Author's Note: All quotes, unless stated otherwise are taken from the relevant reports written by the aircrew on the day in question. The same holds true for the bulk of the narrative, being made up from the various No.3 Wing records in the AIR1/115/15/39/51 and AIR1/648/17/122/397 files held by the PRO and National Archives of Canada. The Sopwith 1½ Strutter was used by No.3 Wing in both the two seat fighter and single seat bomber variants. In No.3 Wing records they are designated as either 'fighter' or 'bomber', and the same will hold true in this article. All quotes are in their original spelling and punctuation.
N o.3 Wing Royal Naval Air Service, was originally formed in the Aegean from No.3 Squadron RNAS on 21 June 1915 under W.Cdr Samson. Later, they were transferred to Imbros where they were absorbed into No.2 Wing and disbanded on 18 January 1916. However a reformed No.3 WIng was soon to be organized in England for service in France.
The story of the reformed No.3 Wing RNAS begins with a suggestion put forward at the end of 1915 that the French and British should have a combined bombing force to raid German industry. However, this idea was put on hold as it was beyond the presently available resources. Then during February 1916 a squadron of Sopwith 1½ Strutters was formed at Detling under Sqdn.Cdr. Marix, with the intention of raiding the factories in the Essen and Dusseldorf regions of Germany from England. However, due to the distance to the proposed targets from Detling being infeasible, the resources of this unit were available for service elsewhere, to which end Captain W.L. Elder went to France for talks in May 1916. From these talks it was decided to form a Franco-British bombing force, with the British component being based at Luxeuil-les-Bains, over 60 miles to the south of Nancy.
Originally No.3 Wing was to be made up of Sopwith 1½ Strutters and Short bombers, however the Short was found to be unsuitable and was replaced by the Breguet V. An analysis of the Short stated...
As regards the Short bombers, there are now nine at Manstone (sic) and it is hoped to get most, or probably all of these, out to France by the end of the month. The engines of these machines have been giving a great deal of trouble blowing off their exhaust pipes in the air and sometimes even on the ground etc. This is being rectified by our own people at Manstone as the makers fittings are most unsatisfactory. This is taking some little time to do and the machines are not safe to be flown in their present condition. The bomb gears of these machines have been giving a great deal of trouble but it is hoped that they will be rectified by the time the engines have been put right. [Report sent to Capt. W.L. Elder]
The Wing was to be commanded by Capt. W.L.'Daddy' Elder, and contained a large proportion of Canadian pilots, not because of any conscious decision to do so, but because the large contingent of Canadians that had joined the RNAS were just now coming out of flying school and were available for service.
The first detachment of one officer and 125 men left for France on 16 June 1916 to begin construction of the future base at Luxeuil. It was initially proposed that the wing would consist of 60 aircraft, later to be expanded to 100 machines. However the transfer of Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters from the RNAS to the RFC delayed the buildup of No. 3 Wing, and it was not until October that sufficient numbers of Strutters were available for operations at Luxeuil.
The debut of the wing to combat flying actually began at 4.34 a.m. on 30 July 1916, when nine aircraft of a combined French and British force took off to bomb the benzine stores and barracks at Mulheim. The French contribution consisted of four Farmans, one Sopwith and one Nieuport. The British sent two Sopwith bombers flown by F/L C. B. Dalison and F/S/L J.A. Glen, and one Sopwith fighter flown by F/S/L Potter with Sub.Lt. C. Downes as observer. When Dalison broke his propeller on take off, W.Cdr. R. B. Davies attempted to catch up in a spare machine. However by the time he was in the air, all other machines were out of sight and he returned to base as per Capt. Elder's instructions to not cross the lines if not in sight of other machines.
FSL Glen returned at 6.40 - he reports that the weather was misty, but he was able to see his bombs exploding apparently on the objectives. He was violently attacked by anti-aircraft guns just after crossing the lines between Mulhausen and Mulheim but was not hit. He encountered three German machines west of Mulheim, but they were flying low and did not attack." FSL Potter and Sub.Lt Downes returned at 6.55. They also report having been shot at, but although shells burst near them they were not hit. [Capt W.L. Elder]
On this first combined raid a total of 24 50-lb. and 12 65-lb. bombs were dropped for a loss of one French aircraft brought down in German lines. The wing had suffered its first loss when F/S/L G.K. Williams was killed on the afternoon of 10 June 1916. He had been instructing a French pilot on a 'Scout' (possibly a 1 1/2 Strutter) when they collided with a French biplane and all four occupants were killed. This was followed in July by the loss of F/S/L D.H. Whittier as described in a report to Capt. Elder, possibly by W.Cdr. Davies.
I regret to report that FSL Whittier was killed at Manstone (sic) on Thursday July 19th, while flying a Bristol Scout and attempting to loop the loop within about 1500 feet of the ground. The machine apparently side slipped and got into a spinning nose dive hitting the ground before pilot could regain control. [Report to Elder]
F/S/L Douglas H. Whittier was flying Bristol Scout C. 1245 when he was killed. A third pilot was killed when F/S/L James D. Scott of Montreal fatally crashed on 20 September. One further loss to the wing was Sqdn.Cdr Marix. He and Draper were ferrying two Strutters to Luxeuil, when they stopped off at Paris.While there they each took up a Nieuport - Marix spun in and ended up having one of his legs amputated.
Even though aircraft were continually arriving at Luxeuil-les-Bains, the number of available machines still wasn't enough to allow operations to begin in earnest. In addition not all of those sent to Luxeuil arrived as planned. F/S/L C.H. Butterworth was flying to France in Short bomber 9312 when his engine seized short of Paris and he was forced to land in a garden on 31 July. After repairs to the undercarriage, 9312 was at Luxeuil by 11 August.
