On this day 25 April 1915
On this day 25 April 1915 RNAS support for landings at Gallipoli
The British Government was deeply concerned about the part Turkey was taking in the war in support of Germany, with which it had signed a treaty on 2 August 1914. On 13 January 1915 the Admiralty was directed to "prepare for a naval expedition in February to bombard and take Gallipoli Peninsula, with Constantinople as its objective"
The Royal Naval bombardment began on 19 February with some 12 battleships, augmented by four French battleships. The British fleet also included the world's first true aircraft-carrier, HMS ARK ROYAL. ARK ROYAL had been commissioned for service as a seaplane-carrier by Commander R.H. Clark-Hall on 9 December 1914, and arrived at the Greek island of Tenedos, in the Aegean Sea, on 17 February 1915. The aircraft aboard included three Sopwith 807 Folder Seaplanes, Nos 807, 808 and 922, two Wight Pusher Seaplanes, Nos 172-173, the Short Folder Seaplane, No 136, and four crated Sopwith Schneider seaplanes.
When it became obvious that the navy alone could not force the straits, plans were made to despatch a large army force from the Eastern Mediterranean, and Major-General Sir William Birdwood was sent to the Dardanelles to review the situation. In addition to his recommendations, Birdwood also wired Lord Kitchener on 4 March urgently requesting that a shipborne, man-lifting kite or a captive balloon, for spotting naval fire and detecting concealed enemy shore batteries, be sent to the Dardanelles.
Action was taken immediately, and the tramp steamer MANICA was hurriedly converted to accommodate a Drachen-type balloon for service afloat and, if required, ashore. HMS MANICA arrived on station at Mudros Harbour, on the Greek island of Lemnos, on 9 April. This was the first use of kite ballons at sea. In the interim, land-based aircraft of No 3 Squadron, RNAS, commanded by the indefatigable Wing Commander C.R. Samson, had arrived at Imbros Island, about 32.2 kilometres (20 miles) from the Dardanelles on 23 March 1915. The squadron's aircraft included the BE 2a No 50 and the Henri Farman F27 plus two Sopwith Tabloids, two BE2cs and a French Breguet. Thus, with seaplanes, landplanes and a seaplane carrier and a balloon ship on station at the Dardanelles, the stage was set for the debut of air support on a scale never before achieved. History was about to be made. For the first time a campaign was conducted by combined forces on, under, and over the sea and on and over the land.
For three weeks Samson and his dedicated fliers carried out many successful spotting, reconnaissance, photographic and bombing flights over the southern half of the peninsula. At the same time, ARK ROYAL and her seaplanes covered the northern sector, mainly as a diversionary tactic to confuse the enemy. Vice-Admiral J.M. de Robeck, in charge of operations, declared "the RNAS has done excellent work of great value to our future operations". These future operations were, of course, the military assaults on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25 April 1915.
HMS Manica's balloon, with its two observers, was in the air from 0521 to 1405 hours on 25 April, constantly reporting on the activities associated with Anzac Cove for almost nine hours, while the ANZAC troops were scrambling up the cliffs, one of the observers sighted the Turkish battleship TURGUD REIS (ex-German SMS WEISSENBURG) in the Narrows. HMS TRIUMPH was contacted by wireless, and its balloon-directed fire forced the Turkish warship to withdraw. Soon after 0900 hours a similar engagement occurred, but this time the TURGUD REIS got under way and began to fire on the ANZAC transport ships, while the troops were still taking to the boats. Disembarkation was disrupted until the balloon-TRIUMPH combination again went into action. The TURGUD REIS then steamed out of range of TRIUMPH's four 254 millimetre (10 inch) guns, but returned in the afternoon to be chased away for the third time. MANICA'S balloon made seven ascents on 26 April in support of the ANZAC operations. The observers also spotted for TRIUMPH and HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH the Royal Navy's newest and most powerful battleship, and the first in the world to mount 381 millimetre (15 inch) guns - during the afternoon QUEEN ELIZABETH blew up an armament store at Kojadere. On the 27th the balloon crew sighted Turkish transport ships near Najara, apparently heading for Maidos or Kilia Liman. QUEEN ELIZABETH was put on to the largest ship, the SCUTARI which was hit and sunk after three shots, at a range of 11.3 kilometres (7 miles). The demand for MANICA's services was out of all proportion to that which a single ship could provide. Consequently a second balloon ship, HMS HECTOR, was hurriedly fitted out in a similar manner as MANICA, and arrived at the Dardanelles on 9 July. A third balloon ship. HMS CANNING reached Gallipoli on 2 October to replace MANICA which had sailed for England in mid-September to be refitted. CANNING was equipped with many improvements, including a large hold space enabling the balloon to be stored in the inflated condition.
