Category Archives: RFC

24 September 1917 – They’re back

After a gap of three weeks, Kaghohl 3 returned to England with 16 Gothas. Of these, three turned back early with engine problems, three battled through to London, six bombed the area around Dover and four dropped bombs over south Essex and Kent.

The first attack occurred over Dover around 1915, where the six Gothas dropped 42 bombs. A number of houses were destroyed and five people were killed and 11 injured.

The four Gothas that roamed over Essex and Kent failed to cause much damage either. Between 2000 and 2030 bombs fell on various town and villages causing minor damage. The only serious damage occurred when at about 2030 eleven bombs dropped at the army camp at Leybourne, about seven miles south west of Chatham, killing two soldiers of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry and destroying various buildings.

The first Gotha reached London at 2005. Eight bombs fell on East London and a number of building suffered serious damage and one person was injured.

The next Gotha attacked north London causing minor damage. It then flew westwards and dropped more bombs, again casusing minor damage. The bomber then turned east and headed towards the centre of London. The next bomb landed in Bloomsbury, outside the Bedford Hotel, killing 13 and injuring 22. The Gotha then flew east dropping more bombs alog the way causing significnant damage to the Royal Academy of Arts.

The third Gotha to bomb London bombed the northwest around 2040. Minor damage tO property resulted, but a boy was killed and two others injured.

30 RFC aircraft took off to oppose the raid but none sighted any of the Gothas.

The British were also using a new defensive tactic for the first time. Colonel Simon and Captain ARF Kingscote had developed a scheme which placed a series of ‘curtains’ of shell bursts in the path of raiding aeroplanes. The scheme gave screensbursts about 2,500 feet from top to bottom. The screens could be ordered for five different heights, varying between 17,000 and 5,000 feet.

The map used by the anti-aircraft gunners was divided into numbered squares, and as the enemy aeroplanes were shown, according to sound-plotting, to be about to enter a particular square, the controlling officer directed vertical barrage fire on the face of that square. As the bombers passed from square to square in the barrage zones, they would be met by successive barrage screens. If, however, a target was found by a searchlight beam, the barrage fire would cease and guns would attack the target directly.

The British reported that the new barrage forced some of the Gothas to turn back from London in the face of this new intense AA fire. One Gotha was claimed shot down in the Thames, but in rality all the bombers got back, although one was wrecked on landing, possibly as a result of an AA hit.

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23 September 1917 – Werner Voss killed

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Werner Voss (centre) with brothers Otto and Max

Having just returned from leave, early this morning Leutnant Werner Voss from Jasta 10 shot down a DH4 (A76433) from 57 Squadron which was bombing Hooglede. The crew 2nd Lieutenant S L J Bramley and 2nd Lieutenant John Matthew De Lacey were both killed in the crash. It was to be his last confirmed victory.

During the afternoon he met his brothers Otto and Max and posed for a photo. This evening he was on patrol when his wingmate was fired on by Lieutenant Harold A. Hamersley, from 60 Squadron RFC who had mistaken Voss’s Triplane for a Nieuport. Voss attacked and Hmersley went into a spin to escape with his wings and engine holed. His wingmate Lieutenant Robert L. Chidlaw-Roberts, rushed to his aid, but within seconds, Voss shredded his rudder bar and foced him out of the fight too.

At this point, six SE5a’s from B Flight of 56 Squadron moved in to attack. Captain James McCudden and his wingmen attacked from 300 meters above Voss. McCudden came from the right while Lieutenant Arthur Rhys Davids, swooped in from the left. Captain Keith Muspratt (A8944) trailed them down, while Lieutenant Verschoyle Philip Cronyn (A4563) brought up the rear. Lieutenant Charles Hubert Jeffs and Lieutenant Ralph William Young held high as top cover in case Voss climbed. He was now boxed in from above and below, with assailants pouncing from either side. To further worsen Voss’s situation, there was a British fighter patrol beneath him.

At this point, instead of attempting to flee, which may have been impossible in any case given the slow speed of the Fokker against the SE5s. He flicked his triplane about in a flat spin and fired at his attackers in a headon firing pass, holing McCudden’s wings. Voss riddled Cronyn’s SE5 from close range, putting him out of the dogfight. Cronyn had to turn in under his attacker and throw his aircraft into a spin to escape being killed. His wingmates attacked Voss while Cronyn also limped for home.

At this time, Captain Geoffrey Hilton Bowman and Lieutenant Richard Mayberry from 56 Squadron, C Flight arrived. Another C Flight, Lieutenant Reginald Hoidge fought off an Albatross attempting to assist Voss.

The combat now became so chaotic that the surviving pilots later gave widely varying accounts. Muspratt’s engine was holed, lost its coolant to and he glided away with his engine beginning to seize. At some point, a rednosed Albatros D.V made a short-lived attempt to help Voss; Rhys-Davids put a bullet through its engine, and it dropped away.

