Monday, August 22, 2016

Visiting St. Kitts, Part One

This August I happen to be spending time in St.Kitts and Nevis, a delightful duality of Caribbean delight, but one should not refrain to engage a bit in the surprisingly rich military history of these islands.

 The war memorial in Basseterre

Like so many parts of the British Empire, St. Kitts and Nevis, or St. Christopher-Nevis-Anguilla as it was known as a colony, contributed men to the monarch throughout most of the Empire’s existence. Kittitians have served the monarch since at least 1790, and Kittitian Private Samuel Hodge became the first black soldier to win the Victoria Cross (VC) in 1866. By the time the First World War broke out, a British West Indies Regiment had been established. A battalion from this regiment was deployed to Africa when war broke out, and it took part in the campaign to take the German colony of Cameroon. A second unit of the British West Indies Regiment made up of volunteers was formed in 1915, and it saw action in present-day Kenya and Tanzania. Following the campaigns in Africa, the volunteer unit fought in Jordan, Palestine, and then on the Western Front and finally in Italy. Many other soldiers from the West Indies fought in other British units. Up to 19,000 men from the West Indies are thought to have served in the British Armed Forces during the First World War. Eighty-one medals were won for bravery of which sixty-one were awarded to officers and men of the British West Indies Regiment.

The war memorial in Basseterre, the capitol of St. Kitts and Nevis, lists the names of 20 individuals who paid the ultimate price during the First World War, and another six who fell during the Second World War. The war memorial was unveiled in 1926 and relocated in 1955 to its current location where a new monument was built.

One of the men who fell, Captain Donald William Edwards, served with the Royal Flying Corps (RFC). He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the infantry on February 13, 1915. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) on June 3, 1916, probably while serving with the Army Service Corps. There is unfortunately no citation in the London Gazette.

At some point thereafter, Edwards transferred to the RFC, and he was eventually posted to No. 45 Squadron in late 1916 or 1917. This unit was mainly equipped with Sopwith 1½ Strutters flying in the scout role, although it also had a few Nieuport 20 two-seaters, and both of these types would be facing serious difficulties with the German scouts in the months to come. It should be added that No. 45 squadron included a number of future prominent airmen, including a flight commander by the name of Arthur Harris, who eventually became the commanding officer of No. 45 Squadron, and a quarter of a century later the leader of RAF Bomber Command.

At 09:10AM on April 6, 1917, just three days before the Battle of Arras, three 11/2 Strutters of No. 45 Squadron took off on a reconnaissance mission over enemy territory. They unfortunately ran into Albatros scouts from Jasta 30, including Leutnant Jochim von Bertrab in his characteristic purple Albatros adorned with a comet. Von Betrab had already shot down two Martinsyde G100 “Elephant” bombers from No. 27 Squadron that morning, and he was not done. As von Bertrab attacked the “vic” of 11/2 Strutters at 10:48AM above Becq, two of the aircraft collided, and the crews were killed. Another 11/2 Strutter crashed at 10:50AM, although this Sopwith was not claimed by von Bertrab – perhaps it was shot down by another pilot of Jasta 30. One of the the 11/2 Strutters, A2381, was crewed by Captain Edwards as the observer and Lieutenant Colin St George Campbell as the pilot. Edwards was 26 years old, and he left a wife in London. He was buried at the Tournai Communal Cemetery in Hainaut, Belgium.

Von Bertrab
The effects of the First World War were felt on the island of St. Kitts as well. The Central Sugar Factory had been opened in 1912, and it replaced individual mills and boiling houses throughout the island with a centralized processing plant. The First World War saw sugar prices increase, and the sugar industry went from waning inefficiency to profitable production. 

