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Charles Humphrey Kingsman Edmonds (1891-1954)  joined the Royal Navy in 1903, when he was just 12.  His early career was fairly typical of young officer-aspirants of his day,  assignments to a succession of ships, performing various duties and learning the ropes.  But in 1912 Edmonds transferred to the Naval Wing of the newly formed Royal Flying Corps, and on April 16th of that year was certified as a pilot in what would become the Royal Naval Air Service.

Little more than two years later, of course, Edmonds went to war, along with pretty much everyone else in Europe.   

As one of the most senior pilots in the Royal Navy, Edmonds served afloat aboard a seaplane tender.  On Christmas Day of 1914, he took part in what arguably was history’s first air strikes by a carrier task force.  Escorted by a cruiser-destroyer force, the seaplane tenders HMS Engadine, Riviera, and Empress steamed into the North Sea and approached the German coast north of Cuxhaven, a major Zeppelin base.  A total of seven seaplanes of diverse types (Edmonds’ was a Short Type 74) were able to take off, and raided the airship pens and other installations at the Cuxhaven base.  Hampered by poor weather and anti-aircraft fire, they inflicted relatively little damage, but did disrupt German operational plans.  Although a couple of the aircraft were forced to ditch, all aircrew made it safely back.  For their leadership during this operation, Flight Lieutenant Edmonds and another officer were awarded the D.S.O.

In 1915, Edmonds, who was shortly promoted to flight commander, was transferred to HMS Ben-my-Chree,  a newer seaplane tender, converted from a fast ferry, which sailed for the Mediterranean in support of the Gallipoli operation.  

On August 12, 1915, flying over the Dardanelles in a Short Type 184 biplane patrol bomber fitted with an 810 pound 14-inch torpedo slung between its floats, Edmonds spotted a Turkish steamer off Bulsair.  Approaching at just 15 feet above the water, he launched his torpedo and saw it strike the ship, scoring the first ever aerial torpedo hit in combat; unbeknownst to Edmonds, the ship was already suffering the effects of a hit by a submarine torpedo, and the second hit caused her skipper to beach her.  Five days later, on the 17thEdmonds scored the second torpedo hit on a ship, when he put a fish into a very large (c. 5,000 ton) freighter in the Dardanelles, which promptly sank. 

Thus, Edmonds took part in the first carrier airstrikes as well as the first and second successful torpedoing of a ship by an airplane.  Oddly, although he rose to air vice marshal before retiring from the Royal Air Force in 1945, his achievements in 1914 and 1915 were certainly the most impressive of his career.

FootNote:  The strike navigator on the Cuxhaven raid, who flew in the lead plane, was Boer War veteran, yachtsman, and volunteer Lt. R. Erskine Childers, a noted journalist and author.  Among Childers’ works was The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service ,a 1903 novel about some yachtsmen who uncover a German plot to conduct a surprise invasion of Britain, which was made into a superior film starring Michael York. Michael York.  Childers later became an ardent supporter of the Irish War for Independence, but chose the losing side in the subsequent Irish Civil War, and was shot by firing squad in 1922.  The standard biography is Leonard Piper’s Dangerous Waters: The Life and Death of Erskine Childers (2003)

 

"The Life of One Brave Man . . . . "

<

On December 3, 1800, a French army under Jean Victor Marie Moreau inflicted a stunning defeat on an Austro-Bavarian force at Hohenlinden, in Upper Bavaria.  As the allied force retreated, the 29-year old Archduke Charles of Austria was hastily called in to take command from his overwhelmed brother, the wholly outclassed 18 year old Archduke John.

Reaching the army on December 17th, Charles was shocked to discover that wounded and ailing soldiers were being abandoned as the army fell back, which was hardly helping morale.

The Archduke immediately ordered that artillery pieces were to be left behind rather than men, saying "The life of one brave man is better worth preserving than 50 pieces of ordnance."

Naturally, the abandoned guns quickly fell into the hands of the French.  But when General Moreau learned of Charles' gesture, he promptly returned the captured pieces, saying that it would be unworthy of him to take advantage of the Archduke's noble act of humanity.

Now both of these gestures might seem to some to be misguided manifestations of chivalry.  Yet both were well-thought out.  By his action, Charles helped stem the dissolution of the army through desertion, knowing that as it was retreating on Vienna, the arsenals of which held more than enough ordnance to re-equip his troops, he was actually preserving the army for another day.   Moreau, on the other hand, realized that the war was coming to a close, as an armistice was already being discussed, and thus his gesture would have little effect on the military situation, while perhaps fostering a friendlier negotiating climate.

BookNote: Although now over a decade old, the best biography of Charles is Napoleon's Great Adversary: Archduke Charles and the Austrian Army 1792-1814 , by the noted historian and raconteur, the late Gunther E. Rothenberg, who himself had an impressive military career, with service in the British Army, the Haganah, and the U.S. Air Force.

 


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