Category Archives: RNAS

21 July 1917 – RNAS Cherbourg

The anti—submarine patrols in the English Channel remain an essential tool in combatting the submarine attacks. Today the RNAS opened a new base in France at Cherbourg as a substation of the base at RNAS Calshot.

The new base is equipped with three Wight ‘Converted’ seaplanes. These aircraft were originally designed as a bomber (prototype N501) but when it proved unsatisfactory it was converted into a seaplane with the addition of floats and ailerons on both wings. The aircraft was initially powered by the 275hp Rolls-Royce Eagle engine but later examples used the Sunbeam Maori as the Rolls Royce engines were in short supply.
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The aircraft was able to carry four 100lb bombs but had a fairly mediocre endurance for a bomber of only 3 ½ hours. In the end only 37 were built, likely out of necessity. By the end of the war only three were still in service, having been replaced by Short 184s.

20 July 1917 – Navy

The contributions of the RNAS Squadrons in France were highlighted today as a variety of missions were flown in support of British forces.

2 Naval Squadron flew a successful photographic reconnaissance mission over Zeebrugge without loss.

5 Naval Squadron carried out a bombing raid on Aertrycke aerodrome, dropping six 65lb and 59 16lb bombs. On their return journey they were attacked by enemy scouts. Flight Commander Irwin Napier Colin Clarke and Sub-Lieutenant Ronald George St John claimed to have shot down an enemy aircraft. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Lacey Norman Glaisby and 2nd Class Air Mechanic Saw were attacked by an enemy aircraft. Glaisby was wounded slightly in the head and Saw in the body, but Saw still managed to get off some shots and drive down the attacker. In the end though all the aircraft returned safely.

Sopwith Camels on patrol from 4 Naval Squadron were attacked near Westende. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Frederick William Akers in B3806 was shot down and killed. Leutnant Hugo Jöns from Jasta 20 claimed the victory.

Also killed was Flight Commander George Gordon MacLennan from 6 Naval Squadron who was shot down in Sopwith Camel N6360 after himself shooting down an Aviatik C near Wilskerke.

Flight Commander Charles Dawson Booker from 8 Naval Squadron also claimed to have seen off an enemy Rumpler C in his Sopwith Triplane. It fell completely out of control and was last seen at about 300 feet falling into the mist.

A patrol from 10 Naval Squadron, led by Flight Commander Raymond Collishaw in Sopwith Triplane N5492 was over Menin-Messines when they attacked a group of 20 enemy aircraft. Flight Lieutenant William Melville Alexander (in N5487) shot one down in flames, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellis Vair Reid (in N5483) and Collishaw each shot down an Albatross out of control. Flight Commander John Sharman in  N6307 was the unlucky one with no claim. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Howard William Taylor (in N5429) was shot up and wounded in the arm during the combat but got back safely. (A report of this combat is in Collishaw’s book, Air Command at Page 123). A copy of the combat report is available here.

19 July 1917 – Smuts Committee initial report

“The War Cabinet at their last meeting held on the 11th July 1917, decided (Minute 3) ‘That the Prime Minister and General Smuts in consultation with representatives of the Admiralty, General Staff and Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief Home Forces, with other such experts as they ‘may desire should examine i. The defence arrangements for Home Defence against air raids. ii. The air organization generally and the direction of aerial operations.’

2. We regard the first subject for our examination as the more pressing and we deal with it accordingly in this first report, so far as the defence of the metropolitan area is concerned.

The second subject of our inquiry is the more important and will consequently require more extensive and deliberate examination. We propose to deal with it in a subsequent report.

3. London occupies a peculiar position in the Empire of which it is the nerve centre, and we consider, in the circumstances, that its defence demands exceptional measures. It is probable that the air raids on London will increase to such an extent in the next twelve months that London might through aerial warfare become part of the battle front. We think, therefore, that it is necessary to take special precautions, so far as the defence of London is concerned, and so far as this may be done without undue prejudice to operations in the Field and on the High Seas, as the fighting forces must, as a matter of general principle have the first call upon our output of aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.

4. The arrangements for Home Defence, including that of the London area, against hostile air raids, have been undergoing a continual and rapid transformation, which, together with other causes, has militated against efficiency. In the first instance, attacks were made by Zeppelins at night and our defences were so organized as to deal with this form of attack. Anti-aircraft guns, singly or in pairs, or in large numbers, were placed at convenient points, and aeroplanes of no great power or speed were disposed at suitable centres.

