A Collection of Awards to the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force

Date of Auction: 10th December 2014

Sold for £2,700

Estimate: £3,000 - £3,500

A rare Great War airship operations D.S.C. group of four awarded to Captain C. S. Coltson, Royal Air Force, late Royal Naval Air Service, who was decorated for a well-executed and convincing attack on a U-Boat in February 1917, while in command of H.M. Airship C-22

Distinguished Service Cross, G.V.R., hallmarks for London 1917; 1914-15 Star (Mid. C. S. Coltson, R.N.); British War and Victory Medals (Lieut. C. S. Coltson, R.A.F.), generally good very fine (4) £3000-3500

Footnote

D.S.C. London Gazette 1 October 1917:

‘For services on patrol duties and submarine searching in Home Waters.’

The original recommendation states:

‘The Commanding Officer would like to submit his opinion that both pilots and crews of airships have behaved exceedingly well, and that if it can be proved that
C-22 actually sunk the submarine, the conduct of Flight Lieutenant C. S. Coltson, R.N., should be specially recognised, as it would be a great encouragement to Airship Pilots.

It may be pointed out that this officer has shown exceptional coolness and ability in flying since he has been at this station, and the Commanding Officer would further mention that lately the weather has been far from ideal for airships flying owing to strong N.E. winds and low visibility, the position of the station taken into consideration.’

Charles Sydney Coltson, who was born in October 1896, entered the R.N.C. Dartmouth as a Naval Cadet in 1911, and was awarded the King’s Gold Medal on his graduation in the summer of 1913.

Having then gone to sea as a Midshipman in the battleship
Hibernia in May 1914, he transferred to the Royal Naval Air Service and went out to France as a trainee airship pilot in October 1915, gaining flying time in the SS-15 at Marquise.

Returning to the Home Establishment, he was appointed a Flight Sub. Lieutenant at Pembroke Airship Station in March 1916, and a Flight Lieutenant at Kingsnorth Airship Station in September 1916.

Transferred to Mullion Airship Station, Cornwall, in early 1917, under Squadron Commander Hon. C. M. P. Brabazon, Coltson was awarded his D.S.C for his command of the
C-22 on a patrol in February 1917. His official report takes up the story:

‘On Monday 12 February 1917, while on patrol in H.M. Airship
C-22, about 10 miles E.S.E. of Falmouth at 0845 I sighted a Norwegian steamer on my port bow with boats lowered. Proceeding over the vessel I noticed a pulling boat returning to the ship and, looking in the direction from which she had come, noticed a large patch of oil on the surface of the water. This I discovered to be the remains of a ship apparently torpedoed, a large quantity of wreckage marking the spot. By this time two trawlers had arrived and, descending to 200 feet, I was able to communicate with them by Semaphore, thus learning that the wreckage was the remains of a vessel torpedoed three quarters of an hour beforehand. I also learnt that the submarine had been sighted for a few minutes, but no information could be given concerning her course.

I reported my information by wireless to the station, and then started to sweep to the West and South.

At 1030, while on a course E.S.E. from the Manacles, and position 59 L.F.R., both by D.R. and from the Lizard Wireless, I spotted a submarine coming to the surface one mile on my port bow. She was apparently proceeding West. When her conning tower was above the surface, and the wash of the hull just becoming visible, she must have sighted the airship, and made all haste to submerge again. She had just succeeded in submerging when I got over the spot and the first bomb I dropped fell some way ahead of her and failed to explode. By putting the helm hard over I was able to release my second bomb almost immediately after; this was as near a direct hit as possible, the bomb exploding with delay action fuse directly over the swirl left by the conning tower of the submarine. A large quantity of oil came to the surface as well as numerous small bubbles. Nothing further was seen of the submarine. The bombs were dropped from a height of 1,000 feet.

A large steamer of 7-8000 tons was approaching, proceeding up channel, and I signalled “Submarine” to her by flash lamp; whether she took in the message or not I cannot say. It is possible the submarine spotted this vessel and was lying in wait for her. After this I reported by wireless and suggested trawlers should be sent; I then remained in the immediate vicinity for close on two hours, and later for another two hours swept an area with a radius of about 15 miles from the spot. There were, however, no signs of the submarine, which I believe to have been sunk by the second bomb.

Eventually I was obliged to return to base owing to trouble with both engines, and the wind increasing, landing at 1505. During the patrol the weather was thick, visibility being between two and three miles, and occasional drizzling rain.’

C-22 was lost in the Channel midway between Land’s End and Ushant on 21 March 1917 - but pilot and crew were rescued.

Appointed C.O. of the
C-2 in August 1917, Coltson remained similarly employed until May 1918, accompanying research revealing numerous patrols out of Mullion. He was recommended for advancement to the rank of Captain in the Royal Air Force, his Commanding Officer reporting:

‘This officer has flown over 1300 hours on patrol. He has shown considerable initiative and sound judgement in all his work. He has flown in very rough weather, fog and mist, navigating his ship with great skill. He has carried out successfully a large amount of convoy work, and has engaged the enemy on several occasions. In view of this officer’s services and conduct, I strongly recommend him for promotion to Captain, R.A.F.’

Of those engagements, relevant Observer’s Reports reveal Coltson and the
C-2 carrying out an attack on an enemy submarine on 9 August 1917 - ‘Dropped two 100lb. bombs about 300 yards and 200 yards ahead of swirl left by submarine ... Landed at 1400. Very gusty wind 25-30 m.p.h. Rough landing, broke forward propeller, two feet tear in envelope forward. Time in Air: 5 hours and 55 minutes. Distance Flown: 200 miles.’

Sadly, however, Coltson’s gallant and promising career was curtailed in November 1918, when he fell victim to the influenza pandemic. He is buried in Berechurch (St. Michael’s) Churchyard, Essex.; sold with extensive copied research.