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Chapter 45

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The First Yale Unit

by
Ralph D. Paine

printed at
The Riverside Press
Cambridge (Mass.)
1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 47
This site is not affiliated with the US Naval Academy.

Vol. II
p293
Chapter XLVI

The Killingholme Patrols

While these other members of the Unit were following the fortunes of the Northern Bombing Group in Italy, France, Belgium, and at the English base of Eastleigh, Frank Lynch and 'Lotta' Lawrence were entirely detached from them in the separate American organization at Killingholme. It was a station taken over from the British and expanded and carried on with very notable snap and efficiency by a large force under Commander Kenneth Whiting. It demonstrated what our naval spirit and style of doing things could accomplish when given the proper equipment and an adequate personnel. Atlee Edwards explains the British project which was tried and failed, and how the station was turned to other uses after it came under American control.

While the majority of our stations took part in military operations, the most active were those in England and Ireland, Flanders and the Adriatic. Of them all the one at Killingholme, on the east coast of England, near the mouth of the Humber, was not only the most important but in one detail the most interesting. The station was created for the purpose of trying out a scheme for raiding the enemy bases in the Heligoland Bight which had been originated by the British Admiralty. This was, in short, a scheme to transport seaplanes on lighters, or floats, towed by destroyers to within easy striking distance of Heligoland, Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Emden, and Wilhelmshaven. When the float had reached its station, it was given an inclined position by flooding a rear compartment, the seaplane rising from the deck. Although preliminary trials demonstrated the entire practicability of the plan, it was subsequently abandoned because of the fact that the British, in their enthusiasm, let the cat out of the bag by making a test flight in the vicinity of the p294Heligoland Bight, during which operation a Zeppelin took photographs thus destroying the element of surprise upon which the entire undertaking was based. Furthermore, after the fusion of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps into the Royal Air Force the co‑operative spirit between the army and the navy sank to a very low ebb, and when these lighters had been built the project had to be abandoned because the Admiralty decided that they could not spare the destroyers that were necessary for the execution of the project.

This experiment is further interesting for the light it throws upon the wartime psychology of the British; upon their will to victory. We all know of their strange and new devices for winning the war, which were successful; of their 'hush ships,' their camouflaged fleets and their 'Q' ships. These were successful, but few of us have heard of the many schemes proposed and tried out, often at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds, all to no purpose. Nothing, apparently, was too fantastic to be given a trial, and if it failed it was shrugged aside as part of the game.

The original Killingholme project was one of these wild experiments that failed, yet the success or failure of the original plan had no effect upon our subsequent operations there. The location of this base, situated as it was on the east coast of England, directly opposite the Heligoland Bight, was most important from a strategical point of view. It was accordingly developed as a base for ordinary aerial operations, becoming eventually one of the most powerful in existence, with 46 seaplanes and a personnel of 1928 men; 404 flights were made by these machines covering a distance of nearly a hundred thousand miles. Shortly before the Armistice was signed it was decided to reinforce this station with seaplanes that had been operating from our stations on the French coast. This was accordingly done, and had the German High Fleet taken the seas it would most certainly have felt the pressure of American planes in the North Sea and we would have been in a position to judge of the value of aircraft in a naval action. The ease with which these planes were flown from France and housed at small improvised stations in the immediate vicinity of Killingholme speaks well for the flexibility of this arm of the service. Although it is somewhat of a digression from the subject in hand, it may be well here to invite attention to the fact that the fundamental principles of aircraft p295are the same the world over and hence in an Allied campaign they are interchangeable, which is a decided asset from a military point of view. We could fly British, French, or Italian planes with little or no preliminary training, but it is doubtful if we could have operated their vessels had the personnel situation demand such an expedient.

The operations at Killingholme included convoy escorts, hunting submarines, long distance reconnaissance, and special patrols carried out in response to warnings. Under American command the period of actual war service was something less than four months, from July 20th, until November 11th. During this time it made the following records:

Sea miles patrolled 57,647
Hours of flying 968
Number of flights 233
Average length of flights 4 hrs., 10 min.
Number of ships convoyed 6,243

Commander Whiting organized the force in two divisions, one consisting of all the officers and men connected with flying and the beach, and the other taking in the rest of the men. The flight division was divided into two squadrons and they in turn into flights, a beach gang to handle machines, an armorers' gang, a machine shop gang, a carpenters' gang, a fillers' gang, and a boat gang to run the launches. There was also an intelligence department, a photographic department, a meteorological bureau, and a radio and electrical department. The other division consisted of the guard, the mess cooks, and attendants, all yeomen, general stores department, transportation department, medical department and a large construction gang of about 600 men who were erecting huts on the station to accommodate the largely increased personnel, which ultimately reached the total of over 1700 officers and men. The squadrons were divided into four flights each, each p296having its flight commander. Each flight had five machines. Each machine had its crew of four men, pilot, observer, engineer, and radio man. In addition each flight had several spare engineers, wing men and general workers.

