The Origins of Air War: The Development of Military Air Strategy in World War 1 9780755625130, 9781845118099

Air power has come to be seen as a country's first line of defence; in the First World War views were vastly differ

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The Origins of Air War: The Development of Military Air Strategy in World War 1
 9780755625130, 9781845118099

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Tables and Illustrations Tables 2.1 British air personnel strength 2.2 Aircraft and engine production, 1914–18 3.1 Improvements in aircraft performance, 1914–18 3.2 Aircraft types in use in France by the RFC, August 1914 3.3 Engines used in the later stages of the war 3.4 Summary of Zeppelin commercial operations, March 1912 to August 1914 3.5 Development of the Zeppelins 4.1 Uncorrected wind error in yards at various altitudes 4.2 Summary statistics of German air raids on Britain, 1914–18 4.3 The fate of various Zeppelins 7.1 The levels of RFC organization Figures 2.1 Movements of the RFC from 16 August to 12 October 1914 2.2 Organization structure of RFC, November 1914 2.3 Growth in the number of squadrons and their specializations 2.4 A typical air brigade after the winter of 1915–16 2.5 Organization of VIII brigade 2.6 Organization of the German air forces, post-1915 3.1 The navigation vector triangle 4.1 Le Prieur rocket installation: Sopwith Pup 8.1 The three dimensions of strategy


22 33 65 67 70 79 80 99 105 106 188

24 25 26 27 52 54 63 96 197


anti-aircraft British Expeditionary Force Beardmore-Halford-Pullinger Captain of the Horse Commander-in-Chief company Digital Group Multiplexer Assemblages dead reckoning forward air controller General Headquarters General Officer Commanding Handelsschiffsverkehrsbuch Independent Air Force Luft Verkehrs Gesellschaft management by walking about non-commissioned officer Royal Flying Corps Royal Mail Ship Royal Naval Air Service submarine scout


Acknowledgements I am truly grateful to Air Vice Marshal Professor Tony Mason for the many helpful comments he made on this book, even though he was under great pressure of work himself. My thanks, too, to Professor Ian Gow, an eminent student of matters naval, for his help and encouragement. Ken Bassett, an ex-fighter pilot, gave an airman’s perspective and corrected some of my errors. The responsibility for the text, however, remains wholly mine. I am grateful, too, to Mrs Mary Wilkinson, head of Collections Development, at the Imperial War Museum for permission to publish extracts from the official history of the air war, and for her encouragement.


Preface I have long been interested in how strategy is made, and my book, The Strategy Process, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2002, was a general comparison of the strategy process in the military and business. Most of the theory on this subject is concerned with strategy in business and, having taught strategic management at university for over ten years and spent some thirty years in the Royal Air Force, the possibility of such a comparison came readily to mind. The purpose of this book is to trace the development of air strategy from the blank sheet of paper of 1914. The argument considers what the strategy became, and its future implications, but the central interest is how the strategy came about. Who did it? How was it agreed? What part did the generals and commanders play, and how much was forged in the skies above the competing armies in France? Strategic management is the most extensive body of theory on strategy formulation so, from time to time, reference is made to these ideas as an anchor for the arguments on air strategy. There are few occasions when strategy has had to be made without a previous body of knowledge on which to call. For aviators, such a situation pertained at the outbreak of the First World War. Aviation was very new and, although in the past some use had been made of balloons in war, there was no clear use for aircraft, other than for reconnaissance. As the capabilities of heavier than air aircraft increased and experience of their use in war accumulated, a doctrine for air operations was evolved. How it was done is the intriguing question. Was it done by the flyers engaged in operations, or by thinkers in headquarters, offices or even universities? Or was xi


it done by a combination of people finding pragmatic solutions to problems as they occurred? This is the subject of this book. Much of the book is given over to a review of what happened, but particularly related to the developments in air power and the thinking that lay behind it. It is not, however, an historical study but one concerned with strategy. The opportunities for primary historical research have largely gone with the passing of those involved, so I have acted as the bricoleur, picking up details from the many excellent pieces of published research. The whole story is a case study, but the various threads are separated out thematically, rather than creating one chronological narrative. Appendix 1 is a ‘time line’ designed to help the reader fix various events in their temporal context. Although air power was used in the First World War wherever operations took place, this account largely concentrates on air power on the Western Front, although the operations in Gallipoli and Iraq figure briefly. Aircraft were used in the Middle East, where the Germans were aiding the Turks against the British, and there, in the siege of Kut, a significant new use of air power was made and is recorded here, but a detailed account of air operations in this part of the war would mainly repeat what happened in France. The Russian, Austro-Hungarian and Italian armed forces all used aircraft in their part of the war, but their operations followed very much the developments in Western Europe. Thus, the story of the development of air strategy can be mapped out by study of the German and British operations, but the perspective here is principally British. The argument in this book is conducted around five major themes: organization, aircraft, weapons, men, and roles and tactics. The selection is not entirely arbitrary, but others might choose different foci for investigating how air strategy came about in the First World War. The Introduction provides a lead-in to the main topic by discussing some of the early events in aviation history. In the second chapter I look at the various changes in the organization of xii


air power on the grounds that structure influences the way that knowledge is handled and how decisions are made. The organization, its structure and its culture, are part of the context in which strategy is formed. In my earlier book, The Strategy Process,1 I considered various factors that have an effect on the outcome of the strategy process. These included: (1) Whether the organization is in crisis or not. (2) Does the organization have a strong dominant leader, or is the power of decision more distributed and democratic? (3) What is the effect of leadership? (4) What is the attitude to risk? (5) What is the culture of the organization? These factors can be found in these narratives. The aircraft, engines and equipment had a marked effect on the development of air power in war, and this is the topic for Chapter 3. The thinking about using the air for war was limited by the technology available. Few people living in the twenty-first century are unaware of how technology affects our daily lives, and although 1914–18 was less scientifically mature, what was possible in the air war depended on innovation and productive capacity. Technology, then, has a great impact on strategy. Great advances make more options available, and difficulties in development often mean that ideas outrun the lagging capabilities of production and the availability of critical materials. Aircraft development in the early years lacked the backing of a fully developed aerodynamic theory, so advances were largely the result of trial and error, and the pioneers hoped they could walk away from the wreckage of an unsuccessful experiment: many did not. There was so much new to learn about aerodynamics, engines, navigation, meteorology and the atmosphere, bombing, radio, photography, gunnery and tactics, and, after August 1914, how to stay alive for long enough to learn it all. xiii


Although the first use of aircraft and lighter-than-air machines was for the purposes of reconnaissance, it quickly became evident that these machines had an offensive potential, but they needed weapons. In Chapter 4 I discuss these weapons and their use. Strategy formation is a human activity and the deeds, personality and thinking of those involved, at all levels in the organization, influenced the uses to which air power was put, and some of the men involved are discussed in Chapter 5. The pioneers were drawn from different parts of society. In the early days, military aviation was, of course, populated by naval and army officers, many of whom had private means that they used to fund their activities. Many Royal Flying Corps pilots had paid for their own flying instruction and for the issue of their Royal Aero Club licence. Later, ex-mechanics learnt to fly and became very successful, James McCudden, one of the top scoring aces, being an example. Not all of them were accomplished pilots, Trenchard being merely competent. In fact, great skill in pilots was not particularly encouraged, and aerobatics were seen as merely showing off. What was admired was dogged, steady application to the task in hand, and good shooting. Not all the pilots were super fit: Mannock only had one good eye and Trenchard only one good lung (although both had contrived to conceal their condition from the medical officers). The ones who survived for any time applied themselves to the tactical problems of air warfare, and thus made their contribution to the development of an air doctrine. Unhappily, young newcomers to squadrons on active service, particularly during the ‘Fokker scourge’ survived only for a few days. Trenchard, who led the RFC in the field for a long period and his staff also, tried to understand the demands of the air, and to develop air strategy by spending long hours listening to their pilots and trying to pick the good ideas from the bizarre. The stress of fighting in the air preyed upon all the pilots, even the most successful such as von Richthofen and Mannock. Victor Yeates’s2 powerful evocation of a Camel pilot’s xiv


fears and mental agonies is an indication of what they endured. The fear was not lessened by the order forbidding the carriage of parachutes in RFC aircraft, because of the weight penalty and for fear that pilots would vacate their aircraft too hastily, and the pilots had to live with the constant fear of meeting their end in a ‘flamer’. This decision on the part of the authorities, leaving aside questions of morality and the weight of the parachute, seemed to value aircraft more than pilots, and seemed to assume that parachuting was then not itself a dangerous activity and one not readily to be undertaken. Although the subject of this book is strategy, tactics are the detailed methods developed for fighting in the air, and these have an influence on the thinking about air power and its uses. This topic is discussed in Chapter 5. The tactics were, in the main, worked out by those flying the aeroplanes, but several of the more successful aviators recorded what led to success, and what led to death. British GHQ collected these views and published them as a memorandum in February 1918. This first statement of air doctrine still has relevance today and, given its importance, it is reproduced in full here as Appendix 3. Chapter 7 is about air strategy itself, its evolution, what it was and to, a certain extent, what it became. Very few documents of a strategic nature remain, so a document from RFC headquarters in 1917 is reproduced in full as Appendix 4 to this book. From all this activity emerged the realization that there was a war separate from those being waged at sea and on the land. Much of what air power was to be called upon to do would continue to be in support of the other two arms, but air power’s preoccupation was to be the command of the air. This battle was fought against the opposing air force and would have to continue throughout any similar future war. The advantage could swing to either side at different periods, but this air war had to be fought continually and usually out of sight of the navy and army. The assumption would be, to the uninformed, as on xv


the beaches of Dunkirk, that if the navy and army could not see the air forces, then they were doing nothing to help the beleaguered. The final chapter, Chapter 8, is an analysis and the conclusion. There are no developed theories of the process of strategy formulation in military studies (apart from the appreciation technique), but, it is contended, strategy is a concept that can be seen to be the same in all the different contexts in which the word is used. For that reason, some allusions are made to theories of strategic management and, it is hoped, therefore, that the analysis will be revealing to businessmen and military commanders alike. I have included a list of references of the books consulted and a notes section, for the book is intended to be of value to academics as well as the general reader. I hope the general reader will not find this practice irritating. Some of the books in the references the general reader might find excessively technical, but many are ‘ripping yarns’ of the deeds of the aces. Maurice Baring’s, Victor Yeates’s and Cecil Lewis’s books are probably the most literary, but all other such books convey the excitement, fears and sheer horror of aerial warfare with candour and freshness. I hope that the readers of this book will be encouraged to read more of the very brave men of all the nations involved in fighting the air war in what Tennyson described as ‘the central blue’. It is intended that this book will contribute to the development of our understanding of the process of how strategy comes about. In this case study, the process is seen to be messy, confused and mired by personality clashes, but many will recognize these factors at work in business and elsewhere in the search for the optimum interaction of means and ends. Idealized structures of the strategy process have their place, but seldom reflect what actually happens when humans are involved. If the strategy-forming process were found to be algorithmic, it could be done by computers and the politics and the personalities would be excluded: but it isn’t.


1 Introduction

The story of the development of air power is set mainly in the twentieth century, with early rapid progress prompted by the catastrophic First World War, and these early developments in the war in the air were written on a clean sheet of paper. No one had been there before, and opinion stretched from the often wild ideas of the enthusiasts to the dead hand of the opponents, who mainly wished air power would go away so that wars could be fought as they always had been. England was no longer an island protected by the power of the Royal Navy, but, being wholly covered by air, was now vulnerable to attack from that direction. Fleets and armies could no longer manoeuvre freely to outwit the enemy, since movement on the sea and land could be observed from the air. Mistakes were made in the use of this new weapon, but we have to avoid making harsh judgements of those involved, armed as we are with the great gift of hindsight. Pioneers may well have overlooked what we now would think of as the obvious, but could we have done better at the time? The perspective adopted here is mainly British, although due consideration is given to German operations. This is not to imply that the French had no part in strategy development for Trenchard worked closely with them. Detailed work on French operations in this field must await a separate study. Another contextual difference that has to be considered is that between operations for the Navy and those for the Army. The roles of air power are largely the same 1


in each case, but the environment in the case of sea operations is more challenging than over the land, and the failure by the existing armed forces to agree on the control of air power is a lasting problem. Early days In 1793, the French Army formed an aviation section operating balloons, which directed artillery fire against the Austrians for Napoleon in 1794. In April 1862, General McClellan commanding the army of the Potomac was contemplating how to take Yorktown, Virginia, preparatory to an assault on the confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Their advance had come to a halt and General McClellan adopted a new approach: To study the situation the Army command had an untried military instrument – an observation balloon, with Professor T. S. C. Lowe, aeronaut, as airborne military observer. … From an altitude of one thousand feet Professor Lowe found that he could see a good deal, and on the following day there were more ascensions, with Army officers making maps and taking copious notes. Confederate artillery, of course, fired at the balloon repeatedly, but without effect; the gunners had to invent the whole science of anti-aircraft fire on the spot, and anyway they had no high-angle guns.1 General McClellan decided to besiege Yorktown, rather than assault it. The event had wider implications, however, since it came to the notice of Graf von Zeppelin who was in America at this time, from when dates his interest in this form of aviation. The use of balloons was discontinued after the Battle of Chancellorville on the orders of General McClellan. One factor in this decision may have been the considerable wagon train that was necessary to transport the balloons, hydrogen gas and other necessary



impedimenta over indifferent roads, but some suggest that personalities entered into the argument. The incident does, however, illustrate the need for new technology to have the support of the leadership. Mason drew attention to the pioneering air operations undertaken by the Italians in the war against Turkey in Tripoli and Cyrenaica between 1911 and 1916.2 Innovative use was made of aircraft in reconnaissance, artillery spotting and bombing by the Italians and although there was no aerial opposition, some damage to the Italian aircraft was caused by ground fire. The magazine Flight published some reports, but the likelihood is that they were read avidly by ‘believers’ and quietly ignored by the rest. The early years in Britain Military experiments with balloons in Britain had begun at Woolwich Arsenal in 1878, and a balloon section took part in the Aldershot manoeuvres of 1880 and 1882. In 1884, a balloon detachment accompanied an expedition to Bechuanaland, but no fighting ensued. In the following year, 1885, a balloon detachment served in Sudan, and was declared to have been useful for reconnaissance. In 1890, a balloon unit was formed by the Royal Engineers and they built a factory in Farnborough, which went on to become the Royal Aircraft Factory, and later, when the initials ‘RAF’ found another use, was renamed to become the Royal Aircraft Establishment. Experiments were conducted at Farnborough in engine technologies and aerodynamics that were to prove vital in the coming war, but also related topics such as photography and wireless were studied. During the South African War, which began in 1899, some use was made of balloons for reconnaissance and directing artillery fire. Cooperation between the balloons and the artillery was a little haphazard for lack of a practised doctrine, but some successes were reported. In 1903, the Wright brothers took to the air in an aircraft with an engine and the



world was changed forever. Many, however, wished aviation would go away and no one had a clear understanding of what the events at Kittyhawk meant. The Wright brothers offered to work in England for four years and pass on their knowledge to the War Office for the sum of £20,000. The War Office turned down the offer.3 Aviation was not alone in not yet being understood. Trench warfare had already been experienced in the American Civil War, and the British Colonel Fremantle had watched the charge of General Pickett’s division at Gettysburg against such a prepared position.4 The carnage had been awful, both in the preliminary artillery exchange and in the charge; this without the machine guns, which were an added factor in 1914–18. General Haig was intelligent and well-read, but apparently did not absorb the vicarious experience from another war. In 1909, the then Mr Haldane, as secretary of state for war, arranged the formation of the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was concerned with the technical and scientific aspects of flying. Lord Rayleigh from the National Physical Laboratory chaired the committee and seven of its ten members were fellows of the Royal Society. Such moves, however, do not signify a coordinated, progressive approach to military aviation. As Walter Raleigh observed, ‘the aeronautical world was a strange ferment of inventors, amateurs, enthusiasts, heretics of all sorts, wedded to their own notions, and mutually hostile.’5 Comparing the amounts spent by governments on military aviation can be used as an indication of the comparative efforts being made in aviation. In 1909, these are reported as Germany £400,000; France £47,000; Great Britain £5000.6 Military and naval men were flying from Larkhill, but some in machines they purchased themselves, and the Bristol Aircraft Company was allowed to set up there, too, to give flying instruction. Larkhill was a mixture of military and civilian activities, largely conducted by amateurs. On 28 February 1911, an Army Order was issued forming the 4


Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers, which was entrusted with creating a body of expert airmen. The battalion had a headquarters, and two companies: the first flew airships and the second aeroplanes. Now aviation was an official military duty. In November 1911, the standing subcommittee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was charged with considering the future development of naval and military aviation. The committee reported quickly and recommended, inter alia: • The creation of a British Aeronautical Service, to be regarded as

one, and designated ‘The Royal Flying Corps’. • The Corps to consist of a Naval Wing, a Military Wing, and a Central Flying School for the training of pilots. • The Flying Corps to be kept in closest possible collaboration with the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and with the Aircraft Factory, so that the work of experiment and research should have its due influence on practice. • A permanent consultative committee, named the ‘Air Committee’, to be appointed, to deal with all aeronautical question affecting both the Admiralty and the War Office.7 The Royal Flying Corps: early days The Royal Flying Corps was constituted by a royal warrant on 13 April 1912. Brigadier David Henderson led their small planning subcommittee and he had no illusions concerning the magnitude of the task. He said in 1912: At the present time in this country we have, as far as I know, of actual flying men in the Army about eleven, and of actual flying men in the Navy about eight, and France has about two hundred and sixty three, so we are what you may call behind. Their plan called for a military wing of seven squadrons, each



comprising 12 aircraft (plus one for the commanding officer), and two pilots for each aircraft. With reserves, the expeditionary force would require 364 trained pilots. Very early, the Royal Navy aviators became separated in their operations and development, which soon led to their becoming the Royal Naval Air Service. The Royal Flying Corps then became purely military. At the end of April 1912, two squadrons, numbered 2 and 3, had been formed and, in August that year, the Central Flying School came into being. No. 2 squadron had been the old military wing of the air battalion, but No. 3 was a new formation. The airship company at Farnborough became No. 1 squadron, but, at the end of 1913, all airship development was passed to the navy and No. 1 squadron had to convert to aeroplanes. Much of the early work of the flying corps was experimental on ballooning, kite balloons, wireless telegraphy, photography, meteorology, bombing, musketry and gunnery, but the pressure was also on to train new pilots. No. 4 squadron was formed in September 1912, No 5 in August 1913, No. 6 in January 1914, and No. 7 in May 1914. Progress in development was slow, and not all the army commanders were impressed by aviation. The benefits of the aircraft in reconnaissance were demonstrated in the army manoeuvres of September 1912, when General Sir Douglas Haig commanded the attacking force and the defending force was commanded by General Grierson. The latter asked for an aerial reconnaissance and, by nine o’clock in the morning, General Grierson was given complete and accurate information on the enemy’s dispositions, which he used to outflank the opposing army. Unfortunately, few army commanders had such an opportunity to assess the potential value of aerial reconnaissance, and the information they did have from the air was not always passed to the lower formations quickly enough to be of best value. As a result of this experience and that of the 1913 manoeuvres, 6000 feet was determined as the most suitable altitude for such observation. The Flying Corps was learn6


ing by doing. On 1 September 1913, a military aeronautics directorate was established in the War Office, and the director general of military aeronautics reported directly to the secretary of state for war. The directorate had three branches, the first dealing with general policy, administration and training; the second with equipment; and the third with contracts. The first director general was Brigadier General Henderson, and he retained that post when he was appointed to command the Royal Flying Corps in France. His deputy, Major W. Sefton Brancker was left to tackle the many administrative tasks, not least that of supply. In August 1914, Britain declared war on Germany and the RFC’s available units were moved to France under the command of General Henderson (for details see Chapter 2 below). Trenchard as commander of the military wing and Brancker as the de facto director general of military aeronautics were left with few pilots and few aircraft. With these slender resources they had to build up more squadrons, as Lord Kitchener had decreed, but also, when the war began, provide replacement aircraft and pilots for the squadrons in France. They attracted various tradesmen to train as aircraft mechanics and scoured the country for civil pilots to co-opt into the reserve. A deal was struck with the Royal Navy whereby the RFC would have all the engines of 100 horsepower and less, plus the 120-horsepower Beardmore engine, while the higher powered engines, such as the 250-horsepower Rolls-Royce engine soon to be developed, went to the senior service. It proved difficult to standardize on a few airframe types as the technology was developing so rapidly. During the less than five years of the war, private industry and the Royal Aircraft Factory were to produce an astonishing number of different aircraft types. Not all were successful, but the development time was so short that the duds could be replaced fairly quickly. Judgement was required, however, since some aircraft attracted criticism that was not really justified. For instance, the DH2 was nicknamed the ‘spinning incinerator’ 7


because of its tendency to enter a spin, a manoeuvre not fully understood at that time. New airfields were constructed, new training units formed with ex-civil pilots and a few returned from France, so the maximum was wrung out of the limited resources left in Britain. Lord Kitchener took a keen interest in these developments, and, more importantly, gave his support to the fledgling corps. His plans for the new army to fight in France called for 50 squadrons of aircraft. Brancker must have been at a loss as to how this was to be done, but when the paper budgeting had been staffed in the War Office, Kitchener had written on the copy sent back to the aeronautical directorate, ‘Double this. K’. No. 3 squadron had studied the most suitable machine gun for arming aircraft, and concluded that the Lewis gun was the best. The necessary tests were, however, protracted and the first aircraft to be so fitted did not reach the corps in France until September 1914. This squadron also experimented with photography, and, predictably, the officers bought the cameras themselves out of their own pockets. They went on to specify the requirements, and a camera was produced for the purpose of aerial photography. The plates were developed in the air and so, on landing, prints were quickly obtained. In March 1913, the first night flight was made, but it was some time after the start of the war before such flying was regularly done. For all the experimenting and practice, however, the role of the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of war was simply reconnaissance. This role was not to prove insignificant, however, as Barnett recorded:8 For on September 3 [1914] both British and French aircraft had reported that Kluck was marching east of Paris. These reports were a decisive ingredient of the German failure, a critical intervention by a new instrument of war that was better utilized by the allies than by the Germans, who actually had more aircraft. 8


The Royal Naval Air Service: early days The Royal Navy had enthusiasts for aviation from the start in Britain, and they could foresee that use of the air could have a significant impact on operations at sea. Not all the navy was so enamoured, and the ‘crusty Admiral’ who rejected this new weapon as an affront to the world of ships is often instanced as an archetype. There were undoubtedly such opponents, as there were generals who thought that aircraft would merely frighten the horses. On the other hand, there were supporters, such as Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and Admiral Sir David Beatty, who were more than ready to integrate this new arm into the surface fleet. Naval aviation, however, had special problems to overcome. Taking off from the water, whether by flying boat or seaplane, needed extra power, which is why the Admiralty secured priority in the supply of the larger aircraft engines available. The sea state affected the possibility of such operations, particularly in the frail aircraft then available. Once airborne, flight was made over the featureless sea, and navigation was a real problem in the absence of the possibility of map-reading. The first use of aircraft at sea was the same as that over land, namely reconnaissance. The problem here was that the target was ships, and they were moving. By the time the reconnaissance aircraft delivered its report, the enemy ships would have moved a considerable distance and could have altered course. Even when the aircraft were equipped with wireless, the accuracy of their report depended on the accuracy of the knowledge of the aircraft’s own position. Artillery spotting became an essential task for land-based aircraft, but employing the same role against moving ships was less successful, although direction of gunnery against shore targets proved to be very effective. Air defence of the fleet was presumed to be necessary and the British designed 17 naval fighter types, but none of these entered service. The navy developed methods of carrying land aircraft on ships and also operated these fighters from land bases. Throughout



the war, however, very few combats occurred over the sea.9 War against submarines required that aircraft needed long range and long endurance, neither of which was available in the early days. Airships had these necessary characteristics, but the early British experiments with such as the disastrous Mayfly, which never did fly, meant that their entry into service was delayed until 1916. The weapons needed were special, too. The torpedo could be a powerful weapon, and during the Second World War Japanese torpedo aircraft sunk the British capital ships Prince of Wales and Repulse, but in 1914 the enthusiasts for the aerial carriage of this weapon had to fight considerable opposition. Attacks on submarines needed a weapon that would explode under the surface, and the depth charge had to be developed. In the light of these special circumstances, it is perhaps more easily understood why even the more flexible thinkers among the admirals still had doubts. The claims of the enthusiasts could not be substantiated in the earlier years because of the limitations of the aircraft and engines then available. In 1912 the Admiralty decided to create a number of seaplane and airship bases on the east coast of Great Britain; just before the war, the naval wing owned 52 seaplanes, of which half were airworthy, and had 46 more on order. In April 1914, the military handed over all airships to the navy, which took over further development of lighter-than-air machines. The naval wing experimented with operations against submarines and with bombing, but it also foresaw the need for fighter aircraft for defence against the Zeppelin. At the outbreak of war, however, the only available weapon for attacking the Zeppelins was the Hales grenade, fired from an ordinary service rifle, although experiments with machine guns continued. Naval aviation received more money from the Admiralty than the military did from the War Office, which is an indication of the power and influence the senior service wielded. The navy adopted a more aggressive approach to air power from the outset, while the army concentrated on reconnaissance. 10


Although the navy had conducted many experiments and had gained valuable experience, it was woefully short of weapons when the war began since it had had insufficient time to choose the best performing equipment and to get contracts from suppliers. At the end of 1913, the naval wing of the Royal Flying Corps assumed the title of the Royal Naval Air Service, and Captain Murray Sueter became the director of the air department. At this stage the service consisted of the central air office at Sheerness, which also housed the inspecting captain of aircraft, the Royal Naval Flying School at Eastchurch, the various naval air stations, and the air department in the Admiralty. The office in the Admiralty and the commander-in-chief of the home fleets jointly controlled the Sheerness office. When war began, however, the Sheerness office was closed and the whole of the RNAS was placed under the command of the director of the air department. The Cin-C Home Fleet then complained that this organization contravened King’s Regulations and the Naval Discipline Act. The naval law branch supported this assertion and the regulations for the Royal Naval Air Service were drafted to the effect that ‘various air stations will be under the general orders of the Commander-inChief or Senior Naval Officers in whose district they are situated’. The post of director of air services was disestablished and a rearadmiral, who was not an aviator, filled the newly-created post of director of air services. In fact, only two of the remaining staff of eight in the Admiralty were aviators, so it would seem that the sailors had successfully countered the aviators’ attempt to control air operations. The separate existence of the naval air force was recognized officially on 1 July 1914 and when war was declared the RNAS had the following assets: 6 wing commanders; 19 squadron commanders; 12 flight commanders; 91 flight lieutenants, flight sublieutenants and warrant officers; 700 petty officers and men; 39 aircraft and 52 seaplanes (of which about 50 per cent were combat 11


ready); and 7 airships (but ‘Willows’ was non-effective). HMS Hermes had been modified for the carriage of seaplanes, but a torpedo from an enemy submarine sunk it in October 1914. There were also land bases at Eastchurch, Isle of Grain, Calshot, Felixstowe, Yarmouth and Cromerty, plus an airship base at Kingsnorth on the Medway. The naval wing had conducted a number of experiments on bombing, gunnery and wireless, and was ahead of the naval military in these technologies. The naval organization was, however, rather cumbersome, and responsibility for the air arm was divided between the parliamentary secretary responsible for finance, the civil lords for contracts, and the sea lords for plans and service affairs. Although experiments had been conducted on important technical developments, the navy’s initial ideas on how to make use of air power was limited to defence of the east coast of Britain from attack and control of the English Channel, at least for long enough to allow the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force. The earliest measure taken to effect this coastal defence was to institute air patrols, but the RFC had to conduct those on the northern and southern extremes of the British coast because the navy was short of aircraft. The patrols proved tedious and non-productive. There was a wish to conduct offensive bombing missions against shore targets, but the necessary equipment was not available. Policy development The newly created aviation force faced great challenges, and it was not aware that war would occur as soon as 1914. The development of aviation in Great Britain had been haphazard and amateurish, while the Germans and French had realized the importance of this new arm, even if their air strategy was not much further advanced than that of the British. The main concern of aviation had been the technicalities of improving aircraft and engine performance, while



trying to produce the required number of aircraft and pilots. Airships still figured strongly as reconnaissance vehicles in Germany, following successful operations in the 1912 manoeuvres when information on troop movements had been transmitted to the defending forces by wireless. Reconnaissance was the role envisaged for the air forces acting as a form of cavalry freed from problems of terrain and restrictions on movement. The Royal Navy, on the other hand, abandoned airship development in 1911, following the failure of the Mayfly project, until 1915 when its value in anti-submarine operations and reconnaissance was realized. The thought that the enemy might object to the intrusion on his privacy by attacking reconnoitring airships and aircraft does not seem to have been considered early on, since the first aircraft to go to war were unarmed. The idea of bombing from the air was considered by the Germans who by 1914 had amassed considerable experience in operating Zeppelin airships, having flown more than 10,000 passengers over some 65,000 miles. That the Royal Naval Air Service was also planning bombing is evident, since its first bombing raid was carried out, at night, on 21 December 1914 on Ostend in Farman S11s.10 Captain Dickson had, in 1912, propounded the idea of the command of the air, but no strategy had been developed that conceived of an air war separate from ground and sea operations. Had one been devised, it would have been entirely surprising given the novelty of air operations. The development of ideas was, in the usual British fashion, placed in the hands of committees. Some generals and admirals had dismissed the idea of a war role for aviation, so the task of enthusiasts at lower levels in the organization was made all the more difficult. Aviation disturbed the natural order of things: God had clearly intended sailors to operate in ships and the army to march about on the land. On the other hand, Winston Churchill, the first Lord of the Admiralty, and Admiral Fisher were enthusiastic advocates of the use of air power in sea operations and lent their 13


support. New ideas cost money, which was not easily extracted from the Treasury and, furthermore, advocates of the novel can become the object of ridicule in the event of failure. Evidence of the probable future direction of the use of aircraft in conjunction with land operations was available to the British from their French allies, who, by 1911, had between 200 and 220 aircraft practised in cooperation with infantry, cavalry and artillery. Herbert Simon11 put forward the idea of ‘bounded rationality’, where the limitations of the human mind impose limits on rationality, leading to the idea of ‘satisficing’ where the decision-maker does not pursue analysis in search of the ultimate, best solution, but will accept the first solution that meets his or her criteria for success. Later, Braybrooke and Lindblom suggested that ‘the synoptic ideal is not adapted to man’s limited problem-solving capabilities’ and went on to propose that large organizations, particularly those in the government service, proceeded by small, safe, incremental steps in the development of policy.12 The committee may extend the rationality of the individual by bringing more minds to bear, but it operates by consensus and is subject to the restrictions of ‘group think’ and the limitations of current thought, policies and doctrine. Enthusiasts for new ideas may long for a powerful dictator who can cut through this conservatism, but the example of Adolf Hitler should act as a corrective to the view that this situation is always better. The British character was in operation in the lead-up to the First World War and its conservative approach is in contrast to the French readiness to accept the novel. Neither is ‘right’, they are just different, and the British got there in the end. Land and sea don’t mix A recurring problem in the attempts to formulate an air strategy is that of the different requirements of land and sea forces. The Royal Navy was accustomed to projecting sea power at a distance around the world and, given the difficulties of communication, operating



autonomously. Its means of waging war had to be under its control and no one else’s, and so it was with aviation. Furthermore, air operations at sea had to cope with vastly different conditions from those on land, and so the technology was different, at least until airborne. Naval strategy was aggressive, and the enemy’s forces were to be sought out and destroyed wherever they were to be found. Barnett made a savage criticism of the Royal Navy at that time: Fundamentally it was the Victorian navy that fought at Jutland. … The nineteenth-century Royal Navy had no general staff, no staff college, no higher war studies. It made no war plans. It was an end in itself justified by its size, its reputation and its elegance. Its officers were too often recruited by nepotism or influence – a form of co-optation. Co-optation is itself a form of inbreeding, and in 1900 the officer corps of the Royal Navy displayed the characteristics of professional inbreeding to the extent of Goyaesque fantasy. Arrogance, punctilious ritual, ignorance of technical progress, and remoteness from the functional reality of a modern fleet were added to the unchanged organisation of the eighteenth century to produce a decadence hardly matched in any force of modern times, except perhaps by the French Imperial Army of 1870.13 This view may be true in part, and the RNAS did meet opposition from within the navy, but in 1914 that force proposed bombing enemy air assets, first fitted weapons on aircraft, and pioneered aircraft wireless, while having to cope with the special demands of operating at sea. Solutions to these latter challenges were the development of float-planes and seaplanes and the modification of ships to operate aircraft, resulting in the aircraft carrier and balloons. The development of torpedo carrying aircraft also met opposition from within the navy, but they were available for the Gallipoli campaign, 15


where they scored the first ever victory with such a weapon dropped from the air. The marginal performance of seaplanes can be gauged when, in Gallipoli, young midshipmen were used as observers because they weighed less than older officers. The British Army had horizons limited by the radius of action of its cavalry and the range of its guns. It had certainly fought all over the world and generals, following the example of Napoleon, had to learn to take a strategic view, but the aeroplane, to the army, was mainly of value as a means of looking over the hill in front of them. Reconnaissance was to be the task, therefore, of the Royal Flying Corps. Before forming the view that the army’s view was pedestrian (what else?) we should remember that aircraft in 1914 were very limited in performance and pilots were inexperienced. ‘Stunt’ flying was actively discouraged, so the pilots were not encouraged to explore the full performance envelope of their machines. It was enough to take off and land safely and to control the aircraft in the air. Experiments were conducted into dropping bombs and mounting machine-guns, but the payload of the available aircraft was very small. The extension and development of the strategy for land-based aircraft was organic, rather than teleological, as the rest of this book will show. It is, perhaps, not surprising that air power was greeted with suspicion and opposition. Officers were now called upon to rethink what they had been taught and what they had learnt by experience, and many were not well equipped for intellectual pursuits of this nature. The enthusiasts pressed the case for aviation in war, but were often treated as fanatics who should be ignored. There was just sufficient influence at high level to forward the cause of air power and so save the British armed forces from discovering in the harsh realities of war what air power could do, especially if unopposed. There were powerful figures in Britain who supported aviation and could see something of its potential. Winston Churchill and Beatty in the Admiralty, Kitchener, Haig and Trenchard in the 16


