Monday, July 31, 2017

German Ace, Heinrich Bongartz


Bongartz was born in Gelsenkirchen, Germany on 31 January 1892. Bongartz was a schoolteacher in civilian life. At the outbreak of WW1 he enlisted in the infantry in August 1914 and saw action in the Battle of Verdun. He later transferred to the Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Service) in early 1915, to pilot training with Flieger-Abteilung (Flyer Detachment) 5 and was commissioned a Leutnant in March, 1916. Upon graduation in October, he was posted to a reconnaissance unit, Kampfgeschwader (Tactical Bomber Wing) 5. From there, he had a short lived tour with Kampfstaffel (Tactical Bomber Squadron) 27.

To his delight, Bongartz was finally assigned to flying fighter aircraft with Royal Prussian Jagdstaffel 36 in April 1917.
His initial success as a fighter pilot came during “Bloody April”, so called such because of the severe losses suffered by the Royal Flying Corps. Bongartz contributed to the British bloodshed by claiming four victories during April. He became an ace in May and ended the year with 10 victories. His aerial gallantry had earned him both classes of the Iron Cross.

On July 12, 1917, he shot down number 11 but the next day, Bongartz was wounded for the first time, the first of five wounds he would receive during the war. October and November saw him raise his count to 20 and he was awarded the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern.
On 23 December 1917, he was personally awarded the Pour le Mérite by Kaiser Wilhelm II.
By March of the following year he had run his total to 33 confirmed victories.

April 29 1918, saw his final combat flight when Bongartz' outnumbered Fokker Dr.1 Triplane engaged Royal Air Force planes of No. 74 Squadron. He was severely wounded but managed a crash landing in friendly territory. Later upon inspection of his plane, mechanics counted about 28 bullet holes in the cowling alone.
His wounds resulted in the loss of an eye which ended his combat career, however after recovering, he became the commander of the Aircraft Test Center at Aldershof.

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Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Sopwith Dolphin

First Prototype

In early 1917, the Sopwith chief engineer, Herbert Smith, began designing a new two-bay, single-seat biplane fighter (internal Sopwith designation 5F.1). In an effort to give pilots an improved field of view. 

The upper wings were attached to an open steel cabane frame above the cockpit and there was no centre section in the upper wing.
The pilot’s head was positioned above the upper wing, with the fuselage filling the gap between the wings.
To maintain the correct centre of gravity, the lower wings were positioned 13 inches forward of the upper wings, creating the Dolphin’s distinctive negative wing stagger.

The first Dolphin prototype was powered by a geared 150 hp Hispano-Suiza 8 and featured a deep "car-type" frontal radiator. Test pilot Harry Hawker carried out the maiden flight on 23 May 1917.

The new fighter was instantly found to be of a different class, noted as outperforming the Camel in both speed and height. Early military testing and Martlesham Heath found that the Dolphin offered “unsurpassed visibility and was very manoeuvrable”. Early flights also indicated speeds between 143 and 146mph. This was a huge improvement in speed from the Camel.

On 13 June, the prototype flew to Saint-Omer, France where it was evaluated by several front line pilots, including Billy Bishop of No. 60 Squadron, all reported favourably on it. On 28 June 1917, the Ministry of Munitions ordered 200 Dolphins from Hooper & Co. Shortly thereafter, the Ministry ordered a further 500 aircraft from Sopwith and 200 aircraft from Darracq Motor Engineering Company.

Only one prototype had been completed, two more were soon to follow with a number of revisions. The main change was the cowling was streamlined further, providing an even greater field of view. The radiators were moved around in an attempt to provide better cooling for the engine. The third prototype proved to solve the radiator issue, and gave the Dolphin another of its eccentric features, the two radiators, each mounted on the side of the cockpit. This arrangement kept the cockpit warm and comfortable as the cooling pipes pipes ran alongside the cockpit walls to the two side-mounted radiators. Pilot adjustable shutters in front of each radiator core allowed control of engine temperature.

