RAIDING the RHINELAND
An Article on the Bombing of Germany
J. VERNON McKENZIE
WITH the excep tion of hunger, probably no single factor more directly paved the way for the Peace Conference now in session than the Independent Air Force, which bombed the Huns night and day (weather permitting) for the final thirteen months of the war. Lord Weir, Air Minister, is said to have told Premier Borden, some months before the final collapse, that the Rhine and Saar towns were "getting it" much more severely than the public knew, and that a situation akin to panic was gradua ally, but surely, arising. The systematic bombing of militaryobjectives in Germany began in October, 1917, and progressed with a renewed vigor from June, 1918, when General Trench ard took over command of these squadrons, later ten in number, which consti tuted the British Inde pendent Air Force. A huge program was laid out in the summer of 1917, after cor respondence between the allied powers, which, it is believed, called for three hundred squadrons, British, Freneh, A in e r i c a n and Italian, but all countries ______ concerned fell far short of the mark.
Besides squadrons operating from the English Coast aind Dunkirk, the British had the Independent Force, located south of Nancy, almost behind the American front. The I. F. had, when peace broke out, five day-bombing and five night-bombing squadrons. During the period from June 6 to November 10, 709 raids were made on large German towns. German aerodromes established for the defense of the Rhine, and other military objectives in Alsace and Germany; more than 616 tons of bombs were dropped in this period of five months.*
Reports from our Intelligence agents showed that the German towns so treated got colossal “wind up” when they found their own defenses unable to cope with the attacks. At the time of the St. Mihiel salient push, for example, one railroad siding was made so hot, that, according to a captured German letter, all troops which would normally have entrained there had to be marched to a siding twenty miles away.
Plans to Bomb Berlin
TTAD the Armistice not been signed November 11,
A Monday, it will be remembered, a serious, and probably successful, attempt would have been made to raid Essen the following night, and to raid Berlin Friday or Saturday of that very week.
The distance from the Independent Force aerodromes to Berlin by air was 482 miles. This was too long a trip to be done by ordinary Handley-Pages, and the job was to have been done by Super-Handleys, and huge Vimy bombers, which, loaded with crew and bombs, could do 100 miles or more per hour, and the latter machine could remain in the air for ten and one-half hours.
Just how close the German capital came to being treated to a dose of its own medicine may be seen when it is learned that the first service Vimy bomber reached France about October 26, and the first week in November was landed in Independent Force territory. Pilots and an observer from 100 Squadron were selected for the work, one specially-qualified pilot being recalled from leave in England to undertake the stunt. The week of the Armistice had a moon nearing the full, and it was the fullness of this Hunters’ Moon for which the selected crew was eagerly waiting.
“Bombing Berlin” had for at least two years been
**Thest> are “short," or Canadian, tons. The figures aVe taken from a Government statement issued to the British press, and quite evidently there must have been more than 709 individual MACHINES crossing the lines to drop 616 tons. For, during part of the period covered, the “F.E.” was used, and its normal loa'd was about one-eighth of a ton.—J. V. M.
one of the most popular topics in R. A. F. messes. Lt.-Col. W. A, Bishop, V.C., etc., Canada’s premier “ace,” offered to make the attempt a year and a half ago, if he could select the machine he wanted.
“Do you think we could reach Berlin on our H-P., if we had an extra petrol tank built on the top wing?” a well-known observer in the I. F. asked his pilot one night last September.
“I guess so; let’s try,” was the response.
So they had the Flight-Sergeant put in a flat gravitytank holding petrol for another hour. Then they worked out in detail the time necessary to attain height, and to go the distance, and found that, under ordinary circumstances, with an even bi’eak as to weather, they’d have about ten minutes’ margin only!
Needless to say, the Wing C. O. refused to let them try. They started for Essen a couple of times in this machine, but weather conditions were not propitious. They were annoyed that they were not allowed to try for Berlin.
A raid on a much more pretentious scale, was being planned by a well-known Winnipegger, Lieut.-Col. Mulock, D.S.O., etc., who had a remarkable record with the Royal Naval Air Service, and was training a Wing (two or more squadrons) on the coast of Norfolk. His squadrons were being equipped with super-Handleys, and it was planned to send a huge fleet to visit the Rhine towns each propitious night. By night, Col. Mulock’s men (including a large percentage of Canadian flyers) would strafe the Huns in Essen, Berlin, and North Rhine towns; by day-—if they got back— they would get a well-earned sleep in a secure English bed. Lt.-Col. Mulock received his machines at the end of October, and, though all ranks work night and day. they were only completed November 8.
