Category Archives: 1917

31 December 1917 – Happy new year?

Throughout December aircraft from 30 and 63 Squadrons RFC have been attempting to harass the German pilots in the area by bombing their aerodrome at Humr on the 17th, 27th, and 28th of December. Damage to aeroplanes and hangars was reported but there was no way to determine how much real damage was done.

There was no doubt that the German’s were a bit put out by this and plotted their revenge. Today it came. At midnight tonight, when 63 Squadron at Samarra were celebrating the New Year, two German aeroplanes from Humr bombed the squadron camp. They destroyed the contents of the cookhouse, but otherwise did no damage. No-one was injured.


30 December 1917 – HMS Aragon

The RFC suffered one of its largest losses of life in one day during the war today as 75 men were killed.

The loss was part of a larger disaster when the troopship HMT Aragon was sunk by a torpedo. The ship had arrived at Alexandria at daybreak on Sunday 30 December accompanied by the destroyer HMS Attack. On approach to the port the Attack zig-zagged ahead to search the channel for mines while Aragon waited in Alexandria Roads. At this point the armed trawler HMT Points Castle approached Aragon flying the international flag signal “Follow me”. The troop ship did so, until Attack returned and signalled “You have no right to take orders from a trawler”.

The destroyer intercepted Points Castle and then ordered Aragon to return to sea. The troop ship obeyed and turned back to sea. Later investigation was unable to make sense of this order. Explanations such a lack of space in the port or a concern for mines have never been proved conclusively.

Regardless, the decision proved costly as shortly afterwards the Aragon was hit by a torpedo from u-boat UC34. The torpedo caused extensive damage to the almost empty number 4 hold and the ship listed heavily starboard.

The Attack and the Points Castle immediately came to the rescue. Attack drew right alongside Aragon to take survivors aboard as quickly as possible. After about 20 minutes the Aragon went down.

The Attack was now crowded with 300 to 400 survivors. At this point a second torpedo hit the Attack blew the ship into two pieces, both of which sank rapidly, at the same time spilling tons of bunker fuel oil into the sea.

The Aragon’s surviving lifeboats now ferried hundreds of survivors to trawlers which had come out to assist.

20 crew members from the Aragon including the Captain were drowned along with 10 from the Attack. 610 of the troops on the Aragon were also killed. The 75 RFC men were as follows:

