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The Naval Bombing Experiments: Bombing Operations

Bombing Operations


Bombing the Ex-German Warships

Brief account by General H.H. Arnold former
Chief of Staff, U S. Air Force
in his book Global Mission

- - - - -

In the meantime, back east great things were going on. In June and July, 1921, Billy Mitchell did finally bomb battleships. The story had been told a thousand times now, but the page of history that was turned still can't be emphasized.

Every sort of pretext, all kinds of people had tried to stop the tests. Strong pressure was brought to bear on President Harding, and the Congress, to withhold permission to designate the German ships as targets and thus block the experiment ...

Secretary of the Navy Daniels didn't try to stop the tests at the end, but on behalf of the Navy, flared forth unequivocal defiance. He said he would stand bareheaded on the bridge of any battleship during any bombardment by any plane, by God, and expect to remain safe.


Global Mission
Harper & Brother
New York, 1949

(Rest of his account follows on other pages)


USS Iowa, Naval Bombing Experiments, June and July 1921.

U.S.S. Iowa, Naval Bombing Experiments, June and July 1921

The Iowa was converted into a radio controlled target ship for use as a moving target at sea. She was one of the five target ships used in the naval bombing experiments off the Virginia Capes in 1921 -- the other four ships being ex-German warships whose pictures are shown on the next page all of which were anchored targets. No Army planes participated in the search and bombing experiments with the Iowa at sea.

A Short Account of the Bombing

The Army Air Forces in World War II (pages 25 and 26, Book 1 -- January 1939 to August 1942), edited by W. F. Craven and J. L. Cate.

The test, held off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay in July, 1921 attracted widespread public interest. There, after naval aircraft in June had easily disposed of a surfaced U-boat, Mitchell's First Provisional Air Brigade, hastily assembled and trained at Langley Field, attacked and sank three German ships -- a destroyer, the cruiser Frankfurt, and the heavily compartmented Ostfriesland. Disputes arose as to the manner in which the experiment -- directed by the Navy - had been conducted, and the Joint Board's report tended to deprecate the effectiveness of aerial bombing. But the fact of the sinkings was indisputable, and Mitchell went on to clinch the validity of his claims by tests conducted with like results on obsolete US Battleships -- the Alabama in September, 1921, and the Virginia and New Jersey in September, 1923.

Copies March 9, 1959.

The statement quoted above does not reveal the facts that General Mitchell declined to participate with his planes in searching for the Iowa at sea, or in bombing the Iowa at sea when she was located by and bombed by Navy and Marine Corps planes. Nor does it reveal the fact that the Frankfurt was bombed by Navy and Army planes; and that the Ostfriesland was bombed by Army and by Navy and by Marine Corps planes.

Submarine U-117, 21 June 1921, attacked by Navy planes.

Submarine U-117, 21 June 1921, attacked by Navy planes.

Destroyer G-102, 13 July 1921, attacked by Army planes.

Destroyer G-102, 13 July 1921, attacked by Army planes.

Bombing of Frankfurt, bombs weighed from 250 to 600 pounds.

Bombing of Frankfurt- bombs weighed from 250 to 600 pounds.

Ex-German Battleship Ostfriesland, 20-21 July, 1921, attacked by Marine Corps, Navy, and Army planes.

Battleship Ostfriesland, 20-21 July 1921, attacked by Marine Corps, Navy, and Army planes.

Ex-German U-boat U-117 [foreground], US Destroyer Bsrney (no. 149) and US Minesweeper Rail (No. 26) [background]. The U-117 was bombed on 21 June 1921 by Navy planes.

Ex-German U-boat U-117 [foreground], US Destroyer Barney (No. 149) and US Minesweeper Rail (No. 26) [background]. The U-117 was bombed on 21 June 1921 by Navy planes.

Bombing of the Submarine U-117
June 21, 1921

Three Navy F5L flying boats bombed and sank U-117 at anchor in smooth water 50 miles East of Cape Charles Light Vessel, with 12 - 163 pound bombs each loaded with 117 pounds of TNT.

The bombs were dropped in two salvos, one of three bombs and one of nine bombs. Both salvos straddled and fell close to the target -- all within 150 feet of it - all bombs functioned as designed. The submarine sank within seven minutes after the second salvo. The Board of Observers did not inspect her. The submarine was an easy target, being at anchor with no one on board. The planes took all the time they wanted and flew at only 1200 feet. That same submarine under the command of Kapitain-Lieutenant Froschen was a more difficult target during World War I when she was prowling along our Eastern seaboard sinking ships and laying mines. She operated off Long Island, Nantucket, Sandy Hook, Cape Hatteras, and New Foundland. I am not certain whether it was one of her mines that Captain Hardey Christy in the armored cruiser San Diego ran into. The San Diego went to the bottom in about fifty fathoms of water just as that submarine did when Lieutenant W.D. Thomas with Junior Lieutenants Keene, Rumill, and Ensign Garvey in their three F5L's sank her. Their next job was to search for the battleship Iowa, find her, and bomb her. They did.