The most important task, at first, was to train more pilots. This was done by the experienced pilots while on actual patrol, and practice in landings was given while flying up or down the river to or from patrols, and it wasn't long before nearly all the pilots were qualified to fly big boats. Under Lieutenant Farrell, the gunnery officer, a school of machine gunnery was started and practice held every day. He also gave lessons on the use of the bomb sights and on the bombs themselves. There were also lectures on aerial navigation but this was mostly learned by actual practice at sea; there were lectures on radio and practice in signalling of all kinds. These courses were for both officers and men of the flying crews. Drills of various kinds, such as air‑raid drill, fire drill, 'All away,' which meant every machine available was to be put overside, were held without warning at various hours of the day or night. The beach and hangars were under the supervision of a flight duty officer who stood a twenty-four hours' watch and he had under him a head officer who had charge of the gang which put the machines overside, a big job, requiring about thirty men for a machine. The flight duty officer received the orders for the morning's flight from the squadron commander the night before, turned out the pilots and crews and beach gangs, gave the pilots their orders, and saw that the machines got away on time. During the day he took charge of all operations on the beach and at the hangars, rounding up whatever pilots and crews were needed to stand by for emergency patrols. Patrols usually left at daybreak and again at noon, and were out from four to eight hours.

Frank Lynch and Francklyn Lawrence reported at the p297station on June 16th, while it was still jointly operated by the British and American naval air services. They had been sent straight from Norfolk and Washington after having their curiosity excited by the mysterious references to a base camouflaged under the designation of '14 and 15.' Kenneth Whiting had been working on the plans in the Department for some time before he sailed in the U. S. S. Jason with a cargo of material and the first American built flying-boats to be used in foreign service.

To the two members of the Unit it was a most welcome sight to find Lieutenant Commander Kenneth McAlpin, M. C. ('Little Doc.') on duty at Killingholme where he was doing great work. This opinion of his services is part of his record in the Bureau of Navigation.

Period from 1 June to 30 September, 1918:

He has been in charge of the health of from 400 to 1400 men and has directed the work of two other medical officers one of the same rank and the other about to be made the same rank with apparent satisfaction and contentment.

K. Whiting, Commander, U. S. N.,

Commanding U. S. N. A. S. Killingholme, Eng.

Period from 1 October to 2 December, 1918:

A most excellent officer in every respect. His retention in service would be very desirable. He is an exceptional medical officer, is very attentive to all details of duties, and is well versed in the duties of a Naval Medical Officer. He is especially qualified in internal medicine diagnosis and treatment, and has the highest respect of patients and personnel.

G. F. Freeman, Comdr. (MC), U. S. N.

Approved: K. Whiting, Comdr., U. S. N.

Killingholme had its baseball team which played matches with nines from the American Naval Aviation camps at Driffield and Grimsby, and the Army camps at Beverly and Doncaster. Track athletes competed in the British and Colonial meet at Stamford Bridge. Football p298flourished, with stars from various colleges among the material, and Navy and Army fought it out on several occasions. The Earl and Countess of Yarmouth invited the officers to tennis and tea on Saturdays in the summer months and opened the grounds and golf course for their use. The station showed its spirit in going over the top for the Fourth Liberty Loan with the splendid subscription of $164,250, or more than $130 per capita for the total personnel of 1253 officers and men.

Frank Lynch's experience was active and interesting and he had no cause to complain that there was nothing doing. Having slung a facile pen in earlier parts of this history,a he is hereby permitted to cut loose again:

We reported for duty at Killingholme on June 16, 1918, and were at once assigned to what was known as the War Flight, as distinguished from the 'Convoy Escort Flight.' The duty in the War Flight consisted of long reconnaissance work. Planes were usually sent out alone to cover certain areas in the North Sea. Patrols started at dawn, and some times even before the sun came up. The first leg usually took one out to sea for sixty or seventy miles where a spider web was done and a return made to the station. Patrols of this nature were worked out on the theory that there was a good chance of catching submarines up on the surface charging their batteries in the early hours of the morning preparatory to operations against north and south bound convoys later in the day.

