Group Captain Robert Halley DFC & 2 Bars, AFC


It is not well known that a young 24-year-old Perth aviator played a key role in bringing a period of peace to Afghanistan by bombing the city of Kabul in 1919. His bombing of Kabul had a considerable psychological effect, impacting on the morale of the Afghan citizens, and contributed to the quick bringing about of an armistice, thus ending the Third Afghan War or the British-Afghan War of 1919.

On 8 August 1919, 102 years ago, the war weary British and King Amanullah for the Afghans, jointly signed the Treaty of Rawalpindi, the fighting ending on August 19. The British relinquished their control over Afghan foreign affairs and Afghanistan became an independent country. Afghans celebrated their Independence Day to this day on the 19 of August.

Afghanistan has been a strategically important location throughout history. It was a gateway to India from the west and benefited handsomely from trade along the Silk Roads to China. Afghanistan was described as the ‘Central Asian roundabout’ where routes converged from the Middle East, the Indus Valley, through the passes of the Hindu Kush, the Eurasian Steppe and from China via the Tarim Basin. Many conquerors have come and went through this land including Alexander the Great and the Mongols. Many costly wars have been fought for control of this country.

Group Captain Robert ‘Jock’ Halley

The story of Perth born, Robert ‘Jock’ Halley is one of a man who was incredibly courageous and heroically determined to successfully target and attack the enemy. Halley was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) on three occasions.

Group Captain Robert ‘Jock’ Halley was born in Perth in November 1895. He was the second son of Bailie and Mrs Robert Halley, 5 Barossa Place, Perth. He was educated at Perth Academy and was following out agricultural work at Ardoch of Gallery, near Montrose when on reaching military age, he enlisted. Halley was a prominent member of Perthshire Cricket Club, second eleven and was regarded as a very good slow bowler.

He joined a cyclist unit of the Royal Highlanders (HCB) in February 1915 at Montrose. In February 1917, he transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) at RNASTE Vendôme, France taking his officers commission as a Probationary Flight Officer. The airfield operated over 100 Caudron G.III tractor biplane trainers and some Maurice Farman S.7 Longhorn pusher biplanes.

On graduation, he was posted to Naval ‘A’ Squadron (later 16 Naval Squadron and 216 Squadron R.A.F.), flying twin–engine Handley Page 0/100 (H.P.11) bomber aircraft. His observer was usually the American millionaire, Bobbie Reece.

Halley undertook as verified by his Flying Log-Book, over 20 night-bombing, open cockpit, biplane aircraft missions in all weathers before the end of the war. These were very daring long-distance strikes against targets in Köln (Cologne), Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and Mannheim (6 times). Naval “A” Squadron had been hurriedly formed at Manston in 1917, the Germans had been bombing London and cities in the south-east and civilians were crying out for reprisals. They were initially equipped with Handley Page 0/100-night bombers and sent out to Ochey aerodrome in France in order to bomb the German Rhine towns.

The first aircraft crash of the squadron occurred when Flight Lieutenant (later Captain) Halley came down in the middle of a wood at Chancenay, near Saint-Dizier. The machine (3140) practically buried itself in the mud and slush, only the engines being saved. All the occupants were uninjured.

One bombing mission of Robert Halley shows how he won his first bar to his DFC. And gives an indication of the challenges faced during such sorties.  This account is from Peter Chapman’s article for the 1914-18 Journal, “Frankfurt – By Night and By Day”:

‘In late August 1918, 216 Squadron were based at Autreville, France and were equipped with Handley Page 0/100 and Handley Page 0/400 twin-engined heavy bombers. These aircraft normally carried a crew of three – pilot, observer/navigator and gunner – and with a bomb load of up to 1650lbs were able to reach targets as far afield as Cologne, Stuttgart or Frankfurt.

The weather outlook on 24 August 1918 was not good, with a strong south-east wind blowing across much of eastern France and a weather forecast of severe thunderstorms approaching later that evening. Despite this, orders were received at the squadron to mount a maximum effort that night, the main target being the railway station and sidings at Frankfurt am Main, with the Burbach works at Saarbrucken as an alternative target, should a raid on Frankfurt not be possible.

Shortly after dusk the squadron’s six serviceable aircraft took off individually, with a time lapse of a few minutes separating each take off, each aircraft being given the go ahead by the aerodrome officer via signal lamp. Soon after they had all departed, however, it became apparent to many crews that they would be faced with an almost impossible task to reach Frankfurt in the prevailing weather, and gradually all but two aircraft returned to their aerodrome with their bombs. One of the remaining two chose to bomb Boulay aerodrome, an alternate target, before also returning to Autreville.