Ex-USS Iowa, Radio Controlled Fleet Target Ship with guns removed. Smoke due to poor firing of her automatic fuel oil burners. Nobody on board.

Ex-U.S.S. Iowa, Radio Controlled Fleet Target Ship with guns removed. Smoke due to poor firing of her automatic fuel oil burners. Nobody on board.

On 29 June 1921, in a daylight search and attack by Navy and Marine Corps planes, the Iowa was located and bombed with concrete bombs.

Daylight Search and Bombing of U.S.S. Iowa

The only experiment in which the target ship was underway at sea, and in a position unknown to the plans at the start, was that in which the old battleships Iowa and Ohio represented a hostile naval force approaching our coast.

The purpose of the test was to find out if our planes, fully equipped for war under service conditions with respect to armament supplies and fuel, could locate the Iowa and bomb her before she got within gun range of the coast. The Iowa, in company with the Ohio, was known to be somewhere between the latitudes of Cape Hatteras and Cape Henlopen, 50 to 100 miles off shore, heading for the coast with no one on board and under radio control of the Ohio. That was all that was known about the "enemy ships" by me and air units acting under my command. General Mitchell declined to permit his planes to take part in the search and attack, but allowed his three Army blimps under Captain John Pagelow to take part in the search.

The Search for the Iowa

Thirteen Navy flying boats and the three Army blimps formed scouting lines in three groups with three or four units in each group, one based in Hampton Roads, the other two temporarily at Hatteras or Henlopen. The latter two, on an east and west line, scouted north and south respectively; while the Hampton Roads detachment, on a north south line, scouted eastward. The Shawmut, conducting the search and attack was at sea in the area being searched. Twenty destroyers, to act as rescue vessels in case any planes were forced down, were stationed appropriately in the same area. One of Pagelow's blimps made the first contact report about two hours after the zero hour or start of the test at 8 a.m. The report followed shortly by a contact report from Ensign Garvey in an F5L. In three quarters of an hour the first division of planes to attack (Lieutenant Thomas' division of three F5L's) had assembled and Lieutenant Keene dropped the first bomb -- a 100 pound concrete bomb. Note: Because the Iowa had been converted at great expense into a self-propelled radio controlled target ship for use of the fleet, it was decided not to use live bombs on her as in the case of the anchored ex-German ships which had to be destroyed.

Bombing of Iowa

Shawmut on receiving contact reports relayed same to bases ashore. Roy Geiger's Marine DH-4 temporarily based at Yorktown with Bartlett's Navy Martins sorties as quickly as possible on receiving report giving Iowa's position, course, and speed. They arrived at the target about 1 p.m., bombed it, and returned to their base at Yorktown. Eighty-five dummy bombs were dropped by 23 planes (11 F5L's; 2 NC's; 5 US Marine Corps "Flaming Coffins" -- the designation applied to the SH4 type by Mitchell, (but not by the Marines who flew them) and finally the Atlantic Fleet Torpedo plane squadron (Bartlett's five Martin Bombers)). There were no casualties and no need for the destroyers. Lieutenant C. W. Durgin's F5L was running low on gas, landed at sea close to the stern of the Shawmut, gassed from her, and returned to Hampton Roads. First Lieutenant Ford O. (Tex) Rogers, while waiting his turn to land at the Navy field near Yorktown while the other Marine Corps DH's were landing there, used up his last drop of gas and ditched in the York river close to base. The doctor took five stitches in Roger's lip which was the only casualty.

The Iowa bombing disappointed the spectators. There was no big explosions, no sinking, and no crashes. My ship, Shawmut, was not in sight of the Iowa when she was bombed. The report of the Board of Observers, in another ship close to the Iowa, states that "two hits were made, one at frame 13 near the centerline, and one on the starboard side of the barbette of the forward 12" turret. Both hits were obtained on the second salvo dropped from the Marine planes." Many of the bombs were near misses.

General Mitchell Invites Me to Participate.

While I was on the bridge of the Shawmut, conducting the search, I received a radio dispatch in plain English from General Mitchell at Langley Field asking me to take part in a similar search and bombing exercise with him the next day. I declined, but never understood what was back of it. Though the dispatch was intercepted by other ships, the newspapers did not mention it.

