R.A.F. Combats in the Air Report of 
F/Slt. Ron Sykes, 203 Squadron
 

On the right is a Royal Air Force Combats in the Air report dated May 30, 1918 and recording the shooting down "out of control" of a German Fokker Dr. I tri-plane.  R.A.F. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Ronald Sykes, who submitted the report, is upper left.  

The report states that Sykes was flying Sopwith Camel B6378 of Squadron No.203 equipped with "2 Vickers syn guns" on a "H.Off.Pat. & Escort." or high offensive patrol and escort, at 15,000 feet.  Giving the time of 6:10 pm and the location Fournes en Weppes, Sykes writes: "Whilst escorting DH9's from HAUBORDIN I observed 3 EA and attacked rear machine.  I fired a good burst at about 100 yds and EA turned over and was going down vertically out of control when I last saw it, as I was getting left behind and had to catch up the formation." Sykes signed the report and it was counter-signed by Harold 'Kiwi' Beamish, an Australian, who was the officer commanding 203 Squadron that day and seen sitting on the left in the photo above.  The report is annotated in its upper right corner "CR. 167/18" which cross-references it to both the squadron's as well as the First Brigade's war diaries.  

Ronald Sykes was born March 3rd, 1899 and became a Royal Naval Air Service Flight Sub/Lieutenant at 18 years of age on July 18, 1917 joining R.N.A.S. squadron Naval 3 as a pilot on September 20, 1917.  Sykes can be seen in a series of photos below, from the photograph in his RAeC certificate on the left, care of the RAF Museum Hendon, then in a photo care of Frank Cheesman taken at Westgate in June 1919 with 219 Squadron (May, Liddy, Sykes, Pettite, Ruttles), and then many years later after the war, hair receding.  

The primary source for research into this engagement is the squadron log book located at the Public Records Office in Kew, outside of London.  The inside cover page of the log can be seen below and illustrates a Camel attacking an Albatros D.III. 

The squadron diary numbers and lists another combat just before Sykes's CR. 167/18, that being CR.166/18, an engagement by Flight Lieutenant E.T. Hayne flying Camel D3376 with Sykes in 'A' Flight in the same location and at the same time on the same day.  Hayne's report identifies his victim as a “Single seater Albatross. Painted white fuselage and tail plane, gray upper plane.” This aircraft was likely part of the group of three EA Sykes refers to in his report.  Elsewhere, Sykes is reported to have engaged a Fokker D.VII as well as the triplane on the same day at the same location; perhaps this was the third of three Enemy Aircraft, though the Fokker D.VII may simply be confused by another reporter with the Fokker Dr. I..  

The diary states under squadron “Movements:” “May 15. Liettres to Filescamps Ferme.” This is 17 miles west of Arras (see AIR 1/piece 425, PRO) and near the village of Izel-le-Hameau.  

AIR 1/424/15/256/1 provides weekly field returns at 10th wing and No. 3 / 203 squadrons daily report summaries.   These reports include activity “Up to and including Saturday in each week.” Report #12 for the period ending 25 May 1918 states that there are 26 officers as effective strength with 2 on leave.  The report is signed on its end date, 25 May 1918 and lists Major R. Collishaw, the Commanding Officer, on leave. In Collishaw's absence, an Australian, R.A.Little, was Acting Squadron Commander, but not for long.  Report 13 for the week ending 1 June 1918 notes that R.A.Little was killed in action on 27 May 1918.  Little was replaced as "A" flight commander by Beamish and, as Collishaw had not yet returned, Beamish may have been filling-in for him as CO, which is the likely reason he signed Sykes's report, rather than the absent Collishaw.  

{In my research at Kew, I noted that for a given period of time, 203 squadron had 13 victories listed of which two are decisive and asterisked “*Decisive, out of control,” but am unclear as to where this is listed, in the diary or in a weekly.}

The aircraft Sykes was flying 30 May 1918, B6378,  was new to him and the squadron as it had just been taken on strength 16 May, the day the squadron arrived at Filescamp Farm.    The only known photo of this aircraft is below.  

