The Great War

The Great War

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No. 46 Squadron was formed at Wyton on 19 April 1916 from a core of trained aircrew from No.2 Reserve Squadron and, after a brief period of further training, left for France in October 1916 equipped with Nieuport 12 two-seaters. From 26 October 1916 the Squadron was based at Droglandt (Droogland) airfield, near Winnezeele in the Nord department. The Squadron’s main tasks were artillery co-operation, aerial photography and reconnaissance.

Original members of No 46 Squadron RFC

In May 1917 the Squadron began to take a more offensive role after being re-armed with Sopwith Pups, and they moved to La Gorgue after a brief conversion course at Boisdinghem (about 10 kilometres west of Saint-Omer). In June 1917 the Battle of Messines (7-14 June) began; this was the first step in an ambitious plan by the British to take Passchendaele Ridge and then breakthrough into the Netherlands to hold the Belgian coast. Control of this coast would give mastery of the sea and the ports. The RFC’s mission was to dominate the air, from the front line to far behind it where the captive balloons used by the enemy for observation were located. The arrival of new types of aircraft made this easier for the British airmen. The RFC came into play about a week before the start of the battle, with No. 46 Squadron making a significant contribution. In addition to offensive patrol work, they undertook intensive ground–strafing and provided excellent support to the attack on the Messines ridges.

At this time, operating under the 11th Army Wing, the Squadron was also engaged in serious and intense aerial combat. The superiority of the Allied air forces was being seriously challenged by the Germans, in particular with the introduction of the “Circuses” which were trained and led by Baron Von Richthofen. After having been at La Gorgue since 12 May the Squadron moved to Bruay* in the Pas de Calais on 6 July for a few days, before being posted to England, to Sutton’s Farm in Essex, to defend London which had suffered heavy raids from Gotha bombers not long before.  The move to Bruay was made following an accident with an aircraft of No.1 Squadron on 3 July for which the 46 Squadron pilot was blamed.

After a brief spell in England, the Squadron returned to France at the end of August 1917; they were first based at St Marie Cappel (August-September) before moving to Izel-les-Hameau where they remained until May 1918. In November 1917 the Squadron was re-equipped with Sopwith Camels, which enabled them to provide important support to the infantry at the Battle of Cambrai. During the later stages of the War, the Squadron was very active in bombing lines of communication and ammunition depots behind the enemy lines. They were again in action during the German retreat in the weeks leading up to the signing of the armistice. The Squadron’s commanding officers during this period were Major Philip Babington (July 1916-December 1917) and then Major Rupert Mealing. After Izel-les-Hameau, the Squadron moved to several different bases in the area before returning to England in January 1919 to be disbanded at the end of the year.

In the Heroes section of our website, you will find No 46 Squadron Heroes of La Gorgue.  The biographies in that document are based on the book, “Des Hommes sur les terres et les chemins des Dames” 1914-1918; by Serge Comini (Président de l’association Abbaye de Beaupré, Etude et Sauvegarde du Site) The book is an amazing piece of scholarly research which details those aircrew and some groundcrew (for which there are records) who served in the RFC and RNAS squadrons based at La Gorgue during the First World War. The narrative, originally in French, has been translated by David Adams and edited by Dougie Barr and John Dimmock but remains the copyright of Serge. The photographs are copyrighted, where applicable, by the owners indicated in the Book. This document is not to be copied or distributed without permission of the copyright owners.

We plan to produce further sections covering the Great War. They include:

No 46 Squadron Heroes of Draglandt

No 46 Squadron Heroes of Suttons Farm ( later RAF Hornchurch)

No 46 Squadron Heroes of Izel Le Hameau

At present, the above sections are only populated with photographs taken by Captain (later Wing Commander) Normie Dimmock AFC. Our thanks go to his son John for his enormous efforts in illuminating this early part of the Squadron’s history so enthusiastically and successfully.

You might also be interested in this Flicker gallery which contains some wonderful pictures of the Squadron while at La Gorgue.

 

A very interesting 1987 documentary “The Cavalry of the Clouds”

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