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The Aeroplane at War.
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THE ROAD TO WAR -
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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 propeller.
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 and defense.
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 the War.
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…!
   
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