February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
‘Hostile Sky’ by Russell Smith
Upon the outbreak of the Great War, there were many young Americans working or studying in France & Britain and a large number volunteered to serve in the French military. Others travelled from the United States, unwilling to wait until their country officially joined the war.
The French air-force formed a special unit in 1916- the Lafayette Escadrille, a unit mostly comprised of American volunteer airmen. One of the pilots was Victor Chapman, an American who served 10 months in the French Foreign Legion at the beginning of the war and then spent much of 1915 serving as an observer in a French bomber unit. Training to become a pilot in early 1916, he joined the Lafayette Escadrille in April of that year.
Chapman flew numerous fighter sorties over the Western Front. On June 17th, 1916, he was wounded during a fierce melee with four German fighters. Chapman managed to make it back to his aerodrome despite his Nieuport 16 being riddled with bullets and the control stick broken and the pilot having sustained a serious head injury.
Six days later on June 23rd, Chapman, his head swathed in bandages, took off in another Nieuport 16 with a basket of oranges stowed on board, intending to fly to a French hospital to visit one of his friends and fellow pilots, Clyde Balsley, who had been badly wounded in action. The oranges were to be a gift for Balsley.
Chapman never made it. En route, he sighted three of his comrades engaging a force of five German aircraft, all of them Fokker monoplanes. Chapman dove down to assist them. As his own Nieuport was painted in a new sky-blue scheme, none of the other American pilots spotted him or even realised he had taken part in the action until afterwards. A nearby French reconnaissance pilot who witnessed the action later reported seeing the three Nieuports attack five German machines and then a fourth Nieuport dive down from above, flying through the German formation, causing two of the German planes to break off and dive away. But one of the other Fokkers was soon on the tail of Chapman’s aircraft and the latter was fatally hit, the stricken Nieuport diving into the ground. The other three Nieuports were able to retreat to safety, Chapman’s bold dive having scattered the enemy Fokkers.
The three American pilots, one of them famous ace Raoul Lufbery, did not even see Chapman’s heroic attack but they were grateful as his daring sacrifice had diverted the enemy and saved his comrades. Victor Chapman was the first American airman to lose his life in combat during the Great War.
February 25, 2013
‘Rees and the Ten Elephants’ by Mervyn Corning
Captain Lionel Rees was given command of the newly-formed No 11 Squadron RFC in early 1915. Rees, a Welshman, had been 30-years-old when the Great War had begun, making him nearly a decade older than the average pilot. The squadron arrived in France in mid-1915 and was the only unit to be fully equipped with the Vickers FB5 ‘Gunbus’ Pusher fighters. By the end of October, Rees had been credited with eight aerial victories, including one enemy plane captured, making him the only pilot to achieve ‘ace’ status whilst flying the FB5.
In June 1916, after working for a stint as a flight instructor in Britain, Rees was given command of No 32 Squadron, equipped with Airco DH2s and was again sent to France. On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme on July 1st, 1916, Rees was flying a solo patrol early in the morning when, just before 0600hrs, he sighted what he thought to be a formation of ten British machines heading west. He decided to follow them and joined the rear of the formation only to realise with horror that the aircraft were in fact German, most or all of them Roland C-II two-seater ‘Elephants’.
How Major Lionel Rees earned the VC on 1 July 1916– by Norman G Arnold
Rees attacked the nearest Roland, damaging it and forcing it to dive away. He then attacked a second enemy machine, ignoring the heavy fire from three others flying nearby. Rees fired a second 30-round burst and the Roland, emitting smoke from its engine, fled for safety. Rees then banked away from the other three enemy aircraft only to come within range of five others. A bullet hit Rees in his thigh, paralysing his leg. He banked his DH2 out of range and then recovered enough to make another pass at the enemy formation, aiming at the leader. He fired his Lewis MG until the drum was empty but the Roland, apparently un-damaged, pulled away out of range. In frustration, Rees drew his pistol but dropped it between his feet.
