Captain E. J. McCloughry DSO, DFC*, MID, No. 4 Squadron, AFC
On 21 February 1919 Captain Edgar J. McCloughry wrote a review of his experiences in France whilst serving with No. 4 Squadron AFC. This review, in the form of a thirteen page letter, covered the period from June-September 1918 and was written in response to a request from the Officer in Command of the Australian War Records Section. It is rare to come across a document such as this; there are only a handful held amongst the approximately one hundred Australian Flying Corps Private Record Collections stored in the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre. I have reproduced it below at it was written in 1919 by Captain McCloughry.
Before receiving orders to report over-seas I was a Flight Commander with No. 6 Aus. Training Squad, where incidentally I trained many pilots who afterwards became part of the famous 4 Squad. I also should state that I had previous service in France with 23 Squad R.F.C. I reported for duty with 4 Squad on the 3/6/18 the squadron being at Clairmaires Aerodrome about 7 miles from St Omer; by a remarkable coincidence my brother Major W.A. McCloughry D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C. was in Command; I had always for personal reasons tried to avoid having my brother as C.O., and even after reporting I applied to be transferred to 2 Squad; fate has its own way, probably for the best. I arrived at the aerodrome just in time for mess 8 p.m. and my first impressions of the squad were really great and I think inspired me wonderfully.
A very important fact worth mentioning is that 74 Squad R.A.F. was on the same aerodrome commanded by Major Caldwell M.C., D.F.C. with the wonderful then Capt. Late Major Mannock, D.S.O., M.C., D.F.C.; the latter played a great part in the success of 4 Squad, there was not a pilot in 4 Squadron who did not look up to Mannock, and his many lectures to my Squadron helped them greatly. I had known Mick (i.e. Mannock) before and my success was greatly due to his help.
To go back to my first impression, I could not help noticing the wonderful spirit of all from the senior down to the mechanics. I here must mention that, out of the score or more squadrons I had been with, no mechanics stood out like 4 Squad A.F.C.; in my flight never once was there a shortage of serviceable machines which is indeed a record.
Next day I was posted to C flight one that had a name for being unlucky; on meeting the pilots of the flight I found that 7 out of the 10 were R.A.F. leaving only 3 A.F.C.; I must say though, that they were a fine lot and followed their leaders through any tight corner. My C.O. took me out on my first day and showed me round the lines, for they had changed greatly since my last time out; but luckily the ground the Bosche had I knew well from my days in the engineers. Our section was from Ypres to Nieppe Forest and at that time a fairly lively front, though with a shortage of Hun aircraft. My first few weeks in the squad we used to patrol the line as a squad or two flights, one flight seldom going out at a time. Capt. Cobby, D.S.O., D.F.C., used to lead “A” Flight, Captain Malley, M.C., “B” and myself “C”, each one taking our turn to be leading flight.
Although we had a break of wonderful weather for two weeks, and we did two two hour patrols each day, we seldom saw a Hun, and could never get close to one, in fact, nearly a month had gone without the squad getting a single Hun; it was not for the want of trying, all the leaders were as keen as mustard. 74 Squadron were also the same: Mannock used to hunt the skies with his flight for hours. Often I used to strafe for having to go out in large formations, knowing well we should frighten away any stray Hun; the C.O. saw my point but the wing would not have it.
My star pilots at the time were Lieut. Watson, D.F.C., the late Lieut. Martin and Lieut. Nelson; the former being a great friend of Cobby’s, I used to allow him to work with Cobby. Lieut. Martin used to be my partner, although it was only for a short time. But Lieut. Nelson there is no doubt was a wonderful fellow, although I did not understand him at first. He used to complain of not being able to fly high and would always drop out of the formation when we went anything above 7 000 feet which we usually did at the time. I will refer to the un-written deeds of Nelson later.
When I say weeks passed without there being a Hun in the sky, that is not quite true; for my own part, I was certain there were some – a few two-seaters working low down, etc., but of course it was impossible with a large formation to get to them.
Occasionally a day would be set apart for the squad to do interruption work; the wireless section would send through as soon as a Hun two-seater started working and a couple of pilots would leave the ground within 3 minutes of the message. But the Huns had been caught before and it was very difficult.
One day, after racking my brains for some new idea, I got permission, when the formation was over the Hun balloon lines, to dive down onto a balloon. It was “A” and “C” Flight’s turn. I was leading with “C” Flight and we had arranged for myself and Lt. Martin to dive on the balloons whilst the remainder of “C” Flight and “A” were to stay up and protect us two.
I crossed the line at about 10,000 feet and no sooner had I got over, than I felt without being able to see, that Huns were about. A few minutes later, I was almost taken by surprise by 3 cheeky Huns who dived past “A” Flight and on to the rear of my formation. I at once turned but they did not wait, one of the horrible characteristics of a camel being, as I will describe later, that it is unable to catch any other machine with the exception of the Fokker triplane on the level. I flew on a little and then sighted some more Huns but they were all above us, so I turned back to the lines and started to climb; when reaching 15000 feet, I came back again but soon ran into Huns again above us. “A” Flight had gone off to climb, but for some reason did not join up straightaway.
