Thursday 23 November 1916 – We Lost 469
Major Lanoe George Hawker VC DSO (Royal Flying Corps) while flying a DH-2 Serial No. 5964 leaves Bertangles Aerodrome at 13:00 as part of ‘A’ Flight, led by Captain J O Andrews. Andrews leads the flight in an attack on two German aircraft over Achiet. Spotting a larger flight of German aircraft above, Andrews is about to break off the attack, but spots Hawker diving to attack. Losing contact with the other DH-2’s, Hawker begins a lengthy dog-fight with an Albatros D.II flown by Manfred von Richthofen of Jasta 2. Running low on fuel, Hawker eventually breaks away from the combat and attempts to return to Allied lines. The Red Baron’s guns jams 50 yards from the lines, but a bullet from his last burst strikes Hawker in the head, killing him instantly. His plane spins from 1,000 feet and crashes 200 metres east of Luisenhof Farm, just south of Bapaume on the Flers Road, becoming the German ace’s 11th victim. Richthofen claimed Hawker’s Lewis gun from the wreck as a trophy and hangs it above the door of his quarters. The son of a distinguished military family, Hawker was born on 30th December 1890 at Longparish, Hampshire. He went to the Royal Navy College in Dartmouth, and although highly intelligent and an enthusiastic sportsman, his grades are disappointing. As a naval career became more unlikely, he entered The Royal Military Academy in Woolwich before joining the Royal Engineers, as an officer cadet. A clever inventor, Hawker developed a keen interest in all mechanical and engineering developments. During the summer of 1910 he saw a film featuring the Wright Flyer and after attending an aircraft flying display at Bournemouth, he quickly found an interest in aviation, learning to fly at his own expense at Hendon. On 4th March 1913, Hawker was awarded his Private Pilot’s Certificate from the Royal Aero Club. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps, reporting to the Central Flying School at Upavon.
Hawker was posted to France in October 1914 as a Captain with No. 6 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, flying Henri Farmans. The squadron converted to the Be-2c and he undertook numerous reconnaissance missions into 1915, being wounded once by ground fire. On 22nd April he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for attacking a German Zeppelin shed at Gontrode by dropping hand grenades at low level (below 200ft) from his BE-2c. He used a tethered German balloon to help shield him from enemy ground fire as he made successive attacks. The squadron now received several single seat scouts, and some early FE2 ‘pushers’. One aircraft received was a Bristol Scout that Hawker, with assistance from Air Mechanic Ernest Elton, equipped with their design of Lewis gun mount, enabling the machine gun to fire forward obliquely at an angle, missing the propeller arc. Hawker’s innovative ideas at this time greatly benefited the still fledgling Royal Flying Corps. He helped invent the Prideaux disintegrating link machine-gun belt feed, and initiated the practice of putting fabric protective coverings on the tips of wooden propellers, the use of fur-lined thigh boots, and devising a primitive ‘rocking fuselage’ for target practice on the ground. In 1916 he also developed (with W L French) the increased capacity 97-round ‘double drum’ for the Lewis Machine gun. It was issued for trials in July and after modifications was issued generally to the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service.
Following an initial air victory in June, on 25th July 1915 when on patrol over Passchendaele, Captain Hawker attacked three German aircraft in succession, flying Bristol Scout C serial No. 1611. The first, after he had emptied a complete drum of bullets from his aircraft’s single Lewis machine gun into it, went spinning down. The second was driven to the ground damaged, and the third – an Albatros C.I of FA 3 – which he attacked at a height of about 10,000 feet, burst into flames and crashed. For this feat he was awarded the Victoria Cross. This particular sortie was just one of the many which Captain Hawker undertook during almost a year of constant operational flying and fighting. He claimed at least 3 more victories in August 1915, either in the Scout or flying an F.E.2. Hawker was posted back to England in late 1915, with some 7 victory claims (including1 captured, 3 destroyed, 1 ‘out of control’ and 1 ‘forced to land’) making him the first British flying ace.
Promoted to Major early in 1916 Hawker was placed in command of the RFC’s first fighter squadron, Number 24 flying the Airco DH2 pusher. After two fatalities in recent flying accidents, the new fighter soon earned a reputation for spinning. Hawker countered this by taking a DH2 up over the Squadron base and, in front of the Squadron pilots, put the aircraft through a series of spins, each time recovering safely. After landing he carefully described to all pilots the correct procedures to recover from a spin. Once the pilots became used to the DH2’s characteristics confidence in the aircraft rose quickly. He then led the squadron back to Bertangles, north of the Somme in February 1916, where the squadron quickly helped counter the Fokker Eindecker monoplanes of the German Air Force which were dominant over the Western Front in the run up to the Somme offensive in July 1916. Motivated by Hawker’s aggressive philosophy of (quote) ‘Attack Everything’, 24 Squadron had claimed some 70 victories by November. By mid 1916 Royal Flying Corps policy was to ban Squadron Commanders from operational flying, Hawker included. However, he continued to make frequent offensive patrols and reconnaissance flights, particularly over the Somme battlefields. However, as the year wore on, the Germans introduced far more potent fighters to the front, rapidly making the DH2 obsolete.
Flight Lieutenant Daniel Murray Galbraith (Royal Naval Air Service) attacks single-handed a formation of six hostile aircraft, no other allied machines being in the vicinity. One hostile machine is shot down, a second is driven down under control, and the remaining four machines give up the fight and land.
Only two days after the Britannic is sunk the hospital ship Braermar Castle strikes a mine in the same Mykoni Channel where Britannic was sunk. This time the Captain is able to beach the ship and it will eventually be towed to Malta for repairs. Four patients are killed.
Today’s losses include:
- A Victoria Cross winner and flying ACE
- A victim of the Red Baron
- Multiple families that will lose two sons in the Great War
- Multiple sons of members of the clergy
- A family that will lose four sons in the Great War
Today’s highlighted casualties include:
- Major Sinclair G Trail (Cameron Highlanders) is killed in a railway accident in France at age 26. He is the brother of Major John Trail who was killed in October 1914 at Gheluvelt.
- Lieutenant Harold Bertram Rylands (Lancashire Fusiliers) is killed at Beaumont Hamel at age 21. His brother was killed last year on Gallipoli.
- Flight Sub Lieutenant Henry Berners Begg (Royal Naval Air Service) is killed at age 23. His brother will be killed next July.
- Second Lieutenant Noel Houghton Treleaven (West Yorkshire Regiment) is killed at age 19. He is the son of the Reverend W W Treleaven.
- Second Lieutenant John Homfray Addenbrooke (North Staffordshire Regiment attached Manchester Regiment) is killed at age 20. He is the son of the Reverend John Gordon Addenbrooke.
- Private Tudor Stanley Jones (Warwickshire Regiment) is killed at age 25. His brother will die of wounds in November 1918.
- Private Arthur John Quinn (North Lancashire Regiment) is killed at age 28. He is the second of four sons of Mrs. A N Quinn of Lower Sydenham to lose his life in the Great War.