With October an adequate number of aircraft were on hand to begin operations. The problem now was the weather, which was becoming more and more unsettled with clouds and fog rendering formation flying difficult. It was not until 12 October 1916 that the weather cleared sufficiently to allow a raid on the Mauser works at Oberndorf to be mounted. This was carried out by 22 British and between 21 and 34 French aircraft. The British contributed nine Sopwith bombers, six Breguet V bombers and seven Sopwith fighters. While the French force comprised 12 Farman F.42, seven Breguet IV, one Breguet V and one Sopwith fighter (both borrowed from the RNAS). In addition four Nieuport 17s of Escadrille N.124, the 'Escadrille Americaine' would provide escort.
At 1.p.m. reports were received that weather conditions were favourable over the Black forest. At 1.15 p.m. the first flight of French Farman machines started, followed ten minutes later by another flight. At 1.30 a flight of English Sopwiths left followed at 1.45 by a French Breguet flight, and at 1.50 by an English Breguet flight. At 2.0 pm a second English Sopwith flight left, and at 2.15 a third. The course followed was direct from the aerodrome to Oberndorf, returning via Schlettstadt, & Corcieux (a French aerodrome) and back to Luxeuil. The total distance being 225 miles. Unfortunately, a heavy bank of cloud intervened as the last Sopwith flight was leaving the ground, and they failed to form in squadron formation, the bombing machines returning without crossing the lines. From the reports received from the pilots the remaining machines achieved their objective - the Mauser Rifle Factory at Oberndorf. [Capt. W.L. Elder, OC No.3 Wing]
The force lost a total of three British and seven French machines. One of the pilots lost on the raid was F/S/L C.H.S. 'Charlie' Butterworth, a Canadian from Ottawa. He was flying Sopwith bomber 9660 when he was forced down with a slight wound to his neck and damage to his engine after an attack by a Fokker D.II flown by Vzfw Hanstein. Fortunately, Butterworth was able to land on an airfield at Freiburg and was taken prisoner.
Sopwith Fighter 9708 According to the records, this was later coded as a/c No.20., however 9408 is also given as being No. 20. This isn't totally unlikely as photos of N5098 and N5094 both show the number '32'. (Bruce/Leslie Collection)
Earlier Butterworth had been having engine trouble and was joined by F/S/L Raymond Collishaw and gunlayer R.S. Portsmouth in fighter 9407.
Left Luxeuil at 1.53 p.m. with Sopwith B. Red Flight. With formation to enemy lines. Then dropped somewhat behind to close alongside Butterworth, whose engine seemed to be slowing down, After a few miles Butterworth's engine picked up again and we began to close on the rest of B. Flight, until about five miles beyond the Rhine on the line of prepared course, when Fleming was attacked by a small machine which appeared to attack from above on the left of the formation. This machine then sheered off to the left again and Flight Lieut. Dalison was then observed to be engaged with a two-seater enemy machine which carried on below. The small machine which had engaged Fleming's machine again closed in on attack on Butterworth who was abeam my portside. I immediately dived to intercept him with my engine full on and firing my machine gun. This enemy machine appeared to resemble a Bristol Bullet, painted dark brown without any distinguishing marks, so far as I could see. During the dive my engine cut out and I turned around, diving towards the Rhine. Butterworth seemed to be still going ahead rather slowly. After losing 2000 feet my engine picked up to 900 revs and I crossed the lines at 6000 feet at which height I was able to keep afloat at 50 knots. [F/S/L R. Collishaw, fighter 9407]
Opposite Freiburg Flight was attacked by Hun machine. FSL Butterworth turned about and seemed to lose height but machine was under control and not seen again. [F/S/L G. G. MacLennan, bomber 9741]
The raid on Oberndorf marked the only time that No.3 Wing used the Breguet V bomber on operations. The Breguet had been a stopgap adopted to fill the space left vacant when it was found that the Short bomber would not be adequate for their needs. Unfortunately the Breguet was already obsolescent, and was so unlike the Sopwith that there was no real hope of them operating together. Areas in which the Breguet was deemed to be at a disadvantage compared to the Sopwith included: slower speed, less radius of action, less bomb carrying capacity, slower climb, possibly unmanageable in poor weather and was tiring to fly. However it did have an excellent field of fire for the gunner and it was hoped that it would be able to fend for itself in the manner of the FE2 when provided with Sopwith fighter escort. Oberndorf was to prove them wrong.
Short Bomber 9310 had the later long fuselage for directional stability. Arriving at Manston on 20 July 1916, 9310 spent even less time at No.3 Wing than did 9307, being written off in a crash while landing on 2 August 1916. (J.M. Bruce/G.S. Leslie collection)
Two Breguets were missing, 9176 and 9181, piloted by F/S/Ls Newman and Rockey with gunlayers Vitty and Sturdee respectively. Eventually all but Vitty were reported as POWs. In addition 9175, crewed by F/S/L Parker and gunlayer Allen, crashed while attempting to land in a field near the Alsatian village of Buc.
I left the aerodrome at 1.50 p.m. and climbed to 9000 feet. Before crossing the lines I counted the six machines in our squadron, after which I never saw more than four. I reached the objective at 4 p.m., and dropped my bombs aiming at a large red shed. On the way back a Monoplane machine attacked me from the rear. I banked my machine well over, and my gunlayer fired several shots at him. After this the shells started bursting so he descended. After this engagement my engine started missing and finally stopped. I landed near the village of Buc in Alsace. It was too dark to pick out level ground but I saw an open space and landed all right but my machine ran down a hill and one wing hit a tree. I found one bomb near the machine which had not been released. [F/S/L L.H. Parker, Breguet V 9175]
Although seven Breguets were still listed as available for service at the end of November 1916, they don't make another appearance among the monthly returns of machines available for service in No.3 Wing. Besides the two RNAS Breguet losses, the French lost an additional four Breguet IVs plus one Breguet V borrowed from the British and two Farmans. A French report after the raid recommended that the Breguet and Farman units could be better utilized if they were transformed into Sopwith users.
