Category Archives: Western Front

13 May 1918 – Independent

Today the Air Council informed the War Cabinet that, in their opinion, the time had arrived to develop an Independent Force for large-scale bombing attacks on Germany.

They proposed, therefore, to organize the existing 41 Brigade into a separate command under Major-General Hugh Trenchard who would work directly under the Air Ministry.

Trenchard had finally agreed to command the Force. The Minister was glad to be relived of the pressure to find something for Trenchard to do. Trenchard would report directly to the Minister, partially to avoid Army Headquarters from interfering and partially to avoid any conflict with Frederick Sykes, now the Commander in Chief of the RAF following Trenchard’s resignation. Sykes and Trenchard did not get on, sharing wildly different views of the role of the RAF.

In someways it is a surprise that Trenchard took the job at all as he was firmly firmly opposed to Strategic Bombing unless the Armies in the field had been defeated. Sykes however was a supporter of a wider role for the RAF, and the new Force was, at least partly his creation.

As well as Trenchard’s known objections to Strategic Bombing, the new Force is likely to cause ructions with the other allies and fly in the face of the purpose of having a Supreme War Council. An inter-allied Aviation Council has been formed to look at Strategic Bombing, but has not come to any conclusions. The Air Ministry has put the issue forward for discussion at the end of May.

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12 May 1918 – Meteor

Today, Captain Charles Kenneth Machinnon Douglas was appointed Commander of Meteor Flight (officially known as the RAF Meteorological Flight ).

Douglas was the ideal man for the post as he was an experienced pilot, having spent the previous six months flying general reconnaissance patrols over the battlefields of northeast France, but he also had a passionate interest in meteorology.

The flight had been formed around the beginning of February 1918 when Lieutenants Reginald Victor Sessions and George Ernest Marden arrived for duty. Marden assumed temporary command until Douglas arrived.

Douglas and Marden and an FK8

The unit was equipped with two Armstrong Whitworth FK8s with a distinctive white shooting star, representing a meteor, adorning their fuselages. They were based at Berck in NE France.

Their purpose was to measure air temperature and later to photograph clouds.This information was passed to the Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers (Meteor R.E.) at the British Expeditionary Force. Aircraft were needed as the balloons which had previously done this work could not fly high enough.

The data was passed on to artillery units, along with other data on wind speed and direction to assist in range calculations.

Douglas went on to be on of the Meteorological Office’s main forecasters.

For further details on Meteor Flight go here and here. For more details on Douglas go here.

10 May 1918 – “A severe reverse”

Orlando Bridgeman

Today on the Western Front, low clouds and mist prevented flying until 1700. After that, the weather cleared on a small part of the front and great aerial activity took place in this sector until dark. Both sides were out in force.

A flight of 8 Sopwith Camels from 80 Squadron RAF, led by Captain Orlando Clive Bridgeman in D6481 got into a fight with around 20 Fokker Triplanes from Jastas 6 and 11. 4 Camels were shot down with four claimed in return, two by Bridgeman. Those shot down were:

  • 2nd Lieutenant George Alfred Whately in D6419
  • 2nd Lieutenant Albert Victor Jones in D6457
  • Lieutenant Colin Graham Sutherland Shields in D6619
  • 2nd Lieutenant Alfred William Rowden in B2463 –

Whately, Shields and Rowden were all killed, and Jones was wounded and taken prisoner.

Other than Bridgeman, only Lieutenant Thomas Stuart Nash in B9243, Lieutenant Charles Stanley Lomas Coulson, and 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Victor Barker in D6591, got away. Both Nash and Coulson were shot up and while Coulson was wounded Nash got away unscathed.

German records do not show any losses for either Jasta.

Bridgeman was subsequently awarded the Military Cross though the citation is a little odd given that five out of eight aircraft were lost.

“For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to patrol he was leading was attacked by twenty or thirty enemy aeroplanes, of which he destroyed two himself, and by skilful manoeuvring enabled two others to be crashed by officers of his patrol. His tactics and gallantry undoubtedly prevented what might have been a severe reverse for his patrol…”

7 May 1918 – “Two against twenty”

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Alfred Clayborn Atkey

Around 1845 this evening, two Bristol F2b’s from 22 Squadron RAF were on patrol just northeast of Arras when they encountered a group of German scouts.

  • Lieutenant Alfred Clayborn Atkey and his observer Lieutenant Charles George Gass were in B1164
  • Lieutenant John Everard Gurdon and his observer 2nd Lieutenant Anthony Joseph Hill Thornton were in B1253.

Both Atkey and Gurdon dived to attack and each claimed an enemy machine downed. As they climbed out of the attack, Thornton got another one.

