Author Topic: On this Day (WWI aviation news)  (Read 27855 times)

Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #390 on: February 24, 2023, 07:31:39 AM »
Ambush in the North Sea

Before dawn, 15 March 1918, two Curtiss H-12B's took wing from the Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe.  Their assignment: escort a convoy of merchant vessels supplying beef between England and Holland.  Manning the turret gun of one flying boat was Ensign Albert Dillon Sturtevant, an American Ivy Leaguer in British service.  Nearly halfway home they were ambushed by a flock of Hansa-Brandenburgs (presumably W.12's):
(respectively from the Knoxville Independent and the Watchman & Southron, 23 February 1918):

   


"The flight continued uneventfully with nothing in sight except choppy seas.... the two machines roared along about eight hundred yards apart.  Suddenly dropping out of the low clouds, right between the two flying boats, ten German seaplanes dove and, in a carefully orchestrated ambush, separated into two wolfpacks.  Each went after a flying boat.  Faux {the other plane's pilot}, on the western, homebound side of the attackers, immediately turned toward England.  He dropped his depth charges to lighten his load and then plunged down within a few dozen feet of the sea.  Not having had time to retract his radio antenna in the sudden evasive dive, its end struck the surface and tore away.  Unable to call for help, he could only flee for home.  Three German machines chased Faux for several miles before turning back to join the attack on Purdy's lone aircraft.

With the German fighters between him and home, Purdy {piloting Sturtevant's plane} threw his flying boat full throttle on a due south course.  He had no hope of outrunning his attackers.  The buzzing German seaplanes darted in, two by two, guns blazing. Sturtevant at the nosegun and the engineer and navigator to the rear fired off burst after burst at their attackers who came sweeping in from below and above, bow and stern.  The running gunfight continued southward.  Purdy kept trying desperately to turn toward the safety of England.  Each time he banked, the seaplanes darted in like ravenous mosquitoes stinging the soft underbelly.  The flying boat was being drawn ever closer to the enemy strongholds along the Belgian coast.

Whether by radio signals or sheer misfortune for the British flying boat, another German squadron flew out from the shore. Although the men on Purdy's ship could not know it, the leader of the German squadron, Oberleutnant Friedrich Christiansen, was one of Germany's most feared airfighters.  With his arrival, the game was over.  The flock of German aircraft raked the lumbering British hotel until the oil and gas tanks burst.  Her canvas and wood hull caught fire, and she rolled over and fell into the sea. The triumphant Germans circled over the wreckage several times and then left it burning on the water.

Later that afternoon, Christiansen returned and found the wreckage still afloat. Three men clinging to the debris waved to him. He circled overhead, but the seas were running dangerously high and on the horizon he could see British destroyers patrolling.  He did not dare land.  Christiansen, like many pilots of the war, came from aristocratic origins and was steeped in the chivalrous tradition of respecting his foes.  His opponents, once downed, were victims in need of aid.  Seeing the helpless survivors, he would, he later reported, have landed to ferry them to safety, had he not feared for his own safety.  He expected that their comrades would come to their rescue.  The next day, though, when he came out to the site of the wreckage again, all signs of it along with any survivors had vanished.
"
(Marc Wortman, The Millionaire's Unit: The Aristocratic Flyboys who Fought the Great War and Invented American Airpower, p. 160-162)

Sturtevant is said to be the first American naval aviator to die in combat during the Great War.  He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross and three U.S. Navy ships have since been named after him.  Evidently some time after the Armistice, Sturtevant's father travelled to Europe and directly contacted Friedrich Christiansen (who headlined here back on May 23 for shooting down another American in another flying boat) in a vain attempt to learn more of his son's fate.

