No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps

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About This Unit

Information and History of No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps

Unit
Royal Flying Corps

Places
Flanders
Point Cook
Western Front

Events
Battle of Amiens
German Spring Offensive

Battle Honour
France and Flanders, 1916-18

Commanding Officers
Lang, Andrew
Sheldon, William
McClaughry, William Ashton
Ellis, Alfred William Leslie

Decorations
3 DSO; 3 MC; 9 DFC, 3 bars; 1 MSM

Conflict
First World War, 1914-1918

Unit Hierarchy
Commonwealth Military Forces
Australian Imperial Force
Australian Flying Corps
No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps

History Information
The AWM site provides a generic history of No. 4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps. It has been further edited with additional material.

 4 Squadron, the last Australian Flying Corp (AFC) Squadron to be formed during the First World War, was established at Point Cook, Victoria, in late October 1916. Fully mobilised by 10 January 1917, the unit embarked for England on 17 January, arriving at Plymouth on 27 March, and was sent for training to Castle Bromwich, near Birmingham. After familiarisation with a variety of aircraft, the squadron was equipped with Sopwith Camel fighters. In the United Kingdom the squadron was designated 71 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC), and would retain this designation until it reverted to its original title on 19 January 1918.

The squadron arrived in France on 18 December 1917 and established itself at Bruay. It was assigned to the 10th Wing of the Royal Flying Corps, and operated in support of the British 1st Army, undertaking offensive patrols and escorting reconnaissance machines. The unit's first patrol over German lines took place on 9 January 1918, and its first air combat action occurred on 13 January 1918.

 

Pilots of B Flight No. 4 Squadron AFC in front of a Sopwith Camel at their base at Clairmarais

Towards the end of February 1918 the squadron was increased from 18 to 24 machines, considerably enhancing its capacity for offensive operations. March 1918 saw an increase in the squadron's ground attacks and offensive patrols, including a notable engagement with elements of Manfred von Richthofen's "Flying Circus" on 21 March, during which five enemy machines were downed in an attack led by Captain Arthur Henry Cobby.

During the German spring offensive, the squadron was heavily involved in strafing and bombing operations in support of the retreating Allied ground forces. Threatened by the German advance the Squadron moved from Bruay to Clairmarais North on 28 April 1918 and joined 11th Wing, part of the British 2nd Army.

Due to repeated enemy bombing attacks on the Clairmarais North airfield, the Squadron moved to Reclinghem on 30 June, where it shared the aerodrome with 2 Squadron AFC. Both squadrons formed part of 80th Wing under the British 5th Army. In July, the squadron was heavily involved in offensive patrols and also provided escorts for bombing and reconnaissance missions. 4 Squadron maintained a high operational tempo throughout the great Allied offensive launched in early August 1918.

At the end September 1918, 4 Squadron moved to Serny and in early October was re-equipped with Sopwith Snipe fighters; it was only the second unit in France to be equipped with these advanced machines.

In the last weeks of the war, the squadron was engaged in some fiece aerial battles. 

On 29 October 1918, Sopwith Snipes of Serny-based No 4 Squadron Australian Flying Corps participated in one of the greatest air battles of WW I after 15 Snipes departed for an offensive patrol east of Tournai. Towards the end of the patrol, the pilots encountered about 60 German Fokkers over Tournai. In the ensuing air battles, No 4 Squadron pilots downed 10 Fokkers and one LVG for the loss of one pilot. Earlier that month, the squadron had taken delivery of the new Snipe scouts, which had replaced the Sopwith Camels.

 

Map of Northern France and Belgium showing the vicinity of 4 Aqadron operations in the last months of the war.  Courtesy of RAAF History Unit

The squadron was relocated several times during the last month of the war, and following the Armistice was assigned to the British Army of Occupation. It moved to Bickendorf, near Cologne on 17 December 1918.

 

 

4 Squadron Snipes parked at Bickendorf Germany following the Armistice.  Image courtesy of RAAF History Unit

In March 1919 the unit returned to the United Kingdom and on 6 May embarked on RMS Kaisar-i-Hind for the return voyage to Australia. 4 Squadron arrived in Melbourne 16 June 1919 and was subsequently disbanded.

British Designation - No. 71 (Australian) Squadron RFC

 

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Stories

The Black Day for No. 4 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps

On 4 November, 1918 one of the last great air battles in the First World War was fought involving Australian pilots. In just a single day, the 4th Squadron lost 5 Sopwith Snipe Aircraft and the death of 3 pilots (including two World War One fighter 'Aces'.)

The weather in the lead up to November 1918 had being mostly grim as winter slowly began to set in. But then on 4 November 1918 the skies cleared and visibility was good. The stage was set. Sensing this rare opportunity, enemy activity increased. 

In the morning an offensive patrol of 4 Sopwith Snipes from the 4th Squadron was attacked by 7 German Fokker Biplanes. A brief dogfight ensued in which Lieutenant Alexander Cato managed to shoot down one enemy aircraft, however, in the middle of the dog fight two Australian aircraft went missing.

It would later be confirmed that Lieutenants Edward John Goodson and Charles William Rhodes, the two pilots that went missing, were both forced down, where they were taken prisoner. Goodson was captured by German forces on the day he was forced down, while Rhodes was captured on 5 November suffering from several injures. They remained prisoners of war only for a short time, however, as their repatriation began soon after the Armistice. 

In the afternoon of 4 November 1918, 16 Sopwith Snipes of the 4th Squadron were escorting a group of British bombers back to base along with several craft from the 2nd Squadron AFC, when a dozen Fokker aircraft were spotted. These Fokker aircraft belonged to the feared Jagdstaffel 2 (Jasta 2) Squadron. Soon a grand dog fight erupted in the skies over Ath and nearby villages. While the 4th Squadron downed four of the German aircraft three of their own went missing that afternoon. It was later concluded at a Court of Inquiry that all 3 pilots had being shot down and killed.

The three aircraft belonged to:

1. Captain Thomas Charles Richmond Baker DFC, MM & Bar. A South Australian fighter ace, in his career as a fighter pilot on the Western Front he had downed 12 enemy aircraft before himself being claimed on 4 November 1918.

2. Lieutenant Arthur John Palliser. A Tasmanian fighter ace, he had shot down 7 aircraft in his time with the 4th Squadron, which including downing 3 enemy aircraft on one day (29 October 1918.)

3 Lieutenant Parker Whitley Symons. Another South Australian fighter pilot, he had moderate success in the 4th Squadron, however, he had not yet claimed the prized 5 'kills' and thus was not classed as an 'ace.'

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