Luftstreitkrafte Jagdstaffel 17, Lille
Aircraft : Albatros DV serial No. 1373
Patrol Area : Armentieres - Ypres
Date : 22/5/1917
Pilot : Oberleutnant Weber J.G
Report : I took off from Lille at 0630 with Lt. Bohme and Fhn. Starbeck and proceeded to our patrol area flying N. from Armentieres and turning S. over Ypres.
While we encountered nothing on our flight north we observed a British formation coming from the west at a lower altitude (around 1500 metres). On proceeding closer we discovered that the formation consisted of a DH4 escorted by three Sopwith Camels and assumed they were on a reconnaissance shoot . Noting that there were three possible targets in the area : the ammunition dump at Bethleem Farm, the railway bridge at Vredespark and the railway station on the eastern side of Messines, I ordered increased speed in order to prevent their photographing any of these.
We passed over the railway bridge at around 5000 metres and headed for the ammunition dump as the enemy formation seemed to be headed there. However, as we moved to engage the escort the DH4 swung north and I dived while calling for a simultaneous right hand turn to put us behind it. Unfortunately Lt. Bohme (on his fourth mission) and Fhn. Starbeck (his first) misunderstood my signal and we found ourselves in line astern with myself at the rear. Starbeck, thoroughly discomfited at finding himself the lead aircraft, side-slipped and thus put himself in front of one of the Camels which opened fire causing Starbeck's DV considerable damage.
Similarly, Lt. Bohme swung left and opened an ineffectual long range shot at another Camel which dived out of his way. Finding a Camel behind me I Immelmanned but by the time I had completed my manoeuvre he had dived away.
In the meantime the DH4 had turned and was headed back, far below, towards the ammunition dump. I did a hammerhead left turn intending to lose altitude and get closer to the it but was forced to turn away by a series of hits which damaged my rudder and left aileron. I did a split-s to shake him off and coming out of the turn saw the unfortunate Starbeck being hit again and spiral to earth trailing steam from a punctured radiator. On a more fortunate note I saw two of the Camels collide from which one of them spun to earth and the other yawed dangerously about the sky with his engine misfiring before establishing control.
I saw Bohme turn towards the DH4 but unhappily turned inside it offering the observer a perfect no-deflection shot which he took full advantage of, raking the DV from end to end and poor Bohme went down. I dived again trying to catch the DH4 but was baulked by the third Camel coming across my front. I swung behind it and fired a long burst which hit around the engine and pilot's section and he duly dropped out of sight trailing smoke.
With my engine missing occasionally and the DH4 far away diving for the lines the last Camel and myself circled each other cautiously before he also dived away towards the lines with my DV stuttering ineffectually behind.
I would like to take this opportunity once again to stress my dismay at newcomers to the jagdstaffel being allowed within twenty kilometres of the lines until they have completed at least thirty hours flying time on the DV. Fhn. Starbeck and his DV were simply sacrificed to his own inexperience and young Bohme wasn't much better.
OberLt. Johannes Weber,
Report by 2nd Lieutenant Stevens
Photo Recce, Messines.
57 Sqn, DH4 A7674
I have the honour to deliver this report on our successful photo-recce mission over Messines of a suspected Boche ammunition dump. My observer/gunner was Sgt. T. Wilks. After take-off shortly before 0600, we made the rendezvous with our escort. These were a flight of 3 Sopwith Camels and we formed up with them on our side of the lines as is standard procedure. The Camels flew above and in ahead of our DH4 so as to provide the best cover against any intercepting Boche scouts, the gen was that a fresh squadron of Albatross DVs had just arrived opposite our sector of the front and both we and our Camel escorts were keen to test their mettle! We crossed the lines at about 3000', our escorts perhaps 2000' higher and maybe half a mile in front. Our plan was to feint towards the railway station at Messines before making a sharp turn towards our true objective, the ammunition dump! We hoped this tactic would draw the DVs (if any were in the air so early, the Boche being known for his inability to arise early) onto our escorts who would then deal with them whilst we carried out our mission undisturbed. Shortly after crossing the lines I instructed Sgt. Wilks to warm his gun with a few rounds aimed towards the Boche trenches. It was as well he did so due to the drama about to unfold!The enemy was indeed awaiting us and what was more he had the advantage of height over us! Nonetheless, our escorts climbed to meet their foes while we followed our part of the plan and tried to skirt the developing dogfight whilst giving the appearance of heading for Messines and its station.Whilst so doing we kept a careful eye on the manoeuvring scouts when to our shock, one of the DVs collided with one of the Camels! To our great relief, the Camel seemed only to sustain minor damage and the DV likewise did not seem to have suffered greatly. Both pilots appeared to have been so shocked they did not even fire at each other.The six scouts were soon locked in fierce combat - we could hear the rattle of their machine guns and see the smoke trails of their tracers. The DVs seemed to be flown very skilfully and appeared to be giving our boys a stiff fight. We could see hits on machines of both sides and several aircraft were seen to be trailing strips of fabric ripped off by bullet strikes.We soon had to tear our gazes from this deadly aerial duel in order to make the turn which would reveal our true target, the ammunition dump! We espied it just abaft our beam on our starboard side, putting our DH4 into a tight right-hand bank, I made course slightly off to one side as I has spotted what looked like an Archie battery close by and did not wish to receive an early greeting from them. However, whilst my attention was fixed upon the target, Sgt. Wilks, experienced airman that he is, had kept a weather eye on the raging battle above and saw one of the DVs break away and dive down upon us. His shout of warning caused me to jink our DH4 to the left and the DV swept past so close I could have touched it. Sgt. Wilks was ready for it and gave it a long burst as it sped past and at almost point-blank range every bullet must surely have gone home. The DV never pulled out of its dive and buried itself in the earth only a hundred yards from the ammunition dump, poor devil of a pilot! With that menace disposed of we were free to overfly the dump and Sgt. Wilks manned his camera and exposed several plates It was clear from our vantage point that the dump was of considerable size. It was also clear that as well as the Archie battery which we had managed to avoid, the boche had emplaced two batteries of machine guns in camouflaged revetments and we were forced to fly right between them at low altitude, straight and level. Fortunately our guardian angel must have been with us as despite firing a brock's benefit of ammunition they holed us but twice in our port lower wing and in seconds we were out of their range diving to zero feet and at full throttle we crossed the lines and returned to our aerodrome. We had no idea by then of how our Camel escorts had fared against the DV's and were shocked to hear that only a solitary Camel had returned and that badly damaged although mercifully the pilot was uninjured. His safe return was even more remarkable when he explained that due to the damage sustained, he was unable to turn left at all and had to plot a course home consisting of right-hand turns only. He also reported that only one of the DVs was seen to be airborne and that seemed to struggling to maintain height so our hope is that our loses were lower than those of the enemy. In conclusion, I would recommend some form of award, perhaps a mention in dispatches, for Sgt. Wilks whose cool head and steady aim were instrumental in the success of our mission. Had he not been keeping a sharp lookout with a warm gun then our mission and indeed our lives might have been lost.