Category Archives: Personal Reports

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.”

17 April 1917 – Accidents still happen

Windy weather on the Western Front severely curtailed flying today and few enemy aircraft were up.

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Hugh Pater

Back in England, 2nd Lieutenant Hugh Pater from 37 Reserve Squadron was killed when the RE8 (A4571) in which he was the passenger crashed into an Armstrong-Whitworth whilst trying to take off from Scampton Camp near Lincoln. The plane immediately nose dived into the ground. The pilot 2nd Lieutenant John Manley was also injured. The subsequent enquiry did not attach any blame to either pilot.

Hugh Pater had joined the RFC in August 1916, having previously served with the
He had just received his flying certificate on 14 April 1917 and was due to travel to France once he had completed the requisite number of flying hours. He had been involved in a crash the day before as pilot and had written o his mother that morning about it:

“My dear Mother, I had my first “crash” on Monday in an RE8 smashing the propeller and taking a wheel off the undercarriage, so I shall not go to France till Friday at any rate. If I can finish my time today or tomorrow I might get some leave. The weather here is appallingly windy and it is impossible to fly at present. Ives was sent to Fr4ance a week or two ago I do not expect to see him out there as I shall be flying a different type of machine. I knew Kirkup very well as he got his “wings” here and then went to South Carlton. He was a splendid fellow. Love to all, you loving son, Hugh. “

His colleague Captain Philip Austin Kirkup had been killed on 11 April 1917 when his FE8 (A4909) went into a spinning nosedive during combat practice from 1000 feet and crashed. Both men were buried in adjacent graves at Sunderland Ryhope Road Cemetery.

10 April 1917 – “On speeding wing we climb”

Work supporting the British offensive on the Western Front continued today in the same vein, and in the same poor weather. As yesterday, the key role for the RFC is to carry out contact patrols to keep Headquarters informed of the British advance.

Aircraft were up at dawn to plot the limits of the British advance. Contact patrols continued throughout the day. Today the single seaters from 60 Squadron joined in the contact part work carry out some low level tactical reconnaissance form 2-300ft. Crews also took the opportunity to machine gun columns of German infantry where possible. In an attempt to reduce losses the reconnaissance distance was reduced from 28 miles inside the German lines to 8 miles.

Despite or perhaps because of the bad weather, enemy aircraft were not out in numbers and most of the losses were due to a combination of ground fire and weather. For example, 8 Squadron lost three of its BE2e’s. At 0715 2nd Lieutenant Pierre Bouillier Pattisson was wounded and force landed his BE2e (A2839). His observer 2nd Lieutenant Edmund Mills Harwood was uninjured but the aircraft was shelled on landing and destroyed. Their colleagues 2nd Lieutenant John William Brown and Lieutenant Edward John McCormick, suffered engine failure and crashed into barbed wire near Foncquevillers in their BE2e (A2803). Both escaped unharmed but the aircraft was destroyed. Finally, Lieutenant John Howard Thomas and 2nd Lieutenant Frank George Brockman, got lost in a snow storm and were forced to land in their BE2e (A2854). Both men were wounded in the crash and the aircraft was wrecked.

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Francis St Vincent Morris

In the end through, the weather claimed one fatality. 2nd Lieutenant Francis St Vincent Morris and Sergeant Arthur James Mitchell from 3 Squadron crashed their Morane P (A6715) into a tree in a snowstorm. Both were wounded. Morris suffered head wounds, broke both his legs and one had to be amputated. He later died of his wounds. Morris was one of the lesser known war poets, whose collection was published posthumously in 1917. In his pocket after he died an untitled poem was found:

Through vast
Realms of air
we passed
On wings all-whitely fair

Sublime
On speeding wing
we climb
Like an unfettering thing

Away
Height upon height;
and play
In God’s great Lawns of Light.

And He
Guides us safe home
to see
The Fields He bade us roam.

12 January 1916 – Richthofen awarded Ordre Pour Le Mérite

Today, the Kaiser awarded Manfred von Richthofen the Ordre Pour Le Mérite, the highest award possible. This is in recognition of him downing 16 enemy aircraft. It is exactly one year since Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann received the award for shooting down eight. Richthofen is now the leading German pilot left alive.

The news did not reach Richthofen for a few days, and in the meantime he was put in command of Jasta 11. He was not pleased. He wrote in his memoirs:

“One fine day a telegram arrived, which stated: “Lieutenant von Richthofen is ap- pointed Commander of the Eleventh Chasing Squadron.” I must say I was annoyed. I had learnt to work so well with my comrades of Boelcke’s Squadron and now I had to begin all over again working hand in hand with different people.

