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objective, a road dissecting the village
Joe Murray and his men struggled
to re-group for another push. The
Germans sniped, fired shells, raked
the heart of Gavrelle with machine-
gun fire.
Murray noticed a sub-lieutenant
huddling in the ruins: “his uniform was
in shreds and a piece of barbed wire
was entangled around what was left
of one of his legs, his face bespattered
with grime and brick dust – deep
red in colour – partially obscured a
sinister grin.”
A couple of miles southeast of
Gavrelle a German officer in 86
Fusilier Regiment cowered under
a barrage of smoke and gas shells.
Then there was the distinctive rumble,
clanking, chinking of caterpillar tracks
laboriously making their way across
the battlefield, followed by “dense
rows of khaki”.
Nothing could stop the tanks. They
disappeared into huge craters then
lumbered out of them again. They
trampled on barbed wire, rode over
trenches. Four German machine-guns
were trained on these steel beasts.
“Sparks danced along the sides of
the tanks, but the shots themselves
seemed to have no effect,” the German
officer lamented. But the men in khaki
stopped. They waited for their tanks to
sweep the enemy from the field. One
tank drove along the edge of a trench,
its machine-guns pointing down into
the ditch.
“We were completely powerless
against this new method of fighting
– the rest of the troops in the front line
were pinned down in their trenches,”
the Fusilier officer recorded. “Now
the enemy infantry advanced, overran
the trenches and took their garrisons
prisoner. Only a few men succeeded
in escaping, leaping from crater to
The final objective of the Royal
Naval Division that fateful Monday
● A brief but glorious chapter in the history of Naval aviation... Sopwith Triplanes of ‘Naval One’, No.1 Squadron Royal Naval Air Service, lined
up at an airfi eld in France in 1917
lay beyond Gavrelle. As the British
Picture: Fleet Air Arm Museum barrage smashed its way through
the village, the Hoods, their khaki
Richthofen. The month had begun “They may appear cowardly,” he
his advancement in the Royal Naval uniforms turned a brick red by the
with the Red Baron on 31 victories in told his men, “but the man who gets Division to ability and bravery, not dust, coughed and spat their way
the air. By dusk on Easter Sunday the most Huns in his lifetime is the man patronage, however. eastwards.
tally had risen to 39. who observes these commandments
He was a born leader on the Joe Murray approached the
Leutnant Erwin Böhme, a friend and fights with his head.” battlefield – “the bravest man I ever mayor’s house – in reality a German
of Richthofen and a fellow ace, was The commandments were simple –
knew,” Bernard Freyberg declared. strongpoint. Out of the corner of his
impressed not merely by the newly do not break formation, do not attack Asquith had no love of “office work” eye, the leading seaman noticed the
promoted Rittmeister – cavalry captain a superior foe, do not attack from too
After a fortnight’s lull, the British
as he called it. He was a fighting barrel of a rifle twitching among the
– but by his entire squadron. great a distance, watch your tail, do
Army began stoking the fires of the
officer, an officer who led from the ruins.
“He has gathered around him really not go to sleep in the air.
Battle of Arras once more. The Royal
front, not the rear. “There can be no Murray turned and fired, but it
good people who would walk through Adhering to these commandments,
Naval Division began moving up to
question that my sphere of greatest was too late. He was struck in the left
fire for him,” he wrote home. Edward Crundall earned his first
the front line in mid-April. The mood
usefulness – and enjoyment – is in wrist, paralysing the arm.
“It’s astonishing the heights to victories, his first ‘kills’, on Saturday
of the men was miserable. The heavy
the battalion where I am known to He immediately sought shelter
which he has brought his staffel in April 14.
spring snow showers turned the roads
and know everyone,” he fumed. The and slid into a half-wrecked cellar
such a short time.” Far behind the German lines he
behind the front into a morass. The
battalion he longed to return to was occupied by the German who had
In the first eight days of April 1917, spied two enemy aircraft. “I was a bit
men were struck down with flu, colds,
the Hood. shot him.
Jasta 11 downed 25 Allied aircraft. scared because I was a straggler all on
At midday on the twentieth a “He was still clutching his rifle
my own and those ominous-looking
Clerk Thomas MacMillan, attached
messenger handed him a note: Freyberg but half his head was blown away,”
aeroplanes blocked my way to safety,”
to the headquarters staff of 189th
had been promoted. The Hoods were Murray recalled.
he wrote in his diary.
