Category Archives: Western Front

19 February 1918 – 80-84

The general headquarters reported the following:

“The fine weather of the last few days continued on the 19th inst. Visibility, however, was not good, and prevented much work being done by our aeroplanes with the artillery. It did not interfere with photography, and many photographs were taken of the enemy’s aerodromes and other important objectives. A hostile aerodrome north of Douai and a large ammunition dump north-east of Lille were heavily bombed by us during the day, and, in addition, 50 bombs were dropped on the enemy’s billets. In air fighting 11 hostile machines were brought down, and one other was driven down out of control. A German night bombing machine also was brought down in No Man’s Land by our infantry. Two of our aeroplanes are missing. At night visibility remained bad, the greater part of the front being enveloped in thick mist. Over 150 bombs were dropped by us, however, on an important hostile railway centre south-east of Cambrai and on billets north of Douai.”

Of the 11 aircraft claimed, the majority were claimed by 84 Squadron RFC in their SE5a’s , who having been set upon by 10 enemy scouts, claimed to have accounted for a scarcely believable eight, with

2nd Lieutenant Andrew Frederick Weatherby Beauchamp-Proctor, 2nd Lieutenant James McCudden, 2nd Lieutenant John Victor Sorsoleil, Captain Robin Arthur Grosvenor, and Lieut J F Larsen, all making claims.

In contrast, 80 Squadron, in their Camels were beaten up by pilots from Jastas 18 and 30. Lieutenant Samuel Lewes Hope Potter was wounded. Lieutenant Ernest Westmoreland was shot down in flames and killed in his Camel B9171. Lieutenant Sidney Reuben Pinder was also shot down and killed in Camel B9185.


18 February 1918 – Lafayette disbanded

Escadrille Lafayette, the French Squadron which was home to a large number of American volunteer pilots since 1916 has been disbanded.

The main reason for this is the arrival of official American forces on the Western Front. This includes US air forces which have started to arrive in England or training.

One of these, the 103d Aero Squadron was organized on 31 August 1917 at Kelly Field, Texas, where its enlisted members, drawn from other units, trained until being moved to Garden City, New York for preparation for overseas movement. On 23 November 1917 the unit sailed on board the RMS Baltic from its port of embarkation at New York City. The Baltic joined a convoy at Halifax, Nova Scotia and arrived at Liverpool on 7 December 1917. Because of a measles outbreak, it was quarantined at Winnall Down Camp outside Winchester until 23 December 1917, when it proceeded to France through Southampton and Le Havre. The squadron arrived at Issoudun on 28 December 1917, where it spent the month of January constructing hangars for the instructional school being built there. On 1 February it resumed training for combat at the front.

The Americans were keen to have an active Squadron at the front. To speed up this process, Major William Thaw, formerly with the Lafayette Escadrille, took command of the 103d Aero Squadron on 11 February.

Today, 17 pilots from Lafayette Escadrille were assigned to 103 Aero Squadron. Obviously these pilots have been serving at the front for a considerable period and need no further training.

Combat operations began the next day, with the 103rd Aero Squadron becoming the first active US Squadron in France.



14 February 1918 – Garros is back

There was little activity on the Western Front today due to poor weather. However news arrived that Roland Garros, the French aviator who was captured on 18 April 1915 has escaped and is to rejoin the French Air Services.

Garros became famous as the first pilot to shoot down an aircraft using a gun firing through the propellor.

Of course the nature of air warfare has changed completely since 1915 and Garros has to learn it all again.

Garros did eventually return to flying. He joined Escadrille 26 as a SPAD XIII Pilot. He claimed two victories on 2 October 1918, one of which was confirmed as his fourth victory. He never did become an ace as he was shot down and killed on 5 October.

11 February 1918

At this time combat fatigue was not fully understood but nevertheless, Squadron Commanders must have been aware of it as pilots were sent home or leave or allocated to home based Squadrons for training duties.

Whilst it was clearly beneficial for pupils to learn from those who had already been serving at the front, the benefits for the pilot were less clear. It did of course provide a period of rest and recuperation which was obviously beneficial to those facing death just by getting into the aircraft. The longer term issues created by long spells away from the front were unclear.

Albert Ball, for example, spent 6 months away from the front, first on leave and then as a trainer with 34 Reserve Squadron. He was killed a month after resuming combat duty.

Another ace, Mick Mannock returned from three months leave and training duty to take up a Flight Commander position with with 74 Squadron RFC, which is preparing for posting to France. Mannock went to the front in March 1918 and lasted until 26 July, when he was shot down and killed.

Ball may have been a bit unlucky in that he was away for six months, and in that period the speed and firepower of aircraft increased, and the lone wolf tactics of fighters were being replaced with formation flying

Mannock too moved from the Nieuport to the SE5, but by his main period of activity, the new tactics were already in place, even if the machinery hadn’t caught up for all Squadrons. He was also away for a much shorter period.

