10 March 1915 – Technological advances support the offensive in the air

The first major British Offensive of 1915 commenced this morning assisted by aircraft from the RFC and armoured cars form the RNAS. Unfortunately the weather was poor with low cloud hampering air operations.

As the main attack was made by the First Army, the bulk of the air work fell to the First Wing which as noted yesterday had been split into 6 groups.

For groups A and B much of the work involved countering hostile batteries. The location of most of the batteries was already known and the main work of the aircraft was to direct the fire of the artillery. To assist in this process the crews made use of the “clock-code” rangefinder invented by Captain D S Lewis back in January 1915, and the new No 1 Wireless transmitter, to communicate with the batteries.

The clock rangefinder had been trialled undergone some modifications. The key one being that the XII-VI line was always to be true north and south instead of from the target to the battery.

Bombing Raids

Air reconnaissances throughout the day reported little or no movement of German reserves to the battle area. Neverhtless the RFC had been tasked with hampering any attempts to bring up reserves.

At 6am the RFC made their first raids as No 3 Squadron attacked buildings in Fournes which were supposed to house a divisional headquarters. Three aircraft, flown by Captain E. L. Conran (with the squadron commander, Major J. M. Salmond observing), and Lieutenants W. C. K. Birch and D. R. Hanlon (without observers) descended to 100ft,dropped their bombs and set fire to their objective.

At three in the afternoon, during a lull in the infantry attack, when the troops were being organized for a second assault, the Flying Corps received orders to go ahead with their main bombing programme. The battle plan assigned the Second Wing to bomb Courtrai station and Menin junction were the Third Wing to attack the stations at Lille, Douai, and Don.

Captain G. I. Carmichael of No. 5 Squadron left at 1530 for the Menin Junction, carrying a 1OO-lb. bomb. He dropped it from 120 feet, apparently blowing the rails to pieces. Unfortunately he was hit by ground fire which partly disabled the engine and compelled him to make the return journey at 200 feet.

Captain L. A. Strange of No. 6 Squadron took his B.E.2C with three 25-lb. French bombs. Poor weather and low cloud made navigation difficult but he found Courtrai and dived through a lower bank of clouds to the east of the town, coming down to within two hundred feet of the railway. He then flew along the track to the station, hopped the station roof and dropped his three bombs on a standing train. He got back safely to his aerodrome with three dozen bullet holes in his aeroplane.

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