2 February 1918 – 2 and 3 ring circus

The German High Command is getting ready for its spring offensive.

As part of this, following the success of Jagdgeschwader I under Manfred von Richthofen, they have decided to form two additional Jagdgeschwaders so that each of the three Armies on the Western Front will have their own dedicated air support.

Adolf von Tutschek

Jagdgeschwader II (JG III) comprises Jastas 12, 13, 15, and 19 under the overall command of Hauptmann Adolf von Tutschek. He has just returned to active service having been shot down in August 1917. Its four squadrons were ordered to concentrate in the vicinity of Marle, France. This placed them opposite the seam in the Allied lines where British and French armies met They were underequipped with Pfalz and Albatros scouts, but were beginning to receive Fokker Dr1 triplanes by 16 February.

Bruno Loerzer a caption

Jagdgeschwader III (JG III) comprises Jastas 2, 26, 27 and 36 under the overall command of Oberleutnant Bruno Loerzer.

Each has a nominal strength of 56 aircraft (14 in each Jasta).

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1 February 1918 – Animals

There was virtually no flying on the Western Front today as thick fog blanketed the area.
 The official photographer visited a kite balloon section on the Western Front and photographed them and their animals.large_0000003

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large_0000001large_0000002  The Imperial War Museum’s captions do not identify which section this is. However, it’s likely that these are of one of the companies attached to Third Balloon Wing who were based at Biefvillers at the time. That said there were six balloon companies there at this time, 10, 12, 14, 15, 18 and 19.

The officer in the middle two pictures is described as an Equipments Officer but as we don’t know which company this is, he remains unidentified.

31 January 1918 – Sent to Coventry

Today in Parliament William Anderson MP asked the Under-Secretary of State for War

“whether he has now received a Report as to the circumstances in which aeroplanes circled over Coventry and dropped leaflets containing an article which had appeared in a London newspaper; who authorised these proceedings and who paid for the leaflets; and whether the use of Government aeroplanes for this purpose was sanctioned by the War Office?”

Sir James MacPherson answered:

“The distribution of these leaflets from aeroplanes was made at the suggestion in his private capacity of an officer serving in London who is also member of this House. He paid for the leaflets at his sole expense, the newspaper making no contribution to the cost. The use of Government aeroplanes was authorised by the authorities of the Royal Flying Corps, but special flights were not made for the purpose. They were distributed during a testing trip.”

The leaflets in question had been dropped on Coventry on 2 and 3 December. Coventry was at the time an important centre for aircraft production and on 26 November 1917, 50,000 industrial workers throughout the city had gone out on strike essentially over management’s refusal to recognise and negotiate with shop stewards. Mediation attempts failed and then came the leaflets.

A simple message was dropped on 2 December saying:

“Make the Machines! We will Fly them!
Aeroplanes are going to Win the War!

THE PILOTS”

The following day appeared a reprint of an article ‘What the Coventry strike means’ written by Boyd Cable in The Times – a nom-de-plume of a RFC officer, Captain Edward Andrew Ewart, He set out the effect of the strike in terms of its effects on the battlefield:

“We know that the Germans are straining every nerve to equal or exceed our aeroplane production this winter. If they can beat us in this, next year their machines will be able fly constantly over our lines, reconnoitre, photograph, gain full knowledge of troop movements, locate battery positions, and by air observation direct the fire of their guns on our trenches, our communications, our batteries, and our ammunition dumps […] it will mean that we in the line next year must expect find flights of Germans regularly patrolling for anything up to 50 miles behind our lines (as we now do behind theirs), reconnoitring, swooping down and pouring machine-gun fire on men in billets or rest-camps or marching on the roads, bombing day after day towns and villages and railheads and ammunition dumps (as we now bomb theirs). Our attacks will have to be made without the enormous advantage we have held all this year of superior counter-battery work; our infantry will go over the top in the face of a tornado of shell-fire because our airmen will have lost the power to fly over the enemy batteries and direct our guns’ fire on them and silence them, will have to fight through in the teeth of the murderous fire of thousands of machine-guns secure in their concrete pill-boxes because of the same loss of our artillery, observation and destroying power […] All this must happen if we lose our present air superiority, and we must lose our air superiority if the present strike continues.”

In a later exchange, Major H. K. Newton, the Deputy Assistant Director of Supplies and Transport for Eastern Command was named as the member of the house who had paid for the leaflets. Given that Coventry wasn’t in his area of command this seems difficult to beleive. It seems likely that Ewart was behind the whole thing as, whilst he was indeed an RFC officer, he was not a pilot and in fact worked in the Aircraft Production Department’s Propaganda Branch who’s main aim was to raise morale amongst workers by demonstrating the value of their products to the conduct of the war.

As to the identity of the pilots carrying out the drop, they were never identified but they are likely to have been pilots from nearly Radford Aerodrome which had been taken over by the RFC as No 1 Aircraft Acceptance Park.

The following day the strikers went back to work, though whether the leaflets had any impact in this is hard to say.

More detail on this incident is available on Airminded,

30 January 1918 – Naval five bombs

On the Western Front, the weather was fine but misty all day.

5 Naval Squadron carried out a bombing raid on Oostcamp aerodrome at around noon today in their DH4s. Hits were observed on three groups of sheds and hangars with a fire breaking out ion a hangar in the south group. Two direct hits on the sheds north-west of Oostcamp village also caused fires.

Charles Philip Oldfield Bartlett

Several engagements with enemy aircraft took place, in which were claimed shot down out of control. The first by Flight Commander Charles Phillip Oldfield Bartlett and Assistant Gun Layer L W Naylor, and the second by Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Melbourne Mason & Assistant Gun Layer C V Robinson, 5N Sqn, Albatros Scout out of control Engel airfield at 13:30/14:30

One machines failed to return. Flt Sub-Lieutenant Frank Thomas Penry Williams and Assistant Gun Layer C A Leitch in DH4 N5982 were shot down on the way back from the mission. They crashed behind enemy lines and were both killed.

