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Remembered Today:

Dive bombing during the Great War


KizmeRD
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I am not really much of a specialist with regard to WW1 military aviation, however whilst I was recently re-reading Adm. Bacon’s ‘Dover Patrol, Vol. 2’ I discovered on page 546 a reference to the tactics employed by Flt.Sub.Lt. R. Mackenzie in dive bombing enemy Observation Balloons.
 

Is this the first time that such a method of attack was used? (It must have been quite challenging for the feeble airframes in use at the time).

 

“At this period there was no suitable bullet which would set fire to a kite-balloon, and it was decided to employ Le Prieur rockets, a French invention which had been successfully used by the R.F.C. The rockets were attached to the interplane struts — four on each side — and fired electrically by means of a switch, by the pilot. The method of attack was to approach from a height, and, when nearly over the balloon, to dive at full speed, firing the rockets so that they would travel only 300 or 400 feet. If fired at a greater range, the curved trajectory of the rocket made it extremely hard to ensure a hit even on such a large target as a kite-balloon.

The difficulties associated with this operation were enhanced by the fact that at this date the German anti-aircraft batteries were extremely numerous and accurate, and, whilst the Fleet was in sight, every enemy gun was manned. Flight-Sub- Lieutenant Mackenzie selected an 80 Le Rhone Nieuport gaby — an extremely strong machine, which could be dived at a speed of 200 miles an hour. He thought out all the details of the attack and practised assiduously at a ground target, which was perhaps the most trying part of the operation for the nerves.
The practice consisted in diving from a great height nearly vertically — in reality 70" — to the earth at an enormous speed until a mark on the ground grew in size as it was approached, and exactly filled a circle marked on the wind-screen of the machine. The elevators were then worked, and the machine brought parallel to the ground. A speed of 200 miles an hour means nearly 300-feet travel each second. An error of two seconds would infallibly mean a crash. Moreover, the stress on the planes in straightening up and thereby checking the vertical velocity of the machine by the air pressure under them, was very great.”

 

Plenty of detail, but the problem I have is that I couldn’t find any trace of this pilot (so named) - but if he was the chap who pioneered dive-bombing, then he ought to be better remembered. (Apparently, according to Bacon, the gallant attack on the observation ballon earned him a DSO, although unfortunately he was killed later in the war during the Battle of The Somme. So I’m guessing that this event must have occurred sometime earlier, during late 1915 or first half of 1916?

 

Can anyone support (or reject) the accuracy of the above account?

 

MB

 

Additional info - he was said to be a RNAS pilot attached to ‘The Advanced Squadron at Furnes’.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Edited by KizmeRD
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1 hour ago, KizmeRD said:

I am not really much of a specialist with regard to WW1 military aviation, however whilst I was recently re-reading Adm. Bacon’s ‘Dover Patrol, Vol. 2’ I discovered on page 546 a reference to the tactics employed by Flt.Sub.Lt. R. Mackenzie in dive bombing enemy Observation Balloons.
 

Is this the first time that such a method of attack was used? (It must have been quite challenging for the feeble airframes in use at the time).

 

“At this period there was no suitable bullet which would set fire to a kite-balloon, and it was decided to employ Le Prieur rockets, a French invention which had been successfully used by the R.F.C. The rockets were attached to the interplane struts — four on each side — and fired electrically by means of a switch, by the pilot. The method of attack was to approach from a height, and, when nearly over the balloon, to dive at full speed, firing the rockets so that they would travel only 300 or 400 feet. If fired at a greater range, the curved trajectory of the rocket made it extremely hard to ensure a hit even on such a large target as a kite-balloon.