The German formation, hopelessly scattered, jettisoned their bombs and retreated eastwards. Rees made it back to his own aerodrome and was taken to hospital. For his actions on July 1st, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Rees saw no further action during the Great War, spending the remainder of the conflict as a combat tactics instructor in Britain. He remained in the RAF until 1931 but re-joined the service as a staff officer during the Second World War. Rees died in 1955.
‘DH2 versus Rolands’ by Wilf Hardy
Another depiction of Major Lionel Rees earning his VC.
Airco DH2 by Martin Novotny
Another portrayal of Lionel Rees’ DH2 on 1st July 1916. This painting featured as box-art for the Eduard model kit of the DH2.
‘Patrol Contact on the Somme’ by Graham Turner
On the morning of July 1st, 1916, the British 4th Army and its French allies launched a massive offensive against German positions along the Somme Valley. Fifteen infantry divisions- eleven British and five French- left their forward trenches and attacked the German line after a prolonged artillery bombardment. The French units, and the British forces on their immediate flank, did well, achieving all of their objectives and driving the Germans from their trenches. But to the north, the British attacks met with disaster. The artillery barrage had failed to inflict sufficient damage on the well-constructed German trenches and most of the barbed wire on the defender’s lines was also still intact. Weighed down with heavy packs and equipment, the long lines of British infantrymen, highly exposed on open ground in clear sunshine, suffered disastrous losses. Only a few sectors of the German lines were captured and in some areas, the British attackers were repulsed even before they managed to get past their own forward trenches.
The Royal Flying Corps committed some 185 aircraft to direct close support of the British 4th Army. Their primary roles were reconnaissance and artillery-spotting, using a system of flares, dropped messages and carrier pigeons to communicate with infantry on the ground. The dense smoke greatly reduced visibility and the constant hail of shrapnel made low-level flying extremely hazardous.
By the end of the day, the British 4th Army had suffered over 57,000 casualties, including over 19,000 killed, with the French divisions losing an additional 1,600 casualties.
February 25, 2013
‘Tarascon‘ by Terry Jones
Frenchman Paul Tarascon learnt to fly in 1911. Having already served close to a decade in the French army, Tarascon became interested in becoming an aviator, a goal in which he succeeded but not before an accidental crash during pilot training cost him his right foot, forcing him to wear a prosthetic one for the rest of his life.
Tarascon volunteered to be a pilot in the Great War and after a stint as an instructor behind the lines, he managed to secure a transfer to a frontline unit in late 1915. In mid-1916, he was assigned to a fighter unit- Escadrille 63, equipped with Nieuport 11s.
On July 15th, 1916, Tarascon achieved his first aerial victory, shooting down an Albatros C-III two-seater, an event depicted in the above painting.
Tarascon, known as ‘the ace with the wooden leg’, flew fighters for the next two years, graduating up to Nieuport 17s and then to SPADs. By the end of the war, he had achieved twelve confirmed victories with an additional ten ‘probables’. Tarascon was eventually awarded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour.
During the Second World War in German-occupied France, Tarascon was an active member of the French Resistance. He died in 1977.
‘Raoul Lufbery’ by Brian Knight
French-American fighter ace Raoul Lufbery achieved his first aerial victory on July 30th, 1916. Piloting a Nieuport 11 ‘Bebe’ of the American-volunteer unit The Lafayette Escadrille, Lufbery shot down a German two-seater over Foret d’Etain in Verdun.
January 24, 2007
March 4, 2005
February 25, 2013
‘Caproni Victory’ by James Dietz
Austro-Hungarian ace Gottfried Freiherr von Banfield achieved his fourth confirmed aerial victory on August 2, 1916 over the Adriatic. On a clear day, flying a Lohner L-16 flying boat, Banfield sighted a Caproni Ca.3 bomber of the Royal Italian army air-service, en route to attack Fiume. In an un-conventional engagement, Banfield made several firing passes, braving the return fire from the bomber’s observers.