In return for their losses, No.3 Wing claimed two enemy aircraft. One by Sub.Lt Downes in a Sopwith fighter piloted by Flt/Cdr Jones and another last seen in a steep dive.
Leutnant Ludwig Hanstein brought down the first Sopwith Strutter lost by No. 3 Wing when he downed F/S/L Butterworth on the Oberndorf raid. This was also the first of 16 victores he was to score before being KIA on 21 March 1918 in combat with a Bristol F2b of No. 11 Sqdn. RFC flown by Lts. Sellers & Robson (VanWyngarden coll.)
Whether from the effect of our fire. Or intentional. I cannot say. [F/S/L L. E. Smith] by Gunlayer Jones in a fighter piloted by F/S/L L. E. Smith.
Around this time the French requested that No.3 Wing operate against German industry in the Saar region north of Nancy. The aerodrome at Ochey was offered by the French for their use, and Elder agreed to its selection, while Luxeuil would remain as the headquarters and maintenance base for the wing.
As raids can be carried out from Ochey without crossing the high mountain ranges as is necessary at Luxeuil Aerodrome, I consider that for the winter months at any rate Ochey is far better situated for carrying out raids than Luxeuil, as there are many objectives within range of this aerodrome, and I propose that the majority of the day raids should be carried out from it until more suitable weather can be expected. [Capt. W. L. Elder, OC No.3 Wing RNAS]
Prior to the move taking place W.Cdr. R.B. Davies had sent "two flights of bombers and all available fighters" to the Malzeville aerodrome at Nancy along with necessary stores and armament on 22 October 1916. Upon arrival, Davies was told that the French intended to make an attack on the iron works at Hagendingen on the night of the 22/23 and requested the British do the same the following morning. Accordingly, ten bombers, less the aircraft of F/S/L Burden which had crashed on take off, reached and bombed the target.
Although enemy aircraft were seen at various times throughout the flight, none were involved in combat. On the return journey F/S/L L. E. Smith dove his fighter at a German kite balloon, while AM Clegg fired a drum of ammunition into it with no noticeable result. Upon returning to the aerodrome at Malzeville, three more aircraft were damaged landing, no doubt due to...
the rough state of the aerodrome and the fact that it was a strange aerodrome prevented the pilots from selecting the best ground. [W.Cdr. R. B. Davies]
The weather over the next two weeks was even worse than previously and the Wing spent its time moving to the new base at Ochey. On 25 October 1916 Collishaw was ferrying Sopwith fighter 9407 to Ochey. As he was only going a short distance behind the lines he didn't bother with a rear gunner.
I was detailed to ferry one of the Sopwith fighters from Luxeuil to the new field. As it was a routine flight behind our own lines I saw no reason to take a rear gunner. For some reason I strayed further east than I intended and was jumped by six enemy scouts intent on my destruction. A stream of bullets from one of their number smashed my goggles, filling my eyes with powdered glass. I was hardly able to see and could do little more than fling my machine around in a vain attempt to throw them off. Gradually my sight began to return and I realised that my largely uncontrolled manoeuvering had brought me close to the ground. One of the German machines attempted to come down on me steeply from above, but miscalculated his dive and crashed into a tree. With each attack I waited until the enemy was about to open fire then turned inside him. In this way one finally flew across my nose and I sent several bursts into its engine and cockpit. He flipped over and went down almost vertically, whether he made it down safely or not I don't know. Diving into German territory, I shook off my pursuers momentarily, but they caught up with me and I flew deeper into Germany in an effort to shake them off. Finally I did so, and after flying back towards French territory prepared to land at an aerodrome I saw below. I put down and taxied in among the aircraft parked on the ground, and then it dawned on me that they bore the German Iron Cross marking ! I jammed the throttle forward and managed to take off, although I clipped off the tops of two trees close to the field. [F/S/L R. Collishaw, fighter 9407]
Ltn. Otto Kissenberth, seen here with a Pfalz Eindecker, got the first three of his eventual 20 victories on the 12 October Oberndorf raid.
The weather cleared on 9 November 1916, allowing operations to resume. Over the next three days the wing would attack the iron works and blast furnaces at Volklingen on the 10th and 11th, and at St.Ingbert on the 12th. On the 10 November 1916 raid 18 aircraft started out, consisting of ten bombers and eight fighters. fighter 9407 was flown by Flt/Cdr. Draper along with gunlayer Sub.Lt Pearkes. They were to claim two enemy aircraft downed. Draper's report states...
a Fokker approached from behind and the passenger fired half a tray. I turned immediately and opened fire... dive and turn, then climb, brought the enemy turning across my bows. I opened fire following him round until he suddenly dived and and was observed to be spinning to earth. [Flt/Cdr. C. Draper, fighter 9407]
The second was downed by Pearkes, again described by Draper.
Sighted two enemy aircraft two enemy biplanes. These two machines were engaged by turning quickly and meeting them end on. After manuevering and fighting continuosly (sic) for about ten minutes one was driven off and the other hung on to our tail. It is probable his gun had jammed as he approached close in without firing. Sub.Lt Pearkes fired a whole tray at him and he was seen to nose dive to earth. [Flt/Cdr. C. Draper, fighter 9407]
F/L Newberry and P.O. Rees were returning home in fighter 9722 when Newberry saw another Sopwith in trouble.
