The poor weather finally lifted and both sides made the most of it to get their aircraft in the sky. The result, the biggest aerial battle of the war so far. The British sent two squadrons (16 aircraft from 12 and 13 Squadrons) of BE2c’s to bomb a German ammunition dump at Vraucourt at around 9am this morning. Fighter cover was provided by 11, 29 and 60 Squadrons.
Unfortunately fighters from Jastas 1, 2 and 4 were waiting for them as soon as they crossed the lines. German doctrine at this time is still to stay primarily east of the lines. Superior German tactics split the formation into small groups and the British lost seven aircraft, including three bombers and four fighters.
12 Squadron lost three of its bombers. They were flying without observers to increase their bomb load, rendering them essentially defenceless. 2502 with Lieutenant Gerald Featherstone Knight and 2506 with 2nd Lieutenant Ian Gilmour Cameron were both shot down and taken prisoner. Knight was claimed by both Leutnant Hans Imelmann and Oberleutnant S Kirmaier from Jasta 2, and Cameron by Manfred von Richthofen. Cameron died later of his wounds. He was 19. 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Hayes was shot up from behind and was wounded in BE2c 4589 but was able to evade his attacker and limp back over the lines.
One of the escorts from 11 Squadron, with 2nd Lieutenant James Douglas Cowie and Lance Corporal Charles George Sedgwick Ward on board were also shot down. They crashed their FE2b (7701) between the lines and Ward was killed in the crash. Cowie escaped wounded back behind the lines.
29 Squadron lost 2 DH2s. Captain Alastair Cheney Bolton was shot down and taken prisoner by Oberleutnant FO Bernert of Jasta 1. His colleague Leutnant Hans von Keudall claimed 2nd Lieutenant Ivan Curlewis in DH2 A2543 who was also wounded and taken prisoner.
Finally a Nieuport 17 (A272) from 60 Squadron was forced down by Leutnant Westmann from Jasta 2. Its pilot Captain James Douglas Latta made it back to his aerodrome but crashed on landing. He was lucky and received only minor wounds.
Later in the day, the RFC got its first taste of the new Albtross DII fighter when another 29 Squadron patrol was attacked by Jasta 1. Leutnant G Leffers shot down Henry Arthur Hallam in his DH2 (7925) and he was taken prisoner. 2nd Lieutenant Norman Brearley was shot down by Leutnant Hans von Keudall. He crashed in no mans land and his aircraft was shelled. He waited until nightfall and then was able to escape back over the lines