No 80 Squadron RFC cont'd
The first patrol was attempted on 9 February but was abandoned after only a short time in the air. Unfortunately Lt. Preeston suffered engine failure and a forced landing in a field of soft grass where his aircraft flipped over - he crawled away with cuts and bruises and the aircraft was written off.
The next patrol was not attempted until the weather cleared on 16 February. They were attacked by Jagdstaffel 30 and Lt. Potter was badly wounded. Another patrol on 19 February was attacked by the same German squadron and Lt.s Pinder and Westmoreland were killed in action. Lt. Brown was killed in action on 21 February.
As part of general redeployment of forces in anticipation of a German offensive, 80 Squadron was moved with the rest of Ninth (HQ) Wing RFC to the Fifth Army on the Somme to an airfield at Champien. The move was made on 2 March and the airfield was shared with 73 and 79 Sqns.
There was no flying for the first week because of poor weather. The ground attack role was suspended in order to provide fighter support against German reconnaissance missions.
On 8 March Capt. Taylor and 2nd Lt. Chadwick each shot down an enemy aircraft. Two days later Capt. Taylor shot down two Albatross DV's and Lt. Gardiner brought down another, but Lt. Flere was driven down by a Fokker Dr1 (probably from Jasta 6) and taken prisoner. On 13 March Capt. Taylor claimed another Albatross DV and Lt. Milligan was wounded and subsequently died. During three offensive patrols by the squadron on 16 March, 2nd Lt. Bridgeman claimed an enemy aircraft.
A major engagement took place on 17 March, Capt. Whistler shot down two Albatross DV's, Lt.s Preeston and Rodger each claimed an Albatross DV. [see RFC Communique 131]. Capt. Taylor and Lt. Holt were missing in action, both subsequently confirmed as killed in action. 2nd Lt. Jones was killed in a crash that day. Preeston was appointed to replace Captain Taylor as C Flight Commander.
Dense fog hampered flying in the next few days leading up to the German offensive on 21 March. Launching an offensive patrol on 21 March Lt. Lees was killed trying to take off. 5(N) Sqn (DH4's) arrived at Champien withdrawing from their field at Mons-en-Chausée. Champien airfield came within artillery range in the afternoon and the squadron had to withdraw to Cachy on 22 March.
Over the next few days the squadron was deployed to attack advancing German forces. Capt. Whistler shot down two Albatross DV's, Lt. Pell was shot up on 24 March. The Squadron moved airfield again to Remaisnil (joining Nos 62 and 73 Squadrons). General Salmond famously issued the order below on 25 March.
On the early patrol on 26 March Lt.'s Radcliff and Miller failed to return and were later confirmed dead. On 27 March Capt. Hall MC (B Flt. Com.) was missing (wounded by ground fire he died the following day). [Capt. Bridgeman took over as B Flt Com]. On 28 March the Squadron moved airfield again to Wamin. IX Brigade records show 80 Sqn firing 6,990, 5,520 and 6,490 rounds at ground targets on 26, 27 and 28 March respectively.
On 29 March action against troops, guns and transport continued with 5,700 rounds fired in the afternoon. The following day after an early morning patrol against ground targets, firing 2,780 rounds, the squadron moved to Belleville Farm, Wamin having come within enemy range.