Category Archives: RNAS

6 May 1918 – US Insignia

The RFC in general had frowned upon garish markings unlike their German counterparts. Squadrons could be identified by those in the know as many squadrons had markings on the fuselage such as lines, chevrons and zigzags. The RFC were quite obsessive about secrecy to the extent that shortly before the German March offensive, Squadrons were forced to change their markings to try and confuse the Germans.

The RNAS had a more lenient policy as is evident in the coloured stripes of 10 Squadron RNAS and the black aircraft of 8 Squadron.

Their new allies, the USA, now have their own air forces in France, and they clearly do not share the British retiscence. 94 Aero Squadron has its hat in the ring, and and the 95 Aero Squadron the kicking mule.

Today, Brigadier General Foulois, Chief if the US Air Service, established a policy authorizing creation of emblems for aviation units, and ordered all squadrons to create an official insignia to be painted on each side of an airplane fuselage:

“The squadron will design their own insignia during the period of organizational training. The design must be submitted to the Chief of Air Service, AEF, for approval. The design should be simple enough to be recognizable from a distance.”

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27 April 1918 – All change at the top

Today, Sir William Weir, the Director-General of Aircraft Production was appointed Secretary of State for the Royal Air Force. He replaces Lord Rothermere who resigned on 25 April due to ill health.

Fortunately for the RAF this was the last of the major shake-ups of the war. Hugh Trenchard, the Chief of the Air Staff had gone on 13 April to be replaced by Frederick Sykes. Sir David Henderson, Vice-President of the Air Council, had then resigned on the grounds that he could not work with the new Chief of the Air Staff – though there was also some annoyance that he had not been appointed. Henderson’s post was not filled and Sir Arthur Duckham replaced Weir as Director-General of Aircraft Production.

The main positions were now set for the rest of the war.

1 April 1918 – RAF

Today the Royal Air Force finally came into being as a separate Service, independent of the British Army and Royal Navy – the first time that any country had formed an entirely separate and independent air force. The RAF was the most powerful air force in the world with more than 290,000 personnel and nearly 23,000 aircraft. At the time of the merger, the RNAS had 55,066 personnel and 2,949 aircraft. At the same time the Women’s RAF was also formed.

In reality, very little changed for those in service. They remained in the same units, wearing the same uniforms, flying the same aircraft. It would take time for new traditions to form.

The only real noticeable change was that the Naval units were renumbered. Naval Squadrons 1 to 17 serving in France were renumbered 201-217.

The two wings serving abroad were also renumbered. 2 Wing RNAS in the Eastern Mediterranean became 220-223 Squadrons. 6 Wing RNAS in Italy became 224-227 Squadrons. It wasn’t until later (at various times between May and August 1918 that the former RNAS stations in England were designated as Squadrons, becoming 228-272 Squadrons.

26 March 1918 – Holding on

For the last 5 days since the launch of the German offensive, British forces have gradually been forced back. In an effort to maintain the line, the air forces have increasingly been diverted into ground attack missions against German troops.

Reinforcements have been drafted in from every part of the front as losses have been high and many Squadrons have had to abandon their aerodromes and aircraft to the advance. In all 27 squadrons engaged in ground attack including reinforcements from 1 Brigade (all squadrons), II Brigade (1, 19, 20 and 57), and V Brigade (5 Naval, 54 and 84), This was the largest concentration of squadrons in the war to date, though not necessarily the largest number of aircraft as many were under strength. H

Aircraft also played a significant role in the defence of Roye in the 5th Army sector as squadrons carried out ground attacks. Curiously, despite the significant nature of the fighting, there was little in the way of German air activity in this sector. The Germans remained reticent about committing their aircraft over the lines as they were difficult to replace. The Germans too had suffered high casualties and were also suffering from supply problems as their aerodrome were now well behind the front and the liaison between squadrons and ground units began to break down.