The Report of the Board of Governors on the Iowa experiment covers the operation in great detail, and makes many recommendations. The report is enclosed with this account.

The accuracy of the fliers in bombing the Iowa was disappointing. The ship was zig-zagging at only six knots, the misses fell near her, but most of the pilots over-estimated her speed. Their work compared favorably with that of the other pilots in later years, whose planes had greater range and better instrumentation. For instance:

In 1937, Army and Navy planes conducted a test with the old battleship Utah, similar to that with the Iowa in 1921. The Utah steaming at sea somewhere between the latitudes of San Pedro and Sandiago about 300 miles off shore was reported by the Navy flying boats searching for her. The Army bombers waiting to attack then took off but failed to find her, and returned to their bases when they were running short of fuel. The Utah was then moved to a position 60 miles off shore and her position again reported by the Navy flying boats searching for her. This time the Army planes found her and bombed her with water filled bombs.

In 1942 the test was more realistic. On June 2nd, a Navy flying boat patrolling 400 miles west of Midway Island, spotted the Japanese Fleet heading eastward and made the usual contact report to our naval forces and shore base bombers at Midway Island. The Army Flying Fortresses at Midway took off led by Lieutenant Colonel Walter C. Sweeny Jr., located their enemy targets and attacked them under the fire of anti-aircraft guns. The B-17s did not hit or damage any of the enemy ships according to Japanese documents, though they were positive they had. They returned to Midway without serious damage to themselves. Our carrier based planes were more fortunate with their attack. They sank four enemy carriers and the heavy cruiser Mikuma (the submarine Nautilus and Marine Corps planes participated in some of those sinking). Our Navy planes had given up the practice of high altitude horizontal bombing having found dive bombing more effective.

Who was the pilot of the Navy patrol plane in the lonely reaches of the Pacific who sent the warning message to Fletcher's and Spurance's carrier task forces and to the bombers at Midway? I don't know. He had no press agent or poet like Paul Revere's Longfellow to tell us.

In his book Global Mission, General Arnold describes the battle of Midway Island and the bombing exercises with Utah (pages 103 and 378-9).

Ex-German Destroyer G-102 off the Virginia Capes, 13 July 1921. Bombed by Army planes.

Ex-German Destroyer G-102 Off the Virginia Cape 13 July 1921. Bombed by Army planes.

One of the three destroyers brought to the United States with the cruiser Frankfurt and battleships Ostfriesland.

Sinking of the Destroyer G-102

The bombing of the G-102 was by Army planes in accordance with the previous agreement that General Mitchell could bomb her any way he desired.

The bombing began at about half past nine in the forenoon and was in three phases.

First Phase was an attack by the 1st Provisional Pursuit Squadron of eleven SE-5 planes each carrying four 25-pound Mark III Cooper fragmentation bombs and simulating machine gun fire, the idea being to strafe everyone on deck. The vessel lying at anchor, head to wind, the planes attacked from astern diving from an altitude of about 1500 feet down to about 200 feet letting go one bomb, followed by the next plane circling and bombing in succession until forty-four bombs had been dropped of which twenty-one were hits. All the bombs exploded except four.

Second Phase. Sixteen DH-4s of the 1st Provisional Bombing Group, each plane carrying two 100-pound demolition Mark I bombs, attacked for 8 1/2 minutes and dropped seven of the bombs all of which missed and none exploded. The bombing altitude was 1500 feet.

Third Phase. Fifteen Martin bombers of the 14th Heavy Bombing Squadron, each carrying six 500-pound demolition bombs dropped forty-four bombs of which three were hits and five were duds.

I saw all the bombs that were dropped. The ship sank after the last attack and was not boarded by the Board of Observers which recommended that all destroyers in service should be equipped with two 3-inch 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns and have a battery of anti-aircraft machine guns. The Board's report and recommendations cover two typewritten pages and is appended hereto.

In watching her go down, I was impressed by the terrible pounding she received. She was a tough little ship with a varied career -- fought at Jutland, sunk by the Germans at Scapa Flow, raised by the British, towed to America by the U.S. Navy, and now sunk by the US Army.

End of G-102 [sinking].

End of the G-102 [sinking].

Ex-German Light Cruiser Frankfurt.

The Ex-German Light Cruiser Frankfurt.

The Frankfurt took part in the battle of Jutland, 16 May 1916: was badly damaged. Surrendered with High Seas Fleet off Firth of Forth. Sunk at Scapa Flow with other ships of the surrendered fleet. Was one of nineteen ships salvaged. Afterwards towed to America by the battleship Ostfriesland, and destroyed in bombing tests off Virginia Capes on 10 July 1921 by nine Navy F5L's; twelve Army Martin bombers; and five Navy Martin bombers.

