Category Archives: 1917

20 November 1917 – Air Force Bill goes to Lords

The Lord Privy Seal, The Earl of Crawford, introduced the Air Force Bill into the House of Lords. His statement was brief but reflected the urgency with which the bill was being treated.

“My Lords, in moving the First Reading of the Air Force Bill, I wish to say that, if possible, it is desirable that the Second Reading should be taken to-morrow, and that the Bill should receive the Royal Assent at the end of this week. It is entirely for your Lordships to settle, but I wish to give the earliest notice that it would be of the greatest convenience to have the Act in operation at the earliest possible moment.”

As in the Commons, this process is a formaility and the real debate will begin tomorrow.

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19 November 1917 – Porte in a storm

Today, a conclusion was reached in the corruption case against Wing-Commander John Cyril Porte RNAS and William Augustus Casson.

Porte is currently working for the RNAS and has been instrumental in the development of flying boats at RNAS Felixstowe.

The case has come about because before the War Porte worked for the Curtiss Aeroplane company and was in the process of designing an aircraft for crossing the Atlantic. As part of his deal with Curtiss, Porte received a 20-25% commission on all flying boats sold that he had designed.

John Cyril Porte

When the War broke out, the project was suspended and Porte returned to England to work with the RNAS. Porte’s agreement with Curtiss however remained in place. Porte and William Augustus Casson (a former Barrister) made an agreement by which all the commissions received from sales were received by Casson, who would retain one-quarter for himself and pay over the remainder to Porte. In his role at Felixstowe, Porte was responsible for the purchase of seaplanes and indeed many orders were made by the Admiralty to the Curtiss Company.

It seems however that the authorities are keen to bring a swift end to this messy situation. Today, Casson pleaded ” Guilty ” to 12 counts of an indictment charging him with giving a gift to Porte, an agent of the Crown, as an inducement for showing favour to the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in relation to the business of the Crown. Mr. Casson pleaded ” Not Guilty ” to counts charging him with conspiracy to defeat the law, and with aiding Wing-Commander Porte to accept gifts.

The Attorney-General, at the opening of the proceedings, announced that in the case of Commander Porte he wished to enter a nolle prosequi. In making this announcement, the Attorney-General said that at the outbreak of war Commander Porte was in America occupying a commercial position in the aeronautic world which was a very advantageous one. Immediately on the outbreak of the war he abandoned that position, came to England, and placed his services unreservedly at the disposal of his country. At that time and now he was suffering from a most grave haemorrhage of the lung. At the present Commander Porte was doing invaluable work at the Admiralty in regard to the national defence, and the Admiralty were most anxious to retain his services. The progress of the malady from which he suffered was such that it was not possible to suppose that in any event the period for which his services would be at the disposal of his country would be a very protracted one. All the money paid to Porte, with the exception of £10,000, which had been disposed of; remained in his possession and he had agreed that the balance would be handed over by his representatives to the authorities.

 

Casson, was fined £500 on each of the 12 counts, plus costs. THe police had found £6000 at Casson’s house and this was used to discharge the fine as Casson had no other income.

18 November 1917 – Variety

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William Reynolds Cutler

The fact that flying is a dangerous business, even before the enemy start firing at you, is well known at this point. Training and accidents remain a significant source of casualties. Today is a case in point.

11 (Army) Wing, suffered two casualties. 2nd Lieutenant George Alec Cranswick from 23 Squadron RFC is missing presumed killed in his SPADVII (B3575) following a wireless interruption mission over Passchendaele. Meanwhile 2nd Lieutenant William Reynolds Cutler from 70 Squadron crashed his Sopwith Camel (B4611) on a practice flight near Berck-sur-mer. Cutler was killed.

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Similarly, 2nd Lieutenant William Somerville McLaren and 2nd Lieutenant David Whyte Hardie were on an offensive patrol near Dixmunde in their Bristol Fighter (A7282) when they were shot down in flames. McLaren jumped from the plane and was killed. Hardie was badly burned and later died of his wounds.

 

2nd Lieutenant John Patrick Waters from 56 Squadron was killed when his SE5a (B502) disintegrated after getting into a spin during a practice flight.

