Category Archives: Accidents

18 September 1917 – Mid air

Poor weather conditions curtailed much flying today, but the relentless requirement of the army for data meant that many were up anyway. Despite the limited flying four pilots were still killed.


Hugh Francis McArdle

41 Squadron lost two pilots from an offensive patrol in their DH5s when they ran into a patrol from Jasta 12. Lieutenant Hugh Francis McArdle (A9426) and 2nd Lieutenant Alfred John Chapman (A9208) were both shot down and killed. Leutnant Walter Ewers and Vzitfeldwebel Reinhold Joerke claimed the victories.


Noel Stafford Wright

Earlier in the day, another two pilots had been killed, when they crashed into each other in mid air – Captain John Manley from 19 Squadron in his Spad VII (B3503) and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Noel Stafford Wright from 1 (Naval) Squadron, in his Sopwith Triplane (N5493).


12 September 1917 – Accidents will happen

The RNAS suffered two accidents today back on the home front.


 Aylmer Fitzwarren Bettington

Firstly, Captain Aylmer Fitzwarren Bettington, Commanding Officer of the Eastbourne Naval Flying School was killed carrying out height tests in an Avro 504e (N6150) which was completely wrecked.

Later in the evening, Airship SS42a crashed into a farm building near Pembroke. The airship was badly damaged in the crash and drifed out to sea. The crew, Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Walter Davies Cripps and Leading Mechanic J C Simpson, both went missing presumed drowned.

18 July 1917 – HEMs


Harvey Ernest Maxwell Porter

Weather prevented most flying on the Western Front today. However, Canadian Lieutenant Harvey Ernest Maxwell Porter was one on the few who got up to carry out artillery spotting. His BE2 was hit by AA fire and he was killed.

Meanwhile, back in England, another HEM, 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Ernest Malcolm Owen, who had only obtained his flying certificate on 16 June 1917, was killed whilst training with 60 Training Squadron at Scampton, Lincolnshire.


Herbert Ernest Malcolm Owen

In what appears to be his first solo flight, his engine stalled shortly after take off, apparently due to an incorrect fuel mixture. The Avro 504 (A5930) immediately crashed and burst into flames on impact. Later reports suggested he was knocked unconscious before being engulfed in flames. His friends were unable to free him from the wreckage and he burned to death.

16 July 1917 – A bizarre accident

Capt Melville Johnstone from 27 Squadron RFC, a New Zealander from Motuotaraia, Waipukurau, Hawkes Bay, was killed today. However it was not enemy action that did for him, but a bizarre accident.

He was returning from a bomb raid over the lines unfortunately one of his bombs had not released properly and was caught in the landing gear of his Martinsyde G100 (7499).

Its not known if he was manoeuvring to try and release the bomb, but in any case the aircraft crashed into a lake near Arques which was just south of 27 Squadron’s aerodrome at Clairmarais North. Captain Johnstone was drowned and the aircraft completely written off.

Johnstone had joined 27 Squadron in December 1916 and in June been promoted to Captain as a Flight Commander.

12 June 1917 – One left in 45

45 Squadron now has only three crew members from its original complement, two pilots and one observer

This afternoon around 1500, two of these, Captain Gordon Mountford and 2nd Lieutenant John Arthur Vessey in Sopwith Strutter A8299 were on their way back from 1 Aircraft Depot at St Omer to their aerodrome at St Marie Cappel.


Robert Sherwin Watt

At the same time, six Strutters took off for a photographic reconnaissance, each climbing singly through gaps to join into formation above the clouds. They passed through heavy rain at 3,000 feet, which an atmospheric inversion of temperature prevented from dropping to earth; otherwise their start would have been cancelled

One of these, A8244 with 2nd Lieutenant Robert Sherwin Watt and 2nd Class Air Mechanic Walter Pocock, collided with Mountford and Vessey on their way down. The crash was heard at the airfield and the wreckage fell to the ground and ground crews ran to give assistance. The aircraft had not burst into flames, but all four men were dead.


Geoffrey Hornblower Cock

This left the squadron with one original member, Captain Geoffrey Hornblower Cock, who had been given command of’B’ Flight on 20 May 1917, and promoted to captain from that date.