At another point, Voss was caught in a crossfire by at least five of his attackers but seemed unhurt. At about this point, Maybery withdrew with his aircraft’s upper right-hand longeron holed in several places.

Voss and the six remaining British aces swirled down to 600 meters (2,000 feet). At times, Voss had the altitude advantage over his foes, but did not try to escape the fight. Using the triplane’s superior rate of climb and its ability to slip turn, Voss managed to evade his opponents and return to battle. He continued to flick turn at high speeds and attack those behind him. As Bowman later noted concerning his only shot at Voss:

“To my amazement he kicked on full rudder, without bank, pulled his nose up slightly, gave me a burst while he was skidding sideways and then kicked on opposite rudder before the results of this amazing stunt appeared to have any effect on the controllability of his machine.”

Bowman’s machine was left slowed and ineffectively trailing dark smoke and steam, though he stayed in the fight.

Then, after flying past McCudden in a head-on firing pass, Voss’s Fokker was hit with bullets on the starboard side by Hoidge. Meantime, Rhys Davids had pulled aside to change an ammunition drum; he rejoined combat with a 150 meter (500 foot) height advantage over Voss’s altitude of 450 meters (1,500 feet), and began a long flat dive onto the tail of Voss’ triplane. At point-blank range, he holed the German aircraft end to end with his machine guns before turning. It wandered into his line of flight again, in a gentle westward glide; Rhys Davids again ripped the German plane as its engine quit. The aircraft missed a mid-air collision by inches. The British ace fired again. As the triplane’s glide steepened, Rhys Davids overran him at about 1,000 feet altitude and lost sight of his opponent. From above, Bowman saw the Fokker in what could have been a landing glide, right up until it stalled. It then flipped inverted and nose down, dropping directly to earth. The resulting smash left only the rudder intact.

McCudden, watching from 3,000 feet recalled:

“I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder.”

McCudden would later write of the fight:

As long as I live I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single-handed fought seven of us for ten minutes and also put some bullets through all our machines. His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent, and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.

Voss’s identity was not compnformed until the next day, and eventually Rhys Davies was credited with the victory, although as was British practice at the time, his name was not made known to the press.

21 September 1917 – More Menin Road

Following on from yesterday, the British offensive continued around Menin Road Bridge. The weather was significantly improved from yesterday and this resulted in an even wider programme of air support.

The main focus today was on preventing reinforcements reaching the front. Early morning reconnaissances reported that reinforcements were arriving at Roulers and Menin stations.

55 Squadron attacked the station at Roulers, dropping twenty 112lb. bombs on the target. In the evening air reconnaissance reported that troops were pouring in, by rail, to Menin and were being transported by bus to the front. 100 and 101 Squadrons therefore spent the night attacking the town, other detraining centres, and the roads along which the movement of troops had been reported. They dropped fourteen 230-lb. and sixty-eight 25 -lb. bombs and then attacked the troops with their machine-guns. The Squadrons also bombed Menin, Ledeghem, Wervicq, Gheluwe and Roulers.

Two aircraft from 101 Squadron failed to return – Captain Aubrey Cecil Hatfield and 2nd Lieutenant Robert Roy Macgregor in FE2b A5672 and 2nd Lieutenant Archibald Ian Orr-Ewing and Corporal E Marshall in FE2b A856. Both crashed behind enemy lines and the crews were taken prisoner.

Again the toll, particularly on the fighter squadrons was high with (in addition to the above) 10 crew killed, 3 wounded and 7 taken prisoner. 19 Squadron suffered badly in their undergunned SPADVIIs when they ran into Jasta 18 in their Albatross DVs near Dadizeele. Three planes were shot down in short order and their pilots killed

2nd Lieutenant Robert Andersson Inglis (B3557)
2nd Lieutenant Frederick William Kirby (B3533)
2nd Lieutenant William Gordon McRae (B3642)

Oberleutnant Rudolf Berthold and Leutnant Richard Ruege all claimed victories, thought it’s not clear exactly who downed who.

In return, Flight Commander Captain John Leacroft claimed an Albatros out of control, though later German records record no losses.

20 September 1917 – Menin Road Ridge

As has now become commonplace, the latest British Offensive at Menin Road Ridge on the Western Front has been planned with a full suite of air operations.

Such was the extent of offensive patrolling that the Corps squadrons were able to carry out their artillery observation mostly unhindered. This work was essential to the success of the battle as one of the key contribution of the air services was to frustrate German counterattacks on seven occasions. This was achieved by both warning the British troops but also bringing down artillery fire on troops massing for the counter-attack.

Army squadrons also carried out ground attack missions on birth front line trenches and on reinforcement points, and bombers attempted to interrupt communications by bombing railway junctions and known mustering points.

Of course part of the reason that this work was possible was the extensive offensive patrolling by the rest of the Army squadrons served to keep enemy aircraft away from the front. Bombers also attacked German aerodromes to try and keep aircraft on the ground.

