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 Bloody April:1917

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Triceratops
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PostSubject: Bloody April:1917   Wed 09 Apr 2014, 10:57

The 9th April 1917, marked the beginning of the Battle of Arras, the BEF's Spring Offensive of 1917, launched to coincide with France's Nivelle Offensive.

To support the ground attack, the Royal Flying Corps deployed 365 aircraft, about two-thirds artillery spotters, photo-reconnaissance planes and tactical bombers, while the remainder were fighters, tasked with protecting them during their missions.
Here, however, was a problem, for the RFC aircraft were by and large outclassed by their German opponents. The mainstay of the Army co-operation squadrons was the BE2 series of aircraft, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland to be as safe to fly as possible, they were in fact too safe, unable to outrun or outfly anything else in the sky. The other machines, with the notable exceptions of the handful of French  SPAD S-7s and the Royal Naval Air Service's Sopwith Triplanes, were little better. The Germans by contrast initially deployed about 50 fighters in 5 squadrons ( Jastas in German terminology ) later rising to 8 Jastas., flying the Albatros D111 fighter, a shark like, streamlined aircraft fitted with two machine guns synchronised to fire through the propeller. Too many of the British fighters were still of the "pusher" type, machines with the engine behind the pilot, designs which predated the adoption of synchronised machine guns, barely able to defend themselves far less the aircraft they were tasked with protecting.
Two further factors were of influence. Firstly, the Germans, fighting a defensive battle, kept to their own side of the lines, with the result that any British aircrew who survived being shot down ended up being taken prisoner and were lost anyway. The second was Hugh Trenchard's policy of "no empty chairs in the mess" which meant that far too many inadequately trained pilots were sent to the Front, a problem exacerbated as the battle progressed.
During the month of April 1917, the British lost 245 planes. Some units being especially hard hit, Number 43 Squadron flew two seat Sopwith One and Half strutters at the time, of the 18 pilots and 18 observers on the strength on 1st April, all the observers and 12 of the pilots had become casualties by the month's end.

Jasta 11, were the most successful of the German squadrons, claiming 89 kills during the month, this single squadron therefore was responsible for inflicting over one-third of the RFC losses.



CO of Jasta 11, Manfred von Richtofen, seated in the cockpit of an Albatros D111, with other members of the squadron.



 British RE8 reconnaissance plane about to crash

 For the RFC it became known as Bloody April
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PostSubject: Re: Bloody April:1917   Wed 09 Apr 2014, 13:59

The prevailing westerly wind exacerbated the problem of captured shot down aircrews - any dogfight that started over the front lines tended to drift further and further into German airspace as it continued.
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PostSubject: Re: Bloody April:1917   Wed 09 Apr 2014, 14:18

Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
The prevailing westerly wind exacerbated the problem of captured shot down aircrews - any dogfight that started over the front lines tended to drift further and further into German airspace as it continued.

 A good point, Gil.

Two videos about Bloody April, worth watching for the vintage footage;



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PostSubject: Re: Bloody April:1917   Wed 09 Apr 2014, 14:57

Quote :
By the end of May, the Royal Flying Corps was badly in need of reinforcements, much due to the after-effects of Bloody April. As a result, Collishaw was posted to his previous No. 10 Naval Squadron as a flight commander. Collishaw's "B" Flight would be composed entirely of Canadians. Although British commanders had strongly discouraged pilots painting their aircraft, Collishaw's flight painted their Sopwith Triplanes black (though appearing dark brown), and called themselves the All-Black Flight, later known more simply as the Black Flight.[7]
Quote :
"The aircraft of the All-Black Flight were christened with suitable names. Ellis Reid, of Toronto, flew Black Roger; J. E. Sharman, of Winnipeg, flew Black Death; Gerry Nash, of Hamilton, called his machine Black Sheep; and Marcus Alexander, of Toronto, christened his plane the Black Prince. The flight commander, Collishaw, flew a machine which gloried in the name Black Maria."[8]


