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MikeW

Mystery Naval Pilot

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MikeW

I have owned the attached photo of a pristine Sopwith Triplane for  many years, nothing particularly unusual to identify the triplane, other than the fin appears to be painted blue.

The two men in the photo shows an RNAS ground crew  and a swarthy  skinned pilot - the pilot's uniform has the wings on the right breast, or wrong breast depending on your sense of humour, and the cap badge looks "Naval". Anyone got any ideas? Greek?

 

Any idea's where? In my opinion NOT Mudros as the  Alcock/Mellings Triplane had it's fin uncoloured.

Mystery Sop Triplane.jpg

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ss002d6252
50 minutes ago, MikeW said:

the pilot's uniform has the wings on the right breast, or wrong breast depending on your sense of humour

Has the picture not just been flipped ?

Craig

 

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michaeldr
2 minutes ago, ss002d6252 said:

Has the picture not just been flipped ?

 

Check the jacket buttons

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ss002d6252
Just now, michaeldr said:

 

Check the jacket buttons

Uniforms are not my area ! I'll take your word for it !

Craig

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pete-c
7 minutes ago, ss002d6252 said:

Has the picture not just been flipped ?

Craig

 

 

 

No. The first image has the correct engine/propeller direction of rotation - anti-clockwise.

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michaeldr
54 minutes ago, MikeW said:

Any idea's where? In my opinion NOT Mudros as the  Alcock/Mellings Triplane had it's fin uncoloured.

 

The background horizon looks a little too flat for Mudros

However, Brad King's 'RNAS 1912-1918' (photo no. 230 - page 140) shows Alcock standing next to N5431 with a similar looking tail-fin

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pete-c
17 minutes ago, michaeldr said:

 

The background horizon looks a little too flat for Mudros

However, Brad King's 'RNAS 1912-1918' (photo no. 230 - page 140) shows Alcock standing next to N5431 with a similar looking tail-fin

 

I seem to remember that the Triplane spent some time on Long Island?  I think that is where the photo of Alcock was taken.  The location of Mike's image could be either Marsh or Romanos - on Lemnos (Mudros) - possibly looking eastward.  I can't decide if that is the remains of snow on the ground.

 

EDIT: There is another photo of the Triplane in CCI Journal Vol 38-3, page 158.  The colour of the fin in this image certainly seems different to that of the fuselage.  It could be blue.

Edited by pete-c

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michaeldr
1 hour ago, MikeW said:

the pilot's uniform has the wings on the right breast, or wrong breast depending on your sense of humour, and the cap badge looks "Naval". Anyone got any ideas? Greek?

 

The flaps to his jacket/tunic pockets do not have scalloped edges, if that helps to ID the uniform

 

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michaeldr
46 minutes ago, michaeldr said:

However, Brad King's 'RNAS 1912-1918' (photo no. 230 - page 140) shows Alcock standing next to N5431 with a similar looking tail-fin

Alcock.jpg.ccaa384244a49350ad4eb0cd55c1633e.jpg

 

For comparison, this is the Alcock photograph from King's book

The photograph is credited to the J M Bruce/G S Leslie Collection

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pete-c
14 hours ago, MikeW said:

I have owned the attached photo of a pristine Sopwith Triplane for  many years, nothing particularly unusual to identify the triplane, other than the fin appears to be painted blue.

The two men in the photo shows an RNAS ground crew  and a swarthy  skinned pilot - the pilot's uniform has the wings on the right breast, or wrong breast depending on your sense of humour, and the cap badge looks "Naval". Anyone got any ideas? Greek?

 

Any idea's where? In my opinion NOT Mudros as the  Alcock/Mellings Triplane had it's fin uncoloured.

Mystery Sop Triplane.jpg

 

Mike.  

Triplane N5431 - if indeed this is the above machine - was certainly at Mudros Repair Base circa February - March 1917.  It was erected and flown by Alcock and Lt Hellawell (Halliwell?) on February 28th.  Marsh Aerodrome was, on Feb 23rd, still flooded and by March 2nd the Greek Officers and men stationed there were transferred to the Repair Base flying ground to continue their instruction.

 

By March 16th the Triplane was at Stavros and by April it was wrecked.  Therefore, I would hazard a guess that if this is N5431 - it was pictured sometime between those dates.  As you point out, it does look pristine and unused.  As for the identity of the two men - ?  The chap on the right though could certainly be Greek.  And I do think that is water on the ground - the remnants of the snow and rain the afflicted the area during this period.  The Repair Base had better drainage than Marsh Aerodrome - as the name of the latter would imply!

Edited by pete-c

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MikeW

Craig,

 

"flipped" photo - even more convincing that the photo hasn't been reversed are the two "Lift Here" stencils on the lower rear fuselage, they can be clearly read!

