David Clendon Hale 1918 WWI Diary
Aviator – Northern Bombing Group
David Clendon Hale was a Naval Aviator that had training courses at M.I.T. then moved to Texas and later England for flight training. After training they moved to France and flew some missions with RAF bombing squadrons in Handley Pages. Eventually they received their first plane, purchased (actually bartered) from the Italians. The three engine Caproni flew one successful bombing mission before becoming a death trap. All of the other Capronis that were delivered had inferior engines (made by a different Italian company than the Capronis that had a solid performance for the Italians) that failed and killed and injured numerous crews. They eventually grounded the Capronis and spent the rest of the war waiting for American made Liberty DH machines which arrived too late.
Below are just a few of his interesting entries (I’ll add more when time allows):
Aug. 10 – “During the morning I took some pictures of the drome and around camp and in afternoon took a walk out to the wireless station. I was on orders to go over the lines tonight in 4581 [a Handley Page - he was flying as an understudy with the British at this point] with Lieut. Nichols pilot and Lieut. Bowen observer and raid the patrol boat shelters at Blankenberg. The front was very quiet tonight but the A.A. barrage at Ostend, Bruges and Zeebrugge was very intense and nearly twice as many search lights were operating in anticipation of our big 1660 pound bomb raid. The visibility was not very good and we had to glide in from the sea at 10,000 ft. to 4,000 ft. The lights did not get us and the shells burst over us and we saw no enemy scouts. I dropped two large rocks for I was in the rear cockpit and I had no bombs. Must give em something.”
[On August 9 they had received their first Caproni bomber. It had been ferried to France from Italy.]
Aug. 15 – “Today I began to have my taste of the U.S. Navy again so I begin to wonder how I can get back to the comforts of 214 again [the British squadron that he had been with]. This is a big day in my young life. Major Bradley recommended Wright and I as good for gunners in the first trip the Caproni is to take over the lines. I was at the old game of toss up a coin so I am to be one of a crew of three to carry out the first raid (night) that an officially American aeroplane has carried out. It is the beginning of action for the Northern Bombing Group. Ensign Taber is pilot and Ensign Fahey is observer. We were the last machine to leave the ground and flew to Ostend and made some very good hits on a repair station on the docks. The raid was very successful in every way though the visibility was not very good. My cage was very windy and the arrangement quite inconvenient but it can be improved. We were a long time on the way back and could not distinguish the channel lights until we were very near them. We landed on the drome at 12:30. The first machine to return and Lieut. Lovett was very pleased. Well I am lucky there’s no doubt about it. The crew of three was heartily greeted on the return and the C.O. took us to 214 in his car and then drove us to our quarters. While I was seated in the Cadillac I could not help asking myself “do you know who you are”. I was told at Killingholme what I officially was and there is no denying it but I am finding my level in spite of all the previous opposition to it. Oh this is a great day in my life. We saw not a single enemy scout but I was certainly ready in case there was one. Tonight I am sleeping at 214 again.”
(Always looking for good diaries!)