LAWRENCE'S AIR FORCE

BACK TO THE RAILWAY

An operation to again attack El Ula railway station and camp was planned by Lt-Col Newcombe, using camel-borne troops from the Egyptian Army and Sharifian Forces.  They intended using a 5in howitzer and the RFC would fly in support from the ALG at Gayadah.  Lack of suitable water-holes at the planned base caused the operation to be dropped in favour of raids on smaller stations between El Ula and Hadiyah and also the cutting of the line in as many places as possible.

It was now well into July and news reached the Arabian Detachment and Feisal's men that Akaba had been taken by the 2500 strong Lawrence/Abu Tayi forces.  Great jubilation was afoot amongst the Arabs in the Hejaz.  Further aerial attacks against the railway were now planned and to this end, a camel-train went out from Wejh to Gayadah bearing 50 x 20lb and 48 x 16lb bombs, along with tins of petrol.  The camel-men refused to carry 2 x 100lb bombs in cases per beast as they said this exceeded the animals' carrying capacity. BE2c machines 4488 and 5421 were flown to the ALG in readiness, followed by 4529.  The aerial part of the proposed attack was nearly subverted when a severe sandstorm blew up and 'dust-devils' 5 damaged the aircraft.  4529 needed a new main-plane and aileron.

On 16 July, El Ula camp was attacked by Capt Henderson (4488), Lt Fenwick (4478) and 2Lt Siddons (5421).  They dropped 24 bombs from 2500 feet, hitting water tanks, station buildings and the local Turkish headquarters to good effect.  The poor old machines were now in a very sorry state owing to their weeks of exposure.  Henderson decided that no more offensive flights were to be undertaken as longerons were cracked and fabric perished.  The machines were allowed to be flown just once more, from the ALG back to base.  There they were inspected and all but one pronounced unserviceable; dismantled and packed into their cases for return to Egypt.

As the Detachment's final flight in the Hejaz, Lt Siddons flew Capt Lawrence, now back from Akaba, from Wejh to Gayadah in 5421 on 19 July 1917, for an urgent meeting with Emir Feisal and Col Newcombe.  Siddons and Lawrence returned by air the following day and Lawrence went aboard the MV Dufferin for a sea journey to Jeddah.

 

Stores and petrol being loaded onto camels Stores and petrol being loaded onto camels for transport to outposts such as Advanced Landing Grounds.

From 21 July to the end of that month, the unit's equipment was packed and the three hangars taken down.  Col Wilson cabled Capt Stent 'Have telegraphed to make arrangements for transfer of Flight to Egypt.  Congratulations to yourself and Flight on excellent work performed in the Hejaz.'  All machines were now crated and ready for loading onto El Kahira for transhipping to Dufferin.  Between 29 and 31 July, all items were loaded and in effect, the Arabian Detachment had finished its work and was on its way back to Suez.  Twenty 'other ranks' of the unit were awarded Good Conduct Badges and 2Lt J.M. Watson the Intelligence and Recording Officer, signed-off the final sheet of the War Diary (Army Form C.2118).

 

A 'dust-devil' about to strike the unit's BE2c machines. A 'dust-devil' about to strike the unit's BE2c machines.

 

 

Below - The Hejaz Railway Station and Camp at El Ula, the target of numerous attacks by the airmen of 'C' Flight, 14 Sqn RFC.
The Hejaz Railway Station and Camp at El Ula, the target of numerous attacks by the airmen of 'C' Flight, 14 Sqn RFC
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