Tag Archives: 60 squadron RFC

19 August 1917 – Ground Support

As part of the ongoing attacks around Ypres, the RFC has been testing new tactics of ground support.

On 9 August the 12th Division attacked opposite Boiry Notre Dame. 15 minutes before the infantry assault seven aeroplanes had assembled behind the lines in readiness. Just before ‘zero’ hour, three DH5s from 41 Squadron RFC crossed the barrage and attacked the German infantry.

At ‘zero’ hour the remaining four, FE2b’s from 18 Squadron RFC passed over the heads of the advancing infantry at 500 feet, and poured their machine-gun fire into trenches, trench mortar positions, and machine-gun emplacements.

Today the tactics were repeated on a larger scale. III Corps attacked south of Vendhuille, near Gillemont Farm The daybombing squadrons of the III Brigade concentrated their attention on the German group head-quarters at Bohain, and on billeting villages immediately behind the area of the attack.

When the infantry advanced, five DH5’s from 41 Squadron and nine from 24 Squadron RFC, four FE2b’s from 18 Squadron RRC , and five SE5’s from 60 Squadron, went ahead of the troops at a low height and fired around 9,000 rounds of ammunition into enemy troops and strong-points.

In the longer term the DH5 with its back staggered wings and excellent forward view  found a home in this role, which was just as well as it was a fairly poor fighter.

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2 June 1917 – Billy Bishop VC?

Today saw the raid after which Billy Bishop from 60 Squadron RFC was awarded the Victoria Cross flying a Nieuport 23 (B1566). At the time the RFC communique reported it thus:

“Captain W A Bishop, 60 Squadron, when 17 miles over the lines, saw seven machines, some of which had their engines running, on an aerodrome. He waited and then engaged the first one that left the ground from a height of 60 feet and the HA crashed. Another left the ground and Capt Bishop, who was hovering around immediately dived at it and after 30 rounds had been fired the HA crashed into a tree. Just after that two more left the ground at the same time, so Capt Bishop climbed to 1,000 feet and then engaged one of them and it fell and crashed within 300 yards of the aerodrome. The fourth was driven down after a whole drum had been fired into it. After this exploit Capt Bishop returned safely, but with his aeroplane considerably shot about by machine gun fire from the ground.”

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Billy Bishop with his Nieuport Scout B1566

Writing some years later the Official History reported the raid in a very similar way. :

“An example of what surprise and daring could achieve had been afforded by a low-flying feat of Captain W. A. Bishop of No. 60 Squadron, south of the main battle area, on the 2nd of June. This officer had been flying alone in a Nieuport Scout, in search of German aircraft, when he saw seven aeroplanes lined up on an aerodrome near Cambrai. He flew low over them and opened fire with his machineguns. One of the German aeroplanes left the ground, but was attacked by Captain Bishop from a height of sixty feet, and, after fifteen rounds had been fired, the enemy crashed. A second aeroplane took off and was in turn attacked until it fell into a tree. By this time two others had got into the air and Captain Bishop climbed to engage them. He caught up with them at about 1,000 feet and, after emptying part of a drum of ammunition into one, had the satisfaction of seeing it fall to the ground near the aerodrome. He fired his last drum into the fourth German aeroplane and then flew home: his aeroplane had been shot about by machine-gun fire from the ground.”

More recently there has been some scepticism about some of Billy Bishop’s claims, especially about some of these “stunts”. In 1982, the Canadian National Film Board released the pseudo-drama, “The Kid Who Couldn’t Miss,” a meld of fact and fiction that suggested portions of Bishop’s combat career were fabricated including this raid. It was suggested further that he landed behind Allied lines on the return trip and shot up his own aircraft to simulate battle damage.

Various authors have come forward over the years to support or refute the claim and since many of the German records have been destroyed it may not be possible to know for certain. One area which seems to cause much debate is the identification of the airfield which was attacked as Bishop did not state specifically which one. Lieutenant-Colonel David Bashow’s 2002 article in the Canadian Military Journal discusses some of these topics (though Bashow is a known Bishop supporter). Also see the recent Aerodrome thread on this. The Aerodrome forum in fact has many threads devoted to this and ity is probably one of their most discussed topics.

What is clear however, is that both the communique and the Official History make this seem like a random act of Bravery when this was clearly not the case. Bishop wrote to his fiancé on 31 May 1917:

“I have a great plan in mind, a real hair raising stunt which I am going to do one of these days. It should help to another decoration. It will be done long before you get this.”

Also as Bashow admits he sought and received permission from his commanding officer for the mission and requests for volunteers to accompany him went unheeded.

No doubt the debate will continue.