Joseph Cephas, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. Died 10/03/1919. Buried: Magdelan Hill Cemetery Winchester England. Son of Mrs Rebecca Carey, Mansions Village, St. Kitts.
H. D. (Harrington Douty) Edwards. D.S.O. Royal Navy. Missing presumed dead 11/03/1916. Memorial: Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Hampshire, England. Eldest son of a District Medical Officer in Antigua. He is also recorded as having been awarded a D.S.O. .
James L. E. R. Lake, Border Regiment. Died 24/08/1915. Buried Eas Mudros Military Cemetery, Limnos Island, Greece. Son of James Louis Engelbert Lake and Henrietta Theresa Lake, of Church St., St. John's, Antigua, British West Indies.
Joseph A. McKoy, British West Indies Regiment. Died 16/10/1918. Buried Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.
Donald (Joseph) Patrice. British West Indies Regiment. Died 15/03/1919. Buried Alexandria (Hadra) Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Son of Alexander Patrice and Alice Nicholas, his wife, of Roseau, Dominica, British West Indies.
Edward Hope Ross, Middlesex regiment. Died 01/07/1916. Missing presumed dead. Memorial Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. Son of Mr. and Mrs. D. Hope Ross, of Port of Spain, Trinidad, British West Indies.
Robert L(awrence) Woolward. British West Indies Regiment. Died 10/09/1918. Buried Alexandria (Hadra) Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Son of Robert Tapley Woolward and Mary Evangeline Thomas (his wife) of St. Kitts, British West Indies.

Probable identification:

James Daniel, British West Indies Regiment. Died 09/01/1917. Buried: Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. The only James or J. Daniel listed with a West Indian connection - his regiment.
Donald Edwards, M.C., 45th Squadron, Royal Flying Corp. Died 06/04/1917. Buried: Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension, Hainaut, Belgium. His wife is noted as living in London, England. He is the only Donald or D. Edwards listed with an M.C. Military Cross.
Richard T(heophilus) White. British West Indies Regiment. Died 30/09/1918. Buried: Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt. Son of Charles and Jane Davis White, of Antigua, British West Indies.

Unable To Identify:
Arthur Dickenson: Six A. or Arthur Dickensons, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
 John Foreman. Nine J. or John Foremans, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
Edmund Gordon Nine E. or Edmund Gordons, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla
Hywel Herbert Jones. The name of Jones produces many results and there was no information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.#
Joseph A. Lewis. The name of Joseph Lewis produces many results and there was no information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
Edward Mills. Many E. or Edward Mills', all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla.
Herbert Mitchell.  Many H. or Herbert Mitchells, all with no additional information pointing to a connection with St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla
Horace Veira. No Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) record
Ivor Wakefield. No CWGW record
William C. Wattley. No CWGC record

It should be noted that a significant amount of British Armed Forces records were destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War.


Thursday, June 23, 2016

A visit to Florence, the birthplace of ace Giulio Lega

Since I’m on a short vacation in Italy, and more specifically Florence, it seemed a good idea to spend an evening after a nice dinner to write a paragraph or so about a First World War ace from this lovely city: Giulio Lega.

Lega was born in Florence on November 12, 1892. He studied medicine when the war broke out in Europe, but he was accepted for officer’s training in 1915 as Italy joined the conflict. Giulio Lega was a tall man for his time , and he was selected as an “extended infantryman” with the Grenadiers of the 2o Reggimento.

Giulio Lega fought with his regiment at the Fourth Battle of the Isonzo between November 10 and December 2, 1915. The fighting was bitter and inconclusive, but on November 20, Lega was awarded the War Merit Cross for valor. Lega continued fighting in north-eastern Italy, and he was awarded the Bronze Medal for Military Valor after close-combat fighting that month. The medal was awarded on the battlefield on May 30, 1916.

That summer, Lega volunteered to be trained as an aviator. He qualified as a pilot on September 1, 1916, and he was given his pilot’s license on November 1, 1916. Lega finished up his pilot’s training on January 30, 1917, and he was posted to the 21a Squadriglia, a reconnaissance unit, where he qualified on Savoia-Pomilio SP.2 two-seaters on February 14, 1917. He was also promoted to Tenente. Lega continued serving as a reconnaissance pilot between May and November of 1917, and he was awarded the Silver Medal for Military Valor for his service. He remained with the 21a Squadriglia until it was withdrawn after the Battle of Capporetto, after which he was selected for fighter pilot training.
 Savoia-Pomilio SP. 2