Eventually, the Caproni was mortally damaged and crashed into the brilliantly blue waters below.
February 25, 2013
‘Reserve Lieutenant Erwin Bohme’ by Ivan Berryman
Erwin Bohme began his military service in the Great War when he enlisted for pilots training in 1914. Bohme was 35-years-old when the war began, marking him out amongst his mostly far younger comrades. A pre-war sportsman and adventurer, Bohme had been a champion swimmer, accomplished mountaineer and intrepid hiker throughout his youth and had spent five years prior to 1914 living in East Africa, working for a lumber company and helping to establish new railways.
Assigned to his first unit, Kasta 10 in December 1915, Bohme flew two-seater Albatros C-IIIs over the Eastern Front. The unit was commanded by Wilhelm Boelcke, brother to the famous ace Oswald.
Bohme decorated his aircraft with a gaudy display featuring a dragon on the starboard side of the fuselage and a crocodile on the left. Flying on a patrol with two other C-IIIs over Rogistche on August 2nd 1916, Bohme and his observer, Leutnant Ladermacher, spotted an enemy fighter. It was a French-built Nieuport 12 of the Imperial Russian air-force, piloted by Eduard Pulpe who was an ace with five victories, four of them scored whilst flying with the French air-force on the Western Front. Like many upper-class Russian families, Pulpe’s were devout admirers of all things French, hence their son’s Christian name and their choice to send him to be educated in Paris shortly before the war.
Pulpe single-handedly attacked the formation of three C-IIIs but the accurate return fire soon told. Ladermacher fired the fatal burst which shattered the left aileron of Pulpe’s Nieuport. The Russian fighter spiralled down to its destruction. Rescuers arrived at the wreckage, finding Pulpe still alive although dying from a bullet through his torso. His last word was to plead ‘water’ before he expired.
Bohme had achieved his first confirmed aerial victory. Thanks in part to his CO’s influence with his more famous brother, Bohme was transferred to fighter unit Jasta 2 in France, under the leadership of Oswald Boelcke.
September 6, 2014
February 25, 2013
‘Battle Above the Alps’ by Ivan Berryman
Jozsef Kiss was a Hungarian born in Pressburg in 1896. His grandfather had been a rebel commander executed in 1849 after the un-successful revolt against Austrian rule. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 interrupted Kiss’ education at a military academy but he did not hesitate to enlist in the Austro-Hungarian army. After serving as an infantryman on the Eastern Front where he sustained a severe wound in combat, Kiss enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian air-force, graduating as a Sergeant-Pilot in the Spring of 1915.
Kiss was assigned to his first operational unit later that year- Flik 24, an reconnaissance/bomber unit equipped with two-seater Hansa-Brandenburg C.Is. Kiss and his observer Georg Kenzian flew patrols over the Italian Front in 1916. They achieved their first confirmed aerial victory in June of that year when they shot down a French-built Farman of the Italian army air-service.
On August 25th, 1916, Kiss and Kenzian were flying a patrol in their Hansa-Brandenburg C.I over Fort Lusern in the Austrian Alps when they encountered three Italian Caproni Ca.3 bombers. Kiss and Kenzian attacked the formation, braving the return fire from the Italian observers. With Kiss’ flying skill and Kenzian’s marksmanship acting in concert, the two-man team shot down one of the Capronis and badly damaged a second (some accounts credit the pair with shooting down two bombers but recent research confirms only one failed to return to base). The accurate return fire from the Italians took its toll, Kiss’ aircraft bearing some 70 bullet holes when it returned to its aerodrome.
