Category Archives: Western Front

31 August 1918 – Bring me liberty

Today, 110 Squadron RAF finally went to Bettancourt on the Western Front to join the Independent Force. After its formation in November 1917, it had originally trained on BE2s but was now equipped with the DH9a the first Squadron to be so. The Squadron’s initial compliment of DH9a’s was donated by the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Squadron subsequently became known as the Hyderabad Squadron. Major Hazelton Robson Nicholls is the Commanding Officer.

The DH9A was an improved version of the unsuccessful DH9, which was significantly worse than the aircraft it was meant to replace the DH4. The main reason for this was that the Siddeley Puma engine had proved to be totally unreliable and underpowered.

The new design was fitted with new, longer-span wings and a strengthened fuselage structure, but crucially the Puma was replaced by the 400hp American-built Liberty engine which was a much more powerful and reliable engine and had already proved itself in the American built versions of the DH4. The new design proved successful and was included in the post war inventory of the RAF. One of the original aircraft presented to 110 Squadron is now in the RAF Museum in London.

Advertisements

30 August 1918 – Thionville

Today, 55 Squadron RAF attempted a raid on Cologne but high winds and poor weather forced them to attack a secondary target Thionville railway station. The 11 DH4s that reached the target were attacked incessantly with the result that five aircraft were lost and another two badly damaged. In a minor bit of success Lieutenant Stanley L Dowswell and Lieutenant Harry Christopher Travers Gompertz (in A8069) claimed two Fokker DVIIs out of control – one of whom is likely to be Wilhelm Kuhne, from Jasta 18 who was killed. They were badly shot up though and Gompertz was wounded. Dowswell managed to nurse the aircraft back over the lines despite the left aileron controls being shot away.

The other losses were:

2nd Lieutenant William W Tanney and 2nd Lieutenant A J C Gormley, (A7589). In this case Tanney was wounded and forced to land behind enemy lines. After the crash the German pilot Leutnant Wilhelm Frickert from Jasta 65 landed nearby and assisted Gormley to remove the now unconscious Tanney from the aircraft. Both were taken prisoner.

2nd Lieutenant H H Doehler (USAS) and 2nd Lieutenant Albert Stanley Papworth (A7708) were forced to land by Leutnant August Raben after top right aileron broke loose. They were also taken prisoner, although some sources suggest Doehler was on the run for a few days.

2nd Lieutenant Patrick Joseph Cunningham and 2nd Lieutenant James George Quinton (A7783) managed to struggle back over the lines but were killed in the crash landing. 

2nd Lieutenant Thomas Harry Laing and 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Frank Leslie Myring (A7972) were shot down but no other details are known.

2nd Lieutenant Robert Ian Alexander Hickes and 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Alfred Jones (D8396) were shot by Johannes Voigt-Christiansen of Jasta 67. 

Crashed DH9a of Hickes and Jones with victor Johannes Voight-Christiannsen in the flying helmet

2nd Lieutenant Edward Wood and 2nd Lieutenant Charles Evans Thorp (F5711)we’re badly shot up in combat. Wood managed to get the aircraft back over the lines but Thorp died of his wounds.

29 August 1918 – A little hell(p)

The official photographer was at Ligescourt Aerodrome again today with 207 Squadron and their Handley Page O/400’s. The first photo shows a Clayton Tractor towing an O/400. The photo shows very clearly the folding wings of the O/400 which greatly aided storage and movement of this massive aircraft.

The Clayton tractor was built by Clayton and Shuttleworth and was a kerosene powered vehicle introduced in 1916. Interestingly Clayton and Shuttleworth also built O/400s under licence. Existing records show that they had a contract for 50 O/400s which were allocated serial numbers D9681 to D9731 – although only 46 of these were actually built. We can’t see the serial number of the aircraft here, but RAF aircraft movement records show that only two of these served with 207 Squadron during the war – D9683 and D9684 – and both of these were transferred to 215 Squadron RAF before the date of the this picture.

The second photo shows the contrast between the largest bomb (the 1650lb SN) that the RAF had and the smallest (25lb Cooper bombs visible at either end of the trolley). The identity of the officers shown is unknown.

