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Leonard Thomas Eaton Taplin was born on the 16th of December 1895 in Adelaide , South Australia. Taplin was working in Sydney as an Electrical Engineer until war broke out , when he joined up in the Australian Military and was posted to the Australian Army Engineers. Taplin applied for flying training and on the 8th of November left the Engineers for the Australian Flying Corps. After training Taplin was posted to 1 Squadron AFC.
Early on with 1 Squadron, the 12th of November 1917, Taplin while with B Flight was involved in a crash. The aircraft he was flying BE2 No.4312 crashed and killed the Observer with Taplin in the aircraft. Taplin himself was heavily wounded and the aircraft was a write off. Joe Bull wrote in his diaries, "Directly after dinner we had to put bombs on the machines and they went out to bomb Junction Station again. Old No.4312 was crashed near Khan Yunis today by a new pilot. The chap with him, Lieutenant Harvey, was killed. This squadron has been praised for its bombing and recco work."
In mid January of 1918, the allies in Palestine discovered their existing maps were either lacking in sufficient detail or simply incorrect. General Allenby decided the frontline needed to be re-mapped totally. The main brunt of this work fell to five pilots, Taplin, Lieutenant A.R.Brown, Lieutenant H.L. Fraser, Lieutenant E.P. Kenney and Lieutenant L.W.Rogers. The group of five photographed an area of country 32 miles deep from the Turkish frontlines to their rear. In total an area of 624 miles square miles starting January 5th and finished a fortnight later.
The five aircraft doing this work would fly in formation approximately 1000 yards apart and at a height of 12,000 feet. The Martinsyde and BE12 aircraft doing the photography were always escorted by three Bristol Fighters, with two being from 1 Squadron AFC, Captain S.W. Addison with Lieutenant W.H. Fysh and the other Captain R.M. SMith with Lieutenant E.A. Mustard. The third Bristol Fighter was from 111 Squadron RFC. On one day the work was done in a gale with a wind speed of 65 miles an hour at 5,000 feet. Other interferences included breaking equipment, anti-aircraft fire and enemy scouts.
On January 17th Taplin was photographing at 12,000 feet the hills around Nablus when his camera jammed. Taplin was flying with his kness while he dismantled the camera to fix it. With parts around the cockpit an Albatros Scout dived out of the sun and attacked him. Taplin dropped the camera he was trying to fix and swung to engage the German Scout. His Vickers was cold and jammed after the first shot, at which Taplin tried to fix the jam. The Albatros had dived under Taplin to get behind him but Taplin swung behind the Albatros and fired a burst of 30 rounds into the Albatros at close range and the German pilot dove away. Taplin then climbed back to 12,000 feet, mended and re-assembled the jammed camera and went about his photography again.
Joe Bull(1) wrote in his diaries of the engagement, "Lieutenant Taplin in a BE12[No.A575] drove another(2) off after out-maoeuvring him and putting a lengthy burst into him from close quarters. Lieutenant Steele of No.111 Squadron(3) brought down a two seater enemy machine. The Huns were waiting for our photography formation and gave Lieutenant Fraser in the Martinsyde[No.A3955] a rough time along with one or two of the BE12s but they all arrived home safely."
After departing Palestine on the 5th of March 1918, in 1918, Taplin joined 4 Squadron at Reclingham in France as a Sopwith Camel pilot and scoring his first victory on the July 17th. Nine days after this first victory, Taplin was very nearly killed in a flying accident on 26 July 1918 at 4.20 AM. His bomb ladened Camel crashing during take off igniting the war load his aircraft was carrying.. His Camel was loaded with a twenty pound phosphorous bomb , a twenty five pound high explosive bomb , hundreds of rounds of ammunition , a batch of Very light cartridges and a full tank of petrol. The whole collection exploded but Taplin escaped with nothing more than superficial burns in most part due to his presence of mind to undo his safety straps.