9 February 1918 –

Another day of poor weather on the Western Front with low clouds, mist, and high winds. For the most part, enemy aircraft were inactive with only one combat recorded. 2nd-Lieutenant Herbert Henry Hartley and Lieutenant Robert Samuel Herring from 48 Squadron RFC shot down an Albatross out of control south of Guise. They were unable to see if it crashed due to clouds. 2nd Lieutenant Gerald Arthur Churchill Manley from 54 Squadron RFC failed to return from a wireless interruption mission in his Sopwith Camel (B5417), and was subsequently reported as a prisoner of war. This does not appear to be a result of enemy action.

A lack of fighter action did not deter the bombers though, and during the day, nearly a ton of bombs were dropped on various targets.

In the evening, 100 Squadron RFC carried out a raid into Germany, attacking the important railway junction and sidings at Courcelles-les-Metz, south-east of Metz. The leaders dropped two 40lb phosphorus bombs to guide other pilots to the objective. The rest dropped twelve 112lb bombs and 20 25lb bombs. Unfortunately, the mist prevented any observation of the results. One of the bombers failed to return. 2nd-Lieutenant Owen Brennand Swart and 2nd Lieutenant Anthony Fielding-Clarke suffered engine failure in their FE2b (B439). They were forced to land behind enemy lines.

Swart later wrote about this in the Annals of 100 Squadron:

“On the evening of the 9th of February 1919, we started on a raid into Germany. My machine did not climb well, and the engine occasionally showed signs of some unpleasantness, but being a new pilot I was ashamed to return. Pride again.Well, we circled round the specified lighthouse, and then followed behind the leaning machine when it arrived. We had a fairly quiet. passage over the lines, anal eventually came In the railway line which we followed up until we came to a. junction, and saw a small village next to it. It appeared in be the spot we were looking for, so we pulled off our bombs and my observer tired at targets beneath. I only saw one bomb, a Cooper, go off to the South of the line, and near some houses.I had to turn to the North sharply, and came past the station of Courcelles in order lo give my observer a better chance of using his gun, and also to see the bombs go off. This was the juncture where my engine failed mc, not completely, but as though two or three cylinders had stopped firing. I was hardly at a height of more than 1,900 feet, but I turned her head towards the lines and Steered S.W. as the wind was more or less from the West. l also had a look at all my instruments which recorded everything correct, except the revolutions per minute. The pressure was all right, but I tried her on gravity tank. No better, the vibrations were so bad I tried throttling back, but to no purpose. Soon we glided gradually nearer to the ground and also nearer to the line, but just when I thought we might do it the engine ” cut out ” completely,My observer behaved very well, firing at searchlights, and machine gun posts, though he knew what had happened to the engine.I was only a couple of hundred feet up now, and I decided to use my parachute flares, even if I was still in German territory, as it was rather misty, and I wanted to see what I had to land on. The first one did not show me much, but those my observer sent out showed that I was going to land on some small trees beneath. I thereupon lit my wing tip flare, and by its light saw a small clearing to the east, which I turned for, and in five seconds I was sailing down to it, and landed amongst hundreds of hares sitting bolt up-right with the gleam of the reflected light shining out of their great big saucy eyes. The machine touched the ground without a jar, and came to a stop within thirty feet.”

The two of them went on the run for two days before finally being captured.


Fielding-Clarke left and Swart right after being captured

6 February 1918 – The yanks have arrived

17 Aero Squadron had left the Texas training ground at Fort on 20 December 1917 with 25 pilots and a full complement of ground officers and men.

After remaining in England for a period to undergo final training and tests, the pilots finally arrived in France today.

The 25 pilots were attached by flights to 4 RFC Squadrons for further combat training and familiarisation. Headquarters Flight was assigned to 24 Squadron at Matigny on the Somme; “A” Flight to 84 Squadron at Guizancourt, also on the Somme; “B” to 60 Squadron at Ste. Marie Capelle, near Hazebrouck on the Flanders front; and “C” to 56 Squadron at Baizieux Airdrome on the Somme.

This was no doubt a slightly bizarre arrangement as the four flights essentially had nothing to do with each other and were entirely reliant on the British Squadrons they were attached to for everything.

4 February 1918 – A splash of colour

Unlike their German counterparts, who have taken to painting their aircraft in a variety of colours, the Royal Flying Corps has not really allowed pilots to personalise their aircraft except in minor ways such as symbols to signify the Squadron and letters for flights.

The Navy of course, is not so hidebound and has allowed the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons some leeway in decorating their aircraft as this photograph taken today at Bray Dunes shows. The aircraft in the foreground is a Sopwith Camel from B Flight of 10 Squadron RNAS/10 Naval Squadron

This aircraft B6299, because of the clear view in this photograph has been used as the basis for a number of models of the Camel. B6299 was flown by Flight Commander Norman McGregor. The prominent stripes are in fact red and white as shown in this colour model.

The aircraft directly behind it is B6404 in which Flight Lieutenant Walter George Raymond Hinchliffe from C Flight shot down an enemy Albatross yesterday. C flight had blue and white stripes and A Flight had black and white. The squadron also used a variety of different wheel designs.