The sixth aircraft that night was Handley Page 0/100 No. 3138, crewed by Captain Robert Halley, D.F.C. (pilot), Lieutenant Robert H. Reece, D.F.C. (observer/navigator) and 2nd Lieutenant C. W. Treleaven, a relatively new pilot in the squadron, who went along as their gunner. An experienced pairing, Halley and Reece had already undertaken a number of long-distance bombing sorties to targets such as Mannheim and Stuttgart, and both had been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross for their exploits.

After taking off and gaining height over their aerodrome, they steered a course to D lighthouse, one of a number of automated signalling lights on the Allied side of the lines which continually flashed a predetermined Morse Code letter as a guide to the night bombers. By figuring their ground speed and drift en route, the two men calculated that they could reach Frankfurt and return safely, despite the wind, if they steered a direct course there and back. Even then, their margin for error was almost nil, as they calculated they would have no more than five minutes over Frankfurt itself if they were to regain their own lines safely afterwards, and then with only 10 minutes of fuel to spare.

Steering a 39-degree course from D lighthouse, at an average altitude of 6000 feet, they encountered no more than sporadic flak from each town as they flew north of Saarburg, Bitsche and Pirmasens, then south of Kaiserslautern before crossing the Vosges mountains. They then crossed the Rhine River valley north of Oppenheim and flew on to Mainz. Here they followed the Main River to Frankfurt, arriving at their target at midnight. They were greeted by a heavy anti-aircraft barrage and numerous searchlights, but switching off engines briefly, Halley quickly glided their aircraft down and Reece dropped their bomb load, comprised of a single 550lb and four 112lb bombs, as close as possible to the Hauptbahnhof, or main railway station.

All of their bombs missed the intended target, falling in a ragged line across the properties alongside the river front, near the Westhafen. One bomb that landed on the Westhafen itself caused considerable damage to material stored there. This was possibly the 550lb bomb. The rest of the bombs damaged private property. Overall damage was considerable, however, amounting to 100,000 marks.

Having dropped their bombs, Halley and Reece hastily steered the most direct course for their own lines, over 100 miles away against a strengthening headwind. To add to their problems, they were approaching a storm ahead, which they dared not climb above as they did not have the fuel to spare. They elected instead to fly right underneath it, and found themselves being tossed about by fierce winds while being illuminated by lightning flashes and soaked by driving rain for hours. They were also being caught periodically in searchlights and their aircraft received numerous shrapnel hits from the accurate anti-aircraft fire, although none of these were serious enough to bring them down.

They finally cleared the first storm as they passed over Kaiserslautern, only to fly straight into another storm on the other side of the town. This storm too was cleared briefly, sufficient for them to again check their course and make a course correction, before they flew into a third and even more violent storm than those before. Fortunately, this storm was over quicker than its two predecessors, as Halley was unable to do more than keep the aircraft flying while it lasted, with no chance to follow a compass course. They arrived south of the Marne-Rhine canal as dawn was breaking, and steered for the nearest aerodrome, but shortly after crossing into friendly territory their engines stopped through lack of fuel, and the exhausted crew were forced to make a safe landing in a field near Luneville, eight and a half hours after they had set out.

Having striven against almost impossible weather, this brave crew had succeeded in reaching Frankfurt and dropping their bombs there, causing some considerable damage, albeit in the wrong place. They had then returned to a safe landing on their own side of the lines.

Their chief enemy this night was not the Germans however, but the weather, which may well have caused a less experienced crew to fail in their mission. They did not encounter enemy fighters during the entire flight but had been subjected to accurate anti-aircraft fire from various towns en route, as they were forced to fly low in a storm and were being illuminated by lightning flashes as well as searchlights from the ground.’

After this mission, Halley was awarded Bar to his DFC for this effort and he was selected to be one of only four pilots for a top-secret mission to attack ‘the right spot’, to bomb the German capital of Berlin. This would involve for the first time, non-stop flying by bomber aircraft all the way from England and back again.

The following message was received by RAF 216 squadron at the termination of WW1 hostilities:

D.S.O.

To O.C. No. 216 Squadron

Sender’s Number G.O.C./211.

AAA On the Armistice being singed I would like to congratulate you on having materially assisted in bringing about this desirable result by creating demoralisation in Germany AAA It was only by the determination of the Ground Personnel in keeping the machines in an efficient condition and of the Pilots and Observers in getting the distance that this result was brought about AAA I hope to be able to come and thank you personally shortly AAA I would like you all to remember however that although the Armistice has been signed we must keep our weapons ready for instant use in case the enemy shows any signs of negligence to carry out the conditions AAA

From General Trenchard, H.Q., I.F.  

