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With the Flying Squadron

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With the Flying Squadron
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Author(s): Harold Rosher
Date Published: 2010/10
Page Count: 116
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-303-8
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-304-5

A war in the skies above the waves

As early as 1908 the Royal Navy understood the potential for the use of aircraft in naval warfare. By 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service consisted of 93 aircraft, 6 airships, 2 balloons and 727 personnel. By 1918 when the RNAS was combined with the RAF it had nearly 3,000 aircraft and more than 55,000 personnel. Aircraft working in concert with the Royal Navy and against enemy shipping and coastal installations had come to stay. This interesting book looks at the RNAS from a much more personal perspective—that of one young navy pilot, Harold Rosher. The book tells the story of Rosher’s war, based around Dover and engaged in patrolling over and across the English Channel and attacking enemy held coastal defences such as Zeebrugge, principally through letters to his family and provides vital insights into the First World War in the air as experienced by an early naval pilot. Available in softcover and hardcover with dust jacket.

As the wind was dead against me, I decided to come round in a semi-circle to cross the yards with the wind, so as to attain a greater speed. I was only 5,500 feet up, and they opened fire on me with shrapnel as soon as I got within range. It began getting a bit hot, so before I got quite round I shut off my petrol, and came down with a steep volplane until I was 2,500 feet, when I turned on my petrol again, and continued my descent at a rate of well over a hundred miles an hour. I passed over the yards at about 1,000 feet only, and loosed all my bombs over the place. The whole way down I was under fire, two anti-aircraft in the yard, guns from the forts on either side, rifle fire, mitrailleuse or machine guns, and, most weird of all, great bunches ( 15 to 20) of what looked like green rockets, but I think they were flaming bullets.<br>
The excitement of the moment was terrific. I have never travelled so fast before in my life. My first impressions were the great speed, the flaming bullets streaking by, the incessant rattle of the machine gun and rifle fire, and one or two shells bursting close by, knocking my machine all sideways, and pretty nearly deafening me.<br>
On my return I found my machine was only hit twice—rather wonderful; one bullet hole through the tail and a piece of shrapnel buried in the main spar of one wing. I have now got it out.<br>
I found myself across the yards, and felt a mild sort of surprise. My eyes must have been sticking out of my head like a shrimp’s! I know I was gasping for breath and crouching down in the fuselage [body of the machine]. I was, however, by no means clear, for shrapnel was still bursting around me. I jammed the rudder first one way and then the other. I banked first on one wing tip, and then on to the other, now slipping outwards, and now up and now down. I was literally hedged in by forts (and only 1,000 feet up), and had to run the gauntlet before getting away. I was under rifle fire right up to the frontier, and even then the Dutch potted me.<br>
My return journey was trying. Most of the time I had to fly at under 500 feet, as I ran into thick clouds and mist. I pottered gaily right over Flushing, and within a few hundred yards of a Dutch cruiser and two torpedo boats. I got back home about a quarter of an hour after Courtney, having been very nearly four hours in the air, and having covered, I suppose, getting on for 250 miles.<br>
Have not yet heard what damage was done. The C.O. was awfully braced.<br>
I had some breakfast when I got back, wrote out my report, had lunch, and then a very, very hot bath. Tomorrow I am going out with Courtney to see the War, as we have been given the day off to do as we please.<br>
My engine gave me several anxious moments. For some reason it cut right out over the Scheldt, and I had actually given up all hope when it picked up again. It was pretty risky work flying several miles out to sea, only just in sight of land too, but our surprise (or I should say Courtney’s) of the Germans was certainly complete.<br>
Must really stop now.<br>
Ever your loving son,<br>
Harold.<br>
Note<br>
The following is the Admiralty’s official account of the Antwerp raid:—<br>
The Secretary of the Admiralty yesterday afternoon [24th March] issued the following communication from Wing Commander Longmore:—<br>
I have to report that a successful air attack was carried out this morning by five machines of the Dunkirk Squadron on the German submarines being constructed at Hoboken near Antwerp.<br>
Two of the pilots had to return owing to thick weather, but Squadron Commander Ivor T. Courtney and Flight Lieutenant H. Rosher reached their objective, and after planing down to 1000 feet dropped four bombs each on the submarines. It is believed that considerable damage has been done to both the works and to submarines. The works were observed to be on fire. In all five submarines were observed on the slip.<br>
Flight Lieutenant B. Crossley-Meates was obliged by engine trouble to descend in Holland.<br>
Owing to the mist the two pilots experienced considerable difficulty in finding their way, and were subjected to a heavy gunfire while delivering their attack.<br>
The French official communiqué gave precise details, thus:—<br>
At Hoboken the Antwerp shipbuilding yard was set on fire and two submarines were destroyed, while a third was damaged. Forty German workmen were killed and sixty-two wounded.