Check out forum member lcarroll's 1/32nd-scale WNW diorama of Christiansen's Hansa-Brandenberg W.12 at Zeebrugge in 1917: https://forum.ww1aircraftmodels.com/index.php?topic=8358.0
« Last Edit: June 04, 2023, 12:51:54 PM by PJ Fisher »

Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #391 on: February 25, 2023, 12:50:33 AM »
U.S. Looking for Leather
Clearly the Germans weren't the only ones scrounging secondhand (https://forum.ww1aircraftmodels.com/index.php?topic=12930.msg252362#msg252362) in the war effort to supply their aviators.
(from the Donaldsville Chief, 24 February 1918):

« Last Edit: May 27, 2023, 01:13:07 PM by PJ Fisher »

Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #392 on: February 26, 2023, 01:16:39 AM »
Lost Germans Land at English Aerodrome; Politely Ask for Petrol
(from the Rogue River Courier, 25 February 1916):

« Last Edit: March 10, 2023, 09:08:54 AM by PJ Fisher »

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #393 on: February 27, 2023, 04:16:45 AM »
Observation Airplane Saves Entire Army
The decoration of two anonymous airmen by Kaiser Wilhelm II made international news today.  This article is a good reminder of the influential tactical role aircraft played during the opening phases of both sides of the war before the stalemate of trench warfare.  Anyone have an idea as to who these iron-cross recipients may be?
(from the Hawaiian Gazette, 26 February 1915):

« Last Edit: February 27, 2023, 04:21:38 AM by PJ Fisher »

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #394 on: February 28, 2023, 12:58:40 AM »
Popped over Champagne
This supposed live-action photo of a British aviator by a German anti-aircraft gun is claimed as authentic, though I have my doubts.  I also searched for 'Lieutenant Ferrick' in the RFC personnel database on www.airhistory.org.uk, but found nothing.  Regardless, it imprints a clear reminder that Great War aviators faced all sorts of perils while in the air... even from the ground.  I suppose there's no greater example of this than Richtofen's final flight.
(from the Tombstone Epitaph, 27 February 1915):


Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #395 on: March 01, 2023, 03:45:09 AM »
Churchill Soars in a Sopwith
Not just any Sopwith; rather, one that the First Lord of the Admiralty chose especially for himself. 

"In late 1913, Churchill’s eye was caught by a scaled up version of the Tabloid known as the “Sopwith Sociable” because the two-man crew was seated side-by-side rather than in tandem... Churchill liked the design of the Sociable because the aircraft would permit the First Lord to inspect the fleet from the air. He therefore requested that the RNAS place an order for the Sociable and in December 1913 dictated the general specifications... Among the Admiralty’s requirements outlined in the contract were that the accommodation should be “roomy” and the seats especially upholstered in leather, widely reported to have been specified by Churchill for his own comfort."

Churchill joined Lt. Spenser Grey for this quick blip only three days after the Sociable's first flight. The plane was assigned serial #149 and thereafter became unofficially known as Sopwith 'Churchill'.  Despite praise in the press (The Aeroplane noted, "It is an excellent piece of work throughout.”) only this one example was constructed. 
(from the Atlanta Georgian, 28 February 1914):

.

When Britain joined the war, the Sociable/Churchill crossed the Channel with No.3 Squadron, where it was stationed in Belgium and was fitted with an extra fuel tank and a bomb rack. An interesting anecdote of one mission is recalled by H.King in Sopwith Aircraft 1912-1920 (Putnam):

"Dates and details of raids at this period are difficult to determine with absolute accuracy; but that Spenser Grey 'lost' a bomb from No.149 seems well-founded; this projectile supposedly having vibrated off the 'pipe-rack' holder provided for it, together with an additional number of other bombs.  C. G. Grey... related the circumstances which followed 149's return to Antwerp (having got itself ‘completely lost’)... ‘When Spenser Grey and Newton-Clare... landed they saw a vacant space in the pipe-rack which showed that one of the bombs had vibrated itself off.  They only hoped that it had fallen in Germany and not in Belgium. 'After dinner they were sitting in the lounge of their hotel - war was a comfortable game in those days - when an excited Belgian staff-officer dashed in and told them that a complaint had come from the Dutch Government that one of the Allied aeroplanes had dropped a bomb in the city of Maastricht, and had blown up a school and some houses and had killed a lot of women and children, and that the Dutch Government were seriously contemplating declaring war on Belgium. Spenser turned to Newton-Clare and remarked 'That must have been a damned good bomb.'"