The Italians sent a squadron of Capronis into Bohemia, as soon as a virtual peace had been arranged with Austria, and if the Germans had turned down the
Armistice ternis it wa~ i1~fl~~T Plannr'(: to reinforce the `a p ron i squad i-on with Bitt ish, l'rench and Aincrican Wings. F rum the particul;t r spet chosen in Bo hernia, to Berlin it was just a nice little joy-ride tof about I 1~ niile~ each way, anti, making al. allowances for time taken u attaining height, even the older type llanofleyJ'Lj~ could do this easi lv in fi v~ hour-s. As -an ordinar~ Jl.-I'. ean remain in the air about elgot hours there wa~ an :tmi)e nai'gtn.
/GERMAN night-flyers die practically nothing of importance to protect the Saar and Rhine towns; the chief casualties suffered by the British were due to weather conditions, antiaircraft fire, and “conked” engines, which necessitate* forced landings in Hun or Allied territory, under con trol or out of control, as the case might be.
One German aerodrome.
located at B--, got into
a lot of trouble through “gratuitously” interfering with one of the British night-x-aiding squadrons. It happened in this way: an I. F. squadron was sent one night to raid Frankfort and Cologne, and their air route took them within a few miles of (though not directly
over) B--. Some Hun machines from B--
took it upon themselves to intercept the British, and by an exceeding amount of good luck, together with a most unusual display of Hun daring, the\ brought down two of our chaps, and got clean away themselves—for a brief spell.
Decisive encounters at night were rare and, per
haps excusably, the Huns at B——--chronicled
their achievement far and wide, and the identities of the squadrons engaged soon reached the ears of the British. At every R. A. F. mess, the news was discussed and indignation ran high. Something that
amounted almost to a vendetta was declared. B--
was to pay dearly for the lives of the two British fliers
Thereafter, Baerodrome was made a target
for our chaps to practise on at every possible opportunity. There was a very special “hate” on. If a machine was assigned to a raid on Saarbrücken. Frankfort, or perhaps Cologne, and weather conditions prevented the reaching of the prescribed objective.
then the bombs were dropped at Bon the wa\
back; if a pilot and observer felt specially vindictivcseme night, they would make a short detour on their way to the prescribed objective, and drop an “egg” or
two on B-; if a crew wanted a little practice to
keep its hand in, off it would tootle to Band un-
load; and all these trips would be in addition to regular strafes outlined for Bby Headquarters ! Bhad a pretty thin time of it for
Just before the Armistice one of the day-flying chaps dropped in for a visit, and said:
“I was flying over that ’drome we’ve been strafeing so much ; how many hangars out of those thirty do you think are still in evidence?”
“How many?” several asked at once.
The Machines Used for Bombing
'IOUS to the union in April, 1918, of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps under the name of the Royal Air Force, reprisal bombing at night was done almost entirely on a machine designated the “F. E.” Fighting Experimental, the initials are supposed to stand for. This stout old ’bus was a pusher—that is, had the propeller behind—and the usual load was one 230-!b. bomb, two 112-lb. bombs, or a number of 16-and 20-pounders. This machine carried a pilot and observer, the latter stuck out in front, and armed with a Lewis gun mounted on a These “FEE” merchants (R.A.F. slang) were stout chaps, and used to do two or three short shows during a night. They carried on in all sorts of weather, and could stay in the air about six hours. One Canadian
observer, Lt. George L. Z--, an Elmira, Ontario,
banker, had an exciting experience in a machine of this type just a little more than a year ago.
It was about his second or third trip over the lines, and he and his pilot were coming back from a short “show” when a blinding snow-storm came up, and soon raged to such an extent that they lost all track of their location. They flew around for two or three hours, tossed like a chip in the gale, almost perishing with the cold, and the stinging flakes smiting their faces. There is, by the way, mighty little protection for the observer in an “F.E.”—none at all, in fact, except his own clothing. Have you ever tobogganed in a swirling snow-storm, the sled going about ’umpteen miles per minute, and tried hard to get a breath? Well, it’s like that, only ten times worse?
When they flew out of the storm they were amazed to find that they were over the open sea; no land was visible anywhere. Which direction should they head?
Z-finally picked up the lights of two ships which
he had reason to believe were heading away from land. So he and his pilot flew in a direction opposite to that in which the vessels were heading, and soon discerned the lights of a port—what port, they knew not.
As the petrol was almost exhausted, they made a landing, quite safely, about a mile or so from this port lown, and as the “F.E.” bumped they wondered whether they were in French, Belgian, Dutch, or German territory. They agreed that most probably they had landed in Holland, so, following orders issued in case of a landing in a neutral or enemy territory, they set fire to their machine. As she blazed merrily away they trudged sadly toward the lights, prepared for many weary months or years of internment, and walked into—Havre!
