In February 1918 Royal Naval Air Station Newlyn received its first American pilot when Ensign Benjamin Lee, seconded from the US Naval Reserve, made the overnight journey down from Paddington. He was soon in the worst kind of action.
On the murky late afternoon of 3 March Lee fired up the Renault-Mercedes engine of his Short 184 floatplane. With his British observer, Sub-Lieutenant Bertram Rowley, he took off from Mount's Bay and began a patrol east of the Lizard. Five minutes into the flight his wireless failed. Constant buffets from a strengthening easterly wind made Lee feel airsick, and it began to grow dark. Compass luminosity was poor; the men became lost.
At last, in the deep gloom they spotted a light and settled on the water, but struck a reef; the Short’s floats were shattered and it began to sink. Lee had landed by the Eddystone lighthouse, in rough seas. Yet he was blessed that night; keeper Mr Williams heard the commotion, flung him a life-buoy and dragged him through the waves to an iron ladder. Up in the lighthouse the men watched helplessly as Rowley’s Aldis signalling lamp chattered from the wrecked aircraft. Finally, it went out. Lee soon returned to duty but his observer was never seen again.
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