5 May 1916 – Aviation Pioneer Killed

Herbert Rutter Simms

Another of Britain’s early pioneers of flight, Herbert Rutter Simms, was killed today.

He was part of a group of RNAS pilots continuing the patrols over the Belgian Coast to protect the mine barrage, when his Nieuport 12 (8904) was shot down by a German torpedo boat and seaplane off Ostend. The German report of the incident is as follows:

“At around 11.30 hours, seaplanes 547 and 638 took over the aerial defence of the destroyer that was working in the Western part of the blockade area. A 1205 hrs, two small cruisers and six destroyers were seen in square 066 Beta heading in an easterly direction at high speed. A report of this activity was immediately made to the torpedo boat destroyer V47 and confirmation was received that the message was understood. At 12.20hrs an enemy seaplane was seen, and this was followed by 638 (crewed by pilot Oblt z S Reinhert and Observer Ltn s Bönisch) to the vicinity of the enemy ships.

As 638 turned away, a Nieuport 12 fighting biplane was seen some 300 metres above and dead ahead. Both aircraft turned toward each other and the enemy opened fire at a range of 300 metres. The enemy aeroplane was hit by return fire and went down with its engines stopped and hit the water. Whereupon it turned upside-down and sank. 638 descended to a height of 50 metres over the crash position, but a landing to rescue the enemy crew was no longer possible due to the proximity of the enemy destroyers.”

His body was eventually recovered from the sea by a British ship. His observer Flight Sub-Lieutenant Cyril John Ashley Mullens was never found.

Herbert was born in Chipping Norton in August 1891 and was expected to join the family watchmaking business but he became fascinated with flying. Between 1908 and 1909 Herbert constructed his own high wing monoplane with a tractor propeller driven by the rear wheels – speed would be obtained by rolling down a slope.

Simms first aircraft

Herbert left home in 1909 to become an apprentice with the A. V. Roe aircraft company, helping build some of the early Avro aircraft.

In 1910 Herbert constructed a biplane cycleplane, with staggered wings and triangular front elevator flaps and a high mounted tail. It was wrecked on the first trial when apparently it was just beginning to lift.

Simms cycloplane

In June 1912 he began a flying course at Roe’s Flying school at Brooklands. He received his flying certificate (261) on 24 July after just 3 hours 10 minutes flying time. Soon after he was sent to assist at military trials on Salisbury Plain of the world’s biplane with an enclosed cabin, the Avro G.

Later that year the Avro flying school moved to Shoreham and Herbert was appointed Chief Flying Instructor and he also test flew new models as they arrived from Avro. On one occasion he flew one to Worthing landing on the beach opposite Warne’s Hotel where he lunched with friends. He left Shoreham after an accident with a plane that he claimed was not airworthy due to age and joined the Sopwith Company at Kingston-upon-Thames.

In 1913 Herbert joined the Royal Hellenic Navy and was responsible for servicing 2 seat trainers, seaplanes and flying boats of the Greek Navy Flying Corps.

Following the outbreak of war Herbert joined the Royal Naval Air Service in July 1915. He initially went to Chingford Naval Station for training and in November 1915 he was sent to Dunkirk on active service, flying two patrols a day

He was credited with two kills, an LVG C11 at Dixmude on 29th February 1916 and an FF33E seaplane on 24th April 1916.


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