Rex Warneford Destroys A Zeppelin – Austria Digs Into the Mountains I THE GREAT WAR – Week 46

September 14, 2019

Two months ago, Frenchman Roland Garros became
the first pilot to be able to shoot through his propeller and aim his machine gun by simply
aiming his plane. Now, Garros had been a famous pilot before the war after becoming the first
person to fly non-stop across the Mediterranean, but another pilot gained fame this week. Yep,
this week Britain had its first wartime aviation hero. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to the Great War. Last week the big news was the Austro-German
recapture of the fortress of Przemysl, a big symbol of Austro-Hungarian pride that had
fallen to the Russians in March. The Russians were now in full retreat from Galicia, fighting
on their own territory. At Gallipoli the British and French forces failed yet again to take
Achi Baba, but the British were on the move in Mesopotamia, while back home London was
bombed by Zeppelin. That was the first successful zeppelin bombing
raid on London of the war, though it wouldn’t be the last, but this week there was zeppelin
action on the mainland. On June 6th, three zeppelins took off from
Belgium for another raid on Britain. One had technical difficulties and had to land soon
after take off; the other two were forced to turn back from England by fog. Now, near
Ghent, British Flight Sub-Lieutenant Rex Warneford spotted one of them and managed to avoid its
fire and fly above it. He dropped three bombs on the zeppelin and the third exploded and
destroyed it. All of the zeppelin’s crewmembers but one died, but that one, Alfred Muhler,
survived the 2.5 kilometer fall. As for Warneford, the explosion caused his plane to flip over
and he lost a lot of fuel flying upside down before finally righting himself and gliding
to a halt in a field behind German lines. But he had some fuel in a reserve tank and
after around half an hour managed to restart the plane and fly off just as some German
cavalry were approaching, Warneford calling out “give my regards to the Kaiser” as
he flew away. When he got home he became a huge darling
in the press, and the King himself wrote Warneford a personal telegram to give him the Victoria
Cross. The King also write a telegram to the Admiralty, saying that the VC should be given
as soon as possible, since the government knew what the public didn’t- pilots had
a short shelf life. Indeed, ten days later Rex Warneford’s plane went into a spin and
the tail broke off. He did not survive the crash. While his death was a big thing, a whole lot
of other deaths that were not so well reported were leaving armies in dire need of replacements. Many of these would come from colonies. On
June 9th, for example, Canada announced it would raise another 35,000 soldiers, and The
British Dardanelles committee met on June 7th and decided to send a major influx of
new troops to Gallipoli. Once Gallipoli had reached a successful conclusion, all of the
troops would head to the western front and defeat the Germans. That was the idea. So
three brand new divisions from Lord Kitchener’s “new army” would be sent. However, General
Sir Ian Hamilton’s forces had suffered such great losses at Gallipoli that this would
merely restore the balance, so two further divisions were to be sent. There was no real
discussion of the lack of proper training and leadership of these divisions, nor mention
of the crippling lack of artillery shells. Still just blind optimism. I imagine it was hard for the Russians to
feel optimism at this point,, though, after a steady month of losses in Galicia and the
Carpathians, but this week actually ended well for them. Although on June 6th, the Austro-Hungarian
and German forces crossed the Dniester at Zurawno andv continued to advance east of
Przemysl, on the 9th the Russians had pushed them back to the right back of the Dniester
and on the 11th to 16,000 Austrian prisoners at Zurawno. Actually, this week was a week of gains everywhere
for the Allies. The French were still fighting the Second
Battle of Artois, a campaign that was over a month old now. This week the French advanced
in “the labyrinth”, which was a network of over 5 square kilometers of trenches, dugouts,
and tunnels south of Neuville st. Vaast on both sides of the Arras-Lens road. Now, the
labyrinth really was a maze, with blank walls and points where defenders could even appear
behind attackers. Further south near Hébuterne, the French also advanced a kilometer along
a 2 km front. Now, the French and British attacks of the
last month had caused the Germans to break off their own offensive, the Second Battle
of Ypres, which was the only German offensive on the western front so far this year, actually.
This was a bigger deal than it might seem on the surface of things. See, Ypres was the
last corner of Belgium that had not fallen to the Germans. The French border was like
15 km to the south, the French port of Dunkirk was 30 km west. Dunkirk was a half hours drive
from Calais, and Calais was within sight of Dover in England itself. If Ypres fell, then
it was fairly good odds the Germans could occupy these places in weeks, but also it
would mean the fall of Belgium, and Britain had gone to war in the first place to save
Belgium. Other than the huge new military advantage the Germans would have, think of
what effect it would have on countries like Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, who
were thinking about joining the war and which side to join. So Ypres had to be held, and
held it was. And indeed, the Italians had joined the war,
on the side of the Allies two weeks ago, and things were also going well for them this
week. On the 5th, the Italian fleet bombarded lighthouse
and stations of the islands of the Dalmatian archipelago and on the 9th occupied Monfalcone.
The thing about Italy is that it’s important to remember that the Italian declaration of
war was based on the sagging fortunes of the Austro-Hungarian army over the winter, which
led Italy to believe it would be able to take a chunk of disputed territory from Austria
without too much resistance, right? But the Italian timing turned out to be really awful,
since Austria-Hungary was now enjoying a massive influx of German support and making huge gains
driving the Russians back out of Galicia. This allowed Austria to focus on the Italian
front in a way that would not have been possible even a month ago, and if you look at the Austrian
defenses on that front at this point, they were pretty formidable. In the Trent and Alpine mountain fronts they
had blasted trenches and gun emplacements from the rock and protected them with barbed
wire. Because of the vertical nature of the terrain, these were pretty much impregnable.
They had done loads of work behind the lines beefing up both road and rail communication
so there would be none of the bizarre railroad problems they had in their initial campaign
into Serbia last August. Along the Isonzo River, the defenses may not have been quite
as complete as further north, but they made their lines on the hills and the ridges alongside
the river, and where the river ran through Gorizia there were mountains overlooking it
that were heavily fortified and as the Isonzo ran to the sea it passed the Carso Plateau,
which rose 1,000 feet and had Monte San Michele looking down on it from the top. The Austrian
defenses were going to be seriously tough nuts for the Italians to crack. And so we come to the end of the week. The
French pushing back the Germans in the west, the Russians playing give and take in the
east but ending the week with a huge take of prisoners. The Italians on the move and
throughout the British Empire a call for more and more troops. You knew that was going to happen, though.
That the armies everywhere would demand more and more men. This war was less than a year
old and was being fought on a scale larger than any other in history, and it was going
to need men. But you needed heroes, too, especially of the everyman variety, because you had to
convince your native sons to join up, to fight, and to die when they often weren’t certain
what they were dying for. Rex Warneford was one such hero. The son of
a railway engineer, born in India, educated in England, and even spending time in Australia,
he was a real everyman British hero. For about two weeks. That’s how long he was a hero
before the war claimed his life. Thousands of mourners attended his funeral on June 21,
1915, and after all of the hundreds of thousands of nameless dead soldiers in every nation,
at least for a day one of them was called hero by name, but as you well know, his death
didn’t change anything other than convincing more men to go and join the slaughter. And it was no surprise that a lot of the heroes
of The Great War were pilots. The aces of the skies were far away from the butchery
on the ground and had an image close to those of knights in the sky. How the war of sky
changed throughout the war? You can find that out right here in our special episode
about Aerial Warfare. Our Patreon Supporter of the week is Jonathan
Childers. If you want to see us outside the studio in real World War 1 locations, help
us reach our goal on Patreon. Don’t forget to subscribe and see you next

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *