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Category: Army History/Flying Corps

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1 Squadron AFC
Formed: January 1916
Disbanded: 5 May 1919
Aircraft: BE2, BE12, DH.6, Martinsyde G.100, Martinsyde G.102,Bristol Scout,
Nieuport 17, RE8, Bristol Fighter, Handley Page 0/400
Aces: Ross Macpherson Smith,
Adrian Trevor Cole,
George Clifton Peters,
Edward Patrick Kenney,
Paul Joseph McGinness,
Allan Runciman Brown
Stationed: Point Cook: January - March 1916
Heliopolis: April - December 1916
Mustabig: December 1916 - January 1917
Kilo 143: January 1917- March 1917
Rafa: March - June 1917
Deir-el-Belah: June - September 1917
Wehi Sheikh Nuran: September - December 1917
Julis: December 1917 - February 1918
El Mejdel: February - April 1918
Ramleh: April - October 1918
Haifa: October - November 1918
Ramleh: November 1918 - February 1919
Kantara: February - March 1919
The first complete squadron of the Australian Flying Corps, the squadron was formed at Point Cook in January 1916. It was formed under the command of Lieutenant Colonel E H Reynolds.

After arriving in Egypt in early April the squadron was packed off to England for training when it was noted that there was a serve shortage of experienced personnel in the squadron. The ground staff were to receive further training with various squadrons already operating in the desert.

The squadron spent the war in the Palestine theatre of operations and supported the Light Horse in it's campaigns. One of it's main tasks during this time was long range photo reconnaissance, which involved deep penetrations into enemy territory. The squadron brought back high quality photo's, and due to the fact they were flying Bristol Fighters, were rarely bothered.

They flew a large array of aircraft. These included Maurice Farman , BE2a's , BE2c's , BE2e's , BE12's , RE 8's , Bristol Scouts , Vickers Gunbuses , Bristol Fighters , SE5a's , a Handley Page 0/100 and a captured Albatros which was flown from time to time.

Several notable people served in 1 squadron AFC during the course of the war.
These included:

Lieutenant L J Wackett A founding member of the Australian aircraft industry.
Captain R Smith Won the 1919 England to Australia air race.
Lieutenant H Fysh A founding member of Qantas.
Major R Williams Later the RAAF's first Chief of Air Staff.
Ross Macpherson Smith
Australian Ace
1 Squadron AFC
One member of 1 AFC was Lt F.H McNamara from Rushworth , Victoria. He flew his first sortie in December 1916 with No. 1 Squadron, AFC and on the 20th of March 1917 McNamara was involved in a sortie where he picked up a downed airman despite being wounded and under fire from Turkish Cavalry and flew to his home airbase. McNamara fell unconscious as the plane landed. He received the Victoria Cross for his bravery and gallantry however he was repatriated to Australia after recovering from his wounds. He achieved the rank of Air Vice Marshal in WW2
On October 31 1918 Turkey surrendered and after moving back to Kantara 1 Squadron AFC was finally disbanded on May 5, 1919.

1 Squadron AFC in the Middle East

One February morning in 1918, as a fleet of Turkish launches were ferrying supplies across the Dead Sea, a dull hum sounded on the lake behind them. Alarmed, the crews looked over their shoulders. All they could see was a swirl of spume approaching at a great speed. The Turks stared in terrified disbelief as the object drew level. Fitted with a large propeller in front and mounted on floats, it was a cross between an aeroplane and a boat. Suddenly a Lewis gun at the rear sputtered into action and the sailors dived for cover.

Actually the craft was an Australian Flying Corps Martinsyde scout aeroplane that had been stripped of its wings and tail unit and

With its 160 horse-power Beardsmore engine, far too powerful for its purpose and its single Lewis gun only able to fire over the stern, the converted aero-plane was a grotesque craft which threatened to capsize at the smallest provocation. But it was highly effective in cleaning up the Turkish ferry-boats on the Dead Sea. And Australian airmen of No. 1 Squadron, famous for their ability to extract the last ounce of potential from their obsolescent aircraft, hailed it as their proudest creation.


All that could be spared to the Australians in the way of aircraft were British BEs (Bombing Experimental) which were slow and poorly-armed and no match for the latest German Fokker. Yet under Lieutenant Colonel Richard Williams, from South Australia, 1 Squadron slowly built up the most remarkable group of fliers possessed by either side in the Middle East. The pilots, recruited mostly from the Light Horse, were adventurers who joined the flying corps mainly for the thrill of flinging their primitive machines around the sky.

