26 April 1917 – Propaganda

Today a bombing raid on Bohain, 20km inside the German lines was carried out by six 22 Squadron FEs, seven 52 Squadron BE’s, and and top cover of six Sopwith Pups from 54 Squadron. By the time they reached Bohain the bombing force had dwindled to just two FEs and two BE2s as the rest had turned back with engine problems.

The formation was attacked by 7 aircraft from Jasta 5 and another 8 from Jasta 26. Captain Frank Neville Hudson, 2nd Lieutenant Reginald Morse Charley and Lieutenant Samuel Greenless Rome from 54 Squadron each claimed to have driven down an enemy aircraft

The two FE’s attempted to fight their way back to the lines losing height from 9,000ft down to ground level before being brought down in German territory near Essigny-le-Petit. The two crews were:

Captain Henry Rupert Hawkins and 2nd Lt George Owen McEntee in FE2b 4883
2nd Lieutenant Geoffrey Mayne Hopkins and Lieutenant Joseph Douglas Miller Stewart in FE2b A825

Both crews were taken prisoner. On inspection of the aircraft the Germans found bundles of leaflets in German. The German authorities then attempted to Court Martial the two crews for “having in April 1917, distributed (by dropping them from aeroplanes) pamphlets, which contained insults against the German Army and Government, amongst the German Army fighting in the Western Theatre of war”.

The RFC abandoned leaflet dropping in June 1917, but quickly recommenced it in July 1917.

Both crews were put on trial on 17 October 1917. The case against Hopkins and Stewart was not proved and they were acquitted. Hawkins and McEntee were also acquitted, despite the prima-facie case against them, due to fact that they were unaware of the illegality of their actions in the eyes of International Law.

Alter the end of the trial, the presiding judge read out a declaration by the Higher Army Command stating that the dropping of incendiary pamphlets is regarded by the German authorities as being contrary to International law and that a communication to this effect had been transmitted to the enemy powers. This declaration was made after the event and therefore could not be relevant to this trial.

This did not stop further cases against British crews. In fact that very day, Second Lieutenant Ewald Scholtz and Henry Charles Wookey from No. 11 Squadron were shot down near Cambrai. They were subsequently convicted and sentenced on the 1 December 1917 to ten years penal servitude for dropping pamphlets.

After this, the RFC restricted leaflet dropping to balloons.

The news reached Britain and on 4 February 1918 a protest was telegraphed to the British Minister at the Hague for communication to the German Government, who were informed that:

“His Majesty’s Government do not regard such action as contrary to International Law and no justification has been produced by the German Government in support of their contention that such action is outside the scope of the laws of war.”

Scholz and Wookey were released to a POW Camp in March 1918 but the charges hung over them. The matter was the subject of a diplomatic to and fro between Britain and Germany that rumbled on to the end of the war.

For more detail on this issue see Distribution of Propaganda by Air 1914 – 1918 by Captain Morris.

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