13 May 1918 – Independent

Today the Air Council informed the War Cabinet that, in their opinion, the time had arrived to develop an Independent Force for large-scale bombing attacks on Germany.

They proposed, therefore, to organize the existing 41 Brigade into a separate command under Major-General Hugh Trenchard who would work directly under the Air Ministry.

Trenchard had finally agreed to command the Force. The Minister was glad to be relived of the pressure to find something for Trenchard to do. Trenchard would report directly to the Minister, partially to avoid Army Headquarters from interfering and partially to avoid any conflict with Frederick Sykes, now the Commander in Chief of the RAF following Trenchard’s resignation. Sykes and Trenchard did not get on, sharing wildly different views of the role of the RAF.

In someways it is a surprise that Trenchard took the job at all as he was firmly firmly opposed to Strategic Bombing unless the Armies in the field had been defeated. Sykes however was a supporter of a wider role for the RAF, and the new Force was, at least partly his creation.

As well as Trenchard’s known objections to Strategic Bombing, the new Force is likely to cause ructions with the other allies and fly in the face of the purpose of having a Supreme War Council. An inter-allied Aviation Council has been formed to look at Strategic Bombing, but has not come to any conclusions. The Air Ministry has put the issue forward for discussion at the end of May.

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12 May 1918 – Meteor

Today, Captain Charles Kenneth Machinnon Douglas was appointed Commander of Meteor Flight (officially known as the RAF Meteorological Flight ).

Douglas was the ideal man for the post as he was an experienced pilot, having spent the previous six months flying general reconnaissance patrols over the battlefields of northeast France, but he also had a passionate interest in meteorology.

The flight had been formed around the beginning of February 1918 when Lieutenants Reginald Victor Sessions and George Ernest Marden arrived for duty. Marden assumed temporary command until Douglas arrived.

Douglas and Marden and an FK8

The unit was equipped with two Armstrong Whitworth FK8s with a distinctive white shooting star, representing a meteor, adorning their fuselages. They were based at Berck in NE France.

Their purpose was to measure air temperature and later to photograph clouds.This information was passed to the Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers (Meteor R.E.) at the British Expeditionary Force. Aircraft were needed as the balloons which had previously done this work could not fly high enough.

The data was passed on to artillery units, along with other data on wind speed and direction to assist in range calculations.

Douglas went on to be on of the Meteorological Office’s main forecasters.

For further details on Meteor Flight go here and here. For more details on Douglas go here.

11 May 1918 – Cattaro

Today, 224 Squadron RAF commenced bombing operations against Cattaro (now Kotor in Montenegro), which was the main Austrian-Hungarian naval base in the Adriatic and home to German U-boats. It was hoped that this would reduce attacks on allied shipping in the area. This was quite a trip, involving a flight of 400 miles there and back over the sea from their base at Otranto.

The first attack today was made by six DH4s which dropped 230lb and 100lb bombs on submarines and destroyers in the harbour. Explosions were sighted but the attacks do not appear to have had much overall impact on the submarine campaign.

One of the bombers landed with engine trouble and crew were taken prisoner.

It’s not clear who the crew members were and Trevor Henshaw suggests the four following

  • G Baker
  • Geoffrey Kelvin Blandy
  • Bernard John William Brady
  • Leslie Marsh

Reports at the time suggest the prisoners were taken unharmed, though that may not be true. According to Red Cross records, Brady spent some time in hospital with gunshot wounds. In addition there is a letter dated 16.07.17 stating both Brady and Marsh were prisoners. That said there’s no real evidence that Blandy or Baker were those lost.

10 May 1918 – “A severe reverse”

Orlando Bridgeman

Today on the Western Front, low clouds and mist prevented flying until 1700. After that, the weather cleared on a small part of the front and great aerial activity took place in this sector until dark. Both sides were out in force.

A flight of 8 Sopwith Camels from 80 Squadron RAF, led by Captain Orlando Clive Bridgeman in D6481 got into a fight with around 20 Fokker Triplanes from Jastas 6 and 11. 4 Camels were shot down with four claimed in return, two by Bridgeman. Those shot down were:

  • 2nd Lieutenant George Alfred Whately in D6419
  • 2nd Lieutenant Albert Victor Jones in D6457
  • Lieutenant Colin Graham Sutherland Shields in D6619
  • 2nd Lieutenant Alfred William Rowden in B2463 –

Whately, Shields and Rowden were all killed, and Jones was wounded and taken prisoner.