The success on the ground came at a heavy cost in the air as 10 crew were killed, 11 wounded and 7 taken prisoner. The worst affected were 1 Squadron RFC in their aging Nieuports.

Early on 2nd Lieutenant Charles Gilbert Dunbar Gray was forced down out of petrol behind enemy lines in his Nieuport 17 (A6721). Vitzfeldwebel Franz Schmitt from Jasta 29 claimed the victory. Gray was taken prisoner.

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Francis Jack Chown (by Dame Laura Knight)

Later on 2nd Lieutenant Reginald Horatio Garratt-Reed was shot down and killed in his Nieuport 27 (B3632). Leutnant Richard Runge from Jasta 18 claimed the victory. A little later, Runge also claimed to have shot down 2nd Lieutenant Francis Jack Chown in his Nieuport 27 (B6755). Chown was hit in the head and back and managed to make a landing in the front lines. However, he was later found dead by the wrecked aircraft.

 

19 September 1917 – Lost

Jasta 5 must have thought Christmas had come early when they came across two Morane Parasols (Type P) from 3 Squadron over the lines east of Estourmel.

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3 Squadron Parasols, September 1917

Lieutenant Edgar Golding and Corporal Leonard Sidney Goss in A234, and Lieutenant Cuthbert Archibald Sutcliffe and Lieutenant Thomas Humble in A6655 had taken off from their aerodrome at Lechelle around 1045.

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Edgar Golding

They were part of a four strong training flight to practice formation flying with strict orders not to cross over the lines. Golding had been appointed a flying officer in April 1917 and had joined the squadron after that. Sutcliffe had been a pilot since October 1916 and had joined the Squadron in early 1917.

However instead of stying on the British side of the lines, they flew over lines and passed north of Cambrai to Estourmel. The Western Front was characterised by mostly westerly winds. These were particularly strong today and would likely have blown the light and in the this case slow aircraft towards the German lines.

Whatever the reason, they were spotted by pilots form Jasta 5 who shot them down in quick order. Obleutnant Richard Flashar and Leutnant Rudolf Matthei claimed them.

Both aircraft crashed near Caudry. Golding was killed outright in the crash and the others were taken prisoner, though Goss died shortly afterwards of his wounds.

18 September 1917 – Mid air

Poor weather conditions curtailed much flying today, but the relentless requirement of the army for data meant that many were up anyway. Despite the limited flying four pilots were still killed.

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Hugh Francis McArdle

41 Squadron lost two pilots from an offensive patrol in their DH5s when they ran into a patrol from Jasta 12. Lieutenant Hugh Francis McArdle (A9426) and 2nd Lieutenant Alfred John Chapman (A9208) were both shot down and killed. Leutnant Walter Ewers and Vzitfeldwebel Reinhold Joerke claimed the victories.

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Noel Stafford Wright

Earlier in the day, another two pilots had been killed, when they crashed into each other in mid air – Captain John Manley from 19 Squadron in his Spad VII (B3503) and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Noel Stafford Wright from 1 (Naval) Squadron, in his Sopwith Triplane (N5493).

15 September 1917 – Haig’s views on the Air Ministry

Following on from General Smuts report on August, the War Cabinet accepted the formation of a separate Air Ministry in principle on 24 August, and then set up the Air Organisation Committee under General Smuts to work on the practicalities with Sir David Henderson leading the work.

At the same time there were misgivings in the War Office about the whole approach Sir Douglas Haig believed that one of the contentions on which the whole argument for a separate air service was based  – that the war could be won in the air as against on the ground – was a mere assertion unsupported by facts.

‘An Air Ministry with civilian head uncontrolled by any outside naval and military opinion, exposed as it would inevitably be to popular and factional clamour, would be very liable to lose its sense of proportion and be drawn towards the spectacular, such as bombing reprisals and home defence, at the expense of providing the essential means of co-operation with our naval and military forces.’

However, in his formal response to the report issued today, he confined his remarks to what was necessary to ensure the efficiency of the air service under the new structure, as the principle of the formation of a separate Air Service had already been approved by the War Cabinet.

He had, he said, carefully studied the report, and he found that some of the views put forward about future possibilities went beyond anything justified by his experience. He thought that a full examination of the problems associated with long-distance bombing would show that the views expressed by the committee required considerable modification, and he desired to point out the ‘grave danger of an Air Ministry, charged with such ‘powers as the Committee recommends, assuming control ‘with a belief in theories which are not in accordance with ‘practical experience’.

After reviewing the difficulties associated with long-distance bombing from aerodromes in French territory, Sir Douglas Haig had much to say about the supply of aeroplanes and trained personnel.

“After more than three years of war our armies are still very far short of their requirements, and ‘my experience of repeated failure to fulfil promises as ‘regards provision makes me somewhat sceptical as to the large surplus of machines and personnel on which the Committee counts in . . . its report. . . . Nor is it clear ‘that the large provision necessary to replace wastage has ‘been taken into account.”