9/8/1918 D’Annunzio’s flight over Vienna

Italian poet and man of action Gabriele D’Annunzio is serving in the Italian air force, commanding a fighter squadron. Now he combines his interest in words and aviation, leading his squadron on a roundtrip of more than 1,100 kilometres, flying from their base near Padua all the way to Vienna, Austria’s capital. Their mission is not to drop bombs but propaganda leaflets. Some of these are written by D’Annunzio himself, in colourful Italian prose that he declines to have translated into German. Other leaflets, including the one shown, are printed in both German and Italian.

That aeroplanes are able to make a trip of this distance is a sign of how far aviation has developed. That they are able to do so without interception by the Austro-Hungarians is a testament to Italian dominance of the skies. The starving people of Vienna may not be able to read the leaflets falling down on their city, but they know what they mean: the war is drawing to a close and defeat is staring them in the face.

images source:

leaflets fall over Vienna, near St. Stephen’s Cathedral & Italian side of leaflet (Wikipedia: Flight over Vienna)

see also: Dieselpunks – Knights of the Air: Flight over Vienna

8/8/1918 Amiens: the Black Day of the German Army #1918Live

Foch, recently promoted to marshal, has managed to convince the Allied commanders that it is time for them to go on the offensive. Now the British lead an attack near Amiens in the Somme sector. At the Somme in 1916 and at Passchendaele last year Haig hoped to achieve a breakthrough that would bring the war’s end in reach. This time his goals are more modest, with the main aim being to push the Germans out of artillery range of the transportation hub of Amiens, paving the way for further assaults elsewhere.

Great efforts have been made to keep news about the impending attack from the Germans. Allied fliers prevent German aircraft from observing the troop build-up. Allied soldiers are careful to avoid talking about the plans for the battle, telling any loose lipped comrade to keep their mouth shut. A German raid two days ago saw several hundred Australian troops captured, but none of them spill the beans on the imminent offensive.

Now, finally, the attack begins, with the infantry moving forward behind a devastating barrage, supported by tanks. In an echo of the first day of the German offensives in March, the Allies attack out of mist. The Germans are taken completely by surprise, unprepared for the hammer blow landing on them. The Canadian and Australian troops leading the British assault make astonishing gains, as do the French. As many as 15,000 Germans are taken prisoner.

As news of the disaster reaches Ludendorff he is dumbstruck. Later he will describe this as “der schwarze Tag des deutschen Heeres“: the Black Day of the German Army. What is so shocking is not the gains achieved by the Allies but the apparent collapse in the fighting spirit of the German troops. There are reports of men surrendering after only token resistance and of retreating men shouting “blackleg!” at reserves moving forward, accusing them of prolonging the war.

The initiative has now definitively passed to the Allies. Bowing to reality, Ludendorff finally abandons his plans for a final offensive against the British in Flanders. His attempts to win victory on the battlefield have failed and now it looks like Germany is staring defeat in the face.

image sources:

German prisoners (Forces Network: The Beginning Of The End Of WWI – Amiens, 1918)

8 August 1918 by Will Longstaff (Wikipedia: Battle of Amiens (1918))

26/7/1918 The last flight of Mick Mannock, Britain’s highest scoring fighter ace

Irish born Edward Mannock is the highest scoring British fighter pilot, credited with 60 enemy aircraft brought down since his flying career began in March last year. Known as Mick, he had previously served with James McCudden and was shocked by his accidental death. Mannock has flown against the Germans during many battles on the Western Front, including the Third Battle of Ypres last year and Operation Michael, the first phase of this year’s German offensives.

Mannock returned to England on leave in June, with some members of his family noting that he appeared to be under a great deal of nervous strain. On his return to France he took command of the RAF’s 85th Squadron. He introduced new tactics to his men, encouraging the pilots to fight together as a team rather than as individuals.

