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General Trenchard's Report of Operations of British Airmen
Against German Cities
ri^HE official dispatch of Major Gen.
I Sir Hugh Trenchard, commander J_ of the Independent Air Force, was made public by the British Air Minister on Jan. 1, 1919. It revealed the enormous scope of the operations against the Rhineland towns in the last weeks of the war. With the creation of the Independent Force, supplementary to the Royal Air Force, the aerial organization of Great Britain had been transformed into a formidable engine, which wrought havoc in the great industrial centres of the- Rhine. General Trenchard's dispatch presents, in the form of a vivid narrative, the details of these great aerial adventures.
From October, 1917, when raids were begun, up to June 5, 1918, fifty-seven aerial attacks were made on the Rhineland. Unfavorable weather conditions and the handicap imposed by limited fuel capacity were disregarded. The difficulty and danger of these raids is told by the loss of 109 Independent Force machines. Proper machines for raiding Berlin were not received until October, and preparations for such attack were completed only three days before the signing of the armistice. Had the war lasted a short time longer the German capital would have been bombed.
TEXT OF REPORT
The text of General Trenchard's dispatch is given below:
I have the honor to submit the following report on the work of the Independent Air Force from June 5 to the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918. I have also mentioned In the earlier part of this report the work done In the attack on Germany by the squadrons from a base southeast of Nancy before the establishment of the Independent Air Force.
In May, 1918, you Informed me that you considered it advisable to constitute an Independent Force to undertake the bombing of the Industrial centres of Germany. You further intimated to me that you Intended to place the whole of the British effort In at
tacking Germany from the air under my command, and that It would be probable that squadrons would be available to carry out this work from England, as well as from the eastern area of France.
On May 20 I proceeded to the Nancy area, where the 8th Brigade, R. A. F., under the local command of Brig. Gen. C. L. N. Newall, consisting of
No. 55 squadron. Do Har. 4. 275 h. p. Bolls Roree: No. 8» Squadron, »e Har. 9, 200 b. p. B. H. P.; No. 100 Squadron, F. E. 2b. 160 i). p. Boardmore; No. 216 Squadron. Handley-Page. 375 li. p. Rolls Roycs.
was already established under Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig. With the exception of No. 99 Squadron, this force had been in this area since Oct. 11, 1917. I took over from Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig the tactical command of this force on June 5, and the administrative and complete control on June 15.
From Oct. 11, 1917, to June 5, 1918. this small force had, in spite of a very severe Winter, carried out no less than 142 raids. Fifty-seven of these raids were made in Germany, and included night and day attacks on Cologne, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Mainz, and Coblenz. Long-distance raids had also been carried out against Namur, Charlerol, and Liege, in order to help in attacking the enemy's communications to the western front.
It should be remembered that No. 216 Squadron (at that time R. N. A. S.) was hastily formed, and was not equipped until October. 1917. No. 100 Squadron was only equipped with short-distance machines, and No. 99 Squadron only Joined in May. 1918. No. H5 Squadron was equipped solely with short-distance machines, which had an air endurance of 3% hours only. But the squadron Itself rectified this to the best of Its ability by adding extra petrol tanks to the machines, which gave them an air endurance of H% hours. The work during last Winter called for exceptional efforts of endurance and perseverance on the part of the commanders, pilots, and observers.
Preparatory work on the construction of aerodromes, with a view to accommodating a larger force, had been undertaken before my arrival, and had been handled with zeal and tact by the General Officer Commanding the 8th Brigade The work accomplished by General Newall formed a foundation upon which I was at once able to build in making arrangements to accommodate an increased number of squadrons. • • • By June 26 the staff for the above-mentioned services had been assembled and organized, and were
capable of maintaining the Independent Air Force.
I take this opportunity of mentioning that the Independent Force was operating throughout In the zone of the group of the French Armies of the East under the command of General de Castelnau, to whom I am indebted for the very valuable assistance which he and his staff gave me. and for advice which helped me over the many difficulties inseparable from an organization of such a kind. In fact, without his assistance it would have been almost impossible to have made an efficient organization. I should also like to mention that the whole of the administrative services were provided by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig from the British Armies In the field. The British Armies in the north provided me with all the personnel and material that were necessary to maintain and organize and operate the Independent Force, apart from technical airplane supplies.