Bombing of the Frankfurt

Army and Navy planes bombed the Frankfurt on July 18th with 250, 300, 320, and 600-pound bombs.

Three Navy aircraft, Lieutenant Commander Strong, led off at 0935 with 250-pound bombs followed by Army with 300 pounders. The Army and Navy alternated in more attacks with other planes dropping their bombs singly or in pairs. When each service had dropped eighteen bombs, the Board of Observers left the Shawmut, inspected the target, noting the damage and photographing it and returned to the Shawmut at 1300.

Resumed bombing at 1320. Navy dropped six more 250-pound bombs in one salvo, followed by Army with eleven more 300 pounders. Then Lieutenant Commander Bartlett, with three Navy Martin bombers, attacked and dropped seven 520-pound bombs. The Board then revisited the target. It remained on board only twenty-two minutes as Captain Lawson with six Army bombers arrived at the target when the Board was inspecting. He was running short of gas as he arrived ahead of time without having waited for the signal to depart from Langley Field.

The six Army bombers began bombing at 1614 and dropped fourteen 600-pound bombs. The eleventh bomb fell very close to the ship on the starboard side near the bridge and probably inflicted the mortal wound, for the explosion was seen to raise the bow and the ship showed signs of sinking and thirteen minutes later at 1450 the ship sank. A total seventy-four bombs were dropped by planes viz:

The following brief description of the bombing of the ex-German cruiser Frankfurt is quoted from General Arnold's book Global Mission, page 103:

"On July 18th, the Cruiser Frankfurt was the anchored target. The first attack of the Navy planes and Army aircraft carrying light bombs raised the hopes of the Admirals and their Army friends. Then Captain W. R. Lawson appeared, leading six Army bombers loaded with 600 pounders. But he was made to stand by, by circling around, while the observers from the Shawmut went aboard the Frankfurt to inspect the earlier damage. There was talk now of sinking the Frankfurt with Navy gunfire -- the only thing that enthusiastic Navy officers said could do it.

"Meanwhile, Captain Lawson was getting impatient and he radioed, "Must begin bombing in fifteen minutes; fuel limited." The observers retired from the target ship to watch while the Navy guns made ready. They were never needed. After Lawson and his planes had finished bombing, the Frankfurt's main mast snapped, the bow settled. Eleven minutes later she dived out of sight."

As General Arnold was on the West Coast, 3000 miles away, when the Frankfurt was bombed, he could not have know why Captain Lawson's planes nearly ran short of gas or have heard the talk about sinking the ship with gunfire while "the Navy observers retired from the target ship to watch while the Navy guns made ready."

I do not know where Hap Arnold got that information. Had he been with me on the Shawmut he would have known that the Frankfurt had to be bombed with 520-pound and with 600-pound bombs, and that if they didn't sink her, she was to be destroyed by gun fire. He would have known too that Lawson had no business taking off for the target until I sent the signal to do so.

Close-up of the Ex-German Cruiser Frankfurt after bombing with 250, 300 and 520 pound bombs.

Close-up, Ex-German Cruiser Frankfurt after bombing with 250, 300, and 520-pound bombs.

Board of Observers leaving Frankfurt.

Board of Observers leaving Frankfurt.

Frankfurt bombed by Army and Navy planes, 18 July 1921.

Light Cruiser Frankfurt, 18 July 1921, bombed by Army and Navy planes.

Frankfurt sinking.

Frankfurt sinking.

Bombing of the Ostfriesland
20 July 1921

The following account by the late General Henry H. Arnold, former Chief of Staff, US Air Force describes the bombing of the ex-German battleship Ostfriesland:

"But it was not the battleship Ostfriesland, veteran of Jutland, the unsinkable battleship, that was the main thing.

"Not only the Press, uniformly on Mitchell's side, but other factors had heightened the public's interest in the fate of the Ostfriesland.

"The first attempt came on the evening of July 20th. Not understanding the rules limiting him to 600-pound bombs, the observers off the Virginia Capes thought Mitchell had failed because he did not sink the ship. It was no more than they had expected! The former German Flagship had four separate skins of steel, and every sort of unsinkable bulkhead. During the war, she had not only withstood the heaviest naval gun-fire in the battle of Jutland, but had made port after a mine had exploded directly under her.

"The weather off Hatteras was inclined to be rough, and some of the Observers had become seasick. General Pershing and Secretary of War Weeks did not think it worth their while to return the next day. Thus it was that sitting comfortably ashore the following evening they only heard the distant rumbling of the explosions as the Ostfriesland went down.

