Author Archives: sethspeirs

23 May 1918 – No better


Audubon Eric Palfreyman

27 Squadron RAF suffered two casualties on bombing raids on Maria Aalter in Flanders early this morning.

The Squadron was flying a mixture of DH4s and the new DH9. The DH9 was intended to replace the DH4, but unfortunately problems with its engines meant that performance, particularly at altitude, was in fact worse that the DH4. The pilot’s view was also somewhat restricted as the cockpit was placed further back that in the DH4 – though this did solve the issue of communication between the crew in the DH4.

Captain Audubon Eric Palfreyman and 2nd Lieutenant William Irwin Crawford in DH4 A7840 – were last seen diving steeply near Thourout. Leutnant Diether Collin from Jasta 56 claimed victory. Palfreyman was killed and Crawford was taken prisoner.

The crashed DH4

2nd Lieutenant George Edward Ffrench and Corporal Francis Yates McLauchlan also failed to return in their DH9 (D5616). Reports at the time suggested that their engine came away from it housing causing them to crash – the cause of this is unknown. Both men were killed.


22 May 1918 – Over here


Lawrence Kingsley Callahan

Today, 85 Squadron RAF set off from its base at Hounslow for a new base at Petit-Synthe on the Western Front under the command of Canadian ace Major William Avery (Billy) Bishop. The Squadron contains three loanees from the US Air Service:


John McGavock Grider

  • Lieutenant Lawrence Kingsley Callahan
  • Lieutenant John McGavock Grider
  • Lieutenant Elliott White Springs

It was common practice at the time to assign new pilots to an RFC squadron for advanced training at the front. Callahan and Springs later went on to serve with the US 148 Aero Squadron. Grider was killed on 18 June 1918.

Elliott White Springs

Springs later wrote a diary of his flying experiences, entitled War Birds: The Diary of an Unknown Aviator. He later acknowledged that a significant part of the book was in fact based on Grider’s diary.

21 May 1918 – Parachutes

Today Fleiger Klaus Sakowski from Jasta 29 was killed after his Albatross DVa (5253/17) was hit by anti-aircraft fire. Nothing unusual you might think at this point in the war.

What was unusual was that after being hit, He attempted to escape from the aircraft using a parachute. Unfortunately the parachute failed to open properly and he was killed in the fall.

Parachutes had been available for some time and were regularly used by balloon observers to escape a burning balloon. Their use in combat aircraft however was relatively recent.

The Germans were the first to officially introduce them. The date is not entirely clear but is likely in late March as the first reported successful bailout in combat occurred on 1 April when VizefeldwebelWeimar jumped clear of his stricken Albatros DVa.

The parachute issued by Germany was designed by UnteroffizierOtto Heinecke, a ground crewman in Feldluftschiffer Abteilung 23. It weighed about 30 pounds and pilots debated whether the extra weight was worth it.

Essentially the pilot sat on the chute and had to climb out of the aircraft to use it. It remained unreliable and around a third of the first 70 airmen to bail out died, usually because static line tangled, the chute caught on the fuselage or the harness broke free.

Figure from

20 May 1918 – Final lap

Over night German bombers carried out what turned out to be the last raid on British soil during the war. It was also the largest, with 41 aircraft, a mixture of Gothas and Giants setting out.

A heavy barrage put up by the guns in Kent, Essex and along the River Thames appears to have deterred many of the raiders who dropped their bombs in Kent and Essex. In the end barely half of the bombers reached London.

Bombers arrived over Essex around 2310 and by 0030 had dropped 36 bombs causing some minor damage but no casualties. Around 2350 one of the Gothas got into difficulties and crashed landed near near St. Osyth.

At around 2300 the first of 46 bombs fell in Kent. A large number of buildings were damaged mainly in Dover and Faversham and three people were also injured in Faversham. Early on, one of the raiders was attacked by a Sopwith Camel (D6423) piloted by Major Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand from 112 Squadron RAF and crashed in flames.

This Gotha had taken off at 9.30 p.m. and had come in over Ramsgate, heading south, at about 11 p.m. Fifteen minutes later Major Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand, officer commanding No.112 Squadron at Throwley, took off in Sopwith Camel D6433 ‘Makhabane II’. Having gained height over the aerodrome he was making his first run along his patrol line to Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey at 8500 feet when, at 11.23 p.m., he saw the Gotha flying west over Faversham 200 feet higher up, its exhaust flames clearly visible from more than 400 yards.

As Brand approached the bomber its front gun opened up at 50 yards’ range, firing high and to the left. He retaliated with two 20 round bursts which stopped the bomber’s starboard engine. It then banked steeply and dived away to the north-east, making desperate S-turns as he followed, gradually closing the distance to 25 yards. There was no fire from the rear gunner, and Brand aimed three 25 round bursts, causing the bomber to burst into flames and then fall to pieces. Although his face and moustache, along with the nose of his aircraft, were scortched by the flames, he followed the main wreckage down to 3000 feet before, at 11.36 p.m., watching it come to earth near the Harty Emergency Landing Ground on the Isle of Sheppey.

The Gotha in fact crashed near a farm close to the sea wall between Harty and Leysdown-on-Sea, about 1½ miles east of Harty Ferry, and was totally destroyed. The bodies of the three crewmen were discovered near the farm. Two of these had fallen into marshy ground and were deeply embedded in the mud, while the third man’s head had struck a wall and was shattered like an egg shell. All three were removed to a local aviation establishment, prior to burial on 23 May in the churchyard of St Thomas the Apostle at Harty. The wreck was subsequently allocated the number AB 9 by the RAF.

