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Interpreting Fragmentary Records of Aerial Combat


Buffnut453
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Hi Folks,

I’m trying to interpret and integrate a number of different sources to work out a relative’s role in the air fighting in Sept-Nov 1918 and I’d appreciate some help grading my homework…and perhaps enhance it with additional insights from those more expert than I in Great War aerial combat. 

My relative, Jim Gamble, served as a Sergeant Pilot on 11 Sqn and, for now, I’m focusing on a bomber escort sortie he flew on 29 Sep 1918.  His logbook entry for that date says that he took off at 0715 with a task to “Escort DH4s to Cambrai, Bohain, Le Cateau.”  Sortie duration was 2hrs 20mins at an altitude of 17,000ft.

The 13th Wing task Operation Order 421 (Source: UKNA AIR 1/1809/204/161/5) provides additional details below:. 

“No.11 Squadron to carry out offensive patrols in conjunction with No.57 Squadron’s bomb raids and reconnaissances.  All patrols to be as strong as possible.  Arrangements will be made direct between Squadron Commanders.” 

“No.57 Squadron: First raid objective – Esnes and Wallincourt.  Second raid objective – Carnieres and Beauvois.  The first raid will leave the ground as early as possible, and the second raid as late as possible.”

 

There is a surviving combat report from 29 Sep 1918 submitted by 2Lt’s Peacock and Kelty of 11 Sqn (Source: UKNA AIR 1/219/204/5/2634).  Their report contains the following details:

-  Patrol Strength: 12

-  Locality: S.E. Cambrai

-  Time: 8.45 a.m.

-  Duty: Escort to Bomb Raid

-  Height: 9,000ft

Whilst on escort to bomb raid, I observed 6 Fokker biplanes flying about 200 yards behind and above me.  I dived on one E.A. below this formation and fired a burst of 30 rounds.  This E.A. seemed to be quite out of control, diving and spinning.

I then did a climbing turn and my observer opened fire on an E.A. which was following me down.  He fired a burst of 20 rounds at close range; E.A. then burst into flames, which was seen by other Bristols in the formation.

 

There are some differences in location and altitude but I think, in general, Jim’s logbook entry tallies pretty well in terms of task, time and location, with the 13th Wing Order and the combat report.  .  

The fighting wasn’t all one-sided.  One of 11 Squadron’s machines, F5814, was shot down in flames at 0850 with 2Lt Smith and Lt Bromley killed in action.  The victor was a Fokker D.VII piloted by Josef Mai of Jasta 5; it was his 30th kill ((Source: Franks, Norman, Guest, Russell, and Bailey, Frank Black September 1918 (Grub Street, 2018), pp.182, 187).  

 

I realize these are fragmentary records but, in general, I’ve concluded that Jim was part of the 12-aircraft escort to the 57 Sqn DH4s and that he probably was close enough to see the victories of Peacock and Kealty, as well as the loss of Smith and Bromley because they were all part of the same general engagement.   

QUESTION #1:  Are my conclusions reasonable? 

 

The Peacock/Kelty combat report notes a formation of 6 Fokkers flying above and behind them with a 7th flying below that formation, and it was this solitary Fokker that they engaged.  It then appears that at least one of the other Fokkers dived down to attack Peacock and Kelty.

QUESTION #2:  I seem to recall the German Army Air Service operating a solitary aircraft below a formation of fighters as bait to lure British fighters into a trap.  Does the Peacock/Kelty report tally with this interpretation or am I just making up stuff?

 

Peacock gives the impression that he was flying alone at 9,000ft which seems odd if he was part of a 12-aircraft escort.  He could have left the other 11 Brisfits at higher altitude to dive onto the solitary Fokker but this does seem a risky thing to do.

QUESTION #3:  Is it fair to assume that Peacock attacked the solitary Fokker on his own while the other 11 Brisfits remained at higher altitude or might it be possible that there were earlier, unreported, engagements which broke up the 11 Sqn formation and left Peacock and Kelty to fight on their own?    

 

The involvement of Josef Mai is of interest to me as he was a well-known ace who typically flew a very distinctively-marked Fokker D.VII.  I'm intrigued that my relative may have been in close proximity to Mai during this action, and hence may have witnessed the events described. 

Sorry for the long post but any insights from those more familiar with Great War aerial combat would be very much appreciated.

Edited by Buffnut453
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I guess the lack of response probably means I'm asking stupid questions.  I have a tendency to do that.  So....I'll try again with a different tack.

Are there any books out there that might/do provide details of which Jasta 5 pilots were involved in the 29 Sep 1918 engagement with 11 and 57 Sqns?  I see there are two Windsock Datafiles which purport to provide "The full story of Jasta 5...in graphic and meticulous detail."  I suspect my questions are too detailed to be answered in a Datafile...but I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.  

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Buffnut 

I'm no expert but, Q.1,  I think you have assessed the information you have available logically and sensibly and your conclusions appear to be supported by the evidence. Q.2, yes, that tactic was very common (used by both sides). Q.3: can't answer on the evidence available.

Mike

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38 minutes ago, Perth Digger said:

Buffnut 

I'm no expert but, Q.1,  I think you have assessed the information you have available logically and sensibly and your conclusions appear to be supported by the evidence. Q.2, yes, that tactic was very common (used by both sides). Q.3: can't answer on the evidence available.

Mike

Hi Mike,

Many thanks for your response.  I recently obtained a copy of "The Sky Their Battlefield" which added a further detail to Q.1 that Smith and Bromley in F5814 got airborne at 0720, which was just 5 mins after the departure time recorded in my relative's logbook.  For me, that seals the deal that my relative was flying one of the 12 Brisfits and hence was pretty close to the action on 29 Sep 1918.

I'm waiting to get hold of "Casualties of the German Air Service, 1914-20" by Franks et al in hopes it might shed some additional light on the various combats mentioned in 11 Sqn records and elsewhere.

"Black September" included an interesting detail about the combat on 29 Sep 1918.  Other sources had credited Mai with shooting down the Brisfit of Lt Boulton and 2Lt Case of 22 Sqn but makes the comment that "the times do not agree."  Other online resources credit Paul Bäumer as the victor over Smith and Bromley.  I'd be interested in learning what sources might be available on the German side that informed the comments and associations in "Black September"....but I recognize that accessing those sources is probably beyond my abilities.

Thanks again for helping me think through this.

Kind regards,

Mark

 

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