Another crew involved in combat that day was F/S/L Horace Wigglesworth and 2/AM W Bunce, flying fighter 9667.
Started late owing to gun trouble. Finally reached lines alone at 12000 Ft. Met six German machines of German Nieuport & Halberstadt types over aerodrome at St.Eym. Fought engagements against Huns of 3, 4 & 5 at a time in formation. Finally succeeded in causing one to descend, but could not discern final results owing to other engagements. Wish to draw attention to Commanding Officer to excellent behaviour of my gunlayer, who, although minus gloves which were blown overboard due to machine gun jambs (sic) etc, fought to a finish, Returned safely with slight damage to machine. The cold was intense, and both of us were frostbitten. [F/S/L H. Wigglesworth, fighter 9667]
Walter Bunce was still in hospital suffering from frostbitten hands the following week. Although no British machines were lost on the raid itself, there was to be a tragic ending to the day upon the return of F/S/L Maurice Stephens in bomber N5121.
Machine reached objective, but was accidently blown up on return to aerodrome. [F/S/L M. Stephens, bomber N5121]
After Stephens had landed and shut his engine off, he was informed he still had a bomb aboard hanging out of the partially open rear left hand door. As he still had to put the aircraft away, Stephens
got out and tried to see if it would fall off, remarking that it would need a crow bar to shift it. [AM H. H. Jaques]
With the knowledge that the bomb was secure, Stephens restarted the engine and prepared to taxi N5121 to the hanger.
Leading Mechanics Fraser and Sims went out to steady the machine, one on either wing tip. As they got hold of the machine to steady it I saw the bomb drop from the door, a sheet of flame occurred, and I flattened myself out down on all fours. Immediately after the explosion I rushed up and helped to help Fraser from the blazing wreckage. [C.P.O. O. G. Soar]
One of the first on the scene was Surgeon A. G. Holman, who described the injuries to Fraser and Sims to the board of inquiry.
Leading Mechanic Fraser was the first man I saw. I saw him about 50 seconds after the accident. He had a large wound over his heart which had broken three ribs. He also had wounds about his legs and he was scorched. The bones of his legs were broken. Both bones of the lower part of the left leg being broken. I saw Leading Mechanic Sims about two minutes after the accident. He had been carried into one of the hangers. He had a wound on the inner side of the right leg, about the middle of the thigh. A big artery must have been severed there and he was bleeding profusely. Attempts had been made to stop the bleeding, but without success. I put on a tourniquet and had him conveyed to the sick bay, but I thought his condition was hopeless. [Surgeon A. G. Holman]
Fraser died within three minutes, while Sims lived a further ten minutes before succumbing to his wounds. In addition to Fraser and Sims, F/S/L Shearer, Acting LM Tolman, AM Naylor and LM Shepard were also wounded, while Stephens himself eventually lost his right leg. The board of inquiry determined that the accident was due to the bomb jamming in the door, and to no fault of the armourers.
Left to Right: J.E. Sharman, Lemon, and R. Collishaw. Ochey, November 1916. (S.K. Taylor)
We find the cause of the accident was due to the bomb jambing (sic) after being released by the releasing gear, thus allowing the arming vane to unscrew from the spindle making the bomb dangerous and free to function. The probable cause of the jamb being due to the type of door fitted. No blame is attributed to anyone for the bomb jambing (sic), but the accident might have been prevented had the pilot FSL Stephens reported the condition of the bomb prior to taxying his machine in. [Capt. W. L. Elder, W.Cdr. R. B. Davies, Lt. A. R. Mackenzie]
The RFC was undergoing a shortage of aircraft and one solution to bring the RFC up to size was the transfer of RNAS squadrons to RFC control. Therefore at the end of January 1917, Capt. Elder was directed to send nine of his best pilots to Dunkirk. These were to be the nucleus of the newly formed No.3(N)Sqdn RNAS which was being sent to assist the RFC. Pilots in this first group included H. E. Wigglesworth, F. S. L. Cotton plus the Canadians F. C. Armstrong, R. Collishaw, J. S. T. Fall, J. A. Glen, P. G. McNeil, J. J. Malone and A. T. Whealy. Also transferred at this time was W.Cdr. Richard Bell Davies, he was replaced by W.Cdr. Charles E. H. Rathborne.
The first half of February found the temperature still well below zero and operations were halted with the engines refusing to start. Although fighting patrols had been sent off from Ochey during the week of 8-16 February, the next raid wasn't until 25 February on the Brebach iron works.
This time all aircraft were able to start, although one bomber returned due to engine trouble, and the fighter of F/L Potter returned with magneto trouble. In all thirteen bombers and five fighters crossed the lines with all the bombers dropping their bombs at the objective, although they found it to be more difficult to hit than previous targets.