 

Michaeldr - the photo you have reproduced clearly shows N5431 with the original "as supplied" fin - clear doped and with the Sopwith stencil visible, and clear doped wheel covers. In my photo the fin is  painted in a colour that tonally matches the blue of the rudder, often used to designate flight status (usually B flight) in Belgium and France. Also the wheel covers appear to be painted in my photo. Looking at other photos of N5431 it does appear to have had a lick of paint applied to the fin and the wheel covers at some stage.

 

Hopefully I have attached a larger view of the Mystery Pilot

 

899351881_Mysterypilot.jpg.1853670e4751fcf3146da9e8f5d28281.jpg

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pete-c

Following its repair, by June, N5431 was transferred to 'C' Sqn at Imbros.  By the 8th it was 'Ready for Service' and after a few flights from Imbros was back at the Mudros Repair Base by the 15th.  By June 18th it was at Thermi.  After August 10th - still at Thermi and 'Ready for Service' - I lose track of it.  Frustratingly, apart from Alcock and Mellings, no other pilots are mentioned in the WORs with regard to the Triplane.  Perhaps they were the only ones to fly it.

 

Therefore, going by these dates, this photo may have been taken on Imbros, at the Windmill Camp Aerodrome.  The features on the horizon, under the middle wing, could possibly be smoke from ships moored in Kephalo Bay.

 

Mike - I have just contacted a Greek contact (I am surprised he hasn't picked up on this post!) to see if he may have an idea as to who this man may be. 

 

 

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MerchantOldSalt
13 hours ago, pete-c said:

  Frustratingly, apart from Alcock and Mellings, no other pilots are mentioned in the WORs with regard to the Triplane.  Perhaps they were the only ones to fly it.

 

Pete

On 3 Apr 1918 GU's log book says " I went up in Camel (5692) and Hosking in Triplane to test their relative performance. Triplane faster and better climb."  This would probably have been Fernley John Hosking a sometime test pilot with 2 Wing at Mudros and Thermi according to his records. Though GU was never good at spelling, I cannot find any other Hosking or similar.

At least one more triplane pilot to add to your list?

Tony

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pete-c
3 hours ago, MerchantOldSalt said:

 

Pete

On 3 Apr 1918 GU's log book says " I went up in Camel (5692) and Hosking in Triplane to test their relative performance. Triplane faster and better climb."  This would probably have been Fernley John Hosking a sometime test pilot with 2 Wing at Mudros and Thermi according to his records. Though GU was never good at spelling, I cannot find any other Hosking or similar.

At least one more triplane pilot to add to your list?

Tony

 

Aha!  I had this man in my notes as Hesking - but on checking the relevant page I now see that it is Hosking.  So, as you say, another Tripe pilot to add to the list. 

 

I am beginning to wonder if the man in Mike's photo could be Commander Aristeidis Moraitinis?  I don't suppose you would have a decent image of him would you?  The only images of him I can find show him sporting a 'full set'.

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Eschwege1917

Hello everyone; many thanks Peter for bringing to my attention this very interesting photo. I see that both you and Tony have already commented on who might be the officer next to the Triplane. To give a quick answer, may I inform you that never before have I come across this man, either being British or Greek. But let me share some more information about the Triplane's operational service in the Aegean and make a suggestion as to whom the mystery pilot might be...

 

The Sopwith Triplane 'N5431' was shipped to the Aegean at the end of January 1917, at the request of the 2nd Wing (Document No. 19/117 / 01-01-1917), in order to oppose in even terms a new type of German scout which had made it's appearance in the Aegean theater of operations. The aircraft was assembled at the Repair Base at Mudros (Romanos), Limnos, and was ready for flight on 2 March 1917. Its engine was a 130hp rotary Clerget 9B with serial number '1621'. Not a long later, 2 Wing HQ requested for five (5) more such aircraft to equip all the Squadrons in the Aegean, wishing to eventually increase the number of the Triplanes in the Wing's strength to twelve (12)! Of course this never materialized and 'N5431' remained the sole representative of the type to operate in the Aegean until the War's end. 

 

On the 16th of March 'N5431' was transferred to Stavros on the mainland when the decision was made to set up E Flight for the purpose of helping the RFC and the French deal with the Kampfgeschwader I on the Macedonian front. I am sure the members of this forum are familiar with the unfortunate incident of the 26th of March, when FSL John Alcock wrecked the airplane at Salonika; he overturned it in a ditch between the British and the Serbian aviation parks and, as he said later to CPO William Pollard (the famous photographer), he was nearly suffocated and shaken up. The photo of Alcock standing in front of the Triplane (found in Brad King's book) was taken at Stavros before the flight to Salonika. I am posting a photo (in my collection) of the Triplane at Stavros at that time, showing that the tail fin was light colored (doped linen?) and not dark. For sure, the photo was not taken at Long Island and in fact the Triplane never operated from there; instead it was flown over Long Island during the Summer of 1917.