The old Royal Naval Air Service had a couple of Handley-Page squadrons in use in 1917, and during the last few months cf the war the night-bombing work was chiefly done by these leviathans of the air, although the “F. E. 2b” was used by one squadron right up to August, 1918. By August the night squadrons had Handley-Page’s and the day chaps had Sopwith Camels, D. H. 9, D H. 9A., and D. H. 4 machines, the lastnamed being equipped with Rolls-Royce engines. “D. H.” stands for De Haviland, the name of the British officer who designed them. The much-talked-of Liberty motor was used in the D. H. 9A. machines, i 10 Squadron being equipped with these.
The day bombers usually suffered more severely than their night-flying confrères.
One example: twelve machines set out on or about October 21,
1918, flying D. H. 9A.’s (Nine Akks), to raid Cologne; of the dozen, only two returned safely. Three others crashed somewhere on French soil, the rther seven machines, each with its crew of two, were posted “failed to return.”
The Huge Handley-Page
ÍTOW huge even the old type *■ A Handley-Page was, prob ably few in Canada realize. It had a wing span of ninetyeight feet and from tip to tail was seventy-two. The early bombing types were equipped with two powerful engines, and a speed of sixty to eighty miles an hour could be attained. The four-engined Handleys were not built in time to see routine service in France.
The engines were placed one >n each side of the fusellage,
>r body, and designated “port” and “starboard.” The pilot and front observer were seated, side by side, almost in the very front of the machine, and the ■second, observer, or rear gunner, was about twenty feet in the rear, having a comfortable and roomy cock-pit of his own. While in the air there was usually no communication between front and rear, unless a very crude arrangement such as a string on a pulley, which was installed in a few machines. The manufacturers made no provision for such communication. Entrance to both front and rearcompartments was by climbing up a ladder and through
a trap-door. Each H.-P. had at least two windows in the fusellage.
The pilot acted chiefly as chauffeur, and the front observer was navigation officer and bomb-dropper. There was a small cock-pit forward of the pilot’s seat where the bomb-sight and bomb releases, as well as the forward Lewis gun, were installed. There was a trapdoor connecting the compartment in which the pilot sat, with the cock-pit in the extreme tip of the machine. The usual way of ingress and egress was by this door, but it was a tight fit for me, and occasionally, in the night time, I climbed over the top to get there. I did it once in the day time—but, never again. It needs the blackness of night to hide where a slip would land one ! The rear observer had two Lewis guns—one firing above, to the rear, and to each side; the other firing crown through an opening in the fusellage.
The bomb sight was, of course, luminous, and could be adjusted to suit wind, height and speed. The direction of the wind made no difference, as bombing was done either up or down wind—usually the former.
Routes Carefully Charted
npHE route was cai-efully charted out in advance, and a definite compass course set. This was done by means of a C. D. I.—Course and Distance Indicator— which made allowance for speed and direction of the wind, as well as the speed of the machine. A change in the speed and direction of the wind, after leaving the ground, was difficult to detect, but for this there was a “gadget” called the Drift Indicator. Its chief points were taken from a device found in the debris of the Cuffiey Zeppelin. Properly used, it was an extraordinarily useful instrument.
Weather reports came in every few hours from an official known in the R. A. F. messes as “Meteor,” and enabled the observers to work out their courses almost the last thing before going up. These reports gave the direction and speed of the wind, and also added a forecast, up to the early hours of the next morning.
On but very few nights during the month was the moon kind enough to disclose adequate guiding landmarks, and in order that the work might be carried on during all possible nights, a dozen or so light-houses were erected on the Independent Force front, each flashing a different letter at regular intervals. These proved invaluable as guides. In addition, the simpleminded Boche provided guides which were of immense value to the Allied night flyers.
The Mysterious German Onions
“Onions,” greenish balls of light, were shot into the air in some mysterious way which we could never discover—at least, practically nothing was known of their nature up to the time of the Armistice. They would be in groups of two, three, or four light halls, nnd would always be sent up from the same place. Moche “Onions” could be seen for forty miles, or more,
and they had the advantage over our light-houses that they could float up above the clouds and mists, and prove an almost infallible aid. So reliable did they prove that many of the Independent Force flyers charted their courses from an “Onion” group to the prescribed objective. Whether these light balls were inflammable was never discovered, though a veteran pilot claims that one touched and settled on the fabric of his machine without setting it on fire. He had made a detour in order to investigate these mysterious unions and actually bumped into one. He came back as much in the dark as ever. I never met this pilot, but I heard that he described the onion with which he collided as very light and not in any sense inflammable. He had concluded it was some kind of intensely luminous balloon. But as to how it was anchored, he had no idea whatever!
A novice night flyer came back to his squadron last summer with a breathless story of how he had “bombed a Hun ‘Onion’ battery, and put it out of business.”