The remaining bombers started to reach London where they were more successful, killing 49, injuring 177 and causing widespread damage to property. Manor Park, Lower Sydenham, Walthamstow, Poplar, Tottenham and Bethnal Green were badly hit. A second group then dropped its bombs after 0000, and caused further extensive damage and loss of life.

Another Gotha was attacked by Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey from 141 Squadron RAF (who had shot down Zeppelin L.32 in September 1916). and then later attacked again by a Bristol Fighter from 112 Squadron RAF crewed by Lieutenants Edward Eric Turner and Henry Balfour Barwise. The Gotha crashed between Frinsted and Harrietsham in Kent.

Another Gotha was intercepted over Hainault by a Bristol Fighter from 39 Squadron RAF. The official report stated:

This Gotha came in over the Latchingdon Peninsular at 11.30 p.m., flying in a south-westerly direction. Meanwhile, at 10.56 hours Bristol Fighter C4636 ‘Devil in the Dark’ of No.39 Squadron at North Weald had taken off. Crewed by Lieutenant k the gunner, they had been flying at 11,000 feet for just over an hour when, five minutes after midnight, north of Hainault and near the souhern extremity of his ‘B’ patrol line, Arkell picked up the twin exhausts of a Gotha 1000 feet lower. He dived down and began closing from 200 yards under its tail, giving Stagg the opportunity to fire half a drum. He then zoomed up to deliver a long burst from his forward firing Vickers guns, levelling off to offer Stagg another chance.

The Gotha started to dive, making flat turns, with both its gunners firing as the opportunity arose, and Arkell delivered several more bursts. He then moved in much closer, sitting under its tail and able to make out all its details, while Stagg fired two more drums. He zoomed up once more for another long burst from the Vickers, and in all fired 350 rounds. The fight was then down to 3000 feet, with the Gotha still descending. At 1500 feet Arkell once more positioned underneath, and a final burst from Stagg set the Gotha’s starboard engine on fire. The bomber spun for about 1½ turns and hit the ground off Roman Road, East Ham, bursting into flames at 0.20 a.m.

The Gotha had actually come down about 200 yards from the Royal Albert Dock, by the north bank of the River Thames, the wreckage being spread over 100 yards of a bean field between Roman Road and Beckton Road. The crew jumped to their deaths before the crippled bomber hit the ground, and the body of the pilot was found on an allotment in Brooks Avenue, about half a mile north-east of the crash site. The observer was discovered in a ditch 300 yards south of the wrecked Gotha, while the gunner fell a quarter of a mile south in the next field, on the bank of a ditch. The wreck was subsequently allocated the number AB 6 by the RAF.

For more detail on the raid, see Ian Castle’s website.

19 May 1918 – Lufbery killed

16 victory, US ace Major Raoul Lufbery from 94 Aero Squadron was killed today.

Raoul Lufbery is considered by some to have been the first American “ace,” although all sixteen of his officially-credited aerial victories took place while serving for French Squadrons.

When the United States formed its own air service squadrons in France, Luftery and many others transferred over to the new squadrons.

Today he was flying a Nieuport 28 C1 when he engaged a Rumpler two-seater plane flown by Gefreiter Kirschbaum and Leutnant Schieibe. Lufbery’s fighter was hit by gunfire from the Rumpler. Lufbery’s Nieuport rolled inverted, and he fell from the airplane. He was killed on impact.

The Rumpler was later shot down and its crew captured.

Despite being considered a US ace, Lufbery was in fact born in France to an American father and French mother, and spent most of his childhood in France. He went to the US in 1907, eventually enlisting in the US Army. In 1914 he joined the French Foreign Legion and eventually became a pilot.

18 May 1918 – Köln

Today six DH4s from 55 Squadron RAF made a “most successful raid” in broad daylight on the railway stations, factories, and barracks at Cologne, in Germany. 6 112-lb, 24 25-lb and 3 40-lb bombs were dropped, and bursts were seen on the railway sheds.

Enemy scouts came up to engage the bombers. Lieutenant Arthur Stuart and 2nd Lieutenant William Russell Patey claimed two of these out of control, while 2nd-Lieut Charles Edward Reynolds & 2nd Lieutenant John Eric Reynolds, and Captain Frederick Williams & Captain Wilfred Henry Mason Springgay, each claimed another scout.

All machines returned to their aerodrome, but John Eric Reynolds was shot dead in the cockpit and the pilot wounded. Charles Reynolds managed to fly back to the Aerodrome but crash landed, injuring himself further.

17 May 1918

The Felixstowe F.2a was a flying boat used primarily by the RNAS and subsequently the RAF for patrolling the English Channel and the North Sea for U-boats.

Whilst attacks were occasionally successful, the main purpose of the patrols was to make the main shipping lanes a no go area for u-boats and to ensure that where they did operate, that the u-boats remained in diving trim rather than on the surface, as this reduced their endurance considerably.

Today, two of these Felixstowe F2a – N4283 (with crew Captain Archibald Menzies FitzRandolph and Lieutenant Bell) and N4295 – based at Great Yarmouth Air Station were on patrol when they spotted a U-boat on the surface. They immediately attacked it with bombs, but did not appear to have done any damage as no oil was spotted. Post war research confirms the lack of success. .

By this point, N4283 was painted in ‘dazzle’ scheme, a full 2 months before such schemes were officially introduced in early June 1918.