I saw Sopwith bomber 5088, pilot FSL Shearer engaged with a German two seater. I dived and fired ten shots, but was masked by the bomber and after the enemy had circled I got in about twenty, my gun layer an equal amount and in the last dive we each fired about twenty or more. The enemy then broke off and glided for about 4000 Ft, when it turned on its side and dived into a wood, this last being seen by Petty Officer Rees. [F/L J. D. Newberry, fighter 9722]
Of the bombers, all but F/S/L Wilson made it to Volklingen. He had returned to Luxeuil after failing to keep up with his flight on the way to the lines. The rest reported dropping their bombs on the target, but were unable to see the result owing to smoke. The following day saw a return to Volklingen, this time by a force of 14 bombers and seven fighters. Once again Shearer was in combat, but this time as the attacker when he...
saw two Huns just the other side of the lines. Dived and fired about twenty rounds at one of them. They immediately turned and I saw no more of them. [F/S/L A. B. Shearer, bomber N5088]
Other aircraft involved in combat this day included 9669 (F/S/L G. G. MacLennan) who was attacked by an EA over the target which was driven off by W.Cdr. Davies and AM Pinchen in 9667.
9722 (Newberry and Rees) engaged a Roland, upon which Rees fired a drum with no result noted. Flt/Cdr. Draper and AM Allen in 9407 also were kept busy....
Left with 'A' Flight No.1 Squadron. Got left very much behind about half way owing to engine running very badly. Enemy biplane sighted on port bow. Went in pursuit opening fire immediately to which the enemy replied. Fired about sixty rounds at him continuosly until he dived to earth. While watching his descent I was attacked from the rear by three enemy biplanes who were diving at me. Passenger did not open fire as he thought they were Sopwiths, so I dived about 1000 ft. and then turned climbing again. Enemy machines also dived and passenger open fire after we flattened out. It is doubtful whether they were hit at all as range was long. Two other machines were sighted in the distance and very high up, but owing to engine running badly I decided to return. [Flt/Cdr. C. Draper, fighter 9407]
All the aircraft returned safely, although F/S/L G. S. Harrower was originally posted as missing. He had become lost, and not wanting to land in German territory he flew west until he was sure he was beyond the German lines. However due to the strength of the wind he was carried well beyond Ochey and eventually crash-landed near Dijon - over 100 miles from Ochey. On 12 November 1916 the blast furnaces at St.Ingbert were raided by nine bombers and seven fighters. Once again all aircraft returned safely with a typical report being that of F/S/L Macgregor flying bomber 9733...
Nothing of importance happened, either going out or on the return journey. When I dropped my bombs, I could see no other machines in the air, so I came back alone. [F/S/L N. M. Macgregor, bomber 9733]
The weather returned to its previous dismal self and operational flying was once again on hold. In the meantime Harrower continued his adventure in Dijon.
On Nov 20, while making a forced landing near Dijon, my machine crashed into and killed a horse! I was coming into a very suitable field, quite low, and saw some horses in a corner of the field opposite and well away from the spot I had picked to land. When just about to make the landing I perceived a horse galloping towards the machine, so altered course as much as possible, but the horse must have been mad with fright and headed straight for the machine. There was not sufficent speed to bring the machine over the horse, or height to turn. So my only course was to keep on trusting that the horse would turn off, but this unfortunately did not not happen, the result being that the machine struck the horse and killed it. It was an unfortunate affair but one which under the circumstances could not be avoided. [F/S/L G. S. Harrower]
The aggrieved farmer put in a claim for damages because the unfortunate mare, Mademoiselle de Machefein, was about to foal, and since the sire was a champion and Mademoiselle de Machefein was related to eight other winners and had herself won 12,000 francs in prize money, he had expected to get 10,000 francs for her.
23 November 1916 dawned foggy, and preparations were made to carry out a raid. However a flight to test the weather conditions at 1:30 P.M. showed the weather still hadn't cleared in the valleys and the raid was cancelled. Flt/Cdr. Draper then asked permission for himself and the other fighters to carry out a patrol along the line near Nancy and Luneville. They set out five strong, but F/L Feeny and F/S/L Collishaw had to return due to engine problems. The three remaining aircraft of Draper, F/L C. B. Dalison and F/S/L L. E. Smith then ran into two enemy aircraft and Draper along with his gunlayer SLt. Barker, flying in 9722, brought one down, later confirmed by a French observation post.
The weather continued fine on the 24th of November and nine bombers and seven fighters set off for the blast furnaces at Dillingen. Two enemy aircraft attacked the fighters of Draper/Barker (9407) and F.L Dalison/SLt. Fraser (9739).
Two enemy aircraft attacked No.16, Flt/Cdr Draper, and myself in turn. My Gunlayer Sub Lieut Fraser emptied a tray and a half into one machine, the other left the fight. The first machine was then tackled by No.16, and he finally dived straight at me. I stalled slightly to get my front gun at him, and was able to fire 100 rounds or so right into his engine and fuselage from point blank. An explosive bullet hit the centre section, a splinter hitting the top of my leg. He passed a few feet above my top plane and then wavered, spun and dived and I observed him fall to bits in the air before hitting the ground over a wood NE of Delmo. [F/L C. B. Dalison, fighter 9739]
Another line patrol was flown on 3 December 1916 at the request of the French who had reported German aircraft over the front. Seven fighters went up and four engaged the enemy. The fighter of F/S/L R. F. Redpath/SLt. Lemon was attacked by a 'small fast two-seater, presumably a Roland.'
The preferred state for the Breguet V. Shown here is 9196 with the personnel being unidentified. (P. Breille via J.M. Bruce/G.S. Leslie Collection.
The enemy and my observer opened fire about same time. Whilst Observer was changing pans my petrol pipe and elevator control were hit by explosive bullets, the damage to the pipe putting the machine out of commission. I immediately dived towards lines, followed by enemy shooting all the time until I was within 1,500 Ft of ground. my observer endeavoured to continue fire with Lewis Gun and should have done some damage had not the gas regulator key come adrift. Landed at Aman, about 3 or 4 miles in French ground at 12:10, and was able to bring my machine back after lunch. [F/S/L R. F. Redpath, fighter 9730]
As a result of this experience Redpath recommended that: the hand air pump be changed to a more accessible position; that the Lewis gun be examined with a view to adequately securing the gas regulator key; that the front gun be speeded up to give it a higher rate of fire, more in line with that of the German fighters; that Sopwith fighters should have 130 h.p. Clerget engines as their performance is not good enough against the present German fighters; finally, that future fighting patrols should send the aircraft off in pairs and stay together. 9722 flown by F/L Newberry and F/S/L Burden engaged a two-seater Aviatik. As Newberry's report states they also had problems with the rear Lewis.
