Category Archives: 1917

24 September 1917 – They’re back

After a gap of three weeks, Kaghohl 3 returned to England with 16 Gothas. Of these, three turned back early with engine problems, three battled through to London, six bombed the area around Dover and four dropped bombs over south Essex and Kent.

The first attack occurred over Dover around 1915, where the six Gothas dropped 42 bombs. A number of houses were destroyed and five people were killed and 11 injured.

The four Gothas that roamed over Essex and Kent failed to cause much damage either. Between 2000 and 2030 bombs fell on various town and villages causing minor damage. The only serious damage occurred when at about 2030 eleven bombs dropped at the army camp at Leybourne, about seven miles south west of Chatham, killing two soldiers of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry and destroying various buildings.

The first Gotha reached London at 2005. Eight bombs fell on East London and a number of building suffered serious damage and one person was injured.

The next Gotha attacked north London causing minor damage. It then flew westwards and dropped more bombs, again casusing minor damage. The bomber then turned east and headed towards the centre of London. The next bomb landed in Bloomsbury, outside the Bedford Hotel, killing 13 and injuring 22. The Gotha then flew east dropping more bombs alog the way causing significnant damage to the Royal Academy of Arts.

The third Gotha to bomb London bombed the northwest around 2040. Minor damage tO property resulted, but a boy was killed and two others injured.

30 RFC aircraft took off to oppose the raid but none sighted any of the Gothas.

The British were also using a new defensive tactic for the first time. Colonel Simon and Captain ARF Kingscote had developed a scheme which placed a series of ‘curtains’ of shell bursts in the path of raiding aeroplanes. The scheme gave screensbursts about 2,500 feet from top to bottom. The screens could be ordered for five different heights, varying between 17,000 and 5,000 feet.

The map used by the anti-aircraft gunners was divided into numbered squares, and as the enemy aeroplanes were shown, according to sound-plotting, to be about to enter a particular square, the controlling officer directed vertical barrage fire on the face of that square. As the bombers passed from square to square in the barrage zones, they would be met by successive barrage screens. If, however, a target was found by a searchlight beam, the barrage fire would cease and guns would attack the target directly.

The British reported that the new barrage forced some of the Gothas to turn back from London in the face of this new intense AA fire. One Gotha was claimed shot down in the Thames, but in rality all the bombers got back, although one was wrecked on landing, possibly as a result of an AA hit.


24 September 1917 – die Rache

Throughout September, DH4s from RNAS Squadrons based at Dunkirk have been attempting to disrupt German bomber squadrons targeting England by bombing their aerodromes. The Germans have finally had enough and this evening they attacked the RNAS depot at St. Pol.

Luckily for the Germans, bombs hit the pump-house, which supplied the water for the fire mains. It put the fire mains out of action and when the engine repair-shed was set on fire there was no way to put it out.

About a thousand men were organized to save material from the various buildings, but great damage was caused anyway. The engine repair-shop, saw-mill, machine-shop, spare engineshop, engine packing-shed, and the drawing and records offices were all destroyed.

In the engine packing-shed one hundred and forty engines were lost (83 130hp Clerget; 10 110hp Clerget; 37 80hp Le Rhone; 5 150hp BR1; 1 200hp B.H.P.; 1 90hp Rolls-Royce; 1 250hp Rolls-Royce; and 2 275 hip Rolls-Royce.

Given the shortage of supply of engines, there has been a great focus on salvaging and repairing old engines for reuse. This is a major blow to the RNASs operational capacity.

Despite all the damage, luckily no one was seriously injured.

23 September 1917 – Werner Voss killed


Werner Voss (centre) with brothers Otto and Max

Having just returned from leave, early this morning Leutnant Werner Voss from Jasta 10 shot down a DH4 (A76433) from 57 Squadron which was bombing Hooglede. The crew 2nd Lieutenant S L J Bramley and 2nd Lieutenant John Matthew De Lacey were both killed in the crash. It was to be his last confirmed victory.

During the afternoon he met his brothers Otto and Max and posed for a photo. This evening he was on patrol when his wingmate was fired on by Lieutenant Harold A. Hamersley, from 60 Squadron RFC who had mistaken Voss’s Triplane for a Nieuport. Voss attacked and Hmersley went into a spin to escape with his wings and engine holed. His wingmate Lieutenant Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts, rushed to his aid, but within seconds, Voss shredded his rudder bar and foced him out of the fight too.

At this point, six SE5a’s from B Flight of 56 Squadron moved in to attack. Captain James McCudden and his wingmen attacked from 300 meters above Voss. McCudden came from the right while Lieutenant Arthur Rhys Davids, swooped in from the left. Captain Keith Muspratt (A8944) trailed them down, while Lieutenant Verschoyle Philip Cronyn (A4563) brought up the rear. Lieutenant Charles Hubert Jeffs and Lieutenant Ralph William Young held high as top cover in case Voss climbed. He was now boxed in from above and below, with assailants pouncing from either side. To further worsen Voss’s situation, there was a British fighter patrol beneath him.