28 March 1917 – A good day for Jasta 5

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Keith Logan Caldwell

B flight of 60 Squadron was on an offensive patrol near Lens. Two of the Original five aircraft had dropped out due to engine trouble. The three remaining aircraft, led by Captain Keith Logan Caldwell attacked two enemy two seaters. They were then attacked themselves by three enemy scouts. Caldwell got into a one-on-one with one of the attackers eventually driving him off. 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Uriel Phalen in Nieuport 23 B1624 failed to return from the mission and was assumed killed. Leutnant Kurt Schuhmann from Jasta 5 claimed the victory though evidence is scant.

Jasta 5 then went to destroy a 25 Squadron photo reconnaissance  mission over Douai, about 12km behind the German lines. At this point the flight was down to 4 machines, three of which were lost.

  • 2nd Lieutenant Edward Harris Stevens and Lance Corporal C Sturrock in FE2d A32 claimed by Leutnant Kurt Schneider. They lost the undercarriage in the crash and Stevens was badly wounded
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    Aubrey de Selincourt

    Captain Aubrey De Selincourt and Lieutenant Harry Cotton in FE2d A6378 were forced down with a damaged engine and crashed – claimed by Leutnant Werner Voss

  • Lieutenant Thomas Noble Southorn and Lieutenant Vivian Smith in FE2d A6410 crashed when forced to land with a shot up engine and radiator – claimed by Vitzfeldwebel Otto Könnecke

All six crew members were taken prisoner but Stevens later died of his wounds. Aubrey De Selincourt later became a well-known author of classical and sailing books.

20 April 1917 – Minor losses

The weather improved enough for some flying and various RFC units took the chance to carry out photographic work. Two aircraft were hit by anti aircraft fire and did not return, the crews were taken prisoner. These were:

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George Alexander Newenham

2nd Lieutenant Alfred Ernest Crisp and 2nd Lieutenant George Alexander Newenham from 43 Squadron in Sopwith Strutter A1098.

Sergeant John Dangerfield and 2nd Class Air Mechanic E D Harvey from 16 Squadron in BE2c 2553.

We are more aware of the circumstances of Crisp and Newenham as officers captured were required to submit a report to the War Office to ensure their capture was legitimate. Enlisted men were not.

Lieutenant Billy Bishop from 60 Squadron also claimed to have shot down a German two-seater in flames near Biache-Saint-Vaast but the Germans conceded no losses and the combat was not seen by anyone else.

16 April 1917 – 60 Squadron destroyed again

If the last few weeks have seemed pretty grim for 60 Squadron RFC then today was even worse. After the mauling of A flight on 7 April and B Flight on 14 April today it was C flight’s turn.

Better weather returned today and reconnaissance aircraft were sent out from 11 Squadron RFC to photograph the Drocourt-Queant line to assist preparations for British actions to support he French offensive which opened today.

Strong precautions were taken to deal with enemy opposition to the mission. In addition to a close_ escort of four Nieuport single-seaters, offensive formations from 48 Squadron RFC, 60 Squadron RFC, and 1 (Naval) Squadron were ordered to patrol the area while the photographs were being procured.

The Bristol Fighters of 48 Squadron and the Sopwith Triplanes of 1 (Naval) Squadron flew for twenty-five minutes over the German aerodrome at Douai, but they were not challenged and their patrol as well as the photographic reconnaissance passed off without incident.

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Trevor Langwill

C Flight from 60 Squadron were not so lucky. Regular Flight Commander Lieutenant Billy Bishop was absent and so the six strong offensive formation from 60 Squadron was led by A Flight’s commander Captain Geoffrey Arthur Henzell Pidcock. The other pilots were 2nd Lieutenant Richard Eveson Kimbell (Nieuport 23 A6769), 2nd Lieutenant David Norman Robertson (Nieuport 23 B1501), 2nd Lieutenant Trevor Langwill (Nieuport 23 B1507), Lieutenant John Maccreary Elliott (Nieuport 23 B1509) and 2nd Lieutenant Lawrence Hastings Leckie.

They were attacked by a flight from Jasta 11 when they went to the assistance of a BE2. Kimbell, Robertson, Langwill and Elliot were all shot down and killed. The first three were claimed by Leutnant Kurt Wolff, Oberleutnant Lothar von Richthofen and Vitzfeldwebel Sebastian Festner. Pidcock and Leckie escaped and Pidcock claimed to have shot down two enemy aircraft – though no losses were noted by the Germans.

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Geoffrey Arthur Henzell Pidcock

The fate of Elliot is unknown though it is likely that his aircraft shed its wings while diving. 60 Squadron were at a distinct technological disadvantage despite being equipped with single seat Nieuport fighters. The Nieuports suffer from inherent weaknesses in the lower wing, reducing manoeuvrability and risking break up. There was also a bad batch of Nieuport 23s doing the rounds at this time.Not only that but they do not even have synchronising gear, most being equipped with overwing Lewis guns which are harder to aim and have to be reloaded frequently. All the new German fighters have twin synchronised guns.

