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.

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James McCudden, by William Orpen (Wikipedia)

4/7/1918 Hamel: a local victory for the Australians and a worrying portent for the Germans

Ludendorff is preparing for his next offensive on the Western Front, the Friedensturm that will perhaps finally bring the Allies to their knees. The Allies though are becoming more confident that the worst of the German storm has passed, wondering if it might soon be time for them to go on the offensive against the Germans. In the meantime. Australian forces (supported by British tanks and aircraft as well as a small contingent of US troops) launch a local attack at Hamel, near Amiens. The aim is to clear a German salient and to prepare the way for a possible larger counteroffensive here.

For the Allies the attack at Hamel goes very well. In just 90 minutes the Australians achieve their objectives, capturing a large number of German prisoners. The attack shows that the Allies are continuing to refine the combined arms tactics that they used to great effect at the first stage of the Battle of Cambrai, a worrying sign for the Germans should they lose the initiative on the Western Front.
Battle of Hamel  - German POWs gathered near Corbie, 4th July 1918 (detail view)

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German prisoners taken at Hamel (Flickr, Baz: Battle of Hamel , July 1918)

1/4/1918 Britain forms the RAF, the world’s first independent air force #1918Live

At the start of the war, aeroplanes were still something of a novelty, their role in warfare unclear. Since then they have proved their mettle, both in an observation role and increasingly in the attacking of enemy troops and positions on the ground. Both sides are also making efforts to use aircraft in a strategic role, attacking enemy cities and centres of production. Germany is using both aeroplanes and Zeppelin airships in this role but the British too have had a crack at bombing German factories, to limited success.

In recognition of the increasingly important role air power is playing in the war, Britain now takes the novel step of creating a single unified air force, independent of the army and navy from which it is taking aeroplane squadrons. The British hope that his new organisation, the Royal Air Force, will allow them to more effectively use the power of the aeroplane to prosecute the war to victory.

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Join the Royal Air Force (History Things: On this Day, April 1st)

29/11/1917 Fate catches up with German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme #1917Live

Last year German fighter pilot Erwin Böhme accidentally caused the death of his commander, fighter ace Oswald Boelcke, when their aeroplanes collided during a dogfight. The distraught Böhme had to be dissuaded from killing himself.

Since then Böhme has made his reputation as a fighter pilot, notching up an impressive rate of kills. Three days ago he was awarded the Pour la Merité, Germany’s highest award for bravery. This morning he shoots down his 24th enemy aircraft, a British Sopwith Camel. Later in the day he sets off on another patrol over the Ypres salient. Spotting a British aeroplane on a reconnaissance mission, he swoops to attack. Unfortunately he overshoots and the British fliers manage to score enough hits on his Albatross to set its fuel ablaze. Böhme goes down in flames, crashing on the British side of the lines.

The British retrieve Böhme’s charred body and bury him with full military honours. He was 38 years old, almost twice the age of most other fighter pilots.

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Erwin Böhme (Wikipedia: Erwin Böhme)

Erwin Böhme shot down (Barry Weekley studio: Aviation Galleries) follow link for more pictures of warplanes from the First World War and beyond

27/10/1917 Fighter pilot Arthur Rhys-Davids fails to return #1917Live

Just over a month ago Arthur Rhys-Davids took part in the unequal struggle that saw German ace Werner Voss shot down after battling seven British fighter pilots. Since then Rhys-Davids has been sketched by William Orpen, who plans to paint a portrait of the flier.

Today Rhys-Davids is promoted to lieutenant. He heads off on a routine mission over enemy lines but he does not return. He appears to have fallen victim to German fighter pilot Karl Gallwitz. His body is not recovered.

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Portrait of Arthur Rhys-Davids, by William Orpen (Wikipedia)

23/9/1917 German fighter ace Werner Voss shot down over Ypres #1917Live

Against doctor’s orders, Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, came back to active service in late July after being wounded earlier that month. Since then he has managed to shoot down several enemy aeroplanes but is still suffering the after effects of his head injury. He is currently once more on sick leave but hopes to be back in action soon.

Richthofen is not Germany’s only star pilot. Another flier who has made a name for himself is Werner Voss, a subordinate commander of the Red Baron’s Flying Circus. Voss is now flying the new Fokker Triplane, a highly manoeuvrable and fast climbing aircraft. He has shot down some 47 enemy aircraft since his first kill in November 1916.

Voss’s squadron has been deployed to Flanders, where it is contesting Allied control of the skies above Ypres. Voss returned from leave yesterday and this morning he returns to the skies and shoots down a British bomber. On returning to his base he celebrates by looping the loop. Nevertheless his colleagues note that he appears unusually tense, with one reporting “He had the nervous instability of a cat”.

In the evening Voss and his comrades set off again. This time they find themselves caught in a battle royale with a large number of enemy aircraft. In the confused dogfight that develops, Voss finds himself being targeted by six British aircraft, all flown by ace fighter pilots. Accounts vary but he appears not to try to evade his pursuers, instead taking every opportunity to turn the tables on his opponents. He scores hits on most of the British aeroplanes but does not bring any down.

The uneven battle can have only one end. British bullets strike Voss and his aeroplane smashes into the ground on the British side of the line. That evening the British pilots drink a toast to the brave flier they have killed. Voss was 20 years of age.

See also: “Lives of the Aces in Pictures – Part 14: Lieutenant Werner Voss” by Eugene Frandzen

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Werner Voss (Wikipedia)

6/7/1917 The Red Baron shot down #1917Live

Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, has been leading his Flying Circus over the Western Front, striking terror into Allied airmen wherever he goes. By now he has personally shot down as many as 57 Allied aircraft, sending dozens of mostly British fliers to their graves. In Germany he is starting to become famous, portrayed in propaganda as a knight of the air.

Combat flying is a dangerous business. One mistake or an instance of bad luck can prove fatal. Richthofen had a brush with death in March, when an enemy bullet knocked out the engine of his aeroplane. Today the Grim Reaper’s scythe swings closer. In combat with two British F.E. 2d fighters Richthofen suffers a head wound, disorienting and temporarily blinding him. Fortunately for him, he recovers enough to be able to bring his plane down safely in a field on the German side of the line. Richthofen survives, but it will be some time before the wounded Red Baron can to return to the skies.

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Richthofen’s aeroplane after his forced landing (Wikipedia)

Richthofen recovering under the care of Nurse Kätie Otersdorf (Bliss from Bygone Days: The Red Baron)