This fourth prototype, powered by the geared 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8B was selected as the production standard. Series production commenced in October 1917, with 121 Dolphins delivered by the end of the year.

Early 1918 saw the 19 Squadron at full strength with the new Sopwith and under field conditions the Hispano-Suiza engine had a few bugs to work out. Reports of aircraft shedding their propellers and gearing while being slowly run up from a cold start.This led to a procedure change to the start-up operation in order to correct the problem. Other minor field changes were made. One being a redesign of the spent machine gun shell chute. The original design allowed some spent shell casings to hit the radiators.

The official armament of the Dolphin was two fixed, synchronized Vickers machine guns and two Lewis guns mounted on the forward cabane crossbar, firing at an upward angle to avoid the propeller. The Lewis guns proved unpopular as they were difficult to aim and tended to swing into the pilot's face. Pilots also feared that the gun butts would inflict serious head injuries in the event of a crash. Most pilots discarded the Lewis guns, though a minority retained one or both guns for attacking high altitude reconnaissance aircraft from below.

Early on, some pilots voiced concerns regarding their heads sitting above the upper wing in the event of the aircraft flipping onto its back during a rough landing. To ease these concerns a number of different field installed roll bars were attached to the cabane frame above the cockpit, these were more likely a comfort for the pilots than actual protection. In reality when Dolphins did turn over, the tail remained elevated enough to protect the head and allow the pilot to exit. (there was only one instance of a serious injury recorded caused by a nose over)

These bars were mainly used on training Dolphins, as it was considered a nose over was more likely to occur with novice pilots and may provide them with a little of piece of mind.

Despite early problems, the Dolphin proved to be a formidable fighter and generally popular with pilots. The aircraft was fast, manoeuvrable and easy to fly. When functioning properly, the Hispano-Suiza afforded the Dolphin excellent performance at high altitude and the Dolphin was often sent against German reconnaissance aircraft such as the Rumpler C.VII, which routinely operated at altitudes above 20,000 ft.

As the end of the war drew closer, Sopwith started looking at updating the Dolphin design. the most impressive of these improvements became known as the Dolphin II and featured a 300hp Hispano Suiza, which gave very impressive performance figures for the time. The RAF were uninterested in this upgrade, but the United States ordered around 2000 of them, though ultimately the armistice came in before they could be delivered.

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Monday, July 24, 2017

Italian Ace, Prince Fulco Ruffo di Calabria

He was born in Naples August 12, 1884. His noble family's patriotism was prominent in Italian military history since at least 1797. He volunteered for reserve officer's training with the 11th Foggia Light Cavalry Regiment at the age of 20.
Calabria returned to military duty shortly before Italy's entry into World War I, and was assigned to the Battaglione Aviatori in December 1914. After pilot's training he was posted to the 4a Squadriglia Artiglia, an artillery coordination unit and then to 2a Squadriglia in January 1916. In May of that year Calabria underwent further training on Nieuports and he was assigned to 1a Squadriglia as a fighter pilot. He won his first victory there, shared with Francesco Baracca in August 1916. He would end the year in the 70a Squadriglia with 2 confirmed and 2 unconfirmed victories. 

1917 began as 1916 for Calabria with 2 confirmed and 2 unconfirmed victories by the end of February but his luck began to change when in March he was transferred out of the reserves. He was promoted to Tenente (lieutenant) and in May he started flying Nieuport for 91a Squadriglia, commanded by Francesco Baracca. Here he ended 1917 with his total victories at 16.

Upon the death of Baracca in June 1918, Calabria assumed command of the renowned "Squadron of Aces". He relinquished command of 91a Squadriglia in September to Ferruccio Ranza, after suffering a nervous breakdown.
After recovery, he was handed command of 10th Gruppo. In late October 1918, he was shot down while flying over the Austrian lines but managed to land in friendly territory.

He would end the war with 20 confirmed victories, in 53 combats, making him the fifth highest scoring Italian flying ace of World War I. His honors and awards were numerous.

