ROAD TO WAR -
|The Aeroplane at War
|As the world was now embroiled in a World War that would prove
unstoppable, the aero-plane evolved into a machine for deadly use,
it would be used by many nations as an implement of aerial warfare,
in bringing death and destruction from the skies.
But the joy of flying was to be short lived as other countries had
decided to use this form of flying for selfish ideals, domination
and destruction. The Italians had first used the aero-plane in 1911,
against the Turks at war in Libya, and again in attempting the aerial
bombing of the Sennussi tribesmen in another conflict.
An early 1911 plane being tested for war.
|During the Mexican Revolution of 1911, aero-planes
were used in observing troop movements and for taking photographs
of the enemy below.
So it was evident that this aircraft could be used for war, world
leaders and governments took notice of this new flying machine,
for they too had sinister ideas for its use…it could travel
great distances, accomplish bombings from the air, and inevitably
control forces on the ground far below.
Their interests and motives were selfishly conclusive they would
all build their own air forces with these incredible flying machines.
They soon realized the advantages that this flying machine would
give them, especially in aerial combat and assist them greatly in
any conflict to come, it could not only protect their own countries
safety, but could destroy opposing forces relatively easily from
the skies above.
An original WW1 British Bi-plane
– now on display British plane over the battlefields.(Image
taken in 2013 Copyright www.edenbridgetown.com )
|The French had their own air force by 1910, followed
swiftly by the Germans, who had conceived the newly founded Imperial
Air Service in 1913. Britain not slow in recognizing the potential
of the aircraft also realized that their Allies in Europe had begun
to build-up their own air forces. In May 1912 the Royal Flying Corps
was created, later in June 1914 they also established The Royal
Naval Air Service.
During the early days pilots were very scarce to find and train,
those recruited to fly were strictly ordered to serve only the military
headquarters to which they were employed. Army officials and Generals
only wanted information on troop movements from their pilots, this
would be their main occupation, but in later days their flying service
would require a more severe testing.
By 1916, the new Heroes of the V.C. would be the fighter pilots
of the R.F.C.
||Those stationed in France and Belgium were to become
“Great Heroes of the Air”, many receiving the most prestigious
award ever…The Victoria Cross.
When the aero-plane made its first appearance in the skies over
the battlefields during World War One, the air forces on both sides
realized the immense potential and advantages that these new flying
machines could bring to the art of aerial warfare.
British Squadron of WW1 /British
Pilot and his plane
|The very first use of the aero-plane in battle during
the “Great War” was on 22nd August 1914, when a British
pilot on patrol observed the advance of General Kluck’s First
Army preparing for an attack on the unsuspecting British lines at
Mons, in Belgium.
The pilot was then able to relay this urgent warning of the impending
attack to British High Command, who took evasive action and saved
the situation by warning the British Army entrenched there.
Photo reconnaissance missions played
an important role for the pilot’s, the observer/spotter
who sat in the rear cockpit of the plane with a large hand held
camera taking images of the enemy troops far below, once taken
they would dash back to their base, hand the film plates over
to be developed, which in turn would be forwarded to the High
Command for further analysis and action to be taken, they would
then telephone the orders or by dispatch men send them to the
Commanders on the front line.
This was to become a top priority on many flights as the spotter
would fly observing and photographing troop movements, artillery
batteries, ammunition dumps, troop concentrations, supply depots,
and railway yards, these could all be pinpointed and photographed
from the air.
(Right) A WW1 French pilot and his plane, the photo is in the
gallery of Verdun – Ossuary.(Copyright Ian R. Bridle)
|Pilots knew the dangers of these missions and were
always careful to keep to a relatively safe height from the enemy
below, as they would certainly open fire on the plane.
Once spotted and the coordinates logged, enemy positions would be
relayed to the artillery troops who would range their big guns on
the target given and begin a massive bombardment of cannon fire,
attempting to destroy the enemy strong points.
An unsuspecting breakthrough in aerial combat would come during
1914, as two British airmen out on patrol spotted a lone German
plane flying below them, as they homed in on the lone plane they
saw it was on a reconnaissance mission taking photographs, for some
unknown reason the observer had decided to carry a hand held machine-gun
with him, a chase ensued, and on closing in on the enemy plane the
observer opened fire and shot it down. This one act of using a machine
gun in the air would herald the most important breakthrough in aerial
warfare, during this war and in any future wars.
