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Aviation Art Chronology- The Great War 1914-1916
A chronology of aviation art depicting the early years of the Great War in the skies.
pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 23, 2015 - 12:08 pm
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http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg92/hill9868/dhm1698_zpsgt4bvfjb.jpg

‘Zeppelin Over London’ by Ivan Berryman

On the evening of September 23rd, 1916, a flotilla of four Zeppelins set out across the English Channel, comprising L-31, L-32, L-33 and L-34. Their destination was London and the surrounding counties. Zeppelin L.33, commanded by Kapitan-Leutnant Alois Bocker, was making her operational debut, having made her maiden flight only three weeks before.

Passing over the east end of London, the L.33 dropped her cargo of over 3,000kg of bombs. Shortly afterwards, it was seriously damaged by an anti-aircraft shell. The airship was still flyable and Bocker ordered her to be steered over Essex to clear the anti-aircraft and searchlight positions in central London. However British fighters of No 39 Home Defence Squadron of the RFC were lurking in the darkness, searching for the giant airships. Second-Lieutenant Alfred Brandon, flying a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2C, spotted the L.33 and made an attack.

Brandon, a New-Zealander, was an experienced Zeppelin-hunter. The previous April, he had shot down Zeppelin L-15 over the Channel, a feat for which he had been awarded the Military Cross. Brandon attacked L.33 and his firing pass further damaged the airship.

Captain Bocker realised that his airship was in no fit state to make the return journey across the Channel and decided to make a force landing. The airship landed in a field in Little Wigborough in Essex in the early hours of September 24th. The crew, all of whom survived, abandoned the craft and Bocker ordered his men to set fire to the L.33 before British troops arrived. Part of the hull survived the fire and the British used it as a basis for the designs of their own airships such as the R33 and R34. Bocker and his crew became POWs.

Brandon survived the war and returned to his native New Zealand to resume his vocation as a barrister. He died in 1974.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 24, 2015 - 6:24 am
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‘The Destruction of L.32’ by Michael Turner

On the same evening when the L.33 met her demise, one of her fellow airships participating on the same raid on the night of September 23/24, 1916 also came to a fiery end.

Having taken off shortly before midnight, Second-Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey, also of No 39 Home Defence Squadron of the RFC, was patrolling over Essex in a BE2C. Zeppelin L.32, having encountered fierce anti-aircraft over London, had diverted to a secondary target and had bombed Purfleet. Like the L.33, she flew over Essex en route to the coast for the trip home.

Sowrey, the son of a Gloucestershire tax inspector, had only been in the RFC since June. He had started his war service in the infantry as an officer in the Royal Fusiliers and had been badly wounded in the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Afterwards, he transferred to the RFC for pilot training and had been assigned to No 39 Squadron in June 1916.

Shortly after 1.00am September 24th, Sowrey spotted the huge hulk of the airship, lit up by searchlights from below, over Billericay, Essex and manoeuvred his aircraft to attack. He made one firing pass, emptying the ammunition drum of the Lewis MG mounted atop the BE2’s upper wingspan. Sowrey, seeing no apparent effect, reloaded his weapon with a fresh drum and made another pass, emptying his MG into the belly of the L.32. The Zeppelin flew on, apparently un-hurt, so Sowrey made a third attack. This time, he saw a result, as a reddish glow appeared on the airship’s underside, rapidly brightening and spreading as the internal hydrogen ignited, the flames rushing uncontrollably to consume the entire structure.

Sowrey banked his aircraft to a safe distance as the entire Zeppelin became engulfed in flames. It tilted and dropped earthwards, crashing into a field near Snails Farm in Billericay. The L.32’s commander, Kapitan-Leutnant Werner Petersen, and all of his crew, perished in the flames, their bodies discovered charred and shrivelled in the wreckage. By three am, sightseers were already descending on Snails Farm to get a close look at the wreckage. By the following day, thousands of people were making daytrips from nearby London to see the amazing sight, travelling by car, horse & cart, bicycle or paying for a seat on one of the chartered buses. Enterprising retailers even set up lemonade and confectionary stands to take advantage of the crowds. Police and the army had to guard the wreckage to prevent souvenir hunters from scavenging pieces of debris. The bodies of the Zeppelin crew were housed in a nearby church and were later given a burial with full military honours by the RFC. Some of the onlookers jeered and spat at the passing funeral parade, venting their anger over the civilian casualties caused by this and previous Zeppelin raids on Britain.

There were a total of 51 airship raids on Britain during the Great War, resulting in the deaths of 557 British civilians with another 1,358 injured. Of the 84 airships that took part, 30 were lost, either shot down or due to accidents. The final airship raid took place on the night of August 5th, 1918, over the north of England.

For his feat, Sowrey was awarded a DSO. The L.32 was his first confirmed victory. In 1917, Sowrey was transferred to No 19 Squadron based in France and he flew with them until the Autumn of 1918, achieving 12 more aerial victories. By the end of the conflict, he was the commander of No 143 Squadron. Sowrey remained in the RAF until he retired in 1940. He died in 1968.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 24, 2015 - 6:34 am
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‘The End for L.32’  by Barry Weekly

Another depiction of the destruction of Zeppelin L.32.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 24, 2015 - 6:50 am
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‘Zeppelin L.32’ by ?

A highly dramatic and cinematic portrayal of the destruction of L.32. The scene is in-accurate as there was only one aircraft that attacked the Zeppelin and it was a BE2C, not the SE5a fighters shown here which in reality did not enter service until April 1917, some seven months after the events shown here.

