World War I saw the beginning of aviation in warfare. It developed from balloon observation work to the shooting down of balloons which were used for artillery spotting, for bombing against troops and strategic targets, strafing of troops and communications, but perhaps most significantly in air to air combat which resulted from the endeavours of both sides to protect their own ground forces and artillery spotting balloons.

The later stages of World War I developed into the bombing of towns, initially using airships for the offensive role, but since these machines were slow and not very manoeuvrable, they were sitting targets for anti­aircraft defences and defending fighters. This led to the use of bomber aircraft which were faster, manoeuvrable and with an acceptable radius of action to enable them to be used against towns and other civilian targets. The use of bombers against such targets led to the development of fighters to combat this menace, but since the bomber offensive against towns took place at night, the Allies became alerted to the requirements for fighters to be developed which were capable of being flown in combat at night.

The South of England and certain towns in France, in particular Abbeville, were being subjected to heavy night raids. It was then decided that a special Night Fighter Squadron should be formed and equipped with Sopwith Camel aircraft. This Squadron was to be formed in England, and when trained to operational standards, sent overseas to fight on the Western Front.


The first night operations of World War I are reported as being on September 3 1917 when, for the first time, two pilots of No 70 Squadron in France and three pilots from No 44 Squadron took off into the dark in an attempt to intercept enemy bombers. No contact with enemy aircraft was made but the action of taking off at night on minimal instruments, and landing in the dark with limited illumination of the landing area, established the feasibility and potential for defensive night operations. The aircraft used was the Sopwith Camel, and having established that this particular aircraft had potential, it was chosen as the aircraft to be introduced for the role of Night Fighter.

From September 3 1917 and into the late Spring of 1918, the Germans had become extremely active in night bombing operations. On the night of May 18/19 the ammunition dump at Compagne was destroyed by aerial bombardment with 1000 tons of shells going up, in what must have been a gigantic explosion. On the following night, a raid on Etaples Bridge was not successful but local hospitals were hit. No. 12 Ordnance Depot at Blarges and No. 20 Ordnance Depot at Saigonville were also hit.

In June 1918 the German bombers switched their activities to the bombing of airfields, and on two nights in July, sixty three attacks involving the dropping of 170 tons of bombs were made.


This rapid build up in night flying activities, which must have been very cost effective in terms of manpower, machines and the assault factor, was profitable to the Germans in terms of casualties inflicted and damage to the Allied defences. France appealed to the Allies for some form of night defence since anti-aircraft fire appeared to have little defensive effect against such attacks.

To meet this request from the French and also a similar request from the R.A.F. General Headquarters in France, the Allies formed the first Night Fighter Squadron at Hainault in Essex on June 12 1918, and equipped it with Sopwith Camel aircraft, which had proven potential as a suitable aircraft for this role.

It is interesting to note that the Royal Air Force was formed on April 1 1918 by the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons. The formation of a Night Fighter Squadron just ten weeks after the “birth” of the Royal Air Force as it is known today, was one of the first purpose formed squadrons.


This Squadron was 151 SQUADRON


Of the Squadrons formed as R.A.F. Squadrons, 151 Squadron was the first to become operational.

The formation of 151 Squadron was undertaken by the formation of three Flights taken from crews of Nos. 44, 78, and 112 Squadrons, which at the time were engaged on Home Defence duties in the United Kingdom. The Commanding Officer of No 44 Squadron at this time was Major A. Harris who was to become Marshal of the Royal Air Force and Commander in Chief of Bomber Command during World War II.


The first Commanding Officer of 151 Squadron who was responsible for putting the Squadron together, training the personnel, and bringing it up to a fully operational state was Major G.W. Murlis Green D.S.0. M.C. Major Murlis Green was one-time Boxing Champion of the public schools in Germany (1911/12). He had also proved himself to be master of the Germans in the air.