( AAA was standard telegram-ese for a full stop)

Berlin

Asleep in bed one night following another long night bombing raid on Mannheim, he was awoken and told he had to leave for England the following morning. A destroyer was waiting for him at Dunkirk and a car would meet him at Dover to take him to London. Halley was to fly the new Super Handley V/1500′, very large, four-engine biplane designed to carry a 3,000 lb bomb load and fly from airfields in East Anglia, the distance to Berlin and back. The V/1500 was the very first aircraft to feature a gun turret in the tail and its size was not surpassed until the Boeing Super Fortress arrived in WW2.

Before these Berlin raids could be carried out, the war ended, the Armistice was agreed with Germany and World War One ended.

India

A few weeks later, in December 1918, Halley with Major A C S McLaren as co-pilot (and Maltese Terrier, ‘Tiny’), Flight Sergeant Smith, Sergeant Crockett, and Sergeant Brown as the crew set off to fly to India from Ipswich in Handley Page V/1500 J1936, ‘HMA Old Carthusian ‘. They also carried a passenger, Brigadier General Norman D K McEwen who was to take over as AOC (Air Officer Commanding) in India. The planned route was via Paris, Rome, Malta, Cairo, Bagdad, and Karachi – 5,560 miles, accomplished in a time of 72 hours and 41 minutes, at an average speed of 77 mph. Only once did they actually land at their designated aerodrome on the flight plan. When they arrived in Delhi, the Viceroy, and a crowd of 30,000 greeted them.

The London Daily Mail was keenly interested in the great adventure. The following account was published:

“A British Aeroplane left England today, Friday (13 December 1918) for a flight to India.

At 9.30 a.m., a giant Handley Page, of V/1500 type, carrying six members of the Royal Air Force, rose from the aerodrome at Martlesham, near Ipswich, and headed for the Channel and France on a flight to Karachi, and hence to Delhi.

The huge craft crossed the Channel but ran into a bank of thick fog and was compelled to land at a small town near the French coast. It is hoped that the weather tomorrow morning will allow a continuance of the journey, and that Miramas, near Marseille, may be reached to-morrow night.

On the front of the engines was “H.M.A. Old Carthusian.” She was named by chief pilot, Major Archibald Stuart McLaren, M.C., A.F.C., who was a Charterhouse boy, as was one of the passengers, General McEwen.

If everything goes well and the most sanguine of hopes are realised the journey may be made in seven stages.

The Handley Page V/1500 had a wingspan of 126 ft and four Rolls Royce Eagle engines between them developing 1,400hp.

A.F.C. – Pioneering Through Flight to India

As Halley later recalled in his lively account of the flight for Aeroplane Monthly (December 1978):

‘It was indeed a great moment. MacLaren and I had a lot in common, except that he was 6ft. 2in. and I 5ft. 3in wearing my thick socks! He was also a Scot and had already flown to Egypt in an 0/400 with General “Biffy” Borton. Our considerable experience on heavy aircraft had brought us together … A day or two later we were at Martlesham Heath, as it was from there that we were going to start, and Rolls-Royce mechanics were working on the aircraft. All the crew were now assembled there. Flight Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Crockett, fitters, and Sergeant Brown, rigger, had been selected as maintenance crew. Going with us as a passenger was General Norman McEwan, who was to take over as A.O.C. in India on arrival. As General MacEwen and MacLaren were both at school at Charterhouse, the aircraft was named H.M.A. Old Carthusian. We also had another passenger, “Tiny”, a little Maltese Terrier belonging to MacLaren that had already flown to Egypt earlier in the year. He was mad keen on flying and whenever the engines started, he ran to the bottom of the ladder to be taken up into the cockpit!’

Thus ensued an extraordinary journey, via Paris, Rome, Malta, Cairo, Baghdad, and Karachi, the whole enacted between 13 December 1918 and 15 January 1919, a journey ‘full of incidents, some of them not easy to cope with’, not least the final flight into Karachi – Christopher Cole and Roderick Grant take up the story in But Not in Anger:

‘To reduce weight only one of the N.C.O.s could travel – he was in fact needed in the tail cockpit to give the correct trim for take-off – and Smith won the toss. While Halley dashed back to get their kit and pay the bills, MacLaren taxied his way between the dunes as fast as he dared to avoid getting stuck in the soft sand. The tide was right out leaving a two-mile strip of firm, damp beach. There was a slope across its width, but the pair of sound engines was on the side to counteract any tendency to swing. Today, a three-engine ferry take-off by a four-engine aircraft from a concrete runway is a routine piece of operating procedure, and with the substantial power reserves of a modern jet transport presents no hazard. The crew of Old Carthusian were – as far as is known – doing it for the first time in aviation history, in a hot climate, from wet sand in an aircraft considered underpowered even by 1919 standards.