Does any forum member know who the artist was? I like his style!

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 25, 2015 - 12:36 am
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‘Major John Gilmour’ by Ivan Berryman

Lieutenant John Gilmour achieved his second aerial victory on September 24th 1916 when, whilst flying a Martinsyde G.100 ‘Elephant’, he shot down a Fokker E.I Eindecker fighter.

Gilmour, a Scotsman born in Helensburgh, joined the British army upon the outbreak of war and he served for over a year in a Highland infantry regiment before transferring to the RFC in December 1915. Qualifying as a pilot in March 1916, he was assigned to No 27 Squadron, the only unit fully equipped with the under-performing Martinsyde G.100, a single-seater designed to be a duel-role plane, able to act as a fighter and bomber. But it proved to be slow and ungainly and, although as large as a two-seater, its lack of a rear-seat gunner rendered it vulnerable to attack from the rear.

Nonetheless, Gilmour achieved his first three victories in the G.100, ‘breaking his duck’ on September 16th when he brought down an Albatros D.I fighter, followed by his second victory eight days later in the action depicted in the painting above and a second Eindecker two days later on the 26th for his third kill. Gilmour flew with No 27 Squadron for the next fourteen months, primarily flying bombing missions. Hence, it was to be December 1917 before he could add to his victory tally when, having been transferred to No 65 Squadron equipped with Sopwith Camels, he shot down two German planes in a single day- December 18th- to achieve the rank of ‘Ace’.

From here on, his score of victories increased rapidly, culminating on July 1st 1918 when he brought down five enemy machines in a single day. On July 3rd, he shot down his final two victories to bring his total tally to 39. After this date, he was transferred to the Italian Front to command No 28 Squadron with a promotion to Major. It was a primarily administrative role, meaning he added no more successes to his tally before the war’s end.

John Gilmour was the highest-scoring Scottish pilot of the Great War. He remained in the RAF after the end of the war but his wartime experiences had taken a heavy toll on him mentally and he found it difficult to adjust to the monotonous routines of a peacetime air-force, especially in the harsh, isolated conditions of the Middle-east where he spent much of the 1920s. In 1928, whilst in London, he took his own life by poisoning.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 25, 2015 - 1:12 am
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‘The Shepherd’ by Michael O’Neal

The first large-scale strategic daylight bombing raid by the Allies took place on October 12th, 1916. A combined force of British and French light bombers headed across the Western Front towards German soil, their target the Mauser Munitions Works in Obendorf. One of the participating units was the 3rd Wing of the RNAS and one of the pilots flying Sopwith 1&1/2 Strutters as escort was a Canadian named Raymond Collishaw.

Collishaw, born in Canada in 1893, the son of Welsh parents, had worked in commercial shipping since the age of 15 and when the war broke out in 1914, he volunteered for naval aviation. After flying for a home defence unit in Britain in seven months in 1916, he was posted to France and assigned to the 3rd Naval Air Wing in August of that year.

Bad weather, faulty navigation and under-performing engines soon scattered the bomber formation into small groups and many of the 60-plus bombers never reached Obendorf, having to turn back with low fuel or malfunctioning engines. Observers on the ground tracked the progress of the formation and German fighters were soon intercepting those Allied bombers still en route to the target.

The Sopwiths of the 3rd Air Wing were nearing Obendorf when a flight of six Fokker D-II fighters attacked them. Collishaw was flying close escort to one of his fellow pilots, Lieutenant Butterworth whose aircraft was struggling with a defective engine. One of the Fokkers, piloted by Leutnant Ludwig Hanstein, attacked Butterworth’s Sopwith. Collishaw attempted to intervene, firing at Hanstein’s Fokker but missing. The German pilot pressed home his attack, firing a burst which crippled Butterworth’s Sopwith and wounded the pilot in the neck.

Butterworth, despite his grevious injury, managed to crash-land on German soil below. He survived his wounds but remained a POW for the remainder of the war. Collishaw engaged another of the Fokkers. His observer fired a burst, claiming to hit it and Collishaw then attacked the enemy plane with his forward-firing weapons. According to British crews who witnessed the action, the Fokker spiralled downwards and was seen to crash. Collishaw claimed it as his first aerial victory but the Germans denied suffering any losses during the engagement. The victory was not credited to Collishaw because of the confusion and uncertainty of the action.

The bombing raid was a failure. Only a handful of the bombers, mostly Sopwiths, reached Obendorf and the bombing was in-accurate and did little damage. Ten Allied aircraft failed to return and an eleventh fatally crashed on landing. But the raid taught the Allied vital lessons on strategic bombing and assisting in the preparations for future operations.

Collishaw soon achieved his first confirmed aerial victories when, shortly after the raid, he was attacked by six enemy aircraft whilst he was ferrying a new aircraft to his aerodrome. He single-handedly engaged them and shot down two, a feat witnessed by hundreds of French infantrymen watching from the ground. Collishaw was later posted to a fighter unit and in 1917, he flew the new Sopwith Triplane. He painted his machine black, christening his mount ‘Black Maria’ and his similarly painted flight became known as ‘the Black Flight’ or the ‘All-Blacks’. In a mere two months, they claimed 87 German aircraft shot down. Although their colleagues in the RFC garnered much publicity, the pilots of the RNAS found themselves largely ignored by the media. By August 1917, Collishaw was the British Empire’s second-highest scoring living ace but on a visit to his native Canada that month, he found himself completely unknown to the public, unlike his RFC counterpart and fellow Canadian Billy Bishop who was feted as a major celebrity.