Shelling fairly accurate at lines. Visibility poor but located Saabrucken without difficulty but found Brebach to be a poor target in comparison to those we have recently bombed. Was not able to observe results of bombs. Just after leaving objective two German monoplanes approached coming from the right and flying at our own level. They attacked our right between Nos. 3 and 4 but were driven off. I observed one going down vertically. [F/S/L Dissette, bomber N5115]
This monoplane was the victim of F/S/L J. E. Sharman flying in bomber N5088. Sharman had attacked the pair along with F/S/L H. Edwards in bomber 9733.
Sopwith fighter 9722 in flight. 9722 scored one of No. 3 Wings relatively few victories when in concert with F/S/L Shearer in bomber N5088, F/L Newberry and P.O. Rees downed an enemy two-seater on November 10, 1916.
Engine weak, crossed lines below others. Observed three well placed bomb puffs. Was third machine to bomb. No firing at objective although other flight got badly shelled. Caught up with rest of flight after bombing as they had glided down to bomb. Shortly after leaving objective I observed two Fokker monoplanes closing in from right at some distance. They finally came in touch with our right wing. With FSL H Edwards in another bomber I closed with the leader. After twenty rounds from the Vickers he suddenly dived very steeply and I lost sight of him as I was only about a hundred feet distant from him at the time and he disappeared under my wing. The other sheared off for a while. The first one was seen to fall absolutely out of control by FSL Edwards and FSL Drummond. Shortly afterwards the remaining Fokker dived at me firing a long burst, none of the bullets touching my machine however. I manoeuvered so as to get him in front of me in a spiral and followed him for two revolutions firing continuously with my Vickers at short range one to two hundred feet, I should say two hundred rounds. however he went into a steep dive apparently under control and disappeared. [F/S/L J. E. Sharman, bomber N5088]
Meanwhile the faulty magneto of fighter 9735 had been repaired, so F/L Potter and AM Dell went off to patrol the lines and await the returning bombers.
...Patrolled along the lines in the neighbourhood of Chateau Salines. Saw four machines coming from Germany and thought at first they were Sopwiths. Turned towards them and found they were enemy machines exactly like the SPAD. Tried to attack them but they were above us and all dived at us together. Almost the first shots pierced our tank and severed the tension wire for the front gun. Two machines attacked from above, one from the side and one from behind. The gunlayer had an excellent target on the machine which was attacking us from behind and emptied a whole tray into it. This machine then rolled around for a few seconds and disappeared downwards evidently out of control. After this we nose dived to get away from the enemy and glided over the lines to Siechamps where we landed without further mishap. The machine was too much damaged by machine gun fire to be flown back to Ochey so left it in charge of a French Guard. [F/L E. C. Potter, fighter 9735]
F/Cdr. C. Draper also went out to provide escort for the returning bombers in one of the two Sopwith Pups assigned to No.3 Wing, but soon found himself in less than ideal fighting condition.
Accompanied No.9735 on fighter patrol across the lines about 1 1/2 hours after departure of bombing flights. Owing to celluloid centre section bursting in the air, speed and climb was so reduced that I could not catch up No.9735 which was seen fighting with three Huns about eight miles inside enemy lines. [F/Cdr. C. Draper, Sopwith Pup 9906]
Potter and Dell had been lucky to get back to the lines, others were less so, for F/S/L L.E. Smith and gunlayer AM R.S. Portsmouth flying in fighter 9739 were shot down by Off.Stv Vothknecht of Jasta 24, with Portsmouth being killed and Smith later dying from injuries sustained in the crash.
The day wasn't done yet, as F/S/L Harold Edwards in bomber 9733 and F/S/L Wallace in bomber N5124 collided on landing, damaging both machines. Fortunately both pilots were uninjured.
The objective on 4 March 1917 was again to be the five blast furnaces at Brebach. This time 14 bombers and six fighters set out. However four bombers returned with 'engine trouble', while the fighter of F/L Potter lost pressure in his petrol tank and was also forced to return. Of the remainder, nine bombers reached Brebach, while F/S/L Page was unable to keep up with the formation and dropped his bombs on a railway station.
Owing to my engine not keeping up very well was unable to keep my position in formation so bombed a small railway station a few miles W of St.Avold and returned alone. [F/S/L Page, bomber 9700]
The trip to Brebach was made in less than ideal conditions with almost all pilots commenting on the poor visibility over the target.
