Category Archives: RNAS

24 September 1917 – die Rache

Throughout September, DH4s from RNAS Squadrons based at Dunkirk have been attempting to disrupt German bomber squadrons targeting England by bombing their aerodromes. The Germans have finally had enough and this evening they attacked the RNAS depot at St. Pol.

Luckily for the Germans, bombs hit the pump-house, which supplied the water for the fire mains. It put the fire mains out of action and when the engine repair-shed was set on fire there was no way to put it out.

About a thousand men were organized to save material from the various buildings, but great damage was caused anyway. The engine repair-shop, saw-mill, machine-shop, spare engineshop, engine packing-shed, and the drawing and records offices were all destroyed.

In the engine packing-shed one hundred and forty engines were lost (83 130hp Clerget; 10 110hp Clerget; 37 80hp Le Rhone; 5 150hp BR1; 1 200hp B.H.P.; 1 90hp Rolls-Royce; 1 250hp Rolls-Royce; and 2 275 hip Rolls-Royce.

Given the shortage of supply of engines, there has been a great focus on salvaging and repairing old engines for reuse. This is a major blow to the RNASs operational capacity.

Despite all the damage, luckily no one was seriously injured.

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22 September 1917 – Finally

Early this morning, the Curtis “Large America” flying-boat based at Dunkirk set off for a routine patrol of the North Sea escorted by a Sopwith Camel. The crew consisted of Flight Sub Lieutenants Norman Ansley Magor and Charles Edward Stafford Lusk and Leading Mechanic Reginald Arthur Lucas.

Near the West Hinder Sandbank, they spotted a submarine fully surfaced. Before the submarine could submerge, the flying-boat attacked with two 230-lb. bombs. Both bombs scored direct hits on the hull, and the submarine heeled over and sank.

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Reginald Arthur Lucas

The Official History claimed that this was UC72. However this is unlikely, This ship was lost sometime after 23 August but its fate was unknown until 2013, when the wreck was discovered. It now appears that it struck a mine.

It is now believed that the U-boat sunk was probtably UB32, which was lost around this time.

Again the Official History suggests that UB32 was sunk on 18 August 1917, but later records prove that this cannot be the case. It also claimed this was the first U-boat sunk by air attack alone.

It seems then the UB32 could be the first and only sinking of U-boat by air action alone.

Magor subsequently received the Distinguished Service Cross and Lucas the Distinguised Service Medal.

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.

 

12 September 1917 – Accidents will happen

The RNAS suffered two accidents today back on the home front.

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 Aylmer Fitzwarren Bettington

Firstly, Captain Aylmer Fitzwarren Bettington, Commanding Officer of the Eastbourne Naval Flying School was killed carrying out height tests in an Avro 504e (N6150) which was completely wrecked.

Later in the evening, Airship SS42a crashed into a farm building near Pembroke. The airship was badly damaged in the crash and drifed out to sea. The crew, Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Walter Davies Cripps and Leading Mechanic J C Simpson, both went missing presumed drowned.

7 September 1917 – The drifters

The SSZ (Sea Scout Zero) airships  are designed and built at the RNAS airship station at Capel-le-Fernenear Folkestone as a successor to the SS class.

Similar to other SS class types, the SSZs has an envelope of 70,000 cu ft (2,000 m3) capacity containing two ballonets of 6,375 cu ft (180.5 m3) each;and like the SSPs, the fuel is contained in aluminium tanks slung on the axis of the envelope.

The design of the car is a streamlined, boat-shaped and watertight cab, floored from end-to-end, and  enclosed with sides of fabric-covered 8-ply wood or aluminium. The car is comfortable and accommodates a 3-man crew – the forward position being occupied by the wireless operator/gunner with the pilot seated amidships, and the engineer stationed at the rear. It’s main role is to escort convoys and scout or search for German U-boats.

Today, SSZ-14, under the command of Flight Lieutenant Arthur Stanley Elliott , set out on patrol from Mullion.

F32D504A-72BB-4C36-9559-CA6584979176-1706-00000180DD0F0547“She left Mullion on 7 September, 1917, at 9.05 am, and proceeded on her patrol. At 4.25 pm the engine suddenly stopped. All efforts to restart her were unsuccessful. The ship signalled engine trouble and gave her position. At 4.35 she had risen to 2,500 feet and was drifting in a SSW direction. An hour later the drogue was accidentally dropped overboard, but a suitable and efficient substitute was soon made out of a chair, coats and petrol tins.

The Lewis gun was then thrown overboard to prevent the ship from hitting the water, as by this time she had descended to a very low altitude. At 5.45 the sun came out again and the ship rose to 3,500 feet. At 6 pm she was brought down to 100 feet and further efforts were made to restart the engine, but without result. The drogue worked very well, however, keeping the craft shearing just off the wind, and at 6.35 she was drifting south, some forty miles south of Start Point.

