Lt J G H Chrispin DFC RFC
A Letter from the Past
This letter, written by former Lt J G H Chrispin DFC RFC, was taken from the booklet published by 103 Sq in 1970 on the occasion of the presentation to the Squadron of its own Queen’s Colour. At that time the unit was based at Changi, Singapore.
It is a very interesting letter from a WW1 veteran and worth repeating.
I am probably one of the few surviving members of 103 Sq of 1918 having joined in April that year when the Squadron was being formed at Old Sarum. We flew on the 9th May 1918 to Serney near St Omer by which time I had 68 hours solo, only 10 of which were on service types. We were equipped with DH 9 aircraft at this time.
The DH 9 was capable of 105 mph and armed with 1 Vickers machine gun and 1 Lewis gun and carried 2 bombs of 112 lbs although we sometimes carried 1 of 230 lbs or 8 x 25 lbs. Our ceiling was 17,000 feet, with no parachutes or oxygen. Our observers often got frostbite in their faces as there was not even a windscreen to use.
Our first bombing raid was on a canal at Don. Most of our raids (dawn and or dusk) and photo reconnaissance took place in the Douai, Lille area though several times we went down to the River Somme area.
All our attacks were in daylight. We had to circle for 1 and a half hours to climb to 13,000 feet before crossing enemy lines. By October we were crossing the lines at 1,200 feet strafing enemy transport and aerodromes as, by then, the opposition was very weak.
As OC A Flight it happened to be my turn to lead when 58 planes of 80 Wing attacked Chapelles-a-Wattines aerodrome from 1,000 feet and wrecked everything. This was the largest raid in which 103 Sq had been involved.
On the 21st October 1918 we moved to Flourgham, a few miles south of Sterney and, on the 25th to Ronchin on the outskirts of Lille till Armistice Day.
From May 1918 to Nov. 1918 our casualties were 88 with a full strength of 18 pilots and 18 observers. The original Squadron CO was Major Fuller, who first flew to France with 2 Squadron in the British Expeditionary Force in 1914.
He was later succeeded by Major M H B Nethersole later Sir Michael, DSO Star of India and Governor of an Indian province.
We stayed at Ronchin till January 1919 before moving to Maisoncelle. From here we began flying bags of mail to Mouville in the Ardennes for the Army of Occupation.
On the 19th March 1919 103 Sq was disbanded by which time I had flown 381 hours solo and completed 66 bombing missions in a total of 85 operations across German lines.
I was then transferred to 110 Sq flying DH 9A aircraft. I am now 71 years old and send my best wishes to the present members of 103 Sq which, in 1918, was considered one of the best.
Signed J G H Chrispin DFC 1970
Note. Mr Chrispin was invited to the ceremony at Singapore and I believe he attended.
There several very interesting points in this letter.
1/ The rate of climb of the DH 9 - 90 mins to 13,000 feet. Pretty poor even for 1918. The machine was fitted with the unreliable water cooled 230 hp Puma engine and hopelessly underpowered. Field modifications to carburettor air intake pipes and fuel mixture controls improved things somewhat. Also changes in tactics. However pilots at the time comment that, once the offensive load had been dropped and the fuel load diminished, the DH 9 was a good fighting platform and could tight turn a Fokker D.VII into a full power stall and also be looped quite well and tightly. 103 Sq claimed 16 German aircraft shot down during their time on the Western Front
2/ 88 casualties in 6 months fighting in 2 seaters seems a lot. I am not at all sure about that number as I cannot find anything like 88 on the CWGR or DH9 File by Sturtivant and Page or The Sky Their Battlefield by Henshaw. The two books are particularly good reference sources.
3/ Lt Chrispin flew across enemy lines 85 times in 6 months.
Lieutenant Joel Gordon Hirst Chrispin DFC. - DFC Citation.
"This officer has carried out over eighty bombing raids far into enemy country and has shown most consistent determination and gallantry, notably on 4th November, when, leading a formation of some sixty machines to bomb an enemy aerodrome, he encountered a large number of enemy aircraft.
His progress was also seriously interfered with by many thick clouds. Undeterred by these difficulties, he never wavered, but led the whole raiding party straight to the objective, and descending to the low altitude of 1,000 feet, inflicted very serious damage on the aerodrome”. Gaz 19th Dec 1918.
Lt Joel Chrispin and 2nd Lt Butters - Log Books
Some years ago I acquired copies of the log book of Joel Chrispin and operational notes written by an Observer, 2Lt Butters. These add much background information to the 103 Sq WW1 period.
Chrispin flew with 103 Sq from May 1918 to Armistice Day. During this time he completed 85 operations - 65 bombing, 18 reconnaissance and 2 photo reconnaissance. He notes a number of lively combats, plenty of “Archie” and did sustain some damage. However these had no crash landings and not one early return.
Chrispin has logged only 3 forced landings during his entire period with 103 Sq.
One in the UK which just happened to be in a field next to his aunt’s farm near Wantage. The other two were weather related on the France/Germany postal run in 1919.
Chrispin's training interested me. He was at Old Sarum at 26 Flight Training Squadron in Oct 1917. He had one 25 minute flight and then nothing for 10 weeks. I presume that was a period of classroom work. He starts flying in Dec in DH6 trainers and goes solo after 7 hours 50 mins. He does more solo and dual and converts to the Be2 and RE8 and finally DH9s. By the time he got to France and was due to fly his first op he had 85 hours solo which is pretty good for that time.
The influence of the distinguished Robert Smith-Barry is evident here. It was S-B who reorganised and standardised the whole RAF pilot training programme in 1916/17 and set the standards for flight training for years to come in the RAF and all other air forces round the world for that matter. A great legacy from an exceptional airman and innovator.
2Lt Butters, who flew with other pilots, records much the same in his notes. He flew 53 operations with two early returns, both due to engine trouble. Also one collapsed undercarriage on return from a sortie. Aircraft repaired.
Written by David Fell