Category Archives: Strategic Developments

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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15 September 1917 – Haig’s views on the Air Ministry

Following on from General Smuts report on August, the War Cabinet accepted the formation of a separate Air Ministry in principle on 24 August, and then set up the Air Organisation Committee under General Smuts to work on the practicalities with Sir David Henderson leading the work.

At the same time there were misgivings in the War Office about the whole approach Sir Douglas Haig believed that one of the contentions on which the whole argument for a separate air service was based  – that the war could be won in the air as against on the ground – was a mere assertion unsupported by facts.

‘An Air Ministry with civilian head uncontrolled by any outside naval and military opinion, exposed as it would inevitably be to popular and factional clamour, would be very liable to lose its sense of proportion and be drawn towards the spectacular, such as bombing reprisals and home defence, at the expense of providing the essential means of co-operation with our naval and military forces.’

However, in his formal response to the report issued today, he confined his remarks to what was necessary to ensure the efficiency of the air service under the new structure, as the principle of the formation of a separate Air Service had already been approved by the War Cabinet.

He had, he said, carefully studied the report, and he found that some of the views put forward about future possibilities went beyond anything justified by his experience. He thought that a full examination of the problems associated with long-distance bombing would show that the views expressed by the committee required considerable modification, and he desired to point out the ‘grave danger of an Air Ministry, charged with such ‘powers as the Committee recommends, assuming control ‘with a belief in theories which are not in accordance with ‘practical experience’.

After reviewing the difficulties associated with long-distance bombing from aerodromes in French territory, Sir Douglas Haig had much to say about the supply of aeroplanes and trained personnel.

“After more than three years of war our armies are still very far short of their requirements, and ‘my experience of repeated failure to fulfil promises as ‘regards provision makes me somewhat sceptical as to the large surplus of machines and personnel on which the Committee counts in . . . its report. . . . Nor is it clear ‘that the large provision necessary to replace wastage has ‘been taken into account.”

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>

22 August 1917 – Last daylight raid

Before the Zeppelinlast night’s raid had even returned home from last night’s raid, a Squadron of Gotham set off on a mission to bomb England. Losses on the raid of xxxx meant that there were only 15 aircraft.

Four of them turned back with engine trouble, but the others came in over Margate about 1040 and, after dropping five bombs, continued south-west. Defensive aeroplanes from Manston were already approaching their height and so the Gothas turned south-east and attacked Ramsgate with thirty-four bombs.

Seven of these fell on hospitals and some of the others on shop and house property. They killed eight men (2 soldiers) and one child, and injured twelve men (9 soldiers), two women, and seven children.

The anti-aircraft gun-fire with which they were met when they appeared was accurate and the aeroplanes came up and pursued the bombers as they turned for Ramsgate. Two of the raiders were quickly brought down by gun-fire, one of them falling in the sea, and the other, in flames, between Westgate and Ramsgate.

From the Gotha which fell in the sea, a member of the crew was rescued and it was learned from him that the intention of the raiders was to separate after striking the coast near the North Foreland. One detachment was to continue up the Thames Estuary to bomb Sheerness, and the other southwards to attack Dover. The accuracy of the gun-fire and the presence of British aeroplanes brought about a change of plan, and the bombers, after the attack on Ramsgate, went out to sea again, pursued by naval aircraft, and recrossed the coast at Deal.

Under vigorous gun-fire they went on to Dover, where they arrived about 1110 and six of them dropped nine bombs which seriously damaged seven private houses, an inn, and a school. The casualties were two soldiers and one woman killed, and five soldiers injured.

135 aircraft went up to attack. One Gotha was shot down in the sea, possibly by gunfire but more likely by Flight Sub-Lieutenant J. Drake. The Gothas were continuously attacked over Dover, and across the sea to the Belgian Coast, by naval and Royal Flying Corps pilots, but without further losses.

The severity of the defence convinced the Germans that daylight raids were now too risky and they now switched to night raids. Despite this a small number of bombers never numbering more than 30, had forced the British to invest precious resources in Home a Defence, both in guns and men and in aircraft and pilots – keeping them from serving at the front where they were sorely needed.

 

17 August 1917 – “Defence of the empire”

Following the publication of his interim report on air defence of London on 19 July, General Smuts has been working on the second part of his brief: “air organisation generally and the direction of air operations”.

