FE2b

 In The Aircraft

The FE2b was the night bomber employed by 100 Squadron from its inception in February, 1917 through August, 1918, when the Handley page O/400 replaced it as a long range night bomber.

The ‘Fee’ was a lumbering 2-seater aircraft of the pusher type, meaning that the propeller was located at the rear of the engine hence pushed through the air (versus the tractor, front propeller type which pulls). The advantage of the pusher in the day was that the observer/gunner, who sat forward in the nacelle directly in front of the pilot had a very wide, unobstructed arc of fire in front. It’s bomb load was typically a center loaded 112-pounder with up to four 25-pound Coopers bombs under each wing. The Fee’s slowness however rendered it as a non-contestant when synchronized machine gun fire emerged on the faster single seat fighters.

In 1917 it was decided by the RFC that the Fee was to be a night bomber to fly sorties (missions) into German held territory, bombing industrial targets such as aerodromes, factories, coal supplies and steel plants, as well as lay waste to countless miles of rail track and railway stations. The Fee did not have enough endurance to fly sorties into Germany itself.

100 Squadron retired the Fee in August, 1918 in favour of the twin engine Handley Page O/400 which did hold the endurance to fly into Germany.

For a complete history of the FE2b see Cross & Cockade publication, click here ‘The Royal Aircraft Factory FE2b/d’.

On the right, Lieutenant Robert Courtenay Pitman with FE2b, France 1917

On the right, Lieutenant Robert Courtenay Pitman and Second Lieutenant Frank William Wells in FE2b, France 1917

On the right, notable quote about being an observer/gunner in the FE2b:
“When you stood up to shoot, all of you from the knees up was exposed to the elements. There was no belt to hold you. Only your grip on the gun and the sides of the nacelle stood between you and eternity. Toward the front of the nacelle was a hollow steel rod with a swivel mount to which the gun was anchored. This gun covered a huge field of fire forward. Between the observer and the pilot a second gun was mounted, for firing over the FE2b’s upper wing to protect the aircraft from rear attack … Adjusting and shooting this gun required that you stand right up out of the nacelle with your feet on the nacelle coaming. You had nothing to worry about except being blown out of the aircraft by the blast of air or tossed out bodily if the pilot made a wrong move. There were no parachutes and no belts. No wonder they needed observers.”
Source: Horses Don’t Fly, A Memoir of World War 1, Frederick Libby, Arcade Publishing, New Yok, 2000.

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