Other than Bridgeman, only Lieutenant Thomas Stuart Nash in B9243, Lieutenant Charles Stanley Lomas Coulson, and 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Victor Barker in D6591, got away. Both Nash and Coulson were shot up and while Coulson was wounded Nash got away unscathed.

German records do not show any losses for either Jasta.

Bridgeman was subsequently awarded the Military Cross though the citation is a little odd given that five out of eight aircraft were lost.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to patrol he was leading was attacked by twenty or thirty enemy aeroplanes, of which he destroyed two himself, and by skilful manoeuvring enabled two others to be crashed by officers of his patrol. His tactics and gallantry undoubtedly prevented what might have been a severe reverse for his patrol…”

9 May 1918 – “Landing Impossible”

This evening around 2205, Rfa 501 sent off four of its giant Zeppelin-Staaken machines (R.VI 26/16, R.VI 29/16, R.VI 32/16 and R.VI 39/16) to attack Dover.

However poor weather soon resulted in the mission being cancelled and they were ordered to attack the alternative targets of Calais and Dunkirk. The prevailing north-west wind was considered favourable because the aircraft, flying into the wind, would be able to anticipate oncoming bad weather. The aircraft were ordered to return immediately if a fog warning was received by wireless.

R 32 and R 39 dropped their bombs on Dunkirk when they received a message warning that fog over the airfield was increasing. They headed back at once, but the two other aircraft carried on as they were just a short distance from their target, Calais.

R32 and R39 arrived over their airfield just before 0100. The airfield signalled by wireless: ‘Cloud height 100 metres, Brussels clear visibility.’

Both aircraft decided to risk the landing rather than divert to Brussels. However, fog soon covered the airfield. The landing beacons could be seen from above, but it was not possible to see them from within the fog bank.

R32 was flying towards these when it hit a row of trees 700 metres short of the field and crashed. The explosion of an unreleased bomb and remaining fuel completely destroyed the R32 and killed nearly all its crew. The R39, as it emerged from the fog, flew directly between the two beacons at the edge of the airfield and barely rolled to a safe stop at the end of the runway, within inches of a ditch. The first Rfa 501 learned of the crash was when a badly-injured crew member stumbled across the airfield.

At 0130 hours, R 26 and R 29 arrived over the airfield. They received a wireless message saying “Landing impossible, clouds 100 metres high, Ghistelles clear for landing.” A further message, at 0150 hours said ‘Land at Ghistelles, otherwise use parachute.’

In spite of these orders, the R26 and R29 decided to land. The R 26 flew into the ground and burned killing the crew, except one mechanic.

R29 made an approach along the edge of the fog bank, using its landing lights to avoid flying into the ground. As it was impossible to locate the airfield under the fog layer, the R 29 climbed over it using its gyro-compass. Having picked up the beacons and under the impression that the cloud bank was still at 100 metres, R 29 attempted a glide approach. In the clouds the aircraft turned 60-80° to starboard in spite of the pilots’ efforts to the contrary and lost its course. Suddenly, at the bottom of the cloud layer, the pilots saw tree tops. They immediately opened up the engines to pull the aircraft into a climb, but it was too late. The landing gear caught the tree tops, pulling the fuselage down into the trees. Although the fuel tanks burst, the R29 did not catch fire, thanks to the pilot who shut-off the ignition of the engines and motor-dynamo. Four were killed and a mechanic was seriously injured.

It’s not known exactly who was on each aircraft, but the following were killed:

  • Ernst Rungwer
  • Uffz Heinrich Wäsche
  • Mechanic
  • Walter Grüneberg,
  • Alois Langner
  • Richard Oberländer
  • Fritz Pfeifer
  • Wilhelm Pier
  • Lothar Friedrich
  • Uffz. Josef Belz
  • Gefr. Paul Schnigge
  • Flg. Julius Winand
  • Fritz Wieter
  • Wilhelm Landwehrmann
  • Karl Freund
  • Alfred Bröske

8 May 1918 – “Dangerously inadequate”

The RE8 has never won many friends. Intended as a replacement for the aging BE2C, its performance was a little better with a faster top speed and better climb. It also had a much better seating arrangement with the pilot in front and the observer just behind, unlike the BE2 where the pilot at the back.