The difficulties associated with this operation were enhanced by the fact that at this date the German anti-aircraft batteries were extremely numerous and accurate, and, whilst the Fleet was in sight, every enemy gun was manned. Flight-Sub- Lieutenant Mackenzie selected an 80 Le Rhone Nieuport gaby — an extremely strong machine, which could be dived at a speed of 200 miles an hour. He thought out all the details of the attack and practised assiduously at a ground target, which was perhaps the most trying part of the operation for the nerves.
The practice consisted in diving from a great height nearly vertically — in reality 70" — to the earth at an enormous speed until a mark on the ground grew in size as it was approached, and exactly filled a circle marked on the wind-screen of the machine. The elevators were then worked, and the machine brought parallel to the ground. A speed of 200 miles an hour means nearly 300-feet travel each second. An error of two seconds would infallibly mean a crash. Moreover, the stress on the planes in straightening up and thereby checking the vertical velocity of the machine by the air pressure under them, was very great.”

 

Plenty of detail, but the problem I have is that I couldn’t find any trace of this pilot (so named) - but if he was the chap who pioneered dive-bombing, then he ought to be better remembered. (Apparently, according to Bacon, the gallant attack on the observation ballon earned him a DSO, although unfortunately he was killed later in the war during the Battle of The Somme. So I’m guessing that this event must have occurred sometime earlier, during late 1915 or first half of 1916?

 

Can anyone support (or reject) the accuracy of the above account?

 

MB

 

Additional info - he was said to be a RNAS pilot attached to ‘The Advanced Squadron at Furnes’.

 


 

 

 

 

 

Hi

 

'The History of Dive Bombing' by Peter C Smith, Pen & Sword, 2007, comments that: 

 

"But the strongest claimant in my opinion for the first 'official' dive-bombing attack, as such is held by Second Lieutenant William Henry Brown RFC, while serving with No.84 Squadron in France in March 1918."

 

There are then about three pages about training and the operation.  However, during WW1 it depends how you define the difference between 'glide' bombing and 'dive' bombing as without dive brakes etc. the aircraft could not be classed as dive bombers in the WW2 sense.  But as fighters are described as 'diving' when using their forward firing MGs to 'strafe' ground targets, then dropping bombs at the end of the 'dive' would constitute 'dive-bombing', this is mentioned in the text.

 

Mike

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jpl - That’s obviously the chap, well done for finding him. I’m starting to feel better about the story already!

 

He must have perished sometime between September and November 1916, but I for some reason I can’t find him commemorated on the CWGC website.


MB

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Mike, seeing as Mackenzie used his diving technique to fire off rockets, I guess it doesn’t actually qualify as ‘bombing’ (straffing?).

Anyway, it was interesting to read about special aerial diving attack methods used to shoot down observation balloons, and also to appreciate that this was a tactical development that was practiced as early as 1916.

Thanks again for the reference to Henry Brown.

MB

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11 minutes ago, KizmeRD said:

jpl - That’s obviously the chap, well done for finding him. I’m starting to feel better about the story already!

 

He must have perished sometime between September and November 1916, but I for some reason I can’t find him commemorated on the CWGC website.


MB

 

1.  CWGC:

https://www.cwgc.org/find-records/find-war-dead/casualty-details/294701/COLIN ROY MACKENZIE/

 

2.  The Dover Patrol:

Have you found the poem The Strafe Of The Kite Balloon ?

 

JP

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Flt Cdr Colin Roy MacKenzie DSO CG (France) MiD* of Bath, Somerset, was flying Nieuport 17bis 8750 when he successfully attacked a Kite Balloon 1 mile South East of Steene on 7 September 1916.  He was killed in action near Bihucourt on 24 January 1917 when flying Sopwith Pup N5198 of No 8 Sqn RNAS, and is buried at Achiet le Grand, France.  A victory was credited to Ltn Hans von Keudell of Jasta 1; it was the 11th of the German pilot's 12 victories before he was killed in action on 15 February.

 

I hope this helps.