29 January 1918 – They might be giants

Following last night’s raid, four ‘Giant’ Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI set off this evening on another attempt to raid London. One was forced to turn back early with engine trouble.

The first raider (R39) arrived at around 2200 over the Blackwater in Essex. Fifteen minutes later it was intercepted by Captain Arthur Dennis, 37 Squadron RFC, in a BE12b.

The BE12b was a night fighter version of the BE12, itself a single-seater version of the now ancient Be2. The BE12b had the 200hp Hispano-Suiza engine also used in the SE5a and was fitted with overwing Lewis Guns rather than synchronized Vickers Guns.

The R39

Dennis opened fire as the ‘Giant’ took evasive action while returning fire. Dennis jammed his gun but got it working again. Whilst trying to reload the drum, the rough slipstream from the Giant’s engines threw his BE12b out of control. By the time Dennis regained control he had lost sight of the Giant.

R39 flew westwards eventually dropping bombs on south-west London around 2330. None of these caused much damage. R39 then crossed over the Thames, dropped bombs on Syon Park without effect and then dropped bombs on Brentford, killing eight people, and damaging many properties. Two men were killed and 5 injured at the Metropolitan Water Board’s works at Kew Bridge six HE bombs exploded, killing two men, injuring another and damaging a reservoir, pumping station and boiler house. The final bombs fell on Chiswick where they damaged 99 houses. Before R39 reached the coast, three other RFC pilots engaged her but she escaped.

Giant R26 arrived at 2244 near Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex. However by this point the aircraft had only two fully functioning engines ando so was flying slowly and losing height. At around midnight the bombs were dropped to help gain height. These fell harmlessly on Rawreth and Rayleigh. By 0020am the aircraft was back out at sea.

R25 arrived over Foulness around 2250 and headed west. The aircraft was picked up by searchlights, and a number of British fighters attacked. At around 2325 a bullet put one of the engines out of action but the crew continued a reduced speed. Shortly after this, they encountered a balloon apron and at this point the aircraft dumped all its bombs over Wanstead and turned back. All 20 HE bombs landed within 300 yards of each other at Redbridge Lane but no significant damage was caused. The R25 limped home and on inspection found 85 bullet holes in the aircraft.

80 sorties were flow in defence and 8,132 rounds of Anti-Aircraft fire to little effect.

28 January 1918

After a long winter break, German raiders returned to Britain this evening. Bad weather did not seem to put them off, but 6 of the raiders were forced to turn back, leaving seven Gothas and one ‘Giant’ Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI to make the attack.

Records are unclear about exactly what happened, but it appears that the Giant and three or four Gothas bombed London while the rest attacked towns in Kent. Between 2025 and 2135, bombs fell on Ramsgate, Richborough, Sheerness and Margate. The only significant damage occurred at Sheerness where various ships were damaged in the docks and other buildings were wrecked injuring five, one of whom later died.

The first Gotha reached London shortly before 2100 and the raid continued until shortly after 2200. 39 bombs were recorded destroying many buildings, killing 28 and injuring 77. 14 of these were killed during a stampede to get into the air raid shelter at Bishopsgate Goods Station when the warning maroons were mistaken for bombs.

The Giant finally appeared over London at around 0015. It had already survived an encounter with a Bristol F2b from 39 Squadron RFC (C4638 with 2nd Lieutenant John Gorbell Goodyear and 1st Class Air Mechanic WT Merchant) – the Bristol had had to retire with a holed engine and wounded observer. 5 bombs were dropped one of which smashed down through the pavement lights of Odhams Printing Works, which was an approved air raid shelter, and exploded in the basement killing 38 and injuring 85.

The last of the Gothas was intercepted by two Sopwith Camels from 44 Squadron and shot down. It crashed at Wickford killing all three crew members. Four more crashed on landing, with one complete crew killed. At least some of this was likely due to RFC and RNAS action. 103 sorties were flown and five close encounters were recorded. The anti-aircraft guns fired 14,722 rounds against the eight raiders.

27 January 1918 – Goeben escapes

A reconnaissance this morning in difficult weather by an RNAS ‘Camel’ pilot, revealed that the cruiser Yavuz/Goeben which had been grounded in the Darndanelles Straights since 20 January has escaped and with any chance of British forces finally securing its destruction.

In fact the ship had been refloated the day before and by now had reached Constantinople. During the few days in the Straits fifteen tons of bombs had been dropped by RFC pilots.

After the initial attacks on 20 January, further attempts resumed at dawn on 21 January. Low clouds hampered the operation and only one 112lb bomb hit the Yakuz. After dark, nine aeroplanes were sent to the Straits, but visibility was poor and no hits were claimed.

RFC aircraft arrived from Salonika to assist and on 22 and 23 January day and and night attacks were attempted. One direct hit was claimed on the morning of 22 January, with another 112-lb. bomb. There was no opposition from enemy aircraft but a Greek pilot was shot down on 23 January.

On 24 January the carrier Empress arrived and her pilots were used to relieve the overworked officers at Mudros and Imbros. Next day. That evening a monitor, with aircraft observation, attempted to fire at the Goeben, but just as the shells were being signalled near the target a haze spread over the Straits and no further spotting was possible. Strong winds and low clouds continued for the next few days, making bombing difficult.

Pilots had put in a lot of effort to disable the ship, but they had no luck, nor could they be expected to achieve much with the 65lb and 110lb bombs which were much too light to inflict serious damage on the ship.