Monday, December 1, 2008

Japanese Bombing of Darwin

On February 19, 1942, the war-crowded northern Australian harbor of Port Darwin was struck by 198 Japanese bombers. This coordinated land and naval-based air strike surprised the ill-prepared defenders and devastated the port and the shipping concentrated within its harbor. Arriving in two waves, the forty-five minute attack sank eight ships, ran four aground, and severely damaged another eleven. More than 240 people were killed, mostly aboard the ships. Two more ships were destroyed as the planes transited home. They also struck the nearby Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base, destroying all the aircraft on the ground and downing all but one of the Australian fighters in the air. A follow-up raid finished off the base and inflicted so much wanton destruction that its military personnel fled to the south in panic. Total Japanese losses were only two aircraft. Darwin and its surrounding area endured more than a dozen air raids over the next fifteen months, but none would be as devastating as this first raid nor even approach its psychological impact.

Darwin’s defenses had been neglected during the prewar period, but the most glaring deficiency in the port s defenses was the almost total lack of cooperation among the agencies involved. The resident administrator, Charles Abbott, aloof and ineffectual, had antagonized the local population, including the civil defense and military leaders. Lacking the cooperation of the local population, he had failed to evacuate nonessential personnel, organize the civil defense organization, or establish communications with local military leaders. For their part, the local unions openly thwarted Abbott’s authority, and the civil defense officials blatantly ignored him when he did attempt to organize matters. The local military leaders also made their preparations separately. The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) had established a potentially effective system for protecting shipping offshore and in the port but had not established communications with the RAAF’s warning network. Thus, RAN forces could neither receive early warning of attack nor coordinate their activities with the air force. The RAAF’s only radar set in the area was inoperable on February 19. Moreover, the air force had a policy of withholding air warning until incoming aircraft were indisputably identified as Japanese, which meant that the bombs were practically falling before air-raid alarms could be issued. None of the defense agencies had practiced together or conducted an air-raid drill since the early weeks of December. That left them ill-prepared and confused as the attack developed. Finally, a series of false alarms had worn down local morale, undermined alertness, and led to the RAAF’s tightening its already stringent identification procedures.

Darwin had become a target because of its importance as an Allied forward base and logistics center. It was the only significant port in northern Australia and the only one from which the Allies could support their forces in Java and the southwest Pacific. The Imperial Japanese Navy staff had argued that Australia had to be seized, but the army had resisted, indicating that the continent required more troops to subdue and garrison than Japan had to expend. So Australia’s northern ports had to be neutralized instead, and the islands above it had to be seized as a buffer to prevent Allied counterstrokes against Japan’s intended “inner perimeter” of vital islands and resource centers. Destroying Darwin was the first step in that process and offered the additional advantage of diverting Allied resources to Australia’s defense and away from the fighting in Southeast Asia.

The air strike was planned and led by the same team, Commanders Genda and Fuchida, that had struck Pearl Harbor in Hawaii some two months earlier, using roughly the same methods and enjoying roughly the same results for roughly the same reasons (but the garrison at Darwin did not have the excuse that defenders had no idea they were at war). As far as the Japanese were concerned, the Allies were slow learners, particularly in light of the quite similar near-obliteration of U.S. air power in the Philippines by the Japanese raid on Clark Air Field. But in the Darwin strike the sea-based air wing was supported by a land-based element operating out of the recently captured airfields in the Dutch East Indies. The carrier-based aircraft would strike first, taking out the port, its shipping, and its defenses. They were escorted by thirty-six Zeros— arguably the best fighter aircraft in the Pacific at that time. The land-based horizontal bombers would then launch the second-phase attack, taking out the airfields and supporting facilities. The Japanese hoped to catch the Allied fighters on the ground, being serviced after the first raid. The plan succeeded beyond their fondest hopes.

The carrier aircraft took off at 8:45 A.M. and formed up for their one-hour flight to Darwin. Interestingly, both the carrier- and land-based aircraft were detected and reported by Australian coastwatchers some thirty minutes before they arrived over Darwin (again like the Pearl Harbor raid). Also, the carrier aircraft had struck an Allied convoy north of Darwin the previous day, and its surviving elements had sought refuge in the port. Although the convoy commander expected the Japanese to finish them off in Darwin, he never passed this assessment on to local officials. Instead, he despatched two destroyers and an oiler to refuel east of Darwin, and he placed his crews on alert. Coastwatchers’ reports were ignored pending further verification, and authorities ashore remained unaware of the convoy commander’s assessment. As a result, the raiders arrived unexpectedly and uncontested.

The ferocity and effectiveness of the Japanese attack stunned Australian authorities, but in the long run the surprise may have served them better than it did the Japanese (again as at Pearl Harbor), for it energized the Australians into action. No longer were civil defense officials ignored, Air-raid drills began in earnest throughout the country. Nonessential personnel departed Darwin willingly—indeed, enthusiastically (the exodus was sometimes termed “the Darwin Races”)—and a new, more effective administrator was appointed. A royal commission was formed to study what went wrong, and despite the obstruction and outright falsification of records by local authorities, the commission discovered the problems and made some specific recommendations to prevent similar disasters in the future. The local RAAF commander was replaced, the services were forced to establish a common air-defense reporting network, and warning procedures were liberalized to ensure earlier response. Now false alarms were preferable to further surprises. Although the Japanese continued their sporadic attacks against Port Darwin over the next fifteen months, as time went by the raids inflicted significantly less damage and led to higher losses for the Japanese.

Connaughton, Richard. Shrouded Secrets (1994).
Hall, Timothy. Darwin: Australia’s Darkest Hour (1980).
Piekalkiewicz, Janusz. The Air War 1939–1945 (1985).

Thursday, October 30, 2008


The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) was established as an independent service in March 1921, but military aviation in Australia predated World War I, and the four squadrons of the Australian Flying Corps had fought on the Western Front and in the Middle East from 1914 to 1918. In the interwar period the air force made do with limited resources; it successfully resisted attempts by the army and the navy to divide it between themselves, and it concentrated on local defense capabilities and the pioneering of civil aviation infrastructure. In 1939 Australia signed the agreement which set up the Empire Air Training Scheme (also known as the Commonwealth Air Training Plan) to provide aircrew for the Royal Air Force (RAF) in Europe, and this was to have severe long-term implications for the RAAF in Australia. Thousands of Australians served in Europe throughout World War II, and the British government demonstrated a marked reluctance to release them for return to Australia even when, in the latter part of the war, many of them were surplus to requirements.

At the beginning of the Pacific war the RAAF was small in size, suffered from a lack of training, and was equipped with obsolescent aircraft. Four squadrons were deployed to Malaya, and these were the first RAAF units to see action against the Japanese. Nos. 1 and 8 Squadrons flew Hudson bombers, while Nos. 21 and 453 Squadrons were equipped with Brewster Buffalos—and both were outclassed by the Japanese in a campaign that established the enemy’s early dominance in the air. In Australia itself there was as yet no integrated air defense system, and when the Japanese bombed Darwin in the first of a series of heavy air raids on February 19, 1942, numerous Australian and U.S. aircraft were destroyed on the ground.

When General Douglas MacArthur arrived in Australia in April 1942, he assumed control over all forces in the Southwest Pacific Command. With the arrival of General George C. Kenney in August to take command of the Allied Air Force (AAF), he established separate command and control systems for the RAAF and the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF), creating RAAF Command and the Fifth Air Force. On a personal level Kenney respected his Australian counterparts and generally enjoyed good relations with the senior officers of that service. The great weakness in the RAAF was of the Australians’ own making. At the beginning of the Pacific war the chief of the Air Staff had been a British officer on detached service, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Burnett. When he retired in May 1942, he was succeeded by Air Vice Marshal George Jones—not by Air Vice Marshal W. D. Bostock, who had been Burnett’s choice; Jones was junior in rank not only to Bostock but also to seven other senior officers on the air force list. Bostock became air officer commanding RAAF Command and was responsible to Kenney for RAAF operations in the Southwest Pacific Command, while Jones had administrative responsibility for the air force. Relations between the two were poisonous, and the corrosive effect this had on the RAAF as a whole played itself out for the remainder of the war. But ill will among senior officers had been a feature of the interwar air force as well.

As a result of the divisions at the top, the RAAF generally failed to develop a strategic doctrine acceptable to the United States, which in turn prejudiced attempts to acquire frontline aircraft for the RAAF from the Americans, which in its turn meant that Australian squadrons were relegated to lower-priority roles and tasks. Senior command postings to No. 9 Operational Group in 1943 reflected the feuding in the high command and further undermined U.S. confidence in the RAAF’s capabilities.

The Australian government was aware of the problem but lacked sufficient resolve to do anything about it. This high-level rancor and the far smaller size of the RAAF meant that the air service was fated to play a subordinate role in the Pacific war. Nonetheless, the RAAF expanded to impressive size and strength: At its peak in August 1944 it numbered 182,000 personnel, which by war’s end had declined to 132,000 as the government partly demobilized in response to the manpower crisis. In August 1945 the RAAF fielded fifty squadrons and some six thousand aircraft (3,200 operational and the rest trainers).

