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● Natives help the men of No. 4 RNAS Expeditionary Force bring an
aircraft ashore off the Rufiji delta as the RN masses forces to sink
the Königsberg
mangroves to open fire. Only a full-scale invasion could
Nanson made it safely back to base, open the strait and drive the Ottoman
but the Shorts were no better suited empire out of the war.
to these climes than their crews: Six seaplanes – six woefully
the seaplanes were underpowered, inadequate and ill-equipped seaplanes
struggled in the heat, and the glue at that – were too few and the Army
on their propellers simply would not refused to relinquish a single aircraft
stick. from the Western Front.
Four new aircraft arrived from And so it was that in late March,
France and set up base on Mafia after a rough crossing of first the
Island. They were soon joined by Channel and Bay of Biscay and then
HM Ships Severn and Mersey, the the Mediterranean, No.3 Squadron
monitors brought from the UK. RNAS arrived on the tiny island of
Wireless transmitter were fitted to Tenedos, 18 miles from the ‘toe’ of
the aircraft so aircrew could report the Dardanelles.
the fall of the monitors’ shots. Eighteen aircraft, 18 officers, 102
men and one horse (Samson’s Uhlan ◆
Before first light on July 6, Severn charger brought from France) made
and Mersey moved into the labyrinth a clearing in a vineyard their home
of tributaries. Already in the sky – the officers in a farmhouse, the
was Lt Harold Watkins, carrying a men in tents and wooden shacks.
handful of bombs. They were plagued less by the Turks ● ‘Saw H5 burning in marshes. Picked up pilot’... Richard Bell Davies rescues his comrade Gilbert Smylie as Bulgarian troops close in; the
Watkins watched as the monitors than by the dust and flies. The dust deed earned the modest aviator the Royal Naval Air Service’s second Victoria Cross
opened fire from a range of 10,000 got on everything. The flies got on
yards – their shells fell a couple of everything.
They dropped their ‘eggs’ on a crosses, others, like Collet’s, with
hundred yards short.
For the next month, the mixed Turkish camp 16 miles from the slightly more ornate ones.
And then Königsberg responded. bag of naval aircraft – seaplanes,
beachheads – ignoring the lively Were their sacrifices in vain, the
“Her firing was magnificent,”
landplanes, some British, some rifle fire – then took reconnaissance men of No.3 Squadron wondered.
wrote Watkins. Severn and Mersey
French – flew over the Dardanelles, photographs. From 4,000ft, Isaac The senior British officer in theatre,
disappeared behind huge spouts of
Richard Bell Davies’ skill and
spotting for the guns of the fleet, had “a magnificent view of the Sir Ian Hamilton, complained “he
water. Mersey was hit, a turret put
gallantry were in vain. By the time of
observing Turkish positions and Dardanelles. All the ships were had no reconnaissance – with the
out of action and a flash fire raged
his feat of airmanship, war minister
photographing the peninsula. committing the quickest kind of exception of what he could see from
which almost blew the vessel out of
Kitchener had already pulled the
All of which was rather too destruction.” Some shells crashed the top of a mast”.
the water.
plug on the Gallipoli misadventure,
passive for Charles Samson, who into the water, sending towering Bernard Isaac was livid. He
Between them, the two
ordering the Dardanelles evacuated.
decided to start bombing the enemy. plumes hanging in the air. Others and his comrades had flown more
Expeditionary Force’s aeroplanes
The naval aviators would go home
“I felt it was time the Turks realised landed in the villages of Maidos than 100,000 miles in hostile skies.
had circled the German crusier for
too, but not before they had shielded
that Eastchurch had arrived on the and Krithia. “Whole rows of houses And for what? “It would appear
15 hours, all the time subjected to
the evacuation from prying enemy
scene,” he nonchalantly observed. seemed to give way to them.” that a good deal of the work and
rifle and small arms fire. Given his
Samson’s bombing attacks were expenditure was wasted,” he fumed

vantage point, few people had a better
As 1915 waned, Samson’s men
less than successful, his squadron’s
It went on like this day after day.
in his diary.
overview of the fighting that day than
– now bolstered by the arrival of a
aerial reconnaissance rather more so.