War Office, and Lord Curzon and General Smuts in government, are all examples of the high-level support that overcame the resistance. ‘Top cover’ of this nature is essential for the formation of a strategy that necessitated radical departures from the accepted view. The technology In the period from 1914 to 1918 the Royal Flying Corps lost 16,623 officers and men, while the German air forces lost 15,906 officers and men,14 although nearly 50 per cent of the British losses were not due to enemy action. The war was a hard school and technology played a central role in both the survivability and the killing power of the aircraft used. The details of the aircraft used and their dates of introduction are complex and unnecessary for the argument of this book, but some information is made available in Chapters 3 and 4 to give an appreciation of the influence of technology on the strategy developments. The advance of technology was not always matched immediately by the other side, so the introduction of the synchronized, forwardfiring gun in 1915 gave the Germans an advantage that lasted until the British and French produced similar equipment. The pushertype aircraft (DH2 and FE2), which had a forward-firing gun operated by the observer, helped towards restoring the balance and, by mid-1916 the aggressive use of RFC aircraft kept the Germans on the defensive. In that year, however, the Germans reorganized their air force and discontinued defence tactics, coupled with the introduction of the superior Albatros and Halberstadt fighters. RFC losses mounted and, to offset the German aircraft’s performance advantage, more British aircraft were committed to operations; so fifteen escort fighters would support three photographic aircraft. This practice was, in effect, a force-multiplier for the Germans, who were numerically inferior but superior in performance at that time. With the introduction of the Sopwith Camel, SE5a and Bristol Fighter in 1917, the balance of advantage swung back to the



RFC. The basic assumption that the war was going to be short, and the RFC’s assigning virtually all its strength to France in August 1914, hampered the development of British air power, as will be discussed in the next chapter. At the front, the fighting men had a keen awareness of what could be done and what equipment was needed, and these demands were fed back through RFC headquarters to industry back home. As the improved technology became available the doctrine, tactics and strategy moved on to spawn new demands, so air strategy was developed through a rolling interchange of means and ends. Supply The assumption, generally held, was that the war was going to be short, even though Lord Kitchener warned that it could last three years (and that proved an underestimate). Wars had been fought hitherto largely with what one had at the outset, but 1914–18 was to be different, and the cutting edge of technology was the aircraft and its associated equipment. Government at that time did not have the pervasive hold on society that we have come to accept, and industry was the great independent engine of the economy. This structure proved to be a disadvantage when the economy had to be organized on to a war footing. Marwick commented on one move in the process, the formation of the Ministry of Munitions: The Ministry of Munitions was an upstart and an aggressionist: less set in its ways than such older departments of state as the War Office, it was an ideal instrument for direct Government action, and the aggrandisement of its spheres of interest after December 1916 is in itself symbolic of Government intentions. The Ministry assumed responsibility for the supply of aircraft to both Army and Navy, the development of agricultural machinery, the supply of fuel oils, and



the control of the manufacture, use and distribution of sulphuric acid.15 Lloyd George gives a detailed and personal account of the problems of supply, leading to his appointment as Minister of Munitions.16 The need to resolve the great shell scandal, when the artillery in France had insufficient shells to give proper support to the infantry, had assisted the process. No less a scandal, but lacking the visibility of the shell shortage, was the scramble between the Admiralty and the War Office for available airframes and engines. The latter worked through the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, which arranged the subcontracts to industry, whereas the Royal Navy, having withdrawn its naval wing from the Royal Flying Corps, dealt directly with industry, as it did with ships. The Admiralty’s prestige and influence was a distorting factor when, without consulting the Air Board, the Treasury gave the navy £3 million in August 1916, a massive sum then, for the purchase of aviation equipment. The rapidity with which technology was advancing imposed a further burden on the nascent aircraft industry, and types in production were constantly being superseded by improved models. Design was initially in the hands of Farnborough who used its increasing knowledge of aerodynamics to produce stable aircraft like the BE2c, whereas the fighters that private industry produced were often marginally unstable and difficult to fly, but highly manoeuvrable. Added to the pressure for new designs was the need to replace the aircraft lost in France to enemy action and everywhere to accidents. The production figures are discussed later, but the enormous achievement of increasing annual production of aircraft from 1680 in 1915 to 29,348 in 1918 is truly remarkable, but even then France had to supply many aircraft and engines under contract to make up the shortfall. Despite these achievements, the development of bombing strategy was held back by the 19


lack of suitable aircraft, numbers of which did not arrive in France until the last few months of the war. Conclusions In the early years of the war, the aircraft were still quite primitive but, as the technology developed, thinking on the importance of aviation and its uses expanded. Initially, two strands of air power strategic thinking, naval and military, emerged and continued to diverge. Many theories of the uses of air power were to be developed after the war was over, but, while the battle was being fought in France, the problems were solved pragmatically since there was little time for analysis and theory-building. Those involved worked out how best to use air power, and when they got it wrong, they or their pilots usually paid for the mistake with their life. Theories of air power the navy developed had their origins in the doctrines of the exercise of sea power. Here we are concerned, however, with how the air strategy came about and the evidence presented has been selected to answer that question. The context of the strategy formulation process is important and includes conditions of organization, technology and supply. The mindset or paradigm of the men is important, and the mental attitudes of the very brave men on both sides of the lines were very different from those of today. Tactics were developed from the experiences of the front-line pilots and they had an influence on the further employment of these novel machines. All these factors need to be considered in the following chapters.


2 Organization

The process of strategy formulation is linked to the structure of the organization. In a start-up company formed by an entrepreneur, strategy is in the hands of the head of the company, although he or she might consult subordinates. By contrast, in a large, bureaucratic organization, the process is likely to be more structured and involve the staff as well as the bosses. Bower1 found in his study of a very large company that the capital process, which had a strategic impact, was begun by proposals from the middle managers in the divisions and depended for their success on the support from their divisional heads. The board almost invariably approved projects that had the support of trusted divisional heads. The problem was that middle managers lacked a broad perspective of the total business, and the board lacked detailed understanding of the proposed projects. Hostilities begin Count Alfred von Schlieffen, chief of the German General Staff from 1891 to 1906, devised a plan for the conquest of France based on the strategy Hannibal employed at the Battle of Cannae. This plan of envelopment necessitated infringing Belgian territory, the neutrality of which was guaranteed by a treaty signed in 1839 by England, France, Russia, Prussia and Austria. The German plan envisaged holding the front in Alsace and Lorraine, which formed the hinge of the great left wheel, while the right flank swept in a 21


great arc to the west of Paris. The French response was to be an attack on the hinge near Metz, with a covering force on their left towards Sedan. On 4 August 1914, the German forces crossed the Belgian frontier near Aachen and the great attack of speed, movement and manoeuvre began. Britain chose to honour the treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality and deployed the 100,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force to a position near Mauberge, on the French left flank. Both Tuchman and Barnett admirably describe the details of the German attack and of its decline into static trench warfare.2 In August 1914, British air personnel strength is recorded as:3 Table 2.1: British air personnel strength Army




Other Ranks







On deployment to France, the RFC’s four squadrons were under the direct control of Brigadier-General Sir David Henderson from his headquarters, which had four staff officers and four attached officers. An aircraft park that held reserve machines and repaired the damaged aircraft from the squadrons supported the force. The rapidly changing ground situation kept the headquarters and squadrons on the move, as the following list of locations shows: Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Sunday

16 August 1914 24 August 25 August 26 August 30 August 22

Maubeuge Le Cateau St-Quentin La Fère Senlis


Monday Wednesday Thursday Friday Monday Wednesday Saturday Friday Monday

31 August 2 September 3 September 4 September 7 September 9 September 12 September 9 October 12 October

Juilly Serris Touquin Melun Touquin Coulommiers Fère-en-Tardenois Abbeville St Omer

On deployment, the aircraft park was located at Amiens, but quickly had to move to Le Havre when the British Expeditionary Force began its retreat from Mons. Within days, the park had to move again to St Nazaire, and only moved to St Omer, its base for the rest of the war, at the end of October 1914. On 3 September 1914, the Royal Naval Air Service took on the responsibility for the air defence of London, but it was woefully short of the equipment necessary to fulfil that role, as was the army, which took over the defence of the rest of Britain. The Royal Flying Corps in France was a desperately small force and pressure was exerted at home to increase the number of squadrons in the field. A problem for the Royal Flying Corps was that the government-owned Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough had a virtual monopoly in the design and supply of their machines, whereas the RNAS was contracting direct to private manufacturers who were turning out better airframes and engines. The senior service was cornering the market in vital raw materials. On 6 September 1914, the British C-in-C, Sir John French, ordered that the Royal Flying Corps’ squadrons should report direct to the Corps Commanders (No.1 – Haig, No. 2 – SmithDorrien): No. 5 Squadron to No. 1 Corps and No. 3 Squadron to No. 2 Corps, each detachment augmented by a wireless-equipped aeroplane from No. 4 Squadron. 23


Figure 2.1: Movements of the RFC from 16 August to 12 October 1914 This reorganization emphasized that the RFC was part of the army, as much as, say, the Royal Signals Corps was. This period of the war was characterized by movement, before the stalemate of the trenches set in, and the reports from the air were very often the only information the British Army had on the location of the enemy and their flanking Allies. Aircraft frequently landed and gave their reports direct to the corps commander and also dropped notes to forward troops warning of danger ahead. These reconnaissance sorties were highly successful and General Joffre, 24


the French commander in chief paid the following tribute to the RFC’s efforts: ‘Please express most particularly to Marshal French my thanks rendered to us every day by the English Flying Corps. The precision, exactitude and regularity of the news brought in by them are evidence of their perfect organization and also the perfect training of pilots and observers.’4 Figure 2.2: Organization structure of RFC, November 1914 Great Britain War Office

France Headquarters

no. 1 wing no. 2 wing

2sqn 3sqn 5sqn

Aircraft Park

6sqn 4sqn

Administrative Wing


Fourth wing




Depot Aircraft Record Park Office

Air power was not yet seen as fighting a separate, but linked, war, but then, the RFC was not yet called upon to consider such separate actions, and was not equipped for them, anyway. Now, however, the war of movement ceased and static trench warfare took over. The roles of the RFC now became more of deeper reconnaissance of German base facilities and spotting for the artillery. For this latter task, an artillery officer often flew as an observer, and wireless was being used to report enemy positions and the fall of shot from British guns. On 1 October 1914, the squadrons were reassigned thus: First Army Corps Second Army Corps Third Army Corps Strategic Reconnaissance

No. 2 Squadron No. 3 Squadron No. 5 Squadron No. 4 Squadron



As experience was gained, the RFC was again reorganized, this time into wings. So, in November 1914 the organization was as shown in Figure 2.2. Figure 2.3: Growth in the number of squadrons and their specializations

No. of squadrons


Total no.of squadrons 50 6 general

13 general 2F/Recce

9 fighter 18 fighter 1 bomber 5 bomber 12 F/Recce 13 F/Recce 16 corps 21 corps

29 fighter 20 bomber 14F/Recce 21 corps 2 night F

0 1914





The build-up It had been recognized early on that the aviation effort in France had to be increased rapidly, and it was fortunate that the RFC had the support of Lord Kitchener, the secretary of state for war. As recorded above, Lord Kitchener had doubled the air staff’s estimate of the number of squadrons that would be required. Appendix 2 shows how, in the event, squadron deployment in France built up. Figure 2.3 gives a graphical representation of these data and also illustrates how the balance of the force changed year on year. As experience was gained in the war, squadrons became specialized, and increasingly operated a single type of aircraft. This change enabled doctrine and tactics to be evolved more quickly and efficiently. Further developments of the organization were instituted in the winter of 1915–16 when greater use was made of the ‘wings’, which were grouped together into brigades. The brigade was intended to 26


have a greater degree of autonomy and to work with an army, and was organized as shown in Figure 2.4. Figure 2.4: A typical air brigade after the winter of 1915–16 Brigade HQ Aeroplane wing

Squad Squad Squad

Aeroplane wing

Squad Squad Squad

kite balloon wing Coy


Aircraft park


The brigade was commanded by a brigadier-general, the wing by a lieutenant colonel, and the squadrons by majors. The Flights, of which there were usually three per squadron, were commanded by captains. The Aircraft Park was commanded by a major. The number of squadrons in an aircraft wing and the number of companies in a balloon wing varied considerably. The wings themselves could be specialized into fighter wings, or reconnaissance wings, etc., and those that did observation work above and behind the lines were called ‘Army wings’. Those wings that were most closely serving the ground forces in reconnaissance on enemy dispositions and movements and artillery spotting, were called ‘Corps wings’. Reorganizations in London Although the squadrons in France were doing valuable work, the RFC was too small for the tasks in hand and for those foreseen for the future. Major General Sir David Henderson had been acting as both the director general of military aeronautics and the GOC of the Royal Flying Corps in the field. Supply for expanding the corps was decided at home and, furthermore, David Lloyd George had just been appointed minister of munitions. Brancker, holding the 27


fort at home in the War Office, was doing a good job, but lacked the rank and status to argue effectively for the corps’ fair share of the available resources. The total staff in July 1914 was five serving officers and two civilians. Henderson decided that he had to go back to the War Office and, on 19 August 1915, he handed comh43mand of the RFC in France to Trenchard. In their study of the Cuban missile crisis, Allison and Zelikow suggested the ‘Government Politics Model’ of strategy formation, which is characterized by trade-offs and bargaining.5 In this model, no one actor forms the strategy (although there may be a decision maker who can end the process), and many people make inputs, the acceptability of which is influenced by the power and support they command. Henderson in the War Office was in the thick of such a pattern of interactions. The nation’s resources were coming under strain and competing voices were calling for priority for their organization, and ‘air’ was the newcomer up against powerful vested interests. The land operations were becoming static and mired in the mud of Flanders. When the German bombing raids on Britain began in January 1915, they stirred up great anger, and popular clamour called for proper air defences and for retaliation in kind against the Germans. The War Office agreed to take over the air defence of Great Britain in the summer of 1915, but the naval commitment to the air defence of London did not pass to the army until January 1916. The army had growing pains of its own coupled with a lack of victories on the Western Front, and Lord Kitchener, whose influence was somewhat on the wane after the setback of Gallipoli, could not exert the pressure he had previously done to the benefit of the RFC. Henderson, however, was now given a permanent seat on the army council, on the orders of the war cabinet. This latter body also established a select committee, the Joint War Air Committee to investigate the responsibilities and claims with respect to air matters of the Admiralty and the War Office. Sir David Henderson 28


