Out in Mesopotamia, the British forces were planning to advance on Khan Baghdadi. To assist in the final preparations, lieutenant Colonel James Edward Tennant from 30 Squadron RFC decided to fly over the enemy positions. Major Percy Cleghorn Stanley Hobart, the commander of the 7th Brigade, decided he would like a look at the front before he departed for Palestine.
This morning, the two set out. Tennant takes up the story in his book In the Clouds Above Baghdad (for some reason the book notes the 28th as the date of departure, though this is clearly incorrect as will become obvious later).
“Accordingly, on the morning of the 28th, we set out from Baghdad in the third new D.H. 4;the fate of the other two has already been described.The weather was cool, with the wind in the north anddrivingblackrainclouds. The D.H.4 forged along in the teeth of this at a comfortable 100 miles an hour. The Euphrates was eventually picked up, and ‘then we were immersed in the fluffy fog of a rainstorm at 4,000 feet. We broke out of it with Hit astern and to our left, the country below a mass of nullahs and rocks. We had gone fairly low to known crackling of machine-guns somewhere down there on the floor, but could see no sign of life. Glancing at my instruments, the temperature of the water had suddenly gone up to boiling point; when that happens it is time to turn for home. Then the dial went back too; theonlypossibleinferencefrom these wild fluctuations could be that there was no water left; those infernal machine-guns must have hit our radiator. Easing down the engine, I made for our lines in the hope of crashing somewhere among ‘the rocks within reach of friends, but it was soon apparent that we were dropping too fast to clear enemy country, and the overheated engine could not be expected to revolve much longer. A thousand feet up the propeller stopped, and the sudden silence intensified the racket of machine- gun and rifle fire from below. They were hitting us now, and we could see the Turks running about on the ground. There seemed no place where it was possible to land, but we turned up a nullah running down from the desert, and somehow alighted on a few yards of sand without crashing. The hills and rocks rose up all around us, and from these the fire continued,the bullets crashing through the machine and throwing up the dust. I ‘tore at a petrol-pipe with the blackness of despair, while Hobart searched in his clothing for matches; at least we would burn the machine. Having ignited a leak we jumped clear of the machine; Turks appeared from cover and advanced cautiously, for the zone was still bullet-swept from sportsmen on the further heights. They ran in and we held up our hands. “
In retrospect, perhaps sending up two senior officers was not such a good idea. The British advance began the next day nevertheless and by the 27th had reached Ana. At that point the recovery of the officers became a priority and a force of armoured cars set off towards Aleppo, finally recapturing them on the 28th. For further details of this see the end of In the Clouds Above Baghdad.
Percy Hobart later became the commander of the Royal Engineers during the Second World War and their assorted specialist tanks were know as Hobart’s Funnies.