In June 1944 the air forces in the theater were reorganized, with Kenney announcing the formation of the Far East Air Force comprising the Fifth and Thirteenth Air Forces, both American. This meant that the Allied Air Force, of which he retained command, henceforth comprised only Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch East Indies squadrons, although U.S. squadrons could be attached to the AAF for specific tasks. The AAF, like its army counterparts, was assigned “mopping-up” duties against bypassed enemy forces in the islands to Australia’s north while the U.S. forces proceeded to the reconquest of the Philippines and the contemplated invasion of the Japanese home islands.

First Tactical Air Force (1st TAF) was formed in October 1944 from No. 10 Operational Group and began operations against Japanese positions from bases on Morotai in November. Dissatisfaction with their role grew among the squadrons, and in April 1945 a group of eight senior officers attempted to resign in protest. The “Morotai mutiny” prompted the removal of the commander of the 1st TAF and an inquiry which confirmed that decision. When Jones threatened disciplinary action against the eight, Kenney—who had spoken to the officers concerned and concluded that they had acted in good faith— declared that he would appear in their defense in any court martial.

In June 1945 with a strength of 21,893, of all ranks, the 1st TAF supported the Australian landings in Borneo and continued to fly against Japanese targets elsewhere in the Dutch East Indies until the war’s end. In the war against Japan the RAAF suffered some two thousand casualties—killed, wounded, and prisoners of war.

The performance of the RAAF in the Pacific war was disappointing, in that it failed to conduct a leading role in the Southwest Pacific Command, its primary theater in the defense of Australia. The weakness in senior command explains much of this failure, and blame both for creating and then for sustaining this situation must lie with the government of the day. On the other hand, by 1945 the RAAF had grown into a large and capable organization, with many combat-experienced aircrew and officers who had held senior command and staff positions. Although aircraft acquisition had been a difficult problem in the first half of the war because of competing priorities elsewhere, by 1945 the RAAF possessed large numbers of modern aircraft and the capability to support them. The failures at the top were not matched by a lack of performance elsewhere in the organization.


Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942 (1962).

Odgers, George. Air War against Japan 1943–45 (1957).

Stephens, Alan. Power Plus Attitude: Ideas, Strategy and Doctrine in the Royal Australian Air Force 1921–1991 (1992).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Hythe Gun Camera

Hythe Gun camera Mk III by Thornton Picard
Used to practice air gunnery in the open cockpit days this Lewis gun shaped camera makes 16 pictures 4.5 x 6cm on 120 roll film on a removable internal carrier (included), f8/30cm lens. The camera-gun is made from heavy gauge brass and aluminium castings presumably the weight was to match the gun it represented on the aircraft. With original heavy wood box, spare gears and mirror. Weight of gun only; 8.75kg

Camera guns have been used as a gunnery training aid since the 1914-1918 war, when in 1916 a sight recording camera was designed at the RFC machine-gun school at Hythe in Kent. This camera gun, made by the Thornton Pickard Co. of Altringham, was similar in shape and weight to the Lewis gun. It proved to be very successful in assessing the standard of gunnery in the air. Known as the Hythe Gun Camera Mk III, it took still exposures on a 120 mm film roll. Provision was made for a multi-ring reticule and the time of exposure. The trigger, cocking action and balance were all identical to the Lewis, and a drum magazine was clipped into place. It was used mainly on Scarff ring mounts, but was also fitted onto the top wing of fighter aircrafts, controlled by a Bowden cable.

The camera gun itself is a very interesting piece of equipment. In form and weight it is modeled after the original Lewis Gun (photo below for reference). The box contains the film and a glass reticule that has a 'target' imprinted on it. When the trainee 'fires' the gun at a target plane the reticule’s grid is imprinted on the film with the photo of the targeted plane. The target plane appears in the developed photo, hopefully within the imprint of the reticule’s target.

In addition, the trainee was supposed to change the magazine (in flight) after each shot. There is a unique pin that pierces the film each time the magazine is changed. If a photo appears without the 'pinhole' it indicates the magazine was not changed. "Can't get away with anything!

At the end of a flight the film is developed and a trainer would review the results with the gunner. There are calculations that determine the angle, range, etc. of the shot.

The Hythe was used for gunnery training until the Williamson camera gun was adopted in 1934.
"British Aircraft Armament Vol 2", R. Wallace Clarke, Patrick Stephens Limited, ISBN 1 85260 402


Potentially a major, advance in air warfare, the Gotha bomber was Germany's major weapon in her attempt to subdue England's civilian population in World War I. From it arose the misguided belief that terror bombing could win wars.

'How is it, after three years and a half of war, that such raids can be undertaken over London with impunity, and that these Gothas should escape unscathed ?' This question, asked in the British House of Commons and reported in the 'Daily Express' of 30 January 1918, typified the concern felt about the effects of the terrible innovation of 'aerial bom­bardment by heavier-than-air' machines of a civilian popu­lation, wrought by the German Gotha GV, its most formid­able exponent to that date. There was also more than a touch of politicking in the question for, in 1918, improved British defenses against the Gotha, coupled with its unreliability, particularly in bad weather, were steadily reducing its effectiveness.

But this was little consolation to the Londoners who, attracted by the uneven throb of aircraft engines, had stared into the mid-morning sky on 13 June 1917. People pointed up towards the 14 gleaming white planes that cruised steadily southwards at a height of 15,000ft. There was even some patriotic cheering to welcome what was assumed to be a British patrol. Then suddenly the harsh bark of anti-aircraft guns reverberated in the warm air—the aircraft were German. Astonished faces showed a realiza­tion that the hated enemy could fly above the nation's capital in broad daylight.

High above the city in his twin-engined Gotha, Captain Ernst Brandenburg identified the famous landmarks coming into view below him. Behind Brandenburg's lead ship, his squadron deployed to commence the attack. Then the bombs rained down on the capital. Many of the people in the area of the attack seemed too stupefied even to take cover.

High explosive bombs fell across the eastern dock area at 1135. Five minutes later, 72 bombs landed around Liverpool Street Station, a main rail terminus and the Germans' main target. Their mission complete, and hardly daring to hope that they might get away safely, the Gothas headed east for the North Sea and their bases near Ghent, in Belgium. In London the capital mourned 162 dead. The concept of the long-range strategic bomber attacking major urban centers was born and with it the Gotha legend.

The original Gotha was a clumsy twin-engined biplane, with the fuselage suspended from the upper wing. It was evaluated operationally by the Germans in 1915. Between 12 and 20 GIs (G for Grossflugzeug, or 'large aircraft') were built before the end of 1915, but work was already proceeding on a superior design, the GII.

This new Gotha was a far more elegant biplane than the GI. The fuselage was mounted in orthodox fashion on the lower wing. There were three crew positions—the observer, usually the captain, sat in the nose with a swivelling Parabellum machine-gun, a connecting corridor led to the pilot's cockpit, and the third member of the crew was the rear gunner, whose position was level with the trailing edges of the wings. The 220hp Mercedes DIV engines drove pusher propellers and were installed in bulky nacelles which incorporated fuel and oil tanks.

The GII proved to be gratifyingly fast for its day, with a maximum speed of 82mph, and ten were ordered. Operational units on the Balkan front began using them towards the end of 1916, initially with 14 22lb bombs in an internal bomb bay but later with additional bombs fitted on external racks.

Two major shortcomings were known even before the GII went into action: the straight-8 Mercedes engines suffered from recurrent crankshaft failures and there was no defensive armament to protect the blind spot beneath the tail. Both of these problems were rectified in the GIII. Six-cylinder 260hp Mercedes DIVa power plants were fitted, and a machine-gun was mounted on the floor of the rear cockpit that fired downwards through an aperture in the bottom of the strengthened fuselage.

Both the Gil and the GIII were flown by Kagohl 1 (Kampfgeschwader 1 of the OHL, or Oberste Heeresleitung) in the Balkans. Operating from Hudova, they proved remarkably successful, especially in the bombing of Salonika and the destruction, in September 1916, of a vital railway bridge over the Donau at Cernavoda. The Gothas did not have it all their own way, however, and a Royal Flying Corps scout pilot who encountered a formation of six Gothas over Macedonia in March 1917 shot down two of them before his ammunition ran out. The GIII also served on the western front with Kagohl 2 at Freiburg, and the French ace Guynemer claimed one, shared with another French pilot, as his 31st kill on 8 February 1917.

The next Gotha type, the GIV, differed only in detail from the Gill, the most significant alteration being the incorporation of the famous Gotha 'tunnel'. This was a long opening cut out of the bottom of the fuselage from the rear gunner's position back to the tail: it enabled the upper gun to be directed downwards through a small triangular aperture in the top decking to fire at any hostile fighter attempting to approach the bomber's blind spot. When fully or half loaded, the GIV proved to be a stable aircraft to fly, at the same time retaining a high degree of manoeuvrability; once empty, however, it was difficult to handle, with a pronounced nose-heavy trim—crash landings, as a result, became commonplace.

The GIV was the aircraft that was to undertake Germany's Operation Turk's Cross, the aerial bombardment of Britain by heavier-than-air machines in support of the airship raids that were already in progress. A special squadron, designated Kagohl 3 and soon to be known as the England Geschwader, was formed with this express object.

The Gothas were scheduled for delivery by 1 February 1917, and in the meantime crews went to Heligoland-and Sylt for training in the techniques of navigating over the open ocean. In 1916 the bleak waters of the North Sea were a formidable barrier to aircraft and, as insurance, the GIV's plywood-covered fuselage was designed to enable a ditched plane to remain afloat for several hours.

