Category Archives: Personal Reports

23 August 1917 – “No-one has ever heard from or about him since”

In the fog of war many soldiers simply disappeared never to heard from again.

Today, Flight Sergeant Cosma Lake Randell from 22 Squadron RFC was shot down with his observer 1st Class Air Mechanic John Valentine Hurley in their Bristol F2b (B1101). They were part of a 6 strong patrol that encountered 5 enemy fighters. Also shot down in the encounter were 2nd Lieutenant Harold George Tambling and his observer Flight Sergeant W Organ in another Bristol F2b (A7204).

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Cosma Lake Randell

A few days earlier on 20 August, a Miss H Heidenrich had written to the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau about the whereabouts of Randell and another soldier as they had heard nothing from him since “he sailed from Sydney on Jan 18th 1916” in the service of the 14th Field Company Engineers. It seems his family were completely unaware of his service since then. He had subsequently joined the 43 Infantry Battalion and then transferred to the RFC in April 1916. He had then qualified as a pilot on 30 August 1916 and then joined 22 Squadron. At this stage they assumed he had been killed.

The Red Cross responded on 24 August to Miss Heidenrich that the number of casualties was so vast that they needed further information that he had become a casualty before any further search could be carried out. No further letters are recorded from Miss Heidenrich in relation to Randell. However further correspondence from Margaret Randell is in the archives. It seems they finally heard that he was posted as “missing” in November 1917.

A further eyewitness report was received from 2nd Lieutenant Douglas William Mackintosh Miller dated 14 December 1917 which stated:

“Sgt.Randell was shot down and his plane was seen to be in flames as he fell. He appeared to get the fire under and the machine under control, and was seen from our anti aircraft guns to land and was then taken prisoner.”

Unfortunately this was false as both Randell and Hurley were both killed in the crash. It may be that Miller got confused with the aircraft of Tambling and Organ who were in fact taken prisoner.

The last letter with the Red Cross is dated 4 September 1918. At this point no news of Randell had been received and his family were still unaware of his death. It’s not known at what point they were finally made aware.

Copies of the letters are available to view on the South Australian Red Cross Information Bureau website.

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27 July 1917 – Lure

Another large clash took place this evening over Polygon Wood on the Western Front. This time, however, it was at the instigation of the British who laid a trap to entice enemy fighters. A formation of eight FE2d’s from 20 Squadron RFC set out to patrol over Menin, with orders to attract and decoy enemy fighters towards Polygon Wood, where layered formations of single-seaters, 59 aircraft in total, chiefly from the Ninth Wing, were patrolling in readiness.

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Frank Potter

The FE2d’s crossed the lines at 1915and proceeded without incident to Menin, where shortly afterwards some twenty Albatros Scouts gathered. The FE pilots were soon involved in a fight, but skilfully lured the enemy north-west towards Polygon Wood. Within a short time a general fight was in progress, in which all the British formations in the area, some French fighters, and additional enemy single-seaters, took part.

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Karl von Schonebeck

The fighting went on for an hour and at the end it the German aircraft had been completely cleared from the sky over a wide area. The 20 Squadron FE2d pilots claimed six enemy aeroplanes destroyed. Lieutenant Harold Waddell Joslyn and Sergeant Frank Potter were wounded when their FE2d (A6415) was hit by anti aircraft fire. They escaped back to their aerodrome but crashed when their undercarriage collapsed on landing.

Triplanes from 10 Naval Squadron claimed two enemy aircraft, and SE5’s from 56 Squadron destroyed one. 2nd Lieutenant Trevor Watts White from 56 Squadron RFC was shot down and taken prisoner in his SE5 (A8911) north-east of Roulers. He later commented:

“…being intent on getting a ‘Gerry’ , and staying with him far too long, I was jumped. I was dead lucky, with only a scalp wound, but my engine caught it, with the result that I had to land in a field near Iseghem. One of Richtofen’s pilots landed in the same field, apparently the one who had shot me down. I was taken away to Richtofen’s squadron for a meal….My treatment, by the pilot who claimed me, at the squadron, and at Ingelmunster, was most chivalrous…Like a lot of pilots, I was too raw in experience to have survived longer on operations.”