Pilot’s eye view of the battlefields and trenches
|French pilot Roland Garros had heard of this new idea
of using guns and decided to make the machine-gun an integral part
of his flying machine. He mounted the gun on the fuselage above
the engine, then tested it out and found that there were many problems
with this type of firing and had to find other ways, for the wooden
propellers would disintegrate quickly when the gun was fired, as
the bullets would not be synchronized to pass through the fast turning
|When experimenting with this he found that if steel
plates were fitted to the propeller they would deflect the bullets
that did not pass clear through the arc of the fast spinning propeller.
He took to the sky with his new fangled idea and swiftly shot down
five German aero-planes within two weeks during March 1915.
This event marked another great turning point in aerial warfare.
But in April, he was forced to land behind German lines with engine
trouble. His plane was captured, and Anthony Fokker a Dutch aeronautical
engineer assisting the Germans inspected the plane and detected
this innovation at once. He also recognized the principle defects
with the design by Garros.
He made a mechanical interrupter gear, which would allow the gun
to be fired without damage to the propeller. Thus he had invented
and provided the first weapon that would be used specifically for
aerial combat. This marvel was considered so secret and far superior
than any that the Allies had, that his Fokker aero-planes were forbidden
to fly over no-man’s land in case they would be shot down,
and the secret revealed!
Thus in a short time it became statutory for all aero-planes on
both sides to be fitted with machine-guns, at that time none were
as effective as Fokker’s invention, but in time the R.F.C.
and the French Air Force would adopt their own safe mechanism for
firing a machine-gun from an aero-plane, both as a weapon of attack
Perhaps it needs to be mentioned that British and French pilots
were given NO parachutes during their time of aerial combat on the
Western Front. The reason was somewhat explained by the British
R.F.C High Command, for they believed that…
|“As the pilots cost so much money to train,
and as the aircraft were exceptionally expensive, that if a dogfight
was probable, the pilot may well bale out due to fear, and save
himself rather than try to save his aircraft, which in turn would
cost the British Government considerable funds to replace”.
The consequences of the British
Military Command in not allowing parachutes to be used by the
pilots and rear gunners / photographers caused the death of many
dozens of exceptionally Brave pilots and crew who not only were
burned to death while falling to earth but eventually crashed
to the ground in the burning aircraft…. the parachute was
finally introduced to the pilot’s and crew, much later in
|Those in the trenches suffered appallingly in the
mud and filth, cold and rain, snow and heat, hunger and fear, desperate
as they all had become, they testified solemnly that it lifted their
hearts and spirits beyond belief, when they glanced up and saw their
“own boys” high above in clear blue skies in combat,
dueling with the enemy and shooting them down. It gave them a great
sense of freedom that only the pilot’s had offered to them…despite
their own misery locked in horrific battles on the ground…that
they could not escape from.
From the very early tragic crashes due to testing, these new planes
from very uncertain beginnings, lessons were learnt for the use
of the aero-plane now ready and able for war.
As time progressed co-pilots took to the air with small bombs, although
only one bigger bomb could be dropped at a time.
Some pilots or observers chalked their own message on it, on arriving
over the enemy trenches they swiftly primed the bomb, then dropped
it on the enemy troops and trenches far below, to very good effect
killing a few of the enemy.
|One of the most horrendous items invented and used
in aero-plane warfare during WW1 to kill the enemy below, was used
by all air forces was the “Flechette” or steel dart,
about 12” inches long or longer, weighing about 8 ounces +
with a spike at the end, which would when dropped on the enemy at
hundreds/ thousands of feet above gained speed and would due to
the weight and the pointed end would pierce the steel helmet and
penetrate deep into the brain...thus causing instant death!
Chalked messages on a bomb
|The High Commands of all the fighting forces knew full well the
potential advantages that this type warfare would bring, it could
certainly bring them swift victories, believing that if this flying
machine could be designed and equipped to carry many bombs, then
it would be a devastating weapon. Also, many of the enemy could
be killed in a far quicker time using the aero-plane than by the
slog of infantry across shell cratered fields, and losing great
numbers of valuable infantry to machine-gun fire, exploding shells
and razor sharp shrapnel.
|While aircraft designers conceived and evolved other
forms of flight, engineers worked frantically to get their projects
built and ready for combat, faster aircraft, far more effective
ammunition and machine-guns, and more bombs that could be carried
on each and every aero-plane including bombers. These new inventions
were soon to be used at every opportunity, in this War…But
in the next War soon to follow, these evolving aero-planes would
become superior in every way to be the most highly effective killing
machines in the skies…!