“I got a beautiful hit on that ‘Onion’ battery at ‘L’,” he boasted to the Recording Officer. “I don’t think they’ll send up any more ‘Onions’.”
“What the blazes did you do that for?” he was asked, and his smiles died quickly away as he saw the glares of those around him—coupled with disgust.
He got not praise for this, but was in for a severe strafe-ing, as he soon discovered. He had done nearly as much damage as if he had bjown up one of our own light-houses ! The onions were a real blessing to us on our night flights.
When the Huns were not flying at night “onions” were not usually sent up. It was easily possible to stand on a ’drome, ten miles from the line, and watch those queer balls. Capt. Paul Bewsher, poet, and a pioneer H.-P. pilot, regarded them as a wonderful sight, and has verified and rhapsodized about them. Certainly, to see these eerie objects floating so weirdly in the night skies gave those privileged to witness such sights extraordinary feelings.
The Useful Pop Bottle
A WAR crew usually was three. A full load of bombs would weigh just a little short of a Canadian ton. the bombs carried were: 112-lb., 230-lb., 550-lb., 1,650; end “BIB,” or Baby Incendiary Bombs. A normal load would be 16 of the 112’s; one 550 and eight 112’s; or one 1,650-pounder. The “B.I.B.” would be carried in the back, and with them the rear observer would endeavor to spread conflagrations.
Apart from this work, and the firing of his Lewis guns at searchlights or hostile aircraft, the rear observer ljad a pretty slow time. The loneliness, monotony, and persistent roar of the engines proved so hard on more than one observer’s nerves that they have declared themselves, after several hours’ flight, almost driven to jump out—to vary the monotony! One bright chap hit upon a way to liven things up, and claims to be the first man to put a Hun “Archie” battery to flight with a pop bottle. The “Archies” and the searchlight parties are usually located together, it may be stated.
One night this officer took up a bottle of pop to drink, and when he finished it naturally decided to chuck it overboard. Just by way of a lark he threw it out when over a Hun “Archie” battery, and as the bottle descended the wind rushed in at the mouth and caused weird and piercing shrieks. Experiments afterwards showed that sounds occurred exactly like those made by a falling bomb, and explained why that 11 un battery dashed to their dug-out when they heard the shriek of the pop bottle. Of course, at night the crew could not actually be seen making for shelter, hut from the action of the searchlight everything could he pretty well deduced. The finger of light would be searching the heavens for the British machine, and now and again might catch it in its rays. Suddenly, the light could be seen wavering uncertainly and wobbling within a more limited focus; then it would come to rest, and point straight up into the skies. It was easy to imagine the Hun crew dashing for safety with such speed that they didn’t stop long enough to turn off the light.
Putting Hun batteries to rout with pop bottles after that proved a popular amusement.
'TOWARD the end of the war bombs and bomb-racks were improved so that there were very few “duds.” But even as late as the spring of 1918 it was reported that two Wings in Northern France dropped nothing but “dud” bombs for forty-eight hours, owing to faulty manufacture.
Almost every bombing squadron has some tale to tell about a pilot who came back with a circumstantial story of exactly where his bombs landed and what damage they did, only to be dumbfounded, after finishing his story, to have some practical-minded comrade point out that all his bombs were still on the rack under his machine. It was a sad fact that the bomb release gear sometimes did fail to work.
Electrically-heated clothing was in pretty general use, and there was little need to suffer from cold. Pilots and observers flying at night always wore an immense amount of clothing in addition, preferring this to the electricity. The layers would run something like this: one or two suits of thick woolen underwear and socks (with silk next to the skin) ; fleecelined flying boots, reaching to the hip; several shirts and a chamois vest or two; cardigan jacket; heavy breeches and tunic; two or three mufflers; wristlets; silk gloves; fur-lined leather gauntlets; fur-lined helmet; and the whole from ankle to neck covei'ed with a Sidcot suit (built like a suit of combinations). This suit practically superseded the better-known leather flying coat, in which non-flying members of the R. A. F. were so prone to swank about.
Occasionally, the Hun came over and bombed the British night ’dromes, so that flying from that particular spot might be interrupted for days or weeks. A long distance gun bombardment caused one night-flying squadron to move about a year ago, because the landing ground was so ploughed up that to take off was well-nigh an impossibility. In case a “flock” of nightbirds went away on a show, and the landing ground was wrecked during their absence, certain signal lights
were shown, and a pre-arranged alternative landing ground would then be used.
