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British Military Aviation in 1918

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in Salonika is re-equipped with Royal Aircraft Factory SE5As, Bristol Monoplanes and Sopwith Camels to replace the Nieuport 27s previously operating in this theatre. This marked the beginning of British air supremacy on this Salonika front.

2 January
An Order in Council defines the composition and duties of members of the Air Council and a separate Air Ministry is formed in London.

3 January
The first Air Council is formed and Lord Rothermere is appointed the first Secretary of State for the Air Force (re-titled Secretary of State for Air from March 1918).

18 January
Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard is appointed as the first Chief of the Air Staff. He is succeeded as General Officer Commanding of the Royal Flying Corps in France, by Major General John Salmond.

28-29 January
The first unqualified air combat victory at night against another aeroplane takes place, when two Sopwith Camels of No.44 Squadron shoot down a Gotha bomber during a raid on London.

Victoria Cross

30 January
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Captain J.B. McCudden of No.56 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, for "conspicuous bravery, exceptional perseverance, keenness and very high devotion to duty."

1 February
The 41st Wing is renamed VIII Brigade.

12 February
The Air Council approves the introduction of the terms 'areas' and 'groups' for the Royal Air Force's higher formations.

3 March
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is concluded between Germany and the Soviet Revolutionary Government, ending hostilities between Russia and the Central Powers. Germany becomes free to transfer forces from the Eastern to the Western Fronts and to participate in a major offensive in the West, timed to take place later in the month.

12-20 March
This period is marked by greatly intensified air operations on the part of the Luftstreitkräfte (the German Army Air Corps), enabling it to gain air superiority on the Somme sector. Over the Somme, 730 German aircraft, including 326 fighters, are opposed by 579 Royal Flying Corps aircraft, which include 261 fighters.

21 March
The German offensive on the Western Front (Operation Michael) opens with a massive assault against British forces in Picardy by 56 German Army Divisions. The offensive achieves a number of spectacular early successes, shattering the British defensive line.

During the initial stages of the offensive, the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) is instrumental in gathering intelligence about the timing and composition of the attack and on the first day of the offensive, 250 British aircraft from 27 squadrons strafe and bomb the advancing German Army, disrupting its operations and damaging enemy morale. 50 aircraft are lost and he German advance forces 17 Royal Flying Corps Squadrons to evacuate airfields that are in danger of being overrun.

27 March
The Victoria Cross is awarded to 2nd Lieutenant A.A. McLeod of No.2 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps. At 19 years old, he is the youngest airman to receive this award during the First World War, for action during a bombing mission over Bray-sur-Somme in France and for saving the life of his observer, Lieutenant A.W. Hammond, after being shot down in an Armstrong Whitworth FK8 (B5773).

30 March
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Lieutenant A. Jerrard of No.66 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, for gallantry displayed during an offensive patrol over Italy in a Sopwith Camel (B5648).

1 April
The Royal Air Force (RAF) is formed by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) is also formed from those serving in air units of Women's Royal Naval Service, Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, the Voluntary Aid Detachment and the Women's Legion.

1 April
The Royal Aircraft Establishment is formed from the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough.

2 April
Miss Sylvia Hodkinson becomes the first Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF) recruit.

11 April
The Royal Air Force Marine Craft Section is formed, with personnel from the Section initially tasked with operating support vessels that have transferred to the Royal Air Force (RAF) from the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).

12 April
Following a dispute with Lord Rothermere, Major General Hugh Trenchard resigns from the post of Chief of the Air Staff and is succeeded by Major General Sir Frederick Sykes.

21 April

Baron Manfred Von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', is shot down and killed. Manfred von Richthofen was the most successful fighter pilot of the First World War and at the time of his death, he had shot down 80 Allied aircraft in air combat.

Although Captain Roy Brown of No.209 Squadron is credited with the destruction of von Richthofen's Fokker Triplane, it has also been suggested that the Red Baron actually fell victim to ground fire whilst being pursued by Captain Brown.

1 May
No.1 to No.5 Air Force Areas are formed, but the words 'Air Force' are dropped from the titles of almost immediately.

8 May
The designations of the newly established Areas are revised to reflect their geographical locations within the United Kingdom:

  • No.1 Area became South-Eastern Area - Major General F.C. Heath-Caldwell
  • No.2 Area became South-Western Area - Major General M.E.F. Kerr
  • No.3 Area became Midland Area - Major General J.F.A. Higgins
  • No.4 Area became North-Eastern Area - Major General the Honorable Sir F. Gordon
  • No.5 Area became North-Western Area - Major General G.C. Cayley

13 May
It is announced that an Independent Air Force (IAF), under the command of Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard, will be formed from 6 Jun 1918. This is the first time that an Air Force had been formed for the express purpose of conducting a war, without reference or subordination to Army or Navy Commands.

The IAF operates by day and night against industrial targets in Germany and enemy aerodromes. In five months, the nine squadrons of the IAF, equipped with de Havilland DH4, DH9, and DH9A, Handley Page 0/400 and Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b bombers, with one squadron of Sopwith Camels for escort work, drop a total of 550 tons of bombs, 390 tons by night.

