Category Archives: Tactical Developments

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.

3 May 1917 – Close Air Support

It seems the Germans were resting a little today as a large number of bombing missions were carried out seemingly unopposed, including Don Station by 27 Squadron, Busigny and Brebieres Junctions by 55 Squadron, an enemy ammunition dump at Iwuy, Eswars aerodrome, and Tourmignies aerodrome by 16 and 100 Squadrons. There were no combat losses on any of these missions.


Stanley Forrester Browning

The only casualties were suffered by 41 Squadron who were attacked by a number of Jastas while on patrol. Captain Stanley Forrester Browning was killed in FE8 (A4873), and Lieutenant Alexander Fraser was taken prisoner in FE8 (7622).

The 25 Squadron FE2b A842 with 2nd Lt Berry King and Trumpeter

James Kingston Lawrence on board caught fire and nose-dived near Fiefs killing the crew. The cause of the fire in unknown.

In an unusual action, aerial reconnaissance by 43 Squadron showed German troops massing for a counter-attack of XIII Corps in the Oppy area. As a result Sopwith Strutters from 43 Squadron returned to attack the troops. The following day the RFC Communique suggested that 13 aircraft were involved, while the Official History says only 5. Either way they flew low over the trenches and machined gunned the troops. All the aircraft retuned safely. This is regarded as the first true close air support mission carried out by the RFC.

Whilst this mission gets a paragraph in the Official History of the air services (Volume 3, p373), and a mention on the RAF Museum’s timeline for 1917, it doesn’t seem that it was particularly important in the overall scheme of things as it does not get a mention in the Official History: Military Operations France and Belgium, 1917.

2 May 1917 – Easing off

After the frantic action of April, things have begun to calm down a little on the Western Front. On the one hand, the new German combat group has taken the pressure off those sectors where it is not operating. On the other Manfred von Richthofen has gone back to Germany on leave and this seems to have lessened the intensity of the group, though perhaps this was inevitable given the pressure of the last two months.


Kenneth John Knaggs

The main event of the day was a mass scrap involving 40 aircraft in the evening.  Eight Albatros scouts from Jasta 11 attempted to attack some 25 Squadron FE’s over Vitry. Flight Lieutenant Robert Alexander Little from 8 Naval Squadron then attacked and claimed to have driven one out of control. Little was then attacked by 4 new Albatros scouts from Jasta 10. Little fled for the lines by putting his aircraft into a spin. Albert Ball and Kenneth John Knaggs from 56 Squadron then arrived and shot up some of the the enemy.

Claims were made by both sides, but in the end neither suffered any losses other than minor damage and injuries.


1 May 1917 – Torpedoed

Back on 19 April German seaplanes had attempted a surprise torpedo attack on the North Goodwin Drifter Division and Ramsgate harbour but failed to sink any ships. However the impact of the attack on the Admiralty was to raise fears of a series of more serious attacks. Those fears appeared realised today when a second more successful attack was carried out.


SS Gena

The SS Gena, a collier was sailing in the war channel north-east of Southwold when she was attacked by two Hansa Brandenberg GW seaplanes from II Torpedostaffel Zeebrugge.

One of the seaplanes successfully dropped a torpedo which struck the Gena. However, one of the downsides of these large seaplanes is the slow speeds (the GW can only do 65 miles per hour) and the fact that they have to fly close to the sea (within 25 feet) to drop the torpedo. This makes them much easier to attack.

Sure enough, the Gena got off two rounds from her gun before sinking and with her second shot hit one of the seaplanes (703). The plane crashed into the sea and the crew Leutnant Richard Freude and Flugmaat Karl Berghoff were taken prisoner by the escorting patrol vessels which also recued the Gina’s crew.

This was the first British vessel sunk by an airborne torpedo in British waters.

This caused some disquiet amongst amongst naval officers and unofficially many adopted a “shoot first ask later” approach to aeroplanes.

13 April 1917 – Spider’s Web

Since the declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare back in February one of the main concern of the Navy has been to protect shipping in the English Channel supplying the forces in France. The German U-boats appear to have stepped up their campaign in April with an average of 20,000 tons a day lost.

The Admirality has had no option but to introduce a convoy system to protect shipping. However this will take time to set up and in the meantime various seaplane stations around the coast have stepped up their patrolling.

In an effort to improve the detection of u-boats, the Felixstowe flying-boat station has developed a more systematic approach.

It was known that many of the U-boats, on the way to their hunting grounds, passed near the North Hinder Light Vessel which was used as a navigation mark. Moreover, in an effort to conserve their battery power, most passed the area on the surface.

IMG_0925.PNGA search pattern was therefore devised to allow for the efficient searching of the area around the Light Vessel, which became familiar as the Spider-Web.

The web, centred about the Light Vessel, was an imaginary octagonal figure, sixty sea miles in diameter. There were eight radial arms (each thirty miles long), and chords, joining the arms, ten, twenty, and thirty miles from the centre.

The web enabled about four thousand square miles of sea to be searched systematically. Under normal conditions one flying-boat could search two complete sectors, enclosed by the arms, or a quarter of the whole web, in five hours. Today the first missions were flown using the new system.

As time went on the system was refined by plotting the latest known movements of u-boats to allow searched to be focussed in those areas.

Similar search patterns were introduced around the coast wherever u-boats were known to operate.


29 March 1917 – “Fighting in the Air”

The weather on the Western Front turned poor again today. With little chance for flying, perhaps some of the RFCs pilots took time to read the latest tactical manual issued by the General Staff.

Following on from “Notes on aeroplane fighting in Single Seater Scouts” issued in November General Staff have published a new memorandum drawing on the experience of air fighting dusing the Somme battle entitled “Fighting in the Air”.

It emphasised that concentration, mutual co-operation and support, and a system of command whereby the number of units under each commander is limited to what he can directly and effectively control, were the key to success.

It signalled the end of the era of lone wolf pilots and placed the emphasis firmly on developing the fighting unit not as a single aircraft but a group of three or more.

The memorandum also reaffirmed Hugh Trenchard’s doctrine of offense, stating at paragraph 3:

“Offensive tactics are essential in aerial fighting for the following reasons

(i) To gain the ascendancy alluded to above.

(ii) Because the field of action of aeroplanes is over and in rear of the hostile forces, and we must therefore attack in order to enable our machines to accomplish their missions, and prevent those of the enemy from accomplishing theirs.

(iii) Because the aeroplane is essentially a weapon of attack and not of defence. Fighting on land and sea takes place in two dimensions, but in the air we have to reckon with all three. Manceuvring room is therefore unlimited, and no number of aeroplanes acting on the defensive will prevent a determined pilot from reaching his objective.”

The full text of the doucument can be found at Appendix XI of Volume 3 of the official history, The War in the Air.



7 March 1917 – No aeroplanes will be fired at

Such is the demand for trained personnel at the front, that the War Office continues to explore ways and means still further to reduce the number of pilots and aeroplanes allotted to home defence.

Despite the continuing threat from enemy airships and now aircraft, extraordinary order was issued today by Lord French, Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, Home Forces. The order stated that:

“No aeroplanes or seaplanes, even if recognized as hostile, will be fired at, either by day or night, except by those anti-aircraft guns situated near the Restricted Coast Area which are ‘specially detailed for the purpose.”

The result of this order is that defences, outside the coastal areas, no longer need to be manned by day, and it is possible to make a considerable reduction in the home-defence

It appears that many commanders did not expect this to last once the weather improved. For example, the Anti-Aircraft Defence Commander, London, continued to prepare his plans to meet possible aeroplane attacks for immediate issue if and when the order not to fire should be cancelled.