Category Archives: Western Front

13 June 1918 – Still going

Remarkably, despite the rapid pace of aircraft technology, an aircraft that was designed pre-war, first flew in 1915 and possibly accounted for Max Immelmann in June 1916 is still flying combat missions and would continue to do so until the end of the war – the Fe2b.

Admittedly the FE2b is longer flying in its originally intended role as a fighter as it has long been outclassed – having a low top speed (91 miles an hour – falling to little more than 70 mph at 10,000 feet), a poor climb rate, and poor maneuverability due to its massive size (being nearly twice as big as a Sopwith Camel) – See the Vintage Aviator for a description of the flight characteristics taken from a fllihgt of a recent reproduction).

However it is these relatively docile handling characteristics, coupled with the good forward field of view (due to the pusher layout) that have seen it given a second life as a night bomber – where the opposition from superior enemy fighters is negligible. It was first used as a night bomber in November 1916 and specialist FE2b night bomber squadrons were formed in February 1917. By the end of the war FE2bs were still in use as night bombers in eight bomber squadrons, with 860 of the 1939 built being built or converted to night bombing.

One of these is 38 Squadron RAF which originally flew the aircraft as a Home Defence night fighter, but which in May 1918 was designated as a night bomber Squadron. They moved to Dunkirk and tonight flew their first combat mission in their new role when 10 FE2b’s bombed Ostend docks.

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12 June 1918 – Four in one go

Today, Captain Roy Phillipps MC, serving with 2 Squadron AFC, claimed four enemy aircraft in a single patrol. They were his victories in a new aircraft – SE5a (D6860).

The first was an LVG C which was captured South of Marqueglise. around 1130. Ten minutes later he shot down the commanding officer of Jasta 63, and 11 victory ace, qr in his Fokker Dr1, who was taken prisoner. He downed another Fokker DrI five minutes later. Finally he shot down a Fokker DVII near Goumay. His combat report read:

“While on an offensive patrol, a formation of 6 triplanes was observed to dive on a patrol from No.43 Squadron. I dived on the highest which did not seem to see me and I fired a burst of 50 rounds at close range into it; this machine side slipped and fell out of control, crashing near Gury.

Zooming up into the fight again, I attacked another triplane head on and fired another 50 rounds into it. This machine turned over on its back and went down vertically, crashing into a wood S of Canestanncourt.

At around 11am while on same patrol, as in combat 91, 2 LVG 2 Seaters were observed 2000 feet below my level. I dived down on the rear machine which turned off sharply to the N, so I left that and dived on the other which was flying E along the line, firing a burst of 100 rounds at about 100 yards range. This machine after attempting to dive away from me crashed to the S of a white barrage’ apparently in our lines, S of Marquesliss and burst into flames after hitting the ground.

This machine was one of a formation of about 10 EA, which dived on No 43 Squadron’s patrol from the south. At the time I was flying towards some enemy two seaters followed by No 43 Squadron whom they attacked.

I saw one Fokker biplane diving on a Camel, and getting good position I fired about 50 rounds at 75 yards range. The EA zoomed up and went into a spin but could not follow it down as I was attacked by the other EA.

This machine was even to crash by a pilot of No 43 Squadron. “

Roy Phillipps

Phillipps had originally served joined the infantry in 1915 but was invalided out following two wounds. He then transferred to 2 Squadron AFC as an observer before applying for pilot training in May 1917. He served briefly with 32 Squadron RFC and then returned to 2 Squadron AFC in September 1917.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for the action. He went on to score a further four victories for 15 in total.

11 June 1918 – “No control”

As RAF Chief of Staff, Frederick Sykes has finally achieved his vision of a strategic bombing force, to attack Germany, with the formation of the Independent Force on 6 June. He was well aware Army and Navy were both opposed to this, and that they would continue to make demands for more Squadrons.

To ensure new Force remains totally independent Sykes and Trenchard, in one of their few moments of agreement, sent an official dispatch from the Independent Force to the Army on 11 stating very specifically, that the Force would be

“administered direct by the Air Ministry”

and

“that the Field Marshall, C&C British Armies in France will exercise no control over the Independent Force RAF.”

10 June 1918 – Old and new

The fragility of aircraft and the dangers of flying in close formation with others are a constant threat to even the most experienced pilots. For the rookie pilot, life expectancy remains low.

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Francis Coupe Dodd

This was encapsulated today when Captain John Gerald Manuel DSC DFC from 210 Squadron RAF was killed in a collision with 2nd Lieutenant Francis Coupe Dodd.

Manuel was an experienced flyer who had originally served with the Canadian Field Artillery before switching to the RNAS in March 1917. He was posted to the front in August 1917 serving briefly with 12 Squadron RNAS before joining 10 Squadron RNAS. At this point he had claimed 13 victories, including two yesterday.

