Category Archives: RFC

23 February 1918 – Hit

Out in Mesopotamia, following the capture of Ramada, Turkish forces on the Euphrates had been relatively quiet. However, in January 1918, there was a build up of Turkish Forces at Hit to the Northwest.

Once Turkish forces started reconnaissance down the river as far as Qubba and Nafata. Lieutenant-General Marshall in charge of British forces decided to capture Hit and its garrison. The advance from Ramadi began on the 19th of February, when air reconnaissances by 30 Squadron RFC brought back news that the Turks were evacuating their trenches south of Hit and were taking up a prepared position on high ground about two miles above the town at the Broad Wadi. There was also a strong enemy force at Sahiliya.

The British decided not to bother attacking until they could be sure of victory, and therefore waited until they had built up better communications and supplies accumulated.

This included the aircraft, and yesterday, 52 Kite Balloon Section, which had been at Ramadi since the beginning of January 1918, moved forward to Qubba. Today ‘B’ Flight of 30 Squadron RFC moved to Ramadi from Falluja, and ‘A’ Flight of 30 Squadron and ‘A’ Flight of 63 Squadron flew to Ramadi from Samarra and Baquba.

This composite unit, under the command of Major H. de Havilland, was instructed to undertake a vigorous bombing offensive against the Turks. They got to work straightaway, and ten aeroplanes bombed and attacked with machine-gun fire Turkish camps in the Hit-Sahiliya area. Seventy-five 20-lb. bombs were dropped: horses were stampeded, transport disorganized, one aeroplane on the Hit aerodrome destroyed, and several hits on camps were made.


22 February 1918 – Italian jobs

Out in Italy, 66 Squadron RFC had moved about 35 miles east from Grossa to Treviso on 18 February 1918. They were soon back in the action.


Arnold Bailie Reade

Yesterday various patrols claimed two enemy aircraft shot down. Early on near Motta, North East of Treviso, Lieutenant Harold Ross Eycott-Martin, in Sopwith Camel B5623 claimed an Aviatik C. Just before midday, Captain Kenneth Barbour Montgomery in Camel B4628 shot down an Albatros DV. near Fonzaszo, to the North West of Treviso. Unfortunately, 2nd Lieutenant Arnold Baillie Reade failed to return from a patrol in Camel B2534 and was later reported as having been killed in a flying accident.

Today 2nd Lieutenant Albert Frederick Bartlett was in the opposite direction in his Camel B5594 near Motta, south west of Treviso, when he forced down another Albatross DV.

Captain Montgomery was not so lucky, he failed to return from a patrol after being hit by ground fire, crashed in a vineyard near Rustignè di Oderzo, and was taken prisoner in Camel B4628. Meanwhile, his 28 Squadron colleague 2nd Lieutenant Harold Butler also went missing in his Camel (B6362) and was later reported killed.

Montgomery’s Camel after crashing

In a day of mishaps, Lieutenant Eycott-Martin had his engine shot up but managed to limp home.

2nd Lieutenant Norman Samuel Taylor and 2nd Lieutenant William Carrall Hilborn ended up landing in Grossa due to fog whilst ferrying new Camels to Treviso (B5226 and B6406). Finally, 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Newton Edward Row crashed his Camel (B5190) on landing at Treviso from a patrol.

21 February 1918 – £1000

In the first major debate on the Air Services since the Passage of the Air Force Act in December 1917, the House of Commons discussed the Air Force Estimates for the coming year. Under the guise of refusing to provide assistance to the enemy, the debate was over the nominal amount of £1000, and members were asked to refrain from certain lines of questioning.

The Undersecretary of State for the Air, Major John Baird, led the debate. He highlighted progress made in setting up the new Air Ministry, including the establishment of a Secretariat, Finance Branch, Works and Buildings Department and a General Branch of Statistics. Establishments for the service directorates and their staffs have been prepared, and the majority of pay and conditions of service questions had been addressed. Discussions are now ongoing between the Admiralty and the War Office about the practical transfer of the two services. The new Air Council has been established and is now developing its own programme of work.

The Minister came under pressure from Mr William Joynson-Hicks and Mr Noel Pemberton-Billing, both perennial thorns in the Governement’s side regarding Air matters, over the issue of:

  • poor training of pilots
  • the lack of standardisation of equipment hampering production and repair of aeroplanes
  • the failure to enact sufficient reprisal attacks against German cities for the air raids in England

An attempt to introduce an amendment to require reprisal attacks was defeated.