The victory, portrayed in the above painting, was the second to be credited to the pair. The following month, they achieved a third victory, another Caproni, before Kiss was transferred to flying the single-seat Hansa-Brandenburg D.I fighter, an aircraft in which he achieved four more victories in the summer of 1917. In November 1917, Kiss was transferred to a fighter unit- Flik 55. He commenced flying the German-built Albatros D-III and his score increased rapidly, Kiss being credited with twelve more victories over the following three months, including four pairs downed in single days.
On May 24th, 1918, Kiss was shot down and killed over Lamons, Italy by a Sopwith Camel of No 66 Squadron RAF piloted by Canadian Ace Gerald Bilks. With his score of 19 aircraft confirmed, Kiss was the most successful Hungarian pilot of the Great War. At Kiss’ funeral at an Italian airfield three days later, a formation of Allied aircraft flew overhead, dropping a wreath which read ‘a salute to our courageous foe’. Kiss’ girlfriend Enrica never re-married and she visited his grave every day for the next 52 years.
February 25, 2013
‘Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson’ by Ivan Berryman
Shortly before 2.00am on the morning of September 3rd, 1916, Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson was flying a BE2c of No 39 (Home Defence) Squadron of the RFC over the north-east of London when he spotted a looming massive shape dimly lit by the reddish glow of burning buildings below. Robinson had served in the RFC since March 1915 after spending eight months in an infantry regiment. He had flown in France as an observer and had been wounded in action before undertaking pilot training in Britain. No 39 Squadron, based in Essex, was Robinson’s first operational unit as a pilot.
The huge dark object that Robinson was approaching was the German airship SL-11. Constructed by Schutte-Lanz, the airship was not a Zeppelin although many subsequent accounts referred to it as such. The SL-11 was less than a month old since its maiden flight and had a wooden internal frame rather than the metal frames which were characteristic of the Zeppelin airships.
Robinson had spotted another airship nearly an hour earlier but had lost sight of it in thick cloud. This time, the target was lit up by searchlights located below. Anti-aircraft guns on the ground were also shooting and Robinson had to run the gauntlet of ‘friendly fire’ as he approached the airship. He flew along the length of the airship, emptying a drum of ammunition on his Lewis machine-gun. Seeing no apparent effect, he changed the drum and then flew back along the SL-11’s flank, firing until the MG was empty. Attaching another fresh drum, he banked and manoeuvred his plane to fly beneath the airship, firing into the belly of the giant beast.
The Lewis MG’s drum had barely emptied when Robinson saw a dull reddish glow appear on the belly of the airship. The glow rapidly brightened and expanded, soon covering the rear section of the SL-11 as the flames spread with incredible speed. The SL-11 began to tilt and then fall earthwards as the flames spread along its length, the brightness of the burning hydrogen lighting up the countryside for miles around. Robinson later noted in his report of the action that the searchlights and AA fire immediately ceased as soon as the SL-11 burst into flames. He fired several flares and then headed back to his aerodrome. The airship crashed into a field in Cuffley, narrowly missing a nearby Inn. All 16 members of the SL-11’s crew were killed. Robinson was the first airmen to shoot down an airship over British soil and for his feat, he was awarded a Victoria Cross.
Robinson was later transferred to No 48 Squadron which was the first unit to be equipped with the new Bristol F2B two-seater fighter. The squadron was sent to France in April 1917 and on the last day of that month, the unit’s F2Bs made their operational debut. The mission proved to be disastrous when the flight of six Bristols were attacked by fighters of Jasta 11, personally led by Manfred von Richthofen. Four of the F2Bs were shot down, including Robinson’s aircraft. He survived the crash-landing to become a POW. He later made several escape attempts, making himself highly unpopular with the Germans and he spent considerable time in solitary confinement. The harsh treatment weakened him physically and although he survived to see the end of the war in November 1918, he died of influenza on New Year’s Eve.
February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
February 25, 2013
‘McCudden’s Kite’ by Russell Smith
British Great War ace James McCudden returns to base in his Airco DH2 after achieving his very first aerial victory on September 6th, 1916.