It was my good fortune to find a German sub in this condition on my third patrol. I learned unofficially from a member of the British Naval Intelligence Staff that I had been credited by the British with its sinking, but received no report from the American Intelligence Department. On July 30th, while taking two pilots up to the British station at South Shields, where they were to fly back two Shortt planes, we sighted a submarine wake at a point about six miles due east of Flamboro Head. The sub was entirely submerged. On dropping both bombs on her wake, we observed large quantities of oil upon the surface and were convinced that we had either damaged or sunk the submarine. Having left off the wireless apparatus to make room for the two p299pilots we were carrying, and having no Aldis lamp on board, we landed alongside a trawler that we found five miles from the scene of the bombing to give them its position. In getting off again in a heavy ground swell, we tore off the step of the boat, and realizing that on our next landing we would undoubtedly sink, made all haste for South Shields, which was some fifty miles up the coast. The wind was due east and to make a landing close to the beach at South Shields it was necessary to fly in over the city and cut the motor while we were still among a lot of chimneys and smokestacks. We landed about fifty yards off the beach, and by the time we had swung the plane around and taxied up on the beach, the water was up to our waists.

On the 20th of July, we were out on special sub patrol and were within three miles of the reported position of a submarine that had been sighted, when our port motor failed and let us down in a heavy sea. On attempting a getaway, we broke two struts and strained the hull. A trawler in the vicinity that was putting out listening devices for the submarine picked us up and towed us in to Scarboro.

A wireless message from the station advised me to take tow from a trawler and join the southbound convoy. This convoy consisted of eighty‑two ships, merchantmen, oil tankers, and tamps, with eight destroyers and two motor launches as escort. No planes flew over the convoy; the weather was too stormy and rough to permit it. The skipper of the trawler had taken a position about midway down the starboard side of the convoy. When we were off Flamboro Head, a little more than three hours out of Scarboro, the weather became so rough that it looked as though our seaplane would not ride out the gale. I asked the skipper of the trawler to put in to Bridlington, a protected harbor, until the storm should blow itself out. He had just changed his course and was perhaps 300 yards away from the main body of the convoy on the inshore side, when in great excitement he pointed out two torpedo wakes to me less than fifty yards aft of the seaplane.

One of the torpedoes hit the largest merchantman of the convoy just below the bridge, blowing off her nose and causing her to sink in six minutes. The other torpedo hit an oil tanker aft, but with the assistance of two trawlers she was able to get into Bridlington. It was a pathetic sight to see the big merchantman flounder about and slowly go down nose first. In the last minute a p300terrific explosion took place when her boilers blew up, and some of the men who had attempted to get away in life boats were drawn in by the suction of the sinking ship. Only eleven out of a crew of thirty-seven were saved, and we learned from them later, when they were brought in to Bridlington, that most of the casualties had occurred on the initial explosion, when officers and men were killed in the boiler room and below decks.

Immediately after the explosion of the torpedoes, the destroyers and motor launches raced over to our vicinity and dropped depth charges freely in the hope of sinking the sub, which no one had seen. At times, five and six depth charges were going off simultaneously within a radius of 150 to 200 feet of us, and the concussion nearly lifted our little trawler out of the water. The submarine was not located, and in talking over the incident with some of the destroyer captains later on we could not figure out whether the sinkings were the result of marksmanship, or luck in having both torpedoes find a mark.

Most of our own equipment, in the way of planes, arrived on the Jason early in June, and consisted of 46 H‑16s, with spare motors and accessories. The little naval supply ship had a harrowing trip across the Atlantic and down the North Sea, which lasted twenty-three days. Intelligence had evidently reached the Germans as to her movements, as they had submarines scattered along the coast waiting for her, but she came down the middle of the North Sea with an escort of three destroyers and arrived safely at the Humber River.

The first H‑16 was ready for test on July 3d, and it was my good luck to fly her. I believe this was the first American-built plane to be flown abroad.