"Rules or no rules, Billy Mitchell had been out to sink that battleship. His first wave of Martin Bombers were loaded with two 1000-pound bombs apiece, and after a few hits, the ship went down .... Within a matter of hours, the Navy had protested against Mitchell's tactics. The protests, however were drowned in the wave of excited headlines. Billy Mitchell had proved his point. His bombers had done what he said they would do." (Global Mission, pp. 103-104)

The Navy transport Henderson with congressmen, members of the cabinet, generals, admirals, ambassadors, foreign military and naval attaches, and dozens of newspaper men came to see battleship Ostfriesland bombed.

The Atlantic fleet was lying off the target, 50 miles east of Cape Charles Light-ship, to witness the tests too. The conduct of the bombing experiments was under the command of Captain Alfred W. Johnson, U.S. Navy, in his flagship, Shawmut.

Schedule of Bombing Experiments for Ostfriesland

1st attack 14" armor-piercing bombs Navy planes
2nd attack 230-pound bombs USMC and Navy planes
3rd attack 550-pound bombs Navy planes
4th attack 600-pound bombs Army planes
5th attack 1000-pound bombs Army planes
6th attack 1000-pound bombs Navy planes
7th attack 2000-pound bombs Army planes
8th attack 2000-pound bombs Navy planes


The Board of Observers was required by the orders to inspect the target after each attack. It was authorized to stop the bombing at any time, if satisfied that the number of hits made with any caliber was sufficient to establish the effect of the bombs.

The orders specified that the time for attacking divisions to arrive over the target would be signaled from the Shawmut:

that formation flying was permissible (except with 1000-pound bombs) and in any one attack divisions might follow each other in sequence or arrival;

that the 1000-pound bombs were to be dropped one at at time. Target to be inspected after each hit with 1000-pound bomb.

It was raining on the morning of the 20th of July when the attacks were scheduled to start. The overcast prevented the bombers from seeing the target at the required bombing altitude and the sea was too rough for the Board of Observers to go on board the target ship.

A message was sent to all units to postpone attacks until "further orders." This message was sent at 6 a.m. that morning. In the test with armor piercing bombs, the bombs had to be dropped from a very high altitude to gain sufficient velocity to penetrate the Ostfriesland's armored deck. The object of the experiment was to find out if the bombs could penetrate the deck without breaking up before they exploded.

The bombs were made at the Washington Naval Gun Factory, especially for this test, by converting 14-inch armor piercing shells into aerial bombs. This was done by attaching tailfins to their bases to keep them from tumbling while falling. They weighed 1500 pounds and carried 23 pounds of TNT and had a forged steel body.

Bartlett's Martin bombers at Yorktown, armed with these bombs were waiting for the order to attack when the signal to postpone the attack was received.

The ceiling remained low all that forenoon and it was decided to give up all idea of attacking with 14-inch bombs that day, and to proceed with the other scheduled attacks, if and when, the sea moderated sufficiently for boats to safely transfer the inspecting party to the target after each attack.

General Mitchell Becomes Impatient.

Until that day, I did not realize how anxious and impatient to bomb that target General Mitchell really was. I remembered that Captain Lawson had arrived ahead of time to bomb Frankfurt, and had to be detained at the target until the ship was all clear of the inspecting party before he could bomb her, but the numerous messages sent me from Langley Field on the 20th convinced me that Mitchell was displeased to be kept waiting. But it could not be helped.

The Shawmut was at the target waiting for the weather to moderate when I received this message from Langley Field:

"Army requests following be sent to Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, via Commander Air Force. Quote Request permission to attack Ostfriesland with Army units without delay 0955 Signed Mitchell."

Note: The procedure for communicating by radio between the Shawmut at the target and the bases on shore was on 547 meters to the Hampton Roads base and relayed by telephone between Hampton Roads and the other bases.

At 1215, at 1256, and at 1320, the Army units sought information as to the time their attacks would be due over the target. At 1235, I informed Langley Field (via Hampton Roads) that the "Probable time would be 1430 and 1530." At 1405 I sent this to Langley Field. "Take off when directed, no more definite information. 1405."

Note: To fly from Langley Field to the target which was anchored fifty miles East from Cape Charles light vessel (seventy miles from Langley Field) it took about one hour, I estimated. There was a line of destroyers spaced at six mile intervals (to point the way to the target and to rescue planes if forced down) from Thimble Shoal Light House near Langley Field out to the target. I also estimated that it would take about an hour to complete an attack and inspect the target.

By noon the sea had moderated sufficiently to permit the transfer of observers from Shawmut to the Ostfriesland. It was therefore decided to go ahead with the second scheduled attack, with the 230-pound bombs.