On November 16, 1917, Lega began fighter pilot training at Malpensa outside Milan after which he went for gunnery training. He passed on December 27, but only with a “mediocre” rating. Lega’s next posting would be with the 76a Squadriglia, and he would fly in all 46 combat sorties with the squadron. His first victory came near Col d’Asiago on March 17, a victory he shared with two other Italian pilots, and on March 25 he split his second victory over Montello with pilots Fanti and Retinò. The final Austro-Hungarian offensive led to a bout of activity, and a third shared victory came over Passagno on June 24 against a Hansa-Brandenburg C.I from Flik 2d. The next day, June 25, saw even more action around 1030 as Lega shot down an unidentified enemy scout over Mareno di Piave together with Tenente Silvio Scaroni and Sergente Romolo Ticconi, both of whom were aces. Lega finished off the scrap by shooting down an Albatros D.III, once again together with Scaroni and Ticconi. This action earned Lega the Silver Medal for Valor. In July of 1918, Lega was transferred to the 81a Squadriglia, and he served with this unit up to the end of the war.

While flying with the 76a Squadriglia, Lega flew a silver dope-colored Hanriot armed with two Vickers machine guns instead of one. This reduced the maneuverability of the Hanriot, but apparently not enough to have several skilled Italian pilots choose this option for increased firepower. The personal aircraft of Lega was adorned with a flaming red grenade to honor his initial service as a grenadier in the 2o Reggimento.

Following the end of the First World War, Lega graduated from the University of Bologna in July of 1920. He remained in the Air Force Reserves and served with the Servizi Aerei Speciali  during the Second World War. He spent much of his subsequent career with the Italian Chamber of Commerce, and when he died on 11 July 1973, he was still a medical consultant to the Italian parliament.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Triplane over the Aegean

The Sopwith Triplane, often referred to as the "Tripe", saw sterling service with the Royal Naval Air Service on the Western Front between December 1916 and November of 1917. However, one, and only one Triplane, N5431, was dispatched to Macedonia in January 1917, and it served the RNAS No. 2 Naval Wing. This Wing operated from Imbros and other Aegean Islands in support of Allied forces in Salonika and the Dardanelles, mainly flying from Mudros Bay on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. N5431 flew with the Wings 'E' Flight, and it was coded with the letter 'L'. Its first pilot Flight Lieutenant John William Alcock, who would undertake the first transatlantic flight together with Arthur Whitten Brown after the war. However, Alcock managed to crash N5431 at Mikra Bay Airfield in Saloniki on March 26. The Tripe overturned after running into a ditch and it was badly damaged. N5431 was initially written off, but nevertheless rebuilt at Mudros. In mid-May it flew again, this time with 'B' Squadron at Thermi, and sans the letter 'L' on the fuselage. It was later taken over by 'C' Squadron at Imbros, Its first action was the pursuit of an enemy aircraft over Suvla Bay, but without any result. Later on, the Tripe became the aircraft of choice for a Flight Lieutenant Mellings.


Flight Lieutenant Harold Thomas Mellings DFC, DSC and Bar, was born in Shropshire in August of 1897 or on August 5, 1899 (sources vary). Mellings joined the RNAS in 1915, and he received Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificate No. 2028 on November 11, 1915 at the Beatty flying School in Hendon while flying a Caudron. He was confirmed a Flight Sub-Lieutenant on April 3, 1916, and he was eventually posted to No. 2 Naval Wing on the Macedonian Front in October 1916. Mellings shot down his first aircraft, an LVG, on September 30, 1916, while flying a Bristol Scout over Smyrna. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for "...when he attacked a hostile aeroplane with great gallantry at heights varying from 12,000 to 2,000 feet" on March 19, 1917. On September 21, 1917, Mellings was awarded the Hellenic Silver War Medal. 
Sopwith Triplane N5431

On May 25, 1917, Mellings flew the Tripe as an escort for a BE 2c above Suvla Bay when he spotted a Halberstadt scout near Aivali. Mellings promptly attacked, and a scrap ensued. The Halberstadt eventually dived away in a tail-spin with smoke coming out of its engine.It fell down to some 3,000 feet, where the pilot righted the Halberstadt. Mellings turned and dove after the Halberstadt, chasing the German back to his airfield, where ground fire forced Mellings to break off the pursuit. The German did claim that the BE 2c had been shot down into the sea, though. 

