6 Squadron WW1 Facts 1

Extract taken from my book 'For God, England & Ethel'

My first book, For God, England & Ethel contains many segments of italicised narrative describing 6 Squadron's operations over the Western Front during WW1. For example, the following is an account of an audacious mission in which 6 Squadron aircraft played a key role. Though not an intrinsic part of the story, it does provide the reader with an insight into the squadron's pioneering bombing role - details that will not be found in any other publication.

 

"One month after the start of the Somme offensive, an ambitious bombing mission was planned to attack the Zeppelin sheds at Brussels, deep inside enemy territory and farther than a BE2 loaded with bombs had ever flown. Having twelve of the latest BE2d aircraft, with improvements that included greater speed and an increased fuel capacity of nineteen gallons, 6 Squadron was for the first time able to send a fully laden aircraft out on a flight lasting more than four hours. There was one drawback. The extra weight halved the aircraft's rate of climb and obliged the pilots to fly without observers. In conjunction with the attack on Brussels, a second group of aircraft would attack a closer target, the railway sheds at Courtrai, at exactly the same time that the first group would be dropping their bombs over Brussels.

 

On the morning of the 2nd August 1916, on what would be the hottest day of the year, six BE2d machines assembled at Abeele. Joining the two aircraft from 6 Squadron were two from 5 Squadron and two from 16 Squadron, flown in from their respective aerodromes at Droglandt and La Gorgue. Each aircraft was loaded with two 112 lb bombs and its fuel tanks filled to capacity. Three Morane LA biplane scouts of Number 1 squadron arrived from their base at Bailleul and were topped up with petrol. At 11:30 am, the nine aircraft left Abeele, climbing towards the lines in wide circles. One of the pilots was unable to gain sufficient height by the allotted time and returned to Abeele whilst the remaining eight climbed eastwards, crossing over into enemy territory whilst still within the range of ground fire, before setting a course for Brussels. Forty five minutes later they encountered heavy anti-aircraft fire over Ledeghem and one of the aircraft of 5 Squadron was hit and forced to land.

 

Just after noon, at about the same time that eighteen year old Captain Charles Snook was forced down twenty miles to the east, the second group of bombers prepared to leave Abeele. Larger than the first, the group comprised a total of thirteen BE2s; six from 6 Squadron, five from 5 Squadron and two from 16 Squadron. Their escorts were five FE2d fighter bombers from 20 Squadron, based at Clairmarais, and six DH2 scouts from 29 Squadron, which at that time was still operating from Abeele. The aircraft took off and headed east, reaching Courtrai without incident and commencing bombing a little after 1:30 pm.

 

At exactly the same time, the aircraft of the first group arrived at the outskirts of Brussels and split up to seek out their individual targets. The two from 6 Squadron, accompanied by a single escort, successfully bombed a Zeppelin shed at Etterbeek before rejoining the other aircraft nine miles west of Brussels at the Strythem crossroads. From there, the seven aeroplanes began the journey home, one hundred and sixteen miles to the west, and into a light headwind. Their route was to take them past Courtrai, within range of a dozen enemy aerodromes.

 

To offer added protection during this, the most dangerous phase of the flight, the FE2d fighter bombers from the second group had orders to fly east to meet the first group of bombers, once the aircraft they had been escorting were on their way back to Abeele. The pilots of the aircraft returning from Brussels saw no sign of their escorts at the allotted time whilst flying over Audenarde, but within five minutes they spotted the five aircraft flying towards them from the west, though at a greater height. The twelve aircraft formed over Anzeghem and with the escort scouts flying overhead for protection, they flew west and safely crossed the lines. From there, the aircraft split up and returned to their home aerodromes. Flying higher than the other aircraft in the group, the FE2d fighter bombers were able to glide most of the way back to their aerodrome at Clairmarais. The last aircraft to return were the two BE2d machines from 6 Squadron that had taken part in the bombing of Brussels. They landed with empty tanks a little before 4:00 pm, four and a half hours after they had left Abeele.

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