Nonetheless, the pilots of the RNAS continued to inflict heavy losses on the Germans in the northern sector of the Western Front. By the start of 1918, Collishaw was a squadron commander and he flew on operations until the end of the war. He was credited with a total of 60 aerial victories, making him the second-highest scoring Canadian pilot of the Great War as well as the highest-scoring Naval ace and the top-scoring Sopwith Triplane pilot.

Collishaw served in the RAF in the inter-war period and during the Second World War. In 1939, he was commander of No 204 Group in Egypt where his poorly-equipped and under-resourced pilots fought heroically against the Italian air-force and navy. Replaced in 1942, he was forcibly retired the following year. He returned to his native Canada and lived there until his death in 1976.

http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg92/hill9868/8wj1g_zpsrnziqsfj.jpg

‘Sopwith 1&1/2 Strutter’  by Taras Shtyk

Another depiction of the raid on Obendorf. This illustration featured as the box art for the Roden plastic kit of this aircraft.

 

http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg92/hill9868/dhm1627_zpsai3bcqta.jpg

 ‘Leutnant Otto Kissenberth’  by Ivan Berryman

 Otto Kissenberth was born in Bavaria in 1893 and prior to the Great War, he completed an engineering degree at Munich University. He worked for a short period at Gustav Otto aviation works as a mechanical engineer before the war broke out in 1914. He volunteered as a pilot and soon completed his training in early 1915 and was assigned to a reconnaissance unit- FFA-8. On one of his earliest missions, Kissenberth was injured by anti-aircraft fire but returned to active service within four months, joining FFA-9, another reconnaissance unit. This unit was based in Italy and Kissenberth took part in a daring bombing raid on Cortina in July 1915.

In 1916, FFA-9 was moved to France and was allocated single-seat fighters, morphing into a fighter & reconnaissance unit. The unit’s inventory included a number of the new Fokker D-II fighters, one of which was flown by Kissenberth. On October 12th, Kissenberth and other pilots of FFA-9 were ordered aloft to intercept an un-usually large formation of Allied bombers heading into German airspace, bound for Obendorf. The raid was the first large-scale strategic bombing raid in history and was comprised of over sixty French and British bombers with an escort of fighters of the RNAS and the Lafayette Escadrille.

Kissenberth, piloting his Fokker D-II, intercepted one of the French squadrons and shot down two Farman F.40s. Returning to his aerodrome, Kissenberth had his Fokker hurriedly refuelled and re-armed and then took off again, catching up to the scattered Allied formation as it was en route home. He attacked and shot down a British-flown Breguet V, as shown in the painting above. Kissenberth had achieved his first three confirmed victories in two sorties flown in a single day.

It was nearly eight months before Kissenberth could add to his victory tally when whilst flying Albatros fighters for the newly formed Jasta 16, he shot down two French SPADs and an Allied observation balloon in May 1917. In August, he was given command of Jasta 23, an all-Bavarian unit and he flew an Albatros DV with a distinctive Edelweiss symbol on its fuselage. Kissenberth wore spectacles whilst flying, being one of the very few aces of the entire war who were known to. By the spring of 1918, his victory tally had reached 19. In May of that year, Kissenberth flew several sorties in a captured British Sopwith Camel and with this aircraft, he shot down his 20th confirmed victory. On May 29th, whilst landing his Camel at dusk, he crashed and was seriously injured. His injuries prevented him from returning to frontline duties and he spent the rest of the war commanding a training unit.

Kissenberth survived the war but he lived less than a year of peace, losing his life in a mountaineering accident in August 1919.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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April 25, 2015 - 1:47 am
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‘The First American Ace’  by Roy Grinnell

Raoul Lufbery was born in Paris. When he was only a year old, his French mother died and his American father abandoned him, returning to the United States, leaving Raoul to be raised by his French grandparents. A troublesome youth, Lufbery ran away from home at age 17 and became an adventurous traveller, scraping a living and enduring hardship and poverty as he did so. Making his way through much of the Middle-east, Lufbery than served for two years in the US army, stationed in the Philippines, India, Japan and China. Working as a mechanic in French Indochina in 1912, Lufbery became good friends with French aviator Marc Pourpe. This fired an interest in aviation and when war broke out in 1914, he joined the French air-force, first as a mechanic and then he trained as a pilot.

In 1916, the Lafayette Escadrille was formed, a unit comprised of American volunteer pilots who had chosen to fight for France despite their own nation having yet to officially enter the war. Lufbery joined the unit in May of that year. Upon his arrival, Lufbery found his welcome somewhat lukewarm. A man with a humble background and having lived a youth of adventure and hardship and speaking French with a working-class accent, Lufbery had little in common with the wealthy, sheltered young American fliers he was to serve alongside. But his colleagues soon learnt to respect the gruff voiced French-American when he achieved his first aerial victory in July. Three more victories followed and then came the Allied bombing raid on Obendorf on October 12th.

The Lafayette Escadrille flew as escort fighters for the French bomber units that took part. En route home, Lufbery and his comrades engaged a flight of German two-seater Roland C-IIs. Flying a Nieuport 11, Lufbery shot down one of the Rolands, achieving his fifth victory, an event depicted in the painting above. He was now officially an ‘Ace’, the first American pilot to reach this status. Lufbery’s habit of performing much of his own mechanical work on his aircraft, keeping it in top working order, stood him in good stead. Not to mention his practice of checking and cleaning each individual round in his Lewis MG, preventing the jams that often plagued the type.