A two-seater Aviatik was sighted approaching from Nancy and it was engaged by stalling the machine in order to get the front gun up the extra 500 ft. of altitude. The Lewis was out of action due to the gas regulator key and foresight being lost. About 200 rounds were fired the enemy replying from the rear seat, but with very little effect on either side. Eventually we attained the height of the enemy and fired, these shots appeared to take effect, and the enemy turned sharp left and disappeared NE. [F/L C.B. Newberry, fighter 9722]
On 27 December 1916, the weather over Ochey cleared enough to allow operations to resume. The blast furnaces at Dillingen were once again to be the objective for the 11 bombers and five fighters starting out. The fighter of F/L Dalison broke its propeller on taking off, while F/S/Ls Edwards and Glen both returned due to engine trouble. Over Dillingen itself, the target was obscured by clouds and haze so it was impossible to observe the results of the 2340 lbs. of bombs dropped. Flying bomber 9742 was F/S/L R. F. Redpath.
Reached Dillingen alright. Very cloudy over objective and accurate bomb dropping was very difficult, but I think all bombs hit target, although I could not see enough to mark any bomb bursts. There was not much anti-aircraft fire over lines. The anti-aircraft at objectives was very good. I did not see any hostile machines. [F/S/L R. F. Redpath, bomber 9742]
Once again all aircraft returned safely. Although in some accounts Collishaw is reported to have been shot down, his report that day states...
Left Ochey at 12.40 p.m. on December 27th with 1st Squadron as fighter. My machine had more power than the bombers so I was able to manoeuvre anywhere. Crossed the lines at 11,000 ft. in formation. Some shelling when over the lines. We then passed over some clouds with clear patches to guide our path. It was a long trip out against a strong wind, but the target was quite visible. I followed FSL Shearer down to 6,000 ft. at the objective and observed the bombs strike within the objective from his machine. On our way home I flew alongside Squadron Commander Rathborne and noticed a hostile machine off to one side, but he did not close. Returned in formation to Ochey at 2.45 p.m. [F/S/L R. Collishaw, fighter 9667]
The New Year found a continuation of the bad weather and it wasn't until 23 January 1917 that it cleared sufficiently to allow operations to resume. However the temperature had plummeted and this brought about delays, with many of the aircraft suffering engine failures or not starting at all. This threw the flight crews into confusion since they were having trouble forming up. Further, they had just been reorganized, and many of them hadn't had the chance to fly together yet, with the result that only 16 of the 24 aircraft starting out reached the blast furnaces at Burbach. In addition to the aircraft, the crews themselves suffered from the cold with five of the airmen being severely frost-bitten despite being well-greased with whale oil.
Ran into another machine on ground, damaging my own, started up with another bomber, and at 4,000 ft. or so had engine trouble, siezing (sic) up. Managed to reach airfield by gliding. [F/S/L J. E. Sharman, bombers 9724 & N5124]
Was delayed in getting off the ground, and was unable to pick up flight. [F/S/L S. T. Edwards, bomber 9706]
Trouble starting engine, could not keep up with flight so I turned back at Nancy. [F/S/L W. E. Flett, bomber N5126] "Was unable to start engine. [F/S/L Keens, bomber N5198]
F/S/L Les Parker was one of the few men in the RNAS to pilot a Breguet V on an operational flight when he fley 9175 on the 12 October 1916 raid on Oberndorf. Note the flight marking on the side of 9179. (J.M. Bruce/G.S. Leslie collection)
Of the remaining aircraft, ten bombers reached Burbach and found the weather to be clear and felt that considerable damage was done by the 2,600 lbs of bombs dropped.
Strong N.E. wind, quite cold at 10,000 Ft. A.A. at lines not excessive. A.A. at target fired after we had dropped our bombs. Target very large and excellent, could hardly be missed. Observed two huns but they did not come in. [F/L G. G. MacLennan, bomber 9669]
Kept with flight right to objective, then descending to 8000 Ft. dropped bombs. Turned to see, but could not observe explosion. Visibility good over objective. [F/S/L Walker, bomber N5107]
The German fighter force was found to be in larger numbers than previously reported, with nine aircraft having combats.
On return engaged a small machine which we believe was a Halberstadt Scout, and a much faster machine than a Sopwith. After a lively fight the German machine made off. Pursuit was futile on account of its great speed. [F/S/L McNeil, fighter 5174]
McNeil's observer, Sub.Lt. Pearkes was frustrated by repeated jamming of his Lewis gun and found the size of the ammunition drum to be a disadvantage.
Again it was demonstrated how useless are the small trays of ammunition on the Lewis Gun in a fight with an enemy machine, as the enemy is continually firing whilst the trays are being changed on the Lewis Gun, and owing to the great cold it is frequently hard to change a tray quickly. Cheeks and nose were frostbitten. [Sub.Lt Pearkes, fighter N5174]
Flying in fighter 9730 was F/S/L R. Collishaw.
When the flight was over Wallersburg railway junction I noticed one of our flight of ten going towards the earth in a spiral, and thought it to be one of our machines until I counted our flight and came to the correct number, so concluded it must be an enemy machine. Not long afterwards a small machine resembling a Baby Nieuport closed our flight, and proceeded to attack him, but after a short series of manoeuvering he went off the southward. [F/S/L R. Collishaw, fighter 9730]
Perhaps the spinning aircraft seen by Collishaw was a victim of one of the other fighters flying as escort to 'B' flight, No.1 Sqdn... For F/L Dalison/AM Pinchen also had a combat with 'Nieuports'.