The German forces in Turkey had deployed a number of aircraft, including a number of Albatros W.4 float planes. This was an aircraft that looked similar to the Albatros D.I, although the W.4 was somewhat bigger, and it handled well despite the two floats suspended under the fuselage. The W.4:s were paqrt of the German Navy's Wasserfliegerabteilung at Chanak Kale in Turkey. They were apparently known as "Blue Birds' by the RNAS due to their blueish-gray camouflage markings. Five W.4s were deployed to Turkey and, while eight second hand W.4s were used by the Austro-Hungarian air forces. Two of the former W.4s were to destined meet Mellings. 

 Albatros W.4

On the early morning of September 30, 1917, said two W.4s were escorting a German reconnaissance two-seater over Mudros Bay. Mellings in N5431 was ordered to intercept the hostile force together with Arthur Brown in a Sopwith Camel and another pilot in a Sopwith Pup. Harold Mellings initially headed for the two-seater, but he was engaged by one of the W.4s. He avoided being hit or tailed, and fired a burst at the second W.4, but with no visible results. Alcock also attacked a W.4, possibly the one that had fired on Mellings, but Alcock stalled his Camel after firing. As Alcock fell away from the dogfight, he saw smoke from the W.4 he had fired at. Meanwhile, the second W.4, piloted by Fliegerobermaat Walter Krüger, was being pursued by Mellings as it dove towards the sea. Mellings fired again, taking off the upper left wing of the W.4 and wounding the pilot. Krüger crashed into the Aegean and was killed, while Mellings climbed back at altitude to have another go at the two-seater while Alcock finished off the remaining W.4, although he soon had to head back to the airfield with an engine problem. The Tripe and the Pup followed the German two-seater down to sea level, but the Germans managed to get away. However, the unidentified pilot that was fired upon by Alcock in his Camel was brought down as well and described by RNAS Captain Augustine F. Marlowe as follows: "We  have been showing a Hun prisoner around. He was forced to down in the sea and we picked him up. He seems quite a nice bloke and very friendly." Arthur Whitten Brown was awarded a DSC for the action on September 30, while Mellings received a Bar to his DSC: "For the great skill, judgment and dash displayed by him off Mudros on 30 September 1917, in a successful attack on three enemy seaplanes, two of which were brought down in the sea".

September 30 ended badly for Arthur Whitten Brown, though. That evening, Brown took off together with Lieutenants Wise and Aird in a O/100 bomber to attack the railway station at Haydarpasa in Constantinople. The aircraft had to make an emergency landing at sea due to a broken oil pipe, and the crew was captured (see

Mellings continued flying the Tripe through 1917. On November 19, Mellings shot down an Albatros D.III, wounding Vizefeldwbel van Ahlen of Fliegerabteilung 30 in the process. A Rumpler was shot down in flames over Drama on November 25, and another D.III was shot down on November 29. Mellings was subsequently re-deployed to the Western Front.and No. 10 Naval Squadron in 1918. He had ten confirmed victories, five driven down and two unconfirmed victories when he was shot down by Ludwig Beckmann of Jasta 56 on July 22, 1918.

Trusty N5431 hit a wall upon landing in 1918, and she was broken up.

The London Gazette (Supplement) no. 30437, December 18, 1917
Norman Frank. Sopwith Triplane Aces of World War One.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Shoot at your Fuel Tank before Landing

The air war over Korea is often thought of as shiny F-86 Sabres dogfighting MiG-15s flown by inept pilots high above the Yalu River. However, the air war saw many types of actions, and included many types of aircraft, from the old propeller-driven Polikarpov U-2 biplane to the F-51 Mustang and the most modern jets of the early 1950s.