Leutnant Günther Ziegler from Jasta 26 claimed victory. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Gerald Roach from 10 Naval Squadron was shot down and killed in his Triplane N5492. Aircraft crashed near Moorslede and his body could not be recovered.  Leutnant Karl von Schonebeck from Jasta 11 claimed his first victory.

6 July 1917 – Red Baron shot down

A six strong patrol from 20 Squadron RFC was on patrol in their FE2ds when they were attacked by a formation of 8 aircraft from Jasta 11. They were then joined another 20 plus enemy aircraft and then 4 Triplanes from 10 Naval Squadron.

A large scale fight ensued. Lieutenant Donald Charles Cunnell and 2nd Lieutenant Albert Edward Woodbridge from 20 Squadron claimed to have driven down four aircraft, and their colleagues Lieutenant Cecil Roy Richards and Lieutenant Albert Edward Wear, and 2nd Lieutenant W Durrand and Stuart Fowden Trotter also claimed to have driven down an Albatross scout each.

Their Naval 10 colleagues also got in on the action with Flight Lieutenant Raymond Collishaw, Flight Sub-Lieutenant William Melville Alexander, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellis Vair Reid all claiming victories.

In the end only one confirmed loss was confirmed by the German authorities and that was Manfred Von Richthofen himself. He was hit in the head by a bullet. He was temporarily blinded and paralysed, and fell for some distance, but succeeded in making a forced landing in friendly territory.

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Richthofen’s downed aircraft

Cunnell and Woodbridge have traditionally been credited with the victory including in the Official History (Volume 4, p142), though I have my doubts as to whether this is true. They claimed to have forced down an all red Albatross though didn’t claim a victory as they did not see it crash. Photographic evidence seems to suggest that Richthofen was not flying an all red Albatross that day, though serial number of the aircraft is unknown. Some theorists has suggested he was hit by friendly fire as he was hit behind the left ear. Even the Baron’s own account is unclear:

““After some time we approached so close to the last plane that I began to consider a means of attacking him. (Lt. Kurt) Wolff was flying below me. The hammering of a German machine gun indicated to me that he was fighting. Then my opponent turned and accepted the fight but at such a distance that one could hardly call it a real air fight. I had not even prepared my gun for fighting, for there was lots of time before I could begin to fight. Then I saw that the enemy’s observer (Woodbridge), probably from sheer excitement, opened fire. I let him shoot, for a distance of 300 yards and more the best marksmanship is helpless. One does not hit the target at such a distance. Now he flies toward me and I hope that I will succeed in getting behind him and opening fire. Suddenly something strikes me in the head…”

Nevertheless he was out of action until 16 August 1917, and returned against medical advice with an unhealed wound. The injury plagued him for the rest of his life.

All the British aircraft returned except for FE2d A6419 fron 20 Squadron whose pilot 2nd Lieutenant Durand force landed at 1 Squadron’s aerodrome. His observer Trotter was badly wounded and later died. (Wia; dow), 20 Sqn, FE2d A6419 – took off 09:53/10:53 FE2d A6419 force landed 1 Sqn after engagement with EA on offensive patrol 10:30/11:30

9 June 1917 – A busy day for 1 Squadron RFC

1 Squadron RFC were heavily involved in support of the British offensive at Messines today.

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William Charles Campbell

This morning around 0825 a patrol led by Lieutenant William Charles Campbell in Nieuport 23 (B1700) encountered six aircraft from Jasta 8 between Oosthoek and Gheluwe. Campbell claimed to have shot down two out of control, but his wingman 2nd Lieutenant William John Mussared was set upon by three enemy aircraft, shot down and taken prisoner. He later reported:

“That damned Nieuport-machine is to blame. I got into a fight at about 3000 meter altitude and tried to get away, because I had 3 machines against me. But the Germans circled around me and were firing all the time. I got cut off, got an engine failure and had to go down till several hundred meters, where I received extensive machinegun fire. As I lost control of the machine, I crashed on landing. I was uninjured and only a bit shaken up.”

