Tag Archives: 56 Squadron RFC

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.


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.


27 July 1917 – Lure

Another large clash took place this evening over Polygon Wood on the Western Front. This time, however, it was at the instigation of the British who laid a trap to entice enemy fighters. A formation of eight FE2d’s from 20 Squadron RFC set out to patrol over Menin, with orders to attract and decoy enemy fighters towards Polygon Wood, where layered formations of single-seaters, 59 aircraft in total, chiefly from the Ninth Wing, were patrolling in readiness.


Frank Potter

The FE2d’s crossed the lines at 1915and proceeded without incident to Menin, where shortly afterwards some twenty Albatros Scouts gathered. The FE pilots were soon involved in a fight, but skilfully lured the enemy north-west towards Polygon Wood. Within a short time a general fight was in progress, in which all the British formations in the area, some French fighters, and additional enemy single-seaters, took part.


Karl von Schonebeck

The fighting went on for an hour and at the end it the German aircraft had been completely cleared from the sky over a wide area. The 20 Squadron FE2d pilots claimed six enemy aeroplanes destroyed. Lieutenant Harold Waddell Joslyn and Sergeant Frank Potter were wounded when their FE2d (A6415) was hit by anti aircraft fire. They escaped back to their aerodrome but crashed when their undercarriage collapsed on landing.

Triplanes from 10 Naval Squadron claimed two enemy aircraft, and SE5’s from 56 Squadron destroyed one. 2nd Lieutenant Trevor Watts White from 56 Squadron RFC was shot down and taken prisoner in his SE5 (A8911) north-east of Roulers. He later commented:

“…being intent on getting a ‘Gerry’ , and staying with him far too long, I was jumped. I was dead lucky, with only a scalp wound, but my engine caught it, with the result that I had to land in a field near Iseghem. One of Richtofen’s pilots landed in the same field, apparently the one who had shot me down. I was taken away to Richtofen’s squadron for a meal….My treatment, by the pilot who claimed me, at the squadron, and at Ingelmunster, was most chivalrous…Like a lot of pilots, I was too raw in experience to have survived longer on operations.”

Leutnant Günther Ziegler from Jasta 26 claimed victory. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Gerald Roach from 10 Naval Squadron was shot down and killed in his Triplane N5492. Aircraft crashed near Moorslede and his body could not be recovered.  Leutnant Karl von Schonebeck from Jasta 11 claimed his first victory.

26 July 1917 – Massed dogfights

The poor weather continued for much of the day on the Western Front, but started to clear by the evening. As is becoming common these days due to the presence of almost half of the German air strength in the area, a mass dogfight ensued over the Ypres Salient around 1915 and carried on for some two hours.


Otto Brauneck

The fight developed when two flights from 56 Squadron RFC attacked a group of German scouts, and were joined by flights from 19, 66 and 70 Squadrons RFC, and 10 Naval Squadron. Other German scouts from Jastas 11 and 27 then joined in. The Official History suggests there were more than 90 aircraft involved! Despite the size, or perhaps because of it, much of the fighting was indecisive with only one pilot on each side killed.

Early in the combat Captain Noel William Ward Webb in Camel B3756 from 70 Squadron shot down an Albatross with Jasta 11’s Leutnant Otto Brauneck on board. Brauneck crashed near Zonnebeck and was killed. Webb reported:

“There were about 6 EA below me and on the way back to lines I dived on the leading machine, letting off a burst of about 50 rounds. I saw the EA wobble and then fall plane over plane and finally spin. Later, I thought I saw this EA crashed on the ground”

Around the same time, 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Cecil Smith in Camel B3814 from the same squadron also claimed an Albatros out of control, though this could not be confirmed. Smith’s aircraft was also badly shot up but he was uninjured.

Captain Gerald Joseph Constable Maxwell and 2nd Lieutenant Leonard Monteagle Barlow from 56 Squadron both claimed enemy aircraft forced down. Shortly after this their Flight Commander Captain Phillip Bernard Prothero was killed when the wing of his SE5’s (A8925) wing collapsed. Vitfeldwebel Alfred Muth from Jasta 27 claimed this but Barlow and Webb reported the aircraft breaking up in a dive. Webb stated:


Philip Bernard Prothero

‘Early in the operation I saw a red nosed SE5 diving on an EA. The pilot seemed to me to dive his machine over the vertical and then both planes on one side folded back and the machine descended in a spinning nose dive.’

2nd Lieutenant A Wearne from 19 Squadron was taken prisoner when his rudder cable was shot through and unable to steer he landed at Faumont aerodrome escorted in by 3 Albatrosses.

As the combat came to a close, Lieutenant James Thomas Byford McCudden flying Sopwith Pup B1756 from 66 Squadron also claimed an Albatross Scout out of control. It was his second and last victory in the Pup before switching to the SE5a.

17 July 1917 – 70 Squadron mauled

The weather was poor for much of the day on the Western Front, but in the evening some patrols were able to get up. German aircraft were also out in Force.

The biggest fight of the day came about when a patrol of five Sopwith Camels from 70 Squadron encountered an enemy scout which they drove down. They then engaged a formation of six 2-seaters with Captain Noel William Ward Webb, Lieutenant Joseph Cecil Smith and Lieutenant Edward Gribbin each claiming to have sent one down.

