Category Archives: Personal Reports

30 March 1918 – Alan Gerrard VC

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Alan Gerrard

Out in Italy, a patrol from 66 Squadron RFC, with Lieutenant Alan Jerrard, Captain Peter Carpenter, MC and Lieutenant Harold Ross Eycott-Martin, was flying over Borgo del Moli when they engaged a group of Austrian Albatros DIIIs. The official medal citation takes up the story:

“When on an offensive patrol with two other officers he attacked five enemy aeroplanes and shot down one in flames, following it down within one hundred feet of the ground.

He then attacked an enemy aerodrome from a height of only fifty feet from the ground, and, engaging single-handed some nineteen machines, which were either landing or attempting to take off, succeeded in destroying one of them, which crashed on the aerodrome. A large number of machines attacked him, and whilst thus fully occupied he observed that one of the pilots of his patrol was in difficulties. He went immediately to his assistance, regardless of his own personal safety, and destroyed a third enemy machine.

Fresh enemy aeroplanes continued to rise from the aerodrome, which he attacked one after another, and only retreated, still engaged with five enemy machines, when ordered to do so by his patrol leader. Although apparently wounded, this very gallant officer turned repeatedly, and attacked single-handed the pursuing machines, until he was eventually overwhelmed by numbers and driven to the ground.”

Gerrard shortly after being shot down, the wreckage of his Camel in the background

Gerrard was credited with three official victories for this action, though he claimed at least six. He was eventually brought down and taken prisoner. The fact that he survived almost completely unscathed is something of a miracle as his Sopwith Camel (B5648) had 163 bullet holes in it.

For the action, Gerrard was awarded the Victoria Cross, and Carpenter and Eycott-Ross were awarded the Military Cross. Due to his capture Jerrard was eventually presented with his Victoria Cross by George V at Buckingham Palace on 5 April 1919.

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25 March 1918 – Hobart’s Unfunnies

Out in Mesopotamia, the British forces were planning to advance on Khan Baghdadi. To assist in the final preparations, lieutenant Colonel James Edward Tennant from 30 Squadron RFC decided to fly over the enemy positions. Major Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart, the commander of the 7th Brigade, decided he would like a look at the front before he departed for Palestine.

This morning, the two set out. Tennant takes up the story in his book In the Clouds Above Baghdad (for some reason the book notes the 28th as the date of departure, though this is clearly incorrect as will become obvious later).

“Accordingly, on the morning of the 28th, we set out from Baghdad in the third new D.H. 4;the fate of the other two has already been described.The weather was cool, with the wind in the north anddrivingblackrainclouds. The D.H.4 forged along in the teeth of this at a comfortable 100 miles an hour. The Euphrates was eventually picked up, and ‘then we were immersed in the fluffy fog of a rainstorm at 4,000 feet. We broke out of it with Hit astern and to our left, the country below a mass of nullahs and rocks. We had gone fairly low to known crackling of machine-guns somewhere down there on the floor, but could see no sign of life. Glancing at my instruments, the temperature of the water had suddenly gone up to boiling point; when that happens it is time to turn for home. Then the dial went back too; theonlypossibleinferencefrom these wild fluctuations could be that there was no water left; those infernal machine-guns must have hit our radiator. Easing down the engine, I made for our lines in the hope of crashing somewhere among ‘the rocks within reach of friends, but it was soon apparent that we were dropping too fast to clear enemy country, and the overheated engine could not be expected to revolve much longer. A thousand feet up the propeller stopped, and the sudden silence intensified the racket of machine- gun and rifle fire from below. They were hitting us now, and we could see the Turks running about on the ground. There seemed no place where it was possible to land, but we turned up a nullah running down from the desert, and somehow alighted on a few yards of sand without crashing. The hills and rocks rose up all around us, and from these the fire continued,the bullets crashing through the machine and throwing up the dust. I ‘tore at a petrol-pipe with the blackness of despair, while Hobart searched in his clothing for matches; at least we would burn the machine. Having ignited a leak we jumped clear of the machine; Turks appeared from cover and advanced cautiously, for the zone was still bullet-swept from sportsmen on the further heights. They ran in and we held up our hands. “

In retrospect, perhaps sending up two senior officers was not such a good idea. The British advance began the next day nevertheless and by the 27th had reached Ana. At that point the recovery of the officers became a priority and a force of armoured cars set off towards Aleppo, finally recapturing them on the 28th. For further details of this see the end of In the Clouds Above Baghdad.

The wrecked DH4 being examined by British troops after the advance

Percy Hobart later became the commander of the Royal Engineers during the Second World War and their assorted specialist tanks were know as Hobart’s Funnies.

22 March 1918 – Piper finds the Goeben

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Trevor Ratcliff Hackman

Away from the turmoil of the Western Front, 2 Wing RNAS was based at Mudros patrolling the Dardanelles and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Today, Flight Commander Trevor Ratcliff Hackman and Lieutenant Thomas Henry (Tom) Piper set out for Constantinople in their DH4 (N6410) to look for the SS Goeben (now remamed the Yavuz by the Turks) which had narrowly escaped destruction by the RNAS in January 1918.

