Category Archives: Operations

7 June 1917 – Messines

Today the British Lunched a limited offensive to capture Messines Ridge, a feature of strategic importance because it overlooked a large section of the British lines.

The RFC and RNAS had already played a large part in the preparation carrying out photography, reconnaissance, artillery suppression,bombing and for the most part succeeded in minimising German reconnaissance of the preparations.

On the day of the battle the British were able to muster a sizeable force to support the attack.So much so that the order of battle runs to four pages of the official history.. A total of 853 aircraft were on charge for the battle.

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6 June 1917 – Big prep

British aircraft were active all over the front in preparation for tomorrow’s offensive, carrying out photography, bombing and reconnaissance. There were anumber of big fights, the largest of which took place between a 7 strong patrol from 54 Squadron RFC and six Nieuports of 6 Naval Squadron escorting 22 Squadron RFC and its FEs? They were set upon by  “a very large formation of Hostile aicraft” from Jasta 2, Jasta 5 and Jasta 12.

The British claimed eight aircraft downed, three of which were seen to crash. One of these was Werner Voss from Jasta 5 who suffered minor wounds after he was forced down by 6 Naval Squadron. Both Squadron Commander Christopher Draper and  Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ronald Francis Redpath.

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Charles Elliot Sutcliffe

Around the same time, Flight Lieutenant Fabian Pember Reeves, also from 6 Naval Squadron , was shot down and killed in his Nieuport 17 (N3204). Voss claimed this but it is also possible that his aircraft broke up manoevring.

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Edward Grevelnk

54 Squadron also suffered as Major Charles Elliott Sutcliffe in Sopwith Pup B1730 was shot down by Leutnant Hermann Becker from Jasta 12, and Lt Edward James Yzenhold Grevelink was shot down in Sopwith Pup A7306 by Vitzfeldwebel Robert Riessinger also from Jasta 12. Both were killed.

5 June 1917 – Schäfer Killed

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Karl Emil Schäfer

Karl Emil Schäfer was killed today. He is not a household name like Richthofen but at the time he was considered a big deal.

Schäfer served first with Reserve Jäger Bataillon 7 in Bückeburg. He won the Iron Cross 2nd class and was promoted to Vizefeldwebel during September 1914, before being badly wounded and hospitalised for six months. After returning to the front line he was commissioned in May 1915.

He the trained as a pilot and served over the Eastern Front with Kampfgeschwader 2 from July 1916 onwards. He moved to the west and now flew with Kampfstaffel 11, where he gained his first victory.

On hearing that Manfred von Richthofen was assembling a “top gun” squadron at Jasta 11, he telegraphed him “Can you use me?” Richthofen replied, “You have already been requested.”

Schäfer was then posted to Jasta 11 on 21 February 1917 and over the next two months he shot down 23 aircraft.

Schäfer was then given command of Jasta 28 on 26 April, and shot down seven more, the last being a DH4 (A7420) Lieutenant Douglas James Honer and Private G Cluney from 55 Squadron.

Today he led a patrol which came across 7 FEs from 20 Squadron RFC. He went after one FE and drove it down. He was then attacked by Lieutenant Harold Satchell and Lieutenant Thomas Lewis. What happened next is unclear. The RFC communiqué reported:

“a fight lasting about 15 minutes ensued in which the German pilot showed great skill and persistence. Eventually, however, after a burst of fire at very close range, the HA burst into flames and its wings were seen to fall off before it crashed”

However, German ace witness Max Ritter von Müller reported seeing it break up, but noted no fire. Photos of the wreckage show no scorching and the wings still attached to the aircraft.[3] Nevertheless, his Jasta 28 comrades recovered Schäfer’s body, noting that it had no bullet wounds, but that every bone in his body had been broken.

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Schäfer’s crashed Albatross

4 June 1917 – Ostende

Following the unsuccessful attack on Zeebrugge on 12 May, Vice-Admiral Bacon turned his attention to the dockyard at Ostende, a larger target, but one that was flanked by houses.

After the weather curtailed a number of early attempts on 26 and 27 May, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, with destroyers and auxiliary craft, set out this evening.

To cover the operation in the direction of the Thornton Bank and the Schouwen Bank, Commodore Tyrwhitt went out with the Harwich Force, and, early next morning, he intercepted two German destroyers, one of which, the S.20, he sank. In the later stages of this destroyer action, German seaplanes from Zeebrugge took part and, coming down on the water, they picked up and carried home one officer and seven men of the crew of the S.20.

From 16,000 feet above Ostend, part of the destroyer action was watched from the aeroplanes which were in position ready to direct the fire of Vice-Admiral Bacon’s monitors.