At one time we were ten miles over with 15 Huns about 3000 feet above us. I did the only thing possible – turned and waited for them; but luckily, they would not come down to us. Finding scores of Huns above me who would not come down, I tried to draw them by losing height myself, but nothing happened. Towards the end of the patrol, I was so fed up that I lost height to about 7000 feet over the balloon lines and then gave the signal for Martin and myself to dive. I ground my teeth and went straight on to the balloon and then fired about 200 rounds from about 200 yds and the balloon went up in flames. Looking round, I saw the one Martin tackled, smoking. I then suddenly wondered why no “Archy” was firing at us, but soon found the reason: 17 huns were coming down at us and already the remainder of my Flight mixed up with them. There was an awful scrap for a few minutes. I had managed to take a Hun off someone’s tail, when I saw Martin going down with a Hun on his tail. I followed, but on looking round, saw a Hun on mine, so turned and faced him, then, by a climbing turn, managed to get on his tail and after firing about 200 rounds, from almost on top of him, saw, not my first victory, but my first with the A.F.C. I then tried to follow Martin down, but it was too late, he was out of sight. The remaining Huns vanished almost as quickly as they came; so getting in formation again, we flew home to learn that poor Martin had been killed: but he had got his man and they had crashed 200 yards apart, Martin just on our side.
My first Hun broke the ice, for many Huns soon followed. It was really wonderful to see the enthusiasm inspired in the pilots, almost everyone was out for blood. The next victory fell to Lieutenant Watson, by a balloon a few days later, followed by many others, in fact Watson used to make a hobby of balloons. He was not satisfied by getting only the balloon, but used to annoy the Bosche in his parachute and on one occasion severed the Hun from his parachute.
Although the pilots were keen, in the mess they were always sky-larking and enjoying themselves; there is no doubt our mess was well known by many other units. The C.O. used almost daily to send a tender up near the line to bring back some guests for dinner, and there is little need to say they were treated well. We were known to the 1st Aus. Division who were then in the section by almost all. The mechanics were the same, and I would like to say the C.O. used to arrange for concert parties to give entertainments, and altogether, there was not a happier squadron. When there was no flying or work for the pilots or men they were not kept hanging round, but given transport to go off and enjoy themselves. I would also like to mention here that one of the best liked officers in the Squadron, to whom much of the success is due, was Lieutenant Bayer, the gunnery officer; not only did he know his work thoroughly, but there was no one more conscientious.
It was really half my battle, having faith in my guns – not once did a Hun get away by my guns failing, and of course, although a lot depends on the pilot, there were very few complaints indeed from the guns. Apart from all this, he kept the mess going, which also was a very big factor and one could not wish for a better mess.
About the 24th June rumours began to spread that the squadron was to move but as Clairmaires was one of the oldest aerodromes in France and very unhealthy and low, most were glad of the news and welcomed it, especially on getting particulars of the new aerodrome.
On the 25th June we heard that 2 Squadron A.F.C. had moved up from down South and were on an aerodrome the other side of St Omer; it was a filthy day and an awful wind blowing, but I started off in my old bus to try and find them. I landed quite half a dozen times, nearly writing my machine off on each occasion before I found them, but I got the glad news of the two squadrons to be on the same aerodrome.On the day before our move 29.6.18., the C.O.’s leave fell due and Capt. Malley took temporary command; he was loved by all and everyone helped him as much as possible in the moving. We left for the new aerodrome at Reclingham by flights, the whole of the 74th Squadron turning out to see us off, and I could not help feeling then that most of my experience was due to 74 and Mannock.
Arriving at Reclingham, everything was as we expected to find it, just the hangar standing and nothing else; but No 2 Australian Squadron had just landed before us and we started to, setting out this aerodrome. I soon found that we had come to a brand-new Brigade and a new Wing, and as they had had so little experience, they allowed our squadron to do much as we pleased at first.
This was my great opportunity, and I did not delay in putting my idea of small formation into practice. I myself led the way, going out several times with Lieut. Jones-Evans and we met several times with success. We used to fly to the lines together (our new section being from Nieppe Forrest to La Basse), cross over and come down quite low to 3000 ft. We soon found that this method was very successful in finding Hun two-seaters. On days when there were no enemy aircraft about, we often used to come down to 500 ft and strafe Huns, guns, transport etc., I soon found it was quite safe to come down to these low altitudes and that it only wanted a first trial and one gained wonderful confidence, besides getting real sport out of it; one could see one’s direct results which with Bosche horse transport was often very amusing.