 

27 August 1918 – Three Cox’s 

Today, British forces continued to support the British advances around Baupame. Overall nine enemy aircraft were claimed with 2 balloons. The most successful of the day were 2 Squadron AFC who carried out a major patrol in the morning between 0905 and 1150. The patrol consisted of 10 SE5a’s in two flights of five. These were:

Flight 1

Lieutenant Francis Howard (D6950)

Captain Roby Lewis Manuel

Lieutenant George Cox (D5965)

Lieutenant Frank Alberry (D6995)

Lieutenant George Ernest Holroyde (D6903)

Flight 2

2nd Lieutenant Ernest Edgar Davies (D6850)

2nd Lieutenant John Alexander Hunter McKeown (E5989)

Captain Eric Douglas Cummings (C6473)

Lieutenant Eric Rupert Dibbs (D406)

Lieutenant James Stanley Disney (D6891)

The patrol ran into a group of 28 Fokkers over Sains at around 1050. Lieutenant Cox claimed three of these in a short space of time and Davies also claimed one. The combat report is shown below.

This is a useful demonstration of the significance of the availability of virtually complete Australian records. The war diary for 2 Squadron AFC is available and contains daily Squadron reports, record books, and Combat reports. Although this particular patrol doesn’t merit a mention in the Official History. 

With these three claims Cox became an ace, though he never scored again and was shot down and captured on 19 September 1918.

 

26 August 1918 – 17 Aero Squadron destroyed

Harry Jackson

The British 3rd Army continued its advances around Bapaume today. To the north the British 1st Army joined the offensive.

In support of the 3rd Army were the United States’ 17 Aero Squadron and 148 Aero Squadron who for the last few days have been carrying out a succession of ground attack missions in their Sopwith Camels. This continued today with the added complication of very high winds making return trips difficult. 

Howard Bittinger

At around 1630, 19 Camels from 17/Aero Squadron were sent up to relieve 148 Aero Squadron and carry out low level attacks on whatever targets presented themselves in the the area.

Not long after, they came to the assistance of a Sopwith Camel under attack from five enemy aircraft from Jasta 27. The Camel from 148 Aero Squadron, piloted by 1st Lieutenant George Vaughan Seibold was soon shot down and Seibold was killed. At this point a further 20 enemy aircraft from Jasta 2 and Jasta 26 joined the fight and a massive dogfight ensued. 

Six Camels were shot down with Leutnant Hermann Frommherz of Jasta 27 claiming 3. These were:

  • Lieutenant William D Tipton (F5951)
  • Lieutenant Lawrence I Roberts (B5428)

  • 2nd Lieutenant Robert Miles Todd (D6595)

  • Lieutenant Harry H Jackson (F1958)

  • Lieutenant Howard P Bittinger (F1964)

  • Lieutenant Henry B Frost (C141)

The 17 Aero Squadron pilots also claimed 6 German aircraft downed but German records only show one possible fatality, thoug other pilots could have been wounded.

Todd’s account of the battle:

When we reached the lines at Bapaume, we saw five Huns attacking what owe thought was one of our observation planes. To try to save him we went over the lines after the Huns. Just as we reached them, thirty to forty Huns came down on us from the clouds. They were a mixture of several groups, the checkerboards, the yellow noses, etc.; all Fokker D.7 biplanes. They were equal to anything we could do, so we turned to attack them, I knew we were in for a big fight. I lost Tipton almost immediately and started firing steadily for there were Huns everywhere I flew. I dove on one Hun who was on the tail of Camel and got him out of control. He went over on his back, then went down nose first, out of sight. I continued to fire and take evasive action–we could turn sharper than the Fokker but they could outclimb and outdive us. Out best defensive action was to go into a tight (or as our English friends said–split ars) turn and hold it.

Someone finally got me as my motor quit and down I went. Looking back I saw white smoke (fumes) coming out my tail, and I flinched, thinking I was on fire. It finally dawned on me that I was seeing petrol fumes, so I switched over to my gravity tank and the motor started up and I started toward the sun and the lines on my way home. I knew I could do nothing more in the dogfight as you cannot throw your plane around on gravity as the motor will cut out as soon as the petrol stops flowing. While I was flying at about 500 feet elevation heading west, two Huns followed me down and started taking turns shooting at me. I took as much evasive turns as my motor would stand to keep them from ling up on me. They turned back when we reached the lines but the ground troops continued to fire at me. I could see them standing up firing at me. Finally my motor quit and down I had to go.”