McCudden, born in 1895 in Kent, was one of six children born to a middle-class family. His father William, a former soldier in the British army, was decorated for heroism in the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882. James, fascinated with aviation from an early age, enlisted in the RFC as a mechanic in 1912 and by the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, was serving as an observer in No 3 Squadron with whom he flew during the BEF’s August campaign. McCudden flew as an observer until January 1916 when his repeated requests to be transferred to pilot training were finally granted. After qualifying as a pilot, McCudden began flying two-seater FE2b Pushers with No 20 Squadron in July 1916. Early the following month, he was abruptly transferred to No 29 Squadron, equipped with single-seat Airco DH2 Pushers.
On September 6th, whilst on patrol near Ypres, McCudden spotted a German two-seater Albatros B-II, painted all-white. He engaged it and shot it down, achieving his very first victory although it was not confirmed until three days later when Australian troops discovered the wreckage.
It was the beginning of what was to be a famous career as a fighter pilot. McCudden flew fighters for the next two years, eventually becoming CO of No 56 Squadron, one of the RFC’s most elite and revered units. By mid-1918, McCudden had achieved a total of 57 confirmed victories. In July 1918, whilst preparing to take a new squadron to France, McCudden was killed in an accidental crash at an aerodrome in Britain apparently because the SE5 he was flying suffered a mechanical failure shortly after take-off. There is also strong evidence that McCudden, weary after years of combat, may have perished due to simple pilot error, attempting to climb too steeply immediately after take-off.
The Great War was very hard on the McCudden family. Three of the four McCudden sons perished altogether. James brother William was killed in a flying accident in 1915 during training and his brother John, also a fighter pilot, was shot down and killed in March 1918. In addition, McCudden’s brother-in-law, a sailor in the Royal Navy, was also killed in 1915. The arrival of peace did not end their mourning as his father William was to perish in a railway accident in 1920.
February 25, 2013
‘Rocket Man’ by Michael Turner
In the early evening of September 15th, 1916, whilst flying on patrol north-east of Bertincourt, British ace Albert Ball of No 60 Squadron RFC came upon a flight of three German Roland C-II two-seaters. Ball was flying a specially-modified Nieuport 16 fitted with eight rocket-tubes attached to the outer struts on the wings, each carrying a French-made Le Prieur rocket. Ball had intended to use the rockets on an enemy observation balloon but having sighted the trio of ‘elephants’ at 1900hrs, he decided these were a better target.
He approached the enemy planes from the rear and unleashed the rockets at close range. None of the rockets actually hit anything but the moral effect was more telling, the startled German pilots scattering in all directions. Ball chose one of the Rolands, the latter’s two comrades now too far to help him in time, and shot it down with the Nieuport’s Lewis MG mounted on the upper wingspan.
It was Ball’s 19th aerial victory and the second he had achieved that day.
Albert Ball, born in Nottingham in 1896, had served in the infantry in 1914 prior to transferring to the RFC. The 18-year-old Ball had completed his pilots training in 1915, his instructors noting that his flying abilities were little more than average. After a stint flying two-seater BE2s in early 1916, Ball was posted in May of that year to No 11 Squadron, a fighter unit and only nine days after his arrival, he shot down his first enemy aircraft whilst at the controls of a Bristol Scout.
Ball soon proved to be a tenacious fighter pilot, improving his flying skills through sheer toil and perseverance. Ball’s character was a peculiar mix of the ruthless, sensitive and eccentric. Like many upper middle-class boys of the era, he was aloof from his father but devotedly close to his mother to whom he wrote often. He rarely drank and often preferred not to socialise with the other pilots. He built a small hut near his aircraft and slept in it some distance apart from the other pilot’s quarters. In between flights, he played violin, wrote letters to his mother and tended a vegetable garden. In the air, Ball could be a ruthless fighter, despatching enemy planes with long bursts aimed their vulnerable under-sides but his letters reveal that he was increasingly sickened by the slaughter of the war and he suffered from severe combat fatigue on several occasions. He often dressed scruffily, lounging in dirty overalls, and growing his hair longer than military regulations usually permitted. Aware of his value, his officers indulged the young ace, turning a blind eye to his cheeky insubordination and occasional boyish temper tantrums. As one pilot later remarked ‘Every unit needed some-one like Ball. He was bad for discipline but good for morale.’