Corporal Walter Achurch

2nd Class Air Mechanic James Armstrong

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frederick Attenborough

3rd Class Air Mechanic SH Bird

2nd Class Air Mechanic Bertie Bradley

1st Class Air Mechanic Jack Bretherton

2nd Class Air Mechanic Ernest Brooks

3rd Class Air Mechanic Richard Browne

2nd Class Air Mechanic Leonard Butterworth

3rd Class Air Mechanic David William Cartwright

2nd Class Air Mechanic George Clark

3rd Class Air Mechanic TH Clark

2nd Class Air Mechanic Henry James Covell

Lieutenant William Asheton Crawley

3rd Class Air Mechanic George William Daffern

3rd Class Air Mechanic Fred Dale

3rd Class Air Mechanic C Deller

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frederick Joseph Dilley

2nd Class Air Mechanic H Dobson

2nd Class Air Mechanic Charles John Driver

3rd Class Air Mechanic Alfred William Dudman

3rd Class Air Mechanic William Dunton

2nd Class Air Mechanic Christopher Edmund Rich

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frank Alexander Frank

3rd Class Air Mechanic Isaiah Gough

1st Class Air Mechanic Sidney T. Gray

3rd Class Air Mechanic Wilfred Walker Greaves

2nd Class Air Mechanic Harold Edwin Handscombe

2nd Class Air Mechanic William Cleland Hatton

2nd Class Air Mechanic Jeremiah Humphreys

3rd Class Air Mechanic JA Hunt

3rd Class Air Mechanic EW Jackson

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Hardy Jackson

2nd Class Air Mechanic William Jones

2nd Class Air Mechanic Fred Kendall

1st Class Air Mechanic James Henry Keyte

1st Class Air Mechanic William Albert Knight

1st Class Air Mechanic Harold Edward Ladd

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Henry Lane

2nd Class Air Mechanic Albert Joshua Laurens

3rd Class Air Mechanic Charles Lee

2nd Class Air Mechanic Herbert Henry Lucas

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Maccrimmon

2nd Class Air Mechanic Charles William Macey

2nd Class Air Mechanic GL Martin

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Matthews

3rd Class Air Mechanic Albert Mcguinness

2nd Class Air Mechanic Reginald Meade

2nd Class Air Mechanic Alfred Moore

2nd Class Air Mechanic Ernest Victor Morris

1st Class Air Mechanic George Murrell

Corporal Harold John Nicholls

2nd Lieutenant William Charles Perry

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Pilkington

2nd Class Air Mechanic Michael Power

2nd Class Air Mechanic John Rae

3rd Class Air Mechanic John Rees

Corporal Frederick John Richardson

3rd Class Air Mechanic Charles Ricketts

3rd Class Air Mechanic William Ernest Ridgewell

2nd Class Air Mechanic John William Shepherd

3rd Class Air Mechanic Thomas Sidebottom

2nd Class Air Mechanic Joseph Benjamin Standing

2nd Class Air Mechanic Austin Thomas Carroll

3rd Class Air Mechanic Ralph Bolton Toms

3rd Class Air Mechanic Frederick James Turner

2nd Class Air Mechanic Joseph Thomas Walker

2nd Class Air Mechanic Frederick John Waller

1st Class Air Mechanic Philip Courtenay Waud

3rd Class Air Mechanic Henry Charles Wiley

3rd Class Air Mechanic RJ Williams

2nd Class Air Mechanic James William Witchlow

3rd Class Air Mechanic Bertie Hugh Wolfe

3rd Class Air Mechanic Robert William Wyse

2nd Class Air Mechanic Sidney Thomas Young

28 December 1917 –

Today 41 Wing RFC was upgraded to Brigade Status and will now be known as VIII Brigade. The Brigade’s purpose remains that of Long Range Bombing in Germany.

The move is entirely formal as the Wing still exists as a subordinate formation and consists of the same three squadrons (55 Squadron RFC (day), 102 Squadron RFC (Night) and 16 Squadron RNAS for long range). Lieutenant Colonel Cyril Louis Norton Newall, who has been in charge of 41 Wing since its formation, remains in charge but has been temporarily promoted to Brigadier General.

In fact the Brigade  did not begin work as such until 1 February 1918 when an independent head-quarters was opened in the Chateau de Froville, near Bayon. No new squadrons were added until May 1918.

  29 December 1917 – Nineteen

The weather improved today on the Western Front, although the snow remained on the ground, and visibility remained poor. hampering artillery co-operation work. Photographic work and bombing was more successful including attacks on Ingelmunster and Staden aerodromes.

Albert Desbrisay Carter

19 Squadron RFC are based at Ballieul as part of 11 Army Wing and provided air cover for these operations. Like their 1 Squadron colleagues, they are also saddled with an obsolete aircraft in the SPADVII. They got into a scrap with German pilots from Jasta 3 shortly after 1000 near Houthulst Forest and claimed seven enemy Albatrosses out of control. Major Albert Desbrisay Carter claimed one, and Lieutenant John G S Candy attacked another which was diving on Major Carter from behind and shot it down out of control. Lieutenant Arthur Bradfield Fairclough destroyed one and shot down a second out of control, and Lieutenant John Dartnell De Pencier hit one which fell out of control, while Captain Patrick Huskinson shot down two out of control. German records suggest that none of claims actually resulted in any losses.

19 Squadron did however lose one of its own aircraft when 2nd-Lieutenant Howell Elias Galer was shot down and taken prisoner in his SPADVII (B6780). Leutnant Carl Menckhoff from Jasta 3 claimed the victory.

27 December 1917 – Snowy weather

One of the official photographers, 2nd Lieutenant David McLellan visited Bailleul aerodrome today and captured the scenes there.

The photographs show 1 Squadron RFC and their Nieuport fighters. At this point the Squadron was equipped with a mixture of Nieuport 23 and 27 Fighters. The one in the foreground marked ‘H’ is a Nieuport 27 and the one marked ‘M’ is a Nieuport 23. The main visual distinguishing characteristic is the tail. The performance of both aircraft was very similar. Also clearly shown is the fact that they are armed solely with an overwing Lewis Gun, which was woefully inadequate, given all German aircraft at this stage had twin-synchronised guns.