11 June 1917 – The Bibby Mystery



Jack Bibby

Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Richard (Jack) Bibby, a Canadian from Niagra Falls, was killed today in a flying accident, He was serving in Malta at the Royal Naval Air Service Torpedo school in Malta. According to the RAF Casualty cards, he was testing a Short 310A seaplane 8317 (also known informally as the Short 320 due to the 320hp engine). Typically for RNAS records, there is little detail, and the record states simply that he was accidentally killed. His Service Record has a similar lack of detail. So can we find out how he died?

45DF39B2-5FA6-4825-9A0A-26235F99BE21-1746-000001760393927EThe Canadian Virtual War memorial shows two newspaper clippings. The Burlington Gazette (quoting the Exmouth Chronicle) reported on 1 August 1917 that

“Lieutenant Bibby was making an experimental trip in a machine when about 11 o’clock as he was returning to his base he, by some means not yet explained, fell from the aeroplane, landing in the neighbourhood of Benghasis. Dr Pearson RN rendered immediate attention, but his efforts were to no avail, death being almost instantaneous.”

However, the Toronto Star Had reported a different story 10 days earlier on 20 June that:

“for some unexplained cause, his machine dropped suddenly and, taking a nose dive into the sea near Benghista was completely wrecked.”

AE16B3F0-A93A-424B-8CD2-8123909361A3-1746-000001765A4209BFNow given that he was at the Torpedo School, it’s very likely that he was carrying a torpedo during the fight. This reinforced by the fact that there was no observer, as the Short was normally a two-seater but with the torpedo it was unable to lift an observer as well.

According to Francis K Mason in The British Bomber since 1914 (as quoted on 8317 was the first of the type to be built and had been with the RNAS since July 1916. It had been transferred to the Mediterranean soon after for torpedo trials. Mason also states that it and sister aircraft 8318 “broke up in the air following failures of their rear float attachment”.

Bruce gives more detail his 1956 article in Flight magazine on the Short Seaplanes:

“Towards the middle of 1917, two cases of failure of the 310 Short seaplane occurred in the Mediterranean. One of these occurred after releasing the torpedo, and when the pilot had climbed to a height of about 1,000 feet the fuselage collapsed, and the pilot was killed. At the time, this was considered to be due to the blow caused by the splash of torpedo entry, on the under surface of the fuselage. It was, however, eventually discovered to be due to an unsatisfactory method of securing the fuselage bracing wires. The result of these accidents was most unfortunate, and discouraged the development of our torpedo aircraft. Training was, however, continued at Malta with two machines, 310 Short, under Lieut.-Commander Hardy.”

I think it’s safe to say Bibby was killed testing the torpedo launch in his aircraft which resulted in the collapse of the fuselage.

10 June 1917 – Beaufoi

Much of the flying on the western front was curtailed today due to poor weather. The RFC lost another pilot at home as Captain Beaufoi John Warwick Montressor Moore MC from 1 Training Squadron RFC was killed in a flying accident today.


“Granny” Moore

“Granny” had joined the RFC in 1914. Having been refused a commission on medical
grounds, but joined as a first-class air mechanic. Within a few months he received his commission and pilot’s certificate, and shortly afterwards went to the Front.

He was at the front for around a year with 1 Squadron RFC flying Nieuports. He was awarded the Military Cross in June 1916. Early in 1917 he was posted to Gosport as an instructor with 1 Training Squadron RFC.

This morning, he took off in an Avro 504B B1399. In the rear seat was Captain Sydney Frank Heard who was under instruction. During the flight, Captain Moore turned around to give instruction to his pupil, whilst trying to make himself heard, the aeroplane lost height and was now flying at about 60 feet above the ground. The machine collided with a tall tree on Lee-on-Solent Golf Links.

Rescuers rushed from the airfield to the scene and the two occupants were taken from the wreckage, which had fallen to the foot of the tree. A Medical Officer who arrived on the scene just after the accident stated that on its fall, the machine was on fire and smashed, Captain Moore was lying beside it dead, but Captain Heard who was lying some distance away and was conscious. Captain Moore sustained terrible injuries, and died instantaneously. A verdict of accidental death was returned.