At this point, instead of attempting to flee, which may have been impossible in any case given the slow speed of the Fokker against the SE5s. He flicked his triplane about in a flat spin and fired at his attackers in a headon firing pass, holing McCudden’s wings. Voss riddled Cronyn’s SE5 from close range, putting him out of the dogfight. Cronyn had to turn in under his attacker and throw his aircraft into a spin to escape being killed. His wingmates attacked Voss while Cronyn also limped for home.

At this time, Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman and Lieutenant Richard Mayberry from 56 Squadron, C Flight arrived. Another C Flight, Lieutenant Reginald Hoidge fought off an Albatross attempting to assist Voss.

The combat now became so chaotic that the surviving pilots later gave widely varying accounts. Muspratt’s engine was holed, lost its coolant to and he glided away with his engine beginning to seize. At some point, a rednosed Albatros D.V made a short-lived attempt to help Voss; Rhys-Davids put a bullet through its engine, and it dropped away.

At another point, Voss was caught in a crossfire by at least five of his attackers but seemed unhurt. At about this point, Maybery withdrew with his aircraft’s upper right-hand longeron holed in several places.

Voss and the six remaining British aces swirled down to 600 meters (2,000 feet). At times, Voss had the altitude advantage over his foes, but did not try to escape the fight. Using the triplane’s superior rate of climb and its ability to slip turn, Voss managed to evade his opponents and return to battle. He continued to flick turn at high speeds and attack those behind him. As Bowman later noted concerning his only shot at Voss:

“To my amazement he kicked on full rudder, without bank, pulled his nose up slightly, gave me a burst while he was skidding sideways and then kicked on opposite rudder before the results of this amazing stunt appeared to have any effect on the controllability of his machine.”

Bowman’s machine was left slowed and ineffectively trailing dark smoke and steam, though he stayed in the fight.

Then, after flying past McCudden in a head-on firing pass, Voss’s Fokker was hit with bullets on the starboard side by Hoidge. Meantime, Rhys Davids had pulled aside to change an ammunition drum; he rejoined combat with a 150 meter (500 foot) height advantage over Voss’s altitude of 450 meters (1,500 feet), and began a long flat dive onto the tail of Voss’ triplane. At point-blank range, he holed the German aircraft end to end with his machine guns before turning. It wandered into his line of flight again, in a gentle westward glide; Rhys Davids again ripped the German plane as its engine quit. The aircraft missed a mid-air collision by inches. The British ace fired again. As the triplane’s glide steepened, Rhys Davids overran him at about 1,000 feet altitude and lost sight of his opponent. From above, Bowman saw the Fokker in what could have been a landing glide, right up until it stalled. It then flipped inverted and nose down, dropping directly to earth. The resulting smash left only the rudder intact.

McCudden, watching from 3,000 feet recalled:

“I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder.”

McCudden would later write of the fight:

As long as I live I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single-handed fought seven of us for ten minutes and also put some bullets through all our machines. His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent, and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.

Voss’s identity was not compnformed until the next day, and eventually Rhys Davies was credited with the victory, although as was British practice at the time, his name was not made known to the press.

22 September 1917 – Finally

Early this morning, the Curtis “Large America” flying-boat based at Dunkirk set off for a routine patrol of the North Sea escorted by a Sopwith Camel. The crew consisted of Flight Sub Lieutenants Norman Ansley Magor and Charles Edward Stafford Lusk and Leading Mechanic Reginald Arthur Lucas.

Near the West Hinder Sandbank, they spotted a submarine fully surfaced. Before the submarine could submerge, the flying-boat attacked with two 230-lb. bombs. Both bombs scored direct hits on the hull, and the submarine heeled over and sank.


Reginald Arthur Lucas

The Official History claimed that this was UC72. However this is unlikely, This ship was lost sometime after 23 August but its fate was unknown until 2013, when the wreck was discovered. It now appears that it struck a mine.

It is now believed that the U-boat sunk was probtably UB32, which was lost around this time.

Again the Official History suggests that UB32 was sunk on 18 August 1917, but later records prove that this cannot be the case. It also claimed this was the first U-boat sunk by air attack alone.

It seems then the UB32 could be the first and only sinking of U-boat by air action alone.

Magor subsequently received the Distinguished Service Cross and Lucas the Distinguised Service Medal.

21 September 1917 – More Menin Road

Following on from yesterday, the British offensive continued around Menin Road Bridge. The weather was significantly improved from yesterday and this resulted in an even wider programme of air support.