Tom Piper’s diary describes the mission:

Approaching Constantinople at 4000 feet was really a wonderful sight, one I shall never forget. The sun was shining on the large Golden Domes of the numerous mosques with their slender, fragile looking minarets all set amongst many beautiful cream-coloured buildings. It was a picture to behold.

This is the only place where West meets East, and are only connected by a bridge. A quick glance showed the once mighty, strong fortifications of the city, with its three walls built by Theodosius in the fifth century. Passing over, it was not long before we reached the shore of the Black Sea. A quick scan to the east over the Bosporus convinced me the ‘Goeben’ was not there. We then flew west along the coastline at 4000 feet. After a few minutes flight on this course we sighted, not too far ahead, our quarry the ‘Goeben’. From the number of punts around her, it was evident work of some sort was going on. As arranged, Hackman flew directly over her to permit me to get in some photographs. With some dexterity I managed to obtain three that I considered to be good shots of her.

The camera was a fixture, with its aperture through the floor of the cockpit and separate plates were used. This method entailed, taking one out of a special container, inserting it, making the exposure by drawing a sliding cover and then pushing it back again, withdrawing it and placing it into a handy receptacle on the side of the fuselage. I shall later relate a rather amusing story about those ten plates. The Germans evidently expected a visit from hostile aircraft, but from inland, not the coast, for they had a couple of guns inland. For Germans they were somewhat dilatory in manning them, but we received a bit of flak as we were departing on our return journey. Soon after, Hackman gave the signal for me to take over the controls. It was a lovely quiet day, with clear visibility. The course by compass was due southwest and we settled down for an hour or so of quiet, free flying. Later I could just discern the northern inlet of the Gulf of Zeros and was quite contented as there was practically no wind drift. I considered a continuation. on this course would bring us to Lemnos.

Within five minutes there was a splutter from the engine. Hullo! Petrol shortage! Evidently the main tank was empty.

I immediately went for the pump of the reserve tank. It would not take pressure. Hackman was immediately alert to our problem. I shouted to him to try and make the Gulf, and I would release the Lewis machine gun arid dump it.

From 4,000 feet there is a fair glide, but of course land comes up fairly rapidly. Hackman, who had much experience flying in all conditions and was very capable arid cool, just managed to reach the Gulf and took a turn over the water to permit me to dump the machine gun. We headed over the shoreline and landed in a young olive grove about 200 yards inland. We were in Turkey.

Tom Piper and DH4 N6410

Both men were captured and spent the rest of the war as prisoners. Tom’s diary is held by the Australian War Memorial and transcripts were published in the journal of Australian Society of WW1 Aero Historians between 1992 and 1995 as follows, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

14 March 1918 – Pages in his Diary

2nd Lieutenant Cecil Edward Gregory joined No. 1 Officer Cadet Wing of the Royal Flying Corps on 9 October 1917 for “…basic military training during a two-month course which included drill, physical training, military law, map reading and signalling using Morse code”.

Next, he moved to No. 2 School of Aeronautics in Oxford on 30 November 1917 “…to begin a two-month course of military training and ground instruction. The topics covered included aviation theory, navigation, map reading, wireless signalling using Morse code, photography and artillery and infantry co-operation. The students were also taught the working of aero engines and instruments and basic rigging”.

On 24 January 1918 he was promoted from Cadet to 2nd Lieutenant.

Today he began his flying training at Yatesbury Aerodrome, near Marlborough, in Wiltshire with 19 Training Squadron. Yatesbury was a training centre for reconnaissance pilots.

Gregory’s first flight was an air experience trip in a BE2e (8646). His first entry in his flying log book records it thus.

The main purpose of this entry is to highlight Andrew Sheard’s new blog “Greg’s war” which features the log book and diary entries of 2nd Lieutenant Gregory as well as other background material to give a first hand account of training and combat.

24 January 1918 – Barrage busts

Just as the British have been using balloon barrages – a wire net held between balloons – the Germans have also been using them to protect towns from bombing.

Today, the only instance of a British aircraft being downed by a balloon barrage was recorded. The unlucky crew were Second Lieutenant Louis George Taylor and Second Lieutenant Frank Ewart Le Fevre from 100 Squadron who were on their way back from Trevres in their FE2b. Both survived the crash and were taken prisoner. Taylor later described the crash:

“Ahead of us I saw the town of Esch in Luxembourg, and hearing a shout from my observer, I followed his pointing arm and saw that the town was defended by a balloon barrage, which is a steel net held up by balloons at intervals of about fifty yards. The balloons were at a height of about 4,000 feet, and it was impossible to get over them in our crippled condition, so I kept straight on, hoping to pass through the barrage without hitting a wire. My observer immediately opened fire on the balloon above in the vain hope of setting it on fire and dropping the net, but nothing happened. We were now passing under the balloon and for a moment I had the feeling that we must have missed the wires, but suddenly the machine gave a violent lurch, and was thrown backwards: I immediately put the nose down, but the speed indicator dial only registered 30 m.p.h. I wondered why the machine did not stall and plunge to the ground. The aileron controls went out of order immediately we struck the net. We went down to the ground, dragging the balloon and net. We finally got close to the ground, which was heavily wooded. The planes and nacelle were riddled with shrapnel holes, and one of the tail booms was nearly cut in two near the main planes. The nose was driven into the ground and one wing was crumpled up underneath the engine. The other wing was sticking straight up into the air, and I saw the balloon wire which had been our final undoing. It had just missed the nacelle by about two feet, and had entered both top and bottom planes just in front of the bomb rack. It had sawed its way anglewise towards the propeller from this point, and had cut the aileron balance wires through, passed through the steel bomb rack and was finally held up by the Michelin flare rack which was of fairly heavy steel, but it had completely worked its way through about three-quarters of the distance from leading to trailing edges of both top and bottom planes, and the first long front landing and flying wires were hanging as they had been sawn through.”