Cobby wrote in his book High Adventure of the incident, "[Taplin] had a memorable experience late in the month[July] that was funny to everyone except Tap himself. The incendiary bomb we were using was roughly egg-shaped with a couple of fins on it and about 18 inches long. It weighed about 50 lbs and was dangerous to handle .... it sometimes went off when you didnt want it to, and frequently did not go off when it should have .... Tap resolved that he would make sure one went off so he took off every safety device he could, and made some other adjustments. Then he and another chap, Oscar Ramsey, who had treated another similarly, started to leave about an hour and half before daylight with the intention of laying the eggs in the hangar of some unsuspicious Hun squadron .... About halfway through Tap's take off run, he ran into a rut and broke an axle causing, the machine to slew around in a circle and finished up on it's nose. Of course the incendiary bomb immediately exploded, setting the 'bus on fire, but Tap, with memories of the deadly Cooper, was leaving for points north "per bootem" as hard as he could go. He had covered about one hundred yards before the Cooper went off, and even he was lucky for pieces of this type of bomb, "daisy-cutter" frequently went beyond a hundred yards. Although his leather coat was pitted with phosphorous burns, he was untouched. In the meantime Ramsay, who had taken off a few seconds ahead so as to avoid a collision, saw the explosions and the fire from on top, and was chasing around in the dark to find the enemy who had dared to attack our aerodrome. Failing to do so, he returned to see what he could do to help us on the ground, and met Tap just returning from his cross country gallop."
On the 31st of July, a flight of Camels from 4 Squadron met an equal number of Fokker DVII's during an offensive patrol. In the engagement , two DVII's were destroyed and two were sent down OOC. Taplin added another two victories with one DVII being sent down out of control and crashing near Lestrem, the other being shot out of control Sout West of Estaires. Taplin's score was starting to increase rapidly, his knowledge and skills learnt with 1 Squadron AFC in Palestine translating well to the Sopwith Camels and aerial combat in France. Not to mention the greater chance for aerial combat in the Western Front as opposed to the Eastern Front. Another pilot who scored a victory in that engagement was Lt T.C.R Baker , who had joined the squadron at the around the same time as Taplin. Significantly their scoring would be matched through their careers until Baker was killed extremely late in the war.
With the British Offensive around the Somme in August of 1918, 4 Squadron were fighting in either larger circuses with 2 Squadron or roving pairs and small patrols with the idea of disrupting German aerial and ground activities. On the 3rd of August Taplin and King were out together on a dawn patrol over Merville. The pair each drove down a German two seater, Taplin reporting the L.V.G aircraft he fought had an armoured under belly and was firing explosive bullets.
September for Taplin was to bring the intriguing target of the observation balloon into his victory listing. Like the rest of the squadron, Taplin was affected with Balloon fever. The observation balloons were difficult targets as they were often protected with ground artillery and machine gun fire from the ground and enemy aircraft from above. Lieutenant R.G. Smallwood had flamed a balloon while on patrol with Taplin on August the 10th. It wasnt until September the 1st that Taplin scored an aerial victory over a balloon. Taplin was to flame four in the month of September, flaming four in four days, one on the 1st, two on the 3rd and another on the 5th of the month.
On 5 September 1918, Taplin and four other pilot's , Lts Eddie , Carter and Lockley engaged succesive flights of Fokker DVII Scouts from Jasta's 26 and 27 who dove on the disadvantaged Australians from 11000 feet. In the ensuing engagement all of the Camel's were shot down and the only survivor was Taplin who managed to land his aircraft despite being wounded. Trescowthick witnessed the combat and saw Lockley stall into an opponent and fire at it , the Fokker DVII fell out of control but this was the last glimpse of the battle Trescowthick had.
Cobby in his book High Adventure wrote of the 5th, "Sometimes one would hear machines returning well before their normal time, perhaps singly, and it would be immediately apparent that something had gone wrong. You could sense it, particurlarly from the manner of their approach and landing. In Trescowthick's case, he was early and flew in low, made a half circuit of the 'drome, then came straight in and landed. We were all immediately seized with a cold apprehension; our worst fears justified."