Raymond Collishaw after the First World War
During their first two months they claimed a record 87 German aircraft destroyed or driven down - which, strangely enough, brought Collishaw and the unit no wide publicity, though garnered a great deal of renown among their German opponents in the area. Collishaw later claimed that this was because officials in the regular Royal Flying Corps were loath to give credit to naval pilots.[9]
Quote :
"June 6, 1917 was their grandest day. They were flying offensive patrols with 10 Triplanes. Collishaw was leading a patrol when they came across an Albatros 2-seater escorted by 15 Albatros and Halberstadt fighters. In the "fur ball" that ensued Collishaw dropped three Albatroses, Nash downed an Aviatik two-seater and an Albatros, Reid downed a Halberstadt scout, Sharman and Alexander each downed an Albatros. In total the RNAS shot down 10 German aircraft without any losses." [10]
Quote :
"Their first loss came when they had achieved an aggregate of fifty victories. On June 26th, the All-Blacks found themselves engaged with Richthofen's Jagdstaffel 11. Gerry Nash found that he was fighting two German pilots single-handed. One of the Germans was Lieutenant Karl Allmenröder, victor in some 30 air battles, and second only to Richthofen among the German pilots then in action. Nash's other opponent was Richthofen himself.
Quote :
Yet, faced by the two deadliest German pilots, Nash fought a tremendous battle. He twisted and turned, looking for openings, but at last Allmenröder got in a telling burst, and Nash's controls were damaged. He fell out of the fight and managed to land safely - but behind the enemy lines, where he destroyed his plane before he was captured.

One of the effects of "Bloody April" was to bring this mob to the front ...... BTW - only the cowlings and forward fuselage decking were painted black. It's a little unfair to blame the proto-crabs for not having Sopwiths, as Sopwith were contracted to supply only the RNAS.
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PostSubject: Re: Bloody April:1917   Thu 10 Apr 2014, 13:40

Workhorse of the RFC during the first part of the war the BE2 was in the process of being replaced by the RE8 during the Spring of 1917. Many were still in service at the time of the Arras Offensive.



For it's day, the BE2 was a very safe and stable machine. Take your hands of the controls and it would fly on in a straight line. There is a story about one BE2 that was found in a field, the crew dead and had been for a while, the aircraft having flown on until it ran out of fuel then glided down and landed itself. 
It's ease of flying meant it was kept in service longer that it should have been, as the rapid expansion of the RFC meant it was the ideal aircraft to graduate a lot of pilots quickly. With a top speed of only 72mph it was painfully slow even by WW1 standards.







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PostSubject: Re: Bloody April:1917   Fri 11 Apr 2014, 15:06

A breakdown of the 245 aircraft lost by the British in April 1917, as given in Bloody April, Black September by Norman Franks, Russell Guest and Frank Bailey, is as follows:
BE2.... 75                  
FE2....58                  
Nieuport Scouts....43                    
RE8....15                    
Sopwith 1.5 Strutter....14                    
Bristol Fighter....9                                          
Spad VII....8                                
Sopwith Pup....7                  
DH4....6  
Martinsyde G100....5
Sopwith Triplane....4
Morane Parasol....3
DH2....2
AWFK8....2
SE5....1
Sopwith Baby.....1
Handley Page 0/100....1
NieuportXII....1
                       
In April 1917 British aircrew losses were 211 aircrew killed, missing or died of wounds, with a further 108 taken prisoner for a total of 319. By contrast, British aircrew losses for the four and a half months of Battle of the Somme the year before, amounted to 499.

I copied those figures from the book, and they add up to 255. So, some mistake somewhere.
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PostSubject: Re: Bloody April:1917   Fri 11 Apr 2014, 16:28

Arithmetical errors aren't that uncommon - I keep seeing a number of 50 pre-Dreadnoughts active in the RN in WWI. Add up the figures, and there were actually 40 (41 if you count "Revenge"/"Redoubtable" - the original source for 50 seems to be le Fleming, who specifically excludes her.)
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