[Interview with New Zealanders K.L. Caldwell, R.B. Bannerman, H.L. Bailey and F.S. Gordon, who flew with the Royal Flying Corps].
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Interviews with Keith Caldwell, Ronald B. Bannerman, H.L. Bailey and Frederick S. Gordon recorded at a 1964 gathering of New Zealanders who flew with the Royal Flying Corps.
Interviewer: And how many young New Zealanders today know that one of the top aces of the Great War was a New Zealander, Air Commodore K.L. Caldwell, affectionately known to his generation as 'Grid' Caldwell. For his exploits in the air during the Great War, he won the DFC and Bar, MC and Croix de Guerre. He was credited with twenty-five certain planes shot down and it was said that he engaged in more fights, for his time in the air, than any other pilot. He commanded No.74 Squadron which was one of the most successful fighter squadrons of World War I. Then there was Air Commodore R.B. Bannerman who had seventeen victories and who also won the DFC and bar and MC [sic – did not win the MC; DFC and bar only]. Both obtained their higher rank during their service with the RNZAF during World War II. Well, here to start is Air Commodore Caldwell talking about the SE5.
K.L. Caldwell: It was a single-seater biplane, with let me see, a Hispano-Suiza, V-8 engine.
Interviewer: Now, what about the capabilities of this, what speed did it work at?
K.L. Caldwell: Very roughly the same as a Dolphin, very similar aeroplane, about a hundred and twenty-eight to a hundred and thirty low down. At 16 or 17, 000 feet, probably what, let me see, about ninety to a hundred I suppose. Vickers gun firing through the prop and Lewis gun on top which wasn't very satisfactory. We'd much rather had two Vickers guns, right?
Interviewer: Now, these two aircraft seemed to have roughly the same sort of capabilities, were they used for basically the same purposes?
K.L. Caldwell: Yes, I think they were. Mainly for offensive patrols, that is to say we went over in formations of five of more with the object of trying to, if possible destroy some of the enemy. Also, we used to drop bombs, small bombs, on infantry at lower altitude, which we didn't like very much, and sometimes escort our own slower aeroplanes on bombing raids and that sort of thing but mainly, ah, offensive patrols, sort of, fighting sort of tactics, at a higher altitude, as high as you could get, roughly eighteen to twenty thousand feet if the aeroplanes were going well.
Interviewer: What type of bombs were these and how were they jettisoned?
K.L. Caldwell: They were Cooper twenty-eight pound bombs - there were four carried. The effect was really nominal - the idea was to let the Huns know, the Germans know, that every time a British aeroplane crossed the German lines that bombs would be dropped somewhere. The effect was that they were kept underground to a certain extent and it did have the effect that when influenza broke out, throughout the German side, that it was more widely spread through this effect of these tactics.
Interviewer: And the Dolphin, Mr. Bannerman.
R.B. Bannerman: The Sopwith Dolphin was a backwards staggered biplane powered by a 220 Hispano engine, V-type water cooled.
Interviewer: And what about the speeds and capabilities of this aircraft?
R.B. Bannerman: Well, the Dolphin was built for high flying, at full flat out speed would be about a 130 miles an hour and it's workable height was 21,000 feet, um, the only trouble with the aircraft was that the engine wasn't very reliable. The Dolphins took the ceiling above the SE5s, the idea of stopping any Huns from getting on top of the SE5s. We in any of the big sweeps, we took the top role always because our performance was better at a higher altitude. We were armed with two Vickers guns and you could put two Lewis guns on the top if you wanted to but we generally stuck to two Vickers guns alone.
Interviewer: Now if in the event of meeting German fighter planes how would you go about approaching them and shooting them down with this type of plane? There must have been certain tactical rules which were made out and observed in a general way?
R.B. Bannerman: Well, we generally operated in formation either a flights - six in a flight or three flights and a squadron, and we took part in general sweeps with other types of aircraft the SE5s below us and the Camels below that - each machine operating at its best height. The general tactics for when you saw Huns, have a go at 'em.
Interviewer: Mr. Bailey, perhaps you first of all begin by describing the Camel to me, what sort of aeroplane was it?
H.L. Bailey: It was a scout, about a hundred, well there were various engines a 130 and 150 horse, and best fighting was under 8,000 feet but we used to go up as high as 19,000 looking for something down below to dive on - go down and scrap down below.
Interviewer: What about the capabilities of this aircraft Mr. Gordon?
F. S. Gordon: Well I thought the capabilities were wonderful capabilities provided you didn't you go above about 10,000 feet for fighting. We carried an armament of four bombs, twenty pound bombs, and two machine guns firing through the propeller.
Interviewer: Why was it not advisable to go above 10,000 feet?
F.S. Gordon: Well we found that the machine was far better below - around about the 10,000 feet although we used to fight them at 18,000 but they were sluggish.
Interviewer: Was this because of the verified atmosphere working on the engine?
F.S. Gordon: I think so yes. When we got the 160 horse engine it was slightly better but we used to like to see the SE5s and Dolphins and things above us. Sometimes we'd be on the, if we were on the offensive, we'd be going low down, all amongst all the artillery fire, down around amongst it, and trying to churn anything up in the back areas very often, just behind a bit, stuff coming up on the roads, stuff like that, and we had the twenty pound Coopers underneath - we'd drop those.
Interviewer: Were you troubled in the strafing very much by artillery and anti-aircraft fire.
F.S. Gordon: No we were too low, far too low. We used to drop our bombs from about fifty feet.
Transcript by Sound Archives/Ngā Taonga Kōrero
Reference number 40102
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Nonfiction radio programs
Caldwell, K. L., 1895-1980, Interviewee
Bannerman, R. B., 1890-1978, Interviewee
Bailey, H. L., Interviewee
Gordon, Frederick Stanley, 1897-1985, Interviewee