Category Archives: Strategic Developments

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.
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.

14 July 1917– Supply and demand

Shortly after the withdrawal of 46 Squadron on 10 July 1917 for home defence, Major-General Trenchard was informed by the War Office that 24 Sopwith Camels promised to him for the re-equipment of a two-seater Sopwith squadron, and four DH4s for another squadron, would be diverted to Home Defence squadrons. There had been no hint of this in previous discussions and so Trenchard brought the
matter to the notice of Sir Douglas Haig.

The Commander-in-Chief wrote to Sir William Robertson today to complain:

“A serious reduction has been made at the last moment in the supply of aircraft on which I was counting for my operations. I have no information as to the authority on which such an important decision has been arrived at, and I have only learnt of it through these communications, addressed by a Directorate to a General Officer under my command, who has brought them to my notice. You will appreciate, without explanation from me, the unsatisfactory nature of such a method of procedure, and still more the seriousness of my being deprived suddenly and unexpectedly, at the present juncture, of forces on which I was counting to carry through an offensive of such great importance, the preparations for which have reached such an advanced stage that no alteration or modification can now be made without grave disadvantage.”

The War Office replied that the diversion of aircraft for home defence resulted from a War Cabinet decision, and there the matter was allowed to rest.

The consternation at these changes show the wider impact of the German raids. It only took the occasional raid to stir public opinion sufficiently that a significant number of aircraft and personnel were tied up in home defence where they would be mostly inactive unless the enemy actually made a raid.

The real military consequence was the diversion, at a critical time, of significant air strength from France to England. In the longer run however the attacks raised the possibility that a nation might be forced to sue for peace through an air offensive against its most important centres.

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.

2 July 1917 – Expansion

Following the German Air Raid on London on 13 June, such is the public outrage that the Government has been discussing over the last few weeks what should be done. On the one hand the German bombing campaign has resulted in Sir John French demanding more aircraft to be dedicated to Home Defence, whilst Sir Douglas Haig warns of the impact on army operations of removing fighting squadrons from the front.

The War Cabinet met on 13 and 14 June and at the second meeting the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir William Robertson, urged that there should be a large-scale increase in the number of aeroplanes, even at the expense of other weapons. The War Cabinet agreed in principle and ordered the departments concerned to confer together to draw up a scheme for the expansion of the air services.

Various memoranda were prepared, and after the preliminaries had been explored departmentally, a general conference was held at the War Office, under the chairmanship of Lord Derby, on 21 June. Lord Derby began by saying that the War Office proposed to double the Royal Flying Corps, even if it proved necessary in consequence to reduce the supply of tanks and of motor transport. The conference discussed this proposition and the logistics of it and then put it to the War Cabinet

Today, the War Cabinet agreed to the scheme and called:

“for an increase to commence at once, of the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps from 108 to 200 service squadrons, with the necessary aerodromes and establishment, and for a progressive increase in the output of aero engines to 4,500 a month, including certain supplies from overseas”.

and that there should be a “corresponding expansion and increase of the Royal Naval Air Service”.

It was easy to ask for an extra 92 Squadrons, but it was going to be very difficult to resource and man such as large increase given the current difficulties in keeping the existing Squadron’s supplied.

15 June 1917 – Methods suggested for the prevention of air raids in the United Kingdom

Douglas Haig has been called home to discuss the war effort. He has been told that following the raid on London on 13 June, the public outcry has been such that the Government will be discussing home defence.  Hugh Trenchard, Commander of the RFC was asked to set down his thoughts on defending the coast.

He set them down today to an HQ memorandum to Haig:

“METHODS SUGGESTED FOR THE PREVENTING OF AIR RAIDS IN THE UNITED KINGDOM [Memorandum of Major-General H. M. Trenchard, prepared for the Commander-in-Chief, June 1917]

Before attempting to lay down methods, the following points must be understood

(a) To keep one machine in the air all day requires five machines and five pilots at least.

