Category Archives: RNAS

4 June 1917 – Ostende

Following the unsuccessful attack on Zeebrugge on 12 May, Vice-Admiral Bacon turned his attention to the dockyard at Ostende, a larger target, but one that was flanked by houses.

After the weather curtailed a number of early attempts on 26 and 27 May, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, with destroyers and auxiliary craft, set out this evening.

To cover the operation in the direction of the Thornton Bank and the Schouwen Bank, Commodore Tyrwhitt went out with the Harwich Force, and, early next morning, he intercepted two German destroyers, one of which, the S.20, he sank. In the later stages of this destroyer action, German seaplanes from Zeebrugge took part and, coming down on the water, they picked up and carried home one officer and seven men of the crew of the S.20.

From 16,000 feet above Ostend, part of the destroyer action was watched from the aeroplanes which were in position ready to direct the fire of Vice-Admiral Bacon’s monitors.

D90B3FA7-74E0-47E9-B2B6-CF46F502DBE2-560-0000009203E2F8E8There were two DH4 aeroplanes for spotting, escorted by two others and by two Sopwith Pups. In addition, to prevent German aircraft spotting for the shore batteries against the ships, or from making direct bombing attacks on them, there were two fighter patrols in the neighbourhood.

The air observer’s signal that he was ready was made at 0322 and fire was opened within a few minutes. To avoid a possible initial shelling of the town, the monitors were ranged on a point about a 1,000 yards short of the eastern boom, and the guns were not lifted on their target until the line and direction had been given as correct. When the range was lengthened, fire was at once reported on the target, and a central hit was quickly signalled. Soon after fire was opened a German kite balloon ascended 5,000 feet behind Ostend presumably to direct the enemy coast batteries on the bombarding ships. One of the patrolling pilots in a Sopwith Pup, diving from 18,000 feet, shot the balloon down. Meanwhile numerous enemy smoke screens had been started and, by 0345, the docks and the surrounding country had become obscured. The smoke spread until it covered about ten to fifteen square miles, including the entire harbour, and, at 0400, Vice-Admiral Bacon judged it was useless to continue. Of the 115 rounds fired at that point, 36 had been spotted from the air, and photographs taken later in the day showed that at least twenty shells had fallen on the docks.

One object of the bombardment, the infliction of damage on the destroyer repair shops, had been attained. It was also revealed by U-boat prisoners, taken shortly afterwards, that the bombardment led to the sinking in the harbour of the submarine UC70 as well as an armed trawler, and that three destroyers which could not get out of harbour in time were damaged. The UC70 had been lying alongside a petrol lighter which was exploded by a direct hit; the U-boat was afterwards raised and repaired at Bruges.

The tracking of Zeppelins has become quite sophisticated now. A central operations room has been established at the Admiralty to coordinate the messages coming in from the British wireless interception stations and those going out to the eight Warning Controls (the country was divided into areas for the purpose of warning of an attack).

When Zeppelins approached within 150 miles of the English Coast their position, course, and speed were communicated at once, by telephone from the Admiralty, direct to one or more of the East Coast flying-boat bases.

The commanding officers at each base then had the discretion to launch one or more flying-boats. The subsequent positions of the airship or airships were passed on, as they were plotted to the air stations, and then relayed by wireless to the flying-boats already in the air. The receipt of continuous information also enabled commanding officers to judge the need for sending up additional aircraft.

Today an additional innovation was added in a special squared chart of the southern part of the North Sea, known as Tracing Z. This enabled the positions of Zeppelins to be communicated by code signals based on the chart.

29 May 1917 – Advertisement Lighting Order

Today, Britain got even darker – literally, when the Government implemented a further lighting restriction covering all of England and Wales.

The ‘Advertisement Lights Order’ prohibited the use of illuminated advertisements, of lights outside or at the entrance to any place of amusement, and of all lighting inside shop premises for display or for advertisement after the shops had been closed.

The Order would remain in force for the next 2 years. From that time period it will be clear that this continued well after the war was over and the threat of air raids gone.

This was because the primary reason for the lighting order was not to impair the ability of raiders to find targets but simply to save coal and was made at the request of the coal controller.

In fact up to this point most Zeppelins had struggled to recognise targets in the dark and the recent aircraft raids had taken place in daylight.

