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WW1 RNAS Fighter Ace Pilot's Handbook | Rifle & Field Exercises (1916)

RNAS Sopwith Camel Ace Pilot's Handbook (1916)

Price £295.00 Sale


H.M.S.O., 1913 (reprinted 1916)
printed by SIR JOSEPH CAUSTON & SONS, London, 1916

An extremely rare example of a WW1 Royal Navy handbook that belonged to an RNAS fighter ace. The book is signed on the front endpapers by ‘P.F.O. H. Coleman Smith, Crystal Palace, 4/6/17’. During WW1 ‘P.F.O.’ stood for ‘Probationary Flying Officer’. Harry Coleman Smith (1899-1958) was a member of the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) undergoing pilot training in 1917. He joined the RNAS in June 1917 and his initial training was carried out at Crystal Palace. From there he moved on to Eastchurch, Manston and Cranwell. During his training he flew the Maurice Farman, DH6, BE 2e, BE 2c, Bristol Scout, and Sopwith Pup. As an RNAS Flight Sub-Lieutenant Coleman Smith was posted to East Fortune near Edinburgh. After the RFC and RNAS merged to form the RAF in April 1918, he was posted to 213 Squadron, stationed at Dunkirk, where he would fly the Sopwith Camel.

213 squadron was originally part of the Seaplane Defence Flight, which was itself founded in June 1917 at Dunkirk, flying Sopwith Pups. It was reorganized as No. 13 Squadron RNAS on 15 January 1918. When the RNAS and RAF merged  to form the Royal Air Force, it was renumbered as 213 Squadron. In this incarnation, it flew Sopwith floatplanes before converting to Sopwith Camels. It was during this time that the squadron adopted its Hornet  insignia and motto for the squadron badge, after overhearing a Belgian General refer to the squadron's defence of his trenches, "Like angry hornets attacking the enemy aircraft". During 1918 the squadron provided fighter cover for bombing and reconnaissance missions around Dunkirk, as well as undertaking low level bombing attacks on enemy troops and installations.

Between 21st August and 9th November 1918, Harry Coleman Smith scored five victories, including two LVGs, one Rumpler, one balloon, and a Fokker DVII. His final victory (flying Camel No. D3400) was the destruction of the Fokker DVII, which he shot down 10 miles north of Ghent on the morning of the 9th November, just two days before the armistice. While he was with 213 squadron he flew alongside some of the finest pilots in the RNAS, including Captain Colin Brown (14 victories), Captain George Mackay (18 victories), and Lt. George Hodson (10 victories). By the end of the war he had also completed 12 low level bombing raids, and had survived 213 squadron's most disastrous day, 14th October 1918. This was the opening day of a major allied offensive along the whole front, from Dixmude to the Lys. During the day 213 squadron lost six Camels in two actions fought against large numbers of enemy fighters. All six pilots were killed, one of them while being attacked by 7 Fokker DVIIs. Coleman Smith was wounded, but also shot down an LVG during the first action of the day. He was recommended for a DFC, but it was not awarded. When the war ended, Harry Coleman Smith had become an 'ace', and he was only 19 years old. 

First published in August 1913, and reprinted in 1916, Rifle and field Exercises 1913 was intended for the use of Naval Shore parties, other Naval formations employed in land based operations, and the RNAS. This is the 1916 edition. It would have been used by the RNAS, the Royal Naval Division, and the Royal Marines on the Western Front during WW1. Very well illustrated with diagrams, photographs and line drawings, it covers the standard rifle, pistol, machine gun, field gun and bayonet fighting drill of the British Navy during WW1. With sections on battlefield tactics and operations, including attack, defence and retreat, the use of swords, automatic pistols and machine guns. There is even a section on 'Fire in Two Ranks (for use in savage warfare)', which advocates exactly the same technique as used at Rorke's Drift and elsewhere during the Zulu war of 1879. There are excellent fold-out diagrams of the Lee Enfield Mk I rifle and the Webley Automatic pistol, and other diagrams of the standard webbing used by the Navy, the Webley Mk IV revolver, and the Lee Enfield bayonet.

The section on the Webley Automatic pistol is particularly interesting and very well illustrated with fold-out diagrams and drawings. The Webley Self-Loading Pistol was one of the earliest magazine-fed pistols. The gun was designed in 1910 by the Webley & Scott company, the .455 version being adopted by the Royal Navy in 1912 as the first automatic pistol in British service. The pistol was also adopted by the Royal Horse Artillery, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service: Commander C. R. Samson R.N.A.S., the pioneering WW1 Naval aviator, was photographed standing beside his Nieuport fighter with his Webley automatic in one hand, just before taking off at the start of a mission in 1915. It is quite likely that Harry Coleman-Smith would have been issued with the Webley Automatic in 1918.


In good condition. The boards are in good condition, with general signs of use, some marks, and some wear to the edges. The binding and hinges are good and secure. The text is in very good condition, with some minor marks to the front endpapers and title page. The illustrations and fold-outs are in very good condition. There is a signature of ‘P.F.O. H. Coleman Smith, Crystal Palace, 4/6/17’ on the front endpapers.

Published: 1916
Blue boards with black titling
Illustrated with line drawings, photographs and fold-out diagrams
Dimensions: 110mm x 135mm
Pages: 352