Robert Miles Todd

They were all assumed to have been killed but about a month later a postcard arrived from Tipton that he Todd, and Frost had survived but unfortunately Frost had died of his wounds.

The six lost pilots along with losses earlier in the week finally broke the Squadron which had to be withdrawn to be requipped with both pilots and aircraft. Within a week it was back at the front.

 

24 August 1918 – Concert Party Bombed Out

This evening, a “concert party” was held by 48 Squadron RAF at the Bertangles Aerodrome with members of 84 Squadron also in attendance. It was a bright moonlit night and the German Schlachtstaffel 16 launched a night raid on the aerodrome with five Gothas. Early on, one of the Gothas scored a direct hit on the middle hangar. This lit up the whole aerodrome making it an easy target for the following bombers.

The raid continued for 15 minutes destroying the 5 of the Squadron’s hangers and causing a large explosion. During the raid 10 of the Squadron’s Bristol Fighters were destroyed and another two damaged (out of 15 in total). I addition, all of their heavy transport (plus all of the Squadron’s records) were destroyed. 84 Squadron got off lightly with only one of their SE5a’s destroyed.

More tragic to the squadron was the heavy loss of personal with 8 men being killed and a further 28 wounded. I can’t find full details of all the casualties except for the following officers:

Killed

  • 2nd Lieutenant Alexander Urinowsky

  • Lieutenant James Bruce Jameson

  • Lieutenant Alexander Matthews (84 Squadron)

Wounded

  • Lieutenant Clifford Benjamin Bateman (84 Squadron)

  • Lieutenant Thomas Beck

  • Lieutenant Hugh Hood

  • Lieutenant Constantino George Imeretinsky

  • 2nd Lieutenant James Neil Kier

  • Lieutenant Frank Douglas Kilby

  • 2nd Lieutenant Harry Yarwood Lewis

  • Lieutenant Martin Francis Joseph Ronayne Mahony

  • Captain Harold Anthony Oaks

  • Captain Charles Ronald Steele (Hospitalised for rest of war)

  • 2nd Lieutenant Douglas Taylor Turnbull

  • Lieutenant Eric Vickers

  • 2nd Lieutenant Ernest George Weller

  • 2nd Lieutenant Sidney Herman Whipple

2nd Lieutenant Frank Bacon Palmer was later awarded the Military Cross for his actions that night.

“He was blown over by the explosion of a bomb, and although badly shaken, he exhibited coolness and courage of a high order, and by his promptitude succeeded in collecting the wounded, placing them in comparative safety, and also managed to remove the machines and transport from the burning hangars and shelters, notwithstanding the continual dropping of the enemy’s bombs in the area.”

This was the most successful raid by the Germans of the whole war on a British airfield. 48 squadron were transferred to refit to the 11th Wing, 2nd Brigade at Boisdenghem, on the Second Army Front, but was back flying over the front two days later.

23 August 1918 – A false impression

cc878862-d769-45b2-9cc1-f8a264ea83dc-1110-000000c5b7bd1194

Arthur Rowe Spurling

This afternoon, whilst flying back from a bombing mission in their DH9 Lieutenant Arthur Rowe Sturling and Sergeant Frank Bell from 49 Squadron RAF, got separated from their formation. Thinking they were over the British lines, Sturling tried to land on a German airfield near Lens, which he mistook for his own. As they came in to land, they were attacked by a Fokker biplane. Spurling then noticed about 30 Fokker biplanes below him.

He immediately dived into the centre of the formation, shooting down one enemy machine down in flames and two others in spins, one of which was seen to crash. Bell then shot down two others in flames.

Arthur Rowe Spurling was from Bermuda and had spent the early part of the war in the Army before transferring to the RFC in July 1917. A year later he completed pilot training and joined 49 Squadron RAF.

George Stanley (Frank) Bell

Frank Bell had an even more mysterious tale. His real name was George Stanley Bell. He had deserted in December 1914 to visit his father, who was dying of tuberculosis, when compassionate leave was refused. However, in January 1915, he re-enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers using a false name – Frank William Bell. In mid-1915 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as an Observer/Machine Gunner in 9 Squadron RFC. For copies of his log book entry for this combat visit http://www.creacombe.me.uk/bell/.