Captain Wendell W Rogers

In fact, within a few weeks 1 Squadron would reequip with the SE5a. The Nieuports were not retired however but transferred to the only other squadron flying this type at this point in the war – 29 Squadron RFC, who were forced to solder on until March in these obsolete machines.

The photographs are likely staged as very little flying was possible today due to heavy snowstorms. Most of the pilots also seem to be dressed solely in their RFC uniforms whereas they would almost certainly have worn much warmer clothing for flying in winter.

The photos are in the Imperial War Museum collection (items Q 11956 and Q 11957). Their caption8ng seems little uncertain about the Squadron, but only 2 Squadrons we’re equipped with these aircraft, and only 1 Squadron at Bailleul.

26 December 1917 – Coastals clash

The various aircraft types have been doing their best to protect the convoys sailing from England. Often their presence is enough to cause u-boats to dive or call off attacks to avoid detection. The waters around the Cornish Coast were often too rough for seaplanes and much of the patrol work here is carried out by airships. In fact the base at Mullion was the busiest of all the airship stations during 1917 flying 2845 hours, sighting 17 submarines and bombing 12 of them.

Today, the Airship C23A left its base at Mullion around 1100 to patrol east of Falmouth to ensure that the way was clear for a convoy of 24 ships.

At 1420 the convoy was in line ahead with its escort of two destroyers and ten armed trawlers on the starboard side and the airship on the port side. At 1500 when the airship was steering east for the head of the line some distance away, one of the leading ships, the steamer Benito was hit by a torpedo.

The C23A moved at full speed towards the ship, which was about seven miles away, and three minutes later saw a second ship – the steamer Tregenna – torpedoed.

At 1510 the airship had reached the position, and within three minutes one of the ships sank. The other was abandoned. The airship continued to patrol between the derelict vessel and the convoy, and at 1540 spotted a torpedo breaking the surface astern of the last ship of the group. The airship located the beginning of the torpedo track and dropped two 100lb. bombs with delay-action fuses. The sea was rough and no results were observed. The airship crew kept watch over the rear of the convoy for another hour, but no trace of the U-boat was discovered. This also allowed the crews of both ships were rescued.

Subsequent records show that the attack was carried out by UB57, which sunk another ship on 28 December and clearly escaped unscathed.

25 December 1917 – Reginald David De La Cour Corbett

There was little in the way of air activity on any of the fronts today. However one fatality was recorded nevertheless.

Major Reginald David De La Cour Corbett of 30 Squadron RFC (formerly of the 48th Indian Pioneers) died in captivity at a Turkish Prisoner of War Camp at Changri, apparently from rupture of the heart due to strain. Sadly he was one of the many who failed to return .

He was one of the group of RFC personnel left behind in Kut-al-Almara following the surrender of British Forces there on 29 April 1915. This consisted of 5 officers and 35 other ranks – the majority of the rank and file of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Flights of 30 Squadron RFC and the Australian Mesopotamian Half Flight. They surrendered along with 277 British and 204 Indian officers, 2,592 British and 6,988 Indian other ranks, together with 3,248 Indian non-combatants.

Most of these prisoners were forced to march across the desert to POW camps. Many did not survice the journey, and of those that did, many succumbed including Corbett,  during their stay in the squalid camps. In November 1918, the official British report declared that 3,290 British and Indian POWs from Kut-el-Amara had died in Turkish captivity, while an additional 2,222 were missing and presumed dead.

Reginald born in 1881, was the elder son of the late Colonel Robert de la Cour Corbett, D.S.O., R.A.M.C, and Mrs. de la Cour Corbett, of 13, Goldington Road, Bedford. He was educated at Bedford and Sandhurst.

He was a keen athlete and sportsman, and in 1900 played Rugby football for Sandhurst against Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. In 1901 he was gazetted to the Royal Irish Rifles, and served through the South African War, being awarded the medal with four clasps. In 1904 he was transferred to the Indian Army, and was gazetted to the 48th Pioneers and afterwards became adjutant of the regiment. In 1908 he was sent on famine duty in the Utroula District, and in 1912 was appointed tutor to the young Raja of Awa. When war broke out he rejoined his regiment, and went to Mesopotamia in November, 1914. He later joined the RFC.