Production delays held up delivery of the GIV to the England Geschwader until March 1917. The squadron was now commanded by the 34-year-old Captain Brandenburg with six constituent flights of six Gothas located at Mariakerke, St. Denis Westrem and Gontrode.

After two months with the G IV's the England Geschwader was ready to launch Turk's Cross. Brandenburg's first attempt to raid England ended at Nieuwmunster when last-minute storm warnings led to a cancellation of the mission. On Friday, 25 May 1917, at 1700, however, twenty-one Gothas flying at 12,000ft crossed the Essex coast. Their target was London, but as they reached the Thames near Gravesend, only 20 miles from their objective, bad weather forced them to turn south in search of alternative targets. The Gothas scattered bombs haphazardly across Kent until they reached Hythe, where they headed eastwards along the coast. Late in the afternoon they arrived over Folkestone.

The little coastal town had no warning of the impending catastrophe. One moment the sunlit streets were packed with cheerful shoppers, the next they were shattered by German bombs. Amid the smoke, dust, splintered glass and ruined masonry, the dead and dying lay in grotesque, blood-soaked heaps.

One Gotha 95 dead
The Gothas made the best of their escape, harassed out to sea by anti-aircraft fire from Dover and a handful of fighters. A British naval squadron at Dunkirk was sent up to cut off the raiders' retreat and succeeded in bringing down one Gotha, while another was lost near Bruges. These were the only German casualties. In England, 95 people had died and 195 were injured.

Brandenburg had now lost the element of surprise for his first raid on London so another attack on British coastal targets was mounted on the evening of 5 June. Twenty-two Gothas bombed Shoeburyness and Sheerness. Anti-aircraft fire brought down one bomber, but this time the RNAS squadron at Dunkirk was out of luck, for Brandenburg had arranged for German fighters from Flanders bases to cover his withdrawal.

On 13 June 1917 the Gothas first reached London. Of the 20 German bombers that had taken off, only 14 reached the British capital.

Of the 20 German bombers that had taken off, only 14 reached the British capital. The June 13 bombing raid destroyed property and killed civilians and this brought home the idea that England was an island no more, but it would appear that at least one of the most emotional reasons was the death of the 16 kindergarten children at the Upper North Street Schools.

After pounding London, north and south, the Gotha flight reformed and on their way out, dropped the remaining bombs they had for the run home. Tragically, one bomb hit a school building, broke in two, one piece crashed through three floors, killing two students but did not explode until it landed in the basement where 64 infants were being supervised. The 16 were blown apart, many were terribly mutilated. Only two of the 16 were older than five years of age. Not only had the war brought the bombers to England but it was killing the children in the sanctuary of their creches.

It wasn't until a week later that the victims were buried in a common grave in the East End after a very impressive funeral service and procession in which each child had its own horse drawn hearse. Granted this was only part of the reason for bringing back the fighter squadrons (who proved ineffectual for various reasons) but it was no doubt the most powerful emotional response from a society unused to the idea of their homes and families being in such danger. Some of the funeral wreaths (over 500) read "To our children, murdered by German aircraft."

On his return, Brandenburg was flown to Kreuznach to receive the Pour le Merite from the Kaiser. As he took off for the return flight his plane's engine spluttered and he crashed. Brandenburg was dragged from the wreck alive, but the disaster cost him a leg.

At the end of June the new commanding officer of Kagohl 3 arrived, 30-year-old Rudolf Kleine. On 4 July he led his first raid, directed, because of poor weather, against the coastal town of Harwich. Twenty-five Gothas took off, and although seven turned back with engine trouble before they reached the English coast, both Harwich and nearby Felixstowe were successfully attacked.

Valiant but suicidal gesture
Only three days later, on Saturday 7 July, the Gothas appeared over London again, 22 strong. But before the raiders had reached the English coast British fighters were in the air to intercept. Among them, in a Sopwith 14-Strutter, was 19-year-old Lieutenant John E. R. Young with Air Mechanic C. C. Taylor as rear gunner. The Sopwith climbed steadily out to sea until the massed bomber formation was-spotted approaching on a collision course. Lt. Young aimed his aircraft straight at the oncoming Gothas. It was a valiant but suicidal gesture. The frail biplane was bracketed by concentrated fire from the score of German aircraft. Bullets riddled the Sopwith's wings and fuselage, killing both the crew instantly. Lieutenant F. A. D. Grace of 50 Squadron from Dover had better fortune and shot a homeward-bound Gotha into the sea. Four other bombers crashed at their bases trying to land in gusty wind. Bombs fell on widely scattered targets, mostly in the north-eastern parts of the city, killing 57 people and injuring 193.

Gothas raided Harwich on 22 July and for the next raid, on 12 August, Chatham was the objective, with Southend and Margate as secondary targets. British fighters, 109 in all, were up to meet them. Unteroffizier Kurt Delang, flying only his second mission over England, was forced to take violent evasive action in his heavily laden Gotha as a scout flashed by in a firing pass. He frantically rolled the big bomber to left and right as the British fighter came in again from behind. Machine-gun bullets crashed into one of the Gotha's ailerons and threw the plane on its starboard wing tip. The over-confident Englishman closed for an easy kill —and missed I As the scout swooped below the Gotha and climbed for another attack, Delang's gunners found their mark at last, and the British fighter dived away with smoke pouring from it.

Southend and Margate, together with Shoeburyness, were bombed, and all the Gothas escaped though four suffered landing accidents at their Belgian bases, and two aborted from the mission due to engine trouble.

Anxious to redress this setback, Kleine ordered another raid for 18 August. Despite clear skies, his meteorological officer forecast severe winds over England and advised against the mission. Kleine ignored the warning and took off. The result of his impetuosity was the disaster of 'Hollandflug'. Strong south-westerly winds swept the Gothas over neutral Holland, where AA guns opened fire. After three hours of buffeting they finally reached England, some 40 miles north of their intended landfall. With fuel running dangerously low, Kleine was forced to turn back, but the Gothas were swept across the North Sea by a gale that again blew them towards Holland. At least two planes ditched, others were forced down in Holland and Belgium, and many of those which did finally reach Ghent crashed on landing.

What was left of the England Geschwader, a mere 15 planes, made their last daylight attack on Britain only four days later. A third of the force aborted en route, including Kleine himself, and the remainder succeeded only in inflicting minor damage on Ramsgate, Margate and Dover. The raiders were beaten off by unprecedentedly fierce anti-aircraft file, which claimed one Gotha, and well coordinated fighter interceptions, which accounted for two more.

It was now clear that England was too well defended for further daylight raids, and the GIVs were proving increasingly unreliable due to the use of inferior petrol and the declining quality of the materials employed in their construction. In addition, the machines most recently delivered to England Geschwader were licence-built aircraft manufactured by the Siemens-Schuckert and LVG concerns which embodied strengthened—and therefore heavier—airframes. Their performance was markedly inferior to that of the original Gotha-built GIVs, and bombing heights had declined from over 16,000ft on the first England raid to 13,000ft or less. The LVG machines also proved to be tail heavy and had to have the sweepback of the wings increased to counteract this shortcoming.

The answer to the problem of heavy losses in daylight raids and reduced performance was to attack at night. On 3-4 September four volunteer crews, led by Kleine, took off in a hazy night with a full moon. The targets of the trial raid were Chatham, Sheerness and Margate. Anti-aircraft fire was sporadic and British fighter planes were not equipped for night flying. A bomb dropped on Chatham hit a naval barracks and 132 ratings were killed. Of the attack on the naval barracks, the 'Evening News' of Wednesday 5 September stated that 'Reports from the Chatham area all appear to indicate that the damage in that district was the work of only one raider. Eight or ten bombs were dropped, and one fell on a portion of a Royal Naval Barracks, which was fitted with hammocks for sleeping, and 107 blue jackets were killed and 86 wounded. It is feared that two or three of the injured will not recover ... The raiding machine is believed to have been of the Gotha type. All the German planes returned safely from the raid.

The next night nine Gothas set out to attack London. Only five reached the city which was not blacked-out and glittered like a beacon to guide Kleine's crews. The 'Evening News' on 5 September led with 'Invasion by moonlight' and described the effects of the attack in various parts of London. 'Some of the bombs', the newspaper reported, 'as they fell caused a sharp whistling sound ; and when they exploded there was little or no report . . . Other missiles, however, gave very loud reports—louder than those which were remembered in connection with the Zeppelin raids.' The civilian population, having their first taste of night bombardment by heavier-than-air machines, apparently kept calm : 'There was no panic among the inhabitants, but large numbers of women and children living in houses near the Tube rushed for shelter below ground, and were taken down in the lifts to the underground platforms.' The sky was streaked with searchlights and anti-aircraft guns opened fire—but their effect was, according to the 'Evening News', 'not apparent'. The first Gotha night raid on London cost 19 dead and 71 injured. It also caused £46,000 worth of damage.

By this time Kagohl 3 were taking delivery of the Gotha GV. The GV had a lighter but stronger airframe than the GIV, with the fuel tanks removed from the engine nacelles (where they frequently burst in the event of a crash) to the fuselage. As a result of this re-location of the fuel, there was no longer a gangway connecting the rear gunner's position with the cockpit. Despite a gross weight of nearly 9,0001b, the maximum speed had risen to 87mph with a ceiling of 21,000ft.