He joined the Army in August 1916, transferring to the Royal Flying Corps as an Observer a year later. In April 1916 he returned to England to train as a pilot. After four months of training he was posted to Salonika, in August joining No. 17 Squadron. He soon proved himself in the air, being awarded the Military Cross only six weeks after going to Salonika, and shortly afterwards was awarded a Bar to the M.C. Then followed the award of the Distinguished Service Order and a further Bar to the M.C., before the end of 1917. To be decorated four times in approximately sixteen months after completing his training as a pilot, is really incredible, and certainly high­lights the skills and leadership qualities of the first Commanding Officer. It was this type of leadership of the Squadron that the Squadron was to enjoy at all times in the future, and which was to lead to its success. Returning to the U.K. towards the end of 1917, he joined No 44 Squadron where he helped to pioneer night flying using the Sopwith Camel aircraft. On the night of December 18 1917, he attacked and damaged a Gotha before he lost sight of it due to the flash from his guns which upset his night vision thus negating the re-sighting of the target. The Gotha crashed into the sea on its returning flight. This combat led to a rethink on gun positioning and sighting to ensure that gun flashes did not deteriorate night vision. Finally, twin Lewis guns were fitted on a special double Foster mounting above the centre section. The cockpit was moved further aft and the main fuel tanks brought further forward. The cut in the top mainplane was enlarged and, in some cases, cuts were made in the trailing edge of the bottom mainplane.


These modifications formed the basis of the Sopwith Camels which equipped 151 Squadron on its formation on June 12 1918.


On formation, 151 Squadron comprised the following personnel:-

Commanding Officer Major G.W. Murlis Green D.S.O. M.C.

Adjutant Lt T.A.B. Gardiner



A Flight

B Flight

C Flight

Flight Commander

Capt D.V. Armstrong

Lt S. Cockerell

Capt W.H. Haynes D.S.0.


Lt C.R.W. Knight

Capt A.B. Yuille

Lt J.H. Summer


Lt R.M. Darney

Lt E.P. Mackay

Lt A.A. Mitchell


Lt H.S. Cook

Lt A.V. Blenkiron

Lt W.G. Nicol


Lt W.F.H. Harris

Lt P. Aitkin

Lt L.C. Sheffield


Lt A.C.Macvie

Lt P.C.Broome

Lt H.S. Bannister



Diary events from the day of formation are recorded as follows:-



JUNE 1918


June 16

Capt Haynes and “C” Flight crossed to France by air.


June 21

Flights “A” and “B” crossed to France.

All three flights landed at Marquise, but .Lt H.S. Bannister was killed when a wing came off his aircraft during a steep dive on the approach to landing. “C” Flight moved to Famechon, but the other two Flights were held up because of severe winds, and were not able to proceed there until June 23.


June 27

“A” Flight, under the command of Capt Armstrong, was attached to No 101 Squadron at Famechon for special offensive duties. These duties were the patrolling of enemy areas at night, and to attack with 20 lb bombs and machine gun fire the searchlights when they were exposed.

Other Flights were responsible for the defence of Abbeville, which, strangely enough, from that date experienced very few incursions from enemy aircraft.

June 29

Capt Armstrong engaged an enemy aircraft which was returning from a raid, in the vicinity of Estree-en-Chause, and destroyed it on the enemy side of the lines. This combat was the first recorded air victory for 151 Squadron. Capt Armstrong was well known throughout the R.A.F. for his skills in aero­batics, particularly flick rolls and loops at low level. He showed courage, skill and fine judgement in all his flying, these qualities being used to good effect in air to air combat.

A Mr H.T. Singleton, an Observer on No 83 squadron, recalls that in the summer of 1918 when 83 and 151 Squadrons were near neighbours on the Somme, members of 151 frequently visited 83 at Franqueville for inter-squadron tactical discussions, and they were pleased to demonstrate how the Sopwith Camel should be flown. He also recalls that Capt Armstrong was the most “brilliant split-­arsed’ pilot of 151 Squadron.


At the end of the first week in France, Major Murlis Green was recalled to England for Home Defence duties. Command of the Squadron then passed to Major C.J.Q. Brand D.S.O. M.C. who had also been at Hainault when 151 Squadron was formed, so he was no real stranger. He had his own machine on which he had done some notable work in England.