(b) It is no good suggesting methods which the present limitation of aircraft would prevent being carried out regularly and systematically, such as choosing an objective outside the normal range of the machine.

(c) The least effective and most expensive way of protecting a place like London is to have constant patrols. (d) The limitation of the output of pilots, machines, and engines owing first to the shortage of labour and secondly to the shortage of raw material.

The following methods are suggested:
1. To capture the Belgian Coast up to Holland
2. Landing people with explosives to set fire to sheds at night
3. Reprisals
4. Patrols

1. Capture of the Coast

With regard to this, the advantages are:

(a) If the coast was captured the German machines would then have to cross our lines or pass over neutral country. If they crossed our lines they would be engaged by our anti-aircraft guns; they would have to pass over our aerodromes, and our fast machines would be able to see them and go up and engage them over the latter long before they got to England. The Germans would also have to come back the same way, again being engaged both by aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns.

(b) They would also be more easily seen and warnings could be sent to England.

(c) Their landing-grounds would be further away from England.

2. Landing People at Night

The advantages of this system are:

(a) Very few machines are required to do this. Two or three machines could land in the vicinity of a big aerodrome on a really good moonlight night and set fire to the sheds.

(b) If these big bombing machines which the Germans are using could be burnt, it would take some considerable time to provide new ones.

The disadvantages are:

(a) It could not be done except on a good night.

(b) It is impossible to say on which aerodrome the machines might be. Even if a squadron is located at one aerodrome, there is nothing to prevent it from moving to another unknown to us.

(c) If the sheds were set alight and destroyed it would only be possible to do this once or twice before the sheds were heavily protected and if unsuccessful the first time it would probably fail again at subsequent attempts.

(d) The man landed would have to trust to get through to Holland to get away and probably this would be impossible, but no doubt we could get volunteers for it.

3. Reprisals (by a few machines or by large organized squadrons).

The advantages of this method are

(a) The German population is more easily moved by having their own country touched than the English population

(b) The first method is to use a few machines which could be made available in England and sent out to us here to go long distances such as to Aix-la-Chapelle, Cologne, Coblenz and to send one or two of these machines with selected pilots to drop bombs and papers warning them that more machines would be sent as was done in the case of the French bombing raid on Freiburg. This might have some effect without entail- ing the use of large forces as single machines would have a greater chance of getting through and back again without being seen, and this could be done at once.

(c) The G.O.C. the German Flying Corps has stated that the distant towns are out of reach of British machines, and he has assured the whole country of this. (d) This might have a great effect on the enemy as it might make him withdraw a certain number of machines, and certainly withdraw pilots for the local defence of towns.

The disadvantages are

(a) There are no army machines in France with sufficient range to be able to carry out raids on Prussian towns, but this difficulty would be got over by improvised machines. There are a certain number of machines in this country that would be able to carry out raids on the Southern German towns such as Freiburg, but there are machines which could be provided from home, if the information I have been supplied with is correct (such as the De Hav. 4 with B.H.P. engine and 5 J hours petrol), but these machines could not bomb the far distant towns except on favourable occasions.

(b) To organize bombing squadrons with a large range on a large scale would take a considerable time.

(c) Another disadvantage of reprisals is they would only lead to further reprisals from the enemy. We must be prepared, if reprisal methods are to be adopted, to carry it through and outlast the enemy. They would always defeat us at reprisals unless we put forth our whole energy and this would seriously interfere with the supply of the machines necessary for artillery work.

4. Patrols.

I will discuss these rather generally from the point of view of three possible systems

(a) Constant patrols protecting London, the English Coast, or the Coast out here. The patrolling of these areas would mean a large number of machines, and even then, as the air is so vast, it would still be comparatively easy for the German machines to get to London without having been seen or caught by any of our patrols on the way. This method might, of course, with luck, intercept the machines and either bring them down or drive them back. This has been proved without a doubt during the last two years of fighting on the Western front. The system would, however, lock up a very large number of machines and pilots on a purely defensive plan which would never stop an aggressive enemy.