Attack Began with 230-pound Bombs, at 1330.

Major Roy Geiger with his Marine DH-4's flown by himself, Captain F. F. "Fat" Mulcahy, First Lieutenant Ford O. "Tex" Rodgers and Lieutenants Fleet and H.L. McP. Sanderson led off the attack with 230-pound bombs at 1330. They were followed by the Navy's Second Division of F5L's (Lieutenants Varini, Carlson, and Faraham) and the Fourth Division of F5L's (Lieutenant Commander Strong; Lieutenants Eddy and Noble). The 230 pounders bombs were dropped singly and also in salvos at interval of one to five minutes.

Note: These bombs had a cast steel head and light sheet metal body, and carried 137 1/2 pounds of TNT. They were fitted with tail pistol set for 1.2 second delayed action. I was told that some of the bombs that hit the target broke up before the fuse had time to act and resulted in no explosion. (I had noticed that some of the bombs did not explode on hitting the target and that some did not explode on hitting water.)

When 33 of the 230-pound bombs had been dropped scoring eight hits, the bombing was stopped. The Board then left the Shawmut to inspect the Ostfriesland.

I sent this message to Langley Field at 1405. "Attack No. 4 Army Martin Bombers proceed to attack 1405,"

and shortly afterwards received this one from Hampton Roads:

"1520 Army Martin Bombers Nos. 4, 2, 3, 14, and 17, took off at 1356 for Fourth Attack without orders from Base Commander 1410."

That meant to me that the Army Martin bombers would arrive at the target for the fourth scheduled attack too soon. They did. They arrived while the attack with 230-pound bombs was still on and sent me this message:

From Bomber No. 3 -"first Division five Martin bombers arrived target Lawson 1455."

From Shawmut to Martin Bomber No. 3 -- "Do not attack until ordered. Observers have to go on board. 1448"

From Bomber No. 3 to Shawmut -- "Must attack in forty minutes Fuel limited. Lawson 1455."

From Shawmut to No. 3 -- "Return to base if fuel short observers have to go on board."

The board returned to the Shawmut at 1530. Their report is too long and detailed to quote here.

Apparently only one of the eight 230-pound bombs that hit the ship's structure exploded normally. Seventeen of the bombs that fell near the ship acted normally, and to me seemed to have good mining effect. The test demonstrated the necessity of having a bomb fuse that will withstand deck impact.

Second Phase Ostfriesland No. 3 and No. 4 Attacks

The next scheduled attack called for was No. 3 by Navy planes with 550-pound bombs. As the weather was threatening, and as Lawson's Martin bombers with 600-pound bombs were circling around waiting and running low on fuel, it was decided to go ahead with Attack No. 3 and Attack No. 4 at once.

I therefore sent the following message to Lawson and the Navy F5L's - "Expedite attack storm coming return to base 1538."

Army led off at 1543. Planes approached singly and dropped single bombs at one to two minute intervals. Total number of bombs dropped was nineteen, of which eight were 550 pounders by Navy making four hits; and 11 were 600 pounders by Army making one hit. The planes stopped bombing at 4:24:30 and the Board inspected the Ostfriesland remaining on board nearly two hours.

From the Shawmut it was evident that the Ostriesland had a list to port and had settled some by the stern indicating that she was taking in water.

The Board found that with the exception of a hole in the starboard side of the forecastle made by a 600-pound bomb, which put out of commission the two 6-inch ammunition hoists directly under it, the ship had received little damage on the top side at the end of the first day's bombing.

But the underwater injury was considerable, the Board reported. It gave the ship a five degree list to port and three feet additional draft by the stern due to the mining effect of the near misses.

Note: The maximum designed draft of the Ostfriesland (according to Jane's Fighting Ships) was 291/2 feet.

Commander Van Keuren, three members of the Board, and Mr. A. M. Merrill, inspected the firerooms and engine rooms. They reported about a foot of water on the top of the protective deck at the after end but that there was no injury to the protective deck. Water was coming in quite fast through a ruptured seam in the coal bunker bulkhead of the port fireroom of the forward group. There were three firerooms or boiler rooms in each of the Ostfriesland's three main firerooms [sic]. The doors of the bulkheads that separate the port, middle and starboard boiler rooms of each group are not watertight. Therefore the water coming into the port boiler room would also flood the middle and starboard rooms, before long.

The No. 3 or after main fireroom showed no signs of water. In No. 2 fireroom, the starboard boiler room showed no sign of water. Access could not be obtained to the port and middle boiler rooms of this group according to Mr. Miller (The after group).