JULY 1918


July 23

Flying by night, Capt Yuille encountered a Gotha over Etaples, and it was so badly shot up by Capt Yuille’s gunfire that it was forced to land behind Allied lines. As the crew emerged from the aircraft, it was shown to comprise the Commanding Officer of the German unit, the Adjutant, the Squadron Equipment Officer and others. The significance of the make up of this motley crew is not clear: it may have been a joy ride, but it was a confirmed victory for 151 Squadron.


Claims for the night were:-

          Capt Yuille                       1 Gotha destroyed






August 10

Another enemy aircraft fell to the guns of Capt Yuille’s aircraft. He intercepted a giant R.52 bomber near Talmes which had been sent out to attack Doublens and St Pol. After the attack the enemy aircraft went down in flames and crashed as a burning wreck.

This giant bomber was the first of its type to be shot down, a distinction for 151 Squadron. (History repeated itself when another “first of its type” was shot down by 151 Squadron in World War II. )

As a result of this outstanding victory, the Squadron received a letter of congratulation from H.M. King George V through the General Officer Commanding R.A.F. in the field.

For this achievement Capt Yuille was awarded the DFC

Unfortunately, shortly after this engagement, Capt Yuille was taken ill and sent into hospital. He did not return to the Squadron.


Claims for the night were:-

          Capt Yuille                  1 R.52 destroyed



As well as defensive sorties being carried out, intruder operations behind enemy lines were also undertaken. On one occasion when aerodromes at Estree-en-Chause and Guizancourt were selected for attack, bombing with 20 lb bombs and strafing with machine guns was carried out. Enemy aircraft returning from bombing raids were also attacked when attempting to land. One machine was shot down by Capt Armstrong, and two others were certainly put out of action by Major Brand and Capt Cockerell, but confirmation could not be obtained.

In another attack on Loislains aerodrome, Major Brand and Capt Cockerell, together with Capt Armstrong and Capt Haynes, took part in a concentrated bombing operation. They met only slight opposition from defensive forces, but they disturbed the tranquillity of the camp with the result that, when Major Brand went in for his attack, they allowed him to come in very low and then opened up with just about every gun on the establishment. At this time there was a bright moon and when Major Brand landed back at base, his aircraft had been riddled by bullets, including several through the windscreen and cockpit, but Major Brand was unhurt.


Claims for the night’s operations were:-

            Capt Armstrong          1 e/a destroyed

            Major brand                 1 e/a probably destroyed or damaged

            Capt Cockerell            1 e/a probably destroyed or damaged


Mid August was to see the cessation of offensive operations and 151 Squadron reverted to its fully defensive role.


August 14

In a night sortie, Lt Blenkiron engaged a Gotha over the lines. He reported the enemy aircraft as being shot down in flames, but he could not confirm that it had crashed. However, G.H.Q. confirmed that the combat had been successful and Lt Blenkiron was credited with the victory.


Claims for the night were:-

          Lt Blenkiron                   1 Gotha destroyed



August 22

Lt Knight encountered a twin-engined Gotha whilst patrolling over Arras. He repositioned himself under the enemy aircraft tail and opened fire from a range of about 25 yds. The Gotha burst into flames and crashed near Dainville on the Doullens-Arras road.


        Claims for the night were:-

          Lt Knight                        1 Gotha destroyed



August 23

Whilst he was on night patrol, Lt Aitkin saw a Gotha in a concentration of searchlight beams. The enemy aircraft was trying to get out of the cone, and with Lt Aitkin pressing hard on his tail, it appeared to lose some control going down very steeply. Having lost sight of the Gotha, Lt Aitkin decided to return to base, but spotted a fire on the ground. He circled the fire, at the same time losing height, and found it to be none other than the Gotha he had encountered. The Gotha had actually been set on fire by its crew. Credit for the destruction of this aircraft was given to Lt Aitkin.