D90B3FA7-74E0-47E9-B2B6-CF46F502DBE2-560-0000009203E2F8E8There were two DH4 aeroplanes for spotting, escorted by two others and by two Sopwith Pups. In addition, to prevent German aircraft spotting for the shore batteries against the ships, or from making direct bombing attacks on them, there were two fighter patrols in the neighbourhood.

The air observer’s signal that he was ready was made at 0322 and fire was opened within a few minutes. To avoid a possible initial shelling of the town, the monitors were ranged on a point about a 1,000 yards short of the eastern boom, and the guns were not lifted on their target until the line and direction had been given as correct. When the range was lengthened, fire was at once reported on the target, and a central hit was quickly signalled. Soon after fire was opened a German kite balloon ascended 5,000 feet behind Ostend presumably to direct the enemy coast batteries on the bombarding ships. One of the patrolling pilots in a Sopwith Pup, diving from 18,000 feet, shot the balloon down. Meanwhile numerous enemy smoke screens had been started and, by 0345, the docks and the surrounding country had become obscured. The smoke spread until it covered about ten to fifteen square miles, including the entire harbour, and, at 0400, Vice-Admiral Bacon judged it was useless to continue. Of the 115 rounds fired at that point, 36 had been spotted from the air, and photographs taken later in the day showed that at least twenty shells had fallen on the docks.

One object of the bombardment, the infliction of damage on the destroyer repair shops, had been attained. It was also revealed by U-boat prisoners, taken shortly afterwards, that the bombardment led to the sinking in the harbour of the submarine UC70 as well as an armed trawler, and that three destroyers which could not get out of harbour in time were damaged. The UC70 had been lying alongside a petrol lighter which was exploded by a direct hit; the U-boat was afterwards raised and repaired at Bruges.

3 June 1917 – Dress Rehearsal

The British forces have been preparing to attack Messines Ridge. Since 21 March the Corps aircraft have been carrying out spotting for the preliminary artillery bombardment.

At conference on the 30 May, captured German documents revealed that the enemy would rely, for defence, mainly on prearranged schemes of artillery fire. This raised the importance of counter-battery work.

To induce the Germans to disclose the positions of their barrage batteries, it was arranged that a full-dress rehearsal of the artillery bombardment, as it would be at zero hour, with a smoke demonstration along the front of attack, should take place today. The hour for this rehearsal was fixed on the advice of the Royal Flying Corps because it was essential to choose conditions favourable for the placing of the maximum strength in the air to discover the enemy guns.

The full-dress rehearsal of the artillery barrage on the Messines ridge was made this afternoon when thirty-one Corps aeroplanes kept watch to note the positions of the German batteries. They were ill-rewarded. The enemy retaliation was feeble, and not many new emplacements were discovered. However air photographs revealed much about the accuracy of the barrage. Artillery staff officers were also flown over the front while the bombardment was in progress enabled many minor errors of timing to be adjusted.

30 May 1917 – Sand and Stones

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Gerald Cunliffe Stones

Out in Palestine, 1 Australian Squadron (67 Squadron RFC) have continued to work surveying enemy positions, though at this point the weather is too hot for any effective campaigning.

Today, Lieutenants Gerald Cunliffe Stones and Joseph Anthony Morgan were on patrol in their BE2e over Gaza were shot down by Anti- aircraft.

They limped back over the front lines and crash landed within the British lines, but both were killed.

28 March 1917 – A good day for Jasta 5

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Keith Logan Caldwell

B flight of 60 Squadron was on an offensive patrol near Lens. Two of the Original five aircraft had dropped out due to engine trouble. The three remaining aircraft, led by Captain Keith Logan Caldwell attacked two enemy two seaters. They were then attacked themselves by three enemy scouts. Caldwell got into a one-on-one with one of the attackers eventually driving him off. 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Uriel Phalen in Nieuport 23 B1624 failed to return from the mission and was assumed killed. Leutnant Kurt Schuhmann from Jasta 5 claimed the victory though evidence is scant.

Jasta 5 then went to destroy a 25 Squadron photo reconnaissance  mission over Douai, about 12km behind the German lines. At this point the flight was down to 4 machines, three of which were lost.

  • 2nd Lieutenant Edward Harris Stevens and Lance Corporal C Sturrock in FE2d A32 claimed by Leutnant Kurt Schneider. They lost the undercarriage in the crash and Stevens was badly wounded
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    Aubrey de Selincourt

    Captain Aubrey De Selincourt and Lieutenant Harry Cotton in FE2d A6378 were forced down with a damaged engine and crashed – claimed by Leutnant Werner Voss

  • Lieutenant Thomas Noble Southorn and Lieutenant Vivian Smith in FE2d A6410 crashed when forced to land with a shot up engine and radiator – claimed by Vitzfeldwebel Otto Könnecke

All six crew members were taken prisoner but Stevens later died of his wounds. Aubrey De Selincourt later became a well-known author of classical and sailing books.