During my stay at Killingholme, which terminated about the middle of September, my work consisted principally of long reconnaissance lifts, testing, and some instruction. I had several bad crashes, including one that was unique. I had been ordered to proceed at once to the vicinity of Flamboro Head where two submarines had been sighted. The wind was blowing at least forty knots; some idea of the conditions may be obtained from the fact that it took three attempts before I was successful in getting my plane off the river. The wind was inshore, and by the time I got into the air I was quite close to the station. To make sure of clearing the station's wireless apparatus, I banked up sharply to the right; then as I saw I was going to clear this p301and my altitude was hardly more than 100 feet I started to take off some of the ailerons, but found that the wheel would not move. Looking down at a point where the aileron control wires came through a pulley to the control post, I found that one of the control wires was jammed between the pulley and the pulley support. To prevent a side-slip, I put on enough rudder to equalize the ailerons and stayed in the sharp bank until we were again out over the water and had completed a full turn. Then to get the plane down on an even keel, I cut the high motor and speeded up the low motor to the maximum. The torque from the low motor evened up the wings almost to level as I pointed her nose for the water.

Of course, there was a side drift of forty knots and with one motor wide open I was making about eighty-five knots forward speed. This was a bad combination for landing in a heavy sea. On striking the water, the bottom of the boat was swept completely off, the hull broke in the middle, and we sank quickly. The engineer dove out from the tail, the second pilot and I were able to get out quickly, but found it necessary to go back in and assist the wireless operator to free himself. None of us was scratched, and we were soon perched out on the top wing, the only part of the plane to remain above the surface of the water, waiting for a destroyer to pick us up.

On another occasion, motor trouble forced us to land while out in a heavy sea, which made a getaway impossible, after we had fixed our motor. We had the good luck to be picked up, some seventy miles from shore, by a British mine-laying destroyer on her way back from the mouth of the Kiel, where she had worked the night before under cover of darkness.

After a short assignment to duty at headquarters in London, which was really a rest period, I was sent down to the assembling and repair base at Eastleigh. This was one of the best organized, most efficient aviation units that I had seen. Just before the Armistice, they were turning out six or seven D.H.‑4s a day. As fast as planes were set up and tested, they were sent out to squadrons in the fields in France.

On October 13th, I flew across the Channel with Ken MacLeish in a D.H., which we delivered at Le Fresne for the Marine Day Bombing Squadron. We motored up to Dunkirk that night, and Ken, who was to join the '213 Squadron,' the British Camel Squadron, to which Dave Ingalls had been attached, called up p302Major Graham after dinner and asked him if he might not go over that night to the drome, which was only four miles from Dunkirk, to be on hand for a big offensive that was planned for October 14th. Major Graham was delighted at Ken's keenness, and was glad to take advantage of this offer of his services. Ken went out on the dawn patrol next morning, and was successful in getting a Boche. On his second trip out, however, he and a chap named Greene, a Britisher, were cut off from the rest of the squadron by eight or nine Hun planes and the two of them were last seen going down in a spin, one of them in flames. They dropped some four or five miles behind the German lines, near Leffinge. I obtained all the information available from Major Graham, and as our lines were moving forward rapidly, was able in a day or two to get up and scour the country for some trace of Ken. Although I discovered three full days to the search, I was unable to get any real trace of him.

While I was still at Dunkirk, the Huns were forced to evacuate Ostend, and with an ensign named Moore, Executive at the time of the Dunkirk station, I went up to Ostend. Two pilots from Dunkirk had flown up in the morning, and landed in the Basin de Chasse. One of them had broken a pontoon in getting off, and had sent word back that he would have to come back by motor as his plane was too badly damaged to repair and fly back. The Huns had evacuated early in the morning, and Moore and I arrived at 8.30 that night. The market place was thronged with old men, women and children, the only inhabitants of the city who had remained when the Germans took possession four years earlier. A party of British officers had preceded us, the first of the Allies to enter this Belgian city. We were met by the Mayor of the town and other dignitaries, and were given quarters for the night in a hotel that had been occupied the night previous by German officers. We were roused the next morning by the first contingent of Belgian forces to return to Ostend. They were marching in to the tune of 'La Brabançonne,' and it was a most inspiring sight to see the reception these weary troops, who had been marching all night, were given by the surviving inhabitants of Ostend.

Later on, we went down to the quay and watched three British trawlers followed by six French and British destroyers blow up forty-five floating mines, which the Huns had left in the harbor. The concussion was so great when these mines were exploded by p303machine gun fire that windows in the town were broken and crumbling walls fell.

I returned to England just before the Armistice, and together with Harry, Reg Coombe, Graham Brush, and 'Shorty' Smith, came back on the Balmoral Castle on the 18th of November.

After a short period of leave and a short term of duty in Washington, I was sent to the Naval Air Station, San Diego, California, and in the time there, from the middle of December to the middle of February, was busy organizing a permanent coast patrol of the west coast. I submitted plans for an organization of three squadrons, and found the work most interesting.