It was a beastly nuisance. Besides I should have preferred the Ordre pour le Merite. Two days later, when we were sitting sociably together, we men of Boelcke’s Squadron, celebrating my departure, a telegram from Headquarters arrived. It stated that His Majesty had graciously condescended to give me the Ordre pour le Merite. Of course my joy was tremendous.”

 

23 November 1916 – The “English Immelmann” is dead

img_0844Major Lanoe Hawker, Commanding Officer of 24 Squadron, with a score of seven victories, is dead. Hawker left Bertangles Aerodrome at 1300 hours as part of ‘A’ Flight, led by Captain J. O. Andrews and including Lt (later AVM) R.H.M.S Saundby. The flight attacked two German aircraft over Achiet. Spotting a larger flight of German aircraft above, Andrews was about to break off the attack, but spotted Hawker diving to attack. Andrews and Saundby followed him to back him up. Andrews drove off one of the Germans attacking Hawker, then his engine was hit and he was forced out of the fight. Losing contact with the other DH2’s Hawker ended up in a one-on-one with Manfred von Richthofen. They then spent 30 minutes attempting to outmanoeuvre each other. Hawker’s DH2 (5964), whilst outgunned by Richthofen’s Albatross, was very agile. Eventually Hawker’s engine began to give out and he made a run for the lines. At this point the superior speed of the Albatross told and Richthofen was able to follow Hawker down. A burst of fire hit Hawker in the head and he was killed instantly.

To compound the bad news for 24 Squadron, 2nd Lieutenant Henry Berners Begg was shot down and killed earlier in the day in DH2 A2554.

The loss is severe for the RFC as Hawker had been instrumental in ensuring the survival of the RFC during the grim autumn of 1915. He had also inspired confidence in the much maligned DH2 by demonstrating how to get it out of a spin.

Richthofen wrote of the combat:

“I was extremely proud when, one fine day, I was informed that the airman whom I had brought down on the twenty- third of November, 1916, was the English Immelmann.

In view of the character of our fight it was clear to me that I had been tackling a flying champion. One day I was blithely flying to give chase when I noticed three Englishmen who also had apparently gone a-hunting. I noticed that they were ogling me and as I felt much inclination to have a fight I did not want to disappoint them.

I was flying at a lower altitude. Consequently I had to wait until one of my English friends tried to drop on me. After a short while one of the three came sailing along and attempted to tackle me in the rear. After firing five shots he had to stop for I had swerved in a sharp curve.

The Englishman tried to catch me up in the rear while I tried to get behind him. So we circled round and round like madmen after one another at an altitude of about 10,000 feet.

First we circled twenty times to the left, and then thirty times to the right. Each tried to get behind and above the other. Soon I discovered that I was not meeting a beginner. He had not the slightest intention of breaking off the fight. He was traveling in a machine which turned beautifully. However, my own was better at rising than his, and I succeeded at last in getting above and beyond my English waltzing partner.

When we had got down to about 6,000 feet without having achieved anything in particular, my opponent ought to have discovered that it was time for him to take his leave. The wind was favorable to me for it drove us more and more towards the German position. At last we were above Bapaume, about half a mile behind the German front. The impertinent fellow was full of cheek and when we had got down to about 3,000 feet he merrily waved to me as if he would say, “Well, how do you do?”

The circles which we made around one another were so narrow that their diameter was probably no more than 250 or 300 feet. I had time to take a good look at my opponent. I looked down into his carriage and could see every movement of his head. If he had not had his cap on I would have noticed what kind of a face he was making.

My Englishmen was a good sportsman, but by and by the thing became a little too hot for him. He had to decide whether he would land on German ground or whether he would fly back to the English lines. Of course he tried the latter, after having endeavored in vain to escape me by loopings and such like tricks. At that time his first bullets were flying around me, for hitherto neither of us had been able to do any shooting.

When he had come down to about three hundred feet he tried to escape by flying in a zig-zag course during which, as is well known, it is difficult for an observer to shoot. That was my most favorable moment. I followed him at an altitude of from two hundred and fifty feet to one hundred and fifty feet, firing all the time. The Englishman could not help falling. But the jamming of my gun nearly robbed me of my success.

My opponent fell, shot through the head, one hundred and fifty feet behind our line. His machine gun was dug out of the ground and it ornaments the entrance of my dwelling.”