,592 British and 6,988 Indian other ranks, together with 3,248 Indian non-combatants.

Most of these prisoners were forced to march across the desert to POW camps. Many did not survice the journey, and of those that did, many succumbed including Corbett,  during their stay in the squalid camps. In November 1918, the official British report declared that 3,290 British and Indian POWs from Kut-el-Amara had died in Turkish captivity, while an additional 2,222 were missing and presumed dead.

Reginald born in 1881, was the elder son of the late Colonel Robert de la Cour Corbett, D.S.O., R.A.M.C, and Mrs. de la Cour Corbett, of 13, Goldington Road, Bedford. He was educated at Bedford and Sandhurst.

He was a keen athlete and sportsman, and in 1900 played Rugby football for Sandhurst against Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. In 1901 he was gazetted to the Royal Irish Rifles, and served through the South African War, being awarded the medal with four clasps. In 1904 he was transferred to the Indian Army, and was gazetted to the 48th Pioneers and afterwards became adjutant of the regiment. In 1908 he was sent on famine duty in the Utroula District, and in 1912 was appointed tutor to the young Raja of Awa. When war broke out he rejoined his regiment, and went to Mesopotamia in November, 1914. He later joined the RFC.

23 December 1917 – McCudden’s quartet

mccuddenportraitCaptain James McCudden from 56 Squadron RFC scored the first quadruple by a British pilot today. The RFC Communique reported:

“This is the first occasion on which one pilot has shot down four EA in a day, and Capt McCudden’s accounts are as follows:—

Left ground 10.50 to look for EA west of our lines, and at 11.15 saw three EA two-seaters together over Vendelles, N-W of St Quentin, at 13,000 feet. As they were above I could not engage them decisively, but drove them all east of the lines. At about 11.10 an LVG came W just north of St Quentin at 17,000. Chased him and caught him up over Etreillers. He then turned south. I secured a firing position and fired a burst, from both guns, when EA’s engine stopped and water came pouring from the radiator in the centre section. EA turned south and I tried to turn him west because the observer was waving his rightn arm, apparently in token of surrender, but the machine was still going south-east very faSt. However, I fired another burst at close eange, whereupon he went down in a steep dive and crashed completely between the canal and the road at Anguilcourt, which is NE of La Fere, at 11.25. I returned north climbing, and 11.50 saw a Rumpler at 17,500 just south of Peronne. I climbed for 20 minutes and attacked EA over Beanvois at 18,200 feet at 12.15. Going SE, EA fought extraordinarily well and we got down to 8,000 feet over Roupy, when after a burst from both guns at close range EA’s right hand wings fell off and the wreckage fell in our lines near Contescourt at 12.20. Returned north climbing and at 12.50 attacked two LVG’s over Gouzeaucourt at 16,000. However, both machines co-operated very well, using their front guns as well the rear, and I fought them east of the lines and then left them I had no more petrol.

“Leading my formation E over Ytres towards the lines at 14,000 feet, at 2.30 I saw a Rumpler coming W over Metz at 14,000. EA saw my formation and then turned east, nose down. I caught up to EA at 13,000 feet over Bois de Gouzeaucourt, and engaged him down to 6,000 feet, when EA went into spiral dive and crashed in our lines NW of Gouzeaucourt at 2.40 pm. Reformed my patrol and crossed lines at 13,000 over Masnieres. At about 3.5 engaged six Albatross Scouts over Fontaine at 13,000. My patrol fought these EA down to 8,000 feet over Bourlon Wood and then left EA who dived eaSt. The fight was indecisive except that Lieut Galley, in fighting one E.A end on, got hit in the oil tank and had to land at Advanced Landing Ground, and apparently he hit the EA’s engine and he went off down E as if to land. The EA scouts (red-nosed Albatross) kept rolling and spinning down. After the fight, whilst reforming the patrol over Flesquieres, I saw an LVG coming West over Trescault at 12,000 feet. I got into position at close range, fired about 20 shots, when EA went down absolutely out of control, alternately stalling, turning upside down and then spinning for a short distance before stalling again, etc. EA took five minutes to reach the ground and in a vertical dive landed on a train in our lines a few hundred yards west of Metz at 3.30. Returned at 3.50.”

24 December 1917 – An early Christmas present

41 Wing RFC was established in October 1917 at Ochey with the purpose of finally realising the long held plans to bomb strategic targets in Germany. The Wing consists of 55 Squadron RFC (day), 102 Squadron RFC (Night) and 16 Squadron RNAS for long range.

 

Raids have been few and far between as the weather has been pretty bad and in fact no raid has been made since 1 November. Today, however, the weather improved sufficiently for 55 Squadron to mount a raid on Mannheim in their DH4s with the objective of bombing factories (including chemical works, aircraft engines, locomotives and rolling stock, submarine parts, and magnetos) and railways. .

 

At midday the DH4s appeared over Mannheim and dropped their bombs. One of the aircraft (A7465) took a hit from ground fire and was forced to land. The crew, 2nd Lieutenant George Frederick Turner and 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Frederick Castle were taken prisoner.

 

Another crew 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Southward Wilson and 2nd Lieutenant Leonard Cann in A5718 crashed with a tender on landing from the mission but survived unscathed.

 

According to German official reports no military damage was inflicted by this attack, but two civilians were killed and twelve wounded.

 

 

22 December 1917 –

Following the fall of Jerusalem, the RFC squadrons of the Palestine Brigade were divided as follows:

  • 113 Squadron, working with the XXI Corps on the left, was at Deiran
  • 14 Squadron, with the XX Corps on the right, was at Junction Station, which was also the head-quarters of the Fifth (Corps) Wing.
  • 40 Army Wing, made up of 67 (Australian) Squadron and 111 Squadron, was at Julis.
  • 21 Balloon Company had 50 section at Sarona with the XXI Corps, and 49 Section at Saris with the XX Corps.

The main work of the squadrons after the fall of Jerusalem was reconnaissance, but there was also some co-operation with the artillery and desultory bombing of enemy camps.

Today, as the XXI Corps had advanced north of Jaffa, the weather was fine and contact patrol observers had reported the main British and enemy movements.

With reports that the Turks were retiring, the squadrons of both wings were ordered to bomb the enemy. The main attacks were made on infantry and transport around Qalqilye and Jaljulye where air reconnaissances had reported some crowding. About three hundred light-weight bombs were dropped during the day by thirty-six aeroplanes, and about 7,000 rounds of ammunition were fired on the Turkish troops from low heights.

The retreating Turks were also shelled from the sea by destroyers and monitors. Infantry in Tabsor was also shelled by the Monitor, assisted by an aeroplane from 113 Squadron, and two hits among the soldiers were signalled.