Ossett Pictures - 1918 air crash near Wesley Street

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Air crash WW1 in Gedham Field, Ossett

On the 19th November 1918, just a few days after the end of WW1, a Royal Air Force biplane N-6931, a Sopwith T.1 Cuckoo en route from Doncaster to Newcastle upon Tyne crashed in a field near Wesley Street, Ossett, after getting lost in thick fog. Apparently, on the way down the biplane missed hitting the spire at Ossett Holy Trinity Church (which can be seen in the background) by about a yard (one metre). My thanks to Don Carroll, Shikoku Gakuin University, Japan for identifying the biplane from the distinctive rudder shape and curved tail skid.

One of the wings has been torn off as a result of the impact and can be seen parked on the fence a few feet from the rest of the biplane. Luckily, the pilot a Flight Lieutenant H.L. Taylor was unhurt and escaped with a few cuts and bruises. Introduced during the later months of 1918, the Sopwith T.1 Cuckoo was a torpedo bomber, designed to operate from aircraft carriers and had hinged wings, which folded back for storage. The T.1 could take off from a carrier deck in four seconds, but it was not capable of making a carrier landing and no arresting gear was fitted.

H.L. Taylor, Pilot

Above: Flight Lieutenant H.L. Taylor at the scene of the crash. This rare photograph is courtesy of John Dales and Anne-Marie Fawcett.

Taylor was clearly a very lucky man and a few months earlier, on the 10th April 1918, he was shot down over Bois de Gentelles near Amiens by German flying ace Lieutenant Walter Göttsche. Lieutenant H.L. Taylor was on active service in France, flying the ill-fated RE.8 reconnaissance aircraft with 52 Squadron. However, during the aerial dogfight, Göttsche's Fokker DR.1 triplane was shot down by accurate return fire from the Lewis gun of Taylor's observer, Lieutenant W.I.E. Lane.

Walter GottscheLeft: Lieutenant Walter Göttsche.

Göttsche, who was the leader of Jasta 19 squadron, had attacked Taylor's RE.8 biplane (BE6641) close to Amiens with high hopes of making it his 20th "kill". The RE.8 (nicknamed the "Harry Tate" after a successful music hall comedian of the time) was no match for the Fokker DR.1 triplane, also favoured by the famous German ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen (who incidentally also died after being shot down over Amiens just 11 days after Göttsche's demise).

Taylor's RE.8 had started to descend towards the ground rapidly after being hit in several successful attacks by Göttsche who was flying his distinctive Fokker DR.1 triplane with a white swastika on the fuselage and the upper surface of the top wing painted white. In an attempt to finish off the British biplane, Göttsche also descended in pursuit, but was hit by the retaliatory fire from Lt. Lane's Lewis gun and possibly by ground fire from Allied army troops. The German triplane crashed into the ground behind the Allied lines and Göttsche was killed on impact. His triplane was damaged but not destroyed and was captured by the British and used as aircraft number 163G.

Taylor and Lane meanwhile managed a hard, emergency landing in the RE.8 and they survived. The Germans claimed Göttsche's final air battle as his 20th "kill", but since he himself was shot down and killed, and the RE.8 flown by Taylor was damaged but not destroyed, it is a fine distinction. Walter Göttsche was born on the 10th June 1896 at Altona, near Hamburg and was 21 years of age when he died. He had started the war as a soldier in the trenches, but had managed to persuade his superior officers of his suitability as an airman. In the event, his desire to kill off a weaker opponent cost him his life. It is hard to feel sorry for him.

Gottsche's DR1 Triplane

Above: The Fokker DR1 Triplane 419/17 like the one flown by German ace Lieutenant Walter Göttsche with the distinctive swastika emblem.

No 52 Squadron was formed at Hounslow on 15 May 1916 as a Corps reconnaissance squadron. It was equipped with various versions of the BE2 until October 1916 when it re-equipped with the RE.8 and moved to the Western Front in November. However, in February 1917, the squadron transferred its RE.8s to No 34 Squadron and reverted to BE.2s. Three months later it received RE.8s again and these were operated until the end of the war in the usual range of Corps duties. 52 Squadron suffered something like 121 combat-related casualties.


Above: The RE.8 reconnaissance aircraft like the one flown by Flight Lt. H.L. Taylor, which shot down German ace Lieutenant Walter Göttsche in April 1918 .

A stately and stable observation and photo-reconnaissance platform, the RAF RE.8 was designed to replace the slow and vulnerable BE.2 with an aircraft of superior performance and armament. The actual improvements were marginal, but at least the observer was now located in the seat with a view. The RE.8 seldom achieved anything like its stated top speed. The difference between the actual combat speed and the stalling speed was only about 20mph. Manoeuvres had to be made carefully so as not to fall into a deadly spin. The high stalling speed also made landings difficult and dangerous. The armament was useless for either offence or defence and consequently, RE.8s fell in great numbers to German fighters. Manfred von Richthofen, the 'Red Baron', shot down seven of them, but didn't regard them as much sport. The vulnerability of the RE.8 meant that single reconnaissance machines needed a strong fighter escort, which diverted the fighter squadrons from their primary mission of seeking and destroying the enemy.