Lufbery achieved a total of 16 confirmed victories with the Lafayette Escadrille before he transferred to the United States Air Service, following the entry of the United States into the war. Flying with the 94th Aero Squadron, he scored one more confirmed victory before, on May 19th 1918, he was killed near his aerodrome when, whilst attacking an enemy two-seater in his Nieuport 28, he fell out of his aircraft, having unfastened his safety harness to clear a jam in his weapon, and his body struck a metal fence on the ground below.

http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg92/hill9868/10289492173_f1fcd5b57e_z_zpst8hgdabw.jpg

‘Captain Raoul Lufbery’  by Mark Postlethwaite

Another depiction of Lufbery in action during the Obendorf operation.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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Ruskin’ by Michael O’Neal

On October 22nd, 1916, two aircraft of No 19 Squadron RFC left their aerodrome at Fienvillers in France and headed eastwards for the Frontlines. The two aircraft, a war-weary BE-12 flown by Canadian-American 2nd-Lt John Ruskin Watts and a brand-new French-built SPAD VII flown by Englishman Lt Edward Capper, were heading for Belgium. Their target were the German positions at Louveral which Watts was to bomb with Capper flying as his escort. Watts was a relative newcomer to the squadron, having only arrived in France at the start of the month.

Crossing the front shortly after noon, the dreary morning cloud began to clear, the two fliers encountering clear skies. Before long, the enemy had spotted them and were approaching in the form of a flight of Albatros D-IIs of Jasta 2, the famous unit commanded by Oswald Boelcke. In the engagement that followed, Capper tried to fight off the attacking German fighters. He later claimed to have shot one down and was credited for it but German records make no mention of any losses for that action. Meanwhile Watts’ aircraft was badly hit by an Albatros piloted by Leutnant Leopold Reimann. Peppered with holes, including one in the BE-12’s fuel tank which rapidly drained empty, Watts had no choice but to force-land in enemy territory. His aircraft was captured intact by the Germans and Watts spent the rest of the war as a POW.

Watts survived his ordeal as a prisoner-of-war and afterwards he worked for his father’s firm in New York. He died in England in 1980. Edward Capper continued to fly with No 19 Squadron and was killed in action in April 1917. Leopold Reimann was officially made an Ace on October 22nd 1916 as Watt’s BE-12 had been his fifth victory. It was also his last and he was killed in an accidental crash the following January.

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pete hill (formerly Bunter) said
http://i246.photobucket.com/albums/gg92/hill9868/9p29_zpsy72jm5bs.jpg

‘The First American Ace’  by Roy Grinnell

Raoul Lufbery was born in Paris. When he was only a year old, his French mother died and his American father abandoned him, returning to the United States, leaving Raoul to be raised by his French grandparents. A troublesome youth, Lufbery ran away from home at age 17 and became an adventurous traveller, scraping a living and enduring hardship and poverty as he did so. Making his way through much of the Middle-east, Lufbery than served for two years in the US army, stationed in the Philippines, India, Japan and China. Working as a mechanic in French Indochina in 1912, Lufbery became good friends with French aviator Marc Pourpe. This fired an interest in aviation and when war broke out in 1914, he joined the French air-force, first as a mechanic and then he trained as a pilot.

In 1916, the Lafayette Escadrille was formed, a unit comprised of American volunteer pilots who had chosen to fight for France despite their own nation having yet to officially enter the war. Lufbery joined the unit in May of that year. Upon his arrival, Lufbery found his welcome somewhat lukewarm. A man with a humble background and having lived a youth of adventure and hardship and speaking French with a working-class accent, Lufbery had little in common with the wealthy, sheltered young American fliers he was to serve alongside. But his colleagues soon learnt to respect the gruff voiced French-American when he achieved his first aerial victory in July. Three more victories followed and then came the Allied bombing raid on Oberndorf on October 12th.

The Lafayette Escadrille flew as escort fighters for the French bomber units that took part. En route home, Lufbery and his comrades engaged a flight of German two-seater Roland C-IIs. Flying a Nieuport 11, Lufbery shot down one of the Rolands, achieving his fifth victory, an event depicted in the painting above. He was now officially an ‘Ace’, the first American pilot to reach this status. Lufbery’s habit of performing much of his own mechanical work on his aircraft, keeping it in top working order, stood him in good stead. Not to mention his practice of checking and cleaning each individual round in his Lewis MG, preventing the jams that often plagued the type.

Lufbery achieved a total of 16 confirmed victories with the Lafayette Escadrille before he transferred to the United States Air Service, following the entry of the United States into the war. Flying with the 94th Aero Squadron, he scored one more confirmed victory before, on May 19th 1918, he was killed near his aerodrome when, whilst attacking an enemy two-seater in his Nieuport 28, he fell out of his aircraft, having unfastened his safety harness to clear a jam in his weapon, and his body struck a metal fence on the ground below.

This piece is beautiful, I wonder if it looks this good in person. That fighter looks very 3 dimensional.

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‘FE8 of 41 Squadron over the Somme, 1916’  by Michael Turner

This painting depicts an FE8 Pusher flying low over British troops struggling through the miserable Autumn rains and mud on the Somme on October 23rd, 1916. The aircraft belongs to No 41 Squadron RFC, a unit which had arrived in France in little more than a week earlier and which was one of only two units to be fully equipped with the FE8.

