Category Archives: Home Front

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.

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3 November 1917 – Training mishaps

Crashes continue to sap an the manpower of the air services.

Today, a Handley Page O/100 (3116) belonging to the RNAS was on a practice flight from RNAS Manston in East Kent. It circled the airfield twice. Coming into land, the right wingtip hit the ground. The aircraft was flipped over on its back, caught fire and then burst into flames.

As a result, Flight Sub-Lieutenant. Joseph Hesquith St. James (the pilot), Flight Sub-Lieutenant  Walter Albert Isaacs and Probationary Flight Officer Thomas  Reginald Western were killed. Probationary Flight Officers Vyvyan Holcombe Hervey and James Angus Smith were seriously injured but survived.

Hervey eventually recovered and later went on the serve with 56 Squadron RAF and after the war with 201 Squadron RAF.

Elsewhere at RFC Scampton, two Avro 504Js from 81 Squadron RFC collided in mid-air while carrying out banked turns.  The pilots, Lieutenant Owen Augustus Ellis Allen and Lieutenant Courtenay Patrick Flowerdew Lowson (one of the instructors) were both killed. The passenger in the first Avro 2nd Lieutenant Edward James Gallagher was injured but survived. The subsequent investigation put this down to pilot error.

In France, Lieutenant John Rowland Geddes from 23 Squadron was also killed when performing a practice landing in his SPADVII (B6787). As was customary with accidents at the Front no inquest was carried out.

29th October 1917 – Turkey Shoot

Poor weather today, led to the abandonment of a mass Gotha raid on London and instead three experienced crews were sent off to bomb the sought coast of England. Two turned back due to high winds and poor visibility and bombed Calais instead.

One aircraft did reach England, but with high winds and clouds, it appears that it caused all sorts of panic as at least 10 aircraft were reported by observer posts. Eleven bombs in all were dropped on Rawreth, Rayleigh, Hockley, and Burnham. Some very minor damage was caused, but at the end of it all the only casualty of the raid was a turkey killed in Hockley.

The Gotha flew over Southminster at 2255 and headed out to sea. AA guns at Barton’s Point on the Isle of Sheppey opened fire at around the same time, but as the Gotha was too far away their target must have been the Home Defence aircraft (from 37 and 39 Squadrons) which were up at the time. None of these were able to locate the raider who flew home without mishap.

19 October 1917 – The Silent Raid

Today, 11 naval Zeppelins (L41, L44, L45, L46, L47, L49, L50, L52, L53, L55, L56) attempted a raid on England.

The targets were various industrial centres in the North of England, and overall, and whilst successful in terms of the damage caused with 36 killed, 55 injured and nearly £55,000 worth of damage, five of the Zeppelins were lost and this turned out to be the last mass Zeppelin raid of the war.

For more detail on the damage caused by the raid see Ian Castle’s excellent website. Here I am going to focus on how the Zeppelins fared, as for all the talk of disaster, what is telling is that the British defences played no part whatsoever in the loss of the Zeppelins and had it not been for the poor weather including winds of up to 50 miles an hour, it is likely that the raid would have been more successful and losses would have been reduced.

L46 came in over the Norfolk coast but soon abandoned the mission and jettisoned the bombs. L46, flying at great height, was taken by the wind over neutral Holland but was unseen by the Dutch defences and reached home safely, the last of the raiders to do so on a direct route.

L41 also came inland over Lincolnshire and eventually reached Birmingham where bombs fell on the Austin plant at Longbridge. Turning for home, L.41 was carried over Northamptonshire, Essex, the Thames estuary, Kent and over to France where, after struggling in the wind for nearly three hours, she finally crossed the Western Front near La Bassée.

L53, came inland over The Wash bombing Bedford, Leighton Buzzard. And targets near Maidstone. L53 passed out to sea between Folkestone and Dover at 2330 but was carried by the winds behind Allied lines in France, L53 finally managed to push across the Western Front near Lunéville at around 0300.

L52 came inland over the Lincolnshire coast at 1930pm. High winds forced the ship south-west and then south dropping bombs at Kensworth and Hertford. The wind continued to carry L52 to the south-east and after crossing Kent the ship went out to sea near Dungeness at 2315. Carried across France, L52 managed to cross the Western Front near St. Dié at about 0530.

L55 also arrived over Lincolnshire and was blown south west and then south east eventually going out to sea near Hastings at about 2225. Once over France, the ship experienced severe engine problems, struggled with navigation and lost the use of the radio. The captain eventually got L55 back over Germany but, running out of fuel, they made an emergency landing at Tiefenort, where a storm wrecked L55 on the ground.

L44 arrived inland over the Norfolk coast at 1845 and headed south dropping bombs along the way. L44 went out to sea over Deal at 2052. Swept across France behind Allied lines, French AA guns opened fire on the ship just 10 miles from the Front Line and it crashed in flames at Chenevières. The entire crew were killed.

L49, came inland at 2000 over north Norfolk coast and proceeded to drop bombs all over he area. Struggling with engine problems and navigation, L49 crossed south-east England with the wind carrying her across France. Having seen L44 shot down, with only two engines working and attacked by a squadron of French aircraft, the captain decided to ditch to avoid being shot down. Once on the ground the crew were prevented from burning L49, leaving the Allies the prize of one the latest Zeppelin designs.

