18 September 1917 – Mid air

Poor weather conditions curtailed much flying today, but the relentless requirement of the army for data meant that many were up anyway. Despite the limited flying four pilots were still killed.

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Hugh Francis McArdle

41 Squadron lost two pilots from an offensive patrol in their DH5s when they ran into a patrol from Jasta 12. Lieutenant Hugh Francis McArdle (A9426) and 2nd Lieutenant Alfred John Chapman (A9208) were both shot down and killed. Leutnant Walter Ewers and Vzitfeldwebel Reinhold Joerke claimed the victories.

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Noel Stafford Wright

Earlier in the day, another two pilots had been killed, when they crashed into each other in mid air – Captain John Manley from 19 Squadron in his Spad VII (B3503) and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Noel Stafford Wright from 1 (Naval) Squadron, in his Sopwith Triplane (N5493).

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17 September 1917 – Full metal jacket

The Junkers DI (factory designation at the time J7) made its first test flight today.

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The original J7

This aircraft was an all metal monoplane fighter aircraft produced by the Junkers firm, following on from their other all metal aicraft the J1 biplane.

Although not formally permitted to compete in the first D-type contest held at Adlershof in February 1918 because of its monoplane configuration, the J7 proved faster than all official contenders, and was accepted for testing by the Idflieg.

Discussions were held concerning procurement of a small operational evaluation series of J7s, but the changes made by Junkers were significant enough for the firm to redesignate the next example the J9, which was supplied to the Idflieg instead of the three J7s ordered.

During tests, the J9 was considered by the front line pilots who tested it to lack the maneuverability necessary for a front-line fighter given the tactics at the time, but was judged fit balloon attack due to its strength, and a batch of 12 was ordered. These were supplied to a naval unit by September 1918, but did not see any action. They were then redeployed to the Eastern Front after the Armistice and flown against Bolshevik insurgents.

It is significant as it the first production aircraft in what was to become the standard form for fighter aircraft until the jet age.

16 September 1917 – Ground attack

19 Squadron carried out a range of ground attack activities today. Their patrol first spotted an artillery barrage and so they headed in that direction. Lieutenant Robert Lynedoch Graham fired at a body of troops from 500 feet, then he and Lieutenant Alexander Augustus Norman Dudley (Jerry) Pentland took a zig-zag course up the trenches for half an hour at 200 feet firing at the Germans wherever they saw them. Our own troops showed up very plainly and waved a greeting. After this they went further east and flew above roads, attacking any troops and transport they saw. They worked together for a considerable time. During this work, shells were often seen passing in the air.

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Robert Lynedock Graham

On his way home Pentland shot down a two-seater out of control. Lieutenant H Dawson and Captain Frederick Sowrey crossed the lines at Armentieres and Dawson fired at troops from 100 feet. Shortly after this he attacked a group of about 2,000 infantry marching along a road near Mouscron. After this he drove down an Enemy aircraft and on his way home continued firing at troops until his guns jammed.  Sowrey fired 50 rounds at enemy trenches from 100 feet, then flew to La Croix-au-Bois where he scattered a party of troops at a cross roads. After this he flew to Quesnoy and again attacked troops, transport and guns which were going up to the lines.

These low flying missions were dangerous however as they exposed the aircraft to ground fire and none of them had any armour plating. On this occasion Lieutenant Graham was last see flying low, in his  SPADVII (B3618), 2 miles south-west of Passchendale, but failed to return. He wasn’t confirmed as killed until January 1918.

15 September 1917 – Haig’s views on the Air Ministry

Following on from General Smuts report on August, the War Cabinet accepted the formation of a separate Air Ministry in principle on 24 August, and then set up the Air Organisation Committee under General Smuts to work on the practicalities with Sir David Henderson leading the work.

At the same time there were misgivings in the War Office about the whole approach Sir Douglas Haig believed that one of the contentions on which the whole argument for a separate air service was based  – that the war could be won in the air as against on the ground – was a mere assertion unsupported by facts.

‘An Air Ministry with civilian head uncontrolled by any outside naval and military opinion, exposed as it would inevitably be to popular and factional clamour, would be very liable to lose its sense of proportion and be drawn towards the spectacular, such as bombing reprisals and home defence, at the expense of providing the essential means of co-operation with our naval and military forces.’

