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.

15 July 1917 – Empress attacks

Yesterday the seaplane carrier HMS Empress sailed from Port Said in Egypt to Karatash Burnu near the south-east coast of Turkey in preparation for bombing raids on cotton factories and crops in the nearby city of Adana.
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This morning at 0457 the first Short 184 (8018) took off and by 0509 the other three (8004, 8019 and 8020 were in the air. All four pilots reported hits on the factories though it was impossible to accurately gauge if any damage had been done.

All four aircraft got back safely and by 0655 they had been hauled in and the Empress set off back to Port Said.

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.

13 July 1917 – “All dear sports”

The folly of sending out reconnaissance missions without escort was confirmed again today for 1 Squadron AFC out in Egypt.

Two BE2e’s went out this morning on a photography mission over the Beersheba area. Unfortunaltely the escort that was to be provided by 14 Squadron RFC failed
to appear at the meeting place and the BE2s continued without it.

Almost immediately they were attacked by an enemy scout. Lieutenants Archibald Henry Searle and Gerald Lewis Paget were shot down and crashed behind the enemy lines. Searle had been shot through the head and both men were found dead in the wreckage.

2nd Lieutenants Reginald Francis Baillieu and Adrien Espinasson Barbe managed to escape with their machine shot up but landed safely in the British lines.

The next day, the German airman Oberleutnant Georg Felmy appeared over the aerodrome and dropped a message bag containing news of the airmen and those previously lost and a letter for Commander Captain Murray Jones.

“All dear sports,

I beg this letter not to send in a newspaper. Please send the photo with X to the Parents of Mr Vautin.

My joy was very tall to receive your many letters. Tomorrow Vautin comes to take all the things and all the letters (with 1 photo), which were dropped. He is such well educated and genteel boy that we do with pleasure all what is pleasant for him. But if you write for us, you must write more distinctly because our English is not so perfectly , that we can read all. The most legible writing has firstly your writing machine, secondly Murray Jones. Vautin has me talked very much of him. I hope to fight with this sport more oftener. I thank him for his kind letters – I thank also for the decoration of the “Rising Sun” from Mr Lex Macaulopolus (?). Perhaps I can see the sun later in Australia.

Too very best thanks for the photo of Mr Brown and for the kind letter and many photos of R F Baillieu.

In order to answer your questions: 1) 2nd Lt Steeleis unfortunately dea. He expired 24/04/17soon after his imprisonment. He was shot down by our archies.
2) Mr Heathcote is in captivity and well, I think in the same place as Messrs Palmer and Floyer. Muray Jones is a very courageous man , we have feeled it in flying and when he came to drop the things for XXX so down (perhaps 100 ft). I would like to have his address in Australia to visit him. And a photo of him and the others, but – I beg – a little more bigger the photos because I could scarcely perceive your sport = eyesights!Ramadan is not practical for a visite at you, on must fast all the day. For souvenir I have exchanged my watch with Vautin and we have engraved our names. Where can I disperse more an aquaduct! Hoping our good condition is continuing long time – with best wishes for all who have written for us. With sportly respects G Femly F300. “

A copy of the original letter is shown in the Australian Official History.

12 July 1917 – Big day out

The air offensive in support of the British Offensive (scheduled for the last week of July) in the Ypres area was due to begin on 8 July, but poor weather restricted activity until yesterday when there was some bombing activity in the evening. Today however, saw the most intensive fighting of the war to date.

There was fighting all day along the whole front, but it was most concentrated in the area opposite the Fifth Army. What was also noticeable was that the scale of these battles. The German formations were often very large, and very quickly a range of smaller British and French formations would join in the fight resulting in large scale engagements.

For example, in the evening there was a general engagement, lasting an hour, between a mixed formation of thirty German single-seaters, (from Jastas 4, 6, 36 and MFJ I and a force of British (1 29 and 66 Squadrons abd C flight of 56 Squadron) and some French SPADs of similar strength. The Allied aircraft claimed 12 enemy aircraft shot down but the records show that in reality only 1 German pilot was injured and even he got back. The British lost on pilot taken prisoner – 2nd Lieutenant Harold Morgan Lewis from 29 Squadron whose Nieuport 23 (B1625) was hit by AA fire.

However elsewhere in the fighting the British lost nine aircraft, 13 crew killed and 3 more taken prisoner. 29 Squadron suffered a bad day as earlier in the day they had lost 2nd Lieutenant Hugh Holtom Whytehead in Nieuport 23 A6782 and 2nd Lieutenant James Wellington Fleming in Nieuport 23 B1658.

The others killed were:

Lieutenant Basil Ward Binkley, 53 Squadron RFC
2nd Lieutenant Frank Ernest Bishop, 57 Squadron RFC
Sergeant John Frazier Carr, 11 Squadron RFC
2nd Lieutenant Kenneth George Cruickshank, 32 Squadron RFC
2nd Lieutenant Guy Stuart Ellis, 57 Squadron RFC
Flight-Sub Lieutenant Sidney Emerson Ellis, 4 Naval Squadron
Flight-Sub Lieutenant Edward Hext Kendall, 6 Naval Squadron
Flight-Sub Lieutenant Charles Richard Pegler, 10 Naval Squadron
Captain Chas Eric Robertson, 11 Squadron RFC

For a full description of the days fighting see the discussion on The Aerodrome forum.

12 July 1917 – Balloon sinks U-Boat

The use of Kite balloons with the fleet to detect submarines has been the subject of much debate with many suggesting that the balloon will give away the position of the ships. However the failure of the latest sortie by destoyers in the North Sea to score any hits has persuaded Admiral Beatty to give them a try.

A Kite Balloon Force of six destroyers, five of which carried balloons, was organized. The destroyers were to spread out across the known U-boat tracks and make an experiment in co-operative stalking. During the first operation, early in July, although submarines were sighted from the balloons, no attacks could be developed.

Yesterday however, a force of five destroyers (three with balloons) went out again, and this morning the observer in the balloon flown from the Patriot (Flight Lieutenant Osborne Arthur Butcher) sighted a U-boat on the surface twenty-eight miles away,

The destroyer raced away to the area. Before she arrived, the submarine had gone under, but shortly reappeared on the surface four miles off. The Patriot opened fire, but the U-boat went under again before a hit could be made. The destroyer, guided by the observer in the balloon, then dropped depth-charges. A small quantity of oil came to the surface, insufficient to indicate certain damage to the submarine, and the ships kept a close watch over the area. A little later there was an under-water explosion in the place where the U-boat had submerged, and a great oil patch began to form. It is possible that this was the U69 which was lost around this time with all 40 crew. However German sources are unable to corroborate this loss. And some sources suggest the boat was still operating until 24 July 1917.

This success led to the opening of new balloon bases at ports where destroyers and other patrol vessels were favourably placed for submarine hunting.

11 July 1917 – Heat Stroke

Back on 8 July, the Turkish advanced positions at Dhibban in Egypt were captured by British forces.

Today an attempt to capture the Ramadi lines failed, mainly because of abnormal heat and a blinding dust storm.

Four aeroplanes from 30 Squadron RFC co-operated in the Ramadi operations during the early morning to assist he artillery.

Three more set off to bomb Turkish positions at 0430 but were forced to return as the heat caused all the water in their engines to boil away and the pilots were sick with the excessive heat.