represented the War Office and he could speak as a plenipotentiary, but the naval members could only report back to the Board of Admiralty. The cynic will observe that forming a committee was a clear sign that the war cabinet did not know what to do, and the Joint Air War Committee lasted a bare two months. Within six weeks of chairing this committee, in March 1916, Lord Derby resigned on the grounds that it was proving impossible to reconcile the conflicting views of the Admiralty and the War Office. Lord Hankey commented unfavourably on this situation: ‘In the early years of the war the competition between the Admiralty and the War Office for the limited output of aeroplanes and engines, etc., was almost a scandal.’6 The Admiralty insisted it needed to control all aspects of naval air power, and the unedifying squabble remained unresolved. Lord Curzon, the lord president of the council, was the replacement chairman. At the same time, questions were asked in the House of Commons on the RFC losses being incurred in the ‘Fokker scourge’, and the government ordered a judicial inquiry under Mr Justice Bailhache. Lord Curzon created a new body, the Air Board, the scope of which included manpower, offensive operations, home defence, air training, inventions and the work of the Royal Aircraft Factory. The drawback was that this body was not executive, and could only offer advice (which Bierce described as ‘the smallest current coin’).7 An indication of the confusion and lack of cooperation the Air Board met was the discovery by Curzon in August 1916 that the Admiralty had been given £3 million on an expansion programme for its aviation. Balfour at the Admiralty rebuffed Curzon’s protest and resolutely refused to let any body other than itself have any control of its affairs. The Admiralty’s proposal, arising from its discussions with Colonel Barés representing the French air service, that the navy should keep a force of at least 200 bombers in France for bombing attacks on German towns, exacerbated the dissensions 29


in the Air Board. Predictably, Sir Douglas Haig protested strongly at this proposal, which he saw as interfering with the operation of his land forces: a situation the Admiralty would not have tolerated. The political dissension at high level in London did not help the conduct of the war at the operational level, particularly over the question of supply. The Bailhache tribunal exonerated the high command of ‘criminal incompetence’ and hinted that the future might lie in the direction of a unified air service, but at least creating an ‘Equipment Department’ might serve as an attempt to resolve the inter-service jealousy over supply. Lloyd George, as minister of munitions, had suggested that his department should take over the supply departments of the Air Board – a suggestion the War Office, Admiralty and Air Board opposed. Curzon was unwilling to back down on the issue of control of aviation supplies, however, and indicated his willingness to resign, an action that could well have brought down Asquith’s government. Curzon’s position in these arguments was hindered by the divisions within his own organization, particularly with the Admiralty’s refusal to have any interference with the control of their affairs. Strategy, as Allison and Zelikow observed, was being forged by political bargaining, but the detailed manoeuvrings in the government of 1916 leading to the fall of Asquith are outside the scope of this book. Fluctuations in the fortunes of both sides as a result of the introduction of new, superior equipment characterized the air war on the Western Front. This trend was evident again in September 1916 when the Germans not only had superior aircraft, but also reorganized and adopted an aggressive posture. They had seldom crossed the lines into Allied territory before, but now, under the leadership of Boelcke and Thomsen, they imitated the British methods. British casualties rose yet again. In December 1916, Trenchard summed up the position in the air war on the Western Front by pointing out that the RFC had 36 30


squadrons, divided equally between fighters and artillery units, totalling about 700 aircraft. The Germans had up to 600 aircraft but had a higher proportion of artillery machines and superior fighter aircraft. He asked for the transfer of four naval squadrons and some high-powered engines, but the Admiralty refused. At the same time, the Admiralty proposed creating a force of 200 bombers to attack targets in France following their discussions with the French air service. The lesson of these events was not whether the Admiralty was right or wrong, but that there was no effective body to arbitrate on priorities. The ‘New Ministries and Secretaries Act’ of December 1916 defined the Air Board as a ministry and the fifth sea lord would sit on the committee with delegated powers of decision from the Admiralty, which his predecessor did not have. The appointment to the council of William Weir from the Ministry of Munitions brought some much-needed pragmatic engineering knowledge and sound commonsense. In July 1917, it became evident from a letter from the chief of the Imperial General Staff in London to the commander-in-chief in France that the mood in London was favouring the formation of a separate air service, with a minister of its own. The South African statesman Jan Christiaan Smuts was given the task of reporting on London’s air defences, which had been so cruelly exposed as inadequate by the recent Gotha raids in daylight, and on the best organization to be adopted for Britain’s air forces. The report provoked much opposition, not least from Trenchard who feared that the turmoil of reorganization would prejudice the crucial air operations on the Western Front in support of the army. Although in favour of the proposed amalgamation in principle, he was concerned that the time for such a change was not during an offensive that was going badly. Foremost in Trenchard’s mind seemed to be the idea that forming a single air ministry would not solve the supply problems that had so bedevilled his work since taking command in France. The principal supporter of the reorganization 31


was Henderson, the director of military aviation, who had worked closely with Smuts on the report, and Trenchard later acknowledged that Henderson had been right and he wrong. Henderson in London was in a better position to judge the possibilities than Trenchard, who was heavily involved in the problems of supporting the army in the field. The Smuts report had made bold predictions about the effect of long-range bomber squadrons on the air war carried into Germany, but Trenchard had been waiting for these aircraft since 1916 and did not see how forming a separate ministry was to make them suddenly appear. In the event, his scepticism was well justified. Lord Rothermere was made air minister in rather murky political circumstances and he succeeded in persuading Trenchard to be the first chief of air staff. Neither man was to last long in their respective posts – Sir William Weir replaced Rothermere and Sir Frederick Sykes the, now, Sir Hugh Trenchard. After some doubts, Trenchard accepted the new post of commander of the Independent Air Force (IAF). Supply The supply problem arose in Britain from the failure to organize industry onto a war footing quickly and the slow appreciation of the scale of demand of the air arms. Much of the development was in the hands of the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, though private firms contributed some outstanding designs and undertook the task of producing the bulk of the required aircraft and engines. The Royal Navy tended to source all its aircraft from commercial firms. Following the change of government in 1916, the problem was tackled and the supply of airframes increased. Even so, airframes and engines had to be bought from the French, whose own industry had been rather more quickly expanded. Figure 2.5 shows the available data on the production of airframes and engines in Germany, Britain and France. In Germany, there was no equivalent of the Royal Aircraft Factory, and all their designs came from



commercial firms, although there was a close liaison between them and the government. There were two dimensions to the problem of supplying airframes and engines, the first being the need throughout the war to expand the air arm, and the second was to replace the machines lost to enemy action and to accidents. An idea of the scale of the problem of replacement can be gained from losses between 4 and 8 April 1917, during which period the RFC lost 75 planes in combat, and 56 in flying accidents. Table 2.2: Aircraft and engine production, 1914–18 Year










1914 1915 1916 1917 1918

1348 4532 8182 13977 19598

n/a 5037 7823 12029 15560

n/a 1680 10299 13766 29348

n/a n/a n/a 11763 20251

n/a 4489 7549 14915 31372

n/a 7096 16875 23092 36949

Total* 1914–18









Purchased abroad* Labour* employed in 1918




Note: These data have been sourced from Jones and Murray,8 but there are some discrepancies between the two. An * indicates Jones and the rest are Murray (plus some interpolation where possible).

In November 1916, the British government ordered 8000 Hispano-Suiza engines from France. In the same period, Sir Douglas Haig asked for 20 extra fighting squadrons and an improved supply of spares, and Trenchard travelled back to Lon33


don to make the case to the Air Board. At the same meeting, Trenchard asked for whatever support the navy could provide, and specifically for 100 Rolls-Royce and 50 Hispano engines. The navy responded by providing four formed squadrons of fighter aircraft, 55 of the Rolls-Royce engines requested and, instead of the Hispano engines, surrendered 60 Spad aircraft. When Lloyd George formed the new government, a new air board under Lord Cowdray was formed, which, after some discussion, was given responsibility for the design of aircraft. The design function had been destined for the Ministry of Munitions but when the Air Board took on that task, the Ministry of Munitions took over the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough. Although design and supply had now become the responsibility of different ministries, by chance the offices of the departments concerned were all accommodated in the Hotel Cecil. Happily this new system resulted in an increase in production of aircraft, as follows: 6633 machines in 1916, 14,832 in 1917 and 30,782 in 1918. Nevertheless, the supply situation for the RFC early in 1917 was acute, and Sir Douglas Haig informed the war cabinet that the air forces would not be ready for an offensive until 1 April, and would be from four to seven fighting squadrons below what had been promised, but seven to ten below what had been requested. Furthermore, he believed that the RFC machines would be inferior to those of the German air force. (The GOC’s concern indicates that the importance of aircraft in the land battle had been realized.) The changes to the Air Board in 1916 had not had time to effect a solution to the problem. Materiel was only part of the problem, for the pilot training programme, too, lagged in Britain. Pilots were dispatched to France shortly after their first solo flight, and Lewis9 recorded that he had flown just 13 hours when he arrived in France in 1916. The folly of committing such inexperience to war was realized, eventually, when pilots were not permitted to cross the 34


enemy lines until they had logged 60 hours’ flying. Furthermore, the reforms Major Smith-Barry introduced in training methods made flying instruction more systematic and thorough. In 1916, however, the average length of a pilot’s life in France was just three weeks. The Germans, too, experienced problems in their training, and Neumann recorded: ‘Among those on home service alone, most of whom were engaged on training duty either as pupils or instructors, we lost 1399 pilots and 401 observers between August 1914 and October 1918.’10 The RFC squadrons’ move to France in 1914 had denuded the units at home of aircraft, pilots and mechanics, which created a problem in staffing a training system for replacements. Some partly trained pilots and a few aircraft deemed useless for fighting were formed into No. 1 reserve aeroplane squadron, which had the function of training new pilots. Some experienced pilots were sent home, too, to act as instructors, although their loss must have been keenly felt in the front-line squadrons. Although some airfields that had housed the squadrons now in France stood empty, new bases were required in Britain for the expanding training organization. Plans were made for the formation of as many new reserve squadrons as possible for training pilots, who would go to the Central Flying School for their final flying tests. In late 1916, the approved strength of the RFC was 86 service squadrons and 60 reserve squadrons, but that ratio was proving insufficient and 35 additional training squadrons were requested at the same time as the formation of 20 additional fighting squadrons. In December 1916 approval was given for an RFC of 106 service squadrons and 95 reserve squadrons. Twenty reserve squadrons were raised and equipped in Canada, which ameliorated the pilot supply problem. The standard of training was now being improved, too, and courses of instruction were set up for the Lewis gun, engines, rigging, map-reading, reconnaissance, signalling and cooperation with other arms. By the end of 1915, 18 reserve squadrons were in existence, 35


and in July 1916 the training brigade was formed with its schools categorized as elementary training or higher training squadrons. Later that year the qualifications for the pilot’s badge were raised from 15 to 20 hours solo, with additional tests in gunnery, artillery observation, bomb-dropping and photography. Recruiting mechanics was handled badly initially, and many technically qualified men were drafted into the infantry, partially because the RFC could not handle the large influx of recruits. The shortage of mechanics began to be felt in mid–1916, and the War Office asked the Regent Street Polytechnic to undertake the special recruitment of tradesmen for the air service. The polytechnic interviewed and selected suitable candidates and a trade-testing school was set up in the Duke of York’s headquarters in Chelsea. The other arms of the services were concerned about their shortage of artificers, and the adjutant-general forecasted that the RFC’s demands would cause a loss of gun power in the artillery. The additional 20 squadrons General Haig requested and the expansion of the reserve squadrons were estimated to require nearly 24,000 men. Jones identified the factors that retarded the early development of the RFC: • The prewar starvation of the Royal Flying Corps which resulted

• • •

in a home aircraft industry of minute proportions and small experience. Our entire dependence on the French in the early days of the war for engines and our lesser dependence for aeroplanes. Our prewar dependence on Germany for magnetos. The competitive system of supply between the naval and military air services and a consequent muddled direction of supply sources at home and abroad. The confusion which arose from the difficulty of defining the relative duties of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. 36


• The initial war mistake of sending all available Royal Flying

Corps aeroplanes and personnel to France, which handicapped early training and expansion at home. • The early enlistment of skilled mechanics in infantry and other combatant regiments and the consequent permanent loss of much expert service to the Royal Flying Corps.11 The Royal Naval Air Service at war As recounted above, the RNAS started the war with little equipment, but it had ideas. The naval instinct was to be aggressive, and from the outset planned to attack Zeppelin bases using bombs, even though the performance of the existing aircraft was limited. An early development was to enable float-planes to be taken to sea for operations against the enemy naval forces and the navy commandeered three cross-channel ferries, Empress, Engadine and Riviera, to act as seaplane carriers, but the performance of the aircraft was disappointing. The weight of bombs that could be carried without preventing the aircraft becoming airborne meant that any attack would be ineffective. The sea state was critical: too rough and the aircraft took a battering; too calm and there was not enough headwind to enable the underpowered machine to break free of the drag of the water. Most of the proposed raids on enemy naval bases had to be called off. The navy early realized the need for protection of its bases, and established a small base in Dunkirk for air defence against Zeppelins. The aircraft also carried out reconnaissance for forty or fifty miles inland, but there is no evidence that they established liaison with the RFC squadrons doing the same thing also based in France and Belgium. In 1915, the Gallipoli operation gave the Royal Naval Air Service an opportunity to cooperate both with surface vessels and land-based troops. The naval forces assembled in the area of the Dardanelles included Ark Royal, a tramp steamer converted in 1914



to carry ten seaplanes. This was the first vessel of its kind in the world and is evidence of creative thinking on the use of air power at sea. Unfortunately, the seaplanes it carried were mainly either old or underpowered, to the extent that they had to run their engines continually at full power to stay airborne, which reduced their life drastically. There had been no opportunity to practise gunnery liaison, and the wireless sets they carried were experimental. Nonetheless, the reconnaissance the seaplanes performed proved invaluable, not only for the navy’s gunners but also in correcting the inadequate mapping of the area. The navy’s intention was to force a passage of the Dardanelles by surface vessels, but the narrow straits were mined and protected by shore guns. Attempts were made to silence these batteries by gunfire, and the seaplanes gave valuable assistance in correcting the fall of shot. The problem was that the naval guns could not be elevated to act like a howitzer giving plunging fire, and the lower trajectory shells were not penetrating the defences. Aircraft could also spot mines in the sea, but the Turks had laid mines in the night before an attack by British and French naval vessels and the undetected mines put out of action three vessels from each nation. It was decided that a landing by troops was necessary if the Dardanelles narrows were to be controlled. The air forces in the area were reinforced in March 1915 by the arrival of the RNAS’s No. 3 aeroplane squadron, equipped with 18 aircraft of six different types based on the newly-constructed airfield on the island of Tenedos. There were eight Henri Farmans, but they were so underpowered that they could only be used for single-seater photography; the two BE2cs could not climb high enough for spotting while carrying an observer, the two Sopwith tabloids were only suitable for air defence work, and the single Breguet had an unreliable engine. That left two BE2s and three Maurice Farmans to do the spotting, reconnaissance and bombing. Despite these handicaps, the squadron performed valuable work for the surface vessels. On 18 April, an enemy airfield discovered at 38


Chanak was bombed, destroying a German aircraft in a hangar. The average number of enemy aircraft in the area was eight, plus one seaplane, but they interfered little with the British machines. The arrival of the Manica, a single screw steamer of 3500 tons converted to carry a kite balloon, further reinforced the air force. The advantages for artillery spotting of these balloons is discussed in more detail in Chapter 3 below, but spotting for Bacchante led to the destruction of a Turkish army tented encampment. When the landings were made, the RNAS units most closely involved were Nos. 3 and 4 armoured car squadrons and No. 10 motor cycle machine-gun squadron, which were embarked on the River Clyde, which carried the invasion troops. The logic of raising these units, first in the Royal Navy and then in the RNAS, may be a little obscure, and the army’s views are not recorded. In the event, they were a valuable part of the inadequate cover for the landing troops, and their officers and men fought with great valour. Although the RNAS aeroplanes flew continuously during the landings and called for fire against Turkish batteries, the ships were too busily engaged already to respond. Later the spotting for both naval and army guns was very valuable. A reconnaissance flight had spotted Turkish reinforcements being deployed and it was concluded that a counterattack was planned. This information was passed to the ground forces with the result that when the Turkish attack was mounted at dawn, the Allied troops were prepared and the Turkish casualties were so heavy that a truce had to be called for them to bury their dead. A further addition to the naval air forces was the arrival of Benmy-Chree, an Isle of Man ferry converted to carry seaplanes capable of air-launching torpedoes. At 22 knots, it was faster than Ark Royal, which was now in Kephalo Bay to avoid the submarine threat. Ben-my-Chree carried three Short and two scout-type seaplanes, which carried out torpedo attacks, bombing, gunnery spotting, reconnaissance, ground strafing and anti-submarine patrols. 39