Cobby wrote furthur of the days engagement, " ... the arrangement had been made to rendezvous with a couple of flights of No.2 Squadron Australian Flying Corps and some Bristols of No.88 Squadron[RAF]. These fellows were to assume the above guard position some two or three thousand feet further up. If "A" Flight felt like having a smack at something, the top people would come down and lend a hand if the odds were a bit more than usual .... After some time over the line, Trescowthick saw about three times his own number of enemy scouts some distance away and a little lower down. He checked up and saw that No. 2 Squadron chaps were in position, and so dived in on the attack. Unfortunately the people above had a large number of the enemy above them again, and could not come down, but the some of these also swung around our "guard" and went in after Trescowthick and his pals. In a couple of seconds they were battling against five or six to one and from a bad position; namely, they had Huns on top, as well as their own level. It did not last long, and four good men were left behind. Taplin was shot about badly, but finished up a prisoner-of-war. Lockley was killed. Eddie managed to land his machine all right as he was seen to walk away from it, but he was later reported killed. It would seem that he was shot later."
The last word goes to Tap who described the engagement in detail for Cutlacks Official History(4), " We had to fight. No signal to avoid action could have had any effect. The escape of one machine(5) was due to the Germans' attention being centred on us four. However that is neither here nor there. The formation went over the line in "V" formation - Trescowthick leading, Eddie and Carter above and behind him, and Lockley and myself above and behind them again. When a few miles over we turned north. We were flying at about 14,000 feet and our escort could not be seen; I did not like this situation, and climbed another 1,000 feet above the patrol. Soon after this, when in the region of Douai, we were attacked. There were three formations in the attacking enemy, all Fokker biplanes. Two formations of about twelve to fifteen machines attacked almost simultaneously, one from high up to the west, and one from the north. Later a much larger formation came in from the east, which at first I thought was our escort coming to our rescue."
Taplin continues, "Trescowthick dived away under the formation coming from the direction of our own lines, but the other were cut off. No German attempted to follow Trescowthick so evidently he was unobserved. Meanwhile I was gaining all the height I could, and as the formation from the north closed in, I dived into the middle of them. Apparently by reason of my height, I had not been seen. The leader a red and white tailed Fokker pulled up, and we went at it head on. I got a good burst into his radiator, and he went down in a glide - not out of control just engine out of action. Next moment I was right in the middle of them, and before I could do anything a German below me pulled his nose up and put a burst right through the bottom of my machine. One bullet went through my right hand, smashing it up and breaking the wrist. My Camel immediately stalled and half rolled itself, and, to conform with poetic justice, came out of the stall right on the tail of my attacker, who was recovering from his own stall. I was now under control with my left hand and easily shot this German down. Just then I saw Lockley dropping past me completely out of control. I also saw during the fight two machines in flames, which I now suppose were Eddie and Carter."
Taplin claimed the German Fokker after the war as an OOC victory, Taplin spoke further with Cutlack, "I was getting shot about and firing at anything I saw, when a Fokker from somewhere ( the sky seemed full of them ) again got a burst into me. One bullet, an explosive smashed the breech and crank handle of one of my guns and sent a splinter through my nose. This dazed me and I fell out of control in an engine-spin. I spun down to about 1000 feet and then recovered, to find two Fokkers had followed me down. I again had to fight, and luckily shot one German down easily; the other left me alone. After this fight I was down to about 100 feet and started off towards home. My engine was just about done, from being shot about and from running full throttle through everything. I had only one hand and could not properly control the engine to gain height, so just staggered along. After running the gauntlet of ground fire for several miles I was shot down from the ground within a few hundred yards of the German frontline, and taken prisoner. I found out from the Germans that Lockley was buried in Henin Lietard cemetery, but could get no news of the others."
Leonard Taplin survived the war having achieved 12 victories in aerial combat and being awarded the DFC for his valour. After the war Taplin flew with Brearley's fledgling new airline , West Australian Airways , which operated to the North of Perth. West Australian Airways was Australia's first scheduled airline service. Keith Copley wrote of Taplin in his book "Australians in the Air", "Lieutenant Len Taplin, for instance. A slow-speaking South Australian, he seemed to saunter through the war and accept the good with the bad. Flying a BE2a and then a Sopwith Camel, he notched up 12 kills. Home in Australia again he flew the airmail routes through the nor'-west of Western Australia, and eventually settled down in Port Hedland long before the smell of iron-ore dust had settled on the town. He left WA Airways and virtually took over Port Hedland, becoming the town butcher, undertaker and electricity supplier."