The starboard engine room was intact, but water could be heard rushing above the access trunk leading into the port engine room. No attempt was made to open the door in the port engine room as it was under pressure.

In the starboard condenser room, an expansion joint in the main piping was ruptured showing that the compartment would fill with water. This was due, probably, to the impact of a bomb explosion being transmitted to the joint through the sea cleat opening

The report of the Board of Observers on the first day's bombing of the Ostfriesland covers in minute detail the action section of each bomb that hit, and the damage done. The damage by the 550-pound bombs that hit was slight because several on hitting broke up and did not explode. The one 600-pound bomb that hit functioned as designed. It struck the starboard side of the forecastle almost under the muzzles of the guns of the waist turrets blowing a hole in this heavy deck (7/8 inch nickel steel on top of 1 inch medium steel). It appeared as if the nickel steel had been added in attempt to modernize the ship. Large fragments went through gun deck. The force of the explosion seemed to stop at this deck. No damage to protective deck. The board's report is enclosed.

The U.S.S. Delaware stood by the Ostfriesland all night with her searchlights playing on her to note changes in draft and the time if the ship sank. So ended the first day's bombing.

In the morning, Ostfriesland was drawing 34 feet aft and 26 feet forward.

With none aboard to rectify trim, or repair damage by pumping and counter flooding, or move the ship, and with the ship's lower after airports close to the waterline, the Ostfriesland's end seemed near at hand.

Third Phase -- Ostfriesland -- 1000 and 2000 Bomb Attacks

The morning of July 21st dawned clear. The final attacks on the Ostfriesland began early.

I sent messages to the units at Yorktown and at Langley Field to arrive at the target at 0800 with 1000-pound bombs in accordance with the scheduled attacks, Nos. 5 and 6 which had not been carried out on the previous day.

The "All Clear" signal was displayed on the forecastle of the Shawmut when six Army Martin and five Navy Martins arrived in the vicinity of the target about the same time. They passed over the target, dropped miniature and got the wind.

At 0852, Army led off and dropped the first 1000-pound bomb which scored a hit. That plane was followed by the four others each dropping a bomb about a minute apart and scoring two more hits. As the orders specified that the target would be inspected after each hit, no bombs should have been dropped after the first one which was a direct hit. Visual and radio signals to stop bombing were made by the Shawmut, with limited effect as the following exchange of radio messages shows:

From Shawmut to Army Martin No. 23:
          Cease bombing Observers going on board acknowledge 0840.

From Bomber No. 23 to Shawmut:
          Martin Bomber No. 23 will let you know when it is safe to board the target.

From Bomber No. 23 to Shawmut:
          Safe to board target now 0850.

It appeared as if the Army pilots had not read or had misunderstood the orders or instruction issued by the Commander-in-Chief and the commanders of the Fleet Air Force and the First Provisional Air Brigade.

The following message from General Mitchell to ComAirFor aboard the Shawmut that morning was an unauthorized interference with my conduct of the experiments and a violation of the procedures he had agreed to.

Quote, Army Martin bombers formation took off at 0656. Request they be not interfered with by naval aircraft signed Mitchell.

There was no misunderstanding of the orders and instructions by Lieutenant Commander Bartlett or any other naval aviator. In his report on the operations that morning Lieutenant Commander Bartlett stated that his squadron of Martin bombers at Yorktown was ready to take off at 0600 and that at:

0702 Received orders to proceed
0710 Took off
0810 Sighted target. Army maneuvering over it. Got wind and were proceeding to attack when Army got direct hit. In obedience to Operational Order No. 7 did not bomb. Circled fleet and requested orders from Shawmut.
0905 Received following signal: "Air [sic] aircraft return to base. Army and Navy Martin Bombers proceed with 2000 pound bombs as soon as ready."
1030 Landed at Yorktown--received orders to equip three planes with 2000-pound bombs and two planes with 14-inch armor piercing shell.

The Board of Observers was not concerned as to who dropped the bombs, but wanted to examine the target after each hit. It found on inspecting the target that the three hits with 1000-pound bombs were on the main deck, that they caused no vital damage to the ship or her main battery, but that her fighting efficiency "might have been affected by a large hole in the starboard side of the forecastle at frame 110 taking in water. The vessel had been slowly taking water for fifteen hours in engine and boiler rooms from bombing of previous day and at noon the ship was down about five feet by the stern and one feet by the bow.

Note: The Army 1000 bomb (demolition bomb Mark III) was fused nose and tail .05 second delay. Light case, cast steel nose. Main charge 600 pounds of TNT. The three hits gave instantaneous detonation. I saw them fall and they appeared to me to expand their force in thin air. The two misses fell near the ship but the .05 second delay was too short for best affect and the explosion's force made a beautiful fountain of water because it occurred so near the surface.