The Royal Air Force Nursing Service is formed.

2 June
In the aftermath of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and Russia's exit from the First World War, the Allied Supreme War Council sanctions joint intervention to secure the existing Allied presence in Russia's northern ports. Allied intervention is undertaken in an effort to inhibit the transfer of German troops between the Eastern and Western Fronts, to deny Russian resources to the Germans and to prevent the German Navy from using the ports as bases from which submarines could threaten transatlantic shipping.

3 June
The Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Force Cross, Distinguished Flying Medal and Air Force Medal are instituted for acts of gallantry in the air.

6 June
The first operational sorties are mounted by the Independent Force of the Royal Air Force. Ten de Havilland DH4s attacked Coblenz and five de Havilland DH9s attack Thionville.

14 June
The German offensive on the Western Front ends.

15 June
Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard is appointed General Officer Commanding the Independent Force of the Royal Air Force.

Victoria Cross

17 June-22 July
The Victoria Cross is posthumously awarded to Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock of No.85 Squadron, Royal Air Force, one of the highest scoring British fighter pilots and greatest air leaders of the First World War. "An outstanding example of fearless courage, remarkable skill, devotion to duty, and self-sacrifice, which has never been surpassed."

22-23 June
A North Russian Expeditionary Force comprising British Army units and supported by a Royal Air Force flight equipped with de Havilland DH4 day bombers lands at Murmansk to join a Royal Marine detachment and French and United States marine units already present in the port.

Major A.S.C. MacLaren makes the first flight between England and Egypt, flying a Handley Page 0/400 between Cranwell and Cairo.

The seaplane carrier HMS Nairana, carrying Fairey Campania, Sopwith Baby floatplanes and a single Sopwith Camel fighter, provides additional air support to the North Russian Expeditionary Force.

4 July
Aircraft of No.9 Squadron drop 93 boxes of small arms ammunition to attacking Australian troops on the opening day of the Battle of Hamel. The drops are conducted from an altitude of 200 feet and two of the twelve aircraft involved are shot down by German ground fire.

9 July
Major James McCudden VC is killed in a flying accident at Auxi-le-Chateau in France.

19 July
The first ever carrier-borne air strike takes place. From a position off the Lyngvig Light, HMS Furious launches seven Sopwith Camels modified to carry 50 pound bombs on a dawn strike against German dirigible (steerable airship) sheds at Tondern at the mouth of the Elbe. The strike is successful, destroying Germany Navy Zeppelins L54 and L60 in their sheds.

24 July
The first 1,650 pound 'SN' bomb, the largest bomb to be used by the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) during the First World War, is dropped on Middelkirke by a Handley Page 0/400 of No.214 Squadron.

26 July
Major Edward Mannock VC is shot down and killed by ground fire after shooting down a German LVG at very low altitude near the German front line at Lestrem. Although authors have quoted varying victory totals for this pilot, current research suggests that the LVG was Major Mannock's sixty-first kill.

27 July
A Communications Squadron is formed at Hendon to operate in the VIP transport role.

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Allied air forces mount concerted attacks on enemy airfields, especially those occupied by the German Schlachtstaffeln (Close Air Support Squadrons).

The Royal Air Force (RAF) suffers heavy casualties (approaching 25%) amongst low flying aircraft. There was also intense air-to-air combat with the Royal Air Force losing 150 aircraft in the second week of August and claiming 177 German aircraft shot down.

Fighter sweeps are instituted over the Western Front. These were usually composed of Sopwith Camel squadrons at 10,000 feet, Royal Aircraft Factory SE5 squadrons at 14,000 feet and Bristol Fighter squadrons at 18,000 feet.

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the Russian army that had previously blocked Turkish forces in the south Caucasus collapses and a British force under the command of Major-General L. Dunsterville 'Dunsterforce' is deployed to the Caspian Sea port off Baku to stiffen the remaining White Russian forces in the region.

Headquarters of the Aviation Services Ireland, previously under the Army's Irish Command, is renamed Royal Air Force Ireland and placed under direct Air Ministry control. Later in the same month Royal Air Force Ireland is renamed No.11 (Irish) Group.

2 August
Royal Air Force aircraft help elements of the North Russian Expeditionary Force to occupy the port of Archangel.

5-6 August
German airships raid the United Kingdom for the last time, when five Zeppelins of the German Navy are despatched to attack targets in the Midlands, but the raid is a failure. One airship, Zeppelin L70, captained by Kapitanleutnant Johann von Lossnitzer and carrying the commander of the German Naval Airship Division, Fregattenkapitan Peter Strasser, is attacked by two de Havilland DH4s from Yarmouth. It falls into the sea in flames, 8 miles from Wells-next-the-Sea, killing all of the crew. Subsequently, a de havilland DH4 flown by Major Egbert Cadbury and Captain Robert Leckie is credited with destroying L70. Royal Air Force aircraft also damage a second airship, the L65 and the surviving airships drop their bombs into the sea and return to base.

Victoria Cross

8 August

The opening day of the Battle of Amiens sees the he Royal Air Force and French Air Forces with approximately 1,900 aircraft available and opposed by only 365 German aircraft.