Vitzfeldwebel Rudolf Frank was credited with the victory. In five weeks with 1 Squadron, Mussared had claimed 4 victories.

2nd Lieutenant Campbell led an afternoon patrol with a second led by Lieutenant F Sharpe in Nieuport 23 (B3481). They dived onto a formation of 6 enemy scouts over Houthem. Seven more enemy scouts joined in followed by another four scouts. Both Campbell and Sharpe claimed to have sent down an enemy scout from the first formation.

2nd Lieutenant Richard William Laurence Anderson saw a Nieuport being driven down by three enemy scouts. He tried to intervene but lost sight of all of them when he had to change a drum. It turned out that this was Sharpe who was wounded and forced down and taken prisoner. Credit for this victory was given to Obleutnant Kurt-Bertram von Doering, commander of Jasta 4. Sharpe had 5 victories to his credit.

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Louis Fleeming Jenkin

After this fight broke up Lieutenant Louis Fleeming Jenkin flew on alone for some time finally attacking three Albatros scouts over Dadizeele at 1510, claiming one shot down in flames. This was his fifth victory.

Later in the evening around 2000, There was one more victory that day. Lieutenant Tom Falcon Hazell in Nieuport 23 B1649 shot down an Albatros scout out of control  Zandevoorde.

Later records show that the Germans lost no pilots that day, but 1 Squadron had lost two of its up and coming new pilots.

2 June 1917 – Billy Bishop VC?

Today saw the raid after which Billy Bishop from 60 Squadron RFC was awarded the Victoria Cross flying a Nieuport 23 (B1566). At the time the RFC communique reported it thus:

“Captain W A Bishop, 60 Squadron, when 17 miles over the lines, saw seven machines, some of which had their engines running, on an aerodrome. He waited and then engaged the first one that left the ground from a height of 60 feet and the HA crashed. Another left the ground and Capt Bishop, who was hovering around immediately dived at it and after 30 rounds had been fired the HA crashed into a tree. Just after that two more left the ground at the same time, so Capt Bishop climbed to 1,000 feet and then engaged one of them and it fell and crashed within 300 yards of the aerodrome. The fourth was driven down after a whole drum had been fired into it. After this exploit Capt Bishop returned safely, but with his aeroplane considerably shot about by machine gun fire from the ground.”

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Billy Bishop with his Nieuport Scout B1566

Writing some years later the Official History reported the raid in a very similar way. :

“An example of what surprise and daring could achieve had been afforded by a low-flying feat of Captain W. A. Bishop of No. 60 Squadron, south of the main battle area, on the 2nd of June. This officer had been flying alone in a Nieuport Scout, in search of German aircraft, when he saw seven aeroplanes lined up on an aerodrome near Cambrai. He flew low over them and opened fire with his machineguns. One of the German aeroplanes left the ground, but was attacked by Captain Bishop from a height of sixty feet, and, after fifteen rounds had been fired, the enemy crashed. A second aeroplane took off and was in turn attacked until it fell into a tree. By this time two others had got into the air and Captain Bishop climbed to engage them. He caught up with them at about 1,000 feet and, after emptying part of a drum of ammunition into one, had the satisfaction of seeing it fall to the ground near the aerodrome. He fired his last drum into the fourth German aeroplane and then flew home: his aeroplane had been shot about by machine-gun fire from the ground.”

More recently there has been some scepticism about some of Billy Bishop’s claims, especially about some of these “stunts”. In 1982, the Canadian National Film Board released the pseudo-drama, “The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss,” a meld of fact and fiction that suggested portions of Bishop’s combat career were fabricated including this raid. It was suggested further that he landed behind Allied lines on the return trip and shot up his own aircraft to simulate battle damage.

