Category Archives: Personal Reports

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.

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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).

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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.

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