How Landings Were Made DOTH the British and the Hun employed dummy landing grounds, the Hun going to greater extremes in this respect than we did. The Boche always was a great chap to “play it safe.” The distinguishing mark of a landing ground at night is a huge “L,” composed of electric lights or hurricane lamps. The upand-down part of the “L” was usually 100 yards to 150 yards, while the bottom of the “L” would be 50 yards. A machine would land from the top of the letter to the bottom, and knowing the exact distance would be able to make proper allowances. The Huns sometimes would place old machines in a too-conspicuous light on their dummy aerodromes, and hope that we would bomb this ground. But the British flyers were seldom fooled after, perhaps, the first time, and reports regularly came back each night to the I. F. Headquarters, showing what activity existed at certain Hun stations, specifying both real and dummy ’dromes.
Every afternoon, usually between three and four o’clock, orders would come from the Wing, specifying what places were to be bombed during the night. The places which received most attention were hostile aerodrames; railway junctions near the front line; and the larger towns along the Saar river and the middle Rhine. The Independent Force bombed, Baalon, Baden, the Black Forest, Bonn, Cologne, Coblenz, Darmsdatt, Duren, Dillingen, Frankfurt, Forbach, Hagendingen, Heidelberg, Hagenau, Kaiserslautern, Karthaus, Karlsruhe, Ludwigshafen, Landau, Mainz, Mannheim, Lahr, Lûmes, Luxemburg, Oberndorf, Offenburg, Pforzheim, Pirmaisens, Rastatt, Rombas, Rottweil, Sallingen, Saahburg, Saarbrücken, Stuttgart, Treves, Weisbaden, Worms, Voelkingen, Wadgassen, Zweibrucken, and other miscellaneous targets.
What Happened to Kaiserlautern
jC'ACH Handley-Page was assigned to a definite objective, though alternative objectives were named in case the one named was not reached, owing to changing winds, mist, engine trouble, or some other cause. The shorter trips, and those between the I.F. and Mannheim,
for example, naturally became the best known, and the result was that when a pilot and observer decided, for one reason or another, that the longer trip prescribed could not be made, the alternative town near by suffered intensely as a consequence. Kaiserlautern, a favorite objective almost directly on the routes to Mannheim and Frankfort, was an easy place to locate, even on “dud” nights, and here is one actual occurrence which showed how the sleep of the Kaiserlauternites was wrecked.
One night I was “flare officer”—that is, I had to see the machines away, and receive their reports when they returned—and I sat in the orderly room, with the squadron recording officer, awaiting the hum overhead which would denote that our first machine was back. We had five “aloft” that night. Soon the first one home landed safely, and the observer came in to report on his trip “to Cologne.”'
“Well, did you get the cathedral, or the big bridge?” we asked him.
“Neither; a mist came up, so we dropped our ‘eggs’ at Kaiserlautern. Good results, too.”
Then came the next crew, who had headed for Mann heim.
“Where did you drop yours?” was the query.
“Oh, it wasn’t a good night to go to Mannheim; we went to Kaiserlautern.”
The third and fourth came back—with the same story. Finally, in came the fifth man.
“Did you too, by any chance go to Kaiserlautern?” T asked.
“Yes and say, there was something queer about it,” said the observer. “They seemed to be expecting me. Long before I got near the place I could see the searchlights flickering all over the map. They spotted me right off and maybe the Archies didn’t get busy! I ran into a regular hornet’s nest.”
“Drop any eggs?”
“The whole outfit. I wasn’t going to be scared off that way,” replied the observer.
Truly, there must have been a hot time in the old town of Kaiserlautern that night. Why everyone picked on the place I don’t know; perhaps they didn’t like its name.
Continued on page 73
Continued from page 24
A Last Trip—and What Happened
ON the afternoon of October 30, 1918, about twenty of us were gathered in
the Map Room, when Major B-,
the C. O., entered and posted the list of the objectives we were to bomb a few hours later—Frankfort, Cologne and Saarbrücken. Our crew was scheduled to visit Saarbrücken, about forty-seven miles over the line, and carry eight 112pounders and one 550-pound bomb. We were instructed to drop our explosives on the Burbach Blast Furnaces.
We immediately looked at the Meteorological report, worked out our course on the C. D. I., ruled it off on the map, and studied photographs of the Burbach works (all the principal objectives had been photographed by day squadrons, and were laid out in the Map Room. No. 55 squadron did some remarkably fine work in this regard).
The map I carried was composed of eight sheets, and when unfolded was five and a half feet long by four feet wide, about eight times the size of a daily newspaper page. The most distant points for which this map could be used were Frankfort and Bonn, about 150 miles away, so you can easily work out how large a map would be required on going to bomb Berlin. The scale of the maps used was 1:200,000, and no smaller scale was deemed practical. And, to handle these maps in a machine going through the air at sixty or more miles per hour was some trick!
As the Armistice, we expected, was a matter of days only—perhaps hours— everyone was keen to get in a final “show” which would help to clinch Fritzie’s determination that peace
mustn’t be staved off any longer. So my pilot and I agreed before starting out that, provided no mechanical difficulties cropped up, nothing but an absolute inability to see the ground would prevent our crossing the line and making for our objective.