Claims for the night were:­

          Lt Aitkin                          1 Gotha destroyed



August 24

At 10.20 pm, Lt Broome engaged a Gotha over Arras which had been coned in searchlight beams. He dived in to attack but his engine cut out, and whilst attempting to get it restarted, he overshot the Gotha as a result of which the Gotha finished up on Lt Broome’s tail. Lt Broome was still in this interesting position when Capt Armstrong joined in the fray, and the result was a hotly contested fight between the Gotha and the two Camels. Lt Broome eventually closed under the Gotha’s tail and from a range of about 20 yds he fired a burst of machine gun fire which killed the pilot. The machine spun down from an altitude of about 7000 ft and crashed at Haut-Avesnes. Lt Broome returned to base with a machine and engine badly shot up.


At 12.30 am the same night, Lt Knight engaged another enemy aircraft which was a twin engined Friedrichshafen Biplane. After a short fight the enemy aircraft burst into flames and exploded on hitting the ground. A rather inter­esting aspect of this combat was that one of the crew had evidently jumped out when the aircraft had caught fire and had fallen into a tree. He was found lying dead on the ground but clutching a large branch of the tree in his hand.


        Claims for the night were:-

        Lt Broome         1 Gotha destroyed

        Lt Knight           1 Friedrichshafen destroyed



At the commencement of the final offensive on the western front, 151 squadron was detailed to keep a continuous patrol at night to give cover to the 3rd Army Front. This was a heavy task with pilots undertaking two patrols, each of two and a half hours' duration, and on at least one occasion every pilot carried out the two patrols in a single night.






September 8

151 Squadron moved to Vignacourt to support searchlight defences which had been moved behind the lines of the 1st, 3rd and 4th Army Fronts. Bad weather was helping in that the new searchlight positions had been established without German reconnaissance being able to get off the ground. These new positions were a surprise to the German forces when they re-opened their operations as the weather cleared.



September 13

Three enemy aircraft were engaged by pilots of 151 Squadron. Lt Mackay was the first to meet a Friedrichshafen caught in the newly arranged search­light defences. At 9.15 pm, after firing a burst of about 50 rounds, the enemy aircraft burst into flames. The machine crashed over the enemy lines but the pilot landed by means of a parachute on the Allied side.


The other two aircraft were encountered by Capt Kaynes who reported, “At 9.15 pm, I observed an enemy aircraft at 7000 ft held in the Peronne and Somme searchlights. I closed to about 25 yds behind and below the enemy aircraft’s tail and fired two short bursts of about 30 rounds each. The enemy aircraft immediately fell in flames and crashed near Manancourt, and shortly afterwards one of the bombs exploded.


He then proceeded to his patrol at Bapaume, and at 9.45 pm picked up another enemy aircraft also being held in a concentration of searchlights. He was some distance away and before he could get there, the enemy aircraft had got out of searchlight range, but Capt Haynes picked up a sighting from the exhausts and managed to intercept. Capt Haynes fired two short bursts causing the enemy aircraft to spiral down, apparently out of control, and emitting sparks from the engine. Due to overcast conditions, Capt Haynes was unable to see the result of his combat, and confirmation of the destruction of the enemy aircraft was not obtained.


Capt Armstrong, flying at 8500 ft at 9.30 pm, engaged a Gotha Biplane. He fired a burst at the aircraft and it was immediately set on fire. He observed what he thought was his target falling in flames after having taken action which temporarily lost his sighting. When it was down to about 6000 ft there was an enormous explosion. Capt Armstrong returned to base and sent in his combat report.


Major Brand landed shortly afterwards, and there was a heated argument between the two pilots, both claiming the same machine. It was not until eye­witnesses, who had been in the air at the same time, arrived and reported exactly what had happened, that they  were both calmed and satisfied. Apparently, there had been two enemy aircraft flying side by side, and these were shot down simultaneously by Major Brand and Capt Armstrong. In the evasive action taken by Capt Armstrong, his re-sighting had been on Major Brand’s target. These two pilots had been so occupied with their tasks that they had not noticed each others' actions.


        Claims for the night were:-

        Lt Mackay­                    1  E/A destroyed

        Major Brand                  1 Gotha destroyed

          Capt Armstrong             1 Gotha destroyed



September 18

Again, 151 Squadron had a successful night with three more enemy aircraft falling to their guns.