Ball’s handsome, innocent-looking features made him the ideal hero for the British Press and he became the first famous ace of his homeland. During visits home whilst on leave, he was mobbed in the streets by well-wishers and autograph hunters.
By the end of September 1916, Ball was credited with 31 confirmed victories. He was given a spell as a flight instructor in Britain but eventually the desire to return to combat proved too much and he went back to France in April 1917 as a flight commander with the newly-formed No 56 Squadron, equipped with the new SE5a fighter. By May 6th, his score of victories had reached 44.
On May 7th, 1917, Ball was killed during a confused melee with Albatros fighters of Jasta 11. It was thought at the time that he had been shot down by Lothar von Richthofen , younger brother to the famous Baron. But recent research has revealed the more likely cause of a sudden attack of vertigo, perhaps triggered by exhaustion, which caused Ball to become dis-orientated in thick cloud, his aircraft becoming inverted which caused the engine to flood and stall. His SE5 was seen to emerge from the cloud flying upside-down and nose-dive straight into the ground. Ball’s body was retrieved by German troops who gave the British ace a burial with full military honours. He was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross but his mother was too distraught to attend the ceremony to receive it from King George V.
February 25, 2013
‘The Compassionate Hunter’ by Mervyn Corning
On September 15th, 1916, whilst on patrol over the Adriatic Sea, Austrian naval pilot Lieutenant zur See Walter Zelezny, flying a Lohner flying boat, spotted an enemy submarine on the surface below. It was the French submarine Foucault.
Zelezny made a low pass over the submarine before it could submerge, dropping a pair of depth charges. The submarine, rocked by the twin detonations, sank 250 feet below the surface but then began to ascend and re-appear. Zelezny made a second attack, dropping a small bomb which scored a direct hit. The submarine began to slowly sink, its entire crew abandoning ship. Zelezny landed his flying boat and began picking up the stranded French submariners and he was soon joined by another Austrian pilot who did the same. Every single member of the submarine’s crew was rescued alive and the two aircraft flew them back to Austrian soil as captives.
It was the first ‘sub kill’ ever achieved by an aircraft.
‘Exposed’ by Graham Turner
On Sunday September 17th, 1916, Manfred von Richthofen achieved his first confirmed aerial victory. Flying an Albatros D-II in Jasta-2, Richthofen engaged an FE2b of No 11 Squadron RFC near Villiers-Plouich and shot it down.
The incident took place in the midst of a large aerial engagement. A formation of eight BE2s of No 12 Squadron, escorted by six FE2bs of No 11, were returning from a bombing mission at Marcoing when they were set upon by a flock of nearly 20 Albatros fighters of Jasta-2. Unit-commander Oswald Boelcke himself was leading the formation but he deliberately held himself back, directing his men to attack instead, the leader preferring to patrol the skies above in case more Allied fighters joined the fray.
In the furious melee that followed, two of the BE2s were shot down, as were four of the FE2s, including the machine flown by Lieutenant Lionel Morris and observer Captain Tom Rees.
Rees, a Welshman, had just completed his university studies prior to enlisting in 1914 and had served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers as a 2nd-Lieutenant before joining the RFC in November 1915. Completing his pilots training in England, Rees had been assigned to No 11 Squadron in 1916 and on this fateful day had just been promoted to Captain. Although a pilot, Rees was flying as an observer for this mission which was not un-usual especially if a unit was short of the latter.