We went back to our Nisson huts and prepared for the night’s venture. On a long trip all members of the crew usually carried a haversack or small bag filled with useful articles of a personal nature—pajamas, shaving tackle, etc., which would come in handy should there be a forced landing, either on the Hun side or ours. Saarbrücken was a comparatively short trip, but we packed our essential kit, nevertheless, and procured a quart Thermos bottle full of hot coffee, together with some eating chocolate. With all our gear on we looked like Teddy bears. Around our necks, each of us wore an electric flash lamp; we saw that they were freshly charged, and then snatched a rather hasty tea before proceeding to the aerodrome.
At 4.35 p.m.—1635, according to a regulation which came into force October 1, 1918—we climbed into the machine but, in a few minutes, just after the engines had been nicely warmed up, the “stand by” signal was flashed from the control tower. This meant the weather was dubious, and we were to go back to the mess and await developments. “Old Meteor”—as the meteorological expert was dubbed—would decide later as to the fitness of the weather, and notify us accordingly.
As usual, we .started a rubber of bridge, and were in the middle of a most interesting hand when the telephone bell rang. I remember I had just doubled “three hearts,” bid by my pilot; I had six to the jack. The hand was half played when we stopped, to listen to the ’phone conversation. Instinctively, we seemed to feel that it would be the Wing C. O. with orders for our Squadron C. 0.
“Get started? Right, Sir!” we heard the Major say. No orders to us were necessary, for we had dropped our cards —until the “show” was concluded—and every man detailed was on the way to the door before the Major had hung up the receiver.
Once again we climbed up the ladder into our machine. Evans (a sterling pilot) and I were seated side by side, as comfortable as in a motor car. We could see flashes of “Archies”—antiaircraft guns—bursting almost overhead, so we were ordered to “take off” without showing any lights (since these might conceivably be spotted by the Hun or Huns, presumably flying around overhead). Dull booming told us that there was quite a strafe on at the front, nine miles away. Soon the engines were run up and all other sounds shut out.
Shortly after 6.30 came the signal to “take off” and away we went. Our machines climbed beautifully, had a dandy pair of engines, and in less than half an hour we had reached 5,000 feet. We had decided to cross the line at 7,000 feet, over “B” light-house, and when this point and this altitude were reached we looked at each other, speech being difficult on account of the engines’ incessant roar. The pilot saw the look of interrogation in my eyes, nodded emphatically, and headed toward Hun-land, on our compass course.
In less than five minutes, flashes of artillery away below showed that we were crossing the lines, and we noticed with satisfaction groups of Boche “onions.” Practically no lights were visible on the ground, but we flew straight on, bothered neither by “Archie” nor searchlights. We passed two or three places that I recognized from my map, and after flying for exactly the length of time anticipated, we saw a faint glow in the distance, denotin" the valley of the Saar. It looked like 2 necklace of lights, strung on an invisible cord, against a grey-black velvety background.
Our Objective Reached
A FEW minutes later our particular objective town, Saarbrücken, came into view. I pointed it out to the pilot, he nodded and proceeded to make a detour of the town approaching from the direction we had agreed upon. We passed over another place which we recognized (from descriptions furnished by other observers) as the Forbach factory, and I felt a strong inclination to release an “egg” or two there, but that’s not according to the canons of the game, when the prescribed objective can be reached.
“Archies” and searchlights left us strangely alone for a while. As we got close to our objective I went back into the engine room and fused our big 550ib. bomb—that is, pulled out a pin, which was placed in the bomb so as to guard it against premature detonation, in the event of a forced or “crash” landing. Following this, I returned to the part where the pilot was, folded back my seat to give me more nearly adequate room, and then crawled through the door-way, about thirty by twenty inches, into the forward cock-pit, where the bomb-sight and bomb-releases were installed. ' 7,000 feet below I could see, as I leaned out over the nose (or prow), the city of Saarbrücken, and a belt of mist which denoted the Saar river and valley. The factory—-our definite objective— loomed up indistinctly just past a bend in the river, at the extreme end of the city; in fact, it was almost a suburb. By a wave of my right or left hand I directed the pilot, and when about ten seconds from the crucial moment I signalled him to “fly straight”—which he did splendidly, giving me an ideal opportunity for sighting.