23 December 1917 – McCudden’s quartet

mccuddenportraitCaptain James McCudden from 56 Squadron RFC scored the first quadruple by a British pilot today. The RFC Communique reported:

“This is the first occasion on which one pilot has shot down four EA in a day, and Capt McCudden’s accounts are as follows:—

Left ground 10.50 to look for EA west of our lines, and at 11.15 saw three EA two-seaters together over Vendelles, N-W of St Quentin, at 13,000 feet. As they were above I could not engage them decisively, but drove them all east of the lines. At about 11.10 an LVG came W just north of St Quentin at 17,000. Chased him and caught him up over Etreillers. He then turned south. I secured a firing position and fired a burst, from both guns, when EA’s engine stopped and water came pouring from the radiator in the centre section. EA turned south and I tried to turn him west because the observer was waving his rightn arm, apparently in token of surrender, but the machine was still going south-east very faSt. However, I fired another burst at close eange, whereupon he went down in a steep dive and crashed completely between the canal and the road at Anguilcourt, which is NE of La Fere, at 11.25. I returned north climbing, and 11.50 saw a Rumpler at 17,500 just south of Peronne. I climbed for 20 minutes and attacked EA over Beanvois at 18,200 feet at 12.15. Going SE, EA fought extraordinarily well and we got down to 8,000 feet over Roupy, when after a burst from both guns at close range EA’s right hand wings fell off and the wreckage fell in our lines near Contescourt at 12.20. Returned north climbing and at 12.50 attacked two LVG’s over Gouzeaucourt at 16,000. However, both machines co-operated very well, using their front guns as well the rear, and I fought them east of the lines and then left them I had no more petrol.

“Leading my formation E over Ytres towards the lines at 14,000 feet, at 2.30 I saw a Rumpler coming W over Metz at 14,000. EA saw my formation and then turned east, nose down. I caught up to EA at 13,000 feet over Bois de Gouzeaucourt, and engaged him down to 6,000 feet, when EA went into spiral dive and crashed in our lines NW of Gouzeaucourt at 2.40 pm. Reformed my patrol and crossed lines at 13,000 over Masnieres. At about 3.5 engaged six Albatross Scouts over Fontaine at 13,000. My patrol fought these EA down to 8,000 feet over Bourlon Wood and then left EA who dived eaSt. The fight was indecisive except that Lieut Galley, in fighting one E.A end on, got hit in the oil tank and had to land at Advanced Landing Ground, and apparently he hit the EA’s engine and he went off down E as if to land. The EA scouts (red-nosed Albatross) kept rolling and spinning down. After the fight, whilst reforming the patrol over Flesquieres, I saw an LVG coming West over Trescault at 12,000 feet. I got into position at close range, fired about 20 shots, when EA went down absolutely out of control, alternately stalling, turning upside down and then spinning for a short distance before stalling again, etc. EA took five minutes to reach the ground and in a vertical dive landed on a train in our lines a few hundred yards west of Metz at 3.30. Returned at 3.50.”

11 November 1917 – 32 Ground Attack

Bing Tyrrell

Weather on the Western Front was again poor for flying, but various missions were performed including a lot of ground attack.

A flight from 32 Squadron RFC (2nd Lieutenant Charles James Howson, Lieutenant Walter Alexander (Bing) Tyrrell and Lieutenant Arthur Claydon) were on patrol when they came across a group of enemy scouts. The combat is recorded as follows:

“Three 32 Sqn DH5s flown by 2nd Lts Howson, W A Tyrrell and Claydon, were engaged on an OP. At 1000 over Westroosbeke, Claydon & Tyrrell first intercepted an Albatros with a yellow and green fuselage and yellow nose. Clayton was forced to pull out of the fight with a gun jam, but Tyrrell carried on the attack. The German began a staggering flutter in a downward direction. As the pilot attempted to pull the stricken Albatros out of the dive, Tyrrell fired again, his bullets striking the pilot’s head and the instrument panel in front of him. The Albatros reared upwards before spinning down again. Tyrrell lost sight of his quarry at 300 feet as it fell through and below other circling German aircraft – it was too dangerous to follow. There no German pilot fatalities on this day. Nevertheless, Tyrrell added this out of control’ to his score.”

After this Claydon found his engine had been shot through and he made a forced landing north-east of Ypres, overturning his DH5 (A9439) in the process. Claydon escaped with minor injuries.