16 May 1918 – Bombs

A massive bombing exercise was conducted by the RAF today. During the day,

over 23 tons of bombs were dropped on important railway centres including Douai, Courtrai, Chaulnes and Saarbrucken as well as aerodromes and billets behind the enemy’s lines.

During the night a further 10½ tons of bombs were dropped on the railway stations at Lille, Douai, and Chaulnes, billets in the neighbourhood of Bapaume, Peronne, and Rosieres, and the docks at Bruges.

Despite 27 different squadrons being involved, losses were minimal. During the day, one of the 12 DH4s sent by 55 Squadron RAF to attack Saarbrucken was shot down in flames, and three others shot up. 2nd Lieutenant Roland Charles Sansom and Air Mechanic G C Smith in A7477 were both killed. The Squadron claimed three enemy scouts forced down.

Overnight a Handley Page 0/100 (3132) from 214 Squadron RAF was shot down by AA fire during the attack on Bruges Docks. Captain Cecil George Rushton, Major James Ingleby Harrison and Lieutenant Wilfred John King were all killed.

Some photos of the crash are available on this thread on The Aerodrome.


16 May 1918 – Enemy Camels

The use of captured aircraft was not uncommon by all sides, particularly early in the war when aircraft were scare and the types numerous. However, as the war continued and squadrons started to specialise in both missions and aircraft, particularly on the Western Front, the front line use of such aircraft diminished, though captured types were often sent off for evaluation.

Otto Kissenberth was a mechanical engineer with an interest in aircraft design, He had joined the German Air Force in 1914, originally training as a reconnaissance pilot. He later retrained as a fighter pilot and was eventually sent to command Jasta 23.

His squadron came into possession of a captured Camel which he had worked on to bring back into flying condition.

Today Kissenberth was one of the pilots who made a claim on an SE5a from 41 Squadron with Lieutenant William Ernest Shields on board. Some sources suggest he was flying the Camel during this combat.

Sopwith Camel with Kissenberth’s markings

Others claim this is unlikely as much combat recognition was done by silhouette rather than markings, so this would make him vulnerable to attack by his own side.

Regardless of the aircraft, the victory turned out to be his last, as on 29 May, Kissenberth crashed the Camel ,seriously injuring himself.

15 May 1918 – Tactical Retreat

Back on 9 May aerial reconnaissance by Squadrons in Mesopotamia reported a Turkish withdrawal from camps near Altun Kopri towards Erbil. A mobile column, sent forward on the 10th, made contact with the enemy troops at Altun Kopri, and confirmed they were in retreat.

At the same time troops had occupied Tikrit and the Ain Nukhaila pass, while the co-operating aeroplanes had bombed the Turkish positions. Reconnaissance also suggested that the Turks were retreating from positions at Fat-ha further up the Tigris.

However summer conditions and supply problems forced the British Commander, General Marshall to postpone any further advances to the Autumn. In fact, British troops retreated from Kirkuk due to lack of transportation and consolidated around Samarra.

John Oliver Allison

Aircraft from 30 Squadron RAF assisted in the retreat with reconnaissance to detect any movements of the enemy. It was during one of these missions that Lieutenant John Oliver Allison and Lieutenant Francis Wright Atherton were shot down in their RE8 (B5872)

1st Class Air Mechanic Frederick Suthurst from C Flight 30 Squadron was also killed today, though there are no details as to the cause other than “killed in action”.

14 May 1918 – Division Aérienne

The Royal Air Force was created back on 1 April 1918. Today the French went some way to concentrating their air power with Marshall Pétain issuing orders for the formation of the Division Aérienne under the command of Colonel Duval.

It consists of four groupings:the first contained two wings (Escadres 1 and 12), the second, three fighter and two bomber groups; the third, one wing (Escadre II); the last, two bomber groups, one of which was Italian.

Duval however argued against using the new Division as a strategic bombing force, which the British had just created in the Independent Force. Instead he was aware that individual aircraft could not inflict damage on ground targets alone. He wanted to be support the army by massing forces for concentrated attacks on military targets such as railway stations, supply dumps, assembly points and so on in the enemy rear with the aim of inflicting damage but also hoping to force German fighters to come out to be destroyed in turn.

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.

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.

11 May 1918 – Cattaro

Today, 224 Squadron RAF commenced bombing operations against Cattaro (now Kotor in Montenegro), which was the main Austrian-Hungarian naval base in the Adriatic and home to German U-boats. It was hoped that this would reduce attacks on allied shipping in the area. This was quite a trip, involving a flight of 400 miles there and back over the sea from their base at Otranto.

The first attack today was made by six DH4s which dropped 230lb and 100lb bombs on submarines and destroyers in the harbour. Explosions were sighted but the attacks do not appear to have had much overall impact on the submarine campaign.

One of the bombers landed with engine trouble and crew were taken prisoner.

It’s not clear who the crew members were and Trevor Henshaw suggests the four following

  • G Baker
  • Geoffrey Kelvin Blandy
  • Bernard John William Brady
  • Leslie Marsh

Reports at the time suggest the prisoners were taken unharmed, though that may not be true. According to Red Cross records, Brady spent some time in hospital with gunshot wounds. In addition there is a letter dated 16.07.17 stating both Brady and Marsh were prisoners. That said there’s no real evidence that Blandy or Baker were those lost.