 

Gareth

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Winchester College Roll of Honour:

Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon wrote of him: 'Mackenzie was one of the best organisers, and was always cheerful and bright. He left a lasting monument behind him in the form of a short essay of advice to young pilots'. A full account of how he won his DSO can be read in The Dover Patrol 1915-1917 by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon. He concluded his chapter on the RNAS in his book with a poem about Mackenzie

 

The Strafe Of The Kite Balloon - page 275:

https://archive.org/details/doverpatrol00bacogoog/page/n300/mode/2up?ref=ol&view=theater

 

2067336757_StrafeofKB.jpg.7855f3f0209694be9cffbaf155503967.jpg

2.jpg.0494f0130d896403fd16e489807c9ffe.jpg

JP

Edited by helpjpl
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Thanks again - I hadn’t searched CWGC into 1917 as I was looking for someone who died during the Somme offensive.

I guess a WW1 pilot’s life expectancy was  slightly better than that of a kite balloon observer, but only just!

MB

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Nieuport serial 8750 was not a 17 Bis, it was a 17B which was RNAS terminology for either a Nieuport 21 (Nieuport 11 fuselage with Nieuport 17 Wings and 80hp Le Rhone) or a Nieuport 11. In March 1917, Naval 11 recorded it initially as a 17B, and a bit later on as a Baby Nieuport which inclines me to think it was most probably an 11.

 

Mike

Edited by MikeW
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Nils, thanks for the steer - short range incendiary rockets invented by the French Lieutenant Yves Le Prieur and first used by him during the Battle of Verdun in April 1916 against Getman observation balloons. His technique was to dive down on the balloon at an angle of 45 degrees, but the steeper the dive, the more accurate the delivery.

MB

 

 

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Mackenzie's technic sounds very similar to that employed by RNAS pilot, Flight-Commander John Tremayne Babington, on 21 November 1914 during the raid on the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen, Germany. He wrote:

11.54am. - Shrapnel commenced bursting to right of machine and about 1,000 feet below. Continued course until sun in line with gun sights. Shrspnel bursting to rear. Height 4,000 feet.

11.55am. - Commenced very steep descent in slight curve over sheds. Released two bombs at 950 feet. Shrapnel all passing above and bursting beyond. At 450 feet released second two bombs, machine nearly vertical, continued dive over sheds and received shock of bomb explosion directly over shed.

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The three Avro 504’s that took off on the raid carried only four 20lb bombs each, so expectations concerning what might be achievable must have been unrealistically optimistic.


I’m not entirely happy with Babington’s narrative, as it differs from German eye-witness accounts. This was also his very first bombing mission, and he was entirely unpracticed, so it seems a bit unlikely that in a “nearly vertical” dive from 4,000 feet he would have been able to fly the aircraft, drop all four bombs in the manner described (using just a make-shift bomb release mechanism) and be able to pull-up in time. Also I’m not convinced that an Avro’s airframe would have stood up to dive-bombing stresses and strains, or that a 80HP Gnome engine (lacking in throttle control) would have been adequate for such a manoeuvre. 


The raid was highly successful at home in terms of its propaganda value, but actual damage inflicted on the ground was rather insignificant.

 

MB
 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 14/06/2021 at 00:21, KizmeRD said:

The three Avro 504’s that took off on the raid carried only four 20lb bombs each, so expectations concerning what might be achievable must have been unrealistically optimistic.


I’m not entirely happy with Babington’s narrative, as it differs from German eye-witness accounts. This was also his very first bombing mission, and he was entirely unpracticed, so it seems a bit unlikely that in a “nearly vertical” dive from 4,000 feet he would have been able to fly the aircraft, drop all four bombs in the manner described (using just a make-shift bomb release mechanism) and be able to pull-up in time. Also I’m not convinced that an Avro’s airframe would have stood up to dive-bombing stresses and strains, or that a 80HP Gnome engine (lacking in throttle control) would have been adequate for such a manoeuvre. 


The raid was highly successful at home in terms of its propaganda value, but actual damage inflicted on the ground was rather insignificant.

 

MB
Then again you could destroy a Zeppelin with a box of matches given the right circumstances

 

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