Dropped bombs on objective, but it was so cloudy that it was impossible to observe results. No enemy machines encountered. [F/S/L R. F. Redpath, bomber 9742]
Reached objective. Only saw one enemy machine. Dropped bombs on objective. Shelling not very severe. Owing to bad visibility it was difficult to observe results. [F/S/L Shirriff, bomber 9669]
Although Redpath and Shirriff had no encounters with enemy aircraft, this was not true of the aircraft of No.2 Sqdn. In fact eight to ten enemy machines had attacked No.2 Sqdn. shortly after leaving Brebach. Two EA were claimed to have been forced from the fight, one by gunlayer P.O. Hinkler flying with F/S/L Pattison in fighter 9410.
Arrived at objective. Shelling was very poor. Observed eight enemy machines over objective. Five attacked my machine at once and was helped out by the other two fighters. Enemy broke off fight after a few minutes and my observer claims to have forced one enemy machine down. Was followed by an enemy machine all the way from objective to the lines. Engaged him at lines and he turned back immediately. German machines were not of the latest type being fairly slow. Engine stopped this side of the lines. [F/S/L Pattison, fighter 9410]
The other aircraft was claimed by F/S/L Harold Edwards, along with gunlayer P.O. Walker.
Reached objective at 11-45 a.m. A flight of enemy machines attacked and I was engaged five times. The first machine was engaged with front gun and the gunlayer reports that he saw it dive and land in a field away from any Aerodrome, presumably out of action. I then saw six machines chasing a bomber who was able to get away in a cloud." [F/S/L H. Edwards, fighter N5173]
No bomber reported being chased by six enemy aircraft. However F/S/L Sharman and gunlayer Turner in fighter N5171 may have been the beneficiary of the convenient cloud cover.
Just after the objective had been bombed we were attacked by a large squadron consisting of ten machines. On engaging my Vickers jambed (sic) repeatedly refusing to fire more that one shot at a time. My gunlayer's Lewis also jambing (sic) I was forced to escape after several encounters with various types of single seaters. Chased by four fast scouts that continually gained on my machine. Was able to get under a cloud bank at 2800 ft. and bearing a few miles to one side lost them and came home. [F/S/L J. E. Sharman, fighter N5171]
Even though no aircraft were lost, the increase in German fighter strength was noticed by all concerned, as remarked on by W.Cdr. Rathborne
The chief feature of the raid is the fact that the enemy appears to be collecting machines for the protection of the Saar Valley. [W.Cdr. C. E. H. Rathborne]
On 7 and 9 March 1917 a further 20 pilots along with six fighters and 100 ratings were transferred to Dunkerque. This brought about further reorganization of the remaining pilots. There were also several new pilots who required additional practice in formation flying. All of which led to problems with flight integrity during the next raid.
On 16 March preparations were made to carry out a third raid on the furnaces at Brebach. They set out seven bombers and four fighters strong under F/S/L J. E. Sharman. Soon the fighter of F/L Potter returned with oiled up plugs, followed by that of F/S/L Pattison/P.O. Hinkler after his oil pump froze upon crossing the lines. F/S/L Alexander and gunlayer Jones also returned due to a frozen petrol pump.
Petrol pump froze up, and forced to turn back, gliding down wind, landed at Vaucouleurs." [F/S/L W. M. Alexander, fighter 9400]
One other aircraft was to drop out due to engine troubles shortly after crossing the lines, that of F/S/L G. S. Harrower.
After following the formation for some distance my engine was not giving sufficient revolutions, so after crossing the lines I dropped my bombs and returned. [F/S/L G. S. Harrower, bomber N5123]
While on the way to Brebach, Sharman decided the wind was too strong to continue, and accordingly led the formation to the alternate target of M?rchingen aerodrome.
Led flight. Raid on Burbach(sic) - Mar. 16th 1916(sic) Visibility fairly good. Strong head wind on outward journey. After we had gone half way to the objective I decided that the head wind was too strong to permit of our making the trip with our petrol supply. We bombed the aerodrome at M?rchingen. I observed two hits on the southern end of the row of hangars - and several other very close shots. Fairly heavy shelling both at lines and objective. Two large flights of German machines were standing by on the aerodrome, ready to start. One enemy machine at 10,000 ft over aerodrome disappeared on our arrival. [F/S/L J. E. Sharman, bomber N5088]
Either this machine, or another, decided to try a closer look at the formation, and was driven off by Gunlayer Barker flying with F/S/L E. V. Reid in the remaining fighter, 9407.
One enemy machine dived on flight from the starboard quarter. Engaged him with rear gun, and drove him off. No others sighted. My machine was damaged by one hit. [F/S/L E. V. Reid, fighter 9407]
The Story of Havill Smith
and Gustav Praclik