MacLaren opened up the three Eagles and at 17.45 the aircraft slowly rolled away, gradually picked up speed and was airborne after a run of about a mile. Twenty minutes later they had reached 1,000 feet and were passing the Britomart on their starboard side. Her smoke was still a smudge on the horizon when their justifiable elation was rudely shattered as both starboard engines gave a few splutters and then stopped, leaving them to defy gravity by the sole efforts of the front port. The crew’s immediate diagnosis was the right one – the wind driven pump for transferring fuel from the main tank to the starboard gravity tank had finally shed all its miserable little vane cups and given up the struggle. Halley dived back to the engineer’s station and strenuously attacked the emergency pump with both hands, wondering how he could attract Smith’s attention. The engines picked up again and Halley hastened back to the cockpit. He had just managed to get through to Smith – 60 feet to the rear – by sign language when the engines again stopped, and again Halley rushed to the pumps. As the engines picked up for the second time, Smith came crawling down the fuselage and thereafter they took turns to man the pumps.

At 18.45, just as the last light had faded, and with about 35 miles to go the rear starboard engine began to lose revolutions, its temperature shot up and there was no alternative but to throttle it right down, then switch off completely. The seizure was due to a broken oil pipe, and nothing could be done in flight. Since they were providentially left with an engine on each side, they retained reasonable control though it was impossible to maintain height. The next half hour seemed like an eternity. With both remaining engines at full throttle and their temperatures reading only 5 degrees C below boiling point, MacLaren held the aircraft barely above the stall, and with the airspeed indicator showing 52 m.p.h. she staggered along, losing about 10 feet of vital altitude with every minute that passed. They just scraped over the ridge of hills to the west of Karachi, but very soon they must hit the ground and there was no possibility of circling around looking for the city’s temporary aerodrome.

By some happy chance, the priority departure signal despatched by Brown from Ormara had not only arrived but was sent straight away by runner to the senior Royal Engineer officer who was playing hockey. He immediately appreciated the need for urgent action, grabbed some men and hastily improvised flares from petrol and rags, and for good measure fired off a few pyrotechnics as soon as the faint drone of engines was heard to the west. From the flight deck of Old Carthusian, the crew peered at the myriad lights of Karachi still some miles away and wondered where they could safely put down. Then Halley gave a wild shout and pointed straight ahead. He had spotted one of the signals, and faintly twinkling on the ground almost dead in line with their heading was an obvious flare-path. They were now frighteningly low down and the straight in approach had to be exactly right, first time. It was precisely so and when the Handley Page rolled to a halt at 19.15 the pilots climbed out, grabbed one another by the arms and literally danced for joy.

“Until that moment I thought that dancing for joy was just a figure of speech”, recalls Halley, “but we did it – though since we were such an oddly sized couple, the onlookers probably thought we were quite mad. They had seen us make a good and apparently normal landing but knew nothing of our harrowing experience.”

Present day jet passengers bothered by the effect of long-distance travel on their circadian rhythm or body clock may care to reflect that this first England to India flight over a distance of 5,560 miles was accomplished in 72 hours 41 minutes, at an average speed of 77mph

That night Halley underlined the impression that flyers were eccentric people by arriving for dinner with the Governor of Sind half an hour late and wearing a dinner suit nearly a foot too long in the sleeves and leg. He had fallen asleep in his bath from sheer fatigue – and was not the easiest to fit when it came to borrowing clothes.

When McEwen arrived and heard the full story, he promptly forestalled any criticism of the pilots by signalling Air Ministry, saying that he could not speak too highly of their enterprise, grit and determination for successfully completing the flight in the face of so many difficulties, particularly during the final 170 miles – over 50 of which there was no possibility of landing.

Despite only once being able to land at the aerodrome designated on their flight plan, the crew had nearly always managed to notify some authority of their whereabouts before anxiety was aroused. The aircraft was for a short time posted as missing after the forced landing in Egypt, since it had not been sighted after passing Sollum, and H.Q. Middle East was about to launch a major search when the message reporting its safety was received.’

The Viceroy of India later asked Halley to carry out a daring bombing strike on Kabul, Afghanistan. At 03.00 hours on 24 May 1919, Old Carthusian took off. The route was northwest towards the Khyber Pass, on up the Kabul River and followed a rough road to Jalalabad just as the sun was coming up. Then west another 90 miles to Kabul. They pressed on despite a starboard engine water leak coming from the second cylinder.  The precipitous mountains ahead were the next concern, they just managed to clear the gap where the road went through the 8,000 feet ridge of Jagalak Pass.