The other factor is the fact that the patrol was very inexperienced. All four pilots lost were new to the Squadron and therefore new to the Nieuports as there were none at the training schools in England. Pidcock had also only been appointed a flight commander on 14 April (though he had been with the Squadrons since August 1916).

14 April 1917 – 60 Squadron bashed again

Following the loss of the unescorted RE8’s yesterday the task of photographing the Drocourt line was attempted again today by six FE2b’s from 11 Squadron with four Nieuport single-seaters of 29 Squadron as escort.

The reconnaissance was also timed to take place when the routine offensive patrols from 19 and 60 Squadrons. The photography formation was attacked over Vitry by Halberstadt and Albatros Scouts, but the escorting Nieuports and the FE2b’s fought so effectively that all the F.E.2b’s got safely home, although without their photographs. Unfortunately Corporal W Hodgson, the observer in FE2b 7702 flown by 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Woodhouse Gardner was killed.

2nd Lieutenant Eric John Pascoe from 29 Squadron was shot down and killed in his Nieuport 23 (A6794). 2nd Lieutenant Arthur Gordon Jones-Williams claimed an Albatros Scout in return.

The offensive formation from 60 Squadron were not so lucky. They got into a fight with Richthofen’s Jasta 11. The Nieuports had begun an attack on two German two-seaters, near Douai, when Richthofen appeared and shot four of them down.

  • Lieutenant William Oswald Russell in Nieuport 17 A6796 claimed by Manfred von Richthofen.
  • Captain Alan Binnie MC in Nieuport 23 A6772 claimed by Oberleutnant Lothar von Richthofen.

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    Alan Bennie

  • 2nd Lieutenant John Herbert Cock in Nieuport 23 B1511 claimed by Leutnant Kurt Wolff.
  • 2nd Lieutenant Lewis Carlton Chapman in Nieuport 23 B1523 claimed by Vitzfeldwebel Sebastian Fester
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John Herbert Cock

Russell, Binnie and Chapman were all taken prisoner but Chapman later died of his wounds. Bennie was badly wounded and had his arm amputated. Cock was killed outright. The fifth pilot, Lieutenant Graham Conacher Young managed to escape in Nieuport 23 B1509.

 

 

 

10 April 1917 – “On speeding wing we climb”

Work supporting the British offensive on the Western Front continued today in the same vein, and in the same poor weather. As yesterday, the key role for the RFC is to carry out contact patrols to keep Headquarters informed of the British advance.

Aircraft were up at dawn to plot the limits of the British advance. Contact patrols continued throughout the day. Today the single seaters from 60 Squadron joined in the contact part work carry out some low level tactical reconnaissance form 2-300ft. Crews also took the opportunity to machine gun columns of German infantry where possible. In an attempt to reduce losses the reconnaissance distance was reduced from 28 miles inside the German lines to 8 miles.

Despite or perhaps because of the bad weather, enemy aircraft were not out in numbers and most of the losses were due to a combination of ground fire and weather. For example, 8 Squadron lost three of its BE2e’s. At 0715 2nd Lieutenant Pierre Bouillier Pattisson was wounded and force landed his BE2e (A2839). His observer 2nd Lieutenant Edmund Mills Harwood was uninjured but the aircraft was shelled on landing and destroyed. Their colleagues 2nd Lieutenant John William Brown and Lieutenant Edward John McCormick, suffered engine failure and crashed into barbed wire near Foncquevillers in their BE2e (A2803). Both escaped unharmed but the aircraft was destroyed. Finally, Lieutenant John Howard Thomas and 2nd Lieutenant Frank George Brockman, got lost in a snow storm and were forced to land in their BE2e (A2854). Both men were wounded in the crash and the aircraft was wrecked.

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Francis St Vincent Morris

In the end through, the weather claimed one fatality. 2nd Lieutenant Francis St Vincent Morris and Sergeant Arthur James Mitchell from 3 Squadron crashed their Morane P (A6715) into a tree in a snowstorm. Both were wounded. Morris suffered head wounds, broke both his legs and one had to be amputated. He later died of his wounds. Morris was one of the lesser known war poets, whose collection was published posthumously in 1917. In his pocket after he died an untitled poem was found:

Through vast
Realms of air
we passed
On wings all-whitely fair

Sublime
On speeding wing
we climb
Like an unfettering thing

Away
Height upon height;
and play
In God’s great Lawns of Light.

And He
Guides us safe home
to see
The Fields He bade us roam.