Archive for June 2017

On This Day in 1916 - A Narrow Escape

Category: On This Day...

Early aviation during the First World War was a hairy business. Harvey's grandad, Cyril Ellen, was involved in two recorded incidents whilst serving with the R.N.A.S. (Royal Naval Air Service) onboard HMS Riviera. Riviera saw service with the Dover Patrol where her aircraft flew spotting missions for naval bombardments off the Belgian coast. Both times Cyril was in a Short Admiralty 184 Type Tractor Biplane Seaplane, often called the Short 225, which was a British two-seat reconnaissance, bombing and torpedo carrying folding-wing seaplane. A Short 184 was the first aircraft to sink a ship using a torpedo.

The first incident was perhaps indicative of the difficulties which often occurred when hoisting seaplanes out of the water. Recorded in a book entitled 'Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units, 1911-1919' by Ray Sturtivant and Gordon Page as follows...

8384: Damaged while coming alongside after patrol 31.5.16 (F/L GW Price & CPO Mech3 Ellen).

The repair must have been relatively straightforward as the seaplane was flying again on 3rd June.

Possibly a photograph of the damaged seaplane reported in the incident of 31st May 1916
Possibly a photograph of the damaged seaplane reported in the incident of 31st May 1916

The second incident took place on 18th June 1916 and was potentially more serious...

8357: Engine cut, FL in German minefield 8m N of Ostende, put fire out, attacked by 3 enemy seaplanes which were driven off by Lewis gun fire, towed home by ML105 18.6.16 (F/L GW Price & CPO Mech3 Ellen).

ML105, the vessel which gave the crew a tow, was a Motor Launch of the Fairmile A class.

The action was cited by HMS Riviera's Commanding Officer in a letter written to the Vice Admiral, Dover Patrols, dated 29th July 1916 when he stated that Cyril had "assisted to beat off attacks of enemy seaplanes" and the event also received attention in a newspaper at the time...

Cyril Ellen kept this newspaper cutting of the incident on 18th June 1916
Cyril Ellen kept this newspaper cutting of the incident on 18th June 1916

June 18 - A seaplane was forced to descend, owing to the engine catching fire, into the middle of an enemy mine-field. A hostile aeroplane and two seaplanes attacked it with machine guns, but the enemy was driven off by our fire. Our seaplane was uninjured, and drifted on the tide towards Nieuport, where the crew were safely rescued.

Cyril's ordeal lasted for several hours. Riviera's ship's log recorded how the seaplane was airborne at 3.32pm and did not arrive alongside until 10.15pm. Both pilot and observer must have been exhausted.

Were your ancestors in any close scrapes? Please share your stories.

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