SCHEME OF ATTACK
My first work was to at once push on and arrange for the accommodation of a force in the neighborhood of sixty squadrons. This was a much larger task than may appear at first sight. The country is throughout hilly and woody, and where there are any level places they consist of deep ridge and furrow, there' being as much as three feet six inches between furrow and ridge. The aerodromes had to carry heavy machines and heavy bomb loads; in order to enable this to be done, draining work on a large scale had to be very carefully carried out. and arrangements had to be made for a large installation of electrical power for workshops and lighting and petrol in order to save transport. This work was practically completed by Nov. 1. 1918.
It will be within your recollection that In the past I had referred to the necessity for equipping the British Expeditionary Force on the western front with sufficient aircraft to hold and beat the German aerial forces on the western front; that the bombing of Germany was a luxury till this had been accomplished, but that, once this had been accomplished, it became a necessity. That is to say, it became necessary to attack what I may call the German Army in Germany, and to strike at its most vital point—its sources of supply: and the Independent Force was formed with this object. The question I had to decide was how to use this force in order to achieve the object, i. e., the breakdown of the German Army in Germany, its government, and the crippling of its sources of supply. The two alternative schemes were:
1. A sustained and continuous attack on one large centre after another until each centre was destroyed, and the industrial population largely dispersed to other towns; or
2. To attack as many of the large industrial centres as it was possible to reach with **-* machines at my disposal.
I decided on the latter plan, for the following reasons:
1. It was not possible, with the forces at my disposal, to do sufficient material damage so &s completely to destroy the industrial centres in question.
2. It must be remembered that, even had the force been still larger, it would not have been practical to carry this out unless the war had lasted for at least another four or five years, owing to the limitations imposed on long-range bombing by the weather.
The weather during June, July, and August was extremely favorable for long-distance bombing, but during September, October, and the first ten days of November it could have hardly been worse for this particular work. Day after day attempts were made to try to reach the long-distance targets, but the wind was generally too strong; or, if there was no wind, heavy rain and fog prevailed by day and dense mist by night, which lasted often until 10 or 11 o'clock the next morning. Often the nights were perfect, but dense white mist completely obliterated the ground, making It impossible for machines to ascend. Besides this, there are always a large number of technical difficulties to overcome which still further interfere with the continuity of longrange bombing. By attacking as many centres as could be reached, the moral effect was first of all very much greater, as no town felt safe, and it necessitated continued and thorough defensive measures on the part of the enemy to protect the many different localities over which my force was operating. At present the moral effect of bombing stands undoubtedly to the material effect in a proportion of 20 to 1, and therefore it was necessary to create the greatest moral effect possible.
DAY AND NIGHT SQUADRONS
I also recommended that the proportion of day bombing squadrons in the force should be slightly larger than that of night bombing squadrons, as I considered that, although day bombing squadrons suffer higher casualties than night bombing squadrons, at the same time, if day bombing is excluded, at lea-st four-fifths of the value of night bombing must necessarily be wasted, owing to the fact that the enemy can then make his arrangements to work by day and live at a distance by night, and take many other similar defensive steps. Also, if the bombing had been carried out exclusively by night it would not have caused the enemy to make such a large use of his men and material in defensive measures, and therefore it wculd not have affected the western front to such an extent as it did. Though night bombing Is the safer, many mistakes are made at night in reaching the locality it had been decided to bomb. My intelligence department provided me with the most thorough information on all targets, such as gas factories, airplane factories, engine factories, poison-gas factories, &c, each target having a complete detailed and illustrated plan, and maps were prepared of every target that was within reach. These were supplemented in a large way by the aerial photographs taken by reconnoissance machines.
Before it was possible to attack Germany successfully it was necessary to attack the enemy's aerodromes heavily in order to prevent his attacking our aerodromes by night, and by destroying his machines to rendtr his attacks by day less efficacious. I considered that it was probable during the Spring and early Summer of 1918 that at least half my force would be attacking the enemy's aerodromes, whilst the other half carried out attacks on long-distance targets in Germany. It was also necessary several times during the period the force operated to carry out attacks in conjunction with the armie8 on the enemy's communications.