Last Attack on Ostfriesland (2000-pound bombs)

The bombing with 2000-pound bombs began at 1219 by Army Martin bombers. They dropped six bombs one at a time in six passages over the target in twelve and a half minutes. They made no hits but three were close to the target, one of which detonated close under the port quarter throwing water up under both sides of the hull.

As in the case of the 1000-pound bombs, the Board of Observers, on board the Shawmut, looked and wondered and reread the order which specified for the 2000-pound bombs:

"The number of planes used in any one attack is discretional, but the number of bombs dropped will in no case exceed the number indicated -- Navy Martin Bombers 3; -- Army Martin Bombers.".

The order specified that the Army would be allowed to make two hits. But in case of failure to obtain two hits out of the three bombs allowed, the planes were to make future attacks under the direction of the force commander as determined by the Board of Observers. In ordering out the attacks with 2000-pound bombs by Army and by Navy the commander of the Atlantic Fleet Air Force (myself) directed attention to the limitation prescribed in the orders and instructions for those attacks. Nevertheless, just as the Army bombers arrived over the Ostfriesland, the following was received:

"Martin Bombers and Handley Page with 2000 pound have taken off at Langley Field and are approaching the target. In case of failure to secure two direct hits, subsequent attack will be made until we have secured two hits Army is authorized to make 1130 Signed Mitchell."

The two hits were never made. At 1230 the Ostfriesland began to settle rapidly aft and her bow to rise and the ship to list more to port and the lower row of airports aft were already submerged. At 1237 her forefoot was our of the water, and at 1240 she turned over and sank by the stern, when a seventh bomb fell.

The Report of the Board of Observers, page 29, states:

"It should be noted that no opportunity was furnished for the Navy to drop any 1000 and 2000 pound bombs or any 14" armor-piercing bombs, and this is considered most unfortunate as this test offered the only opportunity to test these bombs against an armored ship of fairly recent design, and special efforts were made by the Bureau of Ordnance to prepare these bombs for this particular test. This is also true in regard to the Army 1100 pound armor-piercing bombs specially manufactured for this test."

Looking back at it all, I don't see what else Mitchell could have done except keep on dropping bombs until the ship sank. If the ship had not sunk soon he would have been the object of ridicule because of pre-bombing public announcements. The operation would make or break him. It made him. In the public eye he became the infallible prophet on aviation. The personality cult of the zealous followers of Mitchell build him up into the corporate image of Air Power. It was not all Mitchell's fault that he became a national hero, but it was apparent that he had a keen appreciation of the value of personal publicity and was well versed in the ways of getting it.

Bombing Ostfriesland with 230-pound bomb by a Martin DH-4.

Bombing Ostfriesland with a 230-pound bomb by Martin DH-4.

Bombing Ostfriesland with a 230-pound bomb by Navy F5L.

Bombing Ostfriesland with a 230-pound bomb by Navy F5L.



Ex-German Ostfriesland off the Virgina Capes, July 1921.

Ex-German Ostfriesland Off the Virginia Capes, July 1921.


Aviators Who Bombed Ostfriesland

US Marine Corps
Lt. Comdr. J.H. Strong Major Roy S. Geiger Capt. A.W. Lawson
Lt. Varini Capt. F.P. Mulcahy Capt. Pascale
Lt. Clarkson Lt. Fleet Lt. Speck
Lt. Franham Lt. Sanderson Lt. Post
Lt. Eddy 1st Lt. Ford O. Rodgers Lt. Raley
Lt. Noble Lt. Comdr. Barttlett Lt. Arnold
Lt. W. D. Thomas Lt. Ericsson Lt. Meyers
Lt. C. Keene Lt. Davison Lt. Berry
Lt. Rumill Lt. Preil Lt.Wade
Lt. Garvey were standing by to drop armor piercing bombs Lt. Monahan
Lt. J. Dale Price   Lt. Shankle
Lt. Felix Stump   Lt. Kirksey
Lt. Williams   Lt. McReynolds
Lt.Comdr. Hawkins   Lt. Andrews
Lt. Selman   Lt. Melville
Lt. Clark   Lt. Cummings
    Lt. Carolyn


(Pictures of Ostfriesland on original)

Bomb close aboard Ostfriesland.

 Bomb close aboard Ostfriesland.

Ostfrieslalnd down by the stern.

Ostfrieslalnd down by the stern.

Bomb going off at stern of Ostfriesland.

Bomb going off at stern of Ostfriesland.

03 April 2007