From 24 September to the night of 1-2 October, a week of bright moonlight, Britain was subjected to a concentrated series of raids in which the Gothas were joined for the first time by some of the huge German R-planes. London suffered six attacks in this period, including one Zeppelin raid, and the resulting chaos was out of all proportion to the damage and casualties sustained by the capital. The Germans did not escape unscathed, however, and for the England Geschwader, it was a costly campaign. Five Gothas were brought down by the defenses, and eight more crashed on their return to Belgium.

Kagohl 3 was now also required to operate against targets on the western front, but another major raid on London was mounted on the night of 31 October-1 November, when 22 Gothas set out carrying incendiary bombs in addition to their usual high explosives. Due to strong winds and low cloud, bombs were scattered haphazardly on Dover, Chatham, Gravesend, Herne Bay, Ramsgate, Margate and Canterbury as well as the eastern environs of London.

One Londoner described the bombing of his house to the 'Star' of 1 November: 'The man said that they heard the raider humming overhead and were looking at the shell bursts through the window', the 'Star' reported. ' "The humming became louder . . . and then I heard a whistling noise. There was a bright green flash and a fearful concussion. The house shook to its foundations, and I thought it was going to crack. The wardrobe in the corner of the room was thrown over, and we were nearly choked with fumes and dust. A mass of plaster from the ceiling crashed down and a large piece just missed the heads of my children. We escaped from the building by the staircase, which was undamaged": His experience was clearly more frightening than that of another Londoner, reported in the 'Star' the same day—he slept through ' "the whole business. He refused to get up while the raid was on".' British casualties in this raid were fairly light as most of the incendiary bombs failed to ignite. Five Gothas, however, crashed in fog when trying to land at their bases.

Bad weather halted operations against Britain until the moon returned at the end of November. On the night of 5-6 December, a total of 19 Gothas plus two R-planes were dispatched to raid London and various Kent coast towns. The losses, however, were becoming prohibitive. Two Gothas were brought down by anti-aircraft fire, one was apparently lost in the sea, two more barely managed to limp back to Belgium, and another crashed on landing.

On 12 December Kleine was killed during a daylight raid on British troop encampments near Ypres. His 17 Gothas were bounced by three Royal Flying Corps Nieuports at 10,000ft over Armentieres. Captain Wendell W. Rogers, a 20-year-old Canadian pilot of No 1 Squadron RFC, closed to within 30ft of the tail of Kleine's Gotha and poured a sustained burst into the huge bomber, which began to glide steeply down towards the trenches below. At 4,000ft it burst into flames: two of the crew jumped without parachutes, the third died as the plane crashed and exploded in No Man's Land near Warneton.

The Gothas appeared again in the night skies above Britain on the evening of 28 January 1918. Because of low-lying mist in Belgium, only 13 bombers were able to take off, and six of these turned back over the North Sea; only three of the remainder reached London, the other four attacking Sheerness, Margate and Ramsgate. German losses comprised one Gotha brought down in flames by two Camels from 44 Squadron Hainault Farm and four lost in crashes at their fog-bound bases.

An alarming casualty rate
Kagohl 3 was still carrying out raids on French ports and over the front, but casualties were mounting at an alarming rate. At the beginning of February, Ernst Brandenburg returned to take command again, but after one look at what remained of the England Geschwader he had the unit taken off operations to re-organize and re-equip. By the spring of 1918, Kagohl 3 was once more flying combat missions over France and the western front, but they did not attack England again until 19 May.

The raid on 19-20 May was the largest to be mounted against Britain during the whole war, 38 Gothas and three R-planes flying the mission. From 2230 until long after midnight the bombers streamed across to London, and destruction was extensive with over a thousand buildings damaged or destroyed. But the Gothas paid a fearful price. Only 28 of those that took off actually attacked England; fighters claimed three victims, anti-aircraft fire accounted for three more, and one crashed on its return flight.

As had happened with the GIV, the performance of the GV deteriorated as loads increased and serviceability declined, and the 19 May raid had been carried out from only about 5,500ft, whereas earlier night missions with GV's had been at over 8,000ft. Bombing at such low levels was bound to be expensive.

By June 1918 new types of Gotha were beginning to arrive at Kagohl 3. The GVa and GVb both had shorter noses than the normal GV, box-tails with twin rudders instead of a single fin and rudder, and auxiliary landing wheels under the nose or at the front of each engine nacelle. The GVb could carry a useful load of 3,520lb, 8031b more than earlier models, but its performance was otherwise no better and in some respects inferior. Since the GIV was now obsolete, these aircraft were being supplied to the Austrians for use on the Italian front, or to training squadrons in Germany.

At the end of May the England Geschwader were switched exclusively to targets in France in support of the German spring offensive, including Paris and Etaples, on the French coast. Later they were diverted to tactical targets near the front as the Allies counter-attacked, and the squadron inevitably suffered catastrophic losses. By November it was all over, however, and grandiose schemes to renew the raids on England in 1919 came to nothing as Germany sued for peace.

The casualties suffered by Kagohl 3 at the end of hostilities totalled 137 dead, 88 missing and over 200 wounded. On raids against England alone, 60 Gothas were lost—almost twice the basic strength of the unit. But the Gotha threat kept two British front line fighter squadrons at home at any one time and thereby indirectly benefited the German Air Force in France and Flanders.

It has been suggested that the Gotha was a copy of the British Handley Page 0/100, an example of which fell into German hands at the beginning of 1917, but this is incorrect. The 0/100 had 275hp Rolls Royce engines giving it an endurance of eight hours with a bomb load of nearly 1,8001b compared with the Gotha's of six hours endurance and about 1,100lb bomb load.

The consequences of the German raids on England during World War I were far reaching, and the symptoms of panic which they invoked in London led to a mistaken belief that bombing attacks could break the morale of civilian populations. The potential of bombers in the '1930s was greatly exaggerated and it was feared in 1938 that the Luftwaffe could pulverize London in a matter of weeks. The bogey of the bomber was certainly an influential factor in persuading the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, to sign the notorious Munich agreement of September 1938.

In 1940, however, the Luftwaffe's bombers proved too small to accomplish the destruction of London and the Germans came to regret their neglect of the four-engined heavy bomber.

On the British side, the defensive network evolved in 1917-18 formed a basis for the more sophisticated system used in the Battle of Britain, while belief in the power of the bomber led to the appearance of the four-engined Lancasters, Halifaxes and Stirlings that were used to systematically burn-out the major cities of Germany.

Victory through Airpower WWI

The Germans first attempted to break British morale by launching a series of Airship raids on Great Britain - (only Airships had the range and bomb capacity to attack Britain in 1915; heavier than air aircraft had not been developed enough to be used). By 1917 it was apparent that the airship raids had failed because they were too vulnerable to AA fire and British fighter aircraft, aided by searchlights. It is an interesting window into the future that the last German Airship to be shot down was shot down by a naval Lt. S D Culley, who took off at sea from a towed lighter flying a Sopwith Camel - the precursor of the aircraft carrier.

Following the failure of airships, the next German attempt to break British morale was to use heavy bombers, 'Gothas' and the very large 'Giants'. These could carry 6 hundredweight (300 kilograms) bombs. Daylight attacks, starting in May 1917, failed due to British Home fighter defence and night attacks were accordingly started, the "Moonlight Raids" . However British defences included AA guns, formed into a barrier some 25 miles from London, were sited to split up the attackers and make them more vulnerable to fighter aircraft. The raids were tracked by Sound Locators and the defences in the path of the attack were alerted. The Sound Locators were very effective for identification of the Gothas but the Giants were so noisy that they initially confused their operators who thought that the Giants were Gothas but were much closer!

The biggest air-raid of the war was to be combined with the German March 1918 Offensive against the British on the Western Front; forty aircraft set out but only 13 reached London and ten crashed during or after the raid.

The statistics of the German aeroplane offensive are instructive, demonstrating how Airpower could not possibly have succeeded in attaining victory, nor indeed in inflicting any significant damage to the Britain's war effort.

1916 - 19 attacks, three tons of bombs dropped - killed 27 and wounded 67.
1917 - 27 attacks, 51 tons of bombs - killed 655 people and wounded 1553.
1918 - 6 raids, 22 tons of bombs- killed 182 people and injured 430.

During the whole war, 9000 bombs, weighing 2890 ton, were dropped by 51 Airship and 52 Aeroplane attacks. London was bombed 12 times by Airship and 192 times by aeroplanes.

Overall, in Britain during WW1, 1413 were killed by the air raids, 3408 were injured and London lost 670 killed and 1962 injured.