After some modification, the original dispositions were found to be adequate to meet night attacks by Zeppelins. We have, however, now to meet attacks of an entirely different character, which take the form of invasions by squadrons of aeroplanes in formation and our arrangements for defence are accordingly being adapted to meet this development.

One cannot, however, entirely preclude the possibility of a repetition of Zeppelin attacks, and it would consequently be unwise to abandon the earlier defence arrangements. Additions to these arrangements are, however, necessitated by the new ‘formation attack’ by day. The defence against Zeppelins was effectually carried out, not only by individual anti-aircraft guns, but also by single aeroplanes fitted with special armament.

As operations were conducted by night, there was no question of formation either for attack or defence. Now, however, that the attack is made by day by large enemy units in formation, one or two anti-aircraft guns firing from any particular point cannot hope to cause serious damage, and generally have no other effect than that of frightening the enemy pilots, while the defending aircraft, unless they can also operate in formation, are liable to very serious risk and cannot do much more than hover round the outskirts of the enemy formation. An attack in formation could, we think, only be properly met by a barrage fire from guns concentrated in batteries at suitable points in front of the area to be defended, or by flights or squadrons whose object is, by concentrated attack, to break up the hostile formation and destroy individual machines after they have been scattered out of their formation.

5. The relevance of these remarks is well illustrated by what happened in the air raid over London on Saturday, 7th July. The enemy machines attacked in definite formation which they maintained throughout the raid. In our view they should have been met and repelled by a heavy barrage of gun-fire before they reached London. Instead of this they were only subjected to a sporadic gun-fire in the London area which did them no observable damage. As regards aeroplanes on that occasion, we actually disposed of a larger number of first-class machines than the enemy, but our machines were distributed among a number of stations and some of them came in in driblets from various training centres.

Our machines were not in formation when in the air, and even when they attempted to concentrate they did not come under a unified command in the air, nor have they been trained so to fight. The result was that their very spasmodic or guerrilla attacks failed to make an impression on the solid formation of the enemy, and the damage that was done by our superior numbers of first-class R.F.C. machines was comparatively negligible.

We have investigated the circumstances in some detail and are informed that the reasons why greater results were not achieved were that some of our pilots were not accustomed to the new machines they were flying, that certain machines were not used because of missing spare parts, and a certain amount of shells that were fired were useless on account of defective fuses. These defects should, and can be remedied with all possible speed, but it is to the general arrangements and organization that we wish to refer more fully.

6. Four separate agencies contribute to the defence of the London area against air raid: (a) Royal Naval Air Service, which is not under the Home Command, but works under the direction of the senior naval officers in the naval districts, but in co-operation as far as possible, with the Home Defences.

There seems to be a general agreement among those whom we have consulted that for the limited purpose of the defence of London, the present division of command in this respect should not be disturbed.

The principal function of the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons is to deal with enemy raiders on their return journey, as they recross the Channel. They did so very effectively on the occasion of the last raid, and after consideration of all the circumstances, we are disposed to think that the above squadrons should continue to operate under separate Naval Commands, but in close co-operation with the Home Defence.

(b) The Observation Corps (distinct from the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service), which consists of a number of observers round London, mostly infantry soldiers, often elderly and not specially qualified for the duties they have to perform. This Corps is directly under orders of the Field-Marshal Commanding Home Defences.

(c) Various incomplete units or single machines of the Royal Flying Corps allocated to Home Defence, under the Command of Colonel Higgins.

(d) The anti-aircraft guns of the London area under the command of Colonel Simon.

7. The last three agencies operate separately under orders of the Home Defence head-quarters which is the only connecting link between them. This system appears to us to involve too great a dispersal of Command when dealing with a problem like the air defence of the London area, which is not only of very far-reaching military and political importance, but also constitutes a well marked, distinct task, separable from other problems of Home Defence, which accordingly calls for a corresponding concentration of executive command.

Our first recommendation therefore is that:

Subject to the control of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief of the Home Forces a senior officer of first-rate ability and practical air experience should be placed in executive Command of the air defence of the London area including the above services (b) (c) (d) of paragraph 6 above, and that this officer should be assisted by a small but competent staff, who should be specially charged with the duty of working out all plans for London Air Defences.