After the disastrous first day on the Somme on July 1st, the battle had rapidly descended into a campaign of attrition. The British, having received a bloody nose on the opening day with their attempt at a grand, wide break-through, settled instead on launching a series of localised, smaller attacks, aimed at gaining strategic sectors of ground and drawing the Germans into battle. In a strategic sense, the latter tactic worked, as the Germans, forbidden by their generals to concede any ground, were obliged to pack their frontline trenches with infantry which exposed them to the devastating artillery barrages of the Allies. Hence the German casualty rate was soon accelerating alongside those of the Allies. Indeed one German general later remarked, ‘the Somme was the bloody grave of the German army’. But the losses of the Allied formations remained horrifically high as well and the British and French public at home were alarmed at the never-ending casualty lists. The Allies continued to attack, gaining small amounts of ground, but the Germans were skilled at organising rapid counter-attacks which always prevented the attackers from achieving any major breakthrough.

By October, the worsening Autumn weather was rapidly reducing the shell-churned Somme battlefield into a hellish nightmare of liquid mud and misery. By November, the long campaign fizzled out and both sides, exhausted and depleted, settled in for the winter in their water-logged trenches. The cheery summer optimism of Britain’s volunteer army was soon a distant memory. The Somme campaign cost the British, Commonwealth and French armies over 600,000 casualties. The German figures are more controversial and continue to be debated by historians with estimates ranging from 180,000 to over 500,000.

Throughout the long, bloody campaign, the RFC and their French allies flew round-the-clock, the fighters on both sides fighting for air supremacy and attacking the two-seaters of the opposing side whilst the latter flew reconnaissance and artillery-spotting sorties, often hampered by the swirling smoke or dense cloud. Like all RFC units over the Somme, No 41 Squadron had a hard campaign, suffering many losses but the pace of operations never let up. RFC commander Hugh Trenchard had decided on a policy of maintaining the offensive in the air, continuously sending his fliers over the Front to operate over enemy-held territory. One consequence of this policy was that the Germans were obliged to fight on a defensive posture. In one respect this reduced their aircrew losses as their fliers who force-landed behind German lines and avoided injury were able to return to their units to fight again. In another respect, it greatly reduced the offensive capability of the Germans who sent fewer of their own planes over Allied territory, reducing their reconnaissance coverage of the campaign.

The strain on the RFC was immense, the aircrew’s physical and mental reserves drained by the never-ending pace of operations demanded by Trenchard. Commander Hugh Dowding of the 9th Wing RFC begged Trenchard for permission to send at least some of his exhausted pilots home for a rest but was curtly refused. Dowding angrily complained, leading to a permanent rift between the two men (Dowding would later command RAF Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain in 1940). 

Between July 1st and November 21st 1916, the Royal Flying Corps suffered the loss of 190 aircraft shot down during the course of the Somme Campaign together with another 173 aircraft badly damaged. In addition, another 250 of the RFC’s aircraft had to be withdrawn from front-line service as they were considered too worn out and obsolete to be suitable for operational duties. During the same period (although, again, the figures remain a subject of debate among historians), the German air-force lost 164 aircraft destroyed and another 205 damaged or forced down in the Somme sector. The aircrew losses were horrific. For the RFC, combat casualties totaled 499 pilots and observers killed, wounded, missing or POW. In addition, there were another 268 ‘non-battle’ casualties due to illness, combat fatigue (‘shell-shock’) and accidental injuries. German aircrew losses for the same period totaled 359. 

Appalled at the casualty rate and how ill-trained the new pilots arriving in France were, some of them having had as little as seven hours solo flying practice (less than the minimum required to obtain a basic light aircraft license today), Commander Smith-Barry of No 60 Squadron angrily wrote a paper voicing his concerns and suggesting how the training could be improved. Trenchard immediately re-assigned him to the Reserve Training Squadron at Gosport in Britain. Once there as its new CO, Trenchard quickly discarded the out-dated Farman trainers and replaced them with newer Avro 504s. He acquired new training instructors direct from the Avro factory, men who were not only highly experienced aviators but also proficient in the mechanical workings of their aircraft. The once slipshod and cheerfully casual training methods quickly became more rigorous and thorough, the training programs became much more professionalized with instructors under more scrutiny in their work. Earlier in the war, cadet pilots had been taught the bare bones of flying but under Smith-Barry’s regime, they were taught how to recover from stalls, pull out of spins and navigate through fog. Other aircraft were procured for the training schools, mostly types now deemed too out-dated for combat such as the Morane Saulnier Ns, BE2cs and Bristol Scouts, types which, despite their age, were still a vast improvement on the painfully old-fashioned Farman pushers which cadets had been forced to train on earlier in the war. The accident rate dropped sharply, as did the attrition of cadets, with deaths caused by training accidents far fewer in 1917-1918 than they had been in the first half of the war.

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‘The Fall of Boelcke’ by James Dietz

Oswald Boelcke was not only a fighter ace but one of the most influential fighter commanders and tacticians of the Great War. Born in 1891, he served in the Prussian Army for three years prior to the war. Transferring to the air-force in 1914, Boelcke qualified as a pilot two weeks after the outbreak of hostilities and he served as a reconnaissance pilot for the first eleven months of the war. In July 1915, Boelcke was given one of the first prototypes of the new Fokker Eindecker (monoplane) fighter equipped with the new synchronised forward-firing machine gun. In August, he achieved his first confirmed victory.

