Category Archives: Western Front

20 July 1917 – Navy

The contributions of the RNAS Squadrons in France were highlighted today as a variety of missions were flown in support of British forces.

2 Naval Squadron flew a successful photographic reconnaissance mission over Zeebrugge without loss.

5 Naval Squadron carried out a bombing raid on Aertrycke aerodrome, dropping six 65lb and 59 16lb bombs. On their return journey they were attacked by enemy scouts. Flight Commander Irwin Napier Colin Clarke and Sub-Lieutenant Ronald George St John claimed to have shot down an enemy aircraft. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Lacey Norman Glaisby and 2nd Class Air Mechanic Saw were attacked by an enemy aircraft. Glaisby was wounded slightly in the head and Saw in the body, but Saw still managed to get off some shots and drive down the attacker. In the end though all the aircraft returned safely.

Sopwith Camels on patrol from 4 Naval Squadron were attacked near Westende. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Frederick William Akers in B3806 was shot down and killed. Leutnant Hugo Jöns from Jasta 20 claimed the victory.

Also killed was Flight Commander George Gordon MacLennan from 6 Naval Squadron who was shot down in Sopwith Camel N6360 after himself shooting down an Aviatik C near Wilskerke.

Flight Commander Charles Dawson Booker from 8 Naval Squadron also claimed to have seen off an enemy Rumpler C in his Sopwith Triplane. It fell completely out of control and was last seen at about 300 feet falling into the mist.

A patrol from 10 Naval Squadron, led by Flight Commander Raymond Collishaw in Sopwith Triplane N5492 was over Menin-Messines when they attacked a group of 20 enemy aircraft. Flight Lieutenant William Melville Alexander (in N5487) shot one down in flames, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellis Vair Reid (in N5483) and Collishaw each shot down an Albatross out of control. Flight Commander John Sharman in  N6307 was the unlucky one with no claim. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Howard William Taylor (in N5429) was shot up and wounded in the arm during the combat but got back safely. (A report of this combat is in Collishaw’s book, Air Command at Page 123). A copy of the combat report is available here.

18 July 1917 – HEMs

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Harvey Ernest Maxwell Porter

Weather prevented most flying on the Western Front today. However, Canadian Lieutenant Harvey Ernest Maxwell Porter was one on the few who got up to carry out artillery spotting. His BE2 was hit by AA fire and he was killed.

Meanwhile, back in England, another HEM, 2nd Lieutenant Herbert Ernest Malcolm Owen, who had only obtained his flying certificate on 16 June 1917, was killed whilst training with 60 Training Squadron at Scampton, Lincolnshire.

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Herbert Ernest Malcolm Owen

In what appears to be his first solo flight, his engine stalled shortly after take off, apparently due to an incorrect fuel mixture. The Avro 504 (A5930) immediately crashed and burst into flames on impact. Later reports suggested he was knocked unconscious before being engulfed in flames. His friends were unable to free him from the wreckage and he burned to death.

17 July 1917 – 70 Squadron mauled

The weather was poor for much of the day on the Western Front, but in the evening some patrols were able to get up. German aircraft were also out in Force.

The biggest fight of the day came about when a patrol of five Sopwith Camels from 70 Squadron encountered an enemy scout which they drove down. They then engaged a formation of six 2-seaters with Captain Noel William Ward Webb, Lieutenant Joseph Cecil Smith and Lieutenant Edward Gribbin each claiming to have sent one down.

They were then attacked by Albatros scouts from above and  a 5 strong patrol from B flight 56 Squadron led by Captain Ian Henry David Henderson came to their aid. They were then joined  by 8 FE’s from 20 Squadron (led by Captain Frank Douglas Stevens) along with DH5’s from 32 Squadron. Further German scouts joined in until there were around 30 enemy aircraft (from Jastas 6, 8, 11 and 36).

Despite the number of aircraft involved the fighting was relatively indecisive. A large number of claims by the British side actually resulted in only three German pilots being wounded.

70 Squadron lost two of their new Camels. Lieutenant William Edington Grossett was shot down and taken prisoner in Camel N6332. Lieutenant Charles Service Workman MC was shot down and severely wounded in Camel B3779. He later died of his wounds.

 

16 July 1917 – A bizarre accident

Capt Melville Johnstone from 27 Squadron RFC, a New Zealander from Motuotaraia, Waipukurau, Hawkes Bay, was killed today. However it was not enemy action that did for him, but a bizarre accident.

He was returning from a bomb raid over the lines unfortunately one of his bombs had not released properly and was caught in the landing gear of his Martinsyde G100 (7499).

Its not known if he was manoeuvring to try and release the bomb, but in any case the aircraft crashed into a lake near Arques which was just south of 27 Squadron’s aerodrome at Clairmarais North. Captain Johnstone was drowned and the aircraft completely written off.

Johnstone had joined 27 Squadron in December 1916 and in June been promoted to Captain as a Flight Commander.

14 July 1917– Supply and demand

Shortly after the withdrawal of 46 Squadron on 10 July 1917 for home defence, Major-General Trenchard was informed by the War Office that 24 Sopwith Camels promised to him for the re-equipment of a two-seater Sopwith squadron, and four DH4s for another squadron, would be diverted to Home Defence squadrons. There had been no hint of this in previous discussions and so Trenchard brought the
matter to the notice of Sir Douglas Haig.