John Gerald Manuel

Dodd in contrast had joined the RFC in August 1917 and was trained at Crystal Palace, Chingford, and Cranwell, where he graduated. He eventually joined 210 Squadron on 15 May 1918.

In what was likely one of Dodd’s very first missions over the front, flying the tricky Sopwith Camel, he was on an offensive patrol when his Camel (D9590) collided with Manuel’s (D7249). Both aircraft were seen to fall to pieces and crash and both pilots were killed.

9 June 1918 – Aussies mid-air capture

Late this morning, Lieutenants Roderick Charles Armstrong and Frank Jelly Mart from 3 Squadron AFC were carrying out artillery reconnaissance in their in RE8 (D4689) near Meaulte-Gressaire Wood – Warfusee Abancourt.  At about 1140 they were alerted by AA fire to a Halberstadt two-seater flying towards its own lines.

Armstrong and Mart in their RE8

Armstrong flew to head off the aircraft, and the German pilot made only a token effort to escape. Eventually Armstrong shepherded the aircraft back to the 3 Squadron aerodrome.  The aircraft was captured entirely intact and the feat later gained the congratulations of Lieutenant-General Sir John Monash.  The crew Gefreiter Hausler and Vitzfeldwebel Mullenbach were unharmed and taken prisoner.

The captured Halberstadt

The aircraft 15342/17 was sent to England for evaluation and subsequently given the British intelligence number G.56/16). The evaluation was published in Flight Magazine on 10 October 1918. The aircraft was subsequently given the Australian Government as a war trophy. It was displayed as part of the Australian War Memorial until it was destroyed in an accidental fire in February 1925. All that remained of the aircraft was one of its Parabellum machine-guns which is still on display in the Australian War Memorial.

7 June 1918 – A wasted opportunity

Despite the formation of the Independent Force yesterday, and its supposed role to carry out long range bombing activities in Germany, it only possesses one Squadron (216) of the long range heavy bomber Handley Page 0/400.

In contrast, 207 Squadron RAF (formerly 7 Squadron RNAS) arrived in Ligescourt, France from England today equipped with 10 0/400s (C3490, C9660, C9664, C9665, C9674, C9683, C9684, D4563, D4565, D4569 and D5408) to reinforce 54 Wing RAF, part of IX Brigade – who were now supporting the French. They were commanded by Major Gordon LindsayThomson DSC – a veteran of the RNAS who had become a pilot on 20 August 1914, shortly after the war began.

Although 215 Squadron and it’s Handley Page 0/400s would eventually join the Independent Force in August 1918, its unclear why 207 Squadron was posted elsewhere and remained part of IX Brigade for the rest of the war carrying out bombing attacks on military targets near the front.

6 June 1918 – A “gigantic waste of effort and personnel”

The Independent Force formally came into being today, under the command of Major-General Sir Hugh Trenchard with its headquarters situated near Nancy in France. It supersedes the VIII Brigade, which now ceases to exist, but includes the same forces. These are 41 Wing (day bombing squadrons Squadrons 55, 99, and 104) and the 83 Wing (night bombing squadrons 100 and 216).

As commander, Trenchard reports directly to Sir William Weir the Air Minister, bypassing the Chief of the Air Staff Frederick Sykes. This situation arose essentially because Trenchard had been replaced by Sykes as Chief of the Air Staff and the two did not get on.

Trenchard was an odd appointment in many ways as he had consistently maintained that the role of the RFC/RAF was to support the army in the field and that Strategic Bombing was a waste of time and resources. He had been forced out as Chief of Staff due to disagreements with the then Air Minister Lord Rothermere.

Legend has it that he was in Green Park on 8 May when he overheard two naval officers discussing his conduct. ‘It’s an outrage’, said one. ‘I don’t know why the government should pander to a man who threw in his hand at the height of a battle. If I’d my way with Trenchard I’d have him shot.’ Following this he agreed to head up the Independent Force.

Although he didn’t really agree with the approach, Trenchard realised that he still needed a plan. He settled on a policy of continual harassment of many targets with the objective of sapping morrale and deflecting defensive resources, as he felt the force was insufficient to mount a decisive attack on anything major.

Trenchard remained unconvinced of the value of the Independent Force. By the end of the war, a further four squadrons were added 97, 115 and 215 (equipped with the Handley-Page 0/400 bomber) and 110 Squadron (DH9A), but this was still way short of the planned 40 Squadrons. As a consequence, the work remained piecemeal and its doubtful whether it had any major impact on the war. Certainly that was Trenchard’s view as in November 1918 he declared:

‘A more gigantic waste of effort and personnel there has never been in any war’