A spot of bombing before breakfast.
But not entirely. The Royal Naval
Harold Watkins. In one word, July 6
second squadron – were no longer
Sir Ian Hamilton, the expeditionary
Some aerial reconnaissance and
Air Service did provide invaluable
had been “discouraging”.
masters of the skies. The Germans had
force’s rather chipper commander,
photography, plenty of spotting
service – and if the brass didn’t
But not July 11. After trading
sent their latest aircraft, the Fokker
and his staff spent hours “trying
for the guns of the fleet, a few
always appreciate its efforts, the
blows for half an hour, the battle
Eindecker, to Turkey. The Eindecker
to digest the honey brought back
well-placed 100lb bombs dropped
ordinary soldiers did. They cheered
turned in the Britons’ favour. In
– monoplane – was unrivalled in the
by our busy aeroplane bees”. The
on Turkish positions followed by
when the gallant airmen shot down A FRESH OPPONENT
a seven-minute spell the German
skies of France and Belgium in 1915.
general didn’t entirely understand air
Germans dropping bombs on the
the Hun or when they sent bombs
cruiser was hit repeatedly by the
power – “Flying is not my stunt,” he
The RNAS had nothing to match it in
RNAS airfield.
hurtling into Turkish trenches. “One A FEAT OF AIRMANSHIP
British guns.
confessed – but Charles Samson tried
the Dardanelles either.
Pilots were always to carry a
of your aeroplanes bombed Turk’s
Above, Lt John Cull reported
to persuade him of its potency.
Certainly the Voisin ‘pusher’ – so
revolver or pistol, a notepad should
trench,” one Australian commander Shipping in the Sea of Marmara was
the fall of the monitors’ shells until
With 40 pilots, 30 bomber-
called because the propeller sat at
always be fixed to the instrument
thanked Samson. “Bits of Turk seen not the only new target presented to
the aircraft was rocked by shrapnel
reconnaissance aircraft and two
the back of the fuselage, pushing
panel for making observations. They
in the air, remainder of occupants got naval aviators in the waning months
exploding in front of it. Königsberg
dozen fighters, the naval airman
the biplane along – was completely
were to study Jane’s The World’s
on to parapet where we killed a lot of 1915. When Bulgaria entered the
had scored a lucky hit; it was her
told the general, “he could take the
outperformed by the Eindecker, as Lt
Fighting Ships and memorise the
with machine-guns. Please repeat war in October, a glittering array
penultimate anti-aircraft shell.
peninsula by himself and save us all
outlines of the Turkish fleet.
bombing of prizes lit up along the northern
Donald Bremner discovered when a
.” The attack, Samson later
Cull struggled to control his
a vast lot of trouble”. Except that he
Fokker pounced on him from behind.
Samson expected his men to be
conceded, had been a lucky hit. But shores of the Aegean – just within
aircraft 2,500ft above the Rufiji. The
didn’t have such an aerial armada.
The Voisin’s sole machine-gun faced
like himself: to the point. “Don’t
he wasn’t going to admit it publicly. striking distance of the aircraft at
engine stopped. The Henri Farman
On the best of days, No.3 Squadron
forward – and there was no way
make wild statements,” he told them.
“No.3 lived on this reputation for Imbros.
stuttered downwards. Cull set it
could muster no more than half a
Bremner could bring the slower, less-
“A small accurate report is worth
accuracy for a long time...” No target was more enticing than
down in the river next to Mersey. As
dozen serviceable aircraft.
manoeuvrable biplane round to attack
pages of rhetoric.” But above all, he
His squadron provided its greatest the Berlin-Constantinople railway
she touched the water, she flipped
And so the Allies would have to
his foe. There were several bursts of
demanded professionalism. “Don’t
service on May 18 – without firing line – a vital artery linking the two
over. The observer was thrown clear,
take the Dardanelles the hard way:
fire from behind, the Voisin’s engine
try to do what is termed by some
a shot. Airmen spied Turkish troops Central Powers. Barely 45 miles
but Cull was trapped upside down in
by assault from the sea at dawn on
stuttered and the aircraft began to
people as ‘stunt flying’.” That, the massing for an all-out assault on
from Imbros, the line crossed the
the wreckage, finally freeing himself
Sunday April 25 1915.
commander decided, was conduct the Australians and New Zealanders
Maritza river delta, near the important
fall rapidly.
and swimming hurriedly for safety
Sent up to spot for the guns and
unbecoming an officer. at Anzac Cove. Forewarned is
junction of Ferrijik.