I also had to decide, when it was impossible for squadrons to reach their objectives well in the interior of Germany, what alternative objective should be attacked, and which attacks would have the greatest effect in hastening the end of hostilities. 1 decided that railways were first in order of importance, and next in importance the blast furnaces. The reason of my decision was that the Germans were extremely short of rolling stock, and also some of the main railways feeding the German Army in the west passed close to our front, and it was hoped that these communications could be seriously interfered with, and the rolling stock and trains carrying reinforcements or reliefs or munitions destroyed. They were also fairly easy to find at night. I chose blast furnaces for the second alternative targets, as they were also easy to find at night, although it was difficult to do any really serious damage to them owing to the smallness of the vital part of the works.
On my arrival in the Nancy area the 8th Brigade consisted of those squadrons shown above. Additional squadrons arrived on the dates as shown:
No. 104 Squadron, De Hav. 9, B.H.P., May 23.
No. 97 Squadron, Handley-Page, Rolls Royce, Aug. 9.
No. 216 Squadron, Handley-Page, Rolls Royce, Auk. 19.
No. 115 Squadron, Handley-Page, Rolls Royce, Aug. 3i.
No. 110 Squadron, De Hav. 10. Liberty, Auk. 31.
No. 45 Squadron, Sopwith Camel, Sept. 22.
550 TONS OF BOMBS
It must be remembered that new squadrons could not be used for work over the line until three weeks after their arrival, as during this period they were receiving their final training, which can only be carried out at the front. No. 43 Squadron was intended to attack the enemy's scouts many miles over
the line. It was necessary to re-equip this squadron with longer-range scouts after I received it, but as these machines did not arrive before the armistice was signed the squadron was only used for attacking individual hostile machines which crossed our lines. During August No. 100 Squadron, which was armed with F. E. 2b short-distance machines, commenced re-equipping with Handley-Pages. While it was being reequipped—which process took nearly the whole month—scarcely any work could be carried out by the squadron. Below are a few interesting figures:
The total weight of bombs dropped between June 6 and Nov. 10 was D50 tons, of which 160 tons were dropped by day and 390 tons by night. Of this amount no less than 220*4 tons were dropped on aerodromes. This large percentage was due to the necessity of preventing the enemy's bombing machines attacking our aerodromes and in order to destroy large numbers of the enemy's scouts on their aerodromes, as it was impracticable to deal with them on equal terms in the air. I think this large amount of bombing was thoroughly Justified when it is taken into consideration that the enemy's attacks on our aerodromes were practically negligible, and not a single machine was destroyed by bombing during the period June 5 to Nov. 11. In addition to this the following objectives were attacked:
It must also be remembered that of the 109 machines which were missing the majority dropped bombs on targets before landing. The amount of bombs dropped by these machines Is not included In the above figures. The longest distances flown out and back were: In June—By day, 272 miles; by night, 240 miles. In July—By day, 272 miles; by night. 300 miles. In August—By day, 330 miles; by night, 342 miles. In September— By day, 320 miles; by night, 320 miles. In October—By day, 320 miles; by night, 272 miles.
A large amount of photographic reconnoissance was done by Individual machines at a great height. This work was nearly always successfully carried out, and only one photographic machine was lost during the whole period of operations. Photographs have proved time and again the efficiency of the work of the bombing machines. Captured correspondence testified to the great moral effect of the bombing attacks on Germany.
VALOR AND DETERMINATION
It was apparent by the end of June that the enemy was increasing the number of fighting machines opposed to us. These machines were presumably being provided from squadrons he had withdrawn from the Russian front and re-equipped for home defense work. In September and October our day bombing squadrons had to fight practically from the front line to their objective and from there home again. In several cases they had to fight the whole way out and the whole way back. This necessitated the most careful keeping of formation in order to avoid undue casualties, as once the formation was split up the enemy's machines could attack individual machines at their leisure. When our machines were In formation he generally concentrated on the rear machines, occasionally making attacks on the machine In front.