This officer would take his instructions from the Field-Marshal and would in turn issue his orders to the Observation Corps, the Officer Commanding the anti-aircraft guns, and the various Air Units. The unity of command which is essential to any warlike operation, whether of an offensive or defensive character, would be thus achieved. We think that this officer should be appointed without delay so that he may at once set to work to deal with the various pressing problems connected with London air defence, some of which are referred to below.

In view of the possibility of the recurrence of Zeppelin attack, as well as for other reasons, we think it would be inadvisable to remove the anti- aircraft guns from their present stations in the London area. In our view, the best defensive use of anti-aircraft guns against hostile aeroplanes attacking by day, would be for them to put up a barrage in front of and covering London, and our second recommendation accordingly is that:

Immediate attention should be given to the question of the numbers and disposition of anti-aircraft guns to put up such a defensive barrage.

It is true that there is at present said to be an insufficiency of guns for this purpose but, as stated in paragraph 3 above, we regard the defence of London as so important as to call for exceptional measures, and special endeavours should therefore be made to provide an adequate number of guns for this purpose. 8. A more pressing problem, in our opinion, is the provision and organization of a sufficient number of air units, trained to fight in formation, and their proper disposition to dispel any air attack on London. At present the only reliable unit formed for this purpose is the squadron specially detailed a week ago from the Western front. Three other units are in process of formation, but they neither have the necessary number of machines nor have the pilots the required training for fighting in forma- tion. We understand that an additional squadron, complete in point of numbers, will be furnished almost immediately and posted to the North- East of London. Another squadron to be disposed to the South-East should be complete in numbers in three or four weeks. Both of these will, however, require to be properly trained to manoeuvre in formation in suitable units. Our third recommendation therefore is that:

The completion and training of these three additional squadrons, successively, be pushed on as rapidly as possible and that, in the meantime, the return of the first unit to France should not be sanctioned until the air defence of London is reasonably secure.

9. In the course of our investigation, we considered the point whether our present type of fighting machine is the best to cope with the slower but more powerful Gotha raiders. In regard to this we make no recommendations and leave the problem for the further consideration and study of the experts of the Air Board, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Ministry of Munitions.

10. The question of the provision of sufficient aircraft for defence purposes and for the formation of a reserve is one which, in our view, requires careful and immediate consideration. The enemy may possibly adopt the ruse of sending a small number of machines well in advance of his main attack in order to lure our squadrons into the air; the main enemy force may then appear on the scene and find himself unchecked, owing to the fact that our machines in coping with the advanced patrols had exhausted their petrol, and our pilots, their energy. We are advised that, theoretically, for our machines in the air to descend, refill with petrol, and reascend to the proper height, would take some 45 minutes, but in practice other factors would supervene and the actual time taken would be considerably longer. The result might well be that the main enemy force would meet with practically no opposition, and after doing the maximum amount of damage, might return to its base with immunity and intact. In view of such a situation, which might well arise at any time, we submit that it might be advisable to avoid sending up more units than are necessary onthefirstwarningofacomingraid. Suchacontingencywethinkmust be contemplated and to meet it reserves should be kept in hand. We accordingly recommend that:

The air defence units for the London area should he sufficient not only to cope with feints, but to meet the real attack or a possible second attack follow- ing close on a first attack.

The formation and retention of such a reserve is only in accordance with the general and elementary principles of warfare.

II. We believe that if prompt effect is given to the above recommendations, subject always to the adequate and reasonable provision of aircraft for naval and military operations by land and sea, a fair measure of security for the London area from hostile raids may be obtained until, at any rate, some unforeseen development takes place.”

15 July 1917 – Empress attacks

Yesterday the seaplane carrier HMS Empress sailed from Port Said in Egypt to Karatash Burnu near the south-east coast of Turkey in preparation for bombing raids on cotton factories and crops in the nearby city of Adana.
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This morning at 0457 the first Short 184 (8018) took off and by 0509 the other three (8004, 8019 and 8020 were in the air. All four pilots reported hits on the factories though it was impossible to accurately gauge if any damage had been done.

All four aircraft got back safely and by 0655 they had been hauled in and the Empress set off back to Port Said.

12 July 1917 – Balloon sinks U-Boat

The use of Kite balloons with the fleet to detect submarines has been the subject of much debate with many suggesting that the balloon will give away the position of the ships. However the failure of the latest sortie by destoyers in the North Sea to score any hits has persuaded Admiral Beatty to give them a try.

