Category Archives: Personal Reports

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.

10 November 1917 – Junction Station

Today, in an attempt to slow the Turkish retreat in Palestine, 14 Squadron RFC bombed Junction Station, the nearby railway bridge and troops in the surrounding area. THe hope was that if the bridge could be broken the two lines to Jerusalem and Beersheba would be cut off from the railway centre of Lydda, and the Turkish retreat would be impeded and much rolling-stock left derelict. Orders were given that two aeroplanes, each carrying two 112-lb. bombs, were to attack the bridge from a height of 500 feet or less.

The attempt was made by Second Lieutenants Henry Ivan Hanmer and Horace Lincoln Cyril McConnell from 14 Squadron RFC. Hanmer later wrote of the mission:

“We decided to try and reach Junction Station before the high flying raid had stirred up the hornets’ nest which, from reports, we knew must be assembled at the station. Difficulty in getting the bomb gear fixed, and then delay in adjusting the detonating gear, successfully prevented us from leaving until the other raid was well on its way. The detonation problem appeared at first insuperable: nobody in the squadron knew the correct procedure, but a young observer who had been in the artillery thought he knew and was allowed to carry on. Eventually, half an hour late, two B.E.’s struggled off the aerodrome with their bombs. Our plan of attack was that we should each have two runs at the target dropping a single bomb each time, and I was to make the first attack. Junction Station was fifty miles north of our line at Gaza and consequently all the country was new to us both, and the bridge was not easily located at first. As a result of the previous raid the Wadi Sarar was black with Turks seeking the only available shelter. We proceeded to carry out our task. None of the bombs exploded. McConnell was brought down a quarter of a mile from the bridge, was taken prisoner, and eventually died in Damascus of his wounds, and I was hit while making my second approach. I had a fortunate escape, for the bullet, after piercing a longeron and twisting my flying belt buckle in two, embedded itself in a corner of my cigarette case, causing a jagged end to be driven into my ribs.”

31 October 1917 – Picture this

23 Squadron RFC suffered today when out on patrol over Roulers. A flight from Jasta 36 attacked them and shot down of their SPADVIIs (now obsolete and due for replacement). Those lost were:

2nd Lt R M Smith in B3551 – claimed by Leutnant Harry von Bülow-Bothkamp

2nd Lieutenant Norman Harold Kemp in B1565 – claimed by Leutnant Heinrich Bongartz

Both crewmen were taken prisoner and Smith went on to write an extensive diary of his time in captivity. He was also an artist, drawing this picture of his downed SPAD (Courtesy: Graham Broad, Associate Professor of History, King’s University College at Western University, London, Ontario Canada).

24 October 1917 – Spreading False Reports

A man was arrested and charged today under Section 1c of the Defence of the Realm Act (“to prevent the spread of false reports…”), for spreading rumours about an impending German air raid.

Arthur Steele, aged 60, was working in Leighton Buzzard for Messrs. J. White & Co. wine merchants. Apparently he approached P.C. Clarke, who was on duty at the corner of Hockliffe Street and Market Square yesterday evening and said

“I have received official information that there is to be a great air raid by the Germans on England tonight and tomorrow night”.

When asked where he got his information he replied:

“I received it from a friend of mine in London”.

He refused to give his name or address, or to say whether he was staying at Leighton. P.C. Clarke then asked if he realised he was liable to arrest under the Defence of the Realm Regulations for spreading false reports he replied:

“I know all about the Defence of the Realm Regulations, and you can apprehend me if you like”.

Police Superintendent Matthews came along and Steele repeated what he had said, though he denied using the word “official”. As the regulations do not allow bail for cases of this type without permission from the military authorities, Steele was arrested and remanded until 6 November.

At the subsequent court hearing, Steele’s solicitor told the court that there had been much discussion of air raids at his lodgings and they were much on his mind. Steele said he had refused to give his name as he was annoyed by the policeman’s officious manner. He was a respectable man who had never been in trouble with the police before. The Chairman of the Bench told Steele he had behaved very foolishly, but as he had by this time spent 14 days on remand he was sentenced only to one day’s imprisonment. The manager of Messrs. J. White p; Co. wine merchants said they did not intend to re-employ Steele.

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).


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.