Alas, 149's operational career was short as, needing repair, it was abandoned to advancing German troops during the fast-moving early phase of the war.  It was formally struck off charge in late October 1914.  This single plane also had a third nickname.  The Grub Street Dictionary of International Aircraft Nicknames, Variants and Colloquial Terms, notes the following: "...the one-off Sopwith two-seat biplane of 1914 was also referred to as the Tweenie (the contemporary term for a 'between floors' maid) as it came between the RFC's 80hp three-seater and the Tabloid in Sopwith's current family".  Somewhere in storage I've a set of 1/72 wings completed and a few other details for this bird.  Maybe one day I'll bring it to life.
« Last Edit: April 08, 2023, 02:28:25 AM by PJ Fisher »

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #396 on: March 02, 2023, 02:55:02 AM »
Bad Day for the Allies
(from the Bisbee Daily Review, 03-01-1917):


Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #397 on: March 03, 2023, 10:03:13 AM »
Forgotten Airfield
For those who may not know, immediately south of Manhattan in New York Harbor, near Ellis and Liberty Islands, is a spit of land known as Governor's Island.  Though I live most of the year in Manhattan, I never knew Governor's Island was tricked out with an airfield during the Great War.  Looking at the image below, one can see the Statue of Liberty waving on the horizon. Not sure what the contraption is on the left but those look like a pair of Curtiss JN's in the background.  This airstrip is long gone, but I believe at one point Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia (who headlined here on Feb 5) once tried to put a national airport on Governors Island.  That sure would have made getting into the city so much quicker!  For another bit of (debatable) trivia, a webpage dedicated to the island (governorsilandguide.com) claims "the first time an airplane flew over water" occurred here when Wilbur Wright lashed canoe to one of their Flyers in October 1909.  Details:

"Wilbur sent a letter to Orville with the precautions he’d take before going to Governors Island: 'So I have gone back to my old plan of mounting a canoe under the center of the machine, well forward… Of course, I do not expect to come down, but if I do I will be reasonably safe'.  The plane was shipped to Fort Jay and assembled on the Island. As the legend goes, a few days before the flight, Wilbur Wright went into a hunting and sporting goods store on Broadway and purchased a canvas-covered canoe to affix to his aircraft.

One of the greatest spectacles in city history was about to play out for Wright’s flight. As many as 1,600 vessels were in New York Harbor: 20 U.S. Navy battleships, part of the Royal Navy fleet, naval ships from Argentina, France, Germany, Mexico, and the Netherlands. Pleasure boats and private yachts anchored off Governors Island nearby ferryboats, tenders, steamships, anything that could float had passengers looking to the skies.

He took off from Governors Island and headed straight for the Statue of Liberty. He swung west into the wind and aimed straight for the statue. In the Harbor, tens of thousands watched. Wright sailed low over the Lusitania {referenced here on Feb 4}, which was departing New York, bound for Liverpool. Passengers frantically waved hats and scarves at Wright, who flew a beautiful loop around the Statue, circled low, and with perfect control executed a series of dips and turns.
"

However, Louis Blériot had already made his much more significant cross-channel flight that summer, so this claim is clearly enthusiastic/apocryphal.  But you can definitely see the canoe slung under that airplane!
(from the High Point Review, 2 March 1917):



(image: governorsilandguide.com)

Check out forum member Bughunter's 1/72 Aerobase 'stripdown' model of the the original Wright Flyer: https://forum.ww1aircraftmodels.com/index.php?topic=8597.msg158186#msg158186
« Last Edit: March 03, 2023, 10:27:16 AM by PJ Fisher »