Without a machine like the Fokker, which could fire forward through the propeller, the squadron had no hope of dealing with German bombers. So Williams discussed the problem with a junior officer, Lieutenant Lawrence Wackett, who came up with his own interrupter gear. But Wackett punched so many holes through propeller blades that his experiment had to be called off before he could perfect his invention. Instead, the flier concentrated on building a special machinegun mount for his own BE, which allowed the weapon to fire over the propeller. With his aeroplane's fire power now doubled, Wackett became the first Australian pilot to hold his own in a dog-fight with a Fokker.

As English and Anzac forces drove the Turks from the Canal Zone and advanced into Palestine, aircraft of 1 Squadron reported and photographed the opposing positions, spotted for the guns during battles and harried the enemy's line of retreat. Month by month the Australians' record of hours flown far exceeded that of any other squadron in the Middle East.

Supply Dropping

Once during the fighting around Gaza a unit of Light Horse was cut off. Fliers of 1 Squadron came to the cavalry's rescue flying ahead to detect a weak spot in the enemy's line, and then guiding the horsemen through it back to safety.

Another time a hard-pressed detachment of Light Horse which was holding a vital forward position during Allenby's advance on Damascus, was forced to exist on reduced iron rations. Providing the cavalry with special amenities was really no part of the Air 2 Corps' job. But former Light Horsemen flying with the squadron persuaded Williams ,h2t their old comrades should not be allowed to go hungry. A desperate SOS to the Australian Comforts Fund brought quantities of tea, sugar, soap and cigarettes. Then the squadron was faced with the problem of getting the supplies to the beleaguered horsemen. After spending a day practising drops with dummy supply boxes, the pilots decided they were ready for the real thing. Individual packets of cigarettes and boxes of matches floated down beneath tiny handkerchief-sized parachutes. The other commodities were packed in short lengths of motor-car inner tubes which cushioned the landing shock so effectively that the Light Horse received all the supplies intact.


The ingenuity of Williams' men was also responsible for solving a more serious problem. As Allenby's forces pushed north beyond Jerusalem, it became obvious that the Turkish 7th Army was heavily dependent on food supplies being ferried north across the Dead Sea. Given the task of destroying the enemy's supply line, pilots of 1 Squadron made low-level bombing and machine-gun attacks on successive convoys. But their slow flying cumbersome machines, almost impossible to manoeuvre when loaded with bombs' gave the Turks plenty of time to zig-zag out of the way.

It was coincidental that just at that stage many of the squadron's ancient aircraft were being replaced by up-to-date Bristol fighters. Williams had a brain-wave.

The old Martinsydes, or Tin Elephants as they were better known, were unwieldy craft in the air. But with their high-powered engines they could give high speed on the ground. Williams ordered that one machine should be stripped down and
converted into a boat. The idea was a spectacular success. Although the Martinsyde's lightning hit-and run raids on Turkish convoys failed to cause serious casualties it may have had an important psychological effect. Apparently demoralised by the spectacle of the strange monster roaring at them over the lake in a blur of salt spray, the Turks suspended the convoys.

Finally, equipped with the latest in aircraft and weapons, the airmen of 1 Squadron set up an amazing record in the last stages of the war by shooting down 17 enemy planes in

flames and forcing another 33 to land in Allied territory. Then, having blasted the enemy 'from the sky, they reduced his aerodromes to rubble heaps in more than 150 bombing raids. Thus not a single German plane was sighted overhead as Allenby's advance columns raced into Damascus.

Peace-time Achievements

The men Williams had forged into the crack air force unit of the Middle East played a decisive role in the defeat of Turkey. But their record of success in war was more than matched by their achievements in peace.

Williams became the RAAF's first air marshal and first Chief of Air Staff. After retiring from the service he served as Director General of Civil Aviation. Lawrence Wackett was the founder of the first experimental air station to be established in Australia and later became chief of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. Two of 1 Squadron's airmen, Paul McGinness and Hudson Fysh, founded QANTAS, while another, Pard Mustar, went to New Guinea to pioneer an air-freighting technique which, at one stage, was responsible for the island having more goods freighted by air than the rest of the world put together. Finally Captain Ross MacPherson Smith, one of Williams' greatest fighting pilots, in December 1919 became the first to fly from England to Australia.

Aircraft of the No. 1 Squadron reported and photographed the enemy's positions in the Middle East. For many months, the Australians' record of hours flown for exceeded that of any other squadron in the war zone.

A VC to the AFC.     F H McNamara

21.3.1917 0900 Martinsyde-7486, Passengers-Nil, Time-2hrs.

