A pilots' war




 No 2 Squadron RFC 1915 continued

Capts Smith and Milne No 2 Sqn

Capt. Smith with Capt. Milne

Jul 31st Sat:

My turn to make Army Recce. Went up with Capt. Milne as observer, at 4.15, but found ground to the South & East covered with a dense fog & was obliged to descend.  Made another attempt at 9.30 am in spite of clouds which had come up, but which were not thick. Crossed the lines over La Bassée above clouds at 9,000 ft. On nearing Seclin clouds were thicker, we turned in the direction of Douai but clouds became so thick it was impossible to see earth at all in that direction. Decided to return & steered by compass for South of Lens. We were fired at as we passed over gaps in the cloud and a piece of HE shell went through the fuselage hit a bracing wire & remained inside.  Arrived back at 11.30.   A bombing raid has been arranged to take place tomorrow & Aug 2nd on the aerodromes at and near Douai. No's 3 & 16 Sqn's to attack the aerodrome & workshops at Douai & No 2 Sqn to attack the aerodrome at Vitry, starting at 4.15 am.

Aug 1st Sun:

Lt.s Reid, Leather & I ascended at 5.0 am with six bombs each to drop on Vitry aerodrome. My machine climbed badly and when we met as arranged at 6 o'clock over Arras I was only at 8,500 ft.  I crossed the trenches last and dropped my bombs at 6.15, three going down wind & three coming back (wind from the West). The first three dropped on the aerodrome to the right of the landing T. The second  three on the edge of the aerodrome remote from the sheds, - no apparent damage. At the time of writing Lt. Reid has not returned.

Photo: Lt. William Reid with “Frisquette”

Lt William Reid, No 2 Sqn

Capt. Smith's log book on Aug 1st records a flight time of 2 hours 10 minutes. Note that for this bombing mission they were flying without Observers. Lt. Herbert Russell (later AVM) was Lt. Reid's Observer the previous day.

Aug 3rd Tues:

The Germans dropped a message last night over the French lines saying that Lt. William Reid is a prisoner & wounded in two places in the left arm but not seriously. He was hit by anti-aircraft fire.

Background Note:The August 1st raid on Douai marked the opening of the "Fokker scourge". Lt. Max Immelmann (famous as one of the first German Aces and for the Immelmann turn) flying a Fokker Eindecker claimed his first victory forcing down Lt Reid and his BE2c.  Immelmann went on to record 15 "victories" before his eventual death on 18 June 1916 as the Allies began to overcome the Fokkers.

Lt Immelmann in his Fokker Eindecker E1

Immelmann was a member of Feldflieger Abteilung 62 based at Douai. He had been awakened by the air raid around 0445 and had set off in pursuit of the attackers together with Lt Oswald Böelcke flying the Squadron's two Eindeckers. By the time they were airborne and had climbed to the attackers height, they met the returning No 2 Squadron aircraft including those mentioned above. Immelmann describes seeing two aircraft which were engaged by Böelcke until his gun jammed. He then continued his climb and spotted a third aircraft which he pursued setting upon Lt Reid. Having wounded Reid, Immelmann was eventually unable to fire his gun because of a jam and forced him to land by bluff.

Whether the anti-aircraft fire explanation for Reid's downing was offered by the Germans is not clear, but at the time the Fokker Eindecker was something of a secret weapon (with its gun firing through the propellor). Immelmann claims to have dropped the German message about Reid himself over St Pol on 1 August.

Immelmann's account of this event

Log book entry: Reconnaisance with Lt Davis around Seclin. Met German aeroplane (Albatross) over Armentieres, chased it to Bois de Biez when it was turned by AA guns, cut it off and exchanged shots. It went down quickly probably hit.

Aug 6th Fri:

Did evening Reconnaissance with Lt. Davis as observer. He spotted the German anti-aircraft guns at Wingles, Pont a Vendin & Lens.

Photo: Aug 1915, trenches in front of Lens, straight road runs from Bethune  (bottom left) to Lens (top right). Photo faces East towards Loos which is on the left of the road on the German side. Bottom of photo is Vermelles.


Aerial view of trenches in front of Loos, August 1915

 The scene of the Battle of Loos, September 1915 (see history note below). Opposing lines of the trenches. British below, German above.

1916 map of the area around Loos

1916 map (above) shows the area in the photo above at a 90 degree angle ie Bethune is top left and Lens is bottom right. Loos is centre right on map. Line of trenches runs approximately North-South down the centre of the map.   Lens is North of Vimy ridge and Arras.

Aug 10th Tues:

Set out for Seclin this afternoon to photograph in company with Capt. Hearson. When at 10,000 ft & about to cross the trenches we saw a German aeroplane, probably an 'Aviatich' . We immediately gave chase. It was slightly faster than our RAF 2c's and was gaining. When over the Bois de Biez it came within range of our anti-aircraft guns two well placed shots caused it to swerve to the left and we caught up. My observer, Lt. Davis, opened fire, as did Capt. Hearson’s observer, Capt Milne. The enemy machine did a bad side-slip which leads us to believe it was hit. However he continued on his course in a S.E. direction and was lost to view. We returned, took our photographs & got back to the aerodrome without seeing more enemy machines. On landing we found that Capt. Hearson’s aeroplane had been hit by about 8 bullets from the enemy aeroplane's machine gun, mine was undamaged.

Editor's note: RAF refers to the Royal Aircraft Factory

Aug 11th Wed:

Am informed by the Major that my promotion has gone through & that I shall shortly leave for another squadron, probably No. 4.

Aug 12th Thurs:

Receive instructions to join No.4 on Aug 16th.

Aug 15th Sun:

Orders to join No.4 cancelled. Am to remain with this squadron for the present,- until a vacancy occurs, I suppose. Went up at 6.30 this morning to take photographs at Hulluck (H.I3 b.d. 14, 15 a.e. & 20). Heavy clouds came up & I was obliged to return unsuccessful. Attempted again successfully at 4.30pm. Was fired at by anti-aircraft guns at Wingles, Pont a Vendin and Lens.

History note:  Battle of Loos

A British offensive launched on 25 September 1915 with six Divisions plus two in reserve. The assault was preceded by a chlorine gas attack. The first wave infantry assault was stopped by machine gun fire. On the second day the reserve Divisions moved forward meeting similar machine gun fire. They reached the German second line trenches before retreating. The battle continued for three weeks. The British gained a narrow salient two miles deep for the loss of 16,000 dead and some 25,000 wounded. On the second day the reserve Divisions had suffered more than 50% casualties. It was a substantial victory for the Germans who referred to the scene as the "corpse field of Loos".

The Association “Loos, Sur les traces de la Grande Guerre” commemorates the history of the three great battles fought over Loos and supports a local museum.

No 2 Sqn Pages  1  2  3  4  5

Copyright © 2004 in the diary text and photos from 1915 and 1916 is held by Major Smith's family (excluding Immelmann photo). Copyright © 2004 www.airwar1.org.uk