Over the Western Front on Thursday 13 June 1918, during World War One, 2nd Lieutenant Alexander McKenzie, 16939 was flying as an Observer in Airco DH.4, A7466 of RAF 55 Squadron. His pilot was Lieutenant William Legge, and they were last seen under control during a bombing mission over their intended target, near Trèves. They were then engaged by enemy aircraft and shot down in flames.
RAF 55 squadron was the first squadron to be equipped with the new Airco DH4’s before moving to France in the spring of 1917. Their first major action was at the Battle of Arras (9 April to 16 May 1917) bombing the Valenciennes railway station on 23 April 1917.
RAF 55 Squadron was based initially at Fienvillers (north of Amiens) and then Boisdinghem (just west of Saint-Omer) where 55 Squadron patrolled over Flanders and the Belgian coast. They were transferred south to Ochey (west of Nancy) and then Tantonville (south of Nancy and west of the Vosges mountains). On 5 June 1918, just 8 days before Alexander McKenzie’s last flight and the day of his promotion and posting to the squadron, the squadron moved 17 km north to Azelot, sharing the aerodrome with 99 & 104 Squadrons. From here RAF 55 Squadron raided deep into Germany itself, hitting such targets as Mannheim and Kaiserslauten (east of the USAF Ramstein Air Base) in the German Rhineland-Palatinate.
Their intended target was not Trèves in France, which lies 400km south, just south of Lyon, but the German city of Trier, 150 km north on the river Moselle, just to the east of the Luxembourg border (15 km). Trier was formerly known in English as Trèves. (Karl Marx was born in Trier.)
At the age of 21 years, Alexander McKenzie enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps on 27 December 1915. In civilian life, Alexander was a chauffeur and the son of Mr and Mrs Simon Peter McKenzie, of Borland, Blacklunans, Blairgowrie, Perthshire. (Blacklunans is north of the Bridge of Cally, halfway to the Glenshee Ski Centre, on the road west over to Bridge of Brewlands and Kirkton of Glenisla, parish of Glenshee.) Alexander according to his (Kalamazoo Printed Sheets) official record was Presbyterian, 5 feet 8 ¾ inches tall, had a chest size of 36 ½ inches, fair hair, grey eyes and fresh complexion.
On 20 April 1918, Alexander was promoted to Flight Cadet, confirmed on 29 April 1918. It is probable that at the same time he was promoted, he was immediately posted to the British Expeditionary Force in France to join the Royal Air Force 55 Squadron on 5 June 1918. Sadly, he was shot down and killed only 8 days later. (On April 1, 1918, the Royal Air Force (RAF) was formed with the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).)
Lieutenant William Legge, age 23, was the son of William R. and Annie Legge, of 3, Fingzies Place, Leith, Edinburgh.
Both 2nd Lieutenant Alexander McKenzie and Lieutenant William Legge are buried in Cologne Southern Cemetery, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
On 15 October 1917, the British War Cabinet made a decision regarding strategic bombardment. The military authorities in France were told that “immediate arrangements should be made for the conduct of long-range offensive operations: against German towns where factories existed for the production of munitions of all kinds.” Two days later, eight Airco DH.4 out of eleven launched-from RAF 55 Squadron dropped 1,792 pounds: of bombs on the Burbach works at Saarbrücken.
RAF 55 Squadron was the first to frequently raid deep into Germany, one of its first raids to attack the railway station at Manheim. They narrowly missed bombing, by one hour, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor and King of Prussia who was visiting Manheim. The Allies did attempt on an earlier occasion to deliberately kill Kaiser Wilhelm II, taking off from Ruisseauville Airfield (45 km east of Le Touguet) at 4.50 am on Sunday 2 June, 12 RAF de Havilland-4 bombers (Squadron unknown) reached the Kaiser’s secret Western Front residence at Trelon (160 km, near the Belgium border) at 5:25am. They dropped up to a dozen 50kg bombs and up to 24 11kg ones.
RAF 55 Squadron developed tactics of flying in wedge formations, bombing on the leader’s command and with the massed defensive fire of the formation deterring attacks by enemy fighters. The squadron flew 221 bombing missions during the war, dropping approximately 141 long tons (143,000 kg) of bombs.
The Airco DH.4 (The Aircraft Manufacturing Company Limited) was a British two-seat biplane day bomber. It was designed by Geoffrey de Havilland for Airco and was the first British two-seat light day-bomber capable of defending itself. Following a chance meeting at the Royal Aircraft Factory, Farnborough, Captain Geoffrey de Havilland joined the company in May 1914 as Chief Designer – his machines (denoted DH) accounted for 30% of all British and US aircraft in the WW1 years. The Airco DH4 day bomber was easily the best day bomber of WW1, usually fitted with a Rolls Royce Eagle engine, the predecessor of the Merlin (although due to shortages, the Beardmore Halford Pulinger, Puma and Royal Aircraft Factory, 3a were also often used), with a Pilot, Observer, strong defensive armament, a very good bomb load and using an oxygen system owing to the high altitudes at which the aircraft could operate at.
Perth born Sergeant Alexander Stewart Allan, 406711, Medaille Militaire, was also an observer in RAF 55 Squadron. Allan also flew with Lieutenant William Legge. –
Sergeant Alexander Stewart Allan – Made in Perth ~ Official Website ~ SC044155
Perth born Group Captain Robert Halley was a member of Royal Naval Service 16 Squadron which operated out of Autreville, 35 km to the west of Azelot, during that summer of 1918. Flying Handley Page 0/100 and 0/400 aircraft, they carried about five times the bomb load of the Airco DH.4, although at a slower speed and lower altitude.
Group Captain Robert Halley DFC & 2 Bars, AFC – http://madeinperth.org/flyers-from-perthshire-in-the-second-world-war-group-captain-robert-halley-dfc-2-bars-afc/