16 February 1918 – Y1K

Today, five Giants (Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI) set off to bomb London. Of these only two reached London. One of these (R39) dropped the first 1000kg bomb on any target in England. The bomb hit the Chelsea Hospital around 2215. An officer of the hospital staff was killed with his wife, her sister, and two children. Three other children were taken alive from the debris. Neighbouring buildings were also damaged.

Chelsea Hospital after the bomb8ng

The other (R12) approached Woolwich but was got tangled in the balloon barrage in the area. The pilot managed to free the aircraft but in the process two 300kg bombs were shaken free. They fell on Woolwich killing seven people, injuring two, and damaging several buildings including the Garrison Church. Relieved to be still flying, the crew jettisoned the remaining eight 50kg bombs and turned for home.

The remaining three aircraft (R25, R33, and R36) were forced to turn back due to high winds and dropped their bombs on Dover causing only minor damage.

AA guns and 60 aircraft attempted to intercept the raid but none of them got close. All five bombers retuned safely, despite one of them losing three of its four engines.


15 February 1918 – His pet monkey was not injured

Jeffrey and Vernon

Captain Vernon William Blythe Castle, a well-known ballroom dancer has been killed in an aeroplane crash at Camp Taliaferro in Texas.

Vernon Castle, along with his wife Irene were a well known dance couple who danced professionally and acted in various films in the United States from 1910 until 1915. Irene was also noted as a fashion icon at the time. In 1915, Vernon originally from Norwich in England decided to join the war effort and trained as a pilot, qualifying in January 1916. He then gave a farewell performance and sailed for England to join the RFC.

In June 1916, he was posted to 1 Squadron RFC flying Nieuport fighters. He flew over 300 combat missions, claiming two victories, before being posted to Canada in April 1917 to train new pilots. His entire unit then moved to Texas for winter training.

Today, Vernon took emergency action shortly after takeoff to avoid a collision with another aircraft. His plane stalled, and he was unable to recover control before the plane hit the ground. He was killed in the crash. According to the memorial at the crash site:

“Neither the other pilot, his student cadet, nor Vernon’s pet monkey, Jeffrey, were seriously injured.”

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.

13 February 1918 – Comic Brand

Today, Lieutenant Quintin Brand was promoted to Major and put in command of 112 Squadron RFC. 112 where had been a Flight Commander.

The squadron had been formed on 30 July 1917 at Throwley Aerodrome in Kent for air defence duties in the London area. It was originally equipped with Sopwith Pups but is now in the process of converting to Sopwith Camels specially configured for night fighting.

These Camels were commonly referred to as the Sopwith Comic (the name was also given to the night version of the Sopwith Strutter). The main differences was that the Vickers guns and the charactistic hump were removed and replaced with two overwing Lewis Guns – the primary reason for this was to reduce the chances of the pilot being blinded by muzzle flashes at night, particularly where incendiary ammunition was used.

As a consequence of this arrangement, the pilot’s seat was set 30cm further back to allow the Lewis Guns to be reloaded. The space was filled with an additional fuel tank to increase the range.

Whether these changes were a detriment or improvement to performance seems to be a matter of dispute. On the one hand the Lewis guns were much lighter than the Vickers, but on the other the streamlining of the aircraft was adversely impacted by the guns.

12 February 1918 – The chosen one

The German Fighter trial at Adlershof came to a close today.

Earlier in 1917, the German authorities announced that a major competition would be held to find two types of new standard fighter for the Imperial German army air service, one of them with the well established Mercedes D.III water-cooled six-cylinder inline engine and the other with an air-cooled rotary engine of a type not yet specified.


Fokker V11

The competition rules called for assessment of the aircraft in terms of their general flying characteristics, combat capabilities, manoeuvrability, diving qualities, pilot’s fields of vision, level speed at 16,405 ft (5000 m), and climb to 3,280 and 16,405 ft (1000 and 5000 m).

In the end 27 aircraft were tested against four standard Albatross DVa’s. These were:

  • A.E.G. D.I
  • Aviatik D.III
  • Fokker V 9
  • Fokker V 11 (modified during the trials)
  • Fokker V 13 (two models)
  • Fokker V 17
  • Fokker V 18
  • Fokker V 20
  • Fokker Dr.I (2 different aircraft)
  • Kondor D.II
  • Pfalz D.IIIa (2 different models)
  • Pfalz D.VI
  • Pfalz D.VII
  • L.F.G. Roland D.VI (2 different aircraft)
  • L.F.G. Roland D.VII
  • L.F.G. Roland D.IX
  • Rumpler D (2 different models)
  • Schütte-Lanz D.III
  • Siemens-Schuckert D.III (4 different aircraft)

Fokker VI

At the end of the competition the Fokker V11 and V13 were chosen in the in-line and rotary categories. With modification, the V11 became the classic Fokker DVII fighter. The V13 became the Fokker DVI which bore some resemblance to the DVII, as it shared many parts. The latter was less successful partially due

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.

Weather on the Western Front was once again poor.

Back in England, 66 Training Squadron based at Yatesbury were practicing formation flying in their RE8s.

2nd Lieutenant John Thomas Gibson and Lieutenant Frederick Cumber Baxter in A3742 attempted a left turn, but the pilot made an error and the aircaft went into a spin. It was too near to the ground for the pilot to recover and they crashed.

Both were badly injured and Gibson died of his wounds later the same day. Baxter hung on but eventually sucumbed on 20 February.