As the pictures show, his personal emblem was a black skull and crossbones painted on the fuselage of his plane, whether it was his original Nieuport 11s, or his later Nieuport 17, and SPAD VII airplanes.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

The British Felixstowe Porte Baby

"There was the boat called the Porte Baby, a bigger machine than any built and flown in this country until 1918, and this boat was produced in 1915 and flown in 1916. Although it did little useful active service work, it set other designers to thinking, and was the father and mother of all big British aeroplanes and seaplanes. When fully loaded it weighed about eight and a half tons, but no scales big enough to weigh it were obtainable in the service"...…so Squadron Leader Theodore D. Hallam or Pix, described the Porte Baby.

When first flown in 1915, the British Felixstowe Porte Baby (Porte F.B.2) was the largest reconnaissance flying boat built in the United Kingdom.
Designed by John Cyril Porte at the Royal Naval Seaplane Experimental Station at Felixstowe, where the prototype was also built; ten additional aircraft were built by May, Harden and May of Southampton.

The aircraft was an unequal-span, three-bay biplane of wood-and-fabric construction, the hull being mounted below the lower wing. The engines, normally three Rolls-Royce Eagles, (but sometimes with a 260 hp Green as the centre, pusher engine) were mounted between the wings; two in tractor configuration and the central one in pusher. The two pilots were in an enclosed cockpit, the three gunners had open stations armed with machine guns.

As can be seen in the above picture, the F.B.2 was used to prove the concept of a larger aircraft carrying aloft and launching a lighter aircraft (in this case a Bristol Scout). The production F.B.2s were used to fly patrols over the North Sea. Its slow speed and large size, however, made it vulnerable to fighter attack, and after one aircraft was almost destroyed by German aircraft, being forced down and having to taxi back from off the Dutch coast to England, they were kept from patrolling areas where they could encounter enemy aircraft. The Porte Baby remained in service in October 1918.

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Austrian Ace, Hauptmann Raoul Stojsavljevic

Raoul was born July 29th, 1887 in Innsbruck, Austria. He attended a military middle school and following his graduation from the Military Academy at Wiener-Neustadt he was commissioned as a Leutnant. In April 1913 he started flying training at Wiener-Neustadt from which he was awarded an Austrian pilot certificate on July 2nd the same year. He would also be promoted to Oberleutnant in the same year.
On mobilisation in 1914, his squadron - Fliegerkompanie (FliK) 1 was assigned to the Northeastern front in Galicia. He flew numerous reconnaissance sorties with Flik 1 before being transferred to Flik 13 as deputy company commander and senior pilot at the end of November 1914.

In February 1915, while piloting a two-seater on his 49th operational sortie, accompanied by observer Leutnant Johannes Reichel he was compelled to execute an emergency landing in a snow storm behind enemy lines. Captured by the Russians they spent six days in captivity before managing to escape. They spent the next two months dodging the Russians before finally repatriating themselves.

Following Italy's entry into the war in May and the opening of the Southwestern front, he was transferred to the South Tyrol based Flik 17 followed by his promotion to Hauptmann.

On September 1st, 1915 he was appointed as company commander of Flik 16 at Villach, Austria where he would lead the company in its primary mission of providing reconnaissance sorties in support of the Austro-Hungarian forces defending the Carinthian border sector of the front. 
At Flik 16, Raoul gained his first four aerial victories in two-seat aircraft and on February 13th,1917 he became an ace after shooting down a Farman two-seater.

Raoul pioneered the art of high speed photographic reconnaissance and at the same time, doubled his existing score to ten confirmed victories, his last being November 21st, 1917.

The following January he was severely wounded during the execution of a reconnaissance sortie while flying a Hansa-Brandenburg C1 fighter in which an enemy round shattered a thigh bone. He successfully managed to land his badly shot up aircraft, behind friendly lines.
Following surgery and recuperation he returned to duty in October 1918 and was assigned as commander of the officers' flying school at Wiener-Neustadt where he remained until the end of the war. 

