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A British Howitzer in action. [AWM A03458]
…Before proceeding to conduct your 'Shoot', you would contact the [British Howitzer] Commander at his Battery Headquarters on the ground, in order that you may discuss details with him beforehand. This sometimes involved a trip several miles away, which you did by tender, and usually in the evening, perhaps even having dinner with him. You are thus able to go over the fullest details with him of the shoot of the next day, arranging time of commencement etc. You very often met some fine fellows this way.
Nigel Love (in fur flying boots) of 3AFC at Bailleul France (behind the Ypres salient) 17 February 1918.
Nigel's Observer on his first operational flight was 1st Lt Banks (at left).
[Nigel Love Collection]
Having taken off the next morning and having arrived over your Battery position, you then proceed to call him up on your transmitter using the Morse key [operated by the pilot while he also flew the aeroplane and observed the fall of shot!] and sending the letters “B.B.B.”, which meant, ‘are you receiving my signals and are you ready to engage target'. I might add that your signal is preceded by your Squadron letter and machine number, in code, so that he may be able to recognise who you are.
He then answered by placing out a [fabric] ground-strip in the form of the letter ’L’. You then come back to him with the signal “A.A.A.9.”, which meant `stand by to engage target No.9'. He then put out the ground-strip ‘K’, which meant that he was now ready to engage the target.
You then proceed with instructions to ‘Fire’ by signalling the letters “G.G.G.” You watch his guns carefully and you observe that he has fired a salvo of all his six guns. Your ‘shoot’ has now commenced.
You then turn towards your target and at the same time you start your stopwatch, which is set up in front of you. The purpose of the stopwatch is to keep tag on the time of flight of the shells in the air, which you have previously obtained from him the night before. Having started your watch, you are then at liberty to look round you and check whether or not there are any unfriendly `Huns' on your tail.
Meantime you are flying towards your target and at the end of the period of ‘time of flight’ you should have your machine in such a position as to be able to accurately observe the shell bursting on the target. In the case of the salvo first fired by your Battery, you observe all his six shells explode and you then proceed to estimate the `M.P.I.' (mean point of impact) which you proceed to convey to your Battery. This is done after you have turned around towards your Battery and on the way back to him.
The "kangaroo and boomerang" emblem on Nigel's RE8 B3420. [Nigel Love Collection]
There are two reasons for this. Firstly he always received stronger signals when flying towards him and secondly, as you are getting closer, your transmitter sends a stronger signal in a forward direction anyhow. Having got back to a point where you are easily able to observe his gun fire, you then give him another “G.G.G.”, and watch carefully for one of his guns to respond.
Then starts a long process of corrections for each of his guns in turn, employing the same flying procedure, and after an hour or so you will notice with interest that each one of his shots is exploding closer to the target. After a further lapse of time his shots are mostly falling on the target itself or in close proximity thereto and you are satisfied then that your 'shoot' had been successful. This may be confirmed by the commencement of one or two fires on the target and you may invariably notice that his ammunition dump will go up in flames, recognised by the deep orange shade in the centre of the fire itself.
A composite photographic image by Australian WW1 Official Photographer
Frank Hurley, depicting the violence of a bursting shell on the Western Front. [AWM E01265B]
The flight during the shoot, which is usually at 6,000 to 8,000 feet, and which normally should take two to three hours to complete, should be conducted at this altitude and within an area that does not encroach on the path of the shells in flight. From memory, the culminating point of an 8" Howitzer shell is something like 12,000 feet and your job is to fly somewhere outside the trajectory zone of the shell in flight, otherwise it may become rather unhealthy for you. - This may sound rather silly, but I have actually seen a shell in flight: one which had left the Battery and because I was in the wrong spot at the time, I saw it go right up and over our machine.
If you should feel "shell bumps" [turbulence from passing shells], it is a warning that you may not be in the right spot and if you are wise you would think seriously about moving. To prove that there is a real danger, it has been recorded that one of our aircraft of No.3 Squadron sustained a direct hit from an 8" shell whilst in flight. The shell apparently was fitted with a ‘106’ fuse and I believe it exploded on impact and the result was complete destruction. From memory, the names of the pilot and observer were Streeter and Tarrant, and it happened near Ypres in Belgium [17th February 1918].
This is an extract from Nigel Love's Illustrated Autobiography, published 2013. For ordering details see our 'Books' page.
Nigel (centre) with two of the Observers who flew missions with him, Max Shelley (left) and Edmond Banks (right). [Nigel Love Collection]
Further biographical information about Nigel Love can be found in his son John's speech summarising Nigel's life and works.
3 Squadron STORIES
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