By January 1916, Boelcke had eight victories to his credit, equalling his rival and friend Max Immelmann (although the rivalry soured the friendship) and he was awarded the Pour Le Merite (later dubbed the ‘Blue Max’). By May 1916, his score had reached 16, making him the pre-eminent fighter pilot of Germany. After Immelmann’s death in June, Kaiser Wilhelm strongly urged Boelcke to withdraw from combat sorties, considering him too valuable to the war effort to be lost also. Boelcke eventually returned to the Front but also spent much time developing new tactics and helping to re-organise the German air-force by establishing the all-fighter units (‘Jastas’). Boelcke was a firm leader and brave and determined in combat. But he was an inspiring commander and teacher to his younger pilots and he was also capable of showing chivalry to his enemies such as on the occasion when he visited the hospitalised crew of a British two-seater he had shot down and he arranged for a letter to be sent to the Allied lines to inform the families of the two men that they were still alive.

In July 1916, Boelcke took command of a new unit, Jasta 2 (soon known as ‘Jasta Boelcke’) and one of the young pilots he hand-picked was a aristocratic former cavalry officer named Manfred von Richthofen. He took Richthofen under his wing, teaching the latter much about aerial fighting and leadership. Richthofen later credited Boelcke with ‘making me the pilot that I am’. Boelcke referred to his men as his ‘cubs’ and he relentlessly drilled them in tactics and formation flying, emphasising team-work and discipline. Meanwhile, his personal victory tally increased rapidly as the new Albatros D-II rapidly proved its worth. By late October 1916, he had achieved 40 aerial victories.

On October 28th, 1916, Boelcke flew his sixth sortie late in the afternoon. Weary and combat-fatigued, Boelcke neglected to fasten his safety-harness properly. Leading a flight of six Albatros fighters, Boelcke spotted a pair of British DH2 Pushers over Douai. The two DH2s were of No 24 Squadron RFC piloted by Captain Arthur Knight and Lt Alfred Mckay. Boelcke and his fellow pilots, including von Richthofen and Erwin Bohme, dove to attack the two Pushers.

Boelcke and Bohme dived on Knight’s aircraft whilst Richthofen attacked McKay’s. Richthofen, intent on his quarry, inadvertently drifted across the path of Boelcke’s aircraft, forcing the latter to swerve to avoid a collision. However Boelcke failed to notice in time that Bohme’s aircraft was directly above and behind him and the two aircraft collided, Bohme’s landing gear striking Boelcke’s upper wing, tearing a portion of the fabric from it. The latter’s Albatros began to descend in wide circles as the ace and Jasta commander struggled to regain control. The damaged upper wing crumpled and broke away. Somehow, Boelcke managed to keep his plane level enough to make a controlled crash-landing. However his loose safety straps came apart on impact, flinging his head against the instrument panel. By the time German troops reached the wreckage, Boelcke was dead.

Richthofen and Bohme were devastated by the loss. Indeed, the latter became so overcome with grief and guilt that he had to be forcibly restrained from taking his own life. Boelcke was buried with full military honours in Cambrai and a day after his funeral, a British aircraft flew over Jasta 2’s base and dropped a wreath with a note that said ‘To the memory of Captain Boelcke, a brave and chivalrous foe’.

Manfred von Richthofen remembered his beloved teacher’s lessons well and he became the top-scoring ace of the Great War before his death in April 1918. Erwin Bohme also recovered from the loss and became an ace, also, achieving 24 victories before he was shot down and killed in November 1917.

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‘Death of Boelcke’– by Paul Lengelle

Another depiction of the above action.

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‘Mapplebeck’s Balloon Strafe’ by Colin J Ashford

On November 9th 1916, Captain Thomas G Mapplebeck, piloting an FE8 Pusher of No 40 Squadron RFC, spotted an enemy observation balloon near the frontlines. Mapplebeck, a Liverpudlian, had previously served in the infantry as a junior officer in the 49th Kings Regiment. At the Battle of Second Ypres in mid-1915, he had been struck in the face by a German’s rifle butt during a hand-to-hand action, resulting in the loss of most of his teeth. Transferring to the RFC, Mapplebeck served with No 29 Squadron flying DH2s in the summer of 1916, achieving two victories before he was re-assigned to No 40 Squadron in September.

Mapplebeck attacked the balloon, flying at 200 feet above the German trench system, risking himself to anti-aircraft fire. He emptied a drum of ammunition into the underside of the balloon, then changed to a fresh drum on his Lewis MG and made a second pass, firing it off in another continuous burst. The balloon burst into flame and the German observer leapt from his basket and parachuted to safety. Mapplebeck had achieved his third victory. It was also to be his last as moments after his triumph, he was attacked by an Albatros D-II of Jasta 2, flown by Erwin Bohme.

A bullet severed a pressure line to his engine and the latter began to splutter, starved of fuel. Mapplebeck glided to a force-landing behind enemy lines as his engine cut out. German infantrymen surrounded his plane as soon as it rolled to a stop and his FE8 was captured intact. Mapplebeck spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp and he was placed in solitary confinement for five months as punishment for escape attempts. He survived the ordeal and he later served in the air-force during WW2, becoming RAF liaison officer in Yugoslavia.

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‘Lieutenant John Andrews’  by Mark Postlethwaite

John Andrews began his service with the RFC in November 1914 after serving two months in an infantry regiment. For the first year of the war, he flew as an observer in an Avro 504 before qualifying as a pilot in October 1915. He was assigned to No 24 Squadron, a new unit equipped with the Airco DH2 Pushers and commanded by veteran ace Lanoe Hawker. The well-known and highly regarded Hawker, with energetic and inspiring leadership, moulded No 24 into an effective unit and in 1916 the Squadron would become the best British fighter unit in France.

Andrews, in one of his earliest sorties, encountered the famous German ace Max Immelmann and he succeeded in badly damaging the latter’s Eindecker. The following July, Andrews scored his first confirmed victory, destroying an Eindecker which may have been the aircraft of 8-victory-ace Otto Parschau. By late November, Andrews’ victory tally had risen to six.

