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270. 1264’s Fate?

07/08/2016

If you thought things had gone a little quiet in the UK after last week’s excitement, I can report that Paschalis Palavouzis has been very busy in Greece and has come up with a very likely explanation of the eventual fate of 1264.

The information we have so far is that Grandad’s last flight in her was on 9 June 1916, two weeks after he’d flown her to Thassos. All the time there, the engine had been running roughly.

The main reference book, “Royal Navy Aircraft Serials and Units, 1911 – 1919” by Ray Sturtivant and Gordon Page, ‘1264’ was transferred “to Malta 6.16 for recovering but lost on return to Thasos when ship sunk; deleted 8.16“.

But Paschalis knew that all aviation assets in the Aegean were being overseen by HMS Ark Royal, moored in Mudros Bay on Lemnos Island, and by studying her logbook and Weekly Operations Reports, it seemed likely that 1264 was received by HMS Ark Royal some time between 23 June and 14 July, and refurbishment work was started.

This photograph of HMS Ark royal's hangar deck was taken in July 1916, and so the Bristol Scout fuselage hiding in the shade of the Short seaplane is very likely 1264.

This photograph of HMS Ark Royal’s hangar deck was taken in July 1916, and so the Bristol Scout fuselage hiding in the shade of the Short seaplane is very likely 1264. It’s possible one wing is propped up on the side, with the tailplane next to it on the deck.

By 28 July, the Weekly

Here's an enlargement of the fuselage.  The more I look at it, the more puzzling it seems.  First of all, is it a Bristol Scout? Well, yes. The only alternative might be a Nieuport 11, but the Nieuport didn’t have a centre section – the two top wing halves joined on the centre line. Some things are clear; the undercarriage and engine have been removed, and the fuselage supported on trestles. You can see the firewall, with a strip on the port side missing, and the petrol tank. The petrol tank seems to have two filler caps, unless the cap has been removed from the neck and left on top. Aft of the petrol tank, the ply cover and oil tank seem to have been removed under the centre section. The oil tank frequently leaked, so this is not unexpected, but you have to remove the centre section and cabane struts first, but the centre section appears to be in place. It looks as if the instrument panel is still in place – also odd if the ply cover has been removed – but behind that is an odd shape; at first glance the dark curve looks like the back of the seat, but close comparison with ours seems to indicate it isn’t. Perhaps it’s something temporarily propped in the cockpit. But the most obvious anomaly is the centre section, with that very odd black square symmetrically placed in the middle. 1264 didn’t have a trailing edge cutout – we have photographic evidence for this. It isn’t a part-completed fabric repair – there’s a rib on the centre line which can’t be seen, and the edges of the square don’t match any other internal structure. Could it be a shadow from some structure overhead? Well, no. The shadows of the derrick have much more fuzzy edges. The only other possibility I can come up with is that this is actually something completely different, such as the tailplane of the Short seaplane.  What do you think?

Here’s an enlargement of the fuselage.
The more I look at it, the more puzzling it seems.
First of all, is it a Bristol Scout? Well, yes. The only alternative might be a Nieuport 11, but the Nieuport didn’t have a centre section – the two top wing halves joined on the centre line.
Some things are clear; the undercarriage and engine have been removed, and the fuselage supported on trestles. You can see the firewall, with a strip on the port side missing, and the petrol tank.
The petrol tank seems to have two filler caps, unless the cap has been removed from the neck and left on top.
Aft of the petrol tank, the ply cover and oil tank seem to have been removed under the centre section. The oil tank frequently leaked, so this is not unexpected, but you have to remove the centre section and cabane struts first, but the centre section appears to be in place.
It looks as if the instrument panel is still in place – also odd if the ply cover has been removed – but behind that is an odd shape; at first glance the dark curve looks like the back of the seat, but close comparison with ours seems to indicate it isn’t. Perhaps it’s something temporarily propped in the cockpit.
But the most obvious anomaly is the centre section, with that very odd black square symmetrically placed in the middle. 1264 didn’t have a trailing edge cutout – we have photographic evidence for this. It isn’t a part-completed fabric repair – there’s a rib on the centre line which can’t be seen, and the edges of the square don’t match any other internal structure. Could it be a shadow from some structure overhead? Well, no. The shadows of the derrick have much more fuzzy edges. The only other possibility I can come up with is that this is actually something completely different, such as the tailplane of the Short seaplane.
What do you think?

Operations Report states that ‘By combining portions of Le Rhone engines which are awaiting spares and by borrowing ball races from the French Aviation Section at Salonika it is hoped to have another Scout which has been rebuilt in HMS Ark Royal ready for duty in two days’ and that ‘a Bristol Scout has been practically rebuilt & will be ready for transport to Thasos by the next ferry.’

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HMS Clacton, armed boarding steamer. Photo supplied by Tony Henwood.

On 2 August, 1264 was transferred onto HMS Clacton for ferrying back to Thassos, but about 12 hours later, she was torpedoed while coming alongside HMS Grafton just off the port of Stavros.

An amazing photo supplied by Trevor Judson, showing the sinking HMS Clacton. She was just coming alongside HMS Grafton to transfer stores when the torpedo hit the bows. the captain immediately went full astern to try and beach her, but she sank too within five minutes - too soon to complete the manoeuvre. Five crew members were lost.

An amazing photo supplied by Trevor Judson, showing the sinking HMS Clacton. She was just coming alongside HMS Grafton to transfer stores when the torpedo hit the bows. the captain immediately went full astern to try and beach her, but she sank too within five minutes – too soon to complete the manoeuvre. Five crew members were lost.

Paschalis adds that she was sunk by Kapitänleutnant Gustav Sieß, captain of U-73, who was a very successful U-boat commander who later won the Blue Max.

Salvage operations began immediately. ‘On 3rd August H.M.S. “Clacton” proceeding from Mudros to Thasos was torpedoed by a submarine in the Gulf of Ruphani having onboard 18 Ratings, a Bristol Scout which had been completely rebuilt in Ark Royal and a large quantity of stores for Thasos.’ By 13 August the weekly report says ‘The Bristol Scout was raised and sent to Thasos on Sunday, 6th August“.

From there the information is a good deal more speculative. The following Weekly Report says that had 2 machines not erected, a Nieuport 2 seater (possibly 8919) and ‘1 Bristol Scout lost en route for Thasos’, but that’s the last reference he’s been able to find. He thinks it likely that every usable part was stripped from the airframe and the remainder was shipped back to HMS Ark Royal for disposal – apparently they were often burned on the island of Ispatho island (known as Koukonisi nowadays) in Mudros bay. Could we find a nameplate there? If we could, we could justifiably claim that 1264 was an original machine, rather than a replica. But the chances of finding it would appear to be vanishingly small…

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5 Comments
  1. By my eyes, the apparent centre section doesn’t seem to be quite at right angles to the fuselage, and the apparent cutout not aligned to the apparent leading edge. So I’m inclined to think that what we are mainly looking at is a confusion of shadows.

  2. I can’t decide. The edge of the shadow is so sharp, the object causing it has to be pretty close, and there’s nothing above it.

  3. I’m pretty sure that the cap has been left on the top just looking at the shapes, the front one has the shape of a bung to fit in the back
    .

  4. Its so easy, with those sorts of photos to see what you want to see, but when I looked at it just now I got to wondering if what we are seeing is not a cut out or a shadow but a black object – a toolbox maybe – sitting on the surface. But maybe the black is too intense for that. I almost see a top half of the box against the background, but even playing with contrast and brightness its inconclusive.

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