Accompanied 'B' Flight Red Squadron to Burbach as fighter... On return journey was attacked by two German Nieuports. These machines were only marked on the rudder, whilst the fuselage was painted brown and green like a French Nieuport, the only difference being the shape of the engine cowling. Pilots should take especial note of this as they are very easily mistaken for French machines. Both machines withdrew after a short fight during which the German machines fired a lot, and we fired about 150 rounds from my front gun, and about two trays from the back. It is thought that one was badly hit. The cold was intense. [F/L C. B. Dalison, fighter N5173]
Sopwith bomber 9660 had been delivered to No. 3 Wing on 6 July 1916 and was lost with F/S/L Charles Butterworth on the 12 October 1916 raid on Oberndorf. Unlike most other Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutters of No. 3 Wing, 9660 had its wing and tailplane uppersurfaces finished in PC10, with the fuselage being left in plain fabric. Also note roundel proportions. (Artwork by the author)
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 previous night the first of the new Handley Page 0/100s, 1460, had set off to attack the iron works at Hagendingen at 2.45 a.m. However the high wind which was a feature on the Brebach/M?rchingen raid the next morning prevented the crew of Sqdn.Cdr. Babington, Lt.Cdr. Stedman, Sub.Lt. Hains and Adjutant Chayard (a French guide) from reaching their target before daylight and they returned to Ochey at 3.50 a.m. The night of 16/17 March found the same crew once more setting off for the Hagendingen iron works. This time they were able to drop their bombs, not, however on Hagendingen.
No.1460, crew as before, with 12 bombs left for Hagendingen 10.15 pm. Weather, clear sky, no moon, mist in valleys, wind N. Left aerodrome at 2000 feet steering direct for target. 11.15 abrest of Metz - sky obscured to northward by banks of clouds and mist on rivers. Wind at 6000 feet, 37 miles per hour, direction NE. Unable to distinguish objective due to clouds and mist, selected target at Moulins-les-Metz. Discharged bombs, eleven of which were observed to explode in close proximity of target. Landed at Ochey 11.25 p.m. [Sqdn.Cdr. Babington, Handley Page 0/100 1460]
On this occasion twelve 100-lb. bombs had been carried, with one bomb jamming in its guides and Lt.Cdr. Stedman having to clear it by hand.
The Handley Page 0/100 was the first of the new twin-engined bombers to enter British service. With a capacity of between ten and 16 112-lb. bombs, the 0/100 was to be the future of strategic bombing. The first of these in France was 1459, which had joined No.3 Wing on 4 November 1916, with 1460 following shortly after. However it wasn't until March 1917 that they were felt to be ready for operational use, as they had undergone numerous teething troubles in the intervening months since their arrival at Ochey. While in France Nos. 1459 and 1460 formed the unnumbered 'Handley Page Squadron' under Sqdn.Cdr. John Babington, although operating under the orders of No.3 Wing.
Following this first raid by 1460, Elder sent a letter to the Admiralty in which he put forward the suitability of Ochey for further Handley Page operations.
The Aerodrome at Ochey is in every way suitable for night raiding of a large number of this type of machine, and the vast majority of industrial Germany should be within comparatively easy range. It is therefore submitted that as many more Handley Page machines as possible may be sent to operate from Ochey; the accomodation there would be able to house 16 to 20 of those machines without any difficulty.
In connection with this it is understood that Handley Pages Nos. 1457 and 1458 have been allocated to this station some months, have not materialized. [Capt. W. L. Elder, OC No.3 Wing]
Nos. 1457 and 1458 were never to arrive at Luxeuil or Ochey. In fact, 1457 had been crashed at Manston on 28 Dec 1916, and was deleted on 22 January 1917, while 1458 stayed in England and was wrecked by 31 March 1917.
Operations by the Sopwiths continued on 22 March 1917, with a planned return to the blast furnaces at Brebach by seven bombers and three fighters. Yet again this was to be changed due to weather conditions in the Saar valley, and Burbach was instead attacked by six bombers and three fighters less the bomber of F/S/L Drummond who had landed at Malzeville aerodrome with a frozen oil pump. The remaining six bombers reached the objective and dropped 24 65-lb. bombs.
Left to right: Gus Edwards, Maurice Stephens, Art Whealy, Quinn Shirrif, Walker. Stephens was later involved in an accidental explosion on 23 Feb 1917 when a bomb hung up in the rack of his Sopwith bomber and fell off while he was taxiing towards the hangar. Two airmen were killed and Stephens lost a leg.(W.R.Walker via S.K. Taylor)
No enemy aircraft were encountered on this flight, although one had been seen in the distance. Once again it was the weather that had to be overcome. The sky had been clear when the formation left Ochey at 7.45 a.m., but within a half hour of their departure heavy cloud began to be encountered. As a result of this, the entire flight overshot Ochey on their return and they landed on the Chaumont, Joinville and St. Didier aerodromes, returning to Ochey later that day. Another problem had been a cold stream of air above 8,000 feet, this led to frostbitten aircrew and frozen compasses.
Led the flight to the objective at Brebach, but as heavy clouds were over this objective I decided to attack the alternative objective at Burbach. Visibility was bad, but the objective being a large one I observed several explosions in the neighbourhood of the works. After 7,000 feet it was very cold. On the return journey my compass froze and there being clouds over Ochey I landed at Joinville, returning to Ochey later. [F/S/L Dissette, bomber N5115]
By now the handwriting was on the wall, and No.3 Wing was to be disbanded. On 25 March, Elder had received Admiralty Telegram 1915.
giving directions as to the disposal of the remaining personnel, machines, workshop machinery, etc. [Capt. W. L. Elder, OC No.3 Wing]
On 1 April 1917, Elder was told to postpone the dismantling of the Wing until after a reprisal raid on Freiburg had been carried out. This was the result of the Germans sinking the hospital ship Asturias on 20 March.