It was the machine of Morris and Rees that Richthofen chose as his target and the latter’s Albatros latched onto the slower Pusher’s tail. The victory was not an easy one as Richthofen himself later noted in his report. The FE2b had manoeuvred constantly to evade the German’s attack and Rees had performed some accurate shooting, narrowly missing Richthofen. But the FE2b was eventually mortally hit by a burst from the Albatros, killing Rees and badly wounding Morris. The British pilot managed to land his crippled aircraft behind German lines. Richthofen followed his quarry down and briefly landed nearby to note the location before returning to his base. German troops reached the scene and took Morris to a hospital but he died of his injuries the following day.
It was the first of the eventual 80 victories that Richthofen would be officially credited with. Although recent research has revealed that at least three, possibly four, of those aircraft actually returned to base, meaning that Richthofen’s true tally is actually 77, possibly 76.
Of Richthofen’s official victories, no less than 21 were vulnerable BE2 two-seaters, a fact which led to some Allied pilots harbouring considerable resentment against the famous German ace. British ace Mick Mannock is said to have remarked, upon hearing of Richthofen’s death in April 1918, ‘I hope he burned all the way down’.
‘Richthofen’s first success’– by Andrew Dillon
Another depiction of the action between Morris and Richthofen.
February 25, 2013
‘Albert Ball VC’ by Wilf Hardy.
At 1800hrs on September 21st 1916, whilst on his final patrol of the day over Bucquoy, Albert Ball encountered yet again one of his most frequent adversaries- the two-seater Roland C-II. Spotting a formation of four of the Rolands, Ball manoeuvred his beloved French-made Nieuport 17 and attacked the enemy from below (his favourite tactic). Selecting his target, Ball emptied the ammunition drum of his Lewis MG mounted atop the upper wing, aiming for the belly of the Roland. The two-seater spiralled down in flames. It was Ball’s 22nd confirmed victory and his third for that day, having already downed two enemy fighters shortly after 1600hrs on a previous patrol that afternoon.
Nieuport 17 no A213 was Ball’s mount in September 1916 and with it he achieved 11 of his 44 eventual victories. Ball preferred to fly alone and his commanders indulged the young celebrity ace’s whims, overlooking his scruffy appearance and occasional insubordination, not to mention his un-usual habit of often flying bare-headed without goggles. Ball was a lone wolf, simply being too self-centred to be suitable for a position of command but with the never-ending casualty lists from the Somme, the British public desperately needed a hero. If tolerating a little in-discipline meant that the British folk back home had their hero of the skies, so be it.
February 25, 2013
‘Lt Fritz Hammer’ by Steve Anderson
On September 23rd, 1916, Leutnant Fritz Hammer of the German Naval air-force encountered over the Eastern Front near Dunamunde, a trio of the giant Russian bombers- the Sikorsky Ilya Mouromets.
One of the largest aircraft to participate in the Great War, the Mouromets could carry over 300kg of bombs with an endurance of at least five hours with an upper wingspan of nearly 30 metres and a service ceiling of over 3,000 metres. Designed prior to the conflict as a luxurious commercial airliner, the Mouromets were pressed into service as reconnaissance aircraft and bombers. Although fewer than 85 were built altogether and as late as 1916, the Russian Imperial Air-Force possessed barely 20 serviceable examples of them, the small number that flew in combat managed to achieve considerable impact. German fighter pilots regarded the type with awe and soon learnt to have a healthy respect for the heavy armaments carried by the type which had a crew of between four and 12 depending on the weight of the fuel and bombload.
One of the very few occasions on which a Mouromets was brought down by aerial attack occurred on September 23rd. Hammer, flying a prototype of the Hansa-Brandenburg KDW floatplane, attacked one of the giant bombers and in four firing passes, knocked out two of its engines and wounded three of its four crew members. Hammer’s guns then jammed but the crippled Mouromets was forced to descend to make a force landing in a clearing near a forest.
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