(b) Another system of patrols would be to patrol over the enemy’s aerodromes to watch for machines leaving. This would also entail a large number of machines and in addition they would either have to patrol under the fire of the enemy’s anti-aircraft guns, or if they kept at such a height that the guns could not do much harm then the aerodrome would very often be out of sight. It would be very hard to know whether our machines were patrolling over the right aerodromes, as during the summer the enemy has many temporary aerodromes, and all our information goes to prove that they move their machines constantly from one aerodrome to another. Temporary aerodromes are made fairly easily during the dry weather.

(c) A third system of patrolling would be to have one or two machines with long-range wireless to patrol the Coast from Dunkirk to Holland watching for the German machine s to come out to sea. This, of course, has the same drawback as the first system of patrolling, i.e. the machine would probably not see the enemy, but, of course, if he did see them and sent his wireless message England would be warned earlier and also Dunkirk, at both of which places a special group of fast machines could be located ready to go up and attempt to follow and attack the raiders. This might be successful at times, but it is not a sure method.

Other methods which have been suggested are:

The constant bombing of German aerodromes. But I would point out that during the whole time we have been on the Western Front only once has a bomb hit one of our hangars, on this occasion it destroyed five machines. We have bombed the enemy’s aerodromes a great number of times, but I do not suppose we have destroyed more than one hundred of his machines in this way, as even if we do hit a shed it is probably a small one containing one machine only, as many German aerodromes have this type of shed.

Daylight bombing from a height is still very inaccurate and though large towns and big stations are easy to hit, it is very hard to hit a small individual shed.
The chief point to remember is that practically none of our machines have got the necessary range or tank capacity for long-distance bombing. It should be remembered that over a year ago we asked that, as soon as the Army had been supplied with the necessary number of machines to enable the Army’s operations to be carried out efficiently, ten bombing squadrons should be provided with a view to carrying out this sort of work. I regret to say we are apparently nowhere near receiving these latter squadrons as we have not yet got the necessary number of machines to meet the needs of the Army.”

15 April 1917 – “Too high”

The first phase of the British offensive on the Western Front came to an end yesterday, and gave RFC command a chance to consider the operation so far.  The weather had severely restricted air work, but what had been possible had shown that a change of tactics was desirable. The offensive patrols had too often passed without incident, and it seemed clear that the enemy had, at least temporarily, ceased to fly at great heights. A memorandum, issued from the Royal Flying Corps headquarters on the 15th of April, stated:

“The enemy seems for the moment to have given up, to a certain extent, his method of depending entirely upon height, and his machines and formations are undoubtedly slipping underneath our high patrols without being seen by them. His tactics are of course rendered easier by the cloud layer which, even on fine days, has extended of late somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 feet. By coming up through or underneath these clouds his machines have on several occasions attacked our photographic and artillery machines unseen by our scouts ‘although large numbers of the latter have been in the area at the time. High patrols must be maintained, otherwise the enemy will undoubtedly adopt his former tactics once again, but they often miss an opportunity through being too high. It must be remembered that the conditions which favour this form of attack by the enemy apply equally in our own case, and that low patrols working under or through the clouds should obtain many opportunities of acting by surprise. While therefore the G.O.C. is very strongly opposed to anything in the nature of a local escort of scouts, he would like Brigadiers to consider carefully the advisability of working some of their patrols at or about the height at which the Corps machines are working, with high patrols up at the same time.”

The Germans it seems were on the defensive and outnumbered. Under instructions from the Supreme Army Command, the majority of single-seater fighters were sent up only when the Royal Flying Corps was most active. Special air protection officers (Luftschutz Offiziere) were stationed well forward to watch and report on the movements of the Royal Flying Corps aeroplanes. Based on their reports the air commanders at the various corps headquarters judged whether to bringing their fighting aeroplanes into action.