L50 came inland over Norfolk at 1945 and flew south-west dropping bombs along the way. The wind then carried L50 towards the south-east and out to sea. The ship seems to have had serious navigation issues at one point being 150 miles west of the Western Front. Seeing the fate of L44 and L49 the captain, with two engines out of action, decided to crash land and at least deny his ship to the enemy. He hit a wood, which ripped off two of the gondolas causing most of the crew to leap overboard. L50 then soared back up with four men still on board. The uncontrollable airship eventually disappeared over the Mediterranean and no trace of the ship or the four men was ever found.

L45 appeared over the Yorkshire coast at 2020, attempted to attack Sheffield but the ended up over Northampton. After dropping bombs there the ship ended up over London where most of the nights damage was done. The wind then carried L45 over the coast near Hastings at 0100. Blasted across France by the wind, L45 was unable to make headway to the east and eventually, when about 70 miles from the Mediterranean coast, he decided to make an emergency landing near Sisteron and the crew surrendered.

The crew of L45

6 October 1917 – Aprons

Today saw another attempt at improving the defence of London as the first balloon apron was put into operation.

Major-General Ashmore had put forward his scheme for a London balloon barrage on 5 September.

“It is also shown that guns, defending machines, and such lights as we have at present, are quite ineffective as a reply. This being the case it will, I think, be necessary to divert production from other objects to meet the new danger.”

He went on to suggest the balloon barrage and he proposed that between the balloons a cross cable should carry weighted wire streamers to form a so-called apron. He asked that as many observation balloons of the Caquot type as could be spared should be sent home from France, and that orders should be given for one hundred small balloons. He proposed to use the latter, each on a single light cable, over the water- ways of the Medway and of the Thames.

The scheme was approved by the Government, and on the 19 September, Ashmore announced that he was arranging to install two balloon aprons on the easterly borders of London. Each apron would consist of five Caquot balloons disposed in a straight line 2,000 yards in length, with the balloons linked together by cable and anchored to the ground at three points: wire streamers, 1,000 feet long, were to be suspended from the horizontal connecting cables.

On the 22nd of September, in orders issued to home defence pilots:

“Balloon Aprons and other obstructions will be established on the line: east side of Lewisham—east side of Plumstead—one mile east of Barking—east edge of Ilford, east edge of Wanstead—north edge of Tottenham. No machines are to fly across this line during operations at a height less than 10,000 feet.”

The order went on to say that in the London area anti-aircraft guns would fire, by sight and by sound, on all enemy aircraft within the Apron Line.

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A balloon apron

At a War Cabinet meeting on 1 October Major-General Ashmore stated that the maximum height of the balloons was, at that time, 7,000 feet. The aprons, he said, would each be let up nightly to heights varying between 7,000 and 10,000 feet and thus present a line of streamers 1,000 feet deep over a distance of 20,000 yards.

Approval was later given for 20 aprons, though only 10 were in place by the wars end.

1 October 1917 – Gothas again

For the fourth night in a row German bombers arrived over England. 18 Gothas set out but only 12 made it to England.

Gothas arrived over the Kent coast at about 1900 and 19 minutes later dropped bombs over Sandwich, Richborough, Kingsgate, and Broadstairs. Various buildings were damaged but fortunately no casualties resulted.

In Essex, the sound of aircraft was detected by the Harwich garrison and at 1940 the garrison opened fire with over 200 rounds forcing the Gothas away to the south. Most of the bombs fell in the sea or in open fields and little damage was caused.

Around 2000 the first Gothas reached London. In all 29 bombs fell on the capital. 26 HE and 3 incendiary bombs fell. A large number of houses suffered minor damage, though only a few were destroyed. 10 people were killed and 32 injured.

The barrage fire of the AA guns proved partially effective and appears to have succeeded in driving a number of the raiders off. There was, however, a downside to the AA fire; falling shells killed a woman and injured 13 others.

The RFC sent up 18 aircraft to intercept the raiders but the misty conditions made observation difficult. Only one pilot caught a glimpse of the Gothas but was unable to make an attack.

30 September 1917 – Even more

Today, the Germans carried out another raid on England. At the time it was estimated that 25 aircraft attacked but records show that it was in fact 11. The smaller number no doubt caused by losses over the last few raids.

Aircraft began to arrive over England around 1840, and the raid went on to 2200. One aircraft made a subsidiary attack on Dover, dropping only four bombs which slightly damaged the Dover Engineering Works and injured one man.

The rest attacked London. At the time the crews reported substantial damage but in reality this was one for the less effective raids. Houses were damaged in various areas of East London killing one person and injuring 17.

Another 26 bombs fell on various places in Kent, and three at Thorpe Bay, Essex, but they did little damage.

Once again the anti-aircraft gunners caused substantial accidental damage, firing a total of 14,061 rounds which killed 2 persons and injured 14.

The German crews, in their reports, made reference to the heavy bombardment to which they were subjected, but given that they were able to drop their bombs and escape unharmed suggests that the barrage fire appeared to be far more effective than in fact it was. No aircraft were able to intercept.