On November 22nd, 1916, Andrews, now an acting Captain was heading home after a patrol at the head of A Flight. Flying over Les Beoufs, the flight encountered four German Albatros D-II fighters. The leader of the group was 27-year-old Oberleutnant Stefan Kirmaier, an ace with eleven victories to his credit. Kirmaier was commander of Jasta 2 (‘Jasta Boelcke’), having taken over when Boelcke had been killed on October 28th. He had had to rally his men who had been demoralised by the death of their former beloved leader.

A Flight had already been in an engagement during that patrol and Andrews’ DH2 was peppered with holes and his engine was damaged, impeding his aircraft’s performance. Nonetheless, he turned to fight as the Albatros fighters came at them. As they swept past, Andrews banked hard and got onto the tail of one of the enemy planes, emptying the drum of his Lewis MG at close range. The Albatros spiralled downwards and crashed in the nearby frontlines, coming down just inside the British lines.

British troops rushed to the crashed aircraft, finding Kirmaier sitting in the cockpit, stone dead, killed by a bullet to the head. The twin machine-guns were removed intact from the wreckage and were later kept as a trophy by No 24 Squadron. Andrews was credited with the victory, raising his tally to seven.

Andrews was later transferred to No 66 Squadron equipped with Sopwith Pups and he flew with them in the spring and summer of 1917, adding a further five victories to his tally. Between August 1917 and March 1918, he worked as a flight instructor in Britain before returning to France as a Flight Commander in No 70 Squadron. In May 1918, he became a Major and was appointed CO of No 209 Squadron, a post he held until the end of the war.

Andrews remained in the Royal Air Force after the war, commanding a unit in the Russian Civil War and also serving in India. By 1939, he had risen to the rank of Air Commodore and during the Second World War, he commanded two fighter Groups and was also the RAF’s head of armaments development. He retired in 1945 and lived until 1989, passing away at the age of 92.

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‘Captain John Oliver Andrews downs Oberleutnant Stefan Kirmaier’  by Jim Laurier

Another portrayal of the above event.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘The Death of Lanoe Hawker VC’  by Mark Postlethwaite

At 1300hrs on November 23rd, 1916, the Airco DH2 Pushers of ‘A’ Flight, No 24 Squadron took off on yet another patrol over enemy territory as the commanders of the Royal Flying Corps continued their relentless policy of offensive operations. Amongst the pilots of ‘A’ flight were the squadron CO, Major Lanoe Hawker, an ace with 15 confirmed victories to his credit and a recipient of the Victoria Cross the previous year, Lieutenant John Andrews who had brought down his seventh victory the previous day and Lieutenant Robert Saundby, another of the unit’s original pilots and with three victories under his belt.

Over Achiet, the flight spotted two German aircraft below. Andrews, the Flight Commander, was about to order his men to attack but a last-moment glance over his shoulder revealed the presence of a group of enemy fighters lurking above. He turned back round to signal a warning to his men but Major Hawker, who had evidently not yet seen the danger above, had already banked into a dive and was heading down to attack the two enemy planes below. Knowing his duty was to protect his CO, Andrews instinctively followed Hawker’s aircraft, Saundby doing likewise.

The group of Albatros D-II fighters above belonged to Jasta 2. For the pilots of this unit, No 24 Squadron had been its nemesis for some time and several of their best men had been lost in engagements with the DH2s of Hawker’s unit, including their former leader Boelcke, killed less than a month before and the former’s successor, Kirmaier, killed only the previous day. Amongst the group was Leutnant Manfred von Richthofen, now with ten confirmed victories to his credit. The Jasta was demoralised after the deaths of two commanders in less than a month and Richthofen was determined to settle the score. Seeing Hawker’s DH2 diving on the two German planes below, he immediately plunged down to attack.

Andrews, flying behind Hawker’s aircraft, saw one Albatros get on the tail of the Major. Firing a long burst with his Lewis MG, Andrews drove off the Albatros but then came under fire himself, his DH2 suffering a number of hits. With his aircraft now disabled, Andrews had no choice but to break off and head for home, Saundby flying with him as escort. Now alone, Hawker was attacked by Richthofen himself.

What followed became one of the most famous dogfights of the Great War. The Albatros D-II was faster than the DH2, not to mention more heavily armed, sturdier and with a superior rate of climb. But the DH2 had the edge in manoeuvrability and Hawker employed that advantage to full effect, executing a series of tight turns, frustrating Richthofen’s attempts to get the British fighter in his sights. The German ace fired off 900 rounds to no apparent effect in this dogfight which is popularly believed to have lasted over half an hour but that is likely an exaggeration. Nonethless, Hawker was soon running low on fuel whilst Richthofen’s twin machine-guns were overheated and liable to jam any moment. Knowing that any further delay would prevent him in making it back to Allied lines, Hawker made a break for home, heading eastwards. Richthofen swung his aircraft behind the British ace and, at maximum range, opened fire. His weapons jammed after only a brief burst had been fired. But as luck would have it, one round hit Hawker in the back of the head, killing him instantly. His DH2 crashed near a farmhouse just south of Bapaume, close to the German frontline trenches.

German troops removed Hawker’s body from the wreckage and buried him nearby. Unfortunately much fighting and shelling took place in the area over the next two years and Hawker’s grave was obliterated with its location lost to history. Lanoe Hawker’s name now resides amongst the list of the missing of the Great War.