Among Hauptmann Raoul Stojsavljevic's awards were;

Prussian Iron Cross 1st and 2nd class, from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, The Knight's Cross of the Order of Leopold, Order of the Iron Crown, Military Merit Cross and The Golden Bravery Medal

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Zeppelin-Staaken R.XIV bomber

In September 1914, at the start of World War I, Ferdinand von Zeppelin visualised the concept of a Riesenflugzeug ("giant aircraft") bomber, to be larger than the present twin-engined military aircraft. The feeling was that a Riesenflugzeug, would be less vulnerable than the dirigibles in use at the time.


Zeppelin’s vision would eventually evolve into the Zeppelin-Staaken R.XIV and R.XIVa. The original version of the Staaken R.XIV had two engine nacelles, each housing a pair of engines in a push-pull configuration. The nacelles were large enough to house a mechanic for some inflight maintenance.

Engine selection went from Austro-Daimler V-12 engines to 300 hp Basse und Selve engines both which proved to be unreliable. At this point Zeppelin turned to the less powerful but reliable 245 hp high-compression Maybach Mb.IVa inline 6 cylinder engine. To maintain the performance of the R.XIV, a fifth Maybach engine was installed in the nose, designated the Staaken R.XIVa.
Four of the improved model R.XIVa were ordered by Idflieg late in the war and built between 1918 and 1919 by the Flugzeugwerft at Staaken west of Berlin. The XIVa had some weight reduction improvements and geared engines to increase the rate of climb, service ceiling and bomb load.

The craft had a 138 inch wingspan and a gross weight of 14,250 kg (31,416 lb). Maximum speed of 135 km/h (84 mph), Cruise speed: 120 km/h (75 mph) and a Range of 1,300 km (808 miles). Carried a crew of eight and armed with six 7.92-mm machine guns.

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Willy Coppens, Belgium's highest-scoring Ace of The Great War.

Coppens was born on July 6, 1892 in Watermaal-Bosvoorde. He joined the army in 1912, serving with the 2nd Grenadiers. In 1914 he transferred to the Compagnie des Aviateurs. At his own expense he enrolled in a civilian flying school in Hendon and received further military aviation training in France.

1916 saw Coppens on the Western Front where developed an especial expertise in shooting down enemy observation balloons.

On 19 August Coppens was promoted to Adjutant. He continued his nervy but unsuccessful combat career against enemy aircraft until 17 March 1918. On that day he carried out his first attack on German observation balloons, as an aid to a ground assault by the Belgian Army. Though handicapped by lack of incendiary ammunition he punctured two balloons, causing the observers to bail out and the balloons to collapse to the ground.

Finally, on 25 April Coppens scored his first victory by downing a Rumpler two seater. On 8 May he finally found his metier, when he shot two balloons down in flames.

All but three of Coppens' 37 victories were against balloons - regarded as perfectly legitimate by all sides in adding to a pilot's 'kill' total, such attacks being considered an especially hazardous undertaking.

“On one occasion, the balloon he was attacking shot upward and Coppens actually landed his Hanriot HD.1 on top of it. Switching off his engine to protect the propeller, he waited until his aircraft slid off the top of the balloon, then restarted the engine and watched as the German balloon burst into flames and sank to the ground”.

His wartime career came to an end however on October 14, 1918 - less than a month prior to the armistice - when he was struck in the leg by an incendiary bullet while achieving victory number 37 - his final 'kill'. Despite a severed artery and intense pain, he shot down his target and managed to crash land within the safety of his Allied lines.The severity of a severed artery resulted in an amputation.

For his wartime service he was knighted, becoming Willy Omer Francois Jean Coppens de Houthulst, for a forest in his squadron's operating area. Before he retired from the army in 1940, Coppens served as a military attaché in France, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland.

Among Coppens’ many decorations were;

Order of the White Eagle  Serbia.jpg

The Order of the White Eagle, Serbia, The Order of the Crown, Belgium, The Order of Leopold II, Belgium, The Legion of Honor, France, The Croix de Guerre, France, The Belgian War Cross, Belgium, The Military Cross, Britain and The Distinguished Service Order, Britain

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The British Bristol F.2 Fighter

A two-seat biplane fighter and reconnaissance aircraft of the First World War developed by the Bristol Aeroplane Company. The aircraft's design came about as a result of Frank Barnwell's brief experience as a front-line pilot with the Royal Flying Corps.