Various authors have come forward over the years to support or refute the claim and since many of the German records have been destroyed it may not be possible to know for certain. One area which seems to cause much debate is the identification of the airfield which was attacked as Bishop did not state specifically which one. Lieutenant-Colonel David Bashow’s 2002 article in the Canadian Military Journal discusses some of these topics (though Bashow is a known Bishop supporter). Also see the recent Aerodrome thread on this. The Aerodrome forum in fact has many threads devoted to this and ity is probably one of their most discussed topics.

What is clear however, is that both the communique and the Official History make this seem like a random act of Bravery when this was clearly not the case. Bishop wrote to his fiancé on 31 May 1917:

“I have a great plan in mind, a real hair raising stunt which I am going to do one of these days. It should help to another decoration. It will be done long before you get this.”

Also as Bashow admits he sought and received permission from his commanding officer for the mission and requests for volunteers to accompany him went unheeded.

No doubt the debate will continue.

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.

29 April 1917 – “Bay” Lost

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Hubert Harvey-Kelly

Major Hubert Dunsterville ‘Bay’ Harvey-Kelly, the first RFC pilot to land in France at the outbreak of the war has been killed. As Squadron Commander of 19 Squadron RFC, Harvey-Kelly was not really supposed to be flying on operations (though many flew anyway). He was supposed to be meeting with Commander of the RFC Hugh Trenchard and Captain Maurice Baring. Lieutenant William Norman Hamilton recalled:

“I was ordered to send up three from C Flight. In the ordinary course of events, the other group should have taken the job as mine had already done one patrol that day, but, as the matter was urgent. I agreed to take up my pilots again. At the last moment. Harvey-Kelly insisted that he himself would go instead of me, but, as I declined to be left behind, I detailed one of my pilots, Harding, to remain behind, and to let Harvey-Kelly have his machine.”

The patrol of three SPADVIIs (Harvey-Kelly in A6681), with Hamilton (A6753) and Richard Applin (B1573)) spotted eight Albatrosses and attacked. Six Sopwith Triplanes from 1 Naval Squadron were nearby and expected to join the attack but again Hamilton recalled:

“I carried out my original plan of attacking the centre machine, noticing. as I did so, that Harvey-Kelly had apparently accounted for two Huns and was pretty busy with four or five more. I joined battle a second or two later, our position at that time being somewhere over Epincy. I didn’t see Harvey-Kelly again. as I was fully occupied with my little bunch and carried on a running fight until, over Douai, my gun jammed. I made a rapid examination and found my cursed drum had forced a double feed. so that there was nothing to be done except get away. I ‘split-arsed` to get toward our lines, when they managed to hole my main tank, which, being under my feet, was force-fed into the engine. Of course. the moment the pressure was released, my engine stopped, and as it stopped on the turn. I stalled and spun. I got her out of the spin almost immediately. switched on to my gravity tank, and dived to pick up my engine. but in doing so I naturally lost a bit of height and cooled my engine to such an extent that she wouldn’t give me full revolutions.”

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Richard Applin

Hamilton was forced to land and taken prisoner.

During the dogfight Harvey-Kelly was shot down by Leutnant Kurt Wolff of Jasta 11. Lieutenant Applin was shot down by Manfred Von Richthofen Lothar Von Richthofen claimed Hamilton.

Harvey-Kelly crashed and suffered serious head wounds. He died three days later in a German Hospital.

Applin was also killed. By his own account Manfred von Richthofen attacked a helpless Applin after his engine stopped:

“My man was the first who fell down. I suppose I had smashed up his engine. At any rate, he made up his mind to land. I no longer gave pardon to him. Therefore, I attacked him a second time and the consequence was that his whole machine went to pieces. His planes dropped off like pieces of paper and the body of the machine fell like a stone, burning fiercely. It dropped into a morass. It was impossible to dig it out and I have never discovered the name of my opponent. He had disappeared. Only the end of the tail was visible and marked the place where he had dug his own grave.”