I was given my discharge to inactive duty on February 12, 1919.

Lieutenant Frank Lynch was recommended by Admiral Sims for the Distinguished Service Medal, and was awarded the Navy Cross by Secretary Daniels, with the following citation:

The Secretary of the Navy
Washington

11 November, 1920

Sir:

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to

Lieutenant (j.g.) Francis R. V. Lynch, U. S. N. R. F.

for services during the World War set forth in the following:

Citation

For distinguished and heroic service as a pilot of a seaplane engaged in patrolling the waters of the War Zone, escorting and protecting troop and cargo ships, operating against enemy submarines, and bombing the enemy coast, showing at all times courage and a high spirit of duty.1

p304 Lieutenant G. F. Lawrence finds mention in an illustrated booklet, or souvenir history, of the United States Naval Air Station, Killingholme, which was printed in England.

On the night of August 5, 1918, about 7.30 P.M. warning was received of the approach of hostile airships, and flying-boats were immediately prepared to engage the enemy. At 10.30 P.M., Zeppelins were reported rapidly approaching the coast. In spite of adverse weather conditions, rain and heavy mist, one flying-boat in charge of Ensign A. W. Hawkins and Lieutenant G. F. Lawrence took the air with instructions to patrol the coast line at an altitude of 10,000 feet until forced to return. Shortly after the departure of this machine, conditions were such that it was deemed unadvisable to risk sending additional machines. The machine that went out, in accordance with instructions, ascended to a height of 10,000 feet, where weather conditions were favorable, but owing to dense, low‑flying clouds, it was impossible to see the earth at any time during the flight. In spite of this fact and the extreme difficulty of judging wind direction and velocity, at 5.30 A.M., when the supply of fuel was practically exhausted, a landing was made at South Shields, a point on the coast about 100 miles from the station.

p305 'Lotta' says of his foreign tour of duty:

A long, dreary trip across England, and we arrived in Killingholme much impressed with camouflage, searchlights, and general warlike look of things. We found the station a really wonderful place, much bigger than we expected and well organized. Commander Bowhill, an English R. N. A. S. pilot was then in command. The station was located on the west bank of the Humber about two miles below Hull, an excellent location but with one drawback, an eight knot tide in the river, which caused us much damage, before we got through. There were about 900 English and 500 Americans on the station, officers and men. Frank and I started flying at once, going on our first patrol within a couple of days of our arrival. We used F‑2a's and H‑12s with Rolls-Royce motors, and later H‑16s with Liberties. It was then that I realized fully what a great benefit our training at Palm Beach and Huntington in small F‑boats had been.

With the exception of the pilots who had been flying with the British at Felixstowe not one of the American pilots that we found on the station could fly boats and many of them never learned at all, and until the pilots who had been training with us at Hampton Roads got over, about a month later, the five from Felixstowe and Frank and myself did all the boat flying and consequently got in on all the good trips. Commander Whiting took the station over from the British early in July, with Lieutenant Leighton as executive, and 'Tom' Murphy as squadron commander. Subs were thick in July and scarcely a day passed without reports of one or more. Our war charts were covered with their activities, and something was bombed at least two or three times a week. Occasionally subs were caught running on the surface, but more often wakes and oil were bombed. Commander Whiting and 'Tom' Murphy, both old submarine men, were wonders at plotting positions, and subs usually showed up where they were expected to.

My one meeting with a sub was on my third patrol late one evening in July, about fifteen miles off the mouth of the Humber. My observer, George Hodges, first spotted a suspicious wake and we flew over it. The general outline of the sub was very clear and the long streams of bubbles from behind convinced me one was there. We circled and dropped one bomb (a British 230‑pound), then circled again and dropped the other. The propellers stopped revolving and some oil came up. We p306called up a destroyer by blinker, which was convoying a ship near by, and she dropped six or eight depth charges on the spot, a wonderful sight. A great lot of oil came to the surface and we went home a pretty cheerful crew.

Two days later, Hodges and I went to see the Admiral of the East Coast, who congratulated us and said that one of his divers had been down into the submarine and that preparations were being made to raise it. Matters rested there for some time until Hodges went again to see the Admiral and was told that owing to a storm the buoys had been lost and the sub could not be found. We heard nothing more until a report came in from the Admiralty in London saying that the owing to the fact that the buoys were lost the submarine could not be located again and therefore proof of the sinking could not be established, a little disappointing, to say the least.