The main focus today was on preventing reinforcements reaching the front. Early morning reconnaissances reported that reinforcements were arriving at Roulers and Menin stations.

55 Squadron attacked the station at Roulers, dropping twenty 112lb. bombs on the target. In the evening air reconnaissance reported that troops were pouring in, by rail, to Menin and were being transported by bus to the front. 100 and 101 Squadrons therefore spent the night attacking the town, other detraining centres, and the roads along which the movement of troops had been reported. They dropped fourteen 230-lb. and sixty-eight 25 -lb. bombs and then attacked the troops with their machine-guns. The Squadrons also bombed Menin, Ledeghem, Wervicq, Gheluwe and Roulers.

Two aircraft from 101 Squadron failed to return – Captain Aubrey Cecil Hatfield and 2nd Lieutenant Robert Roy Macgregor in FE2b A5672 and 2nd Lieutenant Archibald Ian Orr-Ewing and Corporal E Marshall in FE2b A856. Both crashed behind enemy lines and the crews were taken prisoner.

Again the toll, particularly on the fighter squadrons was high with (in addition to the above) 10 crew killed, 3 wounded and 7 taken prisoner. 19 Squadron suffered badly in their undergunned SPADVIIs when they ran into Jasta 18 in their Albatross DVs near Dadizeele. Three planes were shot down in short order and their pilots killed

2nd Lieutenant Robert Andersson Inglis (B3557)
2nd Lieutenant Frederick William Kirby (B3533)
2nd Lieutenant William Gordon McRae (B3642)

Oberleutnant Rudolf Berthold and Leutnant Richard Ruege all claimed victories, thought it’s not clear exactly who downed who.

In return, Flight Commander Captain John Leacroft claimed an Albatros out of control, though later German records record no losses.

20 September 1917 – Menin Road Ridge

As has now become commonplace, the latest British Offensive at Menin Road Ridge on the Western Front has been planned with a full suite of air operations.

Such was the extent of offensive patrolling that the Corps squadrons were able to carry out their artillery observation mostly unhindered. This work was essential to the success of the battle as one of the key contribution of the air services was to frustrate German counterattacks on seven occasions. This was achieved by both warning the British troops but also bringing down artillery fire on troops massing for the counter-attack.

Army squadrons also carried out ground attack missions on birth front line trenches and on reinforcement points, and bombers attempted to interrupt communications by bombing railway junctions and known mustering points.

Of course part of the reason that this work was possible was the extensive offensive patrolling by the rest of the Army squadrons served to keep enemy aircraft away from the front. Bombers also attacked German aerodromes to try and keep aircraft on the ground.

The success on the ground came at a heavy cost in the air as 10 crew were killed, 11 wounded and 7 taken prisoner. The worst affected were 1 Squadron RFC in their aging Nieuports.

Early on 2nd Lieutenant Charles Gilbert Dunbar Gray was forced down out of petrol behind enemy lines in his Nieuport 17 (A6721). Vitzfeldwebel Franz Schmitt from Jasta 29 claimed the victory. Gray was taken prisoner.


Francis Jack Chown (by Dame Laura Knight)

Later on 2nd Lieutenant Reginald Horatio Garratt-Reed was shot down and killed in his Nieuport 27 (B3632). Leutnant Richard Runge from Jasta 18 claimed the victory. A little later, Runge also claimed to have shot down 2nd Lieutenant Francis Jack Chown in his Nieuport 27 (B6755). Chown was hit in the head and back and managed to make a landing in the front lines. However, he was later found dead by the wrecked aircraft.


19 September 1917 – Lost

Jasta 5 must have thought Christmas had come early when they came across two Morane Parasols (Type P) from 3 Squadron over the lines east of Estourmel.


3 Squadron Parasols, September 1917

Lieutenant Edgar Golding and Corporal Leonard Sidney Goss in A234, and Lieutenant Cuthbert Archibald Sutcliffe and Lieutenant Thomas Humble in A6655 had taken off from their aerodrome at Lechelle around 1045.


Edgar Golding

They were part of a four strong training flight to practice formation flying with strict orders not to cross over the lines. Golding had been appointed a flying officer in April 1917 and had joined the squadron after that. Sutcliffe had been a pilot since October 1916 and had joined the Squadron in early 1917.

However instead of stying on the British side of the lines, they flew over lines and passed north of Cambrai to Estourmel. The Western Front was characterised by mostly westerly winds. These were particularly strong today and would likely have blown the light and in the this case slow aircraft towards the German lines.

Whatever the reason, they were spotted by pilots form Jasta 5 who shot them down in quick order. Obleutnant Richard Flashar and Leutnant Rudolf Matthei claimed them.

Both aircraft crashed near Caudry. Golding was killed outright in the crash and the others were taken prisoner, though Goss died shortly afterwards of his wounds.