In many ways the order really only served the purpose of reassuring the public, particularly in areas subject to frequent raids.

27 May 1917 – Marian Disaster

‘F’ Squadron RNAS has spent the last four weeks carrying out bombing missions on stations and supply dumps across the Macedonian front. However today disaster struck.

Five Sopwith Strutters had been wheeled out on the aerodrome at Marian and loaded with bombs for a raid. The weather proved unfavourable and the aeroplanes were put back in the hangar, where they were left in readiness to set off immediately the weather conditions improved.

Also in the hangar were three single-seater fighters, with four men at work on them. Suddenly there was an explosion and the hangar burst into flames. Other explosions followed as the bombs were detonated, and the flames spread to a small nearby hangar in which two aeroplanes were housed. Both hangars and the aircraft were destroyed within three minutes.

The four men killed in the hangar were Chief Petty Officer William Hugh Woodhead, 1st Class Air Mechanics Frederick C Mitford and Leslie Oldman and 2nd Class Air Mechanic Harry Norman John Gibson

Four other mechanics and one soldier who were on the aerodrome at the time were wounded.

It remains unknown how the accident huappened. The armourer in the main hangar, CPO Woodhead was a man of experience and proved caution, and the fan safety devices were supposed to render harmless any bomb dropped from a height less than 200 feet, so that even if a bomb accidentally fell off its rack inside the hangar, it should not have exploded.

Local commanders attempted to keep news of the disaster from reaching the enemy. Signs of the fire were removed and talk of the accident was forbidden. Nevertheless rumours began to spread within a few weeks.

24 May 1917 – Zeppelins return and a dramatic rescue

Despite poor weather consisting of snow and hail, six Zeppelins attempted a raid on London overnight (L40, L42, L43, L44, L45 and L47). L44 turned back with engine trouble just after reaching the English coast and dropped bombs in the sea. L47 miscalculated its position and also dropped bombs over the sea due to thick clouds.

L42 came farthest inland flying over Essex to Braintree, then turning north-west and, later, north-east, before going out to sea near Sheringham at 0325. overland for three hours. During that time bombs fell in open country causing some minor damage. On the way back, the ship was struck by lightning three times but got home.

The L45 and L43 followed similar paths across Suffolk and Norfolk through an area of thunderstorms. Between them they dropped 40 bombs damaging property and killing a farm labourer.

L40 did not reach land either and turned back with engine trouble. At the same time a flyingboat from Yarmouth, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Christopher John Galpin, set out for Terschelhng in the hope finding a Zeppelin. At about 0530 the L.40 suddenly appeared out of a cloud a mile ahead. The captain of L40 dropped his remaining bombs and climbed as rapidly as he could. Galpin had approached to within 300 yards when the nose of the Zeppelin met the clouds. He was able to fire off half a drum of incendiary ammunition but failed to hot and the Zeppelin disappeared.

Despite a large number of sorties from RNAS and RFC aircraft, there were no further encounters mainly due poor weather and visibility,

Two Sopwith ‘Baby’ seaplanes, had left from Westgate air station but only one returned. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Leonard Graeme Maxton was missing. It turned out that they had already been picked up by a trawler but this was unknown so at 0810 Flight Sub-Lieutenant Harold March Morris, with 2nd Class Air Mechanic GO Wright, went out in a Short seaplane to look for the missing Sopwith. What happened to the Short was told later by Morris in his report:

‘On Thursday 24th at 8 a.m. I was ordered with A. M. 2nd Class Wright as observer to go in search of Flight Sub-Lieutenant Maxton who had failed to return. I set out steering East for 30 minutes, then I turned N.W. for 5 when my engine suddenly stopped. I was forced to land.

The sea was choppy and the wind rising, so my observer sent off his pigeon while I kept the machine head to wind. At about 2.30 my starboard lower plane was carried away causing us to swing broadside on to the sea: we climbed out on to the other plane so as to balance things, but the machine gradually got tail to wind and the tail plane was smashed and the machine gradually began to sink tail first. As she sank we climbed out on to the floats and sat on them, till I was washed off, but managed to catch the tail under water and climb on again. Here we sat till the machine sat up propeller in air and finally turned right over, leaving just the underneath part of each float out of the water. By this time the sea was very rough and the wind blowing a gale. We clung as best we could all night and when morning dawned, the wind had dropped considerably and the sea was getting quieter. We watched all day and by evening the sea was calm and we caught sight of a lightship and a cruiser and two destroyers in the distance, but we could not make them.