My next trip of interest was an all night affair with 'Tex' Hawkins. Zeps had been reported off the coast several times during the preceding week, coming nearer each time, apparently preparing for a raid. On the night of August 5th, Zeps were reported from several quarters headed for the English coast and the mouth of the Humber. We were called out about 8 P.M. and 10 P.M. 'Tex' and I were ordered away in an F‑2a specially equipped for night flying. We had orders to patrol back and forth at 10,000 feet from Robin Hood Bay to the Wash, a stretch of about sixty miles, and to remain out until dawn. 'Tex' having had night flying experience at Felixstowe took command. It was blowing quite hard when we left and raining a little and looked like a nasty night. We hit the clouds at about a thousand feet and climbed through them until we reached 9000 feet, where we fortunately got clear except for an occasional small cloud. Then we proceeded to chase everything in sight, stars, which we took for exhaust flames or signals of Zeps, small clouds which we thought were Zeps themselves, and even the moon when she first started to come up. A passing airplane gave us a real thrill, as there was no mistaking her riding-lights. When we went close, she gave us the correct signal; we were disappointed again.

So it went all night. We tried to navigate in a general way, but had no idea where the wind was coming from at that altitude. It had been blowing onto the coast when we left, so we kept working to sea to avoid being blown over the land in case we had p307to come down. It nearly proved our undoing. Morning came at last, and we found ourselves above an endless sea of clouds with not anything in sight. As our gas was getting low, we were faced with the necessity of an immediate return. As we hadn't the slightest idea where we were, we applied the rule of all pilots flying off the East Coast, 'When in doubt, fly west.' So we dropped down through the clouds until our altimeter registered two hundred feet, when we finally saw the water. We found to our great relief that we had a fifteen-mile wind behind us, which would be a great help with our depleted supply of gasoline. It was raining hard and a big sea was running, so you can bet we were in a hurry. After what seemed like hours of flying (as a matter of fact, it was forty-five minutes), we suddenly came on a fleet of trawlers heading to sea. As we had only thirty minutes' gas left, you can imagine how we felt; so we took a course from them and headed for what we knew must be a harbor, what or where we didn't care, and, sure enough, twenty minutes later, suddenly out of the fog ahead loomed the breakwater of what afterwards proved to be Tynemouth.

When we landed, 'Tex' and I fell on each other's necks and then proceeded to take stock of the situation. Talk about luck! We landed with ten minutes' gas left! Tynemouth is the only harbor for fifty miles on each side where it is possible to land a plane with any kind of an easterly wind blowing. The rest of the coast is composed of cliffs which jut from 200 to 400 feet above the sea. If we had not come on the trawlers, we would have run a good chance of hitting the cliffs, as the visibility was then about 500 feet. And if we had not had the good luck in steering a straight course from the trawler fleet, we might have hit the cliffs which run up sheer on either side of Tynemouth. As it was, we went plump over the middle of the breakwater about 100 feet up and 'Tex' made a magnificent turn and a perfect landing on the very heavy swell then running into the harbor from the sea.

'Tex' and I turned in and slept for a while at the R. A. F. headquarters in Tynemouth and then about 4 P.M. started for Killingholme, 150 miles down the coast. After various adventures in the heavy fog then lying in spots along the coast, such as nearly hitting the cliffs twice, flying down the main streets of towns on the shore, and chasing various flocks of animals in near‑by fields, we arrived at Killingholme about 6 P.M., very p308glad to be here. Two hours later, I had turned in for the night when the fire call sounded and general assembly, and at the same time there was a dull explosion. I rushed to my window and it seemed to me as if all our hangars were in flames.

On arrival at the beach, I found two machines blazing fiercely in the center hangar, and among them the one 'Tex' and I had just made our flight in. It seems that the mechanics had just filled her with gasoline, and the armorers had gone into her to look over the armament, one of them taking with him a lighted lantern, strictly against orders. There was a lot of vaporized gas lying in the bottom of the hull and the first thing he knew he was in flames. By attaching ropes to outlying portions of the machines nearest the door, we pulled them out onto the concrete and managed to save the other three in the hangar, and probably the whole place, as there were 250 gallons of gas in each machine.

One of the bravest things I have ever seen occurred that night. One of the two machines completely destroyed, an H‑16, was all set for early morning patrol, which meant that she had four hundred rounds of machine‑gun ammunition in her and two 230‑pound bombs hanging under her wings. As it was farther in and behind our machine, which was burning in the doorway, it was not noticed at first. Then one of the armament men saw it. Without hesitating, he dashed in through the fire, pulled the release wire of one bomb which dropped on his shoulder, carried it out and then went back after the other, although severely burned the first time.