I strained my eyes down the sighting wires, and the river-bend directly underneath ; a second or two later and what I judged to be the very centre of the Burbach factory cut across the exact junction of the fore-and-aft sighting wires. My hand had been on the release
handle, fairly twitching to jerk it; one tug released our big “egg.” Immediately I grabbed the handle controlling the dropning of the smaller bombs; my fur glove was off, to make my grip more certain. Several rapid, pump-handje motions on this lever released the 112pounders not more than a second afterthe big follow: two salvoes let the eight go
I HUNG over the side to observe the effect, and was pleased as Punch, ycu can imagine, when I observed one huge burst, accompanied by several smaller ones, plumb in the centre of the Burbach Foundry and Blast Furnaces. I crawled back beside the pilot,_ and shouted the news to him. He grinned, and flew for a safer region. I saw a dark form, apparently about 1,000 feet below, flit past, but this E. A. (enemy air-craft) remained in view barely a second. Just behind our tail the Hun “Archies” were making it as hot as possible. The first few bursts were uncomfortably close to our machine, seemingly missing us by yards only. But no searchlights caught us in their foci.
Deceiving the Archies W/’ITH amazing rapidity—just a few V\ seconds—the bursts sparkled in the sky away in our rear, to our great relief. This was owing to the fact that we had violated the generally-accepted principles of bombing, and had decided to bomb down wind instead of up wind, cr in other words, into wind. Going up wind would, of course, give us a better shot, as we would be going so much slower, but our target was so large, and the air so calm, we decided we could get results bombing at the greater speed, and so had adjusted the bomb-sight accordingly. We realized the wisdom of this (especially from the standpoint of our own personal safety), when we saw the Hun “Archie” people were taking it for granted that we were bombing into wind and were chasing us in that direction!
After we had passed the immediate danger zone, we had an opportunity to look around at the other towns within view, and it seemed such a pity that we couldn’t have carried several tons of bombs so that we could visit each one, and treat it to a similar dose. The pilot headed for the Forbach factory, which was on our way home. I went forward again, to get at the Lewis gun, and treated this place to a few hundred rounds. Though we had dropped 2,000 or 3,000 feet, we still were so high that probably not very much material damage resulted, but we knew it “put the wind up” them.
Lost in the Mist
THERE was nothing urgent to do now, so we headed straight for home, greatly elated with the trip up to that point. I went back into the engine-room, where I brought forth our Thermos bottle and haversack, and treated the pilot and myself to several cups of piping hot coffee, and some bar chocolate.
After the prescribed time we approached the line, at a few minutes before ten o’clock, and observed patches of grey mist forming here and there. This was disquieting. When we reached the line a huge carpet of grey mist blocked out almost everything from view. Just as we expected to see “B” lip'ht-house, which would tell us exactlv where we were, all lights disaopeared from our view, except an occasional one, directly below. Then they too were blotted out, and we flew for fifty miles at a stretch without seeing the earth.
We flew North, South and West— NEVER East—and whenthe mist dissolved somewhat I looked for a familiar landmark—but in vain. We were absolutely lost!
We saw' a number of village lights, but couldn’t identify them. Two aerodromes were spotted, presumably French ones, and I asked Evans whether we should land there. He shook his head. It was just eleven o’clock, we were barely half way through our petrol supply, and still hoped to get home. Besides, French ’dromes are notoriously too small for a Handley to make a safe landing.
We flew North, then South—then North, then South. We knew we were well on our own side of the line, but as the wind seemed to have changed, both in direction and velocity, we couldn’t be sure which -way it was drifting us, so agreed not to fly East.
The fog got worse, then better, and after, midnight, realizing the hopelessness of our position, if we’d seen the lights of an aerodrome, we would certainly have come down. Several times we saw lights that looked from our 5,000 or 6,000 feet altitude like landing lights. On each occasion we came down lower to have a closer look, then shook our heads at each other, disappointedly.
About one o’clock, after being out of touch with the ground for some time, owing to the persistent continuity of the mist, we spotted a busy railroad centre, and came down low to have a good look. It turned out to be not a very big one, and I couldn’t “pick it up” on my map.
I flashed our Aldis lamp almost continuously, and ’round and ’round that town we flew, coming as low as we dared. The Aldis was flashed for two reasons; first, to inform the inhabitants we were not an E. A.; second, in the hope that someone might light fii’es in a suitable landing place.
A Forced Landing A FTER nearly seven hours’ flying we decided we must land, as it would be dangerous to exhaust completely our petrol supply and be forced to land without further option. We came down and had a look at neighboring fields, and, though they didn’t look too promising, further seeking might show us nothing better. Also, we ran the risk of getting into a mist where we couldn’t see the ground before our fuel became exhausted.
I saw the pilot’s look of interrogation: “Shall we chance it?” his eyes said.
Up we went, then, to a height which would enable us to drop the Michelin flare with safety. This flare is in the form of a huge silk umbrella (the silk in each flare costs $50), under which is supported a gigantic candle, the whole floating slowly to earth, after it has fallen like a rocket-stick for a thousand feet or so.
We estimated, roughly, the direction of the wind, then manoeuvred so the flare would float over the desired spot.
