While robust, agile for such a large craft and well armed the F.2a didn't have it all its own way. The Germans began to mount naval sweeps with floatplane fighters. One such plane was the Hansa-Brandenburg W.29. Rumoured to have been designed on the back of a wine list by Ernst Heinkel at a cabaret show one night, it involved removing the top wing from an earlier double decker seaplane. On several occasions these German patrols (not always in W.29's) clashed, for honours even.
One such event, on 18th March 1918, one F.2a was attacked by two German planes, later in the same patrol they got attacked by another three. Upon reaching base they counted 80 bullet holes in the plane, with one through the pilots coat and another through his boot!
At this point two stories appear. One has one of the F.2a's involved being painted bright red with yellow lightning bolts, and it was claimed by the pilots its was the only way they could identify it. Another is that the fuel line problem was so common the threat of being forced down at sea meant there was a need for a high visibility scheme that meant the flying boats could be spotted and rescued easier.
Whichever was true the go ahead was given for the pilots to paint their craft as they so desired.
The risk of landing without the ability to take off again was not a minor one. On one occasion a H.12 landed at sea to rescue the crew of another plane that had been forced down. They then found the sea to rough to take off again. The crew released four homing pigeons with a message for help and their location.
Caught from several directions at once the F.2a tried to dive away reaching just over 100mph. However their escape route was cut off by two of the W.29's who made a head on attack killing the bow gunner with a bullet to the neck. Then the five W.29's sat on the F.2a's tail and took turns to riddle it with bursts of gunfire. Eventually one of the bursts hit the gravity tank. Full of holes this began to leak fuel everywhere, and more seriously this meant the engines were not getting enough fuel and they spluttered and died, forcing the pilot to set down on the water. The pilot got a carrier pigeon away, and was about to send another when the five W.29's re-appeared line astern and began to strafe the sitting duck of a F.2a.
|The F.2a landing, under attack.|
|The crew clings to the wing for safety as the fuel leaking from the gravity tank catches fire under repeated strafing attacks.|
|The burning F.2a was soon to sink, leaving a pool of burning petrol. The crew (seen here in front of the nose) swam away and after 35 minutes in the water were rescued by HMS Halcyon.|
Of the people mentioned so far, Robert Leckie retired from the RCAF as an Air Marshall in 1947, and died on 31st of March 1975. Friedrich Christiansen survived the First World War, and during the Second World War was in charge of the occupation of Holland, and was tried for war crimes after the war. Originally sentenced to twelve years in prison in 1948 he was released in 1951, and died in 1972.
nzhistory.govt.nz, www.aviastar.org and www.wingnutwings.com