However it was considered by many as tricky to fly, and whilst its eccentricities were mastered by experienced pilots, it remained a difficult aircraft to fly for the inexperienced. This was not helped by some early spinning accidents and the loss of 6 aircraft from 59 Squadron on 13 April 1917.

Its reputation never fully recovered and today, over a year after its introduction, Colonel Claude Lowther questioned the Air Ministry about its use.

“Colonel C. LOWTHER  asked the Under-Secretary of State to the Air Ministry whether aircraft known as R.E. 8 are still used on the Western Front; and whether this particular type of machine has been condemned as dangerously inadequate when compared to German aircraft now in use?

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE to the AIR MINISTRY (Major Baird)  The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative, and to the latter in the negative.

Colonel LOWTHER  Is it not a fact that every expert and every pilot are unanimous in condemning this type of machine as a death-trap?

Major BAIRD  No, Sir.

Colonel LOWTHER  If I give my hon. and gallant Friend the names of experts who do condemn this type of machine as a death-trap, will he look into the matter?

Major BAIRD  One or two people condemning it would not be sufficient. This is a matter which has been very carefully gone into. This machine has been used for a very long time with great success. I am afraid that my hon. Friend has been misinformed.

Colonel LOWTHER  Can the hon. and gallant Gentleman give the name of one expert who does approve of this type of machine?

Major BAIRD  Certainly — General Trenchard.

Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS  Have orders been given during the last four months for a further supply of these not altogether satisfactory machines, instead of very much better machines of which my hon. and gallant Friend knows?

Major BAIRD  This is not a matter for discussion by question and answer. The squadrons have to be kept up to strength, and it is impossible to put in new machines and at the same time to produce the total force.

Colonel LOWTHER  Are they making more of these particular machines?

Major BAIRD  They are making machines of this kind to keep up the squadron strength.

Colonel LOWTHER  Why not make Bristol fighters?”

Of course the RAF were well aware of the limitations of the RE8 and would have loved to have replaced the RE8 with the Bristol F2b or DH4 but there were simply not enough engines to go around. Indeed, early on in its life plans were devised to replace the RE8’s engine with a 200hp Hispano-Suiza to improve performance, but this never happened as the engines were needed for the SE5a, Sopwith Dolphin and SPADVII and SPADXIII.

The RAF soldiered on until the end of the war with the RE8 simply because there were no replacement aircraft available due a lack of engines. Once the war was over the type was retired. Not a single RE8 came onto the civil register after the war.

7 May 1918 – “Two against twenty”

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Alfred Clayborn Atkey

Around 1845 this evening, two Bristol F2b’s from 22 Squadron RAF were on patrol just northeast of Arras when they encountered a group of German scouts.

  • Lieutenant Alfred Clayborn Atkey and his observer Lieutenant Charles George Gass were in B1164
  • Lieutenant John Everard Gurdon and his observer 2nd Lieutenant Anthony Joseph Hill Thornton were in B1253.

Both Atkey and Gurdon dived to attack and each claimed an enemy machine downed. As they climbed out of the attack, Thornton got another one.

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Charles George Gass

Two other German formations then joined in totalling around 20 aircraft. Both Bristols continued the fight for about half an hour until they ran out of ammunition. At that point Atkey and Gass had claimed five, while Gurdon and Thornton claimed three. Only seven enemy aircraft remained and the rest had fled.

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John Everard Gurdon

Both Atkey and Gass were awarded the Military Cross, while Gurdon received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Gass ended the war with 39 victories making him the highest scoring ace on the Bristol. He was also highest scoring British observer. Atkey scored 38 in total, 29 in the Bristol, making him the fourth highest Bristol ace. Gurdon scored all of his 28 victories in the Bristol too, putting him at number five. Thornton claimed only five and in fact these were his last. All four men survived the war.