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Sixty Squadron R.A.F.

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Sixty Squadron R.A.F.
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Author(s): A. J. L Scott
Date Published: 2010/08
Page Count: 136
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-235-2
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-236-9

Britain's 'Knights of the Air' over the Trenches

This is the story of a famous squadron of the Royal Flying Corps—later the RAF—during the Great War on the Western Front. At the outbreak of war there were just four British squadrons on active service and their function was primarily a reconnaissance one. Air fighting was practically unknown. As the war progressed and aircraft development moved with it both they and the squadrons who flew them began to take on specialised roles. The day of the 'bomber' and 'fighter' had arrived. Squadron No 60 was born at the very beginning of this time of ‘specialisation.’ Its aircraft were termed—perhaps coyly—'Scouts,' but their purpose was principally to engage in a warfare new to the history of the world—air to air combat. This was a squadron created to fight and its aircraft were piloted by young men who had come to fight. The ace Albert Ball was at one point one of their number. Predictably the squadron saw much action and sustained the heavy casualties well known among the 'cloud cavalry' of the First World War. An engaging book for all those interested in early aviation. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

In the following extract Molesworth again graphically describes a fight in which he was very nearly killed;<br>
60 Squadron R.F.C,<br>
B.E.F., France.<br>
June 1917.<br>
Yesterday I had the narrowest shave I’ve ever had since I first started Boche-strafing. I was properly caught out this time, and really thought things were all up. <br>
We were just over the Drocourt Switch, near Vitry, when a dozen Huns got what you might call ‘uppish.’ We tumbled into a proper mix-up and, as there were only five of us, the Huns managed to break up our formation. We had arranged that, should this happen, we were to return to the line independently and re-form, so I started towards Arras, following the Scarpe.<br>
Just as I was passing over Gavrelle I espied three fat Hun two-seaters making south-east.<br>
‘Here we are, my son,’ says I to myself. ‘We’ll just hop down and put the gust 3 up one of these Huns.’<br>
No sooner said than done. I pushed my nose down and, when within range, opened fire. The next thing I knew was a perfect hail of bullets pouring round me. Here is a rough description of my thoughts during the few minutes that followed:<br>
Crackle! crackle! crackle!<br>
‘My cheery aunt! There’s a Hun on my tail.’<br>
‘By jove! The blighter is making my grid into a sieve. Confound him!’<br>
‘Let’s pull her up in a good climbing turn and have a look at him.’<br>
‘Heavens! It’s “the Circus.”’<br>
‘I wonder if old Richthof is the leader. The dirty dog nearly caught me out this time. Silly ass! didn’t hold his fire long enough, or he’d have made me into cold meat by now.’<br>
‘Let’s give him a dose and see how he likes it.’<br>
‘Here he comes straight at me, loosing off with both guns.’<br>
‘I hope we aren’t going to collide.’<br>
‘Missed! Bon! Everything’s A1. Wish I’d hit him, though!’<br>
‘I must pull her round quick or he will be on my tail.’<br>
‘Hang! I can’t shoot for toffee, but he’s pretty “dud,” too, thank heavens!’<br>
‘Once again, boys, round with her. Let him have it hot.’<br>
‘No good. Try again.’<br>
‘Confound it! There’s my beastly drum empty. I must spin and change it.’<br>
‘Good enough! Now where’s the blighter?’<br>
‘My Harry! He has got me stiff this time; here he comes down on me from the right.’<br>
Crack! crack! crack! bang! zip! zip!<br>
‘There goes my petrol tank; now for the flames.’<br>
‘Cheero! No luck this time, you old swine. Wait till I get you next show.’<br>
‘Here goes for the ground.’<br>
Luckily for me, my friend and his pals, who had been watching the scrap, thought I was done for. They therefore chucked up the sponge and departed.<br>
I managed to pull the machine out, just scraping over the trenches. The engine was still running, although the petrol was pouring out all over my legs. A few minutes afterwards the engine conked out altogether, and I had to land in a field. I was immediately surrounded by a crowd of men, who had seen the fight. Amongst them were some artillery officers, who took me off to their mess and offered me a ‘tot,’ which was very thankfully received, while they sent off a message to the squadron. The following is the official list of damage done to my machine:<br>
Six bullet holes in propeller.<br>
Cowling shot away.<br>
Large holes in bottom of petrol tank and sides.<br>
Main spar right-hand top plane broken.<br>
Rear right-hand under-carriage strut badly damaged.<br>
Twenty-eight holes in fuselage and ten in the planes—two or three missing the pilot’s seat by less than an inch.<br>
During the 3rd Corps’ attack on August 19, 1917, Lieuts. Jenkins, Steele, Thompson, Rutherford, and Sergt. Bancroft did good work shooting up infantry in trenches and by harassing the troops assembling for counter-attacks.<br>
On September 7, 1917, the squadron was moved up to the 11 Wing to help in the battles for the Passchendale Ridge, which were already in full swing. Leaving the comfortable Filescamp station and the hard tennis-court with great regret, they were moved into tents on Marie Capelle aerodrome, near Cassel, where 20 Squadron was already stationed. The 2nd and 5th Armies were then attacking almost every day, and 60, in addition to their ordinary work of offensive patrols, wireless interception, etc., co-operated by low flying and firing at troops and transport on the ground. Twenty-five-pound Cooper bombs were carried at this time and dropped on suitable targets.<br>
Capt. Chidlaw-Roberts, Lieuts. Rutherford, Whiting, and I. Macgregor were now prominent, while Patrick, himself a brilliant fighter, was always ready to give his squadron a lead.<br>
Chidlaw-Roberts got a lot of Huns during September, and Caldwell and W. Jenkins continued their successes of the summer, while J. Crompton, Young, Capt. Hammersley, Lieut. W. Sherwood, and 2/Lieut. Carter were others who were conspicuous during the October fighting.<br>
It was in September that Capt. J. K. Law, one of the sons of Mr. Bonar Law (another of whose sons had already been killed in Mesopotamia), joined at Marie Capelle. He was a tiger to fight, and, had he come through his first month, would probably have made a great name for himself. He did several “shows” over the line, and his machine was shot about badly in every one of them. On September 21, a patrol operating in the neighbourhood of Roulers, led by Hammersley and including Whiting and Macgregor and Law, saw twenty-four hostile machines and engaged eight of them. A general engagement took place, in the course of which Law was shot down and killed. He had absolutely refused to stay any longer at home, where he was doing most useful work training pilots, but insisted on being sent to France.