Colonel Sykes of the RFC visited the sea and land commanders to discuss air operations, and his first recommendation was that command of these operations should be centralized at a headquarters on the island of Imbros. He further recommended the deployment of three squadrons (36 aircraft plus 18 reserves) to the Gallipoli operations, half to be Maurice Farmans and half BE2cs. He also recommended that eight SS airships be sent for anti-submarine work and eight more seaplanes, together with supporting equipment such as cameras. The Admiralty agreed these findings and Sykes was appointed, in the rank of wing captain, to command the RNAS units in the eastern Mediterranean. The attack on Suvla Bay, however, was made before the requested air reinforcements had arrived, and when they did deploy they were not what had been requested. Some 16 pilots and 22 aircraft came: six Morane Parasol two-seaters, six BE2cs, six Caudron biplanes, and four Bristol Scouts. On 12 August, the first ship ever attacked by a torpedo carrying aircraft was sunk by a 14-inch torpedo dropped from a Short seaplane from Ben-myChree. The pilot, Flight Commander Edmonds, repeated this feat on 17 August when he sank a steamer attempting to reinforce the Turkish troops defending Suvla Bay. At the same time, another Short had engine trouble and had to alight on the sea, but the pilot launched his torpedo while taxiing on the surface and sank a large steam tug. The engine performance was now sufficient for the lightened seaplane to take off – after a two-mile run. The aircraft were now being used on what has become known as interdiction in an attempt to interrupt the resupply of Turkish troops, and bombing raids and strafing attacks were both used. Jones records the results: The order of importance given by Turkish authorities to the methods of attack on their communications is submarine, aircraft, and bombardment by ships. The sea route … was 40


virtually closed, and the alternative land route, with its 160 miles of railway and 100 miles of road was, at best, a tedious and precarious one. It took some time to organize the transport which this long route demanded, and at one time, in June, the Turkish Fifth Army, owing to the failure of its supplies, was reduced to 160 rounds of ammunition per man. Had it been possible to close the road, especially at night, by aircraft attack, and ships’ fire, the Turks on the peninsula must quickly have exhausted their stocks and could hardly have withstood Sir Ian Hamilton’s attacks.12 The Gallipoli campaign is now associated with failure, and the accomplishments of air power there, perhaps like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar’s good ‘lies oft interred within the bones’. The RNAS’s achievements with inferior equipment should have been analysed subsequently and extrapolated to the value of registering naval gunfire and interdiction of supply routes, to the benefit of developing air power doctrine. Perhaps no one wished to be reminded of the failure. In May 1916, naval air power made a brief appearance at the Battle of Jutland in the North Sea. The Campania, a converted Cunard ship, was now an aircraft carrier with a 120-foot flying deck above its forecastle. In the days before Jutland, it embarked three Shorts, three Sopwith Baby and four Sopwith Schneider Cup seaplanes and a Caquot kite balloon. By 2130 on 30 May, Campania had raised steam on the orders of Admiral Jellicoe, but regrettably did not receive the signal to sail, and the mistake was not rectified until 0115 on 31 May, by which time it was some miles behind the rest of the grand fleet. Admiral Jellicoe was worried that Campania had no protection and the German submarines were out in force, so he ordered it back to base depriving his task force of aerial reconnaissance. The battle cruiser fleet under Admiral Beatty did include Engadine, however, which carried two Shorts and two 41


Sopwith Baby seaplanes. At 1440 on 31 May, Admiral Beatty called for a reconnaissance flight and a Short was launched under difficult sea conditions. The pilot was Flight Lieutenant Rutland, forever after Rutland of Jutland, and he spotted enemy cruisers and destroyers in poor visibility before having to alight on the sea with a broken petrol pipe. He repaired the fault with a piece of rubber tube, but was ordered back to Engadine. There is no evidence that Rutland’s report ever reached Beatty, and Engadine took no further part in the battle because the sea was too rough to launch its frail seaplanes. Four German Zeppelins took off at 1130 on 31 May on reconnaissance flights and were given information by wireless on sightings gained by the German navy scouting group. Despite this information the Zeppelins saw nothing because of the poor weather conditions, and they were recalled. At 0001 on 1 June, five Zeppelins took off and one of them, L24, reported spotting ships and bombing a large number of ships in a bay off northern Denmark. Postwar research could not validate any of these reports, and what the crew thought they saw remains a mystery. L11, on the other hand, observed units of the British fleet four times and reported reasonably accurately the type number and courses of the ships it had seen. Unfortunately, the airships navigation was inaccurate and the positions reported were in error by about 25 to 30 miles. Thus naval air made no contribution to the outcome of what will probably be the last ever naval engagement of large fleets of ships, but it could have made the Battle of Jutland decisive. The air defence of Great Britain This topic is discussed separately here because it is an illustration of the difficulties caused by the division of aviation between the army and navy. Care should be taken, however, to avoid making unhistorical judgements of the lack of appreciation of the indivisibility of the ‘air’ when such a concept did not emerge until after these events. The guiding principle had always been that the Royal Navy



would guard our shores, and the army would deal with any invasion that reached the land. On that principle, the army would mount guns and other defences over the land, but the navy was concerned to protect its shore bases and munitions factories. In 1912, a scheme was devised that saw the navy providing some anti-aircraft guns and the army others. The army tried to define the problem so that a solution could be evolved, and divided aircraft into three categories: class 1 class II class III

Aircraft employed for fleet purposes; aircraft employed in conjunction with coast defence flotillas; and aircraft employed in conjunction with the fixed and mobile land defences of defended ports.

It was agreed that the navy would provide class I and II aircraft, and the army class III, and further agreement stated: ‘In order to avoid duplication and over-lapping it was agreed that in cases where the naval seaplane stations are close to points of naval importance vulnerable to air attack, the Naval Wing would undertake the responsibility for the aerial defence of naval property.’13 One can imagine the meeting at which these agreements were reached, where the earnest staff officers, probably not consciously aware that they were formulating air strategy, struggled to reach decisions that would be endorsed by their superiors and not being seen as having given too much away. They were taking decisions, however, on a topic about which none of them had any experience, nor for that matter did anyone in the world have such practical knowledge. In this light, the muddled decisions they reached were the result of an exercise in staff work and negotiation, and just another day in the War Office or Admiralty. Just before the war, however, the War Office challenged this agreement and claimed responsibility for all the air defence of Great Britain, including 43


naval installations. Whether the motive for this move was a realization that such a division of the airspace would lead to confusion, or whether there were other motives, the truth was that the army was in no position to assume such responsibility, for virtually all its aircraft were about to decamp to France with the Expeditionary Force. The navy, on the other hand, had a number of coastal bases already established and had aircraft at its disposal. On 5 August 1914, Winston Churchill had laid down that the primary duty of naval airmen was to repel attacks of hostile aircraft, and early in September of that year the navy took over the air defence of Great Britain, probably in the realization that the army was in no position to perform this task adequately. The navy’s system for air defence was based principally on guns and searchlights ‘modelled on that employed for the night defence of battleships’.14 Some aircraft were to be used, augmented by what could be made available by the War Office, based on airfields ten miles from the centre of London. Defence of vital points was supplemented by some aircraft for area defence. Lighting on the ground was to be reduced to make difficult identification of routes and areas that could be easily identified, but some lights were installed in the London parks to break up what would have been giveaway areas of darkness. Any reports of raiders were to be telephoned to the Admiralty and similar, but simpler, schemes were adopted for other important cities. When the night attacks by Zeppelins began in 1915, the defences did not score any successes and the Admiralty formed the view that aircraft were unlikely to locate the raiders in the dark, unless illuminated by searchlights, and were in danger of crashing on return to land because of the difficulties of night flying. When the Zeppelins attacked London, the complaints of the press, led to the defence of London being placed under a separate flag officer, Admiral Sir Percy Scott. This admiral was a gunnery expert, but declared that the best weapon for air defence was the aeroplane, and the conclusions of a subcommittee were that 40 44


aircraft and 24 pilots were needed. The subcommittee called on the experience of the French in their defence of Paris and found that they used guns, searchlights, listening posts and blackout, but did not consider the 30 aircraft supplied for air defence to be effective. As a result of this information, no special aircraft were provided for the defence of London, but those available were deployed between the capital and the Wash. The RFC, although not responsible for organizing the home air defence, contributed what aircraft they could, but location of the enemy at night was still a major problem. Warnings to the public and to workers in munitions factories of an impending raid was left to local chief constables and so varied in effectiveness in different parts of the country, but the official historian described the arrangements as ‘chaotic’.15 The same author described the air defences in 1915: Our anti-aircraft guns were few and not many of them could send shells high enough to harass the airship commanders. Our aeroplanes and seaplane pilots had the will, but they had none of the other essentials of successful attack. Patrolling to be effective has to be so ordered that attacking pilots are in the probable line of the enemy’s approach. … Our pilots, with few exceptions, had not the aircraft that would take them near or above the Zeppelins, nor did they have the ammunition which would give them a reasonable chance of bringing an airship down if they did get within striking distance. … Training in night flying, too, was meagre and casual.16 Control of air defence was, in effect, divided between the Admiralty and the War Office and ‘the system was dogged by all the evils of divided control – indecision, lack of coordination, conflict of purpose and of policy, and a sapping effect on the driving power from above. The Admiralty, mindful of the tem45


porary nature of their responsibility, never took full charge of the situation.’17 This may well be an accurate assessment of the situation and more could probably have been done, but the basic problem was that nothing had been done to prepare for the Zeppelin raids that all expected, and the equipment and techniques then available were inadequate. Discussions on whether and when the army should assume control of the air defences dragged on, and after a conference in November 1915, a proposal by the navy to split responsibility along a line 20 miles inland from the coast was countered by one from the army that the coast should form the division line of responsibility. Divisions of this nature, when the air above knew no such boundaries, hampered thinking about the very real problems of mounting an effective air defence. Control was needed, and the successful air defence system that was to be used in 1940 owed more to the organizing of the available information than, as some have asserted, the provision of radar. The detection of Zeppelin radio transmissions in 1915 gave a greater advance warning of attack than did the long-range CH stations in 1940. What had not been learnt in 1915 was how to collate and disseminate what was known about the approaching raiders, and how to separate areas of responsibility geographically. When the army assumed control, the number of aircraft was gradually increased (although they remained the underpowered BE types) and a system of standing patrols was instituted. The warning system was improved with the establishment of eight ‘warning controls’, each with a controller, based on the layout of the telephone system. These controllers received information from cordons of observer posts, which reported sightings by telephone, but police, troops or railway stations could also send in reports. The controllers also issued air raid warnings to local factories and the civilian population. Information from these various sources had to be sifted and evaluated (which was analogous to the ‘filtering’ 46


system in 1940). A transparent map was maintained in an office in Horse Guards in Whitehall, on which could be displayed by coloured lights which of the warning controls had activity. When a raid was reported, the Royal Navy launched destroyers and other vessels (numbering 114 in total) into the North Sea around the coast to attempt to intercept them, probably on their return to base, and destroy them by gunfire. Gradually the tide turned against the Zeppelin, although further raids were to be made by German aeroplanes, and, though they had created a great stir in Britain, they did not create much damage and made little contribution to the German war effort in material terms. These raids by Gotha aircraft in 1917, however, added to the nation’s air defence problems. On 7 June 1917, for instance, 17 Gothas attacked targets in southeast England, but mainly in London. The defences flew 92 sorties that day but as Jones recorded ‘they flew as individuals. Most never saw the enemy.’18 The war cabinet authorized an increase in RFC squadrons from 108 to 200, with a corresponding increase in the RNAS, but it did not seem to occur to them that the problem was one of organization, not numbers. In September 1915, a scheme was proposed for a balloon barrage for London, where each unit would consist of two balloons, of the Caquot type (see Chapter 3) but rather larger, connected by a horizontal cable from which hung an apron of vertical cables into which the aircraft would, one hoped, fly. Despite an earlier larger estimate, only ten such barrages were flown at heights from 8500 to 11,000 feet. A visual height-finding system based on triangulation was devised in an attempt to improve the effectiveness of the anti-aircraft guns, together with a sound location system for early warning. In January 1917 the allotment of guns for home defence was 403 fixed, 78 mobile and 12 for training purposes. The bombing raids of airships and aircraft forced the diversion of considerable resources to home defence. GHQ in France, in effect Trenchard, gave its views on the air 47


defence problem and observed that the best measure would be to capture the Belgian coast to provide a strip of territory on which defences could be positioned, but such an advance by the ground troops seemed to be wishful thinking. The second measure was to attack the bases from which the enemy was operating through bombing raids. Standing patrols of defence fighters were deemed wasteful of the available forces and anyway ineffective. Reprisal raids on German towns were morally repugnant, and in any event the RFC did not have the necessary aircraft. An airfield was being prepared at Ochey, near Nancy in France, for bombing operations and, in September 1917, the Admiralty announced that it was redeploying eight Handley Page aircraft from anti-submarine work in Yorkshire to this base, which was to become the centre for the Independent Air Force. Twenty DH4s, which were crated ready for delivery to the Russians, were also diverted to Ochey, so the forces were being assembled for reprisal raids on Germany. When Britain was attacked from the air, the navy and army staffs’ reaction was conditioned by their previous training, for they had nothing else on which to rely. The navy had been trained to exercise power at a distance and so wished to bomb the raiders on their bases. Furthermore, its air power was for the protection of the fleet and for the furtherance of its operations at sea. The gun was the prime naval weapon with which the Royal Navy had great experience and trust, so it was natural that this was the preferred weapon against aerial raiders. The army was accustomed to defending territory and vital points, and it, too, valued artillery and would naturally turn to the gun as a weapon against airships and aircraft. Unfortunately, neither service had high angle guns of the requisite calibre and had to experiment with 3 inch, 6 pounders, 12 pounders, 13 pounders, pom-poms and the French 75s. Some of these guns could not fire shells high enough to reach the Zeppelin, and the gunners had difficulty with the others making them explode at the correct height. Furthermore, the large number of shells being 48


fired was rapidly wearing out the gun barrels and special measures had to be taken both to increase the supply of shells and to reline the gun barrels. The aircraft used for defence lacked performance, aids for interception at night, and landing aids at their aerodromes. The equipment, therefore, was deficient, but even more ineffective was the warning system and the distribution of information. When this problem was solved, Zeppelins were brought down by the same equipment that had previously proved ineffective. The key lay in treating the airspace as indivisible, free from artificial boundaries such as land and sea, and combining the available information at one place where effective decisions could be made. The army, on assuming control of Britain’s air defences, did not have the problem of worrying about other operations, as the navy did with its concern for the use of air power at sea. The army did have to give up some resources that could have been used in France, but its aircraft deployed for air defence of Great Britain had no other role. When the aim became singular, that is defending Britain, a successful strategy could be formulated. The Independent Air Force In the summer of 1916 No. 3 naval wing, based at Luxeuil near Belfort in northern France, mounted long-range bombing attacks against Germany. Its specific mission was to attack the steel works in the Saar, which were producing steel plates for submarines. At the same time, French bombers had attacked Karlsruhe. General Haig was fairly dismissive of the results the naval wing had achieved – possibly through pique that the navy was operating from France against military targets in what he felt was his domain. In October 1917 the German raids on Britain, particularly on London, were causing alarm and sections of the press were calling for retaliatory raids on Germany. Lieutenant-General Smuts was



appointed to chair a committee to study these problems, and Sir William Robertson, the chief of the Imperial General Staff, called Trenchard back from France to investigate the possibility of a squadron for long-range bombing. Smuts reported to the war cabinet that one squadron of long-range bombers was being moved to the airfield at Ochey, near Nancy, that Trenchard had been preparing for some months. Mention has been made of the move of eight naval Handley Page aircraft there and the commandeering of the 20 DH4 aircraft destined for Russia. In October 1917, the 41st wing was formed and comprised: No. 55 squadron No. 100 squadron No. 16 naval squadron