However, in his formal response to the report issued today, he confined his remarks to what was necessary to ensure the efficiency of the air service under the new structure, as the principle of the formation of a separate Air Service had already been approved by the War Cabinet.

He had, he said, carefully studied the report, and he found that some of the views put forward about future possibilities went beyond anything justified by his experience. He thought that a full examination of the problems associated with long-distance bombing would show that the views expressed by the committee required considerable modification, and he desired to point out the ‘grave danger of an Air Ministry, charged with such ‘powers as the Committee recommends, assuming control ‘with a belief in theories which are not in accordance with ‘practical experience’.

After reviewing the difficulties associated with long-distance bombing from aerodromes in French territory, Sir Douglas Haig had much to say about the supply of aeroplanes and trained personnel.

“After more than three years of war our armies are still very far short of their requirements, and ‘my experience of repeated failure to fulfil promises as ‘regards provision makes me somewhat sceptical as to the large surplus of machines and personnel on which the Committee counts in . . . its report. . . . Nor is it clear ‘that the large provision necessary to replace wastage has ‘been taken into account.”

14 September 1917 – Tinkerman

James McCudden started his career with the Royal Engineers in 1910 before transferring to the RFC in 1913 as an Air Mechanic. He spent the next two years as a mechanic and part time unofficial observer. His application for flying training was turned down, apparently because he was such a good mechanic that his squadron (£ Squadron RFC) did not want to lose him. It wasn’t until January 1916 that his request for flying training was granted. He passed his flying certificate in April 1916 and eventually joined 20 Squadron RFC in July 1916. After serving with various Squadrons, he was posted to 56 Squadron RFC on 13 August, flying the SE5a. He was immediately appointed commander of B Flight.

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McCudden seated in an SE5a

It is clear that McCudden’s mechanical leanings never left him and he spent much time fine tuning his aircraft and guns. He went through all the squadron’s fitters before settling on a team of Alex J. Gray, Corporal Tom Rogers and Corporal Bert Card. After his machine (B519) was shot up on 5 September following another gun jam, he got a new SE5a (B4863). He then spent the next three days stripping down his machine guns and synchonising gear and making various test flights.

As this aircraft wasn’t ready to his satisfaction, this evening, he took up B4863 on patrol with his flight. He was unlucky again as his guns jammed as he attacked an Albatross DV, piloted by Oberleutnant Ernst Wiegand from Jasta 10. He was able to escape and crash-land wounded in German territory. Since his crash was not witnessed McCudden’s claim went uncredited.

Also in the combat, 2nd Lieutenant Norman Howard Crow in B516 was shot down by Vitzfeldwebel Carl Menckhoff from Jasta 3.

13 September 1917 – Triplane turned

Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Richard Wilford was on patrol over Menin with a flight from 1 Naval Squadron in his Sopwith Triplane (N5429) when they were attacked by aircraft from Jasta 4. He was shot down by Leutnant Kurt Wüsthoff for his 15th victory. 

 

Wilford crash landed behind enemy lines, but his aircraft survived the landing and was painted up in German markings and test flown by German pilots. It’s not known if the aircraft was used in combat by the Germans. 

 

0A8EEBEF-CA6C-49B1-9A90-42F32FDCF8AB-3063-00000227CD6E3E22This was not the first Triplane captured by the Germans as an article had appeared only a couple of weeks earlier on 22 August 1917 in Deutsche Luftfahrer Zeitschrift, showing photographs and a detailed description of the construction of the Triplane. (This article was translated and published in Flight magazine on 4 April 1918).

 

As such the capture of the intact N5429 was not a major coup for the Germans. Within 2 months, the Sopwith Triplanes were withdrawn from the Front and replaced by Sopwith Camels

 

 

12 September 1917 – Accidents will happen

The RNAS suffered two accidents today back on the home front.

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 Aylmer Fitzwarren Bettington

Firstly, Captain Aylmer Fitzwarren Bettington, Commanding Officer of the Eastbourne Naval Flying School was killed carrying out height tests in an Avro 504e (N6150) which was completely wrecked.

Later in the evening, Airship SS42a crashed into a farm building near Pembroke. The airship was badly damaged in the crash and drifed out to sea. The crew, Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Walter Davies Cripps and Leading Mechanic J C Simpson, both went missing presumed drowned.