Richthofen returned to his base, weary but grimly satisfied, having achieved his eleventh victory. He ordered another silver engraved cup to celebrate his triumph and the Lewis MG from Hawker’s crashed DH2 was mounted on the wall of his quarters as a trophy. Many more cups would follow until, as Germany’s economic situation crumbled into poverty and chaos, the manufacturers would run out of silver. By then, Richthofen was too war-weary to care. In April 1918, with 80 victories to his name, the most famous ace of the war finally met his end.

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‘Hawker’s Last Dance’  by Steve Anderson

Another portrayal of the encounter between Hawker & Richthofen.

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‘Richthofen downs Hawker’  by Jim Laurier

Another portrayal of the famous dogfight between Richthofen & Hawker.

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‘Duel of Aces’  by Simon Smith

Another depiction of the events of November 23rd, 1916.

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‘Major Hawker’s DH2’  by Don Greer

Another depiction of the fateful encounter between Hawker and Richthofen.

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‘Last Tango’  by Michael O’Neal

Another version of the Hawker/Richthofen fight.

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‘Airco DH2’  by Brian Knight.

Another depiction of the same action. This time, the action is depicted as having taken place after heavy snowfall!

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‘Lanoe Hawker VC-The Salute’  by Les Urwin

Another depiction of Hawker’s final sortie.

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‘Hector & Achilles’  by Russell Smith

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‘Hector & Achilles-II’  by Russell Smith

A pair of works depicting the Hawker & Richthofen dogfight.

pete hill (formerly Bunter)
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‘The Destruction of Zeppelin L-21’  by Norman Appleton

 On November 28th, 1916, the Zeppelin L-21 crossed the English coast north of Atwick, one of a formation of ten airships attacking Britain that day. It approached Leeds (its intended target) but was driven north by heavy anti-aircraft fire. Instead, it flew on to central England, bombing several targets in Staffordshire. L-21 then turned east, crossing the coast near Great Yarmouth for its flight home over the North Sea.

Shortly after crossing the coast, L-21 was attacked by three Royal Aircraft Factory BE2cs of the RNAS. The three naval pilots, Flight Lieutenants Edward Pulling, Gerard Fane and Egbert Cadbury, each attacked the giant airship. All three pilots contributed to the destruction of L-21 but it was most likely Cadbury who fired the fatal burst. Engulfed in flames, the burning airship crashed into the sea some 13km from the Suffolk coast. The L-21’s Captain, Oberleutnant Zee Kurt Frankenburg and his crew all perished.

Egbert Cadbury remained in the RNAS as a pilot flying Home Defence patrols. In August 1918, he was credited with the destruction of another Zeppelin, L-70 which he and his observer shot down over the North Sea whilst flying a DH4. He survived the war and later became managing director of Cadbury Brothers Ltd, the famous confectionary manufacturer that had been founded in 1824 by his grandfather John. He remained with the firm until he retired in 1963, only four years prior to his death in 1967.

 

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‘Aussie Ace’  by Terry Jones

On December 4th, 1916, Australian fighter pilot Robert A Little of No 8 Squadron of the RNAS achieved his third confirmed victory. Piloting a Sopwith Pup, he and fellow Australian Stanley Goble encountered a large group of German Halberstadt D-II fighters. In the furious melee that followed, Little and Goble each destroyed an enemy fighter. Little did not return to base after the sortie and was thought lost but he turned up later, having landed in a field near the frontlines to clear a jam in his weapon.

Little was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1895, into a comfortably middle-class family. Upon the outbreak of war, Little attempted to enlist in the fledgling Australian Flying Corps but there were far more applicants than there were vacancies. Undeterred, he paid his own way to Britain and, at his own expense, trained to be a pilot at a civilian aero-club. He enlisted in the Royal Naval Air Service and arrived in France in June 1916, assigned to No 8 (Naval) Squadron, equipped with Sopwith Pups. The unit included several other Australian pilots as well as a number of Canadians. Little scored his first victory in November 1916 and by April the following year, his tally stood at four enemy machines shot down plus a fifth captured. That month, the squadron re-equipped with the Sopwith Triplane and Little’s score increased rapidly, the Australian ace’s tally reaching 28 confirmed victories by mid-July including four pairs achieved on single days. Switching to a Sopwith Camel, Little downed an additional ten enemy planes before being rotated back to Britain in August for a rest period.

Little turned down the offer of a desk job and returned to a frontline unit in March 1918, joining No 3 Naval Squadron, which became No 203 Squadron in April when the RFC and the RNAS merged to become the Royal Air Force. During April and May, flying a Sopwith Camel, Little achieved nine more victories, raising his score to 47 in total, the highest achieved by any Australian pilot, not only in the Great War but of all time. By this time, Little had married an Englishwoman and the couple had an infant son.

On the evening of May 27th, 1918, Little took off on a nocturnal sortie to intercept a formation of enemy Gotha heavy bombers that had been reported nearby. Attacking one of the Gothas, Little was struck by a bullet that passed through both his thighs. In agony and bleeding profusely, Little crash-landed in a nearby field in pitch darkness, the heavy impact fracturing his skull and ankle. Unable to move due to his injuries, Little could do nothing but sit in his cockpit until daylight came. Shortly after dawn on the following morning, a French Gendarme discovered the aircraft in the field but by then, the Australian ace had died of blood-loss and exposure. There is still some debate as to whether Little was hit by return fire from one of the gunners on the Gotha or by ‘friendly fire’ from Allied anti-aircraft gunners on the ground.

Little’s widow and son migrated to Australia after the war. She later donated the propeller blades from her late husband’s Sopwith Pup to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

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