DH4 FE2b Handley Page 0/100

day bombing night bombing

The French also had two squadrons at Ochey and were unfortunate to have ten aircraft destroyed and seventeen damaged when the Germans bombed the airfield, a higher casualty rate than was being achieved in the air. The squadrons at Ochey bombed targets in Germany, such as Mannheim, Stuttgart and Cologne and near Metz, both by day and night. In May 1918, the Royal Air Force having been formed and Sir William Weir appointed air minister, the new air staff considered the extended bombing raids for which the war cabinet was calling. A memorandum from the Air Ministry to the war cabinet asserted the former’s right to be recognized as the authority on air policy and observed that long-range bombing missions would require a large measure of freedom of action and independence from other military schemes (emphasis added). The Cabinet’s dictum, always the sting in the tail, proclaimed: The Air Ministry is responsible to the War Cabinet for securing the utilization of the available aerial forces of the 50


country which will prove most effective against the enemy, with the limitation that the operational control of the forces allocated to the Navy or the Army rests with those Departments respectively.19 In the same month, the Air Ministry informed the war cabinet of its intentions to create an independent force for long-range bombing, of brigade size, under Major-General Trenchard. The force would be of ‘international character’ and the Supreme War Council at Versailles would determine the broad lines of action. Some opposition was expected from General Foch and, true to form, he said the force should either come under his command or move out of France. Joint note No. 35 from the military representatives of the Supreme War Council supported this view and would place the inter-allied bombing air force under the command of the C-in-C of the Allied armies in France – General Foch. The note was written in August 1918, although the Supreme War Council did not meet to discuss it until October 1918, but in the meantime, Foch had asserted strongly the necessity for the army to control the bombing force, which meant, in effect, it could be used to support ground operations in any sector of the front. All this time, the ground situation was moving in the Allies’ favour, and the British government felt it could concede the overall command to Foch, who had asked for Trenchard to become the commander-in-chief of the force. A heads of agreement was issued on 3 October 1918, which is an important statement of air strategy and is reproduced here as Appendix 3. Foch clearly saw this force as a stronger collection of aircraft to support the army, and, if the army did not need them, they could go and bomb Germany. This was not independence, and the concept did not accord with British ideas, though they had agreed, with the French, Italian and American military representatives, to the heads of agreement. 51


This independent force came into being on 6 June 1918, and was termed the VIII brigade, organized as follows: Figure 2.5: Organization of VIII brigade no. 41 wing 55 sqn

99 sqn

no. 83 wing 104 sqn

100 sqn

216 naval sqn

No. 41 wing was equipped with day bombers and No. 83 with night bombers. At the end of August two more squadrons joined the brigade, No. 110 squadron (DH4 day bombers) and No. 115 squadron (Handley Page night bombers). On 22 September, No. 45 squadron (Sopwith Camels) joined the brigade, but was not used immediately for escort duties, awaiting re-equipment with Sopwith Snipes, which had an endurance of four and a half hours. The plans drawn up in June 1917 for expansion into 1919 showed 66 squadrons, of which ten were for army support, but the seven in action at the Armistice, some equipped with obsolete FE2s, fell somewhat short of the mark. In September 1918, Nos. 86 and 87 wings were forming in England, equipped with the four-engined Handley Page V/1500, of which 255 were ordered and three were available by the end of the war. The thinking seems to have been that, being based in England, they would not be under Allied (that is Foch’s) control. In late September and again in October, the brigade was used against railway targets behind the lines at the request of Marshal Foch who was conducting a ground offensive. The brigade did not, however, operate solely against German industry, for 220 tons of the 543 tons of bombs it dropped were aimed at German aerodromes. The purpose of these attacks was first, the reduction of the enemy’s bomber force and, second, damage to German fighter squadrons. The German bombing of British airfields had achieved 52


good results in that in six raids by 102 bombers, they had destroyed 72 British aircraft on the ground and damaged 134, during which operations they had lost six aircraft themselves, but only from crashes on landing. In two nights, the French lost 85 aeroplanes to German bombing. Counter air bombing was effective and the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain in 1940 was close to victory using this doctrine, but they changed their mind and lost. Trenchard wrote a dispatch dated 1 January 1919 in which he reviewed his strategy for the Independent Air Force. He stated as the aim ‘the break-down of the German Army in Germany, its Government, and the crippling of its sources of supply’. He identified the options open to him as: ‘(1) a sustained and continuous attack on one large centre after another until each centre was destroyed, and the industrial population largely dispersed to other towns; or (2) to attack as many of the large industrial centres as it was possible to reach with the machines at my disposal.’ He concluded that the second alternative was the only one possible, and even if he had had the necessary forces for the first, achieving the aim would take four to five years. Counter air operations against enemy airfields were necessary, and half his force would have to be devoted to this task (40 per cent of the weight of bombs actually dropped were on German airfields). He also illustrated the flexibility of air power by observing that, when conditions were unsuitable for raids against Germany, the attack would be switched to railways supporting the front line. The German air force Like the British, the German air forces were split between the army and the navy. Initially, the aircraft were assigned to armies and corps, and control was exercised from general headquarters by the Chef des Feldflugwesens (chief of field aviation) who held the surpriseingly low rank of major. Late in 1915, the Chef, Major Hermann von der Lieth-Thomsen, ordered a reorganization, which took the form



shown in Figure 2.6. For clarity, only one each of the seven armies and many corps of the German forces are shown, and only one of the five Kampfgeschwader der Oberstern Heeresleitung (combat wings of the Supreme High Command). The army squadrons (ArmeefliegerAbteilung) were under the orders of the commanding officer of the aviation services at army headquarters, and they were primarily used for strategic reconnaissance, but could also undertake photographic and bombing work. A captain in the second bureau of the army staff commanded the army-corps aircraft and their chief functions were tactical reconnaissance, photography, gun spotting and contact patrols. Fighter squadrons (Jagdstaffeln) operated under armies in numbers as decided by general headquarters and could be formed into Jagdgeschwadern, or fighter wings. These wings comprised six Kampfstaffeln, or battle squadrons, of six aircraft each. Also created were three Kampfgeschwadern of 40–50 bomber aircraft, divided into four or five Kampfstaffeln, which, again, were under the direct command of general headquarters. Figure 2.6: Organization of the German air forces post-1915 General Headquarters Chef des Feldflugwesens

Army Armeeflieger-Abteilung

Army Corps Truppenfleiger-Abteilung

Kampfgeschwader der Obersten Heeresleitung (Kagohl)

Kampfstaffeln (Kasta)






The German organization was basically similar to that adopted by the RFC in that it was closely allied to the ground forces, except that they had created a force separate from army or army corps 54


control much earlier than the RFC. Indeed, the British Independent Air Force was formed only a few months before the armistice. Later in 1916, Gen-Ltn Ernst von Hoeppner replaced Thomsen as Kommandierender General der Luftstreitkräfte (commanding general of the air force). His command included aviation, captive balloons, army airships, the army weather service, anti-aircraft and home defence units. His staff, the Kogenluft, ordered the deployment of units, and its staff, the Jagdstaffeln, grew to number 37.20 Oberstleutnant Hermann von der Lieth Thomsen became the general’s chief of staff. In 1917, Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria formed Jagdgeschwader I, which would operate as a self-contained unit concentrating on achieving air superiority over decisive battle sectors. The need for concentration of force was a result of the growing strength and effectiveness of the RFC. The German air force had taken the lead in forming squadrons tasked with giving close support to the ground forces. During the offensive of 1918, aircraft were used to attack defences ahead of the advancing troops foreshadowing the blitzkrieg of 1940 supporting the German advance through France and Belgium. In 1918, despite the use of armoured aircraft, however, losses were extremely high and the Germans were losing one-seventh of their pilot strength every month. During this offensive, the German army lost one million men. Analysis The Royal Flying Corps at its formation could be likened to an entrepreneurial start-up company in business. A few enthusiasts, probably attracted by the excitement and novelty of flying rather than a deep belief in its military applications, gathered together to form an organization. The Royal Engineers were the sponsors of this group, which was probably seen to be conducting a technical experiment and that was the sort of thing engineers were expected to do. Most of the army sat back and expected this new idea to go



away, in much the same way that, recently, many in industry expected the Internet to be merely a fad. The early work in the RFC was concerned with mastering the techniques of flying and operating the frail aircraft without crashing, and so it is not surprising that the first use of these new machines was to be for reconnaissance. Detecting the movement and disposition of the enemy has always been a problem in land and sea operations, and surprise has always been sought in an attack, if at all possible. Cavalry was the arm used for reconnaissance of ‘the other side of the hill’, but frequently the information took a long time to reach the commanding general and, in a rapidly changing situation, could quickly become out of date. Much the same applied to the sea, where frigates were traditionally the reconnoitring force. The air offered an elevated viewpoint and a rapid means of delivering the required intelligence. The early use of balloons had hinted at the advantages of the air, but now the RFC had a ‘product’, the value of which was demonstrated in the 1913 army manoeuvres. Importantly, General Haig was witness to this demonstration, because it was his manoeuvring force that had been detected. A fault line was present, however, in this infant organization in the separation of the land use of air power and the naval. Although much was similar between air operations on the land and sea, there were enough differences to cause the naval wing to split away from the naval military. This division, coupled with the problem of command and control, weakened the attempts at organization of this new force, and the potential benefits from the synergy and cooperation between its two parts was never realized. In effect, the developing air organization was like a divisionalized company, and the two parts were forced to compete for resources and to serve their separate masters. The ‘head office’, that is the Air Board, was only a coordinating body and the real parents, the Admiralty and the War Office did not often choose to agree. Support for air operations in both major headquarters was patchy, and many 56


traditionalists wished the new machines to the devil, but the navy had Winston Churchill as First Lord of the Admiralty who himself learnt to fly (although he did not carry on to qualify for a certificate) and who grasped the importance of air power. The air entrepreneurs, then, secured some backing for the project and some investment was made, but not enough. Thus it was, when war came, the RFC was much smaller than the French and German air forces, and lacked experience and competitive advantage. The Royal Naval Air Service, too, was puny, and the airmen lost control of their organization to the power of the seaman officers who effectively prevented aviation from straying from the command of the admirals. Fortunately, the German airmen were not aggressive in the early months of the war, and were largely content with their reconnaissance operations. As the mobility of the ground campaign was lost and static trench warfare took over, the role of spotting for the artillery became important, and the airspace over the lines became more bitterly contested. The competitiveness of the RFC in France was sorely tested by the Germans’ introduction of the Fokker E.1 Eindekker with a gun synchronized to fire through the propeller. This innovative ‘product’ dominated the ‘market’, and only by sustaining heavy losses were the British able to carry on their operations in support of the land forces without ‘competitive advantage’. Supply of better aircraft and replacement crews was a problem for the RFC (and continued to be so throughout most of the war). The navy and army, assisted by a few high-level supporters, gradually perceived the value of the new service, but the logistic support, which should have been established earlier, held back progress. In the early period of the war, both the quality and quantity of aerial equipment was lacking, so the ‘business’ suffered. The competition for scarce resources that existed between the navy and army exacerbated the problem of supply. The military was 57


largely constrained to deal with the government-owned Royal Aircraft Factory, while the navy dealt with private firms. The naval aircraft needed more powerful engines for the aircraft to take off from water, so an agreement was reached between the Admiralty and the War Office that the former would have priority of supply of the more powerful engines. The navy assuming the air defence of London complicated the internal competition problem. The navy did not have a major requirement for land-based air defence aircraft for its seaborne operations, but now had to compete with the RFC for their supply. The problem, seen in business terms, was that Britain was keeping two companies serving very similar markets, which were competing rather than cooperating. When problems began to arise, as in the Zeppelin and Gotha raids on Britain, they could only be approached through the timehonoured bureaucratic means of forming investigating committees, since there was no superior body to arbitrate, except the war cabinet and it lacked the necessary technical knowledge. To make matters worse, the public outcry against the German bombing had introduced a political dimension. The government had to be seen to be doing something, and the moment arrived for the idea that had been floating around Whitehall for some time, that the two air arms should be recombined. What had started as a small entrepreneurial start-up was now becoming what Mintzberg (1991) had called a ‘machine bureaucracy’.21 The Air Board had lacked the staff to tackle technical and supply problems, but the Air Ministry rapidly formed one in the Hotel Cecil in London. Trenchard at RFC headquarters in France had only a very small staff and the decision-making was centred on the commander and, as a result, was speedy. As the organization in London grew, Trenchard, as the first chief of air staff, had to ensure that operational decisions on such matters as targeting for the bombers remained the prerogative of the commander in the field. The bombing of targets in Germany as retaliation was, again, a political issue. The formation of the 58


Royal Air Force, however, was a key event in the development of a separate ‘air’ strategy and marked the acknowledgement that the air battle was an entity in its own right. In the event, the Independent Air Force was too little, too late, but the flexibility of such a force when in an air commander’s hands was identified. The true lessons of the bombing were quietly ignored after the war and exaggerated claims became the basis for further discussions on air power, but the Royal Air Force had to fight for its continued existence and strategic bombing was at the centre of the argument. The culture of the RFC HQ in France, as Baring recorded it,22 was centred on Trenchard, but was built on a close-knit community drawn together by the many problems it had had to face. The headquarters staff was very close to the men in the wings and squadrons and this rapport helped in the development of air doctrine and strategy. Leadership could be, and was, exercised to great effect in France, but not so in the very different environment in London. The organization’s hierarchical and rank-based structure influenced the way the strategy emerged, though the pragmatic Trenchard was a key figure, if only because he had the most firsthand experience of air warfare and could work out what had to be done with this novel weapon of war.


3 Aircraft, Engines and Equipment

Technology has a strong influence on strategy, since what can be done technically determines the options open to the strategist. Early aviation theorists may have dreamt of defeating an enemy by the use of air power alone. Speculations that bombing would destroy the morale of the enemy’s civilian population had captured the popular imagination and, in 1908, H. G Wells published his book The War in the Air. In this book he imagined fleets of airships and aircraft free to roam and bomb, and depicted a German Zeppelin raid on New York, which brought the United States to the brink of collapse. The description of the technology of aircraft and weapons in the period 1914 to 1918, which follows in this chapter and the next, clearly shows that such ideas were, at that time, mere dreams. Compelling the surrender of a nation by the use of bombing did not finally come to pass until 1945 when the appalling power of the atomic bomb forced the Japanese finally to capitulate. In the early days, the development of an air strategy had to be pragmatic and incremental, and technology was a determining factor. The environment Before going on to discuss the actual aircraft used and their performance, it is useful to consider the alien environment into which their machines introduced the early aviators. Knowledge of the upper structure of the atmosphere was based on observations made on mountains, but much was still not understood. Air pressure, temperature and density all decrease with increasing 61


altitude, and wind speed also usually increases with height. Airspeed is measured by the pressure in a forward-facing tube called a pitot. Pitot-measured speed (or indicated airspeed) needs to be corrected for temperature and altitude before true airspeed can be known. The altimeter in an aircraft basically measures pressure, and the surface pressure datum, which changes with the movement of atmospheric weather systems, affects its accuracy. Above about 10,000 feet, these atmospheric effects reduce the power of normally aspirated (non-supercharged) engines, and humans suffer from anoxia, which first affects their judgement and can ultimately lead to unconsciousness. Flight in cloud under certain conditions can lead to ice forming on the flying surfaces and propellers and the weight and change to aerofoil shape can seriously affect performance – and early aircraft had little enough in hand. Flying in cloud also deprives the pilot of visual cues on the aircraft’s altitude and, since the artificial horizon had not been invented, the turn indicator was the only reference available. Early flyers had to battle with the elements and the air itself, of which they had imperfect scientific knowledge, and additionally, in war, they had the burden of fighting in this unfamiliar environment. Navigation Lewis Carroll had the bellman in the Hunting of the Snark declare ‘navigation was always a difficult art’, and this was in 1876 before the Wright brothers added another difficulty. When an aircraft leaves the ground, it moves relative to the air, but the air itself is moving relative to the ground. The measures available in the aircraft, airspeed and heading, are relative to the air, but navigation requires positioning relative to the ground. Finding the speed and direction of the wind, then, is the main problem in aerial navigation and, as John’s Gospel (3:8) has it: ‘the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou canst hear the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.’ This problem is also



familiar to naval navigators, who have to take into account the tides and currents that are carrying the ship from its intended course. The phenomenon can be illustrated vectorially as in Figure 3.1. The wind varies with height and also with the atmospheric pressure distribution over the earth, and is seldom constant for any length of time. The navigator can plot where he would have been if the wind had not been blowing by a process known as ‘dead reckoning (DR)’ but, sooner or later, the position relative to the ground must be established. The difference between the DR position and the ground position is the wind effect. Figure 3.1: The navigation vector triangle Air position Heading and airspeed

Wind velocity

Drift angle

Ground position

Track and groundspeed

The meteorology service was not advanced in the early part of the twentieth century and was concerned mainly with sea operations. It had no way of sampling the upper atmosphere, whose temperature, pressure, density and winds change constantly. It could produce synoptic charts at ground level, but the upper atmosphere remained a mystery. British and French aircraft operating over the lines usually met westerly winds that carried them into enemy territory, and the pilots had to remember to leave sufficient fuel to reach their base on return. Winds at the heights of operation of First World War aircraft could often reach 60 knots (69 mph), which is a severe problem if one’s aircraft can make, at maximum, 78 knots (90 mph) and the way home is into wind. That same aircraft having a more moderate 40-knot wind on the beam will experience 26º degrees of drift, which will result in a 20 nautical 63


mile (23 statute mile) difference between DR and ground position after half an hour. These conditions present real difficulties to a single-seat pilot who may be engaged in a fight with the enemy and who cannot be constantly checking on his position. Multi-crew aircraft would have an observer who could take on, or at least assist in, the navigation task. The principal aid to fixing the ground position was the map and visual reference, but the German Zeppelins could obtain bearings by radio and also made limited use of astronomical observations to obtain further lines of position. In clear weather, map reading was not too difficult, but if the visibility was poor, or there was low cloud, it was all too easy to become lost. It was soon found, however, that bombing raids in daylight were very vulnerable to enemy fighters, and so refuge was sought in night attacks. Now the map-reading problem was more difficult, even if there were lights still burning in towns. Locating a small target, such as a railway station or a troop concentration, could be very difficult, even in clear conditions. The situation had not improved much as late as 1940, when Bomber Command had been forced into night bombing and before radio and radar aids became available, the bombs often fell miles away from the intended target. Long-range operations were hazardous, particularly since the more powerful, heavy bombers planned for delivery in late 1917/ early 1918 failed to arrive in numbers before the armistice. A planned raid on Berlin could not be carried out before the end of hostilities. Land-based aircraft At the outbreak of war, aircraft were used principally for reconnaissance and the prime requirement was that they should fly and be stable in the air. As new roles, such as bombing and air fighting, emerged, the aircraft design had to become more specialized. It was discovered that this process involved compromise and trade-offs, so that building a fighter that could fly fast, climb quickly and



manoeuvre well resulted in a different machine from the bomber that sacrificed rate of climb and manoeuvrability for load carrying and range. The development of aircraft during the First World War was rapid, and some types were only held in service for a relatively short period before being superseded by higher performance machines. Table 3.1 gives a crude indication of the development in speed and ceiling in fighter aircraft from 1914 to 1918. Table 3.1: Improvements in aircraft performance, 1914–18 Year

1914 1915 1916 1917 1918


German or

Max. speed



Ceiling (feet) 13,100

Maurice Farman



Etrich Taube



Airco DH2




Fokker E3




Sopwith Pup




Halberstadt D.II





Sopwith Camel




Albatros D.III




Martinsyde Buzzard




Fokker E5/D.VII




Data from Munson, Fighters: Attack and Training Aircraft 1914–1919.