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #398 on: March 04, 2023, 01:47:49 AM »
Spotlight on French Aeroplanes
Love the caricatures from Escadrille 3 Les Cigognes
(from the New-York Tribune, 3 March 1918):







Not sure what Letord variant that first image depicts, but check out forum member Skyhook's 1/72-scale scratchbuilt Letord 4: https://forum.ww1aircraftmodels.com/index.php?topic=12538.0
« Last Edit: March 04, 2023, 01:53:55 AM by PJ Fisher »

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #399 on: March 05, 2023, 07:29:04 AM »
The Mysterious 'Baron Drasenfold' Falls in Flames
This fatal encounter on the Eastern Front, which supposedly occurred in the skies over present-day Daugavpils, Latvia, describes the fiery death of a noble European aviator.  However, a google search for the phrase 'Baron Drasenfold' on our glorious world-wide web yields only one page hit... the Library of Congress archive that posts this very news article from 106 years ago.  Another surname lost in translation or just fiction to fill page space?  We may never know.
(from the Evening Star, 4 March 1917):


Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #400 on: March 06, 2023, 03:33:24 AM »
Diable Rouge
The Aéronautique Militaire's 'Red Devil' earned his military pilot's license in in 1913.  By the late winter of 1915, Maurice Happe was a captain piloting a two-seat Farman with Escadrille MF25.  Details on today's story:

"On March 3, accompanied by the mechanic Petit, he attacked one of Germany's main powder mines: Rottweil. Despite unfavorable conditions, he managed, after a flight of 150 km in enemy territory, to locate the establishment, which he bombed at an altitude of 1,500 m.  A shell falling on an acid tank caused a gigantic fire. Three other projectiles exploded on the blowing snow itself. Having remained above the target for more than ten minutes, Happe was able to draw up a detailed report on the results of his action. Proof of the effectiveness of the bombardment, this raid earned him a bounty on his head in Germany." (via fandavion.free.fr)

According to the website wiki 1418, Happe's innovations enabled him, in April 1916, to gain command of his own squadron and to help train American volunteers in the Escadrille de La Fayette.  However, by 1917, his 'brazen attitude' evidently caused him to be relieved of his aviation duties and he was transferred to the infantry on the Italian front until war's end.  He perished in an on-ground plane crash in late 1930.

(from the Barre Daily Times, 5 March 1915):


(image via loc.getarchive.net and fandavion.free.fr)

Have an in-progress peek at forum member Borso's 1/48-scale scratch-built Farman MF11: https://forum.ww1aircraftmodels.com/index.php?topic=6980.msg128316#msg128316
« Last Edit: March 17, 2023, 01:34:17 PM by PJ Fisher »

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #401 on: March 07, 2023, 12:43:08 AM »
Aeroplane Activities
Another hectic week up in the clouds.
(from the Evening Star, 6 March 1917):


Online PJ Fisher

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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #402 on: March 08, 2023, 06:43:44 AM »
Spotlight on German Aerial Work
(from the new Britain Herald, 7 March 1916):


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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #403 on: March 09, 2023, 01:47:11 AM »
In Sammy's Sights
In response to yesterday's article on German aerial photography, here's a spotlight on the 'new' American camera gun of 1918.
(from the Chattanooga News,  8 March 1918):


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Re: On this Day (WWI aviation news)
« Reply #404 on: March 10, 2023, 03:36:59 AM »
Hit Twenty-Eight Times
Today is a big news day... for me at least.  For not only do we have another tale of dramatic aerial action, we've also been given the name of the flight crew and the serial number of the exact airplane involved.  And not just any plane, but my personal all-time favorite - the ungainly Wight A.1 Improved Navyplane, a handful which were operating from the British seaplane tender HMS Ark Royal in support of the Gallipoli Campaign.  Atop this we also have an in-theatre photograph of this obscure aircraft along with copies of Ark Royal's log reports and the pilot's diary from that day.  Most remarkably, we even have an eye-witness painting from the scene of the battle! All the stars are aligned to provide an amalgamated goldmine of trivia to bring back to life this one small moment from a big campaign within the Great War.