I would like to state here. that the courage and determination shown by the pilots and observers were magnificent. There were cases in which a squadron lost the greater part of its machines on a raid, but this in no wise damped the other squadrons' keenness to avenge their comrades and to attack the same target again and at once.
It is to this trait In the character of the British pilots that I attribute their success in bombing Germany, as even when a squadron lost the greater part of Its machines the pilots, instead of taking it as a defeat for the force, at once turned it into a victory by attacking the same targets again with the utmost determination. They were imbued with the feeling that whatever their casualtie were, if they could help to shorten the war by one day and thus save many casualties to the army on the ground they were only doing their duty. I never saw, even when our losses were heaviest, any wavering in their determination to get well into Germany.
Long-distance bombing work requires the utmost determination, as a change of wind completely upsets all calculations that may have been made before starting. It requires fine judgment on the leader's part to know, if he perseveres to the objective, whether he will have sufficient fuel to carry the formation home again safely. This will be realized when it is pointed out that on several occasions the machines with only five and a quarter hours' petrol were out for that time; in one case a formation was out for five
hours and thirty minutes, and it only just managed to clear the front-line trenches on its homeward journey. A miscalculation of five minutes would have lost the whole formation. Ceiling was of more importance than speed for long-distance day bombing work. It was essential that squadrons should fly as high as possible, and it soon became apparent, as I had already stated, that the two squadrons with the 200 horse power B. H. P. engines had not sufficient power for this long-distance work. One squadron was re-equipped with D. H. 9a machines with Liberty engines in November before the signing of the armistice, and the second squadron had started re-equipping.
PLANS TO BOMB BERLIN
The Twenty-seventh Group was established in England under the command of Colonel R. H. Mulock, D. S. O., for the purpose- of bombing Berlin and other centres. This group only received the machines capable of carrying out this work at the end of October, and though all ranks worked day and night in order to get the machines ready for the attack on Berlin they were only completed three days before the signing of the armistice. • • • I would like to bring to your notice the following important raids which show some of the difficulties met with in long-range bombing.
On the night of June 29-30 Handley-Page machines of No. 216 Squadron were ordered to attack the chemical works at Mannheim. Owing to the weather conditions only one machine reached the objective, on which it dropped its bombs. This machine, on the homeward journey, failed to pick up its aerodrome, and landed no less than 160 miles southwest of the aerodrome undamaged.
On July 5 twelve machines of No. 55 Squadron, under the command of Captain F. Williams and Captain D. R. G. Mackay, set out to attack the railway sidings at Coblenz. Shortly after starting the squadron passed over thick clouds and steered its course by compass, but the target was obscured by clouds. The leader turned with the Intention of attacking Karthaus, but as he turned the anti-aircraft barrage over Coblenz opened. Through a small hole in the clouds he could see a portion of the target, and the formation followed him and released their bombs.
On July 31 No. 99 Squadron, under the command of Captain Taylor, went out to attack Mainz. They encountered forty hostile scouts south of Saarbrucken. Fierce fighting ensued, as a result of which four of our machines were shot down. The remaining five machines of the formation reached Saarbrucken, and dropped their bombs on the station. On their way home they were again attacked by large numbers of hostile scouts, and suffered the loss of three more of their number. Immediately after their return No. 104 Squadron, led by Captain E. A. Mackay and Captain Home-Hay. proceeded to attack the factories and sidings at Saarbrucken, which they successfully accomplished with no losses.
On Aug. 11 No. 104 Squadron, under the command of Major Quinnel, attacked the station at Karlsruhe, in spite of bad weather conditions, causing a heavy explosion in the station and scoring many direct hits on the railway sidings. In the course of fighting one of our machines was brought down and three of the enemy's machines were driven down out of control.