Kabul Raid

Having then flown on to Delhi, where a crowd of 30,000 and the Viceroy greeted the Old Carthusian, and undertaken some V.I.P. flights, Halley was summoned by General McEwan in lieu of the mounting troubles on the frontier and, to cut a long story short, was ordered to carry out a daring bombing strike on Kabul. Halley takes up the story:

‘Four 112lb. bomb racks from No. 31 Squadron’s B.E.2Cs were attached to the lower wing main spars and connected to the front cockpit where an Observer would release the bombs. We put sixteen 20-pounders in the rear cockpit, and they would be dropped by the crew once the 112lb. bombs had been released. We had to true up the wings and tighten the fabric. We also fitted two laminated four-bladed propellers fashioned from a local wood called padouk.

We took off at about 3 a.m. on 24 May 1919 – Empire Day. An L-shaped flare path was laid out, consisting of seven flares made from empty five-gallon oil drums filled with oil-soaked cotton waste. These proved effective for take-off and would have been useful if it were found necessary to land in the dark in case of emergency.

The route lay towards the Khyber Pass, and as the clearing height was about 3,000 feet this meant flying around for about an hour to gain height before going over a ridge of hills. The Khyber was only dimly visible, as were a few lights at Jamrud Fort and Landi Kotal. From there we flew over the Kabul River and a rough road running parallel up to Jalabad, the only town of any size on the route. As we were approaching Jalabad and daybreak was coming up I was checking the starboard rev. counter when to my horror I saw water leaking from the base of the second cylinder. I got Flight Sergeant Smith up beside me and, with engines throttled back to aid hearing, we hurriedly conferred as to what should be done.

The leak was caused by a defective rubber connection fitted between the water jacket and the collecting pipe running along the base of the six cylinders. Drops of water were being blown by the slipstream, making it impossible to estimate the extent of the leakage. Kabul was still about 90 miles ahead, and there was the return time to think about. I was in the middle of a steep turn, and on looking down noticed smoke from a fire being blown in the direction of Kabul and stretching out parallel with the ground, indicating a favourable wind of some force.

Villiers got Flight Sergeant Smith alongside me again, and after some shrugging of shoulders and other signs of an even chance, we decided to continue.

Oh, God – somewhere ahead there was that ridge to cross, with Kabul still further on. Much went through my mind at this stage of the journey. I was continually looking at the leakage and the frightening appearance of the precipitous mountains around. The Jagfalak Pass, through which the road went at nearly 8,000 feet, was not yet visible. It was quite thrilling threading one’s way between high peaks. Suddenly on making a turn, the road appeared on a crest of the ridge ahead, but to my horror it was some height above the aircraft’s nose.

Remembering the smoke, we had just left behind, I wondered whether we could gain enough up-lift to take us over the hills ahead. At about two miles away we were definitely below the ridge, so I said to myself “here goes” and, holding the nose up and with the four engines running full out we went sailing over the top and down on the other side. It was unbelievable – even now I can see the look Villiers had on his face! He quickly took to looking downwards from his side of the cockpit and with a grin gave me a “thumbs up”! Afterwards he told me that, on passing over the ridge, he saw a camel convoy of over 100 animals on its way to Kabul or the Khyber stampede in all directions, quite a number falling down the precipitous mountain side.

On getting over the ridge and regaining my breath I saw our target ahead, spread out over a vast area on a lush green fertile plateau; a marked change from the barren and mountainous terrain that we had just come across. With a population of 300,000, it was not surprising that Kabul covered such an area. It was also reputed to have the busiest and finest Bazaar in the East.

Owing to the risk of starboard engine failure, we had to cut our time over Kabul to a minimum. Nevertheless, the bombing achieved good results, and if that didn’t frighten a city that had never seen an aircraft before, the sight and sound of the Old Carthusian roaring over the city at a few hundred feet with four engines fitted with stub exhausts certainly did!

On the return journey we again headed for the Jagdalak Pass, and believe it or not, had the benefit of a slightly following wind, which had veered through 180 degrees! As we were now relieved of our bombs, we flew over the ridge with height to spare.

The return flight seemed interminable, and we were all very conscious of the water leakage on the starboard engine. My eyes were glued to the temperature gauge in the nacelle, and we had nearly reached the Khyber when I saw the pointer rise slowly above normal; there was nothing to do but switch off the engine and carry on with three running full out to keep height. This we were able to do and landed at Risalpur after six hours in the air. It would be an understatement to say we were all greatly relieved!

The main object of bombing Kabul was to alarm King Amanullah, a result so successfully attained that a message came to the Viceroy immediately afterwards to the effect that the Afghans wanted peace. This was the end of the Old Carthusian’s career, which had been bedevilled by misfortune from first to last. Nevertheless, the old V/1500 had accomplished something unique in history – it had ended a war on its own! So finished the Third Afghan War, terminated by a strategic bombing raid at a negligible cost which must have saved hundreds of lives and the cost of an extensive land campaign. It also restored peace to a large slice of India.

