The Final Days of Fury 1918

Beginning in 1918, the British, French and Belgian Headquarters organised themselves to better use air observation and air photography. Each army became responsible of the observation on one sector of the front. The Belgians received the responsibility of the sector at the west of Oostende-Vijfwegen railroads. Co-operation and information exchange in the air was not new but it was the first time it was such organised. Some Belgian crews specialised in air to ground photography as Jaumotte had developed such expertise, British or French HQ asked on many occasions for pictures taken by Jaumotte.

In 1918 the Germans tried for the last time to obtain a decision on the Western front before the American troops could become available in force. In the air the balance was already in favour of the allies before the arrival in mass of the US Air Service with the following figures in June 1918:

  1. France: 3857 aircraft
  2. Commonwealth: 2630 aircraft
  3. Germany: 2551 aircraft
  4. USA: 180 aircraft
  5. Belgium: 127 aircraft

The most significant fact for the Belgian Air Corps in the first month of 1918 was the establishment of the "Groupe de Chasse Jacquet" (Fighter group Jacquet) in February 1918. Under the command of Commandant Fernand Jacquet who was already an ace himself, the Belgian fighter squadrons were grouped together to offer fighters cover to Army units and observation aircraft, as the French already practised. Fighters patrols were also organised to interdict the presence of German observation aeroplane along the Belgian frontline. The Group flying Camel, Spad VII, Hanriot HD1 and Pup grouped some skilled fighter pilots including Coppens, Olieslagers, Demeulemeester. Thieffry was shot down and taken prisoner on 23rd April. Until then the use of fighter aircraft in the Belgian Air Corps was very empirical. It was fighter squadrons with individuals operating on their own or flying missions on behalf of the Army. Observation squadron sometime had their own fighters to their disposal to protect themselves. This is the case with some Sopwith Pup's detached within observation squadrons.

The group was just established when the Germans started their last offensive of the war on 21 March. The German air service was again present in great number in the sky of Flanders from airfields in Vlissegem, Gontrode, Oostakker en Mariakerhe.

However, the reaction of the Allies was very strong. On the Belgian front, the fighters of RAF conducted offensive patrols and succeed in keeping air superiority. On the ground the situation stayed confuse until May when the German offensive was at last stopped.

After the Allies won the battle on the Somme in August, the Belgians prepared to participate in the offensive in the Flanders. On 28 September at 05:30 local time, Belgian, British and French troops assaulted the German trenches. A few minutes before the start of the offensive, Breguet XIV's and Spad XI's of the observation squadrons took off to support the infantry.

French and Belgian observation squadrons co-operated to offer full advantage of the air support. Some aeroplanes were used to bomb and to machinegun the German positions. Ammunitions and supplies were also dropped from the air to advancing troops. On 14th October, Coppens was heavily wounded in shooting down his 37 victim, another observation balloon. He successfully came back to his base but he lost one of his legs in the adventure.

On 17 October, some pilots of the Groupe Jacquet flying of Spad VII, Spad XIII, Spad XI two-seat landed in Oostende, being the first Belgian army members to enter the town after the four years of German occupation.

The French and British also operated aircraft to support the advancing troops. In November 1918, French Breguet XIV ans Salmson's operated from advanced airstrips along the Leie river. British DH4's, Camels and SE5's conducted daily attacks in the sector Mons-Tournai-Enghien in the last days of the War. Remembrances of these daily missions are not so vivid as the actions of the fighter-bombers after D-Day 1944 but traces can be found in contemporary testimonies. There were still some US squadrons operating in Flanders in November.

When advancing in Belgium, Allies aviators found huge amount of aeronautical material left by retreating troops. Some WW1 aircraft displayed today in Museums all around the war were captured in Belgium. After the war the US Air Corps used Antwerpen until at last 1920 to load into ships German aircraft to the USA. Germans also left airfields still used today as Schaffen near Diest. It seem Kurt Tank, the future designer of the FW190, was working on this airfield. The town of Namur housed a Zeppelin shed build by the Germans. Albert Einstein was one on the engineers in charge of erecting the installation there.

In the minds of the Belgian Army high rank officers, the Belgian army air corps had been a very useful auxiliary force during all the conflict. Their approach of the use of air power was deeply influenced by the French strategy. The tactics use by the Belgian air corps was far different from the tactics used by the RAF. All during the coming years the situation would not change.

Commandant Nelis, one of the first pilots of the Belgian Air Corps, commanded the Calais Beaumarais Depot throughput the war. Aircraft were there maintained and repaired. New aircraft were also delivered in this place. In the last months of the war, Nellis started thinking about the developments of Aviation in Belgium after the War but this is another story. One of the assistant of Nellis in Callais was the great father of another member of the BAHA.