Lt Mitchell engaged an AEG at a height of about 7000 ft. Shots were exchanged but a burst of about 170 rounds from Lt Mitchell’s guns hit the port engine of the enemy aircraft. The pilot of the AEG dived steeply and was followed down by Lt Mitchell and seen to make a forced landing near Cambrai.


Shortly afterwards, Major Brand and Lt Summers had a hard running fight with another AEG. After knocking out its starboard engine, it went down and blew up over the lines.


 Major Brand was returning to base when he saw a two-seater machine of the DFW type flying at an altitude of about 7000 ft. He reported the result of the combat as follows: “I closed to a range of about 50 yds and fired a burst of 100 rounds. The machine shot up vertically in front of me, stalled, and, falling backwards, dropped down to the ground. I attempted to follow, but lost sight of it over Guizancourt where it was found later, wrecked.”


It may be that the Germans were now using an older and lighter machine in the AEG, this being undoubtedly due to the larger machines of the Gotha and Friedrichshafen type being destroyed in the latest operations.


        Claims for the night were:-

          Lt Mitchell                                          1 AEG   destroyed

          Major Brand/Lt Summers                  1 AEG   destroyed

          Major Brand                                      1 DFW  destroyed


September 20

Lt Broome was flying and was successful in intercepting an aircraft of the AEG. type in good moonlight conditions. On interception, the rear gunner of the enemy aircraft opened fire on Lt Broome’s machine from a range of about 300 yds, so perfect was the visibility. In spite of this, Lt Broome approached to within 200 yds and fired a short burst of about 100 rounds at the enemy aircraft setting it on fire. It fell to the ground at Tincourt and bombs were seen to explode as it crashed.


Claims for the night were:-

          Lt Broome               1 AEG. destroyed


It was announced that the following awards had been made:-

          Lt Broome                DFC
          Major Brand             DFC
          Capt Armstrong        DFC


September 24

Capt Armstrong encountered a two-seater enemy aircraft, and at the start of the engagement it took violent evasive action. In the violent manoeuvring which took place, Capt Armstrong saw the observer thrown out over the top of the plane. Apart from this Capt Armstrong was unable to define any other result.


Lt Bloomfield had a successful combat during the night and his report was as follows:-


“At 11 pm, whilst over Arras at 5500 ft, I observed an enemy aircraft in the beams about 1000 ft above me. I climbed up and got underneath his tail and saw pamphlets being thrown out through the bottom trap door. I closed to about 20 yds, sheets of paper flying round me, and fired one burst at about 120 yds. The enemy aircraft caught fire in the fuselage and then the whole aircraft was enveloped in flames. It crashed at Agnes, due west of Arras, and blew up on the ground.

When Lt Bloomfield returned to base, numerous pamphlets were found adhering to his machine. These pamphlets were propaganda work calling for the British to “realise America’s ulterior motives in the war”.


     Claims for the night were:-

      Lt Bloomfield                            1 e/a destroyed

      Capt Armstrong                        1 e/a damaged




October 8

The Squadron moved to Bancourt, the base being situated about 2 miles east of Bapaume, but owing to inclement weather and general lack of air activity by the German Air Force, combat activity was very restricted.


October 28

Lt Hocking, on his first patrol at night, was unfortunately killed through causes unknown, but it appears that he lost his bearings and hit a tree when attempting to land his aircraft.


October 30

Major Brand was on patrol over Le Cateau when he successfully intercepted a Friedrichshafen at an altitude of 9000 ft. He fired one long burst and set the enemy aircraft on fire. It fell Out of control and crashed on the lines south east of Etreux.


This was Major Brand’s fifth air to air combat victory with 151 Squadron. This was also to be the last engagement for 151 Squadron in World War I.


    Claims for the night were:-

              Major Brand           1 Friedrichshafen destroyed





November 11

Armistice was declared and all operational patrols ceased.


This was the end of World War I.