The raid had one or two amusing angles to it. For example, when Amanullah’s uncle, a keen golfer, died suddenly under rather questionable circumstances, Amanullah had him buried under the first tee. As one of our twenty-pounders, carelessly thrown out by the crew, had landed near the grave, Amanullah complained to the Viceroy that we had bombed the tomb of his ancestor! Another comic episode appeared in The Aeroplane of 22 April 1942. The editor, C. G. Grey wrote, ‘The raid on Kabul was made with decisive effect – that was when Jock Halley blew out the walls of the King’s Harem and started the fashion of female emancipation in Afghanistan!’

A few years after the Afghan War, King Amanullah visited England as a guest, and was given an air display at Hendon. Being in Scotland at the time I was unable to attend. However, I received a letter from C. G. Grey: ‘Dear Jock, I noticed you were conspicuous by your absence at Hendon on Saturday. Had you been there no doubt you would have had a knife in your back!’

There is one final comment that I would like to make concerning the raid. As the pilot and captain of the aircraft I was given a Second Bar to my Distinguished Flying Cross. However, my stalwart N.C.O.s, Flight Sergeant Smith and Sergeant Crockett, fitters, and Sergeant Brown, rigger, who accompanied me quite voluntarily and who had supervised the rebuilding of the aircraft, received no official recognition in spite of all my recommendations. They had all won the Air Force Medal for their efforts on the flight to India. Now, we know that the D.F.C. and D.F.M. are awarded for ‘distinguished flying in the face of the enemy,’ and the A.F.C. and A.F.M. for ‘distinguished flying in the face of Providence!’ Surely these brave men had earned some recognition in the former category and Lieutenant Villiers also.

Here, belatedly, let me pay my respects to them’ (Aeroplane August 1979, refers).

Old Carthusian‘ dropped 20 bombs, one 112-pound and three 20-pound on the Amir’s palace sending the ladies of the royal harem into the streets screaming in terror, this caused a great scandal. Another three 112-pound and seven 20-pound bombs hit the royal arsenal at Arg causing a large explosion. Six hours later they landed at Risalpur, now in Pakistan. The founding editor of the British weekly The Aeroplane, C. G. Grey wrote: ‘The raid on Kabul was made with decisive effect – that was when Jock Halley blew out the walls of the King’s Harem and started the fashion of female emancipation in Afghanistan!’.

King Amanullah had declared Jihad on 3 May 1919 and sent the 50,000 strong Afghan army supported by 120,000 frontier tribesmen into British India to start the Third Afghan War, known in Afghanistan as the War of Independence. The Treaty of Gandamak in 1879 had held for 40 years, but now they wanted to be free and independent of existing treaties with British India.

The purpose of the Halley raid was to alarm King Amanullah and it did so successfully, attaining an immediate message to the Viceroy in India that the Afghans wanted peace. Halley later claimed to have ‘ended the war on his own’.  An armistice was signed on 8 August 1919.

D.F.C. London Gazette 3 August 1918:

‘A gallant and determined leader in long distance night bombing raiding. He has been most successful in many of these raids, generally under adverse weather conditions and intense anti-aircraft fire from the enemy and having had to fly by compass owing to density of mist. In his last raid the flight outward and homeward lasted eight hours.’

Later Years

Gaining steady promotion between the Wars, Halley enjoyed varied employment, including stints with the Fleet Air Arm in HMS Eagle and HMS Glorious in the 1920s and 1930s. He was Assistant Commandant at RAF Cranwell when WW2 started. He was posted to Gibraltar as Commanding Officer of No. 200 Group, Coastal Command in 1941. Halley pressed the Governor, Lord Gort, to back his plan for extending the runway to deal with “modern aircraft”, a plan which in fact the Governor refused to support, instead complaining to the C.-in-C. Coastal Command about Halley. He was ordered back to RAF Silloth in Cumbria as Station Commander. Inevitably, the Gibraltar runway was extended in time for “Operation Torch”, the North African landings on 8 November 1942.

Group Captain Robert Halley DFC & 2 Bars, AFC (Air Force Cross) was made a Wing Commander on 1 July 1933 and Group Captain on 1 July 1938. He retired from the RAF on 6 May 1945. Group Captain Robert Halley died on 13 December 1979, exactly 61 years since his departure to India. His obituary stated that he was ‘one of the aviation ‘greats’ of all time, a man cast in the ‘heroic mould’.

Awards:

Bar to D.F.C. London Gazette 1 January 1919.

Second Bar to D.F.C. London Gazette 12 July 1920 (Afghanistan).

A.F.C. London Gazett22 December 1919.