The Zeppelins were patrolling the Dogger Bank and Commander Whiting decided to have a try at them. One fine day in August he ordered three machines out for Zep reconnaissance. Only one got away, however, and I had the good fortune to be in it. I had with me Captain Pattison, an old R. N. A. S. man and an experienced pilot. We went straight out for three hours toward Heligoland and then climbed through the clouds to 12,000 feet., where we came out. We had been flying there five minutes when we spotted a black speck against the white clouds ten or fifteen miles to the north. The glasses showed it plainly to be a Zep, so we slid toward it through the top side of the clouds till we thought we must be close and then came out. We saw her about a mile away and slightly above us, heading for home, and looking as big as a house. We dove for the clouds again, but she must have seen us, for she tilted her nose up and shot up to 20,000 p309feet or more, far beyond our ceiling, and ran for home. We climbed and chased for a while, but soon saw it was hopeless. Also we had reached the limit of our gas and were well within the limits of the Borkum patrol, a particularly efficient German North Sea seaplane outfit. So we dropped down a few feet above the water and started back. We were then within fifty miles of Heligoland and not far from the Dutch Islands.

On our way back we ran through a fleet of Dutch luggers, fishing on the Dogger Bank. There must have been several Germans amongst them, for a lively fire was opened from several vessels, with light pom‑poms, machine guns, and rifles, as we flew by. Our engineer and radio‑man amused themselves by replying with the after machine guns, but no damage was done on either side. A little later while flying through a light mist we came suddenly on the British light cruiser squadron. Before we had a chance to fire the recognition signal of the day, the hottest kind of a shrapnel fire was opened on us, and a Camel scout machine flew off the front deck of one of the cruisers. For a minute things looked bad, but we got off our signals and I lifted the machine up into the air to show our wing marks (we were then flying about ten feet above the water as we had a stiff head wind) and the shooting ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

After three more hours of flying we sighted the coast about thirty miles north of the Humber. We were flying peaceably along in the gathering darkness when suddenly right ahead loomed an enormous Zep. I nearly jumped out of my seat, but Pattison only laughed and shouted 'British' in my ear. We flew close under her and got a good look. She was either the R‑34 or her sister ship the R‑33. They were stationed quite near us, as I saw them several times after that, but this was the first time I ever knew the British had them. We landed about 9.30 by means of flares on the water, having been out nine hours and fifty minutes.

Very little happened during the month of September. There was a great deal of routine patrol and bad weather and few subs. We spent a great deal of time trying to get the Liberty motored H‑16s into condition for sea service, as up till that time we had used English F‑2a's with Rolls-Royce motors for all long flights. In October the weather settled somewhat and talk of the German fleet coming out put every one on their toes. Long reconnaissance flights were made, some of them lasting seven or eight p310hours. A few pilots were sent to Dundee to coöperate with the Grand Fleet then in the Firth of Forth. However, that excitement soon died away, and the prospect of spending a miserable winter in that dismal spot dampening every one's spirits, when the great news of the Armistice came. Within two weeks all but a few were on their way home.

The peak of operating efficiency at Killingholme was reached in October when we averaged fifteen machines ready for patrol per day for a while and one day had more than twenty. Of course, patrols were run almost every day, and many machines were lost through crashes, some through fire, and many laid up due to 'pick‑up' boats smashing into them due to the eight-knot tide in the river. The British had left us about eight F‑2a's when they gave over the station, some of them of the most recent type and all equipped for war service. These proved the backbone of the squadron at Killingholme. In all the early flying during July and August when subs were thickest and scarcely a day passed without an emergency call, the F‑2as were called on for all long reconnaissance flights, in fact for any work which would take a machine more than fifty miles to sea. But these wore out or were crashed until we were reduced in October to three, which were carefully reserved for any special emergency. The H‑16s kept giving trouble and any possibility of attack against Kiel seemed to get more and more remote. The failure to get off and crashing of boats when attempting to take off from lighters in any kind of sea which had occurred in several instances during the summer, rather discouraged people about the success of any such expedition as had been formerly planned. However, the work of fitting the machines to lighters went ahead, and I believe at least one would have been tried had not the Armistice put an end to our troubles. But in general, we were expecting to wait for the spring and in the meantime get a new type of machine and a later model Liberty motor.