Two BE2e's (Rutherford and Drummond), two Martinsydes (Les Ellis and self). We each took six 4.5 Howitzer shells (35lbs) to bomb a section of railway just across WADI HESSE. Shells had delay action of 40 seconds. Ellis started bombing railway and when a Hun appeared turned his attention to it. I followed him dropping 3 on train and 2 on railway. No.5 exploded prematurely wounding me in the right buttock. Planes ripped about but engine unhurt. Dropped two smoke bombs for other machines and started off home. Looked again at railway curve and saw Rutherford (2c) on ground with the smoke bomb out. Lots of smoke about. Turkish cavalry approaching 2c near railway. Switched off, landed and taxied up to Rutherford. Latter trying to burn his machine at fuselage. Yelled him to hurry. He ran up and climbed on to engine cowl in between centre bay. Opened up, turned around and started to take off. Right leg pretty dud. Machine doing about 35 mph on ground when started swinging to left. Could not counter with right foot. Swung around crashing prop, lower left plane and undercarriage. Got out fired bullet into petrol tank followed with Very Light. Rifle fire from the Turks. Started to Rutherfords BE which was not on fire yet. In landing he had ripped off a tyre, broken centre section wires, cracked an ilereron, dropped a lewis drum under rudder bar. Just now the remaining 35lb shell exploded! Blowing Martinsyde to pieces. Leg pretty dud and bullets whizzing about. Reached Rutherfords machine. Sat in pilots seat, enticed stuff from under rudder bar. Rutherford gave prop a swing 'Contact' and she started. He jumped into observers seat. Turned machine around to take off. Opened up throttle. She stuck 3 times on soft ground, then lifted off ground. Just in time to escape rush. Nearly fainted on way back. Put wind up Rutherford. Took about 1hr 20min to reach 143. Landed alright - 3 bombs still on rack. Evacuated on Hospital train 7.15 pm."

1 Squadron AFC

Following an invitation from Britain to the dominions to form complete flying squadrons for service with the British forces, the first squadron of the Australian Flying Corps (AFC) was formed at Point Cook in Victoria in January 1916. It sailed from Melbourne on 16 March, and arrived in Egypt on 14 April. The squadron’s less experienced pilots were sent to the United Kingdom for further training, while other personnel were attached to the Royal Flying Corps to further hone their skills. Upon joining the British forces in Egypt the squadron became known as 67 (Australian) Squadron, Royal Flying Corps (RFC), and would not revert to its original name until 19 January 1918.

The squadron began flying operations in its own right on 12 June 1916, although its three flights operated independently from dispersed airfields. Initially the squadron’s main role was aerial reconnaissance and its aircraft operated both out across the Sinai desert in search of Turkish forces, and across Egypt’s western desert to monitor activity by the rebellious Senussi. Increasingly, though, its aircraft were involved in attacks against Turkish ground forces.

After being reunited in December 1916, the squadron supported the British and dominion advance into Palestine. It became a “jack of all trades” carrying out reconnaissance, photography, ground attack and liaison missions, in addition to having to fight off aggressive German adversaries. For his actions following an attack on the railway line at Tel el Hesi, near Gaza, on 20 March 1917, Lieutenant Frank MacNamara was awarded the Victoria Cross. During the raid one of McNamara’s comrades was forced down and, despite being wounded himself, McNamara landed to rescue him from beneath the guns of a Turkish cavalry unit.

With the arrival of new aircraft in the second half of 1917, the British and dominion air forces were able to gradually wrest control of the air from the German squadrons. This allowed them to range over Turkish territory with virtual impunity and airpower contributed greatly to the success of British and dominion operations in 1918, particularly the last great offensive of the campaign, launched with the Battle of Megiddo on 19 September 1918. The Turkish forces surrendered on 31 October. Addressing the squadron after the Armistice, General Sir Edmund Allenby, the British Commander-in-Chief, congratulated it for its role in the victory:

This squadron played an important part in making this achievement possible. You gained for us absolute supremacy of the air, thereby enabling my cavalry, artillery and infantry to carry out their work on the ground practically unmolested by hostile aircraft. This undoubtedly was a factor of paramount importance in the success of our arms here.

1 Squadron returned to Egypt in February 1919, embarked for home on 5 March, and was disbanded upon its arrival in Australia. Text from AWM

  • 10 dead, 5 wounded
  • Decorations
    • 1 VC
    • 1 DSO
    • 1 OBE
    • 18 MC
    • 20 DFC
    • 2 MM
    • 9 MSM
    • 3 AF MSM
    • 39 MID
    • 2 foreign awards

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