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In extending the American naval air service on the French coast, it was decided to place a station close to the harbor of Brest, the most crowded of all ports in the gigantic disembarkation of troops and supplies. The site selected among the bold headlands and ramparts of rock was Île Tudy, near Quimper, and including in the patrol sector the famous reefs and lights of Penmarche.º To Kenneth Smith was assigned the task of organizing the flight patrols of this new station.
Although nominally Chief Pilot, he directed most of the work and was the driving force at Île Tudy. The C. O. was a non‑flying officer who was sensible enough to perceive his own limitations and to let 'Ken' run his own show. The confidence was justified. A month later Henry Landon joined this force. He enjoyed the experience and describes it in some detail.
The D. D. planes at Le Croisic were transferred to Île Tudy and I flew one up when I left. There was not a whole lot of duty for me except flying, as Ken had everything under control, barring the Executive, Ensign Lamanski. He was a rigid sort of person, and his chronic objection was that 'you couldn't do anything like that aboard ship.'
Almost every evening Ken and I took a walk and discussed our plan of campaign against Lamanski. He was really a help to us, as, without his opposition we might have taken too much for granted, and his outbursts of anger were never anything to worry about. I always backed Ken and he always backed me, so that we were two against one. We also had the advantage over him because we had everything thrashed out in our walks, so as to be in absolute accord when the morning conference was called.
p60 The two months that I was at Île Tudy, were, in many ways, the best of all my stay in France. It was a small station, and, thanks to Ken, as complete and efficient as any one could wish for. I am not positive, but I think the station holds the record for one day's flying time (seaplanes) namely fifty‑two or fifty-four hours. Also I think my sixty-nine hours thirty minutes for the month of May comes fairly near a record for individual pilots. These two records, or near records, were made possible by the flying organization which Ken developed practically single handed.
Our sector was a good one, as convoys passed by twice a day on an average. Also it comprised the famous lighthouse of Penmarche, where the equally famous German submarine, called Penmarche Pete, did so much damage. This is not a myth, as I can back up my statement from the fact that my brother who was on convoy duty along the French coast, told me the name of 'Penmarche Pete' was well known. Also, it was in the vicinity of the lighthouse that Ken sank his submarine.
On the subject of subs, I am just a little envious, because I have always claimed that that particular sub of Ken's was my property. I had the morning patrol that day, and was on my way to meet a convoy. The second plane came down, and I had to go back and report it. On the way in I met two of our planes going out, and when I got back found that an 'allo' had come in. I immediately ordered another plane out so that I could get off again, but while it was warming up, the second patrol came in and we saw that Ken's plane did not have its bombs on. The rest of the story is his, as well as the sub's, but I still claim he stole it from me!
One day a tremendous convoy of American ships was reported and we sent three patrols out (six planes). It was much further out than usual and was well protected by destroyers. I was out and having a wonderful time as the air was great, and it was a clear day. Without any warning my propeller flew apart and nearly shook me out. I shut off everything, with a sort of sick feeling all over me, as I didn't dare look around for fear of seeing the tail in pieces. I was fairly high up, and I thought I would never get to the water, but, arriving there, felt much better. Luckily only the engine bed wires were broken and one side of the bed, so I did not have to wear the motor for a collar. It was about noon and the ocean was smooth as glass so my observer p61 and I lit cigarettes and waited for help. One of the American destroyers came up shortly and the officer on the bridge called out 'Voulez‑vous secours?' That made me sore, so I got out our little flag and held it up. It produced the English language immediately, and I then told him that I was all right and our station boat would be out soon, so off he went. About four o'clock an off‑shore breeze came up and I commenced to wonder where the boat was. Also there was no land in sight. Jimmie, my observer, broke open hard tack and tomatoes and we had a very fine tea, but our cigarettes had run out, so we looked around for something to do. I decided it was about time to start home, so Jimmie got out the hack‑saw and we trimmed what was left of our propeller so as to try and get an even balance. Then we started the motor, and it idled fairly nicely. By speeding up a trifle we were able to make some headway, but soon the wind got too strong and we had to shut off. Besides the motor was ready to jump out at any minute. Then I decided to leave a trail, at least, so we took the plug from the oil tank and let some out on to the deck of the boat, and this in turn running down the sides made quite a nice trail as we were blown backwards.