Before this raid took place, the Handley Page Squadron was active once again on the night of 5/6 April.
Owing to the unfavorable weather, high wind and mist, a short distance objective was selected, viz., the railway junction at Arnaville.... The machine left the ground at 23h.40m and arrived at the objective at 0h.45m, at which time the bombs were dropped. Landing at the aerodrome was effected at 1h.20m.
Twelve 100lb bombs were dropped and were observed to explode on the railway station and surrounding buildings. The fall was observed by the Gunlayer and the Guide.
A good deal of difficulty was experienced on account of the fog, and it is due to the good work carried out by Lieut. Le Couteau that the machine was able to reach the objective.
Machine 1459 also left the aerodrome.... Owing to the weather conditions the raid was abandoned on the advice of Adjutant Chazard, who again shewed (sic) exceptional knowledge of the surrounding country under difficult conditions.
The machine landed with the bombs in position after 50 minutes flight. [Lt.Cdr. E. W. Stedman, Handley Page Sqdn.]
The crew of 1460 was F/S/L E. B. Waller, Sub.Lt. D. R. C. Wright, Lieut. Le Couteau and L.M. Arnold. 1459 was crewed by F/S/L J. F. Jones, Sub.Lt. P. Bewsher, Adj. Chazard and P.O. Dixon.
F/Cdr. Christopher Draper. One of the true characters of the RNAS, Draper had served with the RNAS since January 1914 and was a founding member of No. 3 Wing. Later serving with No.6(N), 8(N), and 208 squadrons, being commanding officer of 8(N)/208. His autobiography is entitled "The Mad Major".
(J.M. Bruce/G.S. Leslie)
The final raids flown by the Handley Page crews while under No.3 Wing control, came on the night of 13/14 April. Handley Page 1459 was assigned to the iron works at Hagendingen.
...at 2.17 a.m. Handley Page Machine 1459 left the aerodrome at OCHEY, circling until an altitude of 3000 feet was attained. By this time the moon had risen sufficiently to see the ground, there was a slight mist in the valleys.
We proceeded northwards towards the lines, which were crossed at 2.50 a.m. METZ was immediately visible, being brilliantly lighted. The country surrounding was also full of lights, and towards THIONVILLE many large fires at the blast furnace could be observed.
Before reaching the objective, no searchlights were observed. A few inaccurate shells burst up to the left. We arrived at the objective, which was clearly visible, at 3.12 a.m. I flew over it, but owing to a misunderstanding with l'Adjutant Chazard, I commenced to turn before the observer had finished sighting. I made a circuit and flew over the objective again, when the bombs were released and were observed by the French guide to hit the works. [F/S/L Jones, Handley Page 1459]
Handley Page1460 was delayed due to engine troubles and went to the nearer target of Chambley.
Due to magneto trouble of the port engine the departure was delayed one hour and acting on the advice of the French guide, Lt le Coutealx, the objective was changed from the iron works at HAGENDINGEN to the objective of CHAMBLEY. The machine left the aerodrome at 2h.55m. a.m. and after reaching a height of 3000 feet proceeded on course, climbing to an altitude of 8000 feet by the time of reaching the objective. Twelve 100lb bombs were released at 3h.55m. a.m. and are thought to have been effective on the depot and aerodrome close by. The machine was continually in the rays of the searchlights while on the other side of the lines. Very heavy anti-aircraft fire was observed, but sighting and range was very poor. Landing was effected at 4h.26m a.m. at the aerodrome. [F/S/L E. B. Waller, Handley Page 1460]
The Sopwith flights of No.3 Wing had returned to Luxeuil to prepare for the 'Reprisal Raid' on Freiburg, and by 14 April 1917 they were ready. In addition to the normal load of four 65-lb. bombs, leaflets were to be dropped stating the reason for the raid.
Two flights of No.2 Sqdn. left Luxeuil at 11.50 a.m., unfortunately 'B' Flight of seven bombers and four fighters was unable to form up properly and returned to base by 12.30 with the exception of W.Cdr. Rathborne/AM V. Turner who decided to add his fighter to the escort of 'A' Flight, replacing F/S/L Reid/AM Barker who had returned with engine trouble. The remainder, consisting of eight bombers and four fighters, were then led by F/S/L Sharman on to Freiburg.
Crossed lines at 11,000 feet between Thann and Gobweiler. Shelling not extraordinary. Saw no enemy machines before reaching objective. Aimed at railroad station on Western edge of town - overshot slightly. Remainder of flight dropping after myself hit town quite centrally. I observed numerous bursts in the central part of the town. Made a detour to the left around the Kaiserstuhl. Just North of this hill, before we crossed the Rhine I observed three biplanes (probably Fokker biplanes) coming up below us from the Colmar aerodromes. In a minute or two they attacked our fighters slightly below my level and in the rear, directly behind me as I was leading. After several passes one of them dived vertically in a twisting dive to the right of our fighter, and disappeared from my field of vision on account of my tailplane. I later found that this was FSL Flett's fighter and I am of the opinion that his gunlayer must have destroyed the machine. Returned via Corsiuex to avoid Colmar aerodrome machines. [F/S/L J. E. Sharman, bomber, 9724]
Flett's gunlayer, AM Kimberly had indeed downed one of the attacking 'Fokkers'.