About sunset six seaplanes, flying very low, and in diamond formation, flew over us as we waved to them and they answered by firing a green light, but they took no further notice. Their machines had our markings, but were going east and flying very fast. Nothing else happened till the Sunday when an aeroplane flew over, but failed to see us.

The weather remained calm till on the Tuesday at about 2 ‘clock we sighted an H.12, which also saw us; it circled round coming lower and lower and finally landed, although the sea was getting rough again. As it passed us we hung on to the wires and climbed in. We tried to get it up again, but the water was too rough and we only broke our tailplane, so we taxied for about 25 miles till we sighted the Orient which took us aboard and later on transferred us to the White Lilac which brought us into Felixstowe at about 9.30 p.m. on Tuesday night. The signal code book we had with us was first torn up and then thrown into the sea, just before our machine turned over.”

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Harold Dent Smith

The H12 crew were Flight Sub-Lieutenants James Lindsay Gordon and George Ritchie. Hodgson, Leading Mechanic SF Anderson, and Wireless Operator BW Millichamp.

One pilot was lost however, when Flight-Sub-Lieutenant Harold Dent Smith failed to return. It was assumed he had crashed in the sea and was drowned.

20 May 1917 – Kavalla bombarded

Out on the Macedonian Front the British commanders have received reports from prisoners that German submarines are being assembled in the Customs House buildings at Kavalla. Air reconnaissance has revealed great activity in the port, as well as new mine-fields, and reports of additional heavy guns on the coast. The Vice-Admiral has therefore ordered a naval bombardment of Kavalla.

All the Royal Naval Air Service units in the area are involved. Preliminary photographic reconnaissance of Kavalla and its forts have been carried out, and the waters near the port were closely surveyed for mines.

Today the attack commenced. ‘A’ Squadron at Thasos, reinforced by three seaplanes from Mudros, have the task of directing the fire of the monitors M29 and M33 on the Customs House, Post Office, and lighters, and of the Raglan on any enemy guns which open fire on the bombarding ships. Aircraft patrols in search of U-boats and mines are also to be maintained while the bombardment is in progress.

At 0410 the first aircraft went up to carry out the spotting. The monitors were quickly ranged on their targets, and it was not long before the Customs House, the Post Office, and a barracks were on fire.

Unfortunately the Henri Farman scheduled to co-operate with the Raglan was shot down and the crew, Flight Sub Lieutenant James Douglas Haig and Sub Lieutenant Gordon Keightley, were thrown out and killed. German ace Rudolf von Eschwege from FAb30 was responsible.

A relieving aircraft, a Short seaplane, took over the spotting for the monitors soon after 0600, and a Nieuport arrived at the same time and patrolled in readiness to direct the Raglan on active enemy guns. The Guns remained silent however, put off by a patrol of five bombers and three escorts from ‘E’ and ‘F’ Squadrons which had flown down from Marian specially for this operation and made an early hit on an occupied gun emplacement,

Air photographs taken next day revealed considerable damage to the Customs House and to other buildings in its vicinity.

20 May 1917 – U-boat sunk

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Charles Reginald Morris

The Felixstowe flying-boat patrols set up n 26 April 1917 have not taken long to have some success. Today Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Reginald Morrish and Henry George Boswell, 1st Air Mechanic William F Caston, and Leading Mechanic A. E. Shorter), were on patrol in an H12 ‘Large America’ 8663 east of the North Hinder, when they sighted a submarine in full buoyancy about five miles away.

The pilot bore down on the U-boat and, as recognition signals went unanswered, they dropped two bombs, each of which exploded in front of the conning tower. The U-boat went under and patches of oil came to the surface, but there was no real indication of her fate.

A post-war comparison with the German records, however, has revealed that she was probably the U.C.36 which never returned to her base. This seems to have been the first direct sinking of a U-boat by aircraft.

Eventually on 14 July 1919, the crew were awarded £125 bounty by the prize court.