Frankfurt was attacked for the first time on Aug. 12 by twelve machines of No. 55 Squadron, under the command of Captain B. J. Silly and D. R. G. Mackay. Most of the bombs burst in the town east of the goods station, and all the machines returned safely, with the loss of one observer, who was killed by machine-gun fire. The formation was heavily attacked by forty scouts of various types over Mannheim on its way to the objective and throughout the return journey. Two hostile machines were destroyed and three were driven down. The average time taken by each machine on this raid was 5 hours and 30 minutes, but all machines reached their objective and returned safely, though they only just cleared the trenches on their return Journey, running completely out of petrol.
On the night of Aug. 21-22 two HandleyPage machines of No. 216 Squadron, piloted by Captain Halley and Lieutenant Stronach, dropped just over a ton of bombs on Cologne station, causing a very large explosion. The time taken on this raid was seven hours.
AMONG FACTORY CHIMNEYS
On Aug. 22 twelve machines of No. 104 Squadron started on a raid on Mannheim. The formations were led by Captain J. B. Home-Hay and Captain B. A. Mackay. Two machines had to land under control about five miles over the lines after driving away eight hostile machines. Immediately before the objective was reached fifteen hostile machines attacked the formation with great determination and resistance. The formation came down to 6,000 feet in following the leader, who was shot down under control. In the fierce fighting three German machines were destroyed. Despite constant and determined attacks by superior numbers, ten machines dropped bombs on Mannheim, causing seven bursts on a factory, where four fires were caused. A direct hit was also obtained on a large building Immediately south of the Badische Anilin Soda Fabrik Works.
On the night of Aug. 25-26 two machines of No. 215 Squadron made their first attack on the Badische Anilin Soda Fabrik Works at Mannheim. The two machines, piloted by Captain Lawson and Lieutenant Purvis, left at 8 o'clock. One pilot shut off his engine at 5,000 feet and glided in on the target from the northwest, following the river. He was at once picked up and hold in the beams of the searchlights, and an intense anti-air
craft barrage was put up. The machine continually changed its course, but could not shake off the searchlights, and the pilot was completely blinded by the glare. At this moment the second machine glided in, with its engine almost stopped, underneath the first machine, got immediately over the works, below the tops of the factory chimneys, and released its bombs right into the works. The searchlights at once turned on to this machine, freeing the first machine from their glare. This machine then turned and made straight for the works as low as the second machine among the chimneys, and released its bombs. The searchlights were turned almost horizontally to the ground, and the anti-aircraft guns were firing right across the works and factories almost horizontally. In spite of this, the two machines remained at a low altitude, and swept the factories, works, guns, and searchlights with machine-gun fire. On the return journey both of these machines passed through rain and thick clouds, while lightning and thunder were prevalent throughout the trip.
On the night of Sept. 2-3 machines of No. 215 Squadron attacked Buhl aerodrome and the railway junction at Ehrang, some of the machines making two trips. In the first attack on Buhl two direct hits were obtained and three fires started, all bursts being observed on and in close proximity to the hangars. The second attack was carried out from 150 feet to 900 feet, machines circling around the aerodrome for fifteen minutes. Excellent shooting was made, and thirteen direct hits were claimed. Three hangars were entirely demolished and a fire started. In addition, motor lorries were bombed from 100 feet, and a hostile machine on the ground was attacked with good results.
On Sept. 7 eleven machines of No. 99 Squadron, followed by ten machines of No. 104 Squadron, made an almost simultaneous attack on Mannheim, where bombs were dropped with excellent results on the Badische Anilin Soda Fabrik Works. No. 99 Squadron obtained at least eight direct hits on the factory, but the result of No. 104 Squadron could not be observed owing to the mist and smoke. Both squadrons were attacked on the outward and return journey and over the objective by superior numbers of hostile aircraft. The formation of No. 99 Squadron was led by Colonel (then Major) L. A. Pattinson, and the formation of No. 104 Squadron by Captain R. J. Gammon.
DESPERATE GERMAN ATTACKS
No. 99 Squadron was attacked by six hostile machines fifteen miles over the lines. These were driven off. Ten hostile machines attacked about fifteen miles over the lines. They were also driven off. Fifteen hostile machines then attacked over the objective. After dropping bombs the formation turned toward the hostile machines, which apparently disconcerted them, as they became scattered. On the return journey several