First and Second D.F.C.s – Night Bomber Pilot

Medals

In September 2011, the medals of Group Captain Robert Halley were sold by auction. Established in 1990, Dix Noonan Webb Ltd are the UK’s leading specialist auctioneers and valuers of banknotes, coins, tokens, medals, and militaria staging regular auctions throughout the year.

The following information is from the information provided by Dix Noonan Webb at the time of sale of the medals.

Robert Halley’s medal were sold by auction with a quantity of original documentation, including the recipient’s original Royal Naval Air Service Pilot’s Flying Logbook, covering the period February 1917 until September 1919, and two or three portrait photographs, together with a letter opener fashioned from wood taken from one of the Old Carthusian’s propellers, with ink inscription and Halley’s signature: copies of Aeroplane Monthly for December 1978 (with Halley’s account of the U.K. to India flight), August 1979 (with his account of the Kabul raid), and November 1979 (with his account of Hendon displays in the 1920s); and bound photocopies of the A.O.C. India’s official report on the U.K. to India flight and the text of a speech given by Halley on the same subject; so, too, a CD from the Royal Air Force Museum’s film and sound archive, with an interview with Halley.

Dix Noonan Webb Ltd.

LONDON SPECIALIST AUCTIONEERS

Lot 912

Date of Auction: 23rd September 2011

Sold for £24,000

Estimate: £18,000 – £2,000

The unique Great War and Afghan War D.F.C. and 2 Bars, A.F.C. group of eleven awarded to Group Captain R. “Jock” Halley, Royal Air Force, late Royal Naval Air Service: having won a brace of D.F.C.s for his gallantry in daring long-distance night bombing raids to Germany in 1918, he was awarded the A.F.C. for the epic flight of the Super Handley V/1500 Old Carthusian to India – where he promptly won a third D.F.C. for a remarkable raid on Kabul in May 1919.

Distinguished Flying Cross, G.V.R., with Second and Third Award Bars, unnamed as issued; Air Force Cross, G.V.R., unnamed as issued; British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Capt. R. Halley, R.A.F.); India General Service 1908-35, 1 clasp, Afghanistan N.W.F. 1919 (Flt. Lieut. R. Halley, R.A.F.); 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf; Jubilee 1935; Coronation 1937, mounted court-style as worn, very fine and better – £18000-22000

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RNASTE (Royal Naval Air Service Training Establishment) Vendôme was located between Le Mans and Orléans.

Bobby Reece originally served with the La Lafayette Escadrille. The escadrille of the Aéronautique Militaire was composed largely of American volunteer pilots flying fighters. Bobby Reece came over from the USA and joined the “Lafayette” in 1915. Reece apparently crashed so many planes that they let him go. Halley described Reece as ‘ham-handed’ as a pilot but had managed to wrangle his way into becoming his observer in RAF 216 Squadron. Bobby Reece was awarded the DFC at the same time as Robert Halley during a bombing mission to Germany, one of the few Americans to hold this award. Reece was part of the Reece Buttonhole Manufacturing Company, Sewing Machine Manufacturers, Boston Massachusetts, USA. The company is still in business, merging with AMF Sewn Products Inc. in 1991 to form AMF Reece.

The airfield at Risalpur was created in 1910 by the Royal Flying Corp. RFC/RAF No. 31 Squadron flew B.E.2c and Farman biplanes in a ground support role from Risalpur. In 1947, it became the airfield of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF). In 1967 it was upgraded to the Pakistan Air Force Academy Asghar Khan.

On 17 May 1919, a Handley Page Type O/400, D5439 of RAF 58 Squadron carrying Thomas Edward Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) on a flight to Cairo, Egypt crashed at the airport of Roma-Centocelle. T E Lawrence had been attending the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris and had hitched a ride in order to collect from Cairo documents relating to his service in the Middle East during the Great War. The pilot and co-pilot were both killed; Lawrence survived the incident with a broken shoulder blade and two broken ribs. The latter injury troubling him for the rest of his life.

Captain John William Alcock DSC and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown of the RAF aboard Vickers Vimy F.B.27A Mk.IV biplane bomber made the very first successful non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing by air on 14-15 June 1919

A Bristol Fighter, BF4626 aeroplane of RAF 20 Squadron was lost on 30 July 1919 during the conflict. Acting Captain George Eastwood was shot through the chest by a party of tribesmen concealed on the hillside. The observer, 2nd Lieutenant David Lapraik was also injured. A rescue mission was undertaken by the Kurram Militia from the post at Badama. Both airmen survived, George Eastwood was discharged from the RAF in December 1919 and David Lapraik in May 1920.

In December 1978, Aeroplane Monthly published the first-hand account of Group Captain Robert Halley’s trail-blazing journey to India at the end of 1918. This magazine article is still under copyright, but a back issue may still be available to purchase and some of the text was reprinted when Halley’s medal were auctioned in 2011, see below.

