Bombing | 21 Nov 1914

Today is another important day in the story of military aviation. Sub-Lieutenant Herbert Dennis Cutler returns to the air in Africa, and a raid is launched on the important Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen, near the German/Austrian/Swiss border; it will be the biggest British attempt yet at aerial bombing.

Lodz

But we’ll start on the ground in Russia. The Russians today successfully halt the German advance, all along the Lodz sector. To the north of the town, if any of the German commanders were in a bad war movie, he’d probably survey the horizon for about fifteen seconds, note that there are Russians on three sides of him in great numbers, and then gulp. (He would then give panicked orders for a hasty advance to the rear.) The Russians meanwhile are rather confident of a successful encirclement. They’ve ordered troop-trains in sufficient numbers to carry 50,000 prisoners away from the front. They’re also moving to capture the town of Brzeziny, located on the Germans’ most obvious line of retreat.

Kolubara

The Austro-Hungarian pressure on front of the Kolubara is too much for the Serbs to bear, and they begin a general retirement towards a new defensive line, located in more favourable defensive terrain and anchored on Mount Maljen. They may be going backwards, and terminally short of artillery shells, but they’re not a beaten force yet.

Bombing of Friedrichshafen

Okay, time to go tiddly-up-up. As with many things, this is all the fault of one W. Churchill. Much as I enjoy poking fun at his many blunders, you can’t ever accuse him of lacking imagination, and this was at least partly responsible for several things that were not, in fact, hilarious failures. Almost from the start of his tenure as First Lord of the Admiralty, he recognised the potential of aviation and supported it enthusiastically.

Now, therefore, we have the Royal Naval Air Service. The base for the raid will be a small field at an airship-station outside the southern French fortress of Belfort. The operation has been given to the RNAS mostly because the Royal Flying Corps has its hands entirely full with operations supporting the BEF in Flanders. They’ve acquired a few small Avro 504 biplanes and cobbled together a bomb bay and dropping mechanism. During tests a couple of days ago, one of the planes crashed while taxiing and seriously wounded the pilot. When the remaining bombers take off today, it’s the first time their pilots have ever flown them, and one of them never makes it off the ground.

And so, there were three. Off they head, in the general direction of Friedrichshafen. They know more or less where the Zeppelin facilities are supposed to be, but nobody is quite sure which sheds are which. Nevertheless, the second aircraft to arrive achieves almost complete success, dropping three out of four bombs (two of them even go somewhere near the Zeppelin sheds!), avoiding such AA fire as exists, and then returning to Belfort unscathed.

A little later, the third aircraft arrives and also succeeds in dropping some bombs vaguely near the target. This one gets lost on his way back home and eventually runs out of fuel, putting down in a field somewhere. Happily, the pilot’s been going in approximately the right direction, and is only about 30 miles south-west of Belfort. (He knows this because the farmer whose field he’s landed in has a telephone.)

The first pilot was rather less fortunate. His bombs landed well off target and he then suffered major wounds from AA fire. He had no option but to land nearby and surrender. Is anyone here surprised that he subsequently escaped from a POW camp and returned to Blighty? Didn’t think so.

Konigsberg

Meanwhile, in Africa. When Sub-Lieutenant Cutler returns to the air, this time he’s accompanied by Captain Crampton, the commander of the liner that had brought him to the Rufiji delta. In case he should get lost again, you understand. Somewhat surprisingly, the aeroplane doesn’t fly itself apart. With Crampton’s help, Cutler finds the river, flies twelve miles up it, and succeeds in locating Konigsberg’s new hiding place. He reports the extensive camouflage measures that Captain Looff has put in place, and notes “Her destruction is impractical by any means, except by means of bomb-attack”.

This sounds like a challenge to Captain Drury-Lowe of the Chatham, and he puts his thinking cap on again. Meanwhile, Cutler prepares for another flight.

Other

Indian Expeditionary Force “D” marches into Basra and find that it is indeed abandoned by the Ottomans.

There’s also a skirmish today at Katya in Egypt, notable mainly for the first appearance in the war of the frankly hilarious Bikaner Camel Corps. Yes, camel corps. They’re a force of Indian cavalry, from the princely state of Bikaner, and as the name suggests, they’re mounted on camels. They’re part of the ever-increasing British presence defending the Suez Canal, and we’ll be following them through the war. Camel cavalry! If you don’t hear that and want to know more about them, you have my sympathies. (The exact events of the skirmish are a Matter of Some Debate; I’ve seen it reported variously as a British success, a rout by the Ottomans, a bloody struggle, a minor slapfight, and everything in between.)

Weather report: It is now snowing in Flanders and Artois. Of course it is, mutter the blokes under their breath.

Actions in Progress

Siege of Przemysl
Battle of Basra
Battle of Lodz
Battle of Kolubara

Further Reading

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Guess who’s still in the paper, despite being in the ground? Anyway, there’s a very interesting leader on page 8, which is worth a little direct quotation.

The sixteenth week of a war unparalleled in our own or any nation’s history is about to close. How goes it with the cause of the Allies? The answer, put briefly, is still the same.

It then contrasts the mobile fighting on the Eastern Front with the “sanguinary deadlock” on the Western Front, and admits that the fighting “goes on without the slightest approach to a decision”. It even says “No change of even minor importance has taken part in at least the past seven days of…murderous attack and counter-attack”, casually ignoring how the paper’s been reporting the most minor of advances as grand victories.

That done, it’s back to the standard blanco and bullshit diet, claiming hilariously that “We do not find it necessary to keep up a constant chorus of We MUST win! Defeat is unthinkable!” Nevertheless, the leader is a telling one.

Oh, and it’s also Saturday! We all know what that means! Yes, it’s Mrs Eric Pritchard and “A Page For Women”! This one is deeply concerned about the market for artificial flowers (page 12). No, really. There’s also warnings of a further tax on tea. Tea, of all things! And then, turning the page, we see again that the casualty list (page 13) is a full page’s worth; this time they’re trying to hide it away behind Mrs Eric and the classifieds.

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