For whatever reason this particular story was widely circulated in the British and American papers during the second week of March 1915.  Our first article relays the overall scene at the Dardanelles that day; the second highlights the aviation aspect.  It's a clear spotlight on the experience the Royal Naval Air Service was earning in its attempts to incorporate new technologies and tactics to Britain's ultimately failed amphibious campaign.  These aviators were regularly pitted against compromised communication, frequent mechanical failure and, of course, enemy gunfire.  As noted in another article on February 20, Ark Royal's Wights joined a few Shorts and Sopwiths primarily engaged in observation and artillery spotting, though occasionally also bombing.  Piloting this particular newsworthy pusher was twenty-four-year-old Flight Commander Geoffrey Rhodes Bromet, who survived this harrowing afternoon (and many others) to enjoy a distinguished military career, ultimately rising to the rank of Air Vice Marshall.
(respectively from the Orleans County Monitor and the New-York Tribune, 9-10 March 1915):


('Seaplane hoisted above the sea from the deck of HMS Ark Royal' via digitalnz.org; Bromet portrait via thepeerage.com)

Ark Royal's entire seaplane flock struggled in the Mediterranean climate, and the marine climate caused them to prematurely age.  The Wights' performance were further hampered by their powerful but unreliable 200hp Salmson Canton-Unne radial engines.  172's troublesome motor actually caused today's misadventure.  A recollection of this exact flight includes an excerpt from Bromet's diary, revealing not-so-friendly feelings toward his plane:

"Great care was needed in the handling of the sea-planes, as 'new machines and spares would take six weeks to arrive from England'. On 4 March an inlet valve rocker broke and pierced the propeller and the port float. Unable to climb higher than 2,000 feet and getting too close to Turkish troops at Yeni Shehr, Seaplane 172 came under small-arms fire and 'collected twenty-eight bullet holes, which served the silly old bitch right for refusing to climb to a safe height.

And here's the page for 4 March 1915 from the Ark Royal's logbook, which records how Navyplane 172's bullet-riddled floats were so waterlogged that the added weight caused the plane's top center section to rip off entirely when the deck crew attempted to sling the plane aboard deck from the sea.  Because Art Royal was equipped a full-service repair shop, Navyplane 172 was soon flying again. 



(via naval-history.net)

This fiery 11 x 17in. watercolor, titled 'The Bombardment of the Turkish Forts at Chanak, March 1915' (published as 'Bombarding the Narrows' in lithograph form in 1918 by Cassel & Company), depicts a Wight Navyplane puttering above the allied fleet engaging in wireless artillery spotting as chaotic hellfire rains down from Turkish forts.  It was completed by British artist William Lionel Wyllie just a few weeks after this incident occurred.  Described as "the most distinguished marine artist of his day", Wyllie painted numerous watercolors depicting the events around Gallipoli.  I first discovered this particular picture while working at Christie's, when we auctioned it in back in 2004, for nearly $6,000.


Bromet was commended for service at Gallipoli later that summer.  In the fall of 1916 he became the commander of Naval 8 squadron at St-Pol.  His diary from this period also includes a clever self-penned poem that further relates the airman's frustrations:
     There's a game that some play for the whole of the day
     Of dropping a bomb from the air,
     And men grin with delight if they drop it aright,
     A contingency only too rare.


Some of you may know that I'm presently partnering with my brother to design and construct our own 3D-printed 1/72-scale version of the forlorn Wight Navyplane.  It's been quite a learning curve, but great fun so far.  Our latest efforts are designing the overly complicated empennage and tail boom elements.


More updates shared here: https://forum.ww1aircraftmodels.com/index.php?topic=13562.0
« Last Edit: March 10, 2023, 09:49:35 AM by PJ Fisher »