They were then attacked by Albatros scouts from above and  a 5 strong patrol from B flight 56 Squadron led by Captain Ian Henry David Henderson came to their aid. They were then joined  by 8 FE’s from 20 Squadron (led by Captain Frank Douglas Stevens) along with DH5’s from 32 Squadron. Further German scouts joined in until there were around 30 enemy aircraft (from Jastas 6, 8, 11 and 36).

Despite the number of aircraft involved the fighting was relatively indecisive. A large number of claims by the British side actually resulted in only three German pilots being wounded.

70 Squadron lost two of their new Camels. Lieutenant William Edington Grossett was shot down and taken prisoner in Camel N6332. Lieutenant Charles Service Workman MC was shot down and severely wounded in Camel B3779. He later died of his wounds.


21 June 1917 – 56 Sent home

Such is the furore surrounding the recent German air raids that the public have been demanding action. Today the Government bowed to public pressure. Against the wishes of the Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, Sir Douglas Haig, and the Commander of the RFC Hugh Trenchard, 56 Squadron RFC have been recalled to the United Kingdom to carry out Home Defence Work.

At the time this was a very big deal. Despite it being against the RFC’s policy to publicise individual aces or to group ace pilots together in elite squadrons, 56 Squadron was as considered one of the elite units in the RFC.

The Squadron moved to Bekesbourne today. After 10 days of no further raids by the enemy, the Squadron returned to its base at Estrée-Blanche. Two days after their departure, the German raids recommenced.

2 May 1917 – Easing off

After the frantic action of April, things have begun to calm down a little on the Western Front. On the one hand, the new German combat group has taken the pressure off those sectors where it is not operating. On the other Manfred von Richthofen has gone back to Germany on leave and this seems to have lessened the intensity of the group, though perhaps this was inevitable given the pressure of the last two months.


Kenneth John Knaggs

The main event of the day was a mass scrap involving 40 aircraft in the evening.  Eight Albatros scouts from Jasta 11 attempted to attack some 25 Squadron FE’s over Vitry. Flight Lieutenant Robert Alexander Little from 8 Naval Squadron then attacked and claimed to have driven one out of control. Little was then attacked by 4 new Albatros scouts from Jasta 10. Little fled for the lines by putting his aircraft into a spin. Albert Ball and Kenneth John Knaggs from 56 Squadron then arrived and shot up some of the the enemy.

Claims were made by both sides, but in the end neither suffered any losses other than minor damage and injuries.


30 April 1917 – “Richthofen’s Circus”

Today saw a change in tactics by the German High Command. The fighter units attached to the Arras Corps at Douai were combined to form one group which could operate as a massed fighting formation. This group was immediately dubbed ‘Richthofen’s Circus’ by RFC pilots. This was a loose arrangement and the formal combination into a single unit did not in fact take place until June 1917.

The new group set off for the first time this morning. Their first encounter was with seven FE2d’s of a line patrol of 57 Squadron and three Sopwith triplanes of 8 Naval Squadron. Two of the FEs were shot down in the German lines and the crews taken prisoner.

  • Lieutenant Percy Thomas Bowers and 2nd Lieutenant Samuel Torton Wills in FE2d A6402 – shot down by Lothar von Richthofen from Jasta 11
  • 2nd Lieutenant Edward Dudley Jennings and 2nd Lieutenant John Robinson Lingard – shot down by Adolf Ritter von Tutschek from Jasta 12

John Henry Ryan

A third FE2d (A6380) with Lieutenant John Henry Ryan and 2nd Lieutenant Benjamin Graham Soutten was shot up and crashed behind the British lines. Both were wounded but Ryan later died of his wounds. A fourth, with Lieutenant Charles Stewart Morice and Lieutenant Forde Leathey in FE2d A1966  was also shot up and crashed near Roclincourt. The crew were ok though. The triplanes succeeded after a bitter fight, during which several German fighters were driven down, in extricating the there remaining FEs.

The German group then turned away, joined a number of two seaters, and came across a formation of six Bristol Fighters on their way, escorted by five Sopwith triplanes, to reconnoitre a reported trench system east of Douai. There followed a continuous fight for twenty minutes in which three SE5s of 56 Squadron joined (Captain Cyril Marconi Crowe, Lieutenant John Owen Leach, and 2nd Lieutenant Maurice Alfred Kay). Two of the enemy aeroplanes were shot down and seen to crash and one SE5 – Kay in A4866 – was brought down in flames – killing Kay – by Edmund Nathanael from Jasta 5. This was the first SE5 lost in combat. In the end, the Bristol Fighters had to abandon their reconnaissance attempt and, with their Sopwith escort, fight their way home.

The enemy group, now numbering fifteen, turned south, followed by two of the Sopwith triplanes, and found a photographic formation of eight FE2b’s from 18 Squadron. The enemy fighters attacked and the two Sopwiths joined in the fighting which lasted half an hour. Two of the FEs were shot down:

  • Sergeant Thomas Whiteman and 2nd Class Air Mechanic James H Wynn in FE2b 6998 – by Leutnant Hans Klein from  Jasta 4
  • 2nd Lieutenant Stanley Harold Bell and Lieutenant David William McLeod in FE2b A5481

Both managed to make it back over the lines. Whiteman crashed in a forced landing wounding Wynn who later died. Bell also force landed but both crew were unharmed. The remainder, with the help of the Sopwiths, fought their way back home.