The Commander-in-Chief wrote to Sir William Robertson today to complain:

“A serious reduction has been made at the last moment in the supply of aircraft on which I was counting for my operations. I have no information as to the authority on which such an important decision has been arrived at, and I have only learnt of it through these communications, addressed by a Directorate to a General Officer under my command, who has brought them to my notice. You will appreciate, without explanation from me, the unsatisfactory nature of such a method of procedure, and still more the seriousness of my being deprived suddenly and unexpectedly, at the present juncture, of forces on which I was counting to carry through an offensive of such great importance, the preparations for which have reached such an advanced stage that no alteration or modification can now be made without grave disadvantage.”

The War Office replied that the diversion of aircraft for home defence resulted from a War Cabinet decision, and there the matter was allowed to rest.

The consternation at these changes show the wider impact of the German raids. It only took the occasional raid to stir public opinion sufficiently that a significant number of aircraft and personnel were tied up in home defence where they would be mostly inactive unless the enemy actually made a raid.

The real military consequence was the diversion, at a critical time, of significant air strength from France to England. In the longer run however the attacks raised the possibility that a nation might be forced to sue for peace through an air offensive against its most important centres.

11 July 1917 – Smuts Committee

Following the decisions yesterday on Home Defence, the War Cabinet debated the issues again today.  The difficulty which the Government had to face, in trying to reassure the public, was that they could not, for obvious reasons, advertise that they had weakened the air fighting strength on the Western front in order to provide defence aircraft for England.

Later the same time it was obvious to the Government that the problem of home defence against air attack could not be isolated, that it must take its place in a survey of the whole air policy and organization.

A few days earlier Sir William Robertson (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) had written to Douglas Haig in anticipation:

“The fact is we have not got enough machines to meet our requirements. I find that I have brought the question before the Cabinet no fewer than six times during the present year. I doubt if any real progress will be made until a different organization is estabhshed. The Army and Navy now say what they want, the Air Board consider their wants, and then Addison [Minister of Munitions] makes the machines. I am inclined to think that we need a separate air service, but that would be a big business. There is a special debate ‘on the subject to-night, and it will probably be followed ‘by a secret session.'”

The Government decided, therefore, to set up a committee to examine:

(i) the defence arrangements for home defence against air raids, and

(ii) the air organization generally and the higher direction of aerial operations.

The committee was of a special kind with the Prime Minister nominally in the chair. In reality another member of the War Cabinet, Lieutenant-General Jan Christiaan Smuts, ran the committee and would write its reports.

6 July 1917 – Red Baron shot down

A six strong patrol from 20 Squadron RFC was on patrol in their FE2ds when they were attacked by a formation of 8 aircraft from Jasta 11. They were then joined another 20 plus enemy aircraft and then 4 Triplanes from 10 Naval Squadron.

A large scale fight ensued. Lieutenant Donald Charles Cunnell and 2nd Lieutenant Albert Edward Woodbridge from 20 Squadron claimed to have driven down four aircraft, and their colleagues Lieutenant Cecil Roy Richards and Lieutenant Albert Edward Wear, and 2nd Lieutenant W Durrand and Stuart Fowden Trotter also claimed to have driven down an Albatross scout each.

Their Naval 10 colleagues also got in on the action with Flight Lieutenant Raymond Collishaw, Flight Sub-Lieutenant William Melville Alexander, and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ellis Vair Reid all claiming victories.

In the end only one confirmed loss was confirmed by the German authorities and that was Manfred Von Richthofen himself. He was hit in the head by a bullet. He was temporarily blinded and paralysed, and fell for some distance, but succeeded in making a forced landing in friendly territory.

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Richthofen’s downed aircraft

Cunnell and Woodbridge have traditionally been credited with the victory including in the Official History (Volume 4, p142), though I have my doubts as to whether this is true. They claimed to have forced down an all red Albatross though didn’t claim a victory as they did not see it crash. Photographic evidence seems to suggest that Richthofen was not flying an all red Albatross that day, though serial number of the aircraft is unknown. Some theorists has suggested he was hit by friendly fire as he was hit behind the left ear. Even the Baron’s own account is unclear:

““After some time we approached so close to the last plane that I began to consider a means of attacking him. (Lt. Kurt) Wolff was flying below me. The hammering of a German machine gun indicated to me that he was fighting. Then my opponent turned and accepted the fight but at such a distance that one could hardly call it a real air fight. I had not even prepared my gun for fighting, for there was lots of time before I could begin to fight. Then I saw that the enemy’s observer (Woodbridge), probably from sheer excitement, opened fire. I let him shoot, for a distance of 300 yards and more the best marksmanship is helpless. One does not hit the target at such a distance. Now he flies toward me and I hope that I will succeed in getting behind him and opening fire. Suddenly something strikes me in the head…”

Nevertheless he was out of action until 16 August 1917, and returned against medical advice with an unhealed wound. The injury plagued him for the rest of his life.

All the British aircraft returned except for FE2d A6419 fron 20 Squadron whose pilot 2nd Lieutenant Durand force landed at 1 Squadron’s aerodrome. His observer Trotter was badly wounded and later died. (Wia; dow), 20 Sqn, FE2d A6419 – took off 09:53/10:53 FE2d A6419 force landed 1 Sqn after engagement with EA on offensive patrol 10:30/11:30