Allan MacNab Donovan

This was not so true in the 3rd Army sector and the reinforcements in particular suffered, possibly due to unfamiliarity. 1 Squadron suffered three casualties and 19 Squadron two in the afternoon when they were attacked by Jasta 26:

1 Squadron’s 2nd Lieutenant Allan MacNab Denovan in SE5a B511, 2nd Lieutenant William Mudie Ronald Gray in SE5a B641, and Lieutenant Arthur Hollis in SE5a B643 were all shot down. Denovan was killed and the others taken prisoner. 2nd Lieutenant Fernley Winter Hainsby in Sopwith Dolphin C3790 and 2nd Lieutenant Edward John Blyth in Sopwith Dolphin C3793 both from 19 Squadron were also shot down and killed.

Captain Herbert James Hamilton in SE5a B32 and Lieutenant Douglas Maitland Bissett in SE5a B8265 were both badly shot up but escaped back over the lines.

In the evening 58, 83, 101 and 102 Squadrons carried out the heaviest night bombing of the war so far dropping 24 tons of bombs on Baupame in an effort to disrupt enemy reinforcements.

23 March 1918 – Radio direction finding

Away from the war, the RNAS has still found time to experiment in improving aircraft technology. At RNAS Cranwell, a team has been working on the development of airborne radio direction finding.

The process has already been used by ground stations established in England and France to detect and track the direction of Zeppelins and bombers, but the question is whether it’s possible to use the same system for an aircraft to navigate by.

Essentially the system is the same, in that the radio operator will attempt to establish his bearings by distance from a number of radio beacons. These were set up south of England in February 1918 at Poldhu, Ipswich, Chelmsford, Stonehaven and Horsea Island. It was decided not to test the system in France in case the technology fell into enemy hands.

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The rotating coils

At the same time, a suitable transmitter was designed for a Handley Page 0/400 and personnel trained in its operation. The transmitter consisted of a rotating coil which enabled the bearings to joe taken without turning the aircraft. At this time the size of the coils (5 feet tall) meant only a large aircraft such as the Handley Page was suitable.

Today the first test flight took place, with Squadron Commander Harold Frederick Towler, successfully navigating a flight from RNAS Cranwell to the Air Station at Stonehenge.

Despite this early success, the system never really advanced much further during the war. The unreliability of the aircraft and the need for specialist crews hampered development and the military authorities were reluctant to introduce the concept unless it would provide a decisive advantage.

For more on this see pages 378-383 of Observers and Navigators: And other non-pilot aircrew in the RFC, RNAS and RAF.

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.

21 March 1918 – Michael

Operation Michael, the long awaited German Offensive exploded into action today. Despite knowing it was coming, the British forces were mostly taken by surprise. The Germans were partially aided in this by the poor weather which had laid down ground mist and prevented much in the way of air reconnaissance last few days.

The British air forces had been provided with orders for the offensive but the weather, which prevented most flying in the morning, and the surprise of the German attack threw most of these into disarray. In fact the first many of the British forces knew of the attack, the Germans had already passed the front line trenches and were into second and third lines.

The Germans too were limited by the weather in the air support they could give to the attacking troops. The German plan had envisaged growing support from 5he aircraft but in the end little of this materialised. In the south the mist was heavy and the German forces were able to make inroads into the British 5th Army line. Air patrols were limited by the fog but those that did report significant advances by German troops. The weather was slightly better in the north where the 3rd Army was able to put up some resistance. Air activity increased here in the afternoon as the Germans attempted to establish superiority and the British attempted to find out what was going on. Fighter Squadrons from 1st Army were diverted to assist in the 3rd Army area.

Cyril Barnet Banfield

Captain Douglas Harold Oliver and 2nd Lieutenant William Hastings Leighton from 59 Squadron were critical in identifying the German’s proximity to Vaulx-Vraucourt before their RE8 (B6547) was hit by a shell and they were forced to land.

There’s no doubt that the Germans had the better of the air battle and 37 British aircraft were forced out of the battle. Despite this, only one loss resulted in fatalities when an Armstrong Whitworth FK8 from 8 Squadron crashed behind enemy occupants 2nd Lieutenant Cyril Barnet Banfield and 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Kneller were badly wounded and later died of their injuries. Lieutenant Arthur Thomas Isbell from 41 Squadron was also taken prisoner when his SE5a (B698) was shot down.

The advance was such that many of the advanced aerodromes were threatened and many squadrons had to make plans to move. In the even only 5 Squadron RNAS was forced to move after their aerodrome was destroyed by bombing.