8 August
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Captain A.F.W. Beauchamp-Proctor, a South African of No.84 Squadron, Royal Air Force. His work was described as "almost unsurpassed in its brilliancy, and as such has made an impression on those serving in his squadron and those around him that will not be easily forgotten."

10 August
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Captain F.M.F. West of No.8 Squadron, Royal Air Force, for gallantry displayed during a low-level attack on German troops far over enemy lines north east of Roye in France, with the co-operation of the Tank Corps.

16 August
The first massed low level attack by the Royal Flying Corps on an enemy airfield is carried out, when 65 Royal Aircraft Factory SE5s, Sopwith Camels, Bristol Fighters and de Havilland DH4s attack the German aerodrome at Haubourdin. No British aircraft are lost.

No.5 (Operations) Group (Headquarters, Dover) is removed from South-Eastern Area and granted the status of an independent command. The Group is responsible for units in the Kent and Dunkirk area.

The world's first flush-decked aircraft carrier, HMS Argus, is commissioned into the Royal Navy.

The Royal Air Force contingent in North Russia assists Allied forces in the capture of Obozerskaya.

14 September
British forces in the Southern Caucasus 'Dunsterforce' are forced to abandon the port of Baku to advancing Turkish troops.

21 September
Royal Air Force aeroplanes operating in support of Generally Allenby's campaign in Palestine attack and destroy the retreating Turkish 7th Army at Wadi el Far'a. T.E. Lawrence wrote of this attack :

"It was the RAF which had converted the Turkish retreat into a rout, which had abolished their telephone and telegraph connections, had blocked their lorry columns, scattered their infantry units".

30 September
The German Army's primary defensive line, the Hindenburg Line, is breached by British troops, with the help of substantial air support.

2 October
Aircraft of No.82 and No.218 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force (Armstrong Whitworth FK8s & de Havilland DH9s) are detailed to carry food to French and Belgian troops whose reserves are exhausted. 15,000 rations are dropped in bags of earth to prevent damage.

26 October

The Inter-Allied Independent Air Force (IAF) is created under Supreme Commander Marshal Foch and the Commander in Chief, Major General Sir Hugh Trenchard.

Victoria Cross

27 October
The Victoria Cross is awarded to Major W.G. Barker, a Canadian of No.201 Squadron, Royal Air Force, for destroying four enemy aircraft during a dogfight over Foret de Mormal in France in a Sopwith Snipe (E8102).

30 October
An armistice between the Allies and the Ottoman Empire is concluded aboard HMS Agamemnon at Mudros.

6 November
Lieutenant A.A. McLeod, who had been awarded the Victoria Cross on 27 March, dies of influenza in Canada.

9 November
German Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates and Herr Ebert becomes the new Chancellor of Germany.

11 November

© Imperial War Museum An Armistice is signed with Germany and hostilities end at 1100hrs.

At the time of the Armistice, the Royal Air Force was the largest air force in the world, holding 22,647 aircraft of all types, including 3,300 on first-line strength and 103 airships. These were operated by no fewer than 133 squadrons and 15 flights overseas, on the Western Front and in the Middle East, Italy and the Mediterranean, 55 squadrons at home and 75 training squadrons and depots.

Royal Air Force units operated from 401 aerodromes at home and 274 abroad and had a personnel strength of 27,333 officers and 26,3837 other ranks. Between January and November 1918, nearly 5,500 tons of bombs had been dropped, 2,953 enemy aircraft destroyed and an area of 5,000 square miles photographed. British aircraft manufacturers were producing 3,500 aeroplanes a month.

17 November
Following the conclusion of the armistice, the Caspian Sea port of Baku is reoccupied by British troops to prevent occupation by the Red Army. Subsequently, a Caspian Sea Flotilla comprising captured Russian merchant vessels is formed by the Royal Navy for operations against Communist forces in the area. British Army and Royal Navy operations are supported by No.17 Squadron and No.47 Squadron (de Havilland DH9s and Sopwith Camels) on land and No.266 Squadron (Short 184 seaplanes) deployed on the seaplane carriers HMS Alader Youssanoff and HMS Orlionoch in the Caspian.

27 November
No.29 (Operations) Group (Headquarters, Edinburgh) is formed with command status, to administer units in Scotland under the operational control of the Commander-in-Chief Grand Fleet. The Group includes Royal Air Force personnel aboard the Grand Fleet's aircraft carriers and the ships of the Battle Cruiser Force, together with shore-based supporting units. It is also responsible for No.28 (Operations) Group, which comprises all stations in the Orkneys and the Shetland Isles.

13 December
The first flight between England and India begins, when Royal Air Force Handley Page V/1500 'Old Carthusian', piloted by Major General A.S.C. McLaren, leaves Martlesham Heath. The aircraft arrives in Karachi on 30 December.

13 December
No.86 (Communications) Wing is formed at Hendon to provide rapid transport between London and Paris in connection with the Versailles Peace Conference. This new formation absorbs the existing Communications Squadron, formed in July 1918, which is renamed No.1 Communications Squadron. Additional squadrons are subsequently formed at Buc aerodrome, near Versailles, and briefly at Hounslow.

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