About the DH 9's which Sykes and Hayne were escorting, we know that they were on the way back from a bombing raid on Haubordin, which was a German aerodrome at the time.  Jasta 43 was stationed on the aerodrome 20 May 1918 to 22 August 1918 {Cross & Cockade USA Vol. 8, No.4, p. 307}.  The CO was Oberleutenant Adolf Gutknecht May 1918 to 2 November 1918 {The Jasta Pilots, p. 57}.  In the spring of 1918 the squadron had Albatros DIII and DVa machines "with white tail units.” Because of this description, we can speculate that the aircraft Hayne reports tangling with may have been one of Jasta 43's Albatros.  On the other hand, Hayne may have been tangling with one of the “silver-white fuselaged Albatros DVs and Pfalz DIIIs" flown by Jasta 34b {The Jasta Pilots, p.329).

Of all the aircraft claimed by the RAF on 30 May 1918, only two were triplanes or, in other words, no one other than Sykes and one other pilot claimed to bag a triplane that day.  This makes the job of identifying the squadron to which it belonged much easier.  Of the short list of casualties reported that day by the German air service, only one of these two could have been Sykes's claim:

1. Theodore Bauer, a pilot in Jasta 46b, which was partly equipped with Fokker triples or 

2. Lieutenant Bieck of Jasta 36,  also partly equipped with tripes.  Bieck and a Lieutenant Kurt Jacob joined Jasta 36 on 2 May 1918 ripe out of Jastaschule I. On 5 May, Bieck witnessed the crash of an aircraft belonging to the squadron sharing 36's airfield.  The pilot was stunting and his wingtip brushed the ground.  Bieck from 36 and two mechanics from the injured pilot's own squadron ran out and saved him from the fire engulfing his aircraft.  Another account of this incident does not mention Bieck, but only the two mechanics.   On 21 May, Jasta 36 and Lieutenant Bieck moved to the airfield at "Vivaise by Versigny" in the 7th armee area.  On 30 May, Ltn. Bieck failed to return from a patrol and later on he was reported to have come down behind British lines at Morcourt and been taken prisoner. Just 28 days out of flight school and flying the rear position in a flight of 3 machines, he would have been an easy target for Sykes.

In Cross & Cockade International Vol. 7 No. 1 1976 p.13 "When all roads led to France - The story of Captain Robert Alexander Little DSO, DSC" by Douglass Whetton, it is reported that Sykes, regarding hearing of Little's death, recalled that: "My impression is that we were in the Mess drinking with the Colonel from Wing.  Collishaw was on leave, and Little had assumed temporary command.  It was while we were engaged in small talk, that word was brought that German aircraft were raiding, or were heading for St. Omer.  Little may have asked permission to take off, but my impression is that he decided to go off entirely on his own bat. His takeoff was made without lights, and again my impression is that it was still light when he took off.  I remember, I was to light the flares when I heard his engine on his return.  Of course he never did return, but we were not worried, for there was every possibility that he had landed at another airfield.  My own log book merely records the following: Captain Little shot down when night flying.  Buried at Wavans Military Cemetery..."  The article goes on to say that Collishaw when returned to 203 Squadron made a full investigation and commented :'When the next full moon period occurred, Little decided to fly by night to resume his search for a Gotha.  He left the ground at about 9.00 pm on May 27, 1918, in his Bentley engined Camel B6318, and when he had not returned when his patrol endurance had expired, he was thought of as "missing."  Early the next morning a message was received form the Army to the effect that Little had been shot down near the village of Norviz.  I returned from leave the next day and conducted a thorough investigation, but nothing could be learned beyond the fact that Little's aircraft had crashed after he had been fatally wounded in the groin. The idea that the Gotha air gunner had fired the fatal shot was speculation."  As he went missing the night of May 27 and word came the next day, May 28, and Collishaw says he returned from leave the next day, the 29th, why then was Beamish still signing combat reports?

Combats in the Air reports exist in many old collections of early aeronautica, having shown up from time to time in auction houses or acquired from one collection by another.  However, in the early nineteen-nineties a number of such reports were pilfered from the Public Records Office in Kew, outside of London, and showed up for sale by one or more dealers.  This has cast a harsh light on any combat reports in private hands, but distinction should be drawn between those that survived the war in private hands and those stolen from Kew.    This combat report was acquired from a very old collection.