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Charles George Gass

Two other German formations then joined in totalling around 20 aircraft. Both Bristols continued the fight for about half an hour until they ran out of ammunition. At that point Atkey and Gass had claimed five, while Gurdon and Thornton claimed three. Only seven enemy aircraft remained and the rest had fled.

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John Everard Gurdon

Both Atkey and Gass were awarded the Military Cross, while Gurdon received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Gass ended the war with 39 victories making him the highest scoring ace on the Bristol. He was also highest scoring British observer. Atkey scored 38 in total, 29 in the Bristol, making him the fourth highest Bristol ace. Gurdon scored all of his 28 victories in the Bristol too, putting him at number five. Thornton claimed only five and in fact these were his last. All four men survived the war.

5 May 1918 – Foxy

The official photographer returned to 32 Squadron RAF today. Depicted is the fox cub mascot of the squadron with an unknown member of the Squadron sitting in an SE5a.

Animal mascots were common amongst troops at the front and although cats and dogs were the most common, goats, chickens and ponies also featured. Australian forces even brought kangaroos and koalas.

30 April 1918 – Crash

Poor weather returned to the Western Front today, and flying by both sides was curtailed.

Horace Wilford Girdleston

4 Squadron RAF got up on patrol. Lieutenant Leo John Sweeney and Lieutenant James Charles Stack in RE8 D4833 and Lieutenant Horace Wilford Girdlestone and 2nd Lieutenant Ronald Homersham in RE8 B734 were on patrol when their aircraft collided with each other. Both aircraft were badly damaged and crashed killing all four crew.

29 April 1918 – Rickenbacker Number One

Today, Lieutenant Eddie Rickenbacker of the 94th Aero Squadron, who went on to become the highest scoring ace from the United States, scored his first victory. He was on patrol with his wingman Captain James Norman Hall.

Both were flying Nieuport 28 C1s, an aircraft that the French had rejected in favour of the SPADXIII. The new US Squadrons had been forced to use the Nieuports due to a shortage of SPADs.

Rickenbacker recalled the fight Chapter 4 of his book Rickenbacker: Fighting the Flying Circus.

“Yes! There was a scout coming towards us from north of Pont-à-Mousson. It was at about our altitude. I knew it was a Hun the moment I saw it, for it had the familiar lines of their new Pfalz. More. over, my confidence in James Norman Hall was such that I knew he couldn’t make a mistake. And he was still climbing into the sun, carefully keeping his position between its glare and the oncoming fighting plane I clung as closely to Hall as I could. The Hun was steadily approaching us, unconscious of his danger, for we were full in the sun.

With the first downward dive of Jimmy’s machine I was by his side. We had at least a thousand feet advantage over the enemy and we were two to one numerically. He might outdive our machines, for the Pfalz is a famous diver, while our faster climbing Nieuports had a droll little habit of shedding their fabric when plunged too furiously through the air. The Boche hadn’t a chance to outfly us. His only salvation would be in a dive towards his own lines.

These thoughts passed through my mind in a flash and I instantly determined upon my tactics. While Hall went in for his attack I would keep my altitude and get a position the other side of the Pfalz, to cut off his retreat.

No sooner had I altered my line of flight than the German pilot saw me leave the sun’s rays. Hall was already half-way to him when he stuck up his nose and began furiously climbing to the upper ceiling. I let him pass me and found myself on the other side just as Hall began firing. I doubt if the Boche had seen Hall’s Nieuport at all.

Surprised by discovering this new antagonist, Hall, ahead of him, the Pfalz immediately abandoned all idea of a battle and banking around to the right started for home, just as I had expected him to do. In a trice I was on his tail. Down, down we sped with throttles both full open. Hall was coming on somewhere in my rear. The Boche had no heart for evolutions or maneuvers. He was running like a scared rabbit, as I had run from Campbell. I was gaining upon him every instant and had my sights trained dead upon his seat before I fired my first shot.

At 150 yards I pressed my triggers. The tracer bullets cut a streak of living fire into the rear of the Pfalz tail. Raising the nose of my aeroplane slightly the fiery streak lifted itself like the stream of water pouring from a garden hose. Gradually it settled into the pilot’s seat. The swerving of the Pfalz course indicated that its rudder no longer was held by a directing hand. At 2000 feet above the enemy’s lines I pulled up my headlong dive and watched the enemy machine continuing on its course. Curving slightly to the left the Pfalz circled a little to the south and the next minute crashed onto the ground just at the edge of the woods a mile inside their own lines. I had brought down my first enemy aeroplane and had not been subjected to a single shot!”

Both men were offered the Croix de Guerre by the French Government but had to turn it down to American policy on not accepting foreign awards.