2 AFC History

Article courtesy of Cam Riley

History

In August 1917, one week after 3 Sqn AFC arrived in France, 2 Sqn AFC crossed the English Channel and arrived at St Omer. The safe completion of the flight from Harlaxton by all machines in one day, had created a record. Subsequently the complete squadron arrived at Warloy near Baizieux the next day. The squadron was commanded by Major O Watt who had been placed in charge when the squadron first formed out of Egypt.

The squadron flew the Airco DH5, a pugnacious fighter armed with one machine gun and the extremely odd wing formation, whereby the top wing was aft of the lower wing. This gave the DH5 excellent forward visibility but poor rearward visibility, which is essential in a scout plane. The DH5 performed poorly above 10 000 ft and was sluggish to handling input at low speeds as well, adding to that was a relatively low power engine for the time, unfortunately the DH5 was outrun by many enemy 2 seaters.

The Australian pilots set about trying to cut a swathe through the German Air Forces and there was no lack of aggression from them but the Australians were new to the front and flying in an out performed machine. Losses were heavy initially with Lieutenant I.C.F. Agnew being the squadron's first casualty when he was forced down and captured. Lieutenant D.G. Morrison died from wounds after being attacked by several Albatros Scouts not long after. After the initial period of 2 Sqn's baptism of fire, the squadrons role was changed to Army support, a role more fitting for the DH5 in the upcoming Battle of Cambrai. November found the squadron carrying out this dangerous work and losses continued to mount due to the tremendous amount of ground fire the planes received. In this period, one third of the squadron was shot down, fortunately there was only one fatality , Capt J Bell.

During the Battle of Cambrai, the squadron started seeing more and more enemy aircraft in the ground attack role. Naturally the Australians attacked any plane they could find, and the squadrons victory board started to register some entries. On the 22nd of November, Lieutenant F.G Huxley recorded the squadron's first victory when he fired a burst at an Albatros Scout and it crashed into the ground. On the same morning Lieutenant R.W Howard forced a DFW 2 - seater to land, which was captured by allied infantry. The last victory by a pilot in a DH5 was a DFW that Huxley shot down in flames on the 6th of December. By the 15th of December the last mission in a DH5 was flown and the squadron was re-equipped with the much superior SE5a Scout aircraft.

The squadron over a period of a month worked themselves and their new machines up to operational readiness and in the latter half of January, took their new machines to Savy the original home of 3 Sqn AFC. Bad weather kept the combat flying for the squadron to a minimum until mid February when the weather broke and Huxley sent an Albatros Scout spinning earthwards. The victory score of the squadron began to rise consistently as the pilots grew in confidence with their machines on every patrol. On the 21st of March the Germans began a large offensive in 2 Sqn's area and the aerial activity from both sides was large. Captain Howard was mortally wounded in an engagement, but this was offset numerous times as his loss was avenged in the following days.

Early April found the squadron at Bellevue Aerodrome operating as a wing with two other RAF squadrons. The wings flew as fighter sweeps whereby the SE5a's would give top cover by flying at 16 000 feet and above to the Camels who would fly at between 8 000 and 12 000 feet. This matched up the offensive and defensive qualities of the squadrons and their machines. The SE5a was superior to the Camel at high altitude, yet the Camel was far more maneuverable at the lower altitude of 10 000 feet. These sweeps would operate across German held territory in groups of up to 50 to 100 planes. They had the result of often scaring German planes away from combat, but when the sweep attacked a German Flight, the results were often catastrophic for the German Airmen.

In the latter half of May the squadron accounted for the numerical equivalent of a German squadrons in the space of two days for the loss of only one, Lieutenant A.R. Rackett who was shot down and taken prisoner. The Wing was ordered to Foquorolles in preparation for a coming German Offensive in that sector. On the 12th of June the Australians knocked down several enemy aircraft in the one day including Captain Phillipps getting four in the one patrol and Captain Manuel adding to an already mounting score. Captain Phillipps was to finish the war with 15 victories and be second in the aces of 2 squadron AFC. On the 20th of June, 2 squadron was transferred to Reclingham where they joined the 80 Wing RAF which included 4 squadron AFC. 2 squadron was freed from the restrictions of the sweep operations and flew in the more flexible patterns worked out with 4 squadron as to how they would patrol. The SE5a's of 2 squadron still flew top cover for the slower and more maneuverable Camels and both squadrons in their tactics and patterns started to add victories to both their squadron listings. Lieutenant F.R Smith destroyed a Fokker DVII on the 4th of July , marking the squadrons first victory in the new locality. Smith later to be Capt Smith finished the war with 16 victories and was the leading ace of 2 squadron AFC.

In the month of August , more and more enemy aircraft were being encountered forcing a reversion to the big sweep formations with 2 squadron and 88 sqn RAF flying Bristol Fighters alternating in the top and middle cover for the lower flying Camels of 4 Sqn AFC. In mid August the two Australian squadrons attacked the aerodromes just outside of Lille with Habourdin and Lomme getting special attention. The attacks were successful with only a loss of a 4 Sqn Camel. 2 Sqn reported that enemy aerial activity in the area lessened after the attacks. Later the squadron caried out similar attacks against the aerodromes Lille and Tournai. Lieutenant A.L Long after a bombing attack was hit in the petrol tank by a fragment from one of his own bombs. He was lucky to make his own lines. Towards the last few weeks of the war , enemy formations were high in number and this brought several fierce dogfights. Captain Dibbs and Blaxland attacked a group of Fokkers and after a long battle Blaxland managed to send one down in flames. The Australian pilots broke off to go home and seven more Fokkers dived on them. Blaxland had both guns jammed and Dibbs had only one gun operational. Blaxland had his fingers crossed that the Fokkers wouldnt engage them , but Dibbs pulled up at full throttle and turned into the seven Fokkers his lone gun blazing. Fortunately the SE5a survives a full throttle dive and the two Australian pilots escaped.

The squadron's last casualty was Captain Frank Smith who was brought down on the 9th of November by ground fire. He evaded the German Troops and managed to avoid capture by obtaining some civilian clothes and walking the 40 miles back to his own lines. When he reached the mess of 2 squadron, he arrived just in time to take full advantage of the Armistice celebrations which were in full swing.