Reference; "The German Air Raids on Great Britain - 1914-1918" by Joseph Morris, Sampson Low, & Co. Ltd. Circa 1920

Slightly different figures from THE SKY ON FIRE THE FIRST BATTLE OF BRITAIN 1917 - 1918, Raymond H. Fredette, 1966 (reprinted 1976):

‘Gotha and Giant Raids, 1917 - 1918': 836 killed, 1,1982 injured, 2,818 total'; for London and Environs, 488 killed 1,437 injured, 1,925 total (including 24 killed and 196 by British antiaircraft fire, and 14 killed and 14 injured in air-raid shelter stampedes)

‘Raids by single-engined aeroplanes, 1915 - 1917': 21 killed, 75 wounded, 97 total

‘Airship raids, 1915 - 1918': 557 killed, 1,358 injured, 1,915 total

TOTAL casualties: 1,414 killed, 3,416 injured, 4,830 total (including military casualties of 354 killed and 642 wounded)

No source given for these numbers but the book's bibliography does include Morris's book which is listed with a copyright date of 1920.

Felixstowe F2.A versus Zeppelin

The Felixstowe F.2A was widely used as a patrol aircraft over the North Sea until the end of the war. Its excellent performance and maneuverability made it an effective and popular type, often fighting enemy patrol and fighter aircraft, as well as hunting U-boats and Zeppelins. The larger F.3, which was less popular with its crews than the more maneuverable F.2a, served in the Mediterranean as well as the North Sea.

The F.5 did not enter service until after the end of World War I, but replaced the earlier Felixstowe boats (together with Curtiss flying boats) to serve as the RAF's standard flying boat until being replaced by the Supermarine Southampton in 1925.

The Felixstowe F series flying boats were a joint British and American development during the First World War. The predecessors of the Felixstowe were the Curtiss boats designed by a former Royal Navy officer and acquaintance of Curtiss, John Cyril Porte.

The H-12 Curtiss hull, and a new production aircraft, powered by 345-horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engines, began to be supplied to British naval air units late in 1917. This version was designated the Felixstowe F-2A. The Curtiss-built version of the F-2A was identified as the Curtiss H-16. Fifty H-12s, powered by 275-horsepower Rolls-Royce Eagle engines were delivered to the British. The design was one of the most successful flying boats of the war.

Zeppelins climbed and dove quite quickly compared to airplanes. A good example is the Felixstowe F2.A, which had several early successes in downing Naval Scouting Zeppelins (two in fact). However, once the Germans identified the threat they were able to avoid the Felixstowe by simply out climbing it, which the Zeppelin did readily. This is because 60% of a Zeppelin's cargo was water ballast, which could be dumped via electronic control from the command car, lightening the ship by up to 15 tonnes virtually instantaneously.

The German Zeppelin L-22 was destroyed by an H-12 on May 14, 1917 (the first enemy aircraft to be downed by an American-built airplane) and six days later another H-12 sank the German submarine UC-36.

On May 10th, 1918, an F.2A from Killingholme; flown by Captains T. C. Pattinson and A. H. Munday, engaged the Zeppelin L.62 at 8,000 feet over the Heligoland minefields. Captain Munday opened fire from the bow cockpit and Sergeant H. R. Stubbington, the engineer, also brought his Lewis gun to bear on the target. Many hits appeared to be scored, but the flying boat broke an oil line and had to land on the sea. The Zeppelin made off due east, losing height and emitting smoke, and soon afterwards blew up and fell in flames.

Felixstowe F.1 and F.2
Powerplant: two 257-kW (345 hp) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII 12-cylinder Vee piston engines
Performance: maximum speed 153 km/h (95mph) at 610m (2,000 ft); service ceiling 2925m (9,600 ft); endurance 6 hours
Weights: empty 3424kg (7,549lb); maximum take-off 4980 (10,978 lb)
Dimensions: span 29.15m (95 ft 7½ in); length 14.10m (46 lf 3 in); height 5.33m (17 ft 6 in ); wing area 105.26 sq. m (1,133.0 sq ft)
Armament: from four to seven free-mounted 7.7mm (0.303 in) Lewis machine-guns, plus two 104-kg (230 lb) bombs on underwing racks.

Felixstowe F.3
Powerplant: two 257 kW (345hp) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII 12-cylinder Vee piston engines
Performance: maximum speed 146 km/h (91mph) at 610m (2,000 ft); service ceiling 2440m (8,000 ft); endurance 6 hours
Weights: empty 3610 kg (7,958 lb); maximum take-off 6024 kg (13,281 lb)
Dimensions: span 31.09m (102 ft 0 in); length 14.99m (49 ft 2 in); height 5.69m (18 ft 8 in); wing area 133.03 sq m (1,432.0 sq ft)
Armament: four 7.7mm (0.303 in) Lewis Machine-guns on free mountings, plus four 104 kg (230 lb) bombs on underwing racks

Felixstowe F.5
Powerplant: two 261 kW (350hp) Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII 12-cylinder Vee piston engines
Performance: maximum speed 142km/h (88mph); service ceiling 2075m (6,800 ft); endurance 7 hours
Weights: empty 4128 kg (9,100 lb); maximum take-off 5752 kg (12,682 lb)
Dimensions: span 31.60m (103 ft 8 in); length 15.01m (49 ft 3 in); height 5.72m (18 ft 9 in); wing area 130.90 sq m (1,409.0 sq ft)
Armament: four 7.7mm (0.303 in) Lewis Machine-guns, one in bow and three in midship positions, plus up to 417kg (920 lb) of bombs on underwing racks

Did the British ever successfully bomb Berlin in WWI?

The The Handley Page V/1500, which first entered service in 1918, was the first British bomber with four engines. It was known within the fledging RAF as the ‘Super Handley’. Two squadrons were formed at Bircham Newton (No. 166 Squadron and No. 167 Squadron) with the express purpose of bombing Berlin.

The short answer is no. As to why, that requires a very long answer. Briefly, 27 Group RAF based at Bircham Newton in Norfolk was Trenchard's chosen instrument for raiding Berlin. It was commanded by a Canadian, Col. R.H. Mulock, which was to be equipped with the Handley Page V1500 bombers (the British answer to the German Giants). The RAF planning staff projected a round trip from this base of 1000 miles; the V1500 was supposed to have an endurance of 14 hours cruising at 100 mph, and with a bomb load of about 2 tons. The V1500 had four Rolls Royce Eagle VIII engines of 375 hp each.

Allied plans for 1919 would have bombing Berlin with the Handley-Page V.1500. The RAF had plans in motion to have a 200 Squadron bombing force (Independent Force) by July 1919. The pieces were coming together at war's end, but I doubt that the date would have been met. Think of the logistics to support this force. The HP V1500 were going to bomb Berlin from bases in Scotland!

The RAF had started on the Berlin project much too late: not until 29 August 1918 was 27 Group formed, with two wings, Nos. 86 and 87. Crewing up these giants, and conducting specialized training, occupied September and early October, when the first flight testing of the V1500 took place. After some favourable results, Mulock was put to the question by Trenchard:

"Urgent your definite views as to whether the V 1500 can do the long trip ... and if so the earliest it can be used." To which Mulock replied, "Yes, it is possible under favourable weather with the figures we have at present" (This was shortly after 15 October). Trenchard responded: "I give you freedom to carry out this operation on the lines you propose when you consider you are ready"

Three V1500 were delivered to No. 166 Squadron at RAF Bircham Newton (Norfolk) during October 1918. The squadron commander did not get clear orders for his mission until November 8 due to the above debate at high level. A mission was scheduled for that night (bomb Berlin, fly on to Prague as the Austro-Hungarian forces had surrendered by then, refuel, re-arm, bomb Düsseldorf on the way back). No mission was flown - a technical expert insisted that all the engines on one aircraft be changed. The same happened the following day (but with a different aircraft). The three aircraft were about to taxi out after the second set of engine changes when an excited ground crew member ran out to stop them — the Armistice had just been declared.

So this heavy bomber was never used against Berlin, or against any other target. We do know that later on Armistice Day, one of the V1500s flew over London with 'forty-one on board--ten girls and thirty-one men.'"


Australian Airmen in Mesopotamia, 1915–16

By David Wilson

On 8 February 1915, the Government of India sought the assistance of Australia to supply trained airmen, aircraft and transport for service in Mesopotamia (Iraq). The Australian Government replied that men and transport would be provided, but that aircraft could not. The unit (known as the Mesopotamian Half-Flight, Royal Flying Corps) was quickly raised from senior non-commissioned officers serving at the Central Flying School and from volunteer trainee riggers and mechanics from the staff of the motor-engineering shops at the army depot at Broadmeadows. Captain Petre, the commander of the force, departed for Bombay on 14 April to make arrangements for the Half-Flight’s arrival, leaving Captain T.W. White in temporary command. White, Lieutenant W.H. Treloar, an officer from the 72nd Infantry Battalion who had learned to fly in England before the war, and 37 men departed from Melbourne aboard the Morea for Bombay six days later. The premonsoonal heat, oppressive to Australians used to moderate climates, engendered in them an unquenchable thirst. The culture and sights of Bombay took a toll on the Australians’ three months’ advance pay before they boarded the SS Bankura. The vessel was bound for the town of Basra on the Shatt el Arab, downstream from the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in south-eastern Mesopotamia.

The Australians arrived at Basra on 26 May, joining two Indian Army officers, Captains P.W.L. Broke-Smith and H.L. Reilly, and nine mechanics from the Indian Flying Corps. A New Zealander, Lieutenant W.W.A. Burn, completed the Dominion nature of the Half-Flight.