About 7.30 P.M. two planes were sighted by the watchful Jimmie, and everything was rosy again. One of them was Ken, of course, and he circled me and went off again. Later he came back and I saw he was alone. Landing to leeward, he taxied up so that he brought the entering edge of his wing against the trailing edge of mine, and yelled to get aboard his plane. Jimmie got aboard, but on looking round saw that I was alone and not wishing to desert me, made a leap back for my plane, but landed short, so that he was half in the water. Ken had to make a circle and do it all over again. By this time it was fairly rough and a misjudgment on Ken's part would have meant that both planes stayed out all night, if not longer, but I never saw a neater performance in my life, and Île Tudy's king took us both off and home, leaving my plane to drift. We got in about nine o'clock, just as it was getting dark, and I was rather pleased to be ashore again, and in front of a good meal. The plane was picked up about three o'clock in the morning by our boat, and the crew were very much surprised to find no one on board.
I once told Di Gates that the worst thing that happened to me abroad was being caught with a broken propeller out of sight of land with an off‑shore wind. He smiled condescendingly and p62 asked me how I would like being caught in sight of Ostend with an on shore wind. I begged his pardon and hurriedly changed the subject.
The story of the submarine for which Kenneth Smith received official credit and honors as having bombed and assisted to destroy is fully told in the following documents:
U. S. Naval Air Station
Île Tudy, Finistère
23 April 1918
From: Ensign Smith
Subject: Bombs dropped on submarine.
1) The flight Section was composed of two seaplanes D. D. 1.25 and 1.22 carrying respectively Pilots R. H. Harrell and Ensign K. R. Smith, and observers H. W. Studer and O. E. Williams.
2) The flight Section left Île Tudy, hugging the coast and afterwards making for the West by zigzag with the intention of seeking an American seaplane which had taken on the water with motor troubles.
3) Seaplane was found West of Cap Penmarch. This information was communicated to the watch at the Center and the flying section then left to accompany the convoy.
4) About 11.30 a convoy of approximately 20 ships, making for the South was found •6 miles to the Northwest of Cap Penmarch.
5) The weather being misty it was thought best to keep behind the convoy on the look‑out for detached boats. After having got behind the boats, we began to describe a large circle on the sea. After having completed half a circle, thus putting the cape parallel to the ships' route, a very distinct furrow was perceived by the two seaplanes, this furrow appearing to follow a route parallel to that of the ships.
6) Seaplane D. D. 22, having reached the indicated spot, went near the water to discover the cause of this eddy. A large spot of oil and air bubbles coming to the surface were clearly perceived.
7) It was decided to drop the bombs as quickly as possible.
8) The first was dropped at 11.50 and the other as soon as it was possible to put the seaplane back in position.
p63 9) The first bomb fell right in the middle of the eddy and the second fell •less than 10 feet from the first.
10) Meanwhile D. D. 26 Pilot R. H. Harrell and Observer H. W. Studer, dropped a phosphuret buoy to mark the spot.
11) D. D. 22 then turned towards an American destroyer, which on hearing the explosion had left the convoy and come in the direction of the attack, to inform him of the attack.
12) D. D. 25 then remained on the spot with a view to discovering the result of the attack, if anything should appear.
13) A correspondence buoy was put on the water indicating that bombs had been thrown on suspicious bubbles. The exact spot was shown to the destroyer by the seaplane which went ahead to show the way. It was then that we understood the very good idea which had inspired the two men of the D. D. 25. Their maneuver allowed the exact spot being shown to the torpedo destroyer without lost time.
14) The American destroyer threw 3 grenades.
15) In the meanwhile a French gunboat had drawn near.
16) We left the spot at 12.53, and •about 12 miles on the Southwest of Penmarch we perceived the convoy en route for the South and another convoy of about 16 ships making for the North. The 2 seaplanes then rejoined their center.
Signed K. R. Smith
Transmission from the Commanding Officer
To Capitaine de Corvette Commanding the P. A. L.
Report of the Commanding Officer of the Aerial Patrols on the Loire concerning a submarine attack made on April 23d, 1918, by an American seaplane of Île Tudy.
The present report has been drawn up after receipt of the enclosed file emanating from Île Tudy, and completed by verbal explanations of Lieutenant Smith.
On April 23d, at 10.25 A.M., a section of American Seaplanes from Île Tudy met two coastal convoys consisting of twenty boats, •six miles northwest of Penmarch.
About 11.30 A.M., as the section circled the convoy, to seaward, the crew of the two seaplanes saw very distinctly in the direction of the convoy at •about two miles off, a suspicious furrow, very white, caused, in my opinion, by the periscope of a p64 very fast-going submarine or by the conning tower of a submarine coming to the surface.
The two seaplanes immediately flew towards the furrow. Nothing was seen but an eddy which moved parallel with the convoy and in the middle of which small bubbles of air and oil kept coming to the surface.
Ensign Smith immediately ordered two bombs to be dropped. The first fell exactly at the front end of the eddy, and the other •about ten feet in front of it. The two bombs exploded, and after the explosion, eddy and bombs had disappeared.