 

The Triplane was rebuilt at the Repair Base (with a dark painted - of a later design - fin) and, as Peter said, it was flown to Thermi at Mytilene on the 18th of March "in order to give “B” Squadron something with sufficient speed to attack Halberstadt Scouts on moderately even terms" (WOR #66). There it was flown repeatedly by FSL Thomas Mellings who was credited on the 20th of June with driving down an enemy Halberstadt scout. The Triplane remained there until mid September when B Squadron was reinforced with three Sopwith Camels. It must have been around that time when the Triplane was flown back by Mellings to the Repair Base. Then, on the 30th of September, Mellings (flying his favourite Triplane) engaged together with Alcock (flying a Camel) and FSL P.K. Fowler (flying a Pup) the three German seaplanes (an FF33L accompanied by the two Rumpler 6b.I) between Lemnos and the Straits, succeeding in bringing down the two scouts and damaging the FF33L. Only a few days later the Triplane was flown to Stavros and joined D Squadron. Again, it was Mellings who flew it to Stavros and I guess he was one of the two (or three) Mytilene (B Sqn) pilots to strengthen D Sqn who were suffering from malaria; according to the reports, during the first week of October 1917, there was only one pilot left at Stavros capable of flying operations over the Struma front. The other Mytilene pilot who was posted only for a short period (a month) to Stavros was FSL Maurice Buckley. The Triplane was flown by Mellings on many escort missions and he was credited with three of the German airplanes at Drama. Mellings was also flying a Camel. Then on December the 1st the Triplane was transferred to the Greek Z Sqn! The flight is well recorded in (RMLI) Corporal Howard Couldrake's diary:

 

"Dec 1st. Greek Commander arrived [at Thasos] 1.45 pm in Triplane. This is the first time I have seen a machine with 3 sets of main planes. I believe they are copied from the Italians. Their climbing prowess is marvellous, they almost go straight up". So, who was the Greek Commander, who flew the Triplane from Stavros to Thasos on December the 1st? Couldrake refers again to the Greek Commander in another entry in his diary and, in that case, he implies Flt Cmdr Aristidis Moraitinis, but, the entry on Dec the 1st may also refer to FSL Spyridonas Hambas, the acting CO on Thasos when Moraitinis was posted (early September 1917) to Lemnos to supervise the training of more Greek pilots and observers. Neither of these officers is the mystery naval officer mentined above... So, who might be the mystery naval officer then? I believe that he is one of the few more officers flying as pilots with Z Sqn at Thasos in December 1917, namely FSL Ioannis Logiadis and FSL Vasilios Saketopoulos. I explain why...

 

Both of them were still being trained at Lemnos during September 1917 (as late as the 20th). Then they joined Z Sqn on Thasos, flying Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter bombers and fighters. Now, quoting from WOR #91: "On 14th December a raid on Kavala was attempted by Z Sqn but owing to low clouds all machines, the two Sopwith Bombers, escorted by one Fighter and the Triplane, returned without having dropped their bombs. The attack was repeated on the following day but owing to low clouds results were not observed [...] On retuning from the attack on the 15th, Sopwith Bomber No N5200 and Sopwith Fighter No N5648, flying at 3000 ft collided in the air when 1 1/2 miles from the aerodrome. No details of the accident have been received but but a signalled report states that both machines fell into the sea, FSL Logiardis (sic), CPO Economou and Gunlayer (sic) Saketopoulos being killed". Unfortunately, there are no known photos of the three airmen who lost their lives on December the 15th, 1917. It is very likely that the mystery naval pilot is one of those two unlucky officers since others, present in photos of Z Sqn, appear again and again throughout 1918 and later. The Triplane was present at Thasos during that time, so "why not taking a photo by that strange bird"? But this is only a thought; I can not prove it. By the way, The Triplane had an accident on Thasos in late February and was transferred to the Repair Base once again. There, on April the 3rd, it was flown by FSL Fernley John Hosking, as Tony pointed out. I include a photo of Hosking, taken from agroup photo of G Sqn at Marsh, found in Marlowe's and Fowler's albums; Marlowe had put down all the names of the flying officers...

 

Many thanks to MikeW for sharing the splendid photo...

All the best from Greece,

Paschalis Palavouzis

          

Triplane N5431 Stavros.jpg

Fowler 21 _ Triplane N5431 Marsh.jpg

Fowler 92 _ Hosking.jpg

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pete-c

Paschalis - my thanks to you for your corrections re my various statements regarding the dates of the Triplanes initial flights, locations etc. and for enlightening us as to the possibilities of the identity of the mystery officer.  It would seem that he may well  remain a mystery.

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