In March 1916 he started work on the aircraft but engines of desired horsepower and availability delayed production until the new 190 hp Rolls-Royce Falcon inline engine became available, and Barnwell designed a new aircraft around it. It was designated the Type 12 F.2A.

Work was started on two prototypes in July 1916; on 28 August a contract was awarded for 50 production aircraft, and the first prototype flew on 9 September 1916. The F.2A was armed in what had by then become the standard manner for a British two-seater: one synchronised fixed, forward-firing .303 Vickers machine gun, and one flexible .303 Lewis Gun mounted on a Scarff ring in the observer's rear cockpit.

The F2a fighters made their operational debut on 5 April 1917 with the RFC 48 Squadron was somewhat less than successful. The pilots of the 48th thought it to be structurally unsound and, despite its name, flew them in a rather sedately manner similar to two seat reconnaissance aircraft, slow and steady as a platform for the rear gunner.

Not surprisingly they were shot down just like slow and steady reconnaissance aircraft. It was soon realized that Bristol’s fighter was actually a very sturdy aircraft that could, and should, be maneuvered as if it were a single seat fighter with rear protection. And a fighter it was, with over 240 pilots and gunners achieving ace status in the type before the end of the Great War.

Further refinements to the design plus more powerful Rolls Royce engines, resulted in the F.2B started appearing at the front in April 1917. When equipped with the 275 hp Falcon III engine and could reach a maximum speed of 123 mph. The F.2B was over 10 mph faster than the F.2A and was three minutes faster at reaching 10,000 feet.

Despite being a two-seater, the F.2B proved to be an agile aircraft that was able to hold its own against opposing single-seat fighters, the F.2B's robust design ensured that it remained in military service into the 1930s, and surplus aircraft were popular in civil aviation.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Keith Logan Caldwell

A New Zealand native, Caldwell joined the territorial army, but when he attempted to enlist in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force destined for Gallipoli he was declined. Intrigued with aviation he joined the first class at the New Zealand Flying School in October 1915 and promptly passed his flight tests two months later.
He traveled to England and joined the Royal Flying Corps in April 1916, being commissioned by the RFC in April. On 29 July 1916 he was posted to No. 8 Squadron RFC flying B.E.2Cs and Ds on observation duty. On 18 September 1916, flying a B.E.2D, he and his observer gained their first victory by downing a Roland CII. Caldwell as a natural, after scoring this first victory, he was reassigned to 60 Squadron in November 1916.

By September 1917, while piloting Nieuport Scouts, he had downed seven enemy aircraft. The Scouts were replaced with the S.E.5a in which he scored his ninth victory on 15 September.

He received the Military Cross on 17 September. 

The citation read; "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when leading offensive patrols. On one occasion he led a patrol of five machines against twelve hostile aircraft, all of which he drove down out of control. He has personally destroyed five hostile machines, and has had over fifty contests in the air, in all of which he has displayed splendid skill and fearlessness, and has set an excellent example to his squadron."

Returning to England in October, he served as an instructor until March 1918 when he was promoted to Major and given command of 74 "Tiger" squadron equipped with the S.E.5a, which he took to France on 30 March.

Under Caldwell's guidance the squadron claimed a creditable 140 aircraft destroyed and 85 'out of control' in the remaining eight months of the war.

Before the war was over, Caldwell survived a mid-air collision and scored sixteen more victories bringing his total to 25. Virtually all of his victims were single-seat fighter/scouts. But for his poor marksmanship, some thought that Caldwell might have been one of the highest scoring aces of the war.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in December 1918.

The citation being "A fine fighting airman of courage and determination. On 4th September, when on offensive patrol, he, in company with another machine, attacked four Fokker biplanes; one of these was driven down by this officer. He has accounted for five enemy machines."

Caldwell would also receive the Croix de Guerre from the Belgians.

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