The second seaplane, D. D I 25, did not drop its bombs, although the back of a submarine had been seen, but only drew near, ready to attack, as soon as the submarine should come to the surface, and threw a phosphorus buoy. In the meantime, Ensign Smith turned towards an American Patrol Boat, the Stewart, which had left the convoy at the explosion of the bombs, and was coming toward the seaplanes. He explained the situation by means of a correspondence buoy.
According to the information officially given me, this patrol boat must have seen the damaged submarine under the water, and must have sunk it by means of three depth charges. The French gunboat, Ardente, also left the convoy, but arrived at the scene of action later than the Stewart.
The two seaplanes returned to their base at 11.54, after having recognized, at •twelve miles southwest of Penmarch, the northbound Convoy consisting of sixteen boats.
Shortly after, this convoy passed the same place, without being attacked. This, in my opinion, offers a serious presumption in favor of the exactitude of the 'Stewart' claims. Further presumption may be found in the following fact to which our Allies at Île Tudy seem to have attached very little importance: 'The following day, Ensign Landon signalled that in the neighborhood, in the course of the Patrol flight, he perceived a very large spot of oil.'
(Signed) J. Vaschalde
Captain de Corvette Vaschalde, C. P. A. L.
At St. Nazaire, May 5, 1918
U. S. Naval Forces Operating in European Waters
Forces in France
U. S. S. Prometheus, Flagship
April 23, 1918
From: Commander U. S. Naval Forces in France.
To: Commander U. S. Naval Aviation Force, Foreign Service.
Subject: Report of attack on submarine.
2. The incident reported in the within correspondence is an excellent example of coördination between avions and surface craft and it is believed that it resulted in the destruction of an enemy submarine. A report of the incident based on the report of the U. S. S. Stewart is contained in the Information Bulletin No. 6 of 30 April, extract for which is appended.
3. An oil slick is still visible in the vicinity in which the destroyed submarine is supposed to lie. There is a depth of water of •40 fathoms there, and dragging operations will shortly begin with a view of definitely establishing the destruction of the submarine.
4. It seems to be well established that this submarine when sighted by the avions was endeavoring to attack the southbound coastal convoy.
Extract from Information Bulletin No. 6
On April 24th when the southbound coastal convoy was off Penmarch, two avions were seen dropping bombs •about two miles to seaward of the convoy's position. The Stewart left the escort and proceeded at full speed. A French destroyer was seen coming from the northward heading for the same spot. One avion coming directly toward the Stewart dropped a buoy and the observer then indicated the direction of the submarine by pointing. A clear and distinct wake was picked up and at the end of the wake an object could be seen just breaking the surface.
The Stewart ran down the wake, heading directly for the object. The wake led to seaward but the broaching object turned off to the right and just before the Stewart reached the spot was at right angles to the original wake. One of the avions dropped a smoke bomb very close to this spot. The sea was smooth with p66 a light swell, and the conditions were perfect for tracking a submarine. Just before the Stewart reached the spot, the broaching ceased, but silhouetted in the swell a large dark object was seen in the water underneath the disturbed surface. The Stewart passed within •fifty feet of the dark object dropping two charges in close succession. The water brought up by both these bombs was very dark and heavy oil spread on the surface from this spot. Three other bombs were dropped which brought up clear water; one on the broach, and two while circling after passing the submarine.
The bombs were dropped so close to the submarine and the force of the explosion was so great that it seems impossible that the submarine could have survived. Depth setting •80 feet, depth of water •about 40 fathoms. It was observed that the columns of water which brought up oil were more spread out and not so high as the columns of clear water. The oil was unmistakable and spread over a large area. The Stewart remained near the spot until 4.00 P.M. and then proceeded at full speed to rejoin the convoy in accordance with orders from chief of escort.
At this time several French patrol vessels had arrived and were patrolling the vicinity. Oil was still coming to the surface but in no definite bubbles. This is an excellent example of the efficiency and coördination that can be obtained when avions and destroyers are working together.
The Christabel returning to Brest in coastal convoy two days later passed very near this spot and reported that oil was still visible on the surface.
Croix de Guerre
de la Loire
Copie d'une Dépêche Ministérielle en date du 9 Juillet, 1918, à Monsieur le Vice- Commandant-en‑Chef, Préfet maritime à Lorient.
Attribution de la Croix de Guerre
à des Officers Américains du centre
d'Aviation de Tudy
J'ai l'honneur de vous faire connaître à la suite des propositions du Capitaine de Vaisseau Chef de Division les Patrouilles de la Loire, que vous m'avez transmises avec avis conforme, le 13 Mai, 1918, que j'ai accordé à M. de Vaisseau p67 K. R. Smith et au Chef Electricien D. E. Williams, du centre d'Aviation Américain de l'Île Tudy, les citations suivantes à l'ordre de l'Armée.