“I cleared the front-line trenches
lest they be mauled by crocodiles or
report Turkish movements, Charles
“We live in the air all day, giving forearmed. The Turkish attack
In November 1915, both came
by about six feet and just popped
picked off by German snipers.
Samson watched one of the bloodiest
them no rest with bombs,” Samson the following day was cut down
under repeated attack from pairs of
down on the aerodrome,” Bremner
Cull’s place in the skies was taken
disasters in British military history
enthused. “I honestly believe that bloodily. Thirteen thousand Turks
naval bombers – the bridge nine
recalled. The flier suggested scuttling
by Harold Watkins. He watched the
played out beneath him. Height our aeroplanes have given the Turks were wounded, 3,000 lay dead on the times, the rail junction five with
the downed bird, but the soldiers said
unequal struggle as the Königsberg
offered the aviators a unique vantage a healthy feeling of dread.” battlefield. “There is,” the official reasonable, rather than spectacular
no – they didn’t want fires to suggest
was turned into a twisted, tangled,
point. “I saw hell let loose,” he wrote. But the Dardanelles took its toll British historian wrote, “no better result. On the 19th of the month,
to the Turks they were evacuating
blazing lump – caused in part by
“The sea was literally whipped into on man and machine. There were example of the far-reaching effect Richard Bell Davies (pictured above)
and blowing up the dumps. The
the British guns, in part by her crew
a foam by the hail of bullets and rarely more than half a dozen aircraft of a simple and timely piece of and Gilbert Formby Smylie headed
Voisin was left and Donald Bremner
scuttling her.
shells,” the water “absolutely red airworthy, while their crews grew observation from the air.” for Ferrijik – Davies in a Henri
sat on the beach for six hours until
The attackers withdrew to
with blood, a horrible sight to see.” increasingly exhausted, drained by And there were less bloody Farman, Davies in a single-seat
he boarded the steamer SS Partridge
Zanzibar for “great celebrations,”
In his secure vantage point – there the heat, illness and the exertions victories. At dawn on August 12, Flt Nieuport Scout fighter-bomber.
in the small hours of January 9 1916.
wrote Harold Watkins. The victors,
was no Turkish opposition in the of battle. Cdr Charles Edmonds climbed into a As he approached the rail yard,
It was the penultimate ship to leave
in their fi nest dress uniform, were
skies – Charles Samson seethed. “It Short Seaplane off Xeros Island and
the peninsula.
By high summer, No.3 Wing was
Smylie ran a gauntlet of Bulgarian
invited to a reception by the sultan
was an appalling sight for us to look headed east over the isthmus linking
The campaign had cost the
becoming a spent force. “The pilots
anti-aircraft fire – it now had a
“and consumed large quantities of
at from our safe position in the air the peninsula with the Turkish
Allies 140,000 casualties, the Turks
and observers are all worn out from
nickname, ‘Archie’ – which crippled
sherbet, ices, cigars and cigarettes.”
and made one think that we were not mainland. There, where the waters
a quarter of a million. The latter
long, sustained and continuous effort
his engine. He released all but
The naval airmen played tennis and
doing our bit.” of the Dardanelles widen to become
celebrated a great victory over the
without relief,” an official report
one of his bombs as planned, then
golf, went riding and challenged the
With typical understatement, the Sea of Marmara he spied a dozen
combined forces of France and the
brought his stricken Nieuport down
locals to a “great rugger match”, lost
Samson had played down the work sailing vessels, a tug hauling two
British Empire. The RNAS left
Charles Collet was one such worn-
in the Maritza delta marshes. Smylie
21-0 by the Britons, Watkins recalled
of naval aviators on April 25 1915. large barges and a steamer.
the Dardanelles not merely with
out pilot. Perhaps the finest aviator
torched his Farman, blew up the
– “the general festivities being our
His men flew three sorties apiece Edmonds dropped down to a mere
the hollow feeling of defeat, but a
in the Service, he left the squadron’s
remaining bomb by firing his pistol
that day, 2,400 miles in all in the 14ft above the waves and bore down
bitter feeling that too few of their
new airfield on the larger island of
at it and began to walk towards the
Dardanelles skies. on the steamer. There were brief
deeds in Turkish skies had been
Imbros to deliver engine parts to a
nearby Turkish border.
