Member # 445
posted 04-13-2000 11:56 PM
I was sitting in the library the other day thumbing through Walter Musciano's fine book-"Warbirds of the Sea" and found what he thought was the first fighter intercept mission ever to be launched from a carrier "floating platform". It was the summer of 1918 and the British were getting tired of having those Zepplins hanging around at high altitude spying on their fleet. An officer named Charles R. Samsom decided to attempt to launch a Sopwith Camel 2F.1 from a barge towed behind a destroyer. The Camels wheels were replaced with wooden skids. The destroyer went to 30 knots and with the Bentley rotary engine turning at maximum the Camel was turned loose only to slip off to one side with Samson narrowly escaping injury as the barge ran over part of the poor Camel. Samson and his advisors reconsidered their plan and selected a younger and very proficient pilot named Stuart D. Culley for the next test.
Cully insisted on leaving the wheels on his 2F.1. The destroyer made 30 knots again towing the barge with the Sopwith, pilot and crew holding the little plane secure until Culley gave the signal. The 2F.1 rolled 5 feet! and was airborne lifting off nicely. Culley flew back to the mainland and landed. Now the Brits knew they could take off at sea. Landing was a different story. They resigned themselves to ditching their AC. On August 11, 1918 part of the British fleet was given orders to attack the Dutch coast, so Culley and his trusty Sopwith, which had been fitted with two Lewis guns mounted atop the the top wing in place of the cowl guns(to lessen the chances of setting the 2F.1 on fire), went to sea being towed behind the HMS Redoubt. As the battle group approached the Dutch coast Brit torpedo boats were sent ahead to intercept German vessles. All the torpedo boats were disabled by land based German AC leaving the British to rethink their battle plan which was not getting off to good start. Then Zepplin L53 commanded by Kapitan Proell made its appearence at about 10,000ft. Culley climbed into the cockpit of his trusty camel started the engine and took off at low speed nearly colliding with the mast of the towing destroyer. He climbed steadily to 15,000ft and the camel's engine began to run rougher but he kept up his pursuit but the Zepplin kept climbing. Culley was having doubts about catching the giant airship when the German captain made his last error of the war. He turned the Zepplin back towards the Dutch coast allowing Culley to close to about 100 yards at which time he pulled the nose of the 2F.1 up, pointing at the belly of the L53 and fired-one Lewis gun jammed but the other fired all of its 97 incendiary rounds--the camel stalled and went into a spin, dropping about 2000 feet before Culley could regain control. He look above and saw the big airship sailing along as if nothing had happened. The determined Culley cleared the other gun and decided to try another pass but just as he turned back toward the L53, orange flames from the hydrogen filled cells on the Zepplin broke out and in seconds it became a ball of fire. One German crewman bailed out but the rest perished. Culley was then confronted with finding his ships and flew around in a spotty overcast until nearly out of fuel when at last he spotted the Brititsh force. He brought his camel down and made a perfect water landing so that he and his plane both survived. There was only a pint of fuel left. The comander, Commodore Tyrwhitt was so impressed with Culley's heroic performance that he ordered the young flyer to stand on top of the HMS Redoudts main gun turret while the rest of the fleet passed in review with all hands on deck to salute him. Better than Luke Skywalker! From that point on the British considered air sea operations a possibility and you guessed it- the first SEA-CAMEL squadron was formed. The same 2F.1 that Culley piloted on that memorable August morning can still be seen in the British air museum. Now that's what I call history!
Posts: 158 | From: USA | Registered: Sep 1999 | IP: Logged