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February 25, 2004

A light affliction and other signals

Picture the scene, a Squadron of ships patrolling off the Dutch/Belgian coast during 1917, the Flagship is a light cruiser, flying the Flag of Rear-Admiral Tyrwhitt, and is accompanied by two more light cruisers and eight destroyers. The squadron is spread out and zig-zagging to avoid U-boats and to ensure that they see as wide an area of the North Sea as possible.

Towed behind one of the destroyers is a strange looking craft - a barge with an extended and raised flat deck. Sat uncomfortably on top of this is a Sopwith Pup biplane and around it its attendant crew - including the pilot, a young Lieutenant.

A Zeppelin heaves into sight and starts to shadow the squadron, safely beyond the range of their guns at 10,000 feet. The order is flashed by lamp to the destroyer to launch the aircraft!

Destroyer works up to full speed of 36 knots, the pilot mounts his aircraft, starts the engine and the deck crew grab hold of the tailplane and hang on as he guns the engine to full power, and waits until the wildly pitching barge is on an upward swing, signals the release and the "Pup" staggers into the air from its impromptu aircraft carrier!

An hour of desperate climbing in the tiny aircraft ensues and finally, at his maximum ceiling of 8,000 feet he is below the huge hydrogen filled airship. He tail stalls the aircraft to bring his single machine gun, mounted on the top wing, to bear. He reaches up and, aiming desperately as his aircraft begins to stall, empties the magazine in the direction of the Zeppelin. His gun now useless and his aircraft in a death spin, he fights to regain control, succeeds and climbs back up toward the Zeppelin, reloading with a spare magazine as he does so. At the ceiling again, he repeats the first exercise and empties the second magazine as the aircraft stalls.

This time he is rewarded with the sight, as his own craft begins to plunge out of control, with the sight of the huge gas envelope bursting into flame!

Recovering from his stall almost at sea level, and now almost out of fuel, he searches frantically for the squadron, and is relieved to see them heaving into sight almost as he has given up hope. He hurtles toward them on the last of his fuel and performs several victory rolls and other exuberant aerobatics over the Flagship on the last of his fuel before ditching the faithful Pup into the sea as close as he can to his "home" destroyer.

The Admiral watches with some pride, and then hoists a general signal:

"EH 452 v 8" (Translation: English Hymnal No 452 verse 8)

The verse in question reads -

"Oh happy band of pilgrims,
Look upward to the skies,
Where such a light affliction,
Shall win so great a prize."

This is believed to be the first time a "ship launched" aircraft was engaged in combat and successfully destroyed an enemy. Personally I believe the pilot needed to be kept in a strait jacket most of the time - and he should have got at least a VC for the achievement!

On an equally religious theme is the signal from a submarine returning from a war patrol.

"Psalm 17 v 4"

(Concerning the works of men by the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyers.)

Finally, a cruiser is attempting to secure to bouys. At first it goes well, and the Admiral, watching from his Flagship nearby, signals:


Things immediately start to go wrong and she misses the bouys, fouls a number of lines, and things get distinctly difficult. The Adfmiral signals again:

"Add to my previous signal: God."

Posted by The Gray Monk at February 25, 2004 01:30 PM