The introduction of new types by both sides did not always happen at the same time, so the Fokker E1 Eindekker, with its new synchronizing gear for forward firing guns, was not immediately matched by new British and French types and the result was considerable carnage in a period known as the ‘Fokker scourge’. Neumann asserted that the Germans had produced approximately 150 types of aircraft during the war, excluding experimental aircraft.1 The Russians had built the Sikorsky Ilya Mourometz heavy 65


bomber as early as 1914, and this four-engined aircraft could carry 1102 lbs of bombs, flying at 60 miles an hour. Although their actual achievements in service were not outstanding, this innovative design attracted the attention of aircraft designers in the west, principally Germany. The significance of the Mourometz was that it introduced the concept of strategic bombing by heavier-than-air machines, whereas the only other option previously had been the airship, which had operational limitations that became increasingly exposed as fighter aircraft performance increased. Almost unnoticed, a new use of aircraft arose from the load-carrying capabilities of later aircraft when resupply by air of the besieged garrison at Kut was achieved. Thus the period 1914–18 was characterized by: • A greater understanding of aerodynamics and aircraft structures

and new materials. • A continual development of the power and power/weight ratio of aircraft engines. • The development of new, specialized roles for air power that needed different performance requirements. • The need to operate at greater heights, and at night, to avoid the increasingly-effective air defences. Weapons and other equipment also became the subject of rapid development, too, as will be discussed in Chapter 4 below. Describing and analysing these complex developments requires a study of its own, so here we can only consider some highlights and major trends.

British Aircraft The British ‘type’ letters as applied to aircraft produced by the Royal Aircraft Factory have the following meanings: BE

At first indicated Bleriot Experimental, which had a tractor arrangement, but came to mean British Experimental. 66



At first indicated Farman Experimental, which were ‘pushers’, but later were taken to mean Fighting Experimental. Indicated Scouting Experimental.


Companies used the following designations: DeH FK


Machines produced by Airco, and designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. Armstrong Whitworth aircraft designed by Frederick Koolhoven. Later aircraft designed by Mr Murphy merely had names. Made by William Beardmore & Co. Used by various manufacturers (such as Bristol and Martinsyde) for their fighter aircraft.

Other companies, such as Sopwith, Handley Page and Vickers gave names to their aircraft. The RFC deployed to France in August 1914 and comprised four squadrons and an aircraft park for maintenance and repair in the field. Numerous types of aircraft were used and 3 and 5 squadrons operated more than one type. The types flown and some performance details are shown in Table 3.2. Table 3.2: Aircraft types in use in France by the RFC, August 1914 Type




Takeoff weight lbs

Weight/ hp

BE2 BE2c Henri Farman Avro BE8

Gnome RAF 1A Gnome

80 70 80

2 2 2

1274 2138 804

15.9 30.5 10.5

70 mph 72 mph 65 mph

Gnome Gnome

80 80

2 2

1800 n/a

22.5 n/a

82 mph 70mph


Maximum speed


German Aircraft The Germans used the classification system for their aircraft types which is listed in type and role below. B C CL D E G J N R

Early reconnaissance, later used in training Long-range reconnaissance Ground attack Fighters Monoplanes (eindekkers) Bombers (grossflugzeig) Armoured ground attack Night bombers Giant bombers (reisenflugzeig)

At the outbreak of war, in common with the other protagonists, the Germans used aircraft, the B type, solely for reconnaissance. As the need for other roles for aircraft emerged, it became necessary to produce specialized types of aircraft with performance requisite for their task. Contemporary aircraft could bear the same classification, so there was an Albatros D. III, and a Fokker D. III, and a Halberstadt D. III. Engines The foremost problem in the early years of flying experiments was in providing a suitable power plant for the aircraft. The success in flying gliders by such as Cayley and Lilienthal rapidly reached a limit, and powered flight was not possible with the engines then available. The engine had to be light, but powerful, and, even though the heavy flywheel could be dispensed with because the propeller served that purpose, achieving both these aims was difficult at the end of the nineteenth century. The Wright Flyer of 1903 took to the air powered by an engine of a little more than 15 horsepower, but clearly this was only a beginning and controlled



flight of any significance needed a bigger engine. Table 3.3 summarizes some of the characteristics of the engines that became available up to 1918. The data used are such that it has not been possible to assign a year to every engine, but it is reasonable to suppose that, in general, the more powerful engine from a particular manufacturer would be of later date. The data, however, were collected in 1919 and so mainly represent engines that were in use at the end of the war. The data show that engine performance increased from 15 hp in 1903 to 500 hp in 1918. The main types of engine used were: • Rotary, where the whole engine rotated around a stationary

shaft, and the propeller was fixed to the crankcase. There were two forms of rotary, one with the conventional inlet and exhaust valves, and the monosoupape, which had only an exhaust valve. This latter type was, in effect a two-stroke engine and so the fuel was mixed with castor oil for lubricating the internal moving parts. • Radial, where the engine was stationary and the cylinders were arranged to radiate from the central crankshaft. The cylinders were finned on the outside for cooling by the airflow. • Watercooled or in-line engines were arranged with four or six cylinders one behind the other, and encased in a water jacket for cooling purposes. Watercooled engines were also configured in a V shape, which made the engine shorter at the expense of a greater width. In the early years of the war, the rotary predominated. They were simple to maintain, though there was no throttle, and the engine either ran flat out or idled. Control was by a switch, and the engine was ‘blipped’ on and off, for instance on the approach to landing. The in-line engine had the advantage of presenting the smallest frontal area, and thus reduced the aerodynamic drag. A 69


Table 3.3: Engines used in the later stages of the war Maker


AustroDaimler Bassé-Selve Beardmore Benz BHP BHP Siddeley Clerget

Cosmos Gnôme-Rhône

Hispano-Suiza Various Maybach Mercédès Napier Rolls-Royce


Engine name Gant II Dragon-fly Wasp II

Adriatic Atlantic Puma 7Z 9Z 9B 16X Mercury Jupiter Type A Type B2 Type N Rhône Rhône Model A Model A Model A Liberty

Lion Hawk Falcon Eagle Condor Arab Cossack



Brake hp

Wt (lb)

Wt per hp


Horiz opposed Radial Radial w-c






9 7 6

340 512 200

1.765 1.6 3.64

n/a n/a 1918

w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c Rotary Rotary Rotary Radial Radial Radial Rotary* Rotary* Rotary* Rotary Rotary w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c w-c

6 6 6 6 V12 6 7 9 9 16 14 9 7 9 9 7 9 V8 V8 V8 V12 6 6 6 12^ 6 V12 V12 V12 V8 V12

270 166 230 240 500 230 80 110 130 400 300 450 80 100 160 80 120 180 220 300 400 300 180 260 450 100 280 360 600 235 350

600 320 728. 5 885 600 996

3.28 3.75 4.33


1210 680 234 397 381 750 587 662

2.42 2.95 3.175 3.6 2.93 1.875 1.96 1.47

260 340 199 308 445 445

2.6 2.125 2.49 2.57 2.47 2.03

1102 773 1099 837 405 630 836 1200 528 1295

3.67 4.29 4.23 1.86 4.05 2.25 2.32 2.00 2.25 3.7

1917 1916 1918 1914


1917 1917 1916 1918

Note: w-c = watercooled; cyl = cylinders; * these engines were monosoupape (single valve); ^ four cylinders each bank and the three banks in a broad arrow head formation. Source: Michael John Haddrick Taylor (2001) Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War I, London: Random House Group Ltd, first published 1919.



disadvantage was that, if an enemy bullet-holed the water jacket, the engine quickly overheated. The crucial weakness in Britain in 1914 was the lack of suitable aircraft engines and the RAF1, designed by the Royal Aircraft Factory and based on a Renault engine, was the principal one available. The RAF1 production was contracted out to Daimler. Commercial engines at this time were generally too heavy, and had an inferior power/weight ratio. Drawings had been made of the projected RAF3 and RAF4, but for the first six months of the war, the RFC had to rely on French engines. Unfortunately, the Royal Naval Air Service also needed French engines and the competition and friction between the two British air services at their offices in Paris for the supply of engines and spares was hardly edifying. In 1915, the War Office arranged for the French engine designs to be manufactured in Britain, but insufficient quantities were produced to meet the demand and the RFC had to continue to rely on French supplies. The deliveries of French engines proved vital as they gave time for the British industry to gear up for the required level of design and manufacture of indigenous engines. The French also had problems of production because they supplied aircraft and engines to the Russians and Italians as well as the British. The French were short of some raw materials, and so a reciprocal trade in such commodities as steel was set up with the British. As serious was the shortage of magnetos, since the source of supply before the war had been from Germany and stocks ran out in the summer of 1916. When manufacturers were set up in Britain, the need to import magnets, wire and insulating materials hampered production. Gradually, manufacturers like Sunbeam, Beardmore, Alvis, Napier and Rolls-Royce, many of whom had been producing car engines before the war, started to produce better aircraft engines as the problems became better understood, assisted by the Royal Aircraft Factory sharing drawings and professional experience. Napier produced an engine from the drawings of the RAF3, 71


which produced 200 horsepower, but Rolls-Royce proceeded with its independent designs and by March 1915 had produced the Eagle, which produced 250 horsepower, and was subsequently developed into the 1918 Eagle VIII of 375 horsepower. The Royal Navy early realized that it needed powerful engines for seaplanes and airships and so approached Sunbeam and RollsRoyce directly, seeking an engine of 250 horsepower. The War Office dealt mainly with the Royal Aircraft Factory, and agreed that the navy should have a priority for higher-power engines. As a result, the RFC aircraft tended to lack power in comparison with contemporary German machines. The engines were mostly conventional and fuelled by petrol with a conventional sparking-plug ignition, the diesel not being developed for air use until after the war. Mercédès-Daimler produced a 200-horsepower high compression petrol engine toward the end of the war (an example was recovered from a Fokker D.VII shot down on 6 June 1918), which had domed pistons and an altitude compensator on the carburettor such that the engine would not deliver full power at ground level, but could operate more efficiently in the lower density air at altitude. Technical problems were encountered that delayed the supply of engines, some arising from the difficulty of developing a prototype into a production model. In 1917, 40 different engine designs were being built, but the lack of organized mass production jeopardized the target of 2000 engines per month. A subcommittee of the advisory committee for aviation was tasked to choose one engine from the four available types in the 200-horsepower class. They chose the Sunbeam Arab, which was an experimental design, as the preferred engine for mass-production. Weaknesses in the cylinder and crank chamber of the Arab became evident and modifications had to be made, and subsequently changes in material specifications for gearwheels, propeller shafts, pump spindles and cylinder blocks all had to be made. The order had been for 1800 Arabs by the end 72


of 1917, but only 81 were delivered. The Wolseley Company, which was manufacturing the 200-horsepower Hispano-Suiza, reported crankshaft failures after an average of only four hours of running time. Some of these engines had been ordered from France and models from this source were found to have faulty hardening of the gear wheels and propeller shafts. The BHP (Beardmore-HalfordPullinger) engine fared little better. The first batch did not match the drawings sent to the aircraft manufacturers and would not fit the airframe, but 90 per cent of the later ones were found to have defective cylinder blocks. The cylinders were made from aluminium and problems of casting, machining and metal porosity were encountered. The target in January 1917 had been 2000 engines a month but, following the daylight bombing of London, the numbers of squadrons was authorized to increase from 108 to 200, and the production rate of engines had to rise to 4500 a month to meet that increase. British industry, plus imports from France, did not achieve that figure, and the RFC in France suffered as a result. Existing knowledge of metallurgy, engine design and production techniques were all being pushed to the limits and beyond, and failures were bound to occur. The tragedy was that all the engines under development experienced problems more or less at the same time and when they were most needed. Aerodromes and ships Aircraft and airships need bases from which to operate. These bases need to be of sufficient size to allow takeoffs and landings, but they need ground storage facilities for the protection of aircraft against the weather and to provide a reasonable environment for the repair and servicing of unserviceable machines. Adequate supplies of spare parts and ammunition need to be stored on site for immediate use. Finally, accommodation is needed for the pilots, groundcrew and associated administrators. The small space required for takeoff and landing of the simple aircraft of the time



made establishing an airfield easier. Hangars were made from canvas and did not always fare well in gales and heavy rain. Later in the war, provision of bomber bases caused more problems because the takeoff run for these heavily-laden aircraft was longer, but also their limited range dictated locating airfields as close as possible to their intended targets. Airfields for the Independent Air Force were, as a result, located near Nancy, which was outside the area the British army occupied. Naval aviation, however, had rather more difficult problems. The range of the aircraft available for naval operations was limited, and the time taken to reach an area of operations was too long in the context of a rapidly changing situation. These factors predicated the carriage of aircraft by ship. Initially, these aircraft were designed to land on the sea, and they were lifted off and on ships equipped for their storage. Seaplanes, however, were so restricted in their performance in the air by the weight and aerodynamic drag of the floats they had to carry that they could not catch Zeppelins. Floatplanes continued to be carried on ships and this practice survived until the later years of the Second World War. Carrying a seaplane on a warship caused several problems. The aircraft had to be stored aboard and sheltered from the corrosive sea air. In addition, storage had to be found for fuel, spares, ammunition and the other needs of aircraft. Added to these difficulties, there remained the problem of launching and recovering aircraft out at sea. An ex-Cunard liner, the Campania, was fitted with forward ramps for launching floatplanes from trolleys, but recovery still had to be made by crane. The German commerce raider Wolf was equipped with a Friedrichshafen FF33e floatplane (nicknamed the Wölfchen), which made more than fifty flights and was instrumental in the capture of many of the 14 vessels seized by this raider, which was disguised as a merchantman. The aircraft located and tracked the victims and sometimes threatened to bomb them. On one occasion, the 74


floatplane landed alongside an American schooner and compelled surrender at pistol point. The Germans even worked on a proposal to build a small scouting aircraft for carriage on a submarine. Land-planes were preferred for carriage on ships, principally for their better performance in the air, but also for their relative ease of launch and recovery. The problem now was how to provide facilities for them to take off from a ship and, more problematically, how to allow them to land back on. Takeoff could be solved by building a platform on top of a turret, but landing required more space and that could only be built aft to provide a clear approach path for the aircraft. The turbulent air caused by the airflow around the ship’s superstructure complicated approaching from astern, which could be severe enough to cause the pilot to lose control. Wind tunnel tests conducted by the National Physical Laboratory proved that safe landing on a ship with a central superstructure was impossible. The world’s first flight deck carrier was to be HMS Argus, built on the hull of the partially completed liner Conte Rosso. The first proposal for such a ship had two parallel superstructures, port and starboard, but Eagle and Hermes, the next carriers built, had the offset ‘island’ now a familiar feature of all such ships. After the First World War, the aircraft carrier was to become the principal strike weapon for the war at sea, and battleships became outmoded. The carrier then became the centre of the fleet and smaller vessels were there principally to protect it. The Battle of Midway in 1942 saw the first clash of aircraft carrier fleets, which changed the nature of sea warfare for ever. Admiral Beatty’s prediction ‘that in future the Commander-in-Chief of a fleet may be quartered on board an aircraft carrier’ had come to pass. Balloons Balloons were the first airborne device to be used in war, but, since the arrival of the aeroplane, their use in the First World War was not anticipated. The balloon needs supporting equipment and



