National Maritime Museum
17 Aug 2016
As our ultimate flight exhibition, Above and Beyond, comes to an end we explore the logbook of Captain Albert James Enstone - a pilot with the Royal Naval Air Service during the First World War. The logbook records each of his flights and provides an insight into the dangers he faced everyday.
Albert James Enstone was born on 29 August 1895 in Birmingham. He joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in 1916 and went on to serve with No. 4 Squadron which was stationed in the vicinity of Dunkirk and flew single seat fighter aircraft such as the Sopwith Camel. Enstone primarily flew offensive patrols to seek out and destroy enemy aircraft but he was also involved in escorting RNAS bombers, photographic reconnaissance aircraft and spotter planes for artillery batteries.
The collection (MSS/72/094 in the Archive Catalogue) includes 3 pilot’s logbooks covering 1916-1918, photographs of aircraft, personnel, aerial photographs of the front and maps of the region he was operating in.
The logbooks are perhaps the most interesting items as they illustrate the dangers he faced from the enemy, the fragility of his own equipment and hostile weather conditions. As these are logs he was obliged to keep as part of his duties much of what he recorded relates to routine details and uneventful patrols. Occasionally however, he included his thoughts or feelings on a situation, mainly combat, which allows us to see something of the man as he tried to survive.
After almost a year of training his first flight at the front was certainly less than successful as his aircraft’s engine failed shortly after taking off and he was forced to crash land. The fragility and unreliability of the aircraft of this time would be a recurring theme. From his first encounters with enemy aircraft we can get a sense of the chaos of aerial combat as he lost his formation during an attack and ended up being chased by two German aircraft whilst unable to fight back as his guns jammed.
Offensive patrol 12 May 1917 May 12th 1917:
Sopwith 9899 – Offensive Patrol 5 miles to sea to beyond Zeebrugge protecting fleet bombarding Zeebrugge. – Lost formation after diving to 11,000 ft. after another machine. Saw H.A. attacked by Hemming & nose dive & disappear into the sea. Climbed to 14,000 ft & was attacked by H.A single seater & saw two more H.A above me. Shot down one H.A & was then attacked by other two. Gun jambed & with great difficulty succeeded in eluding H.A. Machine, hit in twelve places & afterwards new wings fitted.
At times he seems slightly disconnected from the horrors of the war on the ground, as he talks of strafing enemy trenches almost as an after thought on his way back from an uneventful patrol. He also recorded an attack by Belgian troops, it comes across as an exciting event for him to watch from the air, for those on the ground it was obviously terrifying:
March 18 1918 March 18th 1918: This was a wonderful show. Escorting French Caudron doing contact patrol over Lombardsyde at anything below 800 ft whilst Belgians were having an attack. Air absolutely full of bullets… tracers… and gubbins from the ground blown up by shells almost reached machines. Water splashing up from canals & ground absolutely seething.
That is not to say that the air war was without its own share of terror. He often noted damage to his aircraft, how aircraft went down in flames or crashed into the sea, including those of his friends such as Arnold Jacques Chadwick:
July 28th 1917: Off Ostend with Chadwick, Bailey, Keirstead & Mason. – Fleet patrol. Saw Chadwick’s machine crash into sea off La Panne & break to pieces. – Chad drowned.
Of the 24 pilots he mentions by name, 10 are killed within a year. Even towards the end of the war when Enstone was one of the leading pilots in his squadron with over a year of combat experience behind him it still clearly scared him.
June 30th 1918: Biggest fight yet. 15 Camels escorted 9 D.H. 9’s to Zeebrugge. After D.H’s had dropped bombs started dog-fight off Blankenberghe with about 35 Fokker bi-planes & one Pfalz. I got one Fokker in flames. (Confirmed by bombers) Got a second one which fell out of control & collided 2,000 ft underneath me with another machine which had white circles on top plane. As Wilson failed to return fear it was with his machine my second Hun collided. Altogether I fired at seven separate scouts & eluded attacks of about ten. There were still formations of Huns overhead when I came home out to sea feeling sick & frightened. Squadron got at least eight Huns. We only lost one machine & pilot.
One entry relates to events on the ground in which he was involved, the capture of an enemy bomber crew:
21 July 1918 A Gotha is shot down July 21st 1918: At 12.30 a Gotha was shot down S. Bergues canal. Machine was set on fire. I left on motorbike to see it & on the way passed 3 men in flying clothes. Thought they were our people dressed up to watch raid. Weeping hysterical Belgian women stopped me & told me the 3 people were Huns. I about turned but they bolted. I searched for half an hour round the floods & then turned out officers & men on search party and at 1.45 we captured them. We had them in the mess for 36 hours. They were: Leutnant R. Sommer. Vicefeldwebel Dromernicht, Unteroffizier Youuz of the 14th flight 3rd Bombing Squadron. At 2.30 AM one Hun was playing on the mess piano ‘My dear old Home town’. After they had been examined we handed them over to the French.
During his career he was awarded both the Distinguished Service Medal and Distinguished Flying Cross, both of these awards are also part of the museum’s collections. Enstone is credited with varying numbers of victories but records at least 10 in these logs. By the end of the war he had risen to the rank of Captain and logged 425 hours of flying time. His log reveals his hopes of being given command of his own squadron but he was transferred back to Britain on the 13th of August 1918 and didn’t return to action for the rest of the war.
Click on the following links to see his awards:
- DSC: http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/41776.html
- DFC: http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/41775.html
Mark Benson, Archive and Library