Mr Pemberton-Billing also called for a dedicated medical service for the air and castigated the house in general as so few MPs had turned up (no more than 25 at any time).

The whole debate can be read here.

19 February 1918 – 80-84

The general headquarters reported the following:

“The fine weather of the last few days continued on the 19th inst. Visibility, however, was not good, and prevented much work being done by our aeroplanes with the artillery. It did not interfere with photography, and many photographs were taken of the enemy’s aerodromes and other important objectives. A hostile aerodrome north of Douai and a large ammunition dump north-east of Lille were heavily bombed by us during the day, and, in addition, 50 bombs were dropped on the enemy’s billets. In air fighting 11 hostile machines were brought down, and one other was driven down out of control. A German night bombing machine also was brought down in No Man’s Land by our infantry. Two of our aeroplanes are missing. At night visibility remained bad, the greater part of the front being enveloped in thick mist. Over 150 bombs were dropped by us, however, on an important hostile railway centre south-east of Cambrai and on billets north of Douai.”

Of the 11 aircraft claimed, the majority were claimed by 84 Squadron RFC in their SE5a’s , who having been set upon by 10 enemy scouts, claimed to have accounted for a scarcely believable eight, with

2nd Lieutenant Andrew Frederick Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor, 2nd Lieutenant James McCudden, 2nd Lieutenant John Victor Sorsoleil, Captain Robin Arthur Grosvenor, and Lieut J F Larsen, all making claims.

In contrast, 80 Squadron, in their Camels were beaten up by pilots from Jastas 18 and 30. Lieutenant Samuel Lewes Hope Potter was wounded. Lieutenant Ernest Westmoreland was shot down in flames and killed in his Camel B9171. Lieutenant Sidney Reuben Pinder was also shot down and killed in Camel B9185.

13 February 1918 – Comic Brand

Today, Lieutenant Quintin Brand was promoted to Major and put in command of 112 Squadron RFC. 112 where had been a Flight Commander.

The squadron had been formed on 30 July 1917 at Throwley Aerodrome in Kent for air defence duties in the London area. It was originally equipped with Sopwith Pups but is now in the process of converting to Sopwith Camels specially configured for night fighting.

These Camels were commonly referred to as the Sopwith Comic (the name was also given to the night version of the Sopwith Strutter). The main differences was that the Vickers guns and the charactistic hump were removed and replaced with two overwing Lewis Guns – the primary reason for this was to reduce the chances of the pilot being blinded by muzzle flashes at night, particularly where incendiary ammunition was used.

As a consequence of this arrangement, the pilot’s seat was set 30cm further back to allow the Lewis Guns to be reloaded. The space was filled with an additional fuel tank to increase the range.

Whether these changes were a detriment or improvement to performance seems to be a matter of dispute. On the one hand the Lewis guns were much lighter than the Vickers, but on the other the streamlining of the aircraft was adversely impacted by the guns.

11 February 1918

At this time combat fatigue was not fully understood but nevertheless, Squadron Commanders must have been aware of it as pilots were sent home or leave or allocated to home based Squadrons for training duties.

Whilst it was clearly beneficial for pupils to learn from those who had already been serving at the front, the benefits for the pilot were less clear. It did of course provide a period of rest and recuperation which was obviously beneficial to those facing death just by getting into the aircraft. The longer term issues created by long spells away from the front were unclear.

Albert Ball, for example, spent 6 months away from the front, first on leave and then as a trainer with 34 Reserve Squadron. He was killed a month after resuming combat duty.

Another ace, Mick Mannock returned from three months leave and training duty to take up a Flight Commander position with with 74 Squadron RFC, which is preparing for posting to France. Mannock went to the front in March 1918 and lasted until 26 July, when he was shot down and killed.

Ball may have been a bit unlucky in that he was away for six months, and in that period the speed and firepower of aircraft increased, and the lone wolf tactics of fighters were being replaced with formation flying

Mannock too moved from the Nieuport to the SE5, but by his main period of activity, the new tactics were already in place, even if the machinery hadn’t caught up for all Squadrons. He was also away for a much shorter period.

Weather on the Western Front was once again poor.

Back in England, 66 Training Squadron based at Yatesbury were practicing formation flying in their RE8s.

2nd Lieutenant John Thomas Gibson and Lieutenant Frederick Cumber Baxter in A3742 attempted a left turn, but the pilot made an error and the aircaft went into a spin. It was too near to the ground for the pilot to recover and they crashed.

Both were badly injured and Gibson died of his wounds later the same day. Baxter hung on but eventually sucumbed on 20 February.