An Indian Army pioneer unit had completed a road made of date palm logs from the waterway to an Arab cemetery, the only high ground in the area suitable for an airfield. The surrounding swampland was a breeding ground for mosquitoes, forcing the troops to take quinine twice daily to counter the insidious effects of malaria. The novelty of Basra, its culture unchanged from biblical days, was a marked contrast to the Australian lifestyle. The clay buildings offered little relief for the Half-Flight members toiling in the oppressive summer heat to prepare the aircraft for operations.

Even by the standards of 1915, the aircraft initially supplied to the Half-Flight were not modern. With two Maurice Farman Shorthorn and a single Longhorn aircraft, with a maximum speed of 80 kph on a calm day, the Half-Flight was ordered to fly reconnaissance missions in support of the advance of forces under the command of Major General C.V.F Townshend along the Tigris River to Amara. Operations commenced on 31 May when two crews (Petre and Burn, and Reilly and Broke-Smith) flew from a landing ground south of Kurna and supplied useful intelligence to the force commander. Below them, the infantry force advanced upstream through the saturated landscape by using 500 Arab war canoes, supported by artillery mounted on barges and steamers. They succeeded in forcing the defending Turks to retreat. White and Reilly, who had battled a dust storm for two hours to fly the Shorthorn the 100 kilometres from Basra on 1 June, reported the fact to navy authorities. En route, the airmen attempted to drop three 20-pound bombs on one of the Turkish paddle steamers that was retreating in disarray. Although the bombs missed the intended target, they exploded ahead and astern of one of the smaller ships, the crew of which, having interpreted this action as the aerial equivalent to a naval ‘shot across the bows’, drew into shallow water where they waited and later surrendered to the first British vessel that appeared. Townshend took advantage of the Turkish confusion and, in company with Captain W. Nunn, Royal Navy, and 22 men, accepted the surrender of Amara in the early hours of 3 June.

To guard the left flank of the advance up the Tigris River toward Kut, a force was drawn from the 6th and 12th Divisions to capture Nasiriyah, on the Euphrates River. Reilly, Treloar, Petre and Burn were again instrumental in the capture of this township. They flew Caudron aircraft that had been ordered forward from Basra over the Euphrates marshes. The capture of Nasiriyah paved the way for the advance on Kut.

Although more suitable for training than active service, the Caudron was an improvement on the Shorthorn and Longhorn aircraft. Despite the construction of a brick engine-overhaul workshop (augmented by the repair-shop lorries that had been supplied from Australia) and an iron hangar at Basra that improved maintenance facilities, the unreliability of the aircraft engines had fateful repercussions. During the first reconnaissance flights towards Nasiriyah, Reilly had force landed in the floodwaters near Suk-esh-Sheyukh, where, with the assistance of the garrison, he was able to save the aircraft. Reilly and Merz planned to fly their aircraft back to Basra in company on 30 July to try to overcome engine problems. But the two aircraft became separated, with Reilly and his mechanic being forced to land 40 kilometres from a refilling station established at the island of Abu Salibiq. Merz and his companion, Burn, pressed on alone. They were never seen again.

Eyewitness evidence suggested that Merz and Burn had landed 35 kilometres from Abu Salibiq, where a well-armed force of Arabs attacked them. The two Australians attempted to retreat to Abu Salibiq, using their revolvers in a spirited defence, killing one and wounding five of the Arab assailants, before one of the Australians was wounded. Gallantly, the two officers fought together until the end, showing great personal commitment and devotion to each other. Search parties, sent out from Basra and Abu Salibiq, found that the Caudron had been reduced to matchwood, but discovered no sign of Merz or Burn.

Engine failure was a common occurrence for the Half-Flight with, as will be seen, dramatic and tragic ramifications. For the members of the Half-Flight it was a period of frustration, with tent hangars being destroyed by the ubiquitous hot, sandy winds, leaving frail aircraft subject to the vagaries of an insatiable climate. Moreover, the poor standard of workmanship at the maintenance facilities in Egypt and England meant that the engines required considerable upkeep. And yet it was also a period of innovation—to enable the Half-Flight to operate in the watery maze of the Mesopotamian river system two barges were constructed: one on which two aircraft could be transported and the second to serve as a floating workshop. Given the terrain, floatplanes would have been an asset, but attempts to modify one of the Maurice Farman aircraft to fly with floats proved unsuccessful. In August the nucleus of a seaplane flight, under the command of Major R. Gordon, was transferred from East Africa and proved its worth in the reconnaissance before and after the attack on Kut.

Four Martinsyde single-seat scouts also reinforced the unit, now known as 30 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC), in August. The first of these aircraft was test flown by Petre on 29 August, who found the performance of the aircraft a disappointment—it took the aircraft 23 minutes to reach an altitude of 2000 metres, and the maximum speed of 80 kph was only a marginal improvement on the Maurice Farman and Caudron types that it supplemented.

Early in September, 30 Squadron concentrated at Ali Gharbi, halfway between Amara and Kut. The squadron, due to aircraft unserviceability, could only deploy a single Maurice Farman, a single Caudron and two Martinsydes to support the Indian 6th Division’s attack on Kut. However, a series of accidents, and the capture of Treloar and Captain B.S. Atkins of the Indian Army after they suffered an engine failure while reconnoitring Es-Sinn on 16 September, reduced the aircraft strength to a single Martinsyde. To reinforce the aerial component four aircraft (all that were available) were ordered upriver from Basra on two seaplane barges. One Maurice Farman was damaged on an overhanging tree after a strong wind blew the barges into the riverbank. This aircraft was repaired in time for battle where, based at Nakhilat, it joined a Martinsyde to participate in the attack on Es-Sinn.

Commencing on 27 September, Townshend instigated a flanking manoeuvre, made possible by air reconnaissance, which discovered a practical route through the marshes for elements of the 17th Infantry Brigade and cavalry to deploy against the left flank of the Turkish position. The action of this force, combined with an infantry bayonet charge, culminated in the rout of the Turkish defenders and the fall of Es-Sinn and Kut. The two 30 Squadron aircraft played a crucial role in these events, maintaining communications between Townshend and Brigadier W.S. Delamain, the commander of the flanking mobile column, before bombing the retreating enemy.

With the fall of Kut, the aircraft sought indications of the enemy strength located at Nasiriyah, on the Shatt el Hai (an ancient waterway linking the Tigris and Euphrates rivers), in the marshes to the north of Kut and along the Tigris river approaches to Baghdad. These operations were hampered by the difficulty of supplying replacement aircraft and supplies from Basra, and by the fragility of the Martinsyde. Difficulties aside, Reilly found that the Turkish defence of Baghdad centred on strong entrenchments at Ctesiphon, with an advanced guard twenty kilometres distant at Zeur. A second force of 2000 cavalry and camel-mounted troops at Kutaniyeh required constant surveillance to warn of any threat to the British position at Aziziyeh, only eight kilometres distant. In addition the enemy defences at Ctesiphon and Seleucia had to be carefully mapped, a task that was undertaken on a daily basis by White and Major E.J. Fulton. These flights, due to a combination of strong winds and the slow speed of the aircraft, took about two and a half hours, and engine failures (despite regular overhauling every 27 hours), were frequent.

White and Captain F.C.C. Yeates-Brown, Indian Army, undertook a photographic reconnaissance of Ctesiphon one early autumn morning. After flying at 1500 metres and evading Turkish anti-aircraft fire, the two airmen completed their mission, and turned for home and breakfast. Then the aircraft engine lost power. White opened the throttle and dived steeply for 60 metres in an attempt to remedy the problem. Initially, engine revolutions increased. White was forced to use a combination of prevailing wind, judicious use of available power and gliding to clear the general Ctesiphon area before landing adjacent to the Turkish redoubt at Zeur. The arrival of the aircraft confused the defenders long enough for White and Yeates-Brown to attempt to seek safety. Yeates-Brown, rifle in hand, stood in the observer’s seat to warn off possible pursuit and to indicate a safe passage through the broken terrain. Taxiing at speed over the cracked earth and aware of the possibility of pursuit, the airmen approached the vicinity of Kutaniyeh with some trepidation—White had dropped bombs on the troops during his previous return flights from Ctesiphon. By continuing in their sputtering aircraft along a roadway over a ridge some distance from the Tigris River, the airmen were able to bypass Kutaniyeh. Jolting overland for a further 25 kilometres, the obstruction to the fuel line or carburettor cleared, and the aircraft became airborne, miraculously enabling the crew to keep its breakfast appointment.

The seaplane flight also had its share of engine failures, one of which also involved White when he flew a Maurice Farman in the search for another flown by Gordon. Gordon’s absence was particularly distressing because with him was the Chief of the General Staff in Mesopotamia, Major General G.V. Kemball. The aircraft they were flying had suffered engine failure en route from Kut to Aziziyeh, and was discovered near the river by White, close to a large Arab camp. Circling the downed Farman, White came under attack by ground fire from the camp. It damaged an aileron rib and the propeller of White’s aircraft before he landed about a thousand metres from the downed seaplane. The Australian pilot ran to the riverbank with a spare rifle, located Kemball and returned to the aircraft to take flight for Aziziyeh. Gordon, who had left the site of the downed Farman, was saved by an Indian cavalry patrol that had noticed the descent of the floatplane.