A week ago at a social function Mannock advised a fellow pilot to never fly low to observe a crashed enemy. Today though he breaks his own rule and pays the price. While patrolling in northern France, Mannock brings down a German aircraft, killing both members of his crew. He then inexplicably dives low to observe the wreckage before setting a course back towards his base. Unfortunately as he crosses the German lines at low altitude his aircraft is hit by intense fire from the ground and bursts into flames. The aircraft crashes behind German lines. Mannock’s body is apparently found some distance away, having been thrown clear or perhaps because he jumped to avoid immolation.

image sources:

The last photograph of Mick Mannock, taken in the summer of 1918 by a French farmer (samoyeddogs: Mick Mannock Veteran Page)

Major “Micky” Mannock (Acepilots: Edward “Mick” Mannock)

9/7/1918 The dangerous folly of low level acrobatics #1918Live

James McCudden was one of the six British fighter pilots who brought down German ace Werner Voss over Ypres last year. Since then he has continued to notch up victories, with his tally to date amounting to 57 enemy planes brought down. His efforts have earned him the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry. But for McCudden it is not enough. He is determined to surpass the 80 victories achieved by Germany’s Richthofen, the Red Baron, so he will have to kill some more.

It is not to be. Today he is on his way back to base after a period of leave in England. After flying across the Channel he stops at Auxi-le-Château for directions. Then he takes off but almost immediately he crashes, his engine stalling when he attempts a low level acrobatic manoeuvre. The fall fractures his skull and although he is rushed to a hospital he does not regain consciousness. He dies that evening, 23 years old.

image source:

James McCudden, by William Orpen (Wikipedia)

19/6/1918 Francesco Baracca’s last patrol over the Piave #1918Live

One factor aiding the Italians in the Piave fighting is their control of the air. The Italian air force dominates the skies, allowing them to provide accurate target observation to their artillerymen and preventing aerial observation the enemy. As a result Austro-Hungarian artillery meanwhile is largely firing blind, unable to target anything its spotters on the ground cannot themselves see.

Italian aircraft are also assisting their men in the ground by strafing enemy positions. One flier undertaking missions of this type is fighter pilot Francesco Baracca, who has shot down some 34 enemy aircraft since the war started. Like his German counterpart Manfred von Richthofen, Baracca is an aristocrat and he decorates his aeroplane with the prancing stallion found on his family’s coat of arms.

Today Baracca and a wingman are flying low over the Piave battlefield, strafing enemy positions in the Montello hill area. Baracca does not return from his mission. His cause of death is unclear: the Italians report him as having been brought down by ground fire but the Austro-Hungarians claim him as having been shot down by one of their aircraft.

image source:

Francesco Baracca (Wikipedia)

1/6/1918 Roderic Dallas is promoted too late

Pilots from across the world are flying for the Allies on the Western Front. One of these is the Australian pilot Roderic “Stan” Dallas, who has been flying combat missions since December 1915. Flying a variety of aeroplanes Dallas has notched up an impressive number of kills, though unlike some other fighter aces he has never been too concerned about formally registering his victories. His official tally stands at 39, though it could be much higher.

Dallas has risen through the ranks to become a squadron leader. His courage and solicitude for his comrades appear to have made him popular with his subordinates. Today he is promoted again to colonel, a rank that means he will no longer fly combat missions. However when notice of his promotion reaches his base, Dallas is in the air on a solo patrol. He does not return to learn of his promotion, as finds himself engaged by three Germans flying Fokker Triplanes. Dallas is shot down and killed over no man’s land.

image source:

Roderic Dallas (Wikipedia)

19/5/1918 Gervais Lufbery’s fatal fall #1918Live

In 1916, before the USA entered the war, the Lafayette Escadrille of fighter pilots was formed by American volunteers to assist the French. Most of the Americans were new to flying but one who was not was Gervais Lufbery, a Franco-American who had previously worked as an aircraft mechanic before training to become a pilot. Lufbery proved to be a gifted pilot and soon achieved the 5 victories that qualified him as an ace. When the USA entered the war Lufbery transferred to the American air force, training new pilots in combat techniques but continuing to fly missions himself, achieving some 17 victories, mostly while flying with the Lafayette Escadrille.

Today Lufbery unfortunately meets his end. After intercepting a German reconnaissance aircraft near Nancy in France his own aeroplane flips over and he falls out, his seatbelt apparently unfastened. The fall proves fatal.

image source:

Gervais Raoul Lufbery (Wikipedia)