November 13

A most regrettable incident occurred in which Capt Armstrong was killed. He was paying a neighbouring Squadron a visit and giving an exhibition of stunt flying when, owing to an error of judgement, he spun into the ground. The loss of such a magnificent pilot to the R.A.F. was very sad. He was well known in the Corps and his cheerful disposition and courage made him respected by all who knew him.


November 28

151 Squadron was transferred to the 8th Brigade, 82nd Wing.





December 12

The Squadron moved to Elstree Blanche. At this time there were still twelve of the original Officers still serving with the Squadron, and the following Officers were posted in to complete the establishment:-

Capt A. Dennis

Lt L.L. Carter

Lt W.F. Kendall

Lt W.F. Murray

Lt W.A. Scott


Lt H. Phelps was now the Equipment Officer and Capt F.T. McSorley the Squadron Gunnery Officer. The latter had succeeded Lt Eggar who was posted to No 207 Squadron after the Armistice was signed.


With the cessation of hostilities, the Squadron experienced a thin time as demobilisation fever swept through the ranks.







The Squadron moved back to the U.K. to Gullane in Scotland from where it was to be disbanded.





151 Squadron was disbanded, just fifteen months after its formation on June 12 1918. This was the end of an era in which night fighting had become an art.



 151 Squadron Combat Summary





Probably destroyed or damaged


Capt Armstrong

1 e/a



Capt Yuille

1 Gotha



Capt Yuille

1 R 52



Capt Armstrong

1 e/a



Major Brand


1 e/a


Capt Cockerell


1 e/a


Lt Blenkiron

1 Gotha



Lt Knight

1 Gotha



Lt Aitkin

1 Gotha



Lt Broome

1 Gotha



Lt Knight

1 Friedrichshafen



Lt Mackay

1 Friedrichshafen



Capt Haynes


1 e/a


Lt Broome

1 R 52



Major Brand

1 Friedrichshafen



Lt Mackay

1 e/a



Major Brand

1 Gotha



Capt Armstrong




Lt Mitchell




Major Brand/

Lt Summers




Major Brand




Lt Broome




Capt Armstrong


1 e/a


Lt Bloomfield

1 e/a



Major Brand

1 Friedrichshafen




Decorations awarded to 151 Squadron:-


Capt Yuille                   DFC

Lt Crossley Groome     DFC

Lt Mackay                    DFC

Major Brand                 DFC





“During the five months in which 151 Squadron had taken part in hostilities overseas, the total number of hours flown by night was 1443 hrs 26 mins.


Sixteen enemy aircraft were destroyed at night on the Allies' side of the lines, and five were destroyed on the enemy side and confirmed. Another five were unconfirmed, thus making a total of twenty six successful engagements. Of the enemy aircraft destroyed, twenty two were AEGs, Friedrichshafen or Gothas, with two engines and carrying a crew of three or more. Two were giant P 52’s with five engines carrying a crew of up to eight or nine.


During all the numerous combats there were very few occasions when the guns jammed or caused trouble, reflecting the devotion to duty of Lt Eggar and his gunnery staff.


Too much cannot be said for the NCOs and men of the Squadron. The long hours from dawn to dusk and the urgent necessity of getting all machines serviceable during the daytime was evidence of their keen spirit and esprit de corps, and nothing was more gratifying to a pilot on landing after a successful combat than to hear the rousing cheers of the NCOs and men of his Flight, echoed by the Squadron, that greeted him.”



General Comment


When 151 Squadron was formed at Hainault on June 12 1918, the Commanding Officer of No 44 Squadron was a Major Harris, this Squadron being also based at Hainault. He was to become Air Chief Marshall, Commander in Chief Bomber Command in World War II.


His duties at Hainault were:-


“to form another Night Fighter Squadron, equipped with Camels which he was to take to France. During this appointment, he went to France to spend two weeks with the only other Night Fighter Squadron which, under the command of Major Brand, later Sir Quinton Brand, was operating on the Western Front. There he studied at first hand, night fighter tactics.


He was ready to move his Squadron by November 1918 and was actually due to fly it out to France on November 11. However with the signing of the Armistice, Harris and his Squadron never left England.”


(ref “Bomber Harris” by Dudley Seward).