a supply of gas, which requires a considerable wagon train for its carriage. In a mobile war, it would be difficult to deploy a balloon close enough to the fighting to be useful yet at the same time avoiding being caught up in the movement of ground troops. When the mobile war in 1914 was superseded by static, trench warfare, the balloon became useful again. The front line did not move very much, and the balloon was unlikely to be captured. On the other hand, there now existed a new threat, that from attacking aircraft. The spherical balloon is not very stable and proved difficult to handle, so the Germans (and also the Belgians) developed the kite balloon. Major August von Parseval and Hauptmann Bartsch von Sigsfeld are credited with inventing the kite balloon developed around 1906/7. This balloon looked like a fat sausage and had stabilizing fins at the stern. Balloons of this type were to be become familiar in the Second World War when they were used to form a balloon barrage against low-flying aircraft. The kite balloon in the First World War had a basket suspended beneath to house an observer, who was provided with a telephone to make his reports. The advantage of this system was that reports were instantly available to those on the ground, and a dialogue could be established to ensure that the information gained was relevant and was understood. In the early days, before wireless, the information from the balloon was more quickly available than that from reconnaissance aircraft. The balloon was filled with hydrogen, which was very light, and so provided good lift, but it was also highly flammable. The balloons could ascend to 4000 feet, but the horizon was limited by the height achieved, which was influenced in part by the speed of recovery in the event of attack. The only defence against attack was to wind in the cable with a high-speed winch and the first balloons the Germans deployed were retrieved by a horse, which required a clear space of about 1600 yards for the balloon to reach earth. When aircraft started to attack balloons, this 76


method was too slow to provide protection for the observer, so engine-powered winches were developed of up to 60 horsepower. Later, the occupant of the basket was to be provided with a parachute, but it remained a dangerous occupation. In 1915, the RFC assumed control of the kite balloons on the Western Front, but the navy controlled the contracts for their supply until 1916. The Germans captured a French designed balloon, the Caquot, which proved superior to their own version, so they copied it and brought it into service. This balloon could operate at heights of up to 5000 feet and in wind speeds of up to 44 miles an hour, whereas the previous German model was limited to wind speeds of 30 miles an hour or less. The winch required for the Caquot needed a 100horsepower engine, which limited mobility more than the less powerful models already in service. The Germans continued to operate both models, and used the lighter models where more mobility was required. The Royal Navy had taken over all the airship and balloon development from the naval military of the RFC, but it was not until March 1915 that a kite balloon entered service and a balloon depot was formed. A balloon was deployed on the tramp steamer Manica for artillery spotting duties in Gallipoli, but the balloon and its support equipment was of French manufacture. Four additional former merchantmen were converted for the carriage of balloons, and these vessels were used to spot for the bombardment of the German-occupied Belgian coast. Balloons could be used when the weather was unsuitable for the operation of aircraft, and tests showed that they could be flown while being towed at up to 22 knots and at a height of 3000 feet, from which the observer could see 60 miles. The enemy, of course, could see the balloon at a similar distance and could, therefore, signal the presence of the naval vessels. Given the support of Admiral Beatty, balloons were installed for the purpose of gunfire direction on nine battleships, two battle cruisers, two large light cruisers, and three destroyers. 77


The balloons were inflated on shore and then lightered out to the ship. Using this method, only a winch had to be fitted to the ship, and no dangerous hydrogen had to be stored aboard. The balloon then floated above the ship and had only to be winched down when an observer was needed. Balloons were also used against submarines, and a destroyer guided by an observer in a balloon sank a U69 after it had been spotted 28 miles away. These searches, however, proved unrewarding, for the chances of encountering a submarine were low, so were soon discontinued. Balloons did, however, prove useful in convoys, for the submarine commander could see them at a distance and was deterred from attack. By the end of the war 152 Royal Navy vessels were equipped to carry balloons, principally for use in the anti-submarine war. Helium had been discovered on earth in 1895, and, while slightly heavier than hydrogen, had the great advantage of being non-flammable. The gas, however, was rare and, thus, very expensive. Natural helium was discovered in the United States, but did not become available until after the war had ended. Helium would have been particularly applicable to the airship. Airships The airship, or dirigible, had one advantage over the fixed wing aeroplane in that it did not have to generate lift by forward motion through the air. Thus, if the engine(s) failed, the airship stayed aloft. What is more, if the machine could be made large enough, the loads carried were considerably greater than those possible in the aircraft of the period. Graf von Zeppelin began work on a rigid airship in 1898 and his first product made its first flight on 2 July 1900 from Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance. The framework, made from aluminium, consisted of 16 hoops joined together by longitudinal beams, one of which was the keel, and they were stressed internally with wires. The interior was divided by bulkheads into 17 compartments, and



all but the fore and aft spaces were filled with a gas bag, or ballonet. Three of these gas bags could be ruptured before the airship was forced to descend. The hydrogen could be vented in a controlled fashion when the airship was required to descend. Originally, the hydrogen was released into the body of the dirigible, but this practice was dangerous because an explosive mixture built up that a spark could ignite, and the design was changed to vent to the atmosphere. Suspended under the keel were two cars and the engines that drove propellers for forward motion, and a large vertical rudder effected the steering. In the early models, a heavy sliding weight could be moved fore and aft to trim the machine in the pitching plane. Rubberized cotton covered the whole structure. Von Zeppelin not only built airships but he also operated them commercially through a subsidiary called Deutsche Luftschiffahrt Aktien-Gesellschaft or Delag. By March 1912, this company was operating passenger flights in and around Germany, and had the proud record of having caused no loss of life to any passenger. The achievement of these Zeppelins is summarized in Table 3.4 and it can be seen that considerable experience had been accumulated by the outbreak of the war, when Germany possessed 11 rigid airships, and more were under construction. Table 3.4: Summary of Zeppelin commercial operations, March 1912 to August 1914 Name

Number of trips

Passengers carried in total

Number of miles travelled

Viktoria Luise Hansa Sachsen

400 275 206

8551 5697 4857

29,430 22,319 13,700





The first Zeppelin had been powered by two 16-horsepower Daimler engines, but, in the 1905 version, the power of each engine 79


had been increased to 85 horsepower. The 1915 model could climb at over 1000 feet (305 metres) a minute, which outperformed fixedwing aircraft of the time, and the latest 1916 version had a ceiling of 17,400 feet (5303.5 metres), which again made them very difficult to intercept. These developments are briefly summarized in Table 3.5. Table 3.5: Development of the Zeppelins Date

Volume (cubic ft)

Length (feet)

Diameter (feet)

Speed (mph)


1900 1905 1915 1916 1916

– – 1,000,000 1,250,000 2,000,000

– 420 536 585 650

– – 61 61 78

– – 55 60 60

2 X 16 hp 2 X 85 hp 4 X 210 hp 4 X 260 hp 6 X 240 hp

The Zeppelin, though the most famous, was not the only airship made in Germany; von Parseval, who had designed the kite balloon (see above), also developed non-rigid airships and they were produced by Luftfahrtzeugbau-Gesellschaft. Because this design was pressure-rigid and held to be inferior to the rigid Zeppelin with a metal framework, they were allowed to be sold to foreign powers, and one Parseval airship was bought by the Royal Navy. The Schütte-Lanz Company was a third producer of airships, and its dirigibles were made from wood. The German army favoured this type of airship, though it also operated Zeppelins. The crew for the Zeppelin varied according to the mission and the payload required, but was generally 18 or 19. Fegan lists these as a captain, an executive officer, two warrant officers, five or more petty officers and ten technicians.2 The captain exercised executive control from the forward gondola, together with the executive officer, navigator and two petty officer steersmen. Also in this gondola, but in a separate compartment, were two petty officer wireless 80


operators. The engineer and his technicians were located in the aft gondola, together with a sail maker for fabric repairs. Machine guns could be carried, one in a platform on top of the Zeppelin and reached by a ladder inside the ship, but the crew usually depended on the ship’s superior performance to avoid interception. The ground support for Zeppelin operations was extensive and the timely provision of buildings did not always match the production of the airships. Ground handling of the Zeppelins was a tricky business, and the ideal building to house them was one that could be rotated on a turntable to head into wind. Some of these buildings were erected at Nordholz, but, as larger airships were produced, they had to be extended. The building programme did not keep pace with the improvements to the Zeppelins and, if the building were of the static type and did not face into wind, ground handling difficulties could prevent takeoff. Neumann recorded that there were occasions when cross winds blowing across static buildings prevented Zeppelin support of important naval operations.3 Originally, the airship bases were provided with a small gas plant but as the war progressed the demand for hydrogen rose dramatically and was also produced commercially. The demand for hydrogen for naval airships alone rose to over five and a half million cubic feet per day. In Britain, the Royal Navy had taken over development of all lighter-than-air machines in 1912, but the appropriately-named Mayfly was a failure when it broke its back before becoming airborne. This discouragement led to the navy discontinuing airship development until 1915, which was perilously late. During that year, the submarine scout, or SS, airship was invented, seemingly based on the Willows non-rigid type commercially available. On 28 February 1915, Admiral Beatty demanded small, fast airships for immediate anti-submarine operations, and the Willows envelope had the fuselage of two BE2c aircraft, with the tails cut off, suspended beneath it to fulfil that requirement. This machine could remain 81


airborne for eight hours, could cruise at 40 to 50 miles an hour, and could carry wireless and 160 lbs of bombs. Fifty were ordered, but later machines were equipped with more comfortable gondolas and had improved performance. At about this time the Coastal type was developed with an endurance of 11 hours, and 27 entered service beginning in 1916. A Coastal was used in experiments in towing an airship behind a cruiser, and a successful trial proved the feasibility of refuelling an airship from a cruiser under way. Work also resumed on rigid airships and the first one to be completed, No. 9, flew on 27 November 1916, but the ‘33’ class based on a crashed Zeppelin was not completed before the end of the war. No. 9 could lift a payload of 1.7 tons, but did not enter service until 4 April 1917; nearly three years after the Zeppelins of similar performance were operational. Wireless In 1896 Guglielmo Marconi was granted a patent for wireless equipment and in 1905 a commercial, transatlantic radio communication link was in operation. Radio was used in the rescues in 1912 following the sinking of the RMS Titanic, which had two radio operators on board. At the outbreak of the First World War, the British Army had some radio equipment that could be installed in lorries, but the technology at this stage was limited to transmissions in Morse code. In 1913, Lieutenant James in a BE2c had received signals from a ground transmitter, but the set had to be heavily screened from magneto ‘noise’. By 1914, two pilots in BEs had communicated air to air while flying about ten miles apart, and when the war broke out 16 aeroplanes had been equipped with radio. Lieutenants Lewis and James were associated with the development of artillery registration using radio, and later reporting the results to the ground was made easier by a clock code system (in which direction was reported by the ‘hour’, 12 o’clock being true north, and by range



circles identified by letters of the alphabet, a typical message being ‘B2’ or ‘C5’). The battery communicated with the aircraft by laying out white strips of cloth in code letters. The first wireless sets were so heavy (75 lbs) that the BE2c had to be flown solo, with the set occupying the observer’s seat. When the Sterling set, weighing less than 20 lbs, was introduced an observer could be carried as well, and the aerial for the set was a trailing wire with a lead weight on the end, and woe betide the observer who forgot to reel in the aerial before landing. Initially, the wireless equipment had been operated by a special unit, which became No. 9 squadron on 9 December 1914, but, to meet the demands of the army, one flight of this squadron was allocated to each of the two wings. Eventually, as equipment and servicing men became available, every reconnaissance squadron had its own wireless flight, and No. 9 squadron was disbanded. The demands for wireless was such, however, that No. 9 squadron was reformed at Brooklands, where it became the first wireless school. By 1916 the Germans were jamming wireless signals, but the British sets were also, in effect, jamming one another when more than one aircraft was operating. The early sets used spark-gap transmissions generating a wide bandwidth of frequencies, which limited the number of wireless aircraft that could operate at the same time. Signals traffic was reduced to a minimum, but some improvement was achieved through use of the ‘clapper-break’ system where the operator could change the pitch of his signal to a high, medium or low note, which could be used to distinguish which aircraft was which. Using this system, one aircraft was deployed for every 2000 yards of trench line, but by the end of the war improved radios and increased experience had reduced this figure to 400 yards. The Royal Navy had experience of radio through the installations in its warships, and at the beginning of the war 16 seaplanes were so fitted. The German navy, too, equipped its Zeppelins with radio and directional ground stations could provide bearings of the 83


airship’s transmissions for navigational purposes. On land, the Germans received reports from contact patrol aircraft by radio and in the latter stages of the war the aircraft carried wireless receivers as well, so could be given instructions and passed questions from the ground. The enemy listened in to the spotting aircraft transmissions, however, and sent false messages to confuse,4 so the messages had to be in a code, changed frequently, adding to the complexity of these operations. Enemy radio signals were also used to provide air defence information. So-called ‘compass’ stations, operated by the British, could take bearings on an enemy aircraft’s transmissions and pass these to wing headquarters, where they would be used to task fighter aircraft before takeoff. Later in the war when fighter aircraft had radio receivers, this information could be passed directly to the fighters. In the main, however, the bearings were used to intercept large formations, for fighters already airborne generally spotted singleton raiders. Similar stations were established in Great Britain and so the defences usually had several hours of warning of an impending Zeppelin attack from their communications with their base. The German code-book HVB (Handelsschiffsverkehrsbuch) had been compromised by the capture of a copy in Australia, and the Germans knew that it was not entirely safe. They were reluctant, however, to have the still secure, more confidential, code books carried in the Zeppelin for fear of compromise. On departure, the Zeppelins reported, ‘only HVB on board’, which became an indication that they were embarking on a bombing mission, thus giving several hours warning of an impending attack on Britain. Bearings could be taken of these transmissions that indicated the probable area of attack, but the defences were insufficiently organized to make good use of this information. When the Royal Navy began to operate lighter-than-air machines against submarines, the problem of navigation arose. The airship could report the accurate position of the submarine to other forces 84


only if it knew its own position. Out of sight of land for many hours, the position derived by dead reckoning was hopelessly inaccurate, so the Marconi Company built a chain of direction-finding stations along the coast of Great Britain. There were two types of station, one that could only receive and those that could both transmit and receive. The airship commander would transmit his call sign once an hour, which enabled two or more land stations to take a bearing. When the airship’s position had been plotted from these bearings, the latitude and longitude was passed back by the transmitting station. Conclusion Technology was the principal driver of the development of tactics and strategy in the air war. Advances in engine power and aerodynamics formed the basis for the competition and there was a constant need to improve performance to outdo, or at least match, the enemy. One relatively uncomplicated system of cams and levers, which became the interrupter gear, transformed air operations and led to the development of air fighting. The problem of how to obtain the services of aircraft at sea, when the range and power of the existing machines did not match those of warships, was gradually solved. Wireless was in its infancy but provided the essential link between air and ground, which itself was transformed to another level when the invention of the super-heterodyne in 1919 eventually led to voice communications replacing the slower Morse code. Plate cameras were difficult to handle in the air with frozen fingers and the constant danger of anti-aircraft fire (see Chapter 4), and roll film, and even ciné, was rapidly developed for use in the air. All these technological developments provided more options for the use of aircraft, which in turn demanded doctrinal, tactical and strategic thinking. The time available for analysis was limited, however, and it became a case of learning by doing and what enabled the fittest to survive was adopted, until something



better came along. The men in the air did a lot of this work, but the commanders, who were closely in touch, added the refinements and tried to work out principles from the mass of detail with which they had to deal. Their development of tactics and strategy, however, were often making the best of a bad situation when the equipment they had available had serious limitations.


4 Weapons

When war came and aeroplanes were to be used in it, weapons obviously would have to figure in the air war in some way. The frail aircraft of the time could barely lift any payload beyond the crew, however, and the roles and tasks for this new technology were not totally evident. Early encounters between the protagonists in the air were