White was not so fortunate on 13 November. He and Yeates-Brown volunteered to attempt to destroy telephone lines to the north and west of Baghdad before the British attack on Ctesiphon. The task involved the two airmen flying a round trip of 200 kilometres, meaning they had to carry cans of fuel on the aircraft. After bypassing the Turkish defences, White and Yeates-Brown discovered that their target ran parallel to a main thoroughfare used by bodies of soldiers in formation. The two airmen planned to land fourteen kilometres from the city where the telegraph line was within two hundred metres of the road. Locating the site, White circled to land. As he made his final approach he sighted a uniformed Turkish horseman calmly noting the landing of the aircraft, which could indicate the presence of enemy troops. Unfortunately the aircraft landed with the wind astern, forcing White to turn sharply to prevent damage to the front elevator. Despite judicious use of aileron and rudder, the pilot could not prevent the lower left mainplane colliding with a telegraph pole.

White traded shot after shot with the approaching Arabs, while Yeates-Brown successfully cut the wire by igniting several necklaces of gun cotton around two of the telegraph poles. The first explosion gave the Australians a brief respite from the advancing Arabs. Returning to the Maurice Farman under Arab crossfire, the airmen decided to attempt to taxi to safety. As they started the aircraft engine, a second charge exploded, snapping the telegraph wire and causing it to flail about. As they watched in horror, the wire swung around and coiled itself onto the aircraft. The only option for the airmen was to surrender. Both men were roughly handled and only the presence of a body of Turkish gendarmerie prevented them from being severely beaten. Both men became prisoners of war.

After the Turkish first and second defensive lines at Ctesiphon had been captured by Townshend’s force on 21 November, Turkish reinforcements forced the attackers to withdraw down the Tigris to Kut, where 13 000 British and Indian troops were surrounded. Two damaged BE-2C aircraft, half of the squadron reinforcements that had been sent from England, and a damaged Martinsyde remained at Kut. These had been operated and maintained by the British aircrew and the noncommisioned officers and mechanics, who joined their army colleagues in captivity. Nine Australians, of which only Flight Sergeant J.McK. Sloss and Air Mechanic K.L. Hudson subsequently survived captivity, also remained at Kut. Petre made flights from Al Gharabi over the beleaguered township to drop bags of grain (and a millstone to grind it) before he was posted to Egypt and, subsequently, to command a training squadron in England. The eight Australians at Basra were also sent to join the newly formed Australian Flying Corps in Egypt early in 1916.



Type of aircraft the British used in the campaigns in Mesopotamia under Generals Townsend and Maude in WWI

Farman Longhorn

Caudron G.3

Mesopotamian Half Flight – Farman Short/Longhorns and Caudron G.3s.

30 Squadron RFC+ - Farman Short/Longhorns, Caudron G.3s, Martinsyde S.1’s, BE’s, Martinsyde G100, Bristol Scout, RE8’s

RNAS* - Short 827, Voison

63 Squadron - RE8’s, Spad VII, Bristol Scout, Martinsyde G100, DH4

72 Squadron - Spad VII, DH4, SE5, Martinsyde G100, Bristol M1C

3 x Balloon Squadrons.

+RFC = Royal Flying Corps, Army air force

*RNAS = Royal Naval Air Service, Navy air force.


On this map of positions as they were on 30 June 1916 and during the assault next day, the British front line appears in red and the German front line in green above it. Mametz and Fricourt are strongly fortified villages immediately behind and part of the German front line complex. Mametz Wood and Contalmaison lie beyond the shallow valley of Willow Stream and just in front of the enemy’s second line system. Rawlinson’s Fourth Army plan of attack aimed at being well beyond Mametz by 2 hours and 40 minutes after the opening of the assault. Extract from British Official History, Crown Copyright.

The Somme region of France is beautiful, undulating farmland. The region takes its name from the Somme River, a pretty, meandering stream, that is known for its fishing and wildlife. The actual river is south of where the battle occurred and never became part of it. The main cities of the countryside are connected by arrow straight Roman roads. A large amount of the fighting took place around the Roman road running along a main ridge connecting the cities of Albert and Bapaume. The countryside is dotted with small French farming villages. In 1916, these villages, such as Thiepval, Mametz, Courcelette and Pozieres, gained infamous reputations. But the villages themselves had long ceased to exist; they had been torn to shreds by the massive military onslaught.

The choice of the Somme as the location from which to launch the first major British offensive of the war is puzzling. It had no particular strategic value and possessed no breakthrough potential. It is an unlikely place to imagine an army could achieve a decisive victory. The question that has perplexed military historians is: why the Somme? Calculating the men lost in this battle, more 1,200,000, only adds emphasis to the debate. There seems to be no answer to this question, other than the Somme was a useful place to launch an attack and start a war of attrition.

As the Somme battlefield lacked any particularly advantageous physical characteristics, the Germans had built a complex series of interconnecting trenches and deep redoubts across the rolling chalk hills. They took full advantage of every contour. To protect themselves from observation, the Germans generally entrenched on the down side of a slope. The trenches were deep and solid, often strategically interconnected with other switch trenches. A warren of communication and support trenches was utilized for transporting supplies, reinforcements and ammunition. The redoubt positions were often connected by tunnels coming from a variety of places in the support lines. In front of the trenches were dense belts of barbed-wire. Farms had been fortified and linked by a maze of underground works. Each position was designed to extract a great price from any attacker.

“The modern battlefield is like a huge, sleeping machine with innumerable eyes and ears and arms, lying hidden and inactive, ambushed for the one moment on which all depends. Then from some hole in the ground a single red light ascends in fiery prelude. A thousand guns roar out on the instant, and at a touch, driven by innumerable levers, the work of annihilation goes pounding on its way.”

Ernst Junger, German Army

The British strategy to capture a trench works was to plaster the German position with high-explosive shells in the hope of collapsing the trench walls, killing or wounding the defenders, and cutting the extensive barbed-wire in front of the trench with shell shrapnel. At the appropriate time, the assault troops would approach the German lines as closely as possible without being hit by their own artillery fire, and at zero hour, rush and take the position. Even if the attack were successful, it did not preclude the Germans digging another trench behind the one just captured or counter-attacking to retake the one lost. In the Battle of the Somme, the Germans did both.

More often than not, the attacks on the strongly fortified German defences on the Somme proved disastrous. The artillery bombardment rarely cut the barbed-wire and the soldiers, trapped in No Man’s Land, would be cut down in swathes by the German machine-guns. Sometimes, the Germans allowed the assault troops to enter their front-line trench. Then the German artillery would blast No Man’s Land to prevent reinforcements or ammunition from reaching the newly captured position. The reinforcements would be decimated by the German barrage when crossing the open ground and the soldiers in the captured trench would be isolated. At this point, the Germans would counter-attack via communication trenches or underground subways. The German stick grenade was the weapon of choice and was a very effective killer with good range and accuracy. These defensive techniques cost the Australians heavily at Pozieres; the Canadians on the Somme learned about these tactics the hard way.

“If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are, I know where they are,
If you want to find the old battalion,
I know where they are,
They’re hanging on the old barbed-wire,
I’ve seen em, I’ve seen em,
Hanging on the old barbed-wire.”
First World War Song.

The only flaw in the German method was that the counter-attacker often suffered more casualties than the attacker. Germany could not win a war of attrition.

The Canadians arriving at the Somme could not believe the devastation. Even compared to the horrific standards of Ypres, the sights were shocking. It was their first view of total destruction; villages razed, the battlefield a lunar landscape of interconnected shell holes, destroyed trenches, sandbags spread everywhere, old equipment scattered, and thousands of bodies, decomposing in the summer sun. But they did not have much time to mull over these images of immense destruction. They were immediately put in the line in support of the Australians.

“Through a gap between two sandbags I was shown the village (Pozieres), where smoke was drifting across skeletons of trees on a torn-up mound. An uneven line of sandbags, stretching across piles of bricks and remnants of houses, faced our way… The ground between our trench and the ruins beyond was merely a stretch of craters and burnt-up grass broken up by tangled wire… The dead were lying in all conceivable attitudes; rotting in the sun… with the heat the smell had become very trying.”

Paul Maze, French Army attached British Army.

Despite serving in a secondary role, Canadian losses were considerable. Between September 4th and 7th, the 1st Canadian Division’s 16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish) supported the Australian Infantry attack on Mouquet Farm and other German positions north of Pozieres. The Canadian battalion suffered 349 casualties. On September 9th, the 2nd Battalion (Eastern Ontario) attacked a German trench work south of the Pozieres windmill. The attack was only a local action; one meant to improve the jump-off position for the up-coming major assault.

In this fierce action, Corporal Leo Clarke won the Victoria Cross. Clarke, and a section of bombers, were confronted by 20 Germans. Clarke attacked the attackers, emptied his revolver into them, killed four and captured another. Single-handedly, he had stopped a German attack. Clarke was one of three men from the same street in Winnipeg to win the Victoria Cross in the war. Sadly, two of the three did not survive. Leo Clarke was wounded later in the Battle of the Somme and died of his wounds. He was 24.


The Anglo-French armies had advanced some 10 kilometres (6 miles) at their point of deepest penetration, on a 40-kilometre (25-mile) front. Losses remain controversial. The British suffered nearly 420,000 casualties, their French allies just over 200,000. The German losses were at least 400,000 men, possibly as many as 650,000.