Brigade, settled into his new billet, a
leaderless. Arthur Asquith asked to “I had long since got over the
With his Triplane’s engine running
lice and rodent-infested dugout near
take charge of them. His request was embarrassment of having a corpse
badly, Crundall had a choice: to allow
a railway cutting near the village of
granted. for a companion – it happens all the
himself to be brought down and taken
Gavrelle, just east of Arras.
prisoner or “to go and have a look and
“Gavrelle had to be captured and the
After dark on Sunday April 22, the “The continuous banging and
sell my life as dearly as possible”.
general wisely decided that Freyberg
Hoods were treated to a hot meal. An crashing of the shells with the
Despite his misgivings about Robert
He took the latter course, closed to
and his Hoods were the right men for
hour before midnight they began to resultant showers of debris obliterates
Nivelle’s grand plan, intelligence
within about 100 yards of the aircraft.
the job,” the rating recalled.
move up to the line. Tots were issued any sentimental thoughts. I had but
officer John Charteris believed the
At that range, the large black Iron Cross
“Where Freyberg went the Hoods
to the men, who waited in their jump- one desire, one aim: to survive.”
battle of Arras would succeed.
on the fuselage was unmissable.
would go – and they would take some
off trench in the middle of No Man’s Survive Joe Murray did. Before
“No attack that we have yet made,
So too, though, was Crundall’s
Land. the week was out he was back in
not even the Somme, has been as fully
aircraft. The rear gunner on the
But Freyberg wouldn’t go. On the
They stared across the flat terrain Blighty, being treated for his wound
and as carefully prepared,” he wrote.
Albatros opened fire.
eve of battle he was promoted and towards the German lines.
in Bristol.
“We are again on the eve of battle.
“This made me furious,” he
given command of an Army brigade. Ideal tank country, thought Joe
Although it is only to help the French,
recalled. “I literally saw red and dived
In his final order of the day to his Murray. Ideal machine-gun country, By late morning it was clear to Arthur
it is a big thing.”
on the tail of the nearest, firing my gun
men he proclaimed with pride. “We he thought too. Asquith that there was no hope of
wrote in his diary. “As each shell burst The ‘big thing’ began spectacularly
all the time. I got closer and closer to
have proved to others our value as a In this makeshift trench, the sailor- clearing out Gavrelle until at least
there was a ‘woof’ like a dog giving a on Easter Monday 1917 – April 9
his tail until I was almost touching
fighting unit.” soldiers felt particularly vulnerable. nightfall. The British Army had asked
deep-noted bark.” – with the capture of Vimy Ridge,
it, and I could see the pilot’s and
Shells frequently hurtled over their too much of his men. Nine days in
The fighter sweeps continued imposing high ground between Arras
observer’s heads and every detail of
Before Gavrelle, Joe Murray and his heads, some bound for the British the line before the battle had been
on the seventh. A British gunnery and Lens, by Canadian troops.
the machine.”
comrades were charged with digging lines, some for the German. too long. They were “dog-tired and
officer marvelled as a solitary Sopwith “DH [Douglas Haig] is enormously
The Albatros turned over and began
a jump-off trench in the middle of There was no shelter, no protection apathetic,” he warned his superiors.
Triplane of Naval Eight engaged 11 pleased – I’ve never seen him so
to plummet earthwards.
No Man’s Land, well forward of the against these projectiles should they They craved food and water, but none
German scouts. stirred by success before,” a delighted
“I was thrilled and started to relax,
British front line. land amid the Steadies. came. The medics and stretcher bearers
“He completely outclassed the Charteris wrote.
but only for a moment, because I was
For three nights the digging party “If the enemy had had any inkling were overburdened. The Boche were
whole patrol, diving through them And there the offensive faltered.
attacked from behind by the other
moved silently out into the wasteland. of what was in store for them, then massing for a counter-attack.
and climbing above them,” the officer The Germans brought up their reserves
enemy machine,” Crundall continued
During one such patrol Murray every shell burst would have reaped a The Germans came on in the
wrote. The new triplane had the and two days after the singular success
in his diary.
became separated from his fellow rich harvest,” wrote Murray. afternoon. They came on in the
measure of its foe. of Vimy Ridge, the battle for Arras
“Again I saw red and was just
sailors. Now he was alone in No same old way and were dispatched
Booker and Crundall were airborne ground to a halt. It would take nearly
as furious as on the first occasion.
