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An outstanding Great War D.S.M. group of three awarded to 2nd Hand W. W. Cowell, Gunlayer of the six-pounder aboard H.M. Drifter I.F.S. who destroyed a German seaplane in the Straits of Dover in June 1917
Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. officially named to: D.A.4513. W. W. Cowell, 2nd Hd. R.N.R. H.M. Dr. I.F.S. Straits of Dover. 11. June. 1917.

British War and Victory Medals officially named to: 4513D.A. W. W. Cowell. 2 Hd. R.N.R.

Mounted for display together with an erased 1914-15 Star, good very fine.

D.S.M. London Gazette 20 July 1917.

The original recommendation states:

‘H.M. Drifter “I.F.S.”. Destruction of enemy seaplane Straits of Dover 11 June 1917. Gunlayer. At 4.50am five enemy machines seen flying low firing at barrage buoys. The gun was manned and loaded with tracer shell, but held fire until planes came closer. Opened fire at 1,500 yards. First and second shots fell directly under machines. Increased range to 2,000 yards and third shot hit the middle aeroplane which exploded. A second enemy machine landed close to the machine hit, almost immediately. Fired two more shells at machine on the water and three at the remaining machines which were circling overhead. Firing pin now broke and had to be changed. With new firing pin fired three rounds at machines still in the air and drove them off and five more rounds at machine on the water which stopped. Passed over wreckage of machine which had been destroyed in the air, but H.M.Y. Diane got to the one on the water first and took the two aviators prisoner. It is submitted that this action reflects great credit on I.F.S. and gunlayer 2nd Hand Walter William Cowell. (ADM 137/3238/257 refers).

An account of this episode is told in The Dover Patrol, by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon:

‘During the winter the drifters on the cross-Channel barrage had a bad time. They were cheered on three occasions by most suspicious damage to the nets, but in the strong tide diving, for examination purposes, was impossible, and therefore the loss of enemy vessels could only be assumed. The drifter Protect was lost in March 1917 in weighing a fleet of nets: a heavy explosion occurred, doubtless owing to a mine having drifted in the net. Only three hands were saved.

On April 9th six German sea-planes attacked the mine-net division guarding the North Goodwin Nets. One of these machines endeavoured to torpedo a drifter, by a torpedo dropped from below the body of the machine; the torpedo missed the drifter astern by about twelve yards. The drifters engaged with their guns, but without result. This is an example of how the Germans wasted a new idea. Instead of trying to sink a large liner, they gave away the system in an attack on a little drifter.

The German aircraft did not, however, always get off so easily, for on one occasion, when Lieutenant H. B. Bell-Irving, R.N.V.R., arrived early on his patrol-station, he heard sounds of machine-gun fire, and saw five enemy machines flying low in line ahead, firing at each buoy as they passed it. The drifter manned her gun and loaded with tracer shell, and waited the enemy's approach. She opened fire at 1,500 yards. The first and second shots fell directly under the machine. She promptly increased her range to 2,000 yards, and the third shot hit the enemy machine amidships, causing it to explode, and bringing it down. A second enemy machine almost immediately landed close to the first one, and the drifter fired two more rounds at the machine which had landed, whose pilot was endeavouring to pick up his damaged comrade, and three rounds at the machines which were circling overhead. The drifter proceeded to chase the machine which was on the water, and which was taxing to the eastward. This craft was in trouble as it could not go straight, one of the floats having been hit by the drifter's fire.

The firing-pin of the drifter's gun had broken; the gun-layer changed it; fired three more rounds at the machines in the air, which cleared out, and five more rounds at the machine in the water, which stopped. The yacht Diane, which had come on the scene, took the two aviators prisoner, and endeavoured to tow the damaged machine, but unfortunately the machine broke and was not got into the harbour. The gun-layer of the drifter was a fisherman named Walter Cowell, second hand, and I venture to think his hitting two sea-planes, direct hits, with a six-pounder in this way was remarkable - as difficult an operation as shooting rocketing pheasants with a .303 rifle. For this service Lieutenant Bell-Irving received the D.S.C. and the gun-layer the D.S.M. Lieutenant Bell-Irving subsequently received a bar to his D.S.C. for gallant conduct in connection with an attempt to salve the Redcar after she was mined. He was in her when she sank, but jumped into the water just in time to clear the vessel.’

Sold with copied research including accounts from various newspapers and books.

Product Code: EM4013

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