Under the American régime, a remarkable amount of flying was done out of Killingholme. In September and October an average of well over a hundred hours a week was maintained and some weeks it exceeded 200. Killingholme had the highest record in number of hours of patrol and ships convoyed of any patrol station in England, during the months of August, September p311and October. This might have been bettered but for the awful weather during September, when hardly a day went by without rain or fog and the wind never seemed to stop blowing a gale. But in spite of it there were very few days when flying was 'washed out.' The fog and rain cost us many smashed machines (three in one morning) but it was the best weather for sub hunting and nearly all bombings took place in foggy or rainy weather. We did a lot of mine-layer convoying towards the end, a very dull but important job. The British mine-laying base at Immingham was only a mile below the station and there was a whole fleet of mine-laying destroyers and steamers which had to be protected while laying their mines. Of course, convoys of coastwise steamers went up and down the war channel every day and had to have aerial escorts, weather permitting. There you could see all types of coastal aircraft, from enormous British Zeps hanging like great sausages over the convoy to tiny Sopwith pups which used to fly circles around our great lumbering boats. Convoying was tiresome work, but most important, and eventually drove the subs off the East coast.2

p312 When the American force was ready to haul down its colors and depart for home, the British Vice-Admiral of the East Coast, Sir Edward F. B. Charlton, sent this message to Commander Whiting:

Please express to the officers and men of the United States Naval Air Station, Killingholme, under your orders, who are now on the point of leaving for their own country, my most hearty thanks for their steadfast coöperation in the active work of the 18th Group, R. A. F. Since I have been in command of the East Coast of England, their willing assistance at all times has been of the greatest value; and they have undoubtedly protected the convoy on many occasions from attack. I shall miss your force greatly at Killingholme, and wish you all success in the future.


The Author's Notes:

1 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

Lieutenant (j.g.) Francis R. V. Lynch

Period 4 October, 1918, to 14 November, 1918:

A capable, intelligent and excellent young officer.

Consider him qualified to hold rank of lieutenant, and take pleasure in recommending him.

B. T. Bulmer, Cdr., U. S. N.

N. A. Repair Base, Eastleigh, England

Period 16 June to 20 June, 1918:

This officer is one of the type upon which reliance can be placed and has the appearance and manner which commands the respect of his subordinates. He has acted as instructor of students in piloting large flying boats and has performed duty as Pilot of large seaplanes operating against enemy submarines in the North Sea and off the Northeast coast of England.

Thomas H. Murphy, Ensign, U. S. N.

Squadron Commander, Killingholme, England

Period 19 March to 8 May, 1918:

This officer has been on duty at this station under instruction in big boats and satisfactorily qualified as first pilot of the H‑12 and H‑16 type seaplanes. It is recommended that he be advanced in rank to Lieutenant (j.g.).

P. N. L. Bellinger, Lt. Cdr.

Commanding Officer N. A. S., Hampton Rds. Va.

Period 10 October, 1917, to 2 February, 1918:

Lynch is an excellent officer; he handles men well; he is quiet but forceful; he is a good aviator and has the qualities to make him an air fighter, for which training I strongly recommend him. I consider him well qualified for promotion to Lieutenant (j.g.) and recommended this advancement.

Warren G. Child, Lt. Cdr. U. S. N.

N. A. S., Rockaway Beach, L. I.

[decorative delimiter]

2 From the Fitness Reports, Navy Department:

Lieutenant (j.g.) G. F. Lawrence, Jr.

Period from 23 March to 8 May, 1918:

This officer was employed on duty under instruction in big Flying Boats and was satisfactorily qualified as first pilot of the H‑12 and H‑16 types. It is recommended that this officer be advanced in rank to Lieutenant (j.g.).

P. N. L. Bellinger, Lieut. Comdr., U. S. N.

Commanding Naval Air Station, Hampton Roads, Va.

Period from 17 June to 30 July, 1918:

Excellent seaplane pilot. Has flown seaplanes about 200 hours. Has flown seaplanes operating against enemy submarines. Has acted as instructor in large flying boats.

Thomas H. Murphy, Ensign U. S. N.

Squadron Commander, Killingholme, England

Period from 17 June to 30 September, 1918:

Flight commander of flight of three A‑16 flying boats. An excellent pilot. This officer has been engaged in convoy escort and submarine search patrols of the North Sea.

B. G. Leighton, Lieutenant, U. S. N.

Squadron Commander, Killingholme

Period from 2 October to 29 December, 1918:

Flight commander of Flight B. H‑16 flying boats. An excellent pilot.

K. Whiting

Commanding, Killingholme


Thayer's Note:

a Chapter 10 and Chapter 18, passim.


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