As well as these deaths, there were another four pilots injured from engine failures of various kinds.

18 November 1917 – Variety

The fact that flying is a dangerous business, even before the enemy start firing at you, is well known at this point. Training and accidents remain a significant source of casualties. Today is a case in point.

11 (Army) Wing, suffered two casualties. 2nd Lieutenant George Alec Cranswick from 23 Squadron is missing presumed killed in his SPADVII (B3575) following a wireless interruption mission over Passchendaele. Meanwhile William Reynolds Cutler from 70 Squadron crashed his Sopwith Camel (B4611) on a practice flight near Berck-sur-mer. Cutler was killed.

Similarly, 2Lt William Somerville McLaren and 2Lt David Whyte Hardie were on an offensive patrol near Dixmunde in their Bristol Fighter (A7282) when they were shot down and killed.

2nd L John Patrick Waters from 56 Squadron was killed when his SE5a (B502) disintegrated after getting into a spin during a practice flight.

As well as these deaths, there were another four pilots injured from engine failures of various kinds.

17 November 1917 – Kite Balloons

The work of Kite Balloon Sections is often completely forgotten about in the annals of the Royal Flying Corps. At this point on the Western Front there are 52 front line squadrons supporting the British Army. However there are also 4 Kite Balloon Wings at the front, one for each army, each Wing has a number of Companies and these are also sub-divided into sections. That said there are no standard sizes for these units. For example,

1 Wing – 4 Companies, 9 Sections

2 Wing – 8 Companies, 17 Sections

3 Wing – 6 Companies, 11 Sections

4 Wing – 2 Companies, 4 Sections

Whilst not as glamorous as the Scout Squadrons, the Kite Balloon Sections carried out important work particularly in artillery registration and enemy battery suppression. They were able to stay in the air for much longer periods than aeroplanes.

The work was also dangerous as the balloons had to be close to the front to get a good view of the enemy. This put the crews in considerable damage not just from enemy aircraft but also from artillery.

This was amply demonstrated today when 39 Kite Balloon Section, part of 8 Company, Second Balloon Wing (supporting the Second Army) suffered 9 casualties when the ground station of its balloon was hit by artillery fire. Those killed were:

3rd Class Air Mechanic Samuel Ackroyd

3rd Class Air Mechanic Harry Booth

1st Class Air Mechanic John McAlpine

Private Thomas Myers

3rd Class Air Mechanic David Urban Parsons

3rd Class Air Mechanic George Peel

1st Class Air Mechanic Herbert E Ponder

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Thomas Spence

3rd Class Air Mechanic James Alfred Waters

16 November 1917 – Air Force Bill Third Reading

The Air Force Bill received its Third Reading in the House of Commons. The Bill returned from the Committee stage and a number of new clauses and amendments were tabled, primarily by Noel Pemberton-Billing, the self-styled Air candidate.

In the end, all the changes were rejected with virtually no support from other MPs, and the Bill passed to the Lords unchanged.

The debate is available in full here.

15 November 1917 – Various Clashes

The weather improved a little today on the Western Front and Combats in the Air were more frequent.

19 Squadron RFC and 1 Squadron RNAS got into a scrap near Tenbrielen with Jasta 36.

2nd Lieutenant Thomas Elder-Hearn was injured when his SPADVII (B3646) crashed in a shell hole after being shot down. Captain Patrick Huskisson suffered a similar fate but survived unscathed. 2nd Lieutenant Herbert John Stone was also shot down in his SPADVII (A6687) and crashed. He was seriously injured and later died of his wounds in hospital. 2nd Lieutenant EJ Hustings had the engine of his SPADVII (A262) shot up and made a poor landing. He was shaken up but otherwise unhurt.

1 Squadron RFC got away without loss though 2nd Lieutenant CE Ogden’s Nieuport was badly shot up.

Leutnants Hans Hoyer and Walter von Bülow made claims over SPADs in the area though its not clear who shot down who. Hoyer was himself killed shortly afterwards. It’s unclear if he was shot down by one of the SPADs from 19 Squadron or by Captain Phillip F Fullard from 1 Squadron RFC who claimed two Albatrosses shot down in this area at the time.