The Lockheed F-80 Shooting Star is somewhat of an unsung design of the Korean War. The first American jet fighter had been deployed to the Far East Air Force (FEAF) before the Korean War, and in May 1950 365 of the 553 operational aircraft in the FEAF were F-80Cs. After some initial successes, the MiG-15 proved to be superior to the F-80, and the latter was mainly assigned ground attack missions. It served very well in that role, carrying bombs and rockets in thousands of sorties against North Korean and Chinese troops until May 1, 1953, when the F-80s stood down in a fighter-bomber role. A few F-80s remained in the interceptor role up to the ceasefire on July 27 that same year.

As opposed to today’s Koreas, North Korea was the industrialized part of the peninsula, while South Korea remained agrarian. The short and rough airfields in South Korea initially limited the use of jet aircraft, and the F-80s had to fly from bases in Japan. This highlighted one of the big problems with early jets: short range. The F-80s could make it from Japan to Korea, but there was little or no time to loiter or search for targets.

However, this was to be addressed before the Korean War broke out by the two lieutenants of the 9th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, Robert Eckman and Edward R. “Rabbit” Johnston. They had just finished the Far East Gunnery Meet of 1949 with top honors, and they wanted to fly their own F-80s to the Nellis Air Force Base to compete against other USAF pilots.

They simply added two middle sections from Fletcher tanks to the standard Lockheed tanks by extending the bolts that held the sections together, thus creating the so-called Misawa tanks, named after the air base in Japan where the unit was stationed. The added middle section increased the tanks capacity from 165 gallons (624,6 liters) to 265 gallons (1003,1 liters), and this meant that the combat radius was increased from 225 miles with Lockheed tanks to some 350 miles, depending on the mission. Time over target was likewise increased from about fifteen minutes to approximately forty-five minutes.

F-80 with Misawa tanks on a rainy airfield. <>

The Fletcher tank was mainly used on the T-33 trainer, which was based o the Shooting Star. <>

The tanks were tested by Johnston and Eckman, but the USAF Air Materiel Command was initially unwilling to approve of the installation of Misawa tanks, since the Materiel Command deemed that the heavier tanks placed dangerously high loads at the wingtips, and the project was ordered to be shut down.

This was to change as North Korea invaded the south on June 25, 1950, the situation became increasingly desperate. General Earle Partridge, the commander of the 5th Air Force, overrode previous decisions and ordered full-scale manufacturing of the Misawa tanks so that all F-80s of the FEAF could be equipped with the tanks. However, new problems materialized: the tanks were in short supply for several months. Also, the first tanks made were lacking internal baffles to prevent the fuel from sloshing back and forth in the tank. This was not a problem in normal flight, but the stresses of combat maneuvers, especially when pulling up from a steep dive, could make the sloshing cause a Misawa tank to tear off a from the wingtip, which did cause damage to some F-80s as well as losses.

Further, pulling up and otherwise placing stress on the tank could make the tank feed malfunction, and then the Misawa tank couldn’t be jettisoned. Landing with one empty tank and one full was extremely difficult at best, so some unique solutions had to be devised. Lieutenant Ed Jones of the 80th Fighter-Bomber Squadron recalls dealing with this particular issue: “On one mission, we were heading north towards the bomb line and I could not get either of my tip tanks to feed. After relaying the problem to my flight leader via the radio, he told me to jettison my bombs and external tanks and head back to base. Upon punching the jettison button, all of the right side let go, but nothing happened on the left side! I was heading south at the time, and getting close to our base at Suwon. We had been told that you could not land the F-80 with full tanks on one side and empty on the other because the jet could not be trimmed out enough to make it safe. I decided to use my .45 pistol and try to shoot a hole in the left tank. I cranked the canopy back and got my pistol out. I shot two holes in the front of the tank and fuel began to stream out. After a short while, enough had leaked out to trim the aircraft out. I lined up with the runway and made a smooth landing, and after rolling down the strip for about 2,000 feet, the control tower came on the radio and told me that my left tip tank had just come off, and that it was bouncing down the runway behind my aircraft!”


Warren Thompson. F-80 Shooting Star units over Korea. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2001

William T. Y’Blood. Down in the weeds : close air support in Korea. Air Force History and Museums Program, 2002