Titled: Per Ardua Ad India

Subtitle: Sixty years ago, on December 13, 1918, the third prototype Handley Page V/1500, J1936, took off from Martlesham Heath for a flight to India. GP CAPT ROBERT HALLEY, AFC now aged 63, was one of the pilots, and he recalls this trail-blazing through flight from England to India, a journey bedevilled by bad weather and mechanical failures

Opening Text: On Friday, December 13, 1918, the second aircraft to fly to India from this country took off from martlesham Heath in Suffolk. As I happened to be the co-pilot, along with Maj. Stuart MacLaren, on that early pioneer flight, and this year – 1978, a record of some of the amusing things that happened, together with some of the rather frightening ocurrences with which we had to cope, might be of interest.

Closing Text: We had left on Friday, December 13th, 1918, and arrived on January 15, 1919 – and we never once landed at out intended destination! Up to this time I had never been a superstitious man, but after all we went through, I am still inclined to look a little askance at Friday the 13th.

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Group Captain Robert Halley

Aerial view of part of Kabul taken from Handley Page V/1500, J1936, “HMA Old Carthusian”, during its bombing raid on the Afghan capital, 24 May 1919

Attribution: British Air Force RAF, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Aerial_photography_during_bombing_raid_on_Kaul_Afghanistan_24_May_1919.jpg

Picture – Ron Eisele

Image

Picture – Ron Eisele

Image

Picture – Ron Eisele

Image

BRITISH AIRCRAFT OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 68142) Handley Page V/1500 night heavy bomber. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205315435

BRITISH AIRCRAFT IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 67636) Handley Page V/1500 heavy bomber biplane. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205184431

AIRCRAFT OF THE ROYAL AIR FORCE 1918-1939 (H(AM) 194) A Handley Page V/1500 bomber, which made the first flight from England to India in January 1919. In May 1919 it bombed rebel Afghans in Kabul, and was thus the only V/1500 to see action. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205125510

Picquets from 2nd Battalion, 61st King George’s Own Pioneers, overlooking the Khyber Pass, 1919, 3rd Afghan War. Image from the National Army Museum, NAM Accession Number NAM. 1983-12-4-45. Copyright/Ownership
© National Army Museum, Out of Copyright. Location, National Army Museum, Study collection

The Khyber Pass is a 53-kilometer (33-miles) passage through the Hindu Kush. It connects the northern frontier of what is now Pakistan with Afghanistan. During the three Afghan Wars the pass was the scene of numerous skirmishes between Anglo-Indian soldiers and local tribesmen who tried to control access to it.

BRITISH AIRCRAFT IN THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 67636) Handley Page V/1500 heavy bomber biplane. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205184431

BRITISH AIRCRAFT OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 68142) Handley Page V/1500 night heavy bomber. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205315435

BRITISH AIRCRAFT OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR (Q 67547) Handley Page V/1500 heavy bomber biplane. This is the second form of the first prototype. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205314777

The de Triomphe style arch, Zafar Arch or Arch of Victory (Persian: طاق ظفر‎ Taq-e Zafar) is located in Paghman Gardens. It was built by King Amanullah in commemoration of the War of Independence in 1919. Pagman is a town in the hills near Afhganistan’s capitol of Kabul.
This content is freely available under simple legal terms because of Creative Commons, © Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. From the National Library of Scotland. Black-and-white photographs mainly of the Western Front during the First World War. Official British war photographers took many of them for propaganda purposes. Unless otherwise stated, titles are the photographs’ original captions. From the papers of Field Marshal (Earl) Haig (1861-1928). The Haig Papers also contain Douglas Haig’s diaries.

Photographs taken by Tom Aitken, a newspaper photographer from Glasgow who was assigned in December 1917 as a war photographer along with David McLellan and Armando Consolé. McLellan’s work also features in the National Library of Scotland’s Haig Papers. War photographers held a hybrid position during World War I, being part of yet not ultimately responsible to the military.

(65) N.498 – Air mechanics seeing that all’s well before the Handley-Page sets out to bomb the Germans
Permanent URL: https://digital.nls.uk/74549110

(66) N.499 – One of her propellers
Permanent URL: https://digital.nls.uk/74549112

(69) N.510 – Up in the air in a Handley-Page, showing another Handley-Page making for the enemy’s lines
Permanent URL: https://digital.nls.uk/74549118

(68) N.508 – Handley-Pages setting out to bomb the Germans
Permanent URL: https://digital.nls.uk/74549116

(67) N.501 – Nose of a Handley-Page manned by three men
Permanent URL: https://digital.nls.uk/74549114