THE TURKISH STUNT flashes of light on the tug – rifle fire
acknowledged. There was, of course,
broken aircraft at Suvla Bay.
All this was observed by Richard

The sea and lighters around the – but the Short continued undaunted.
Bell Davies’ VC, a smattering of
Barely had Collet left the field
Bell Davies, who then took action
shores of Cape Helles were still Just 300ft from his target, Edmonds
DSCs, but generally No.3 Squadron
THE HELL OF HELLES than his engine failed, the aircraft
– as he reported to Samson on his
full of dead bodies, the waters still was caught by a gust and plunged released his weapon: a 14in Mk10
return. “Saw H5 burning in marshes.
returned home, its commander
The men in Zanzibar enjoyed a red with blood the next morning – to the ground. The observer was torpedo. He followed its track until
Picked up pilot.”
lamented, “not overburdened with
feeling of success, a feeling denied “Horrible sight, even at 3,000ft,” thrown clear, but not Collet. He was it struck the steamer amidships,
It was typical of Bell Davies’
decorations.” Its men had clocked
naval aviators elsewhere in the sun. Bernard Isaac noted in his diary. trapped in the burning wreckage. sending a tower of water and large
understatement. He neglected to
up more than 2,600 hours on sorties.
In February 1915, Charles Samson “Never saw nor read of anything Ground crew rushed to pull him out. fragments of wood and steel spinning
mention that a group of Bulgarian
“They got all the kicks,” Samson
and his men were called back from quite like this, not at Ypres, Lille and The aviator was so badly burned, through the air. Thus did the world’s
soldiers were closing in as he picked
fumed, “and none of the plums.”
France. They were possessed by a Antwerp.” his rescuers simply grabbed handfuls first aerial torpedo attack succeed.
up his comrade, who somehow
History would pass a fairer
“horrid thought” – that they might But death and destruction at of flesh as they tried to drag him As it turned out, the steamer was
squeezed into the single-seat cockpit.
judgment on the naval aviators of
be relegated to training the next Gallipoli was not a one-sided affair. away from the blazing machine. And already beached, probably after
With the enemy about to pounce on
the Dardanelles. “The Gallipoli
generation. Five days after the landings, Isaac through it all, Charles Collet was being attacked by a British submarine
the Nieuport, the tiny aircraft took off
adventure has a unique place in the
The Admiralty had other plans was airborne again with Charles conscious. “Put me out, put me out,” prowling the Marmara. But the aerial
low over the marshes and headed for
history of the war,” official chronicler
for them: it would send them east. It Collet – a veteran of the raids on the he implored. attack was no fluke; five days later
Imbros. It was “a feat of airmanship
Herbert Jones wrote. “Never again in
had already dispatched the seaplane Zeppelin sheds in the first weeks of Half an hour later he was dead. He Edmonds sank a supply ship, his
that can seldom have been equalled
the war were seaplanes compelled
carrier Ark Royal with the fleet war and the first man in the world was laid to rest at Imbros alongside comrade dispatched a tug. The
for skill and gallantry”. Thus were
to work so much over the land, nor
attempting to force the Dardanelles. to ‘loop the loop’ – carrying half a comrades from No.3 Squadron seeds of Taranto, Pearl Harbor, the
the words of Bell Davies’ citation for
aeroplanes so much over the sea.”
The attempt failed – spectacularly. dozen 20lb and one 100lb bomb. RNAS, some with simple wooden Bismarck chase, had been sown.
the Victoria Cross.
● ●

Birth of Naval Aviation.indd 3 19/6/09 15:16:32
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