General Smuts had been reluctant to take on the job, as he did not want to get embroiled in the politics of the various disputes between the Air Committee, War Office, Admiralty and Ministry of Munitions. However, Lloyd George had persuaded him by nominally chairing the report and leaving Smuts to focus entirely on military matters.

Today he presented his second report to the War Cabinet. This slim seven page report is the most important document in the formation of the Royal Air Force. His core recommendation was:

“That an Air Ministry be instituted as soon as possible, consisting of a Minister with a consultative Board on the lines of the Army Council orAdmiralty Board, on which the several departmental activities of the Ministry will be represented; The Ministry to control and administer all matters in connection with aerial warfare of all kinds whatsoever, lncluding lighter-than-air as well as heavier-than-air-craft.”

The report can be read in full here.

The recommendation of course recognised that there might be short term inefficiencies, but as the War was expected to carry on into 1919, that it was worth making the change now. Smuts also had one eye on the future and would have gladdened the hearts of air enthusiasts such as Noel Pemberton-Billing with the lines:

“Air Supremacy may in the long run become as important a factor in the defence of the empire as sea supremacy.”

 

To this end, the report recommended that the preparations be made low key to avoid alerting the enemy.

7 August 1917 – Otranto

Back in February 1917 the Navy decided to establish a base at Otranto on the heel of Italy for anti-submarine patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean. Later in May 1917, at a conference held between the Italian, French, and British air service officers in the Adriatic, under the presidency of the Italian vice-admiral, the organization of the Allied aircraft patrols in the lower Adriatic, and in the Ionian Sea, was decided upon. Patrol zones were allotted to the three Allied air services.

6 Wing RNAS, now based are Otranto, was responsible for:

(i) by seaplanes, eight miles north of, and parallel with, the drifter line,

(ii) by seaplanes, ten miles north of proposed northern hydrophone line^ with the object of compelling U-boats to dive, and

(iii) by aeroplanes, along the western side of the Otranto Straits and to the southward of Cape Sta. Maria di Leuca, to prevent U-boats making a landfall.

The patrols began in June 1917. Sopwith strutter aeroplanes, which could get away quickly, were used chiefly as stand-by aircraft to be sent up immediately news came of the sighting of a U-boat.

The U-boat com- manders, however, increased their caution, and no sub- marine was attacked by the naval aircraft until the 8th of August, when seaplanes found a U-boat previously reported by the look-out station. She dived before the seaplanes could get into position for effective attack, but she was reported to the French aircraft base at Corfu, and when the U-boat came up later she was found by French pilots who claimed that they destroyed her with bombs.

3 August 1917 – Monoplane

Today, the Air Board placed an order for 125 Bristol M1c’s.

The Bristol M1c is a monoplane based on the Bristol M1A which had made its maiden flight on 14 July 1916. It was of conventional wood and fabric construction, with a carefully streamlined circular cross-section fuselage. The wing was shoulder mounted and was braced with flying wires running from the wing to the lower fuselage and landing wires from the wings to a cabane made of two semi-circular steel tube hoops positioned over the pilot’s cockpit. A 110 horsepower Clerget rotary engine drove a two-bladed propeller fitted with a large hemispherical spinner to reduce drag.

During official testing, it reached a speed of 128 miles per hour and climbed to 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in 8 minutes 30 seconds, although the forward and downward view was criticised by test pilots.

The War Office ordered four modified aircraft, designated M1B, in October 1916. These differed from the first prototype in having a more conventional cabane consisting of a pyramid of four straight steel struts, a large clear-view cut-out panel in the starboard wing root to give improved view for landing and a single Vickers machine gun mounted on the port wing root.

92-3Despite excellent performance – it had a maximum speed some 30-50 mph (50–80 km/h) higher than any of the contemporary German Fokker Eindecker and French Morane-Saulnier N monoplanes – it was rejected by the Air Ministry for service on the Western Front, officially because its landing speed of 49 mph was considered too high for small French airfields. However, many in the RFC high command also believed that monoplane aircraft were inherently unsafe in combat. The RFC had imposed a ban on monoplanes after the crash of one of the Bristol-Coanda Monoplanes on 10 September 1912, and despite the subsequent 1913 Monoplane Committee clearing the design type there persisted a deep-rooted suspicion of monoplanes –  reinforced by the RFC’s underwhelming experience with various Morane-Saulnier monoplanes, especially the Morane-Saulnier N, which was also criticised for its high landing speed.

Eventually the aircraft saw some action on the secondary fronts and was used extensively for training. It was also popular as a personal mount for senior officers.