A short distance after leaving the objective, and short of the Rhine we were attacked by six enemy machines, coming up from the right and behind under my right wing. My gunlayer opened fire at point blank range with both guns. I turned my head and saw a Roland bank directly over my tail not 20 feet off, the tracers simply pouring into his fuselage from the three Lewis's. I turned inwards towards the next fighter, (Lt.Col Rathborne). He was on my level and directly to my left - both his guns were pouring out tracers. In doing this turn I exposed what looked like a Fokker biplane under tail at very close range. My gunlayer simply riddled this machine and I saw it turn on its nose and spin downwards. My controls gave a tug and went slack sending me into a stall. I put forward my empennage and stick to their full extent and just managed to hold my height, but could only make 40 knots. My elevator control on one side having been cut and two bracing wires in my tail plane. We were attacked again shortly after I was in this helpless state, my Gunlayer driving this enemy machine off. I saw one more enemy machine, pointed out to me by my Gunlayer, but it did not come into close range. I was heavily shelled crossing the lines and landed in a small aerodrome, Corsieux. My gunlayer was wounded in leg and wrist in the first fight. He showed the gameness of a tiger and his shooting was wonderful [F/S/L W. E. Flett, fighter 9654]
Capt. Elder also singled Gunlayer R. G. Kimberley out for praise in his report to the Admiralty.
...was slightly wounded in the wrist, which numbed his hand. Notwithstanding this he succeeded in bringing down two of the enemy machines, being again wounded by an explosive bullet in the ankle.... the Scarff mounting was hit three times.... [Capt. W. L. Elder, OC No.3 Wing]
The other three fighters were also involved in combat, and only F/S/L W. M. Alexander/AM Lovelock in 9401 returned. F/L Fleming had the tail of his aircraft blown off and both he and gunlayer Lockyer died in the crash of 9667. W.Cdr. Rathborne and AM Turner in N5171 were shot down by Vzfw. Gustav Schindler of Jasta 35, with Rathborne being taken POW and Turner killed.
That afternoon F/S/L J. E. Sharman volunteered to lead 'B' Flight on a return to Freiburg. Accordingly they set out at 3.50 p.m. with seven bombers and three fighters. In the morning Sharman had been able to avoid enemy fighters on the journey to Freiburg, and was able to do so once again in the afternoon. All seven bombers were able to drop their bombs on Freiburg, reporting fires in the center of the city.
Dropped my four bombs on Freiburg, under heavy fire. Saw one very large fire in the town and several small ones. After leaving objective saw behind me one enemy machine and two of ours having a fight, but was unable to observe result. Shortly afterwards one of my exhaust valve rockers broke, damaging three other rockers. This reduced my speed considerably and I dropped behind the Flight. I crossed the lines at again at 14,000 feet under heavy fire and seeing Pont St.Vincent in the distance, eventually went to Ochey and landed there at 7 p.m. [F/S/L D Fitz-Gibbon, bomber N5531]
As the formation neared the lines they once again ran into enemy fighters. F/S/L Harold Edwards/AM Coghlan (N5117) and F/S/L Pattison/P.O. Hinkler were able to bring down one of the enemy machines.
Was the last machine to cross objective and observed great damage in the centre of the objective, done by the Flight that had bombed in the morning.... Five miles Northwest of the objective engaged a fast enemy machine who was attacking another fighter, and observed the fire of my Gunlayer to hit all along the fuselage whereupon he immediately fell quickly towards the ground in a spinning nose dive. After the fight, observed our fighter loosing (sic) height slowly - FSL H Edwards, I think. Seven miles from the lines engine cut out, but managed to glide two miles into France and landed in the Vosges Mountains. [F/S/L Pattison, fighter 9708]
Edwards was less fortunate than Pattison and ended up landing in German lines and was taken POW, while his gunlayer, AM J. L. Coghlan was killed. They had been shot down by Vzfw. Rudolf Rath of Jasta 35. One further loss was F/S/L Dissette in bomber N5530. He was damaged by AA fire while crossing the lines, but was able to make it over to the French side, whereupon his machine was shelled by German artillery.
Was shelled very heavily when recrossing the lines and think my machine must have been struck, because it suddenly gave a violent lurch and then vibrated to such an extent that I immediately shut off engine, and glided as far West as possible, finally landing behind the French lines. About five minutes after I landed the enemy started to shell the machine, the range being about three kilometres. I counted twenty five shells, none of which took effect. [F/S/L A. C. Dissette, bomber N5501]
F/S/L Redpath seen here with one of No. 3 Wings Strutters. Note cellon panel in upper wing and finish to the cowl. (J.M. Bruce/G.S. Leslie)
As well as the British, the French had also sent off six Sopwith bombers, five Sopwith fighters, three Nieuports and a SPAD. These were able to return with no losses, despite following the second flight to Freiburg. Capt. Elder attributed this to the fact that the French had adequate fighter protection for their bombing machines, whereas the Sopwith fighter was now no match for the current generation of German fighters that No.3 Wing found in opposition.
I would point out that this is due to their six bombing machines being accompanied by nine fighting machines, which included three Nieuports and one SPAD as well as the Sopwith fighters; the latter are now quite outclassed by the German type of machines, and no longer form adequate protection to the bombing machines. It is only through the self-sacrifice of the three missing fighter pilots and their Gunlayers that all our bombing machines returned safely. [Capt. W. L. Elder, OC No.3 Wing]
This brought No.3 Wing RNAS operations to an end. The aircrew and ratings were posted away to fill the requirements of the squadrons supporting the RFC, although Elder and a few others were to linger on until June 1917. As to their aircraft, the decision was taken to transfer the majority of the remaining aircraft to the French Air Service. The bulk of these were turned over on 19/20 April 1917. Elder later wrote a short summary of No.3 Wing's history, the conclusion of which he stated...
Notwithstanding the fact that the majority of these raids were carried out during the winter months and just when the weather was improving most of the best pilots were appointed to Dunkirk, I consider that the work done during a phenomenally bad winter has been more than would be reasonably anticipated. [Capt. W. L. Elder]