No 80 Squadron 


No 80 Squadron RFC cont'd

France 1918

The first patrol was attempted on 9 February but was abandoned after only a short time in the air. Unfortunately Lt. Preeston suffered engine failure and a forced landing in a field of soft grass where his aircraft flipped over - he crawled away with cuts and bruises and the aircraft was written off.

The next patrol was not attempted until the weather cleared on 16 February. They were attacked by Jagdstaffel 30 and Lt. Potter was badly wounded. Another patrol on 19 February was attacked by the same German squadron and Lt.s Pinder and Westmoreland were killed in action. Lt. Brown was killed in action on 21 February.

As part of general redeployment of forces in anticipation of a German offensive, 80 Squadron was moved with the rest of Ninth (HQ) Wing RFC to the Fifth Army on the Somme to an airfield at Champien. The move was made on 2 March and the airfield was shared with 73 and 79 Sqns.

History note: The strategic position in France at the beginning of 1918

The war on the Russian front was over and the Germans therefore had additional forces available to commit on the Western Front. The prospect of American troops deploying to France added some urgency to German plans to bring the war to a conclusion before they lost the advantage.

General Sir Douglas Haig commanding British forces had been refused reinforcements by the British Government who feared that this could lead to further unacceptable losses of men on the Western Front. The British forces were accordingly reorganised reducing Divisional strengths to nine battalions from 12. General Haig faced the further difficulty of having to accept an extension of the British front, taking over a further 28 miles from the French Army (to the detriment of his defensive plans) - this being completed by the end of January 1918. On the British side it became obvious that a further German offensive was imminent and, by the beginning of March, the General Staff were convinced that it would take place on the St Quentin front.  The British line was held on the Somme by General Gough’s V Army and part of  the III Army.

For the Royal Flying Corps the expected offensive led to a redistribution of units principally IX Brigade (the HQ Brigade) Day Wing and strengthening of some units of V Brigade supporting V Army. IX Brigade was being used as a strategic reinforcement under RFC HQ control. The Brigade comprised 54th (Night) Wing and the Ninth (Day) Wing.  Ninth Wing was deployed to the St Quentin front in early March and included Nos 25 & 27 Sqns with DH4's, 62 Sqn Bristol fighters, 73 & 80 Sqns Camels,  79 Sqn Dolphins.

There was no flying for the first week because of poor weather. The ground attack role was suspended in order to provide fighter support against German reconnaissance missions.

On 8 March Capt. Taylor and 2nd Lt. Chadwick each shot down an enemy aircraft. Two days later Capt. Taylor shot down two Albatross DV's and Lt. Gardiner brought down another, but Lt. Flere was driven down by a Fokker Dr1 (probably from Jasta 6) and taken prisoner. On 13 March Capt. Taylor claimed another Albatross DV and Lt. Milligan was wounded and subsequently died. During three offensive patrols by the squadron on 16 March, 2nd Lt. Bridgeman claimed an enemy aircraft.

A major engagement took place on 17 March, Capt. Whistler shot down two Albatross DV's, Lt.s Preeston and Rodger each claimed an Albatross DV. [see RFC Communique 131]. Capt. Taylor and Lt. Holt were missing in action, both subsequently confirmed as killed in action. 2nd Lt. Jones was killed in a crash that day. Preeston was appointed to replace Captain Taylor as C Flight Commander.

RFC Communiqué 131

Lt. J R Rodger, 80 Squadron, dived on the rear machine of four EA scouts and shot it down out of control, and AA report that this EA burst into flames. Capt H A Whistler, 80 Squadron, engaged an EA scout but was immediately attacked from the rear by three other EA. He zoomed up and came down behind the last EA firing about 100 rounds at close range, and the EA fell turning over and over finally crashing in a wood. Lt. R A Preeston, 80 Squadron, whilst flying in formation dived on one EA of a large number which were attacking his formation, and was immediately attacked by three more EA which he managed to shake off. Finding himself alone, he turned west and climbed to 12,000 ft where he was attacked by 12 EA. He fired a short burst into lone EA which overshot him in a dive, then, being outnumbered he spun and dived to about 2,000 ft. He succeeeded in reaching our lines after a running fight the whole of the way. [This incident was witnessed by 66 Division and 35 Sqn, the former reporting a single Camel putting up a wonderful fight against eight EA.]

Quoted from RFC Communiqués 1917-18 edited by Chaz Bowyer

Dense fog hampered flying in the next few days leading up to the German offensive on 21 March. Launching an offensive patrol on 21 March Lt. Lees was killed trying to take off.  5(N) Sqn (DH4's) arrived at Champien withdrawing from their field at Mons-en-Chausée. Champien airfield came within artillery range in the afternoon and the squadron had to withdraw to Cachy on 22 March.

Over the next few days the squadron was deployed to attack advancing German forces. Capt. Whistler shot down two Albatross DV's, Lt. Pell was shot up on 24 March. The Squadron moved airfield again to Remaisnil (joining Nos 62 and 73 Squadrons). General Salmond famously issued the order below on 25 March.

Maj. Gen. Salmond, Commanding the RFC in France, issued an operational order at 11.05 am on 25 March to OC Ninth Wing:

" I wish you as soon as you can after receipt of this to send out your scout squadrons and those of No 27, No 25 and No 62  Squadrons that are available on the line Grévillers-Martinpuich-Maricourt. These squadrons will bomb and shoot up everything they can see on the enemy side of this line. Very low flying is essential. All risks to be taken. Urgent."

Quoted from The War in the Air,  by H A Jones

On the early patrol on 26 March Lt.'s Radcliff and Miller failed to return and were later confirmed dead. On 27 March Capt. Hall MC (B Flt. Com.) was missing (wounded by ground fire he died the following day). [Capt. Bridgeman took over as B Flt Com]. On 28 March the Squadron moved airfield again to Wamin. IX Brigade records show 80 Sqn firing 6,990, 5,520 and 6,490 rounds at ground targets on 26, 27 and 28 March respectively.

On 29 March action against troops, guns and transport continued with 5,700 rounds fired in the afternoon. The following day after an early morning patrol against ground targets, firing 2,780 rounds, the squadron moved to Belleville Farm, Wamin having come within enemy range. 

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