Letter from Wing Commander C R Samson to Commodore M F Sueter dated 2 May 1915, probably from Ark Royal at Mudros (1 week after the landings on 25 April)
Dear Commodore Sueter
So far we have had wonderful luck. Up to today our mileage is 18,851 miles, which is pretty nearly a record as the average number of machines is six. Information from a prisoner states that one of our 100lb bombs killed 23 soldiers. I had the luck also to hit a big howitzer full and square with a 100lb bomb.
We live in the air all day and it is taking it out of our machines. I am not too keen on the BE.2C as they climb rottenly carrying a passenger, and we have a lot of passenger work to do. Some more M Farmans, 100 Renaults or sister machines to No 1421 are urgently wanted. No1241 engine has only about 10 hours to do now to beat the world record. She has not been taken out of the machine. The way it runs is due to the mechanic, Dessoresor, whom I have frequently recommended for promotion to CPO but he has not been promoted.
A steady supply of 100 100lb bombs a month is essential. I can get rid of them as quickly as they are supplied. We generally do a before breakfast bomb attack. Lt Butler has taken wonderful photographs of the German positions which have proved of great value to the Army.
Just this minute one of the Farmans has come back and reported that she spotted with great success, that the Agamemnon completely destroyed 3 out of 4 howitzers in a battery that has been annoying the fleet and landing place. We did 2,400 miles the first day the army landed.
I am still of the opinion that the only war machines are fast Pushers with good climb. The M Farman with 100 Renaults and 1241 are absolutely splendid. Other types of machines cannot compete at all.
Avros etc are just so much waste of money. These M Farmans can do 75mph, carry wireless and 2 100lb bombs, therefore they can spot, reconnoitre or attack, whichever is wanted. They can also fight. Their only drawback is that they turn slowly and wallow about in the wind. It was rotten seeing the soldiers get hell at the landing places. Knowing the defences I did not believe they would be able to get ashore. These Turks are devils to the wounded. We are giving them no rest with bombs. One of our machines got two 100lb bombs in a divisional camp and blotted out over 18 tents and their occupants. They must have killed over 100 men. We also got a lot of good hits on Maidos and Chanak, the day before yesterday and the day before that a big camp near Bogheli. I have two very good Army Officer Observers and two Midshipmen.
Everyone seems quite satisfied with the work we have done. One of the BE.2Cs chased the German today but we could not catch him.
We will soon shift to the mainland but it is not free from shells yet and it is not worth risking all our machines as they can reach our new landing ground quite easy. The German dropped bombs here and made good shots 12 days ago. I sent two units in return, and we laid him up for 10 days. He only escaped today by the skin of his teeth as an M Farman and myself in No.50 were just between him and home, and we never saw him as we were busy dropping bombs. He must have passed within a quarter mile of me, running away from Ormand on the BE.2C.
The Breguet is now ready. I urgently require three or four more good carpenters. The kite ballon appears to be jolly useful only he has to be too far away.
I got hit right along the propellor by a rifle bullet the other day.
I think the job will be a great success soon, as although the Turks and Germans have got awfully strong positions our men have got their blood up, as the Turks are such devils to the wounded.
Aeroplane spotting I really consider has helped a devil of a lot, as now we can get batteries silenced right away. Practically always now the batteries cease fire when an aeroplane gets over the top of them. I honestly believe that our aeroplanes have given the Turks a healthy feeling of dread.