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Arthur Stanley Elliott

Lifebelts were then given out to the crew, and at 6.45pm the ammunition trays, revolvers and pyrenes were thrown overboard. Between 6.55 and 7.35 positions were received from the Lizard, and Brest was informed. At 7.35 cartridges and the cover of the Aldis lamp were thrown out, oil was drained from the tank, and later the water was drained out of the radiator and the petrol was run into the ballast bags. The explosives were taken out of the bombs and thrown overboard.

At 8.57 pm the ship reported to the Lizard that she was over land, and at 9.15 she landed near St. Jean du Doight, Finistere, having used all ballast. There she was deflated and taken by wagon to Guipavas Airship Station, where, with the assistance of the French, the crew re-inflated her, and on 21st she flew back to her station. No damage was done and no spares were required. She had free-ballooned a distance of approximately 120 miles – thanks to the very efficient adjustments made from time to time throughout the forced trip by her pilot, Flt. Lt. Elliott.”

2 September 1917 – Reprisals

Out on the Gallipoli front, the Handley Page based at Mudros has been carring out more raid. It set off this evening for an attack on Adrianople.

On the way, north-east of Samothrace, tbe crew spotted a U-boat in the moonpath and two delay-action bombs were dropped on the ship as it tried to submerge.it was not known at the time what happened but later German sources do not suggest any losses in the area that day.

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Edgar Foster

The Handley Page then went on by way of Kuleli Burgas (two bombs) to Adrianople, where her main load was dropped on the station and neighbouring buildings. The crew then returned safely to her base.

While they had been away, seven enemy bombing attacks had been made on Mudros, causing slight damage, but no casualties,

In retaliation four Henri Farmans attacked Chanak aerodrome. Unfortunately, one of these was lost and the pilot Flight Sub Lieutenant Edgar Foster was taken prisoner.

25 August 1917 – Naval Air Policy

Admiral Beatty, the Commander in Chief of the Navy, had written to the Board of the Admiralty on 20 August requesting clarification on the overall policy on Naval Aviation.

<blockquote>“A correct policy is of vital moment to our air supremacy at sea during the year 1918…Possibly a definite policy has been decided upon by the staff, assisted by the experts concerned. If this is so, I should be glad if a member of the naval staff visited me and explained the proposals ; if no definite policy has yet been formulated, it is urgent the matter should be discussed between the naval staff, the technical experts, and myself at the earliest possible date.”</blockquote>

The Admiralty realised that no definite air policy had been laid down in black and white. There was a rapid exchange of memoranda on the question between the various Sea Lords and today a preliminary general statement of naval air policy, drawn up by the First Sea Lord was sent to Admiral Beatty.

<blockquote>ADMIRALTY MEMORANDUM ON NAVAL AIR POLICY

The Air Policy to which the Admiralty is working is as follows:

(i) Lighter-than-air craft.

To provide a type of airship, in sufficient numbers, which will be able to scout with the Fleet, and, in this respect, to perform the duty of light cruisers.

To provide also a type of airship for coastal patrol work and for escort of merchant ships and convoys unless and until this duty can be performed by heavier-than-air craft.

To provide also a sufficient number of kite balloons for the work which is required of them in the Fleet, in destroyer flotillas which are engaged in submarine hunting or in convoy work, and in trawler flotillas engaged in similar duties.

(2) Heavier-than-air machines.

(a) Those for use in seaplane carriers.
Under this heading the policy is to provide a sufficient number for reconnaissance, for engaging enemy aircraft, for observation of fire and for torpedo carrying. The policy also is to provide, when conditions admit, a sufficient number of seaplane carriers to work with the Grand Fleet, with the Harwich Flotilla, the Dover Patrol, Tenth Cruiser Squadron, Ireland, Gibraltar, and the Mediterranean.

(b) To provide also, when a satisfactory type is evolved, a sufficient number of lighters for carrying seaplanes for extended reconnaissance and for engaging enemy aircraft in Southern waters.

(c) The provision of heavier-than-air craft apart from Fleet work.
The policy is to provide machines for offensive action against submarines, mine-laying and attack of enemy aircraft, detection of minefields, protection of trade (by patrol or convoy), reconnaissance of such places as the Belgian coast and other enemy naval bases within reach of this type of machine.
To provide also torpedo-carrying seaplanes for work against the enemy bases in the Mediterranean, in addition to aircraft to carry out in the Mediterranean duties similar to those for which they are required in home waters.

(d) The policy also is to develop wireless, D.C.B.’s (Distant Control Boats), and vessels of larger type, dependent upon the result of experiments now in progress.

It must be recognized that it is one thing to lay down policy, and another, quite a different one, to carry it out after three years of war, when difficulties of every sort connected with the supply of labour and material are met with in every direction, and therefore, although the policy is as above mentioned, it may be anticipated that very considerable delays will be experienced in carrying out that policy.</blockquote>