Dans la journée du 23 Avril, 1918, ont découvert un sous-marin ennemi qui allait attaquer deux importants convois, l'ont bombardé avec beaucoup de décision et d'habileté et ont probablement causé sa destruction.
Conformément au exprimé par le Commandant des Forces Navales d'Aviation des États Unis, les Croix de Guerre correspondantes à ces citations lui seront par mes soins pour être gardées en dépôt jusqu'à ce que leur remise aux intéressés soit autorisée par la législation Américaine.
Applications Île Tudy
Chef Electricien Williams.
Pour le Ministre et par son ordre signé,
P. P. C.
Le Capitaine de Corvette Vaschalde, Commandant les Patrouilles Aériennes de la Loire
Pour copie par délégation du
Préfet Maritime Signé, Deschard.
U. S. Naval Aviation Forces, Foreign Service
Place D'Iena, Paris, France
To: Lieut. (j.g.) Kenneth R. Smith, U. S. N. R. F.
U. S. Naval Aviation Headquarters, Paris.
Subject: Croix de Guerre.
1. The Commander takes great pleasure in forwarding herewith a Croix de Guerre received from the French Ministry of Marine, awarded you for your eminent and conspicuous conduct on April 23, 1918, in connection with your attack on an enemy submarine.
2. The Above decoration will be held in custody by you in accordance with the appended circular until authority is granted to wear this decoration.
Hutch I. Cone
Ordre National de la Légion D'Honneur
Le Grand Chancelier de L'Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur certifie que, par Décret du 9 Avril, 1919, Le Président de la République Française a conféré à M. le Lieutenant K. R. p68 Smith de la Marine Américaine la décoration de Chevalier de l'Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur. Fait à Paris, le 9 Avril, 1919.
Kenneth Smith himself has something to say about 'Hen' Landon at Île Tudy:
He put in a wonderful lot of flying, more than any other American pilot in France from February to June. It was remarkable how much enthusiasm and pep he would show day after day. The weather conditions had no effect on him and he was discontented only when it was impossible for him to go out on patrol. Our sector was a good one as the water was deep close inshore and allowed a submarine to run in and lurk in wayº for the convoys without fear of rocks or shoal water. A lot of ships had been attacked in this vicinity and we had to keep busy to show that we were on the job.
On June 10th, Smith and Landon were detached and ordered to Paris. There Smith was detailed to aviation headquarters as aide to Captain Craven who had the general supervision of the American seaplane stations in France. Kenneth traveled about more or less, on official errands, until, early in August, he was sent to Italy to fly the ill‑fated Capronis. Landon was lucky enough to escape being side-tracked in Paris and went straight through to Rome.
By this time the crowd at Le Croisic was beginning to break up. The three members of the Unit, Walker, Coombe, and Bartow Read, joined the pilgrimage to Italy to risk their necks in the precarious invention of Signor Caproni. They were tired of the ocean patrol. Any change was welcome. How they made use of pull, diplomacy, and persistence to bring it about is disclosed by the ingenuous Samuel Walker:
Eddie McDonnell had visited Le Croisic in February and had given us a word picture of the Northern Bombing Group idea. This looked like a good bet, so Reg Coombe and I determined to p69 try to get in on it. In May I had an opportunity to go to Paris and then to Dunkirk. We wished to transfer a Ford ambulance from our station to Dunkirk, so I asked the skipper to let me deliver it instead of sending a couple of bluejackets. I was really entitled to leave. Having driven a Ford ambulance for six months on the French front, I was a qualified chauffeur for this jaunt. Taking a chief petty officer with me, I rolled along to Tours, had lunch with several pals, and shoved through to Paris the next day. There I found the 'Loot' and others who could talk nothing but Northern Bombing Group. They raved about it until I was convinced, more than ever, and extorted a promise that the Yale bunch at Le Croisic should be kept in mind, after doing nine months of rough patrol stuff. When I went back to the station, we wrote letters to Bob Lovett, reminding him that, under no circumstances, must these brave lads be overlooked. And what did we get? Action over the enemy's lines? Beyond the Alps to Italy! Try flying over them in a Caproni!
Of the other members of the Unit stationed on the French coast, McIlwaine went to Clermont-Ferrand in June for the special course and was thereafter attached to headquarters of the Northern Bombing Group until November, 1918. Freddie Beach also left Moutchic by way of Clermont-Ferrand, and in July joined 'Di' Gates's station at Dunkirk where he stayed most of the time until sent to England on August 30th.
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