Although the German army did not collapse in 1916, in A.J.P. Taylor’s phrase, at Verdun and the Somme the German army ‘bled to death’. Its 1917 recruits were already in the line by the end of 1916. In spring 1917 it was obliged to withdraw its untenable front in Picardy to the prepared positions of the Hindenburg line, to liberate manpower for a renewal of the attritional struggle. Nor could it compete in the battle of matériel (materialschlacht) which the allies forced it to fight. The allied blockade was starting to impact heavily on productivity and morale on the home front. In December 1916 the new duumvirate at the head of the German army, Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff, intensified mobilisation with a new Auxiliary Service Law conscripting labour on the home front into war industries. The year of attrition had cost the already tired French army and nation equally dearly. Only the British emerged from the Somme with credit. The ordinary soldiers had borne the heavy sacrifice with stoicism, and after initial failure the inexperienced army had learned to fight with skill and determination. The expectation of rapid military victory disappeared. After 1916 the war became a struggle to outlast the enemy in a brutal ‘total war’. In this the allies had the upper hand.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


The Airco DH.9 (from de Havilland 9) also known after 1920 as the de Havilland DH.9 was a British bomber used in the First World War. A single-engined biplane, it was a development of Airco's earlier, highly successful DH.4 and was ordered in very large numbers for Britain's Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force.

An unreliable engine which did not deliver the expected power meant, however, that the DH.9 had poorer performance than the aircraft that it was meant to replace. This resulted in heavy losses to squadrons equipped with the DH.9, particularly over the Western Front. It was subsequently developed into the DH.9A with a more powerful and reliable engine.

Design and development

The DH.9 was designed by de Havilland for the Aircraft Manufacturing Company in 1916 as a successor to the DH.4. It used the wings and tail unit of the DH.4 but had a new fuselage. This enabled the pilot to sit closer to the gunner/observer and away from the engine and fuel tank. The other major change from the DH.4 was the choice of the promising new BHP/Galloway Adriatic engine, which was predicted to produce 300 hp and so give the new aircraft an adequate performance to match enemy fighters.

By this time, as a result of attacks by German bombers on London, the decision was made to almost double the size of the Royal Flying Corps, with most of the new squadrons planned to be equipped with bombers.[1] Based on the performance estimates for the DH.9 (which were expected to surpass those of the DH.4), and the similarity to the DH.4, which meant that it would be easy to convert production over to the new aircraft, massive orders (4,630 aircraft) were placed.

The prototype (a converted DH.4) first flew at Hendon in July 1917.[2] Unfortunately, the BHP engine proved unable to reliably deliver its expected power, with the engine being de-rated to 230 hp in order to improve reliability. This had a drastic effect on the aircraft's performance, especially at high altitude, with it being inferior to that of the DH.4 it was supposed to replace. This meant that the DH.9 would have to fight its way through enemy fighters, which could easily catch the DH.9 where the DH.4 could avoid many of these attacks.

While attempts were made to provide the DH.9 with an adequate engine, with aircraft being fitted with the Siddeley Puma, a lightened and supposedly more powerful version of the BHP, with the Fiat A12 engine and with a 430 hp Napier Lion engine, these were generally unsuccessful (although the Lion engined aircraft did set a World Altitude Record of 30,500 ft (13,900 m) on 2 January 1919[3]) and it required redesign into the DH.9A to transform the aircraft.

Operational history

The first deliveries were made in November 1917 to 108 Squadron RFC, with several more squadrons being formed or converted to the DH.9 over the next few months, and with nine squadrons operational over the Western Front by June 1918.

The DH.9's performance in action over the Western front was a disaster, with heavy losses incurred, both due to its low performance, and engine failures (despite the prior de-rating of its engine). For example, between May and November 1918, two squadrons on the Western Front (Nos. 99 and 104) lost 54 shot down, and another 94 written off in accidents.[4] The DH.9 was however more successful against the Turkish forces in the Middle East, where they faced less opposition, and it was also used extensively for coastal patrols, to try and deter the operations of U-boats.

Following the end of the First World War, DH.9s operated by 47 Squadron and 221 Squadron were sent to southern Russia in 1919 in support of the White Russian Army of General Denikin during the Russian Civil War.[5] The last combat use by the RAF was in support of the final campaign against Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (known by the British as the "Mad Mullah") in Somalia during January—February 1920.[5] Surprisingly, production was allowed to continue after the end of the war into 1919, with the DH.9 finally going out of service with the RAF in 1920.[6]

Following the end of the First World War, large number of surplus DH.9s became available at low prices and the type was widely exported (including aircraft donated to Commonwealth nations as part of the Imperial Gift programme.[3]

The South African Air Force received 48 DH.9s, and used them extensively, using them against the Rand Revolt in 1922. Several South African aircraft were re-engined with Bristol Jupiter radial engines as the M'pala, serving until 1937.[7]

Civilian use

Because of the large number of surplus DH.9s available after the war many were used by air transport companies. They provided a useful load carrying capability and were cheap. Early air services between London, Paris and Amsterdam were operated by DH.9s owned by Aircraft Transport and Travel. A number of different conversions for civil use were carried out, both by Airco and its successor the de Havilland Aircraft Company and by other companies, such as the Aircraft Disposal Company.[8] Some radial powered DH.9Js continued in use until 1936.[9]


  • DH.9 - Revised version of the DH.4 with the pilot and observer/gunner placed closer together (3,024 production aircraft built with others built in Belgium and Spain).
  • DH.9A - (also referred to as the Nine-Ack) was designed for Airco by Westland Aircraft to take advantage of the American Liberty L-12 400 hp (298 kW) engine. Apart from the new engine and slightly larger wings it was identical to the DH.9. Initially it was hoped to quickly replace the DH.9 with the new version - however a shortage of Liberty engines available to the RAF curtailed the new type's service in the First World War – and it is best known as a standard type in the postwar RAF – serving as a general purpose aircraft for several years. 2,300 DH.9As were built by ten different British companies.
  • DH.9B - Conversions for civilian use as three-seaters (one pilot and two passengers)
  • DH.9C - Conversions for civilian use as four-seaters (one pilot and three passengers)
  • DH.9J - Modernised and re-engined conversions using the 385 hp (287 kW) Armstrong Siddeley Jaguar III radial piston engine. Used by the De Havilland School of Flying.
  • DH.9J M'pala I - Re-engined conversions carried out by the South African Air Force. Powered by a 450 hp (336 kW) Bristol Jupiter VI radial piston engine.
  • M'pala II - Re-engined conversions carried out by the South African Air Force, powered by a 480 hp (358 kW) Bristol Jupiter VIII radial piston engine.
  • Mantis - Re-engined conversions carried out by the South African Air Force, powered by a 200 hp (149 kW) Wolseley Viper piston engine.
  • Handley Page HP.17 - A DH.9 experimentally fitted with slotted wings [10]
  • USD-9 - DH.9s manufactured in the United States by the US Army's Engineering Division (1,415 built)

Specifications (D.H.9 (Puma Engine))

Data from The British Bomber since 1914[6]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 2
  • Length: 30 ft 5 in (9.27 m)
  • Wingspan: 42 ft 4 in (19.92 m)
  • Height: 11 ft 3½ in (3.44 m)
  • Wing area: 434 ft² (40.3 m²)
  • Empty weight: 2,360 lb (1,014 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 3,790 lb (1,723 kg)
  • Powerplant: 1× Armstrong Siddeley Puma piston engine, 230 hp (172 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 98 knots (113 mph, 182 km/h)
  • Service ceiling 15,500 ft (4730 m)
  • Endurance: 4½ hours


  • Forward firing Vickers machine gun
  • 1 or 2 Rear Lewis guns on scarff ring
  • Up to 460 lb (209 kg) bombs



  1. Bruce 2 April 1956, p.387.
  2. Jackson 1987, p.97.
  3. Jackson 1987, p.100.
  4. Mason 1994, p.84.
  5. Bruce 13 April 1956, p.424.
  6. Mason 1994, p.86.
  7. Jackson 1987, p.102.
  8. Jackson 1973, p.50-52.
  9. Jackson 1973, p.56.
  10. Barnes 1976, p.211-213.


  • Barnes, C.H. Handley Page Aircraft since 1907. London:Putnam, 1976. ISBN 0 370 00030 7.
  • Bruce, J.M. "The De Havilland D.H.9: Historic Military Aircraft: No. 12, Part I". Flight, 6 April 1956. Pages 385—388, 392.
  • Bruce, J.M. "The De Havilland D.H.9: Historic Military Aircraft: No. 12, Part II". Flight, 13 April 1956. Pages 422—426.
  • Gerdessen, F. "Estonian Air Power 1918 - 1945". Air Enthusiast No 18, April - July 1982. Pages 61-76. ISSN 0143-5450.
  • Jackson, A.J. British Civil Aircraft since 1919 Volume 2. London:Putnam, Second edition 1973. ISBN 0 370 10010 7.
  • Jackson, A.J. De Havilland Aircraft since 1909. London: Putnam, Third edition 1987. ISBN 0 85177 802 X.
  • Mason, Francis K. The British Bomber Since 1914. London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 1994. ISBN 0-85177-861-5.
  • Winchester, Jim, ed. Bombers of the 20th Century. London: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2003. ISBN 1-84037-386-5.