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War in the air stayed in the shadows

War in the air stayed in the shadows
Queens ParkMaryborough, QLD 4650

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‘A dangerous occupation pursued by adventurous young men in flimsy craft … above enemy territory without … a parachute’

About 100 aircraft – seaplanes, aeroplanes, balloons, and blimps – flew more than 2000 missions, about 60% of them reconnaissance and ‘spotting’ (directing naval artillery on to targets). About 250 bombing missions had a greater effect on Turkish morale than did the damage inflicted. British officers, leaning to tradition, gave the courageous pilots in fragile craft little credit for their potential, rarely mentioning them in reports to London.

At Anzac Cove, the value of air support was quickly recognised. Photographs and reports of trenches and troop movements helped with the April 25 landing. Reports from the air of massing Turkish troops gave the forewarned Anzacs the upper hand in the May 19 offensive. The skill of Allied pilots in the Royal Naval Air Service flying daily over the Turkish trenches, preventing enemy surveillance of Anzac movements, contributed to the brilliant success of the stealthy evacuation.

Pte Jack Daniels (describing the arrival of the first German Taube aeroplane during a Sunday morning church service): We forgot all about the church service. The parson went on talking away, while we looked up at the German machine. We thought he was up to some mischief. Suddenly he dived and dropped a bomb about 60 yards to the right of us and played up the devil with the cookhouse and kitchen utensils, but the casualties were few. He also dropped a number of shell darts, one of which killed a battery mule. That broke up our church service. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line

Hugh Dolan: It was a dangerous occupation pursued by adventurous young men in flimsy craft often several thousand feet above enemy territory without the reassurance of a parachute. The diligence and passion of this small group of aviators also ensured the future of air intelligence, the information they both collected and conveyed challenging the excuse of ‘failures in intelligence’ proffered by British generals for their own disastrous failures of command. By contrast, Anzac officers who saw this extraordinary craft grasped the opportunities they offered to learn what the enemy was doing on ‘the other side of the hill’. Gallipoli Air War.

Legendary exploits of airmen in flimsy machines have tended to be an aside to the Gallipoli campaign despite some feats testing credence. On November 19 three airplanes set out on a mission to bomb the Bulgarian railway line taking supplies from Berlin to Istanbul.

Flight Sub-Lieutenant Gilbert Smylie in an Airco H5 was shot but on the way down glided to 500ft and dropped two 100lb and one 20lb bomb on Ferijik Rail Junction. Another 20lb bomb stuck. He glided into a marsh landing a mile away, set fire to his plane, and made for the woods.

Looking back, he saw Squadron Commander Richard Davies coming in to land beside the burning plane with its unexploded bomb. He scrambled back and used his pistol to set off the bomb. Seconds after the explosion, with enemy troops approaching, Davies landed in his single-seater Nieuport 11. Smylie flung himself in, wedging into the footwell beneath the rudder bar as the tiny plane took off. At Imbros ground crews took two hours to free Smylie, tangled in control wires, from the well. Smylie was awarded the DSO; Davies the Victoria Cross.

Pte Jack Daniels: During the Suvla Bay attack, a Taube came over and dropped a couple of bombs at our hospital ship but missed. One of our own airships, it so happened, with a young Australian pilot on board, was coming along from towards Bulair and met him. Then began a great aerial fight. Sweeping and encircling this way and that the Taube got on top, and missed with a couple of bombs. Next, our own machine held pride of place, but the observer’s bombs missed their objective. Suddenly the German Taube went like the fury for the Turkish lines, with our own machine in chase, both spitting fire at one another from machine guns. All of a sudden the Taube, which had evidently been hit in its petrol tanks, burst into a blue flame and crashed to the ground. The Australians gave vent to their feelings with a mighty cheer. It was a great fight. M.C., Maryborough WBB Historical Society, Letters from the Front Line

The last Australian to die at Gallipoli was Sub-Lieutenant Horace Brimsmead, 22, commissioned into the Royal Naval Air Service six months earlier. With less than 20 hours of flying, he was sent on his first flight at Gallipoli in a Henri Farman pusher to report on the Turkish reaction to the evacuation. A German Fokker E3 pilot machine-gunned his observer then attacked the fragile aircraft. As the wings folded, the machine twisted and Brimsmead fell out, plunging to his death into the sea.