Man’s Land.
in the same old way: by machine-
again. With a waggle of his wings, a fortnight for the British Army to re-
I swung round, got on his tail, and
“I felt that the eyes of the world gun and shell. They responded by
Booker signalled he had spotted group for a renewed effort.
opened fire at the same close range.”
were upon me, half of them notably shelling Gavrelle continuously. By
an enemy aircraft. Yet again cloud
The Albatros peeled off and
hostile and the other half at least very
late afternoon the Hoods had reached
thwarted their efforts to trap sluggish There was no such lull for the knights smashed into the ground, bursting
suspicious.” the limit of endurance. Arthur Asquith
German two-seater biplanes over of the skies. Naval Three, Naval Six into flames.
He somehow found his way back to THE HELL OF GAVRELLE sent a brief note back to the British
Arras. and Naval Eight were all in constant Crundall turned for home. His
the partially-dug trench his comrades
lines: Position is rotten. We shall do
Crundall enjoyed flying with action. Triplane was subjected to ferocious
had been excavating.
At 4.45am on Monday April 23 – St
our best but I feel very tired.
Booker and Booker enjoyed flying The first patrols would take off anti-aircraft fire and ‘flaming onions’
The men lay there till dawn then
George’s Day and Arthur Asquith’s
with Crundall. “He says he hopes the before dawn, rising over Arras “a – 37mm incendiaries fired by German
began to slink back to the British
34th birthday – whistles sounded
war will go on for ever because he dark mass” and the “silvery twisting ‘revolving cannons’.
lines, moving in leaps and bounds as
along the line and as the British
loves air fighting,” Edward Crundall thread” of the River Scarpe. Very When he finally set down at Naval
shrapnel shells began pummelling the
howitzers barked, raining death and
recalled. “If the war were to end he is lights and star shells betrayed the Eight’s aerodrome his aircraft was
landscape. “Queer stuff this shrapnel,”
destruction on the German lines, the
afraid he might not be able to find a position of the front line. “almost falling to pieces and quite
Murray observed. “If you are in the
Hoods clambered out of their jump-off
suitable job.” The pilots sat in open cockpits, unsafe to fly”. He reported his kills to
open, you run like hell. If you have the
trench and stormed eastwards towards
As he wished, the war would not exposed to the elements. Fur could the squadron commander and wrote
shelter of a trench, shallow or deep,
As the Hoods battered their way
end for Charles Dawson Booker. keep the cold at bay. It lined everything his combat report. you are too damned scared to move.” Within maybe ten minutes, they had
into Gavrelle, Flt S/Lt John Joseph
After 29 victories, with the the pilot wore: his helmet, his boots, That afternoon Geoffrey Bromet seized the foremost German trench.
‘Jack’ Malone was living up to his
Distinguished Flying Cross and his flying suit, even his goggles. Silk summoned him to his office. Lt Cdr Arthur Melland Asquith was The barrage crept eastwards. The
reputation as “the best damn pilot in
Croix de Guerre to his name, inner gloves and an outer leather The squadron commander told kicking his heels. Hoods tried to keep up with it – and
the RNAS”.
Booker was shot down gauntlet kept hands warm. Any bare Crundall he was “convinced I had Marooned in the headquarters of with each other. But in the fury of battle
No man in naval aviation exacted
over the Western Front skin was coated with whale oil to shot down both enemy aircraft”. One Third Army in St Pol, far behind the it was impossible. They stumbled over
such a toll of the enemy in such a
in August 1918. prevent frostbite. had been seen to crash into the ground Arras front, the 33-year-old despised the ruins of Gavrelle, half-blinded
short space of time as this 22-year-old
Once airborne the men followed ten and explode by an observer in a kite the task assigned to him: staff officer. by brick dust. They ducked to avoid
Bloody April was basic rules – ‘The Ten Commandments’ balloon; the other was seen to crash Arthur was the son of Herbert timbers hurled through the air, crawled
Malone’s reign with Naval Three
proving to be bloodily – of aerial warfare, laid down by Naval by a fellow British aviator. Edward Asquith, until December 1916 to avoid snipers or bursts of machine-
fruitful for Manfred von Eight’s Flt Cdr Colin MacKenzie. Crundall had his first confirmed kills. Britain’s Prime Minister. He owed gun fire until they reached their second Continued on page 28marina
Bloody April.indd 3 14/3/07 15:52:14
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