I then took my whole Flight over the line at low altitudes and the pilots soon got confidence; in fact, in a few days, the whole squadron did nothing else but annoy the hun on the ground. Cobby, Watson and Nelson shone and carried out wonderful feats low down. Nelson used daily to take a newspaper and drop it from a few feet into the front line, and there is no doubt that it was he who was referred to in the Hun intelligence, as the pilot who used to fly low and continually annoy their infantry. On one occasion I came across Nelson playing round with a Hun two-seater and wondered why he did not shoot. I afterwards found out he had used all his ammunition on trench strafing: indeed this was often the case with him and he often used to come back four times in one patrol for more ammunition. The thing that worried me, and I think most pilots, more than anything was “Archy”. There is no doubt these were very good and often used to get our planes, and the ground machine guns, too, became very good. It was chiefly because of these and that the infantry told me of Huns often being about before dawn, that decided me to try the dawn stunt
Jones-Evans and I used to take off about half an hour before dawn and fly over Hun land at about 7000 feet, throttle down and wait until it was just light enough to pick out objects on the ground, then dive down and strafe them for all we knew; our great favourite was a train when we could spot one.
The whole squadron soon took up these tactics and the victories officially credited to the Squadron show their huge success.
An order came through that all the R.A.F. were to leave to join some R.A.F squadron I raised an awful strafe and after much trouble, managed to get a promise that I could keep Jones-Evans.
The Bosche made great improvements in his balloon defences, which made it very difficult for us to get near them at all; but I would not be beaten, so I planned with Jones-Evans for an attack.
We first reconnoitred by day and located the ground position of a few balloons, then we took off before dawn and flew well over the balloon lines; as soon as we could distinguish, we dived down on our targets and we were each successful in firing our balloons on the ground with no resistance.
About this time, Lieutenant Taplin, D.F.C. and Lieut. Lockley began to shine out and they did wonderful work. The former did not know what fear was.
On a trip up to the infantry in the line, they told me of a couple of Hun two-seaters who used to worry them. Just at dusk, when our machines had gone home, Jones-Evans, Lieut. Youdale (another pilot coming out) and I arranged a trip over the place in question and we waited out into dusk. Sure enough we saw the Bosche two-seater coming out. He was soon taken by surprise and crashed to the ground.
Our social life at Reclingham was just as jolly as at our old aerodrome, we had quite a good squadron concert party, together with No 2 Squadron also an occasional cinema and the R.A.F. band. To prove our ability to entertain, the R.A.F. band gave a concert at every aerodrome in France and were then given one more night, and asked to choose the aerodrome – they picked 4 Aus. Squadron.
One morning when Jones-Evans and I were out together, we were separated by clouds and failed to pick one another up again. Unfortunately, Jones-Evans ran across two Huns and although he managed to get some effective shots in, he was himself wounded. Two days later, I was out just before dusk and got into a scrap with a Fokker Biplane, and although I succeeded in crashing the Hun, he managed to get a bullet at me and wounded my right leg. It was not serious, the bullet going straight through and missing the bone; I managed to fly back to the aerodrome and the doctor after much argument, packed me off to a C.C.S., but luckily with the C.O’s help I managed to get permission to remain at the C.C.S. and not be evacuated. After a couple of weeks I could get around on crutches and I went back to the Squadron. The C.O. would not allow me to fly though, but sent me off on leave.
I flew over on leave with Major Murray Jones, M.C., D.F.C., of 2 Aus. Squadron in an old French Sopwith two-seater, which had come into our possession by quite unofficial means, and was the great joy-ride bus known as “Sophy”
I arrived back from leave on the night Cobby got his D.S.O., one only had to be present that night to see how popular he was and indeed it was well earned. For my part, I seemed at first to be at a loss without Jones-Evans, but Youdale soon got to know the ropes and we went off together.
One day, as a change, we arranged to strafe a Hun aerodrome. We took off before dawn and flew over to the aerodrome at Enneteria in the dark and waited until we could see and dived down finding the mechanics just getting the machines out of the hangars. I poured about 200 shots into the machines and fired two successfully. On the 24th September, 1918, Youdale and I were out on the dawn show, but were separated by the clouds and mist. I went on over Lille and spotting a train, dived down and bombed it, securing a hit in the rear. I later on ran across seven Fokker Biplanes between myself and the line. Knowing I was in for it, I went straight at them, destroying one, but I was myself hit and I remember little after that, except landing near St Venent.
I would just like to say before ending that although some pilots were never very successful in getting victories, some were indeed the stoutest of fellows. I refer chiefly to Lieut Heller who was one of the keenest and best of pilots.
I find I have omitted Captain King, D.F.C. usually known as “Bo”. He was one of the blood-thirstiest of pilots and always desired battles, but there again his successes are proof of his work.
One word on the “Camel”: there was not a pilot in the squadron who would not argue to the end for a Camel. Although slow, she could get round anything, also one could not run away from anything, which rather aimed for success. The whole time I myself did not have one engine failure which gave me wonderful confidence and also shows the wonderful work of No. 4 Squadron’s mechanics.
Captain McCloughry's Private Record Collection is held in the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre at 1DRL/0426.