I released the flare, at a nod from the pilot; soon, it gave out light sufficient for us to see the ground below—and, oh, how small the available fields looked!
We dived until we got below the Michelin, and Evans circled around and around, close to the ground, searching for the exact spot to land. I didn’t know, until the next day, of the perils we escaped by a hair’s breadth, including the skimming of twenty telegraph wires—which, of course, we couldn’t see —by inches only! Our altimeter showed us about 150 feet up, but as this place happened to he on a hill, we actually were circling around at LESS THAN FIFTY FEET. If I ever were in a machine doing this by daylight, I believe I’d collapse with fright.
Funny how automatic some things are: I remember blowing my nose, and carefully replacing my handkerchief in my knee pocket, just at this critical juncture.
I looked over the side and saw that we were barely thirty feet from the ground, as well as one could judge in that light. The pilot realized this before I did, but he daren’t land then, as we were going down wind, and would thus land at a speed which would be our speed, plus wind. We must land, to have a chance, into wind, our faces to the wind, our air speed minus wind. The difference between these two directions was the difference between life and death.
Evans realized this, and oh, how cool he was! He calmly made another half circuit, one wing tip almost scraping the earth, and then I sawthat we would touch ground in a fraction of a second. I had indicated, questibningly, the landing flares which we could light on the wings tips, wondering whether Evans would press the button which would set them blazing. More experienced in its perils than I, he shook his head.
The Michelin candle was at its last gasp as we bumped.
We were down.
It wasn’t much of a bounce, and I gasped with relief. We were safe!
Caught in the Wreckage
BUT no! Before I had another thought.
we hit the earth on the next bounce, nose down, with a sickening crunch of wood and steel. I felt pains shoot through my back and left leg: my face was flat in a ploughed field.
My first impulse was to crawl free,
I was held as in a vise, in the twisted mass. Almost at the same time I glanced apprehensively to right and left to ascertain if the machine had caught fire. It hadn’t, thank Heavens!
I called to the pilot; Evans’ answer was r, faint groan. I shouted to Warneford, fhe observer in the rear, asking him if he were safe. I heard him say “Coming.” To show how quickly all this haopened Warneford says he heard me call to him, and answered, while he was still fallina through space!
He hit the ground a few feet in front of the wreckage and crawled to us. He gave a tug at each of us, the pilot and me; it was futile. It would need a wrecking gang to free us, so I told him to run for help, and to run like the very devil.
When he left I took closer stock of our positmns. As I -was pinned face down I couldn’t see the pilot, but he anoarently was unconscious, groaning: “Oh, God! Oh. God! Oh. God!” My arms were free, and stretched out in front of me, my weight partly on my left. My wrist watch was intact, and showed ten minutes to two. We were a mile from lights, I had observed in coming down, und I hoped for help in half an hour, or an hour at the most.
I twisted and turned and writhed, trying to release myself, but in vain; the pain was intense; I prayed for unconsciousness. I was pinned by the ankle, knee and back. In twisting, I put my right hand as much behind me as possible, and pulled it away wet, red and “slithery”; I had touched the pilot’s face. Then I became aware of the fact that his head was resting on the small of my back. I couldn’t tell whether he was mortally injured or not.
The pain became more intense; my prayer was answered.
When I came too, it was after four; Evans had ceased to groan; a new moon had risen.
I shouted myself hoarse; there was no
I discovered that I was not quite so tightly pinned down, and, managing to get out my clasp-knife, cut my flying suit off at the waist. After an hour and a half’s effort, a fraction of an inch at a time, I managed to crawl free, and collapsed on the cool loam in front of me. Crawling and hobbling, I set off toward the town, and shortly after six heard the shouts of a party of American engineers, who were coming to the rescue, with Warneford, who had been lost in the mist for nearly four hours. He was just a youngster, and the mental anxiety of those hours had been terrible.
When I got back to the machine, they had Evans out.
“How is he?” I asked.
“Dead.” He had a fractured jaw and hemorrhage of the brain, and couldn’t have lived, the doctor said later, even if help had arrived immediately.
1WAS well cared for by the Yanks, and ultimately reached the hospital, and a fortnight later was started on the route : Langres—Paris—Rouen—Havre —English hospital—R. A. F. medical board—Liverpool—St. John, N.B.—
One thing more; as we were traveling in the ambulance Warneford told mo that all those hours he hadn’t known whether he was in France or Germany. Mis wits became so scattered by his wanderings in the mist that when he encountered an American sentry, and was challenged in English, ho took the sentry for an English-speaking Hurt In the mist and half-light of the dawning day the uniform looked grey and the headgear round.
How do you think the sentry challenged? He halted Warneford a few paces from the end of his bayonet and said :
“How d’ye do?”