A Kite Balloon Force of six destroyers, five of which carried balloons, was organized. The destroyers were to spread out across the known U-boat tracks and make an experiment in co-operative stalking. During the first operation, early in July, although submarines were sighted from the balloons, no attacks could be developed.

Yesterday however, a force of five destroyers (three with balloons) went out again, and this morning the observer in the balloon flown from the Patriot (Flight Lieutenant Osborne Arthur Butcher) sighted a U-boat on the surface twenty-eight miles away,

The destroyer raced away to the area. Before she arrived, the submarine had gone under, but shortly reappeared on the surface four miles off. The Patriot opened fire, but the U-boat went under again before a hit could be made. The destroyer, guided by the observer in the balloon, then dropped depth-charges. A small quantity of oil came to the surface, insufficient to indicate certain damage to the submarine, and the ships kept a close watch over the area. A little later there was an under-water explosion in the place where the U-boat had submerged, and a great oil patch began to form. It is possible that this was the U69 which was lost around this time with all 40 crew. However German sources are unable to corroborate this loss. And some sources suggest the boat was still operating until 24 July 1917.

This success led to the opening of new balloon bases at ports where destroyers and other patrol vessels were favourably placed for submarine hunting.

11 July 1917 – Smuts Committee

Following the decisions yesterday on Home Defence, the War Cabinet debated the issues again today.  The difficulty which the Government had to face, in trying to reassure the public, was that they could not, for obvious reasons, advertise that they had weakened the air fighting strength on the Western front in order to provide defence aircraft for England.

Later the same time it was obvious to the Government that the problem of home defence against air attack could not be isolated, that it must take its place in a survey of the whole air policy and organization.

A few days earlier Sir William Robertson (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) had written to Douglas Haig in anticipation:

“The fact is we have not got enough machines to meet our requirements. I find that I have brought the question before the Cabinet no fewer than six times during the present year. I doubt if any real progress will be made until a different organization is estabhshed. The Army and Navy now say what they want, the Air Board consider their wants, and then Addison [Minister of Munitions] makes the machines. I am inclined to think that we need a separate air service, but that would be a big business. There is a special debate ‘on the subject to-night, and it will probably be followed ‘by a secret session.'”

The Government decided, therefore, to set up a committee to examine:

(i) the defence arrangements for home defence against air raids, and

(ii) the air organization generally and the higher direction of aerial operations.

The committee was of a special kind with the Prime Minister nominally in the chair. In reality another member of the War Cabinet, Lieutenant-General Jan Christiaan Smuts, ran the committee and would write its reports.

9 July 1917 – Bombing Constantinople

After a period of relative inactivity the allies have finally commenced a bombing offensive on the Gallipoli Front. Their main objective is Constantinople and to assist in this a Handley Page 0/100 (3124) was flown 2000 miles from England.

To create diversionary attacks, ‘F’ Squadron and the Greek Naval squadron from Thasos were transferred temporarily to Mudros. Since 3 July 1917, day and night attacks have been carried out against the enemy aerodromes and other objectives on the Gallipoli Peninsula including Galata aerodrome and the flour mills and shipping at Gallipoli.

The Handley Page made a number of attempts to bomb Constantinople but was forced back by strong winds, narrowly avoiding a crash on 3 July.

Finally today, weather conditions were more favourable and the Handley Page, flown by Squadron Commander Kenneth Savory, set out at 2047 for Constantinople and reached it just before midnight.

The former German Battlecruiser SMS Goeben (now serving as the Turkish ship Yavuz Sultan Selim) was found surrounded by smaller craft including submarines and destroyers, undergoing repairs in Stenia Bay. The Handley Page attacked the Goeben from 800 feet, but although it appeared at the time that some of the eight 112lb. bombs dropped hit the battle cruiser, little damage was done.

Hits were made on the destroyer Yâdigâr-ı-Millet , and an explosion and fire followed which sunk the ship. The Handley Page then flew to the upper waters of the Golden Horn and dropped two bombs on the SS General which was apparently the German head-quarters, and afterwards attacked the Turkish War Office with the last two bombs, though little damage was done.

The raid took the enemy by surprise and it was almost over when searchlights and anti-aircraft guns finally went into action. The Handley Page arrived safely back at Mudros at 0340.

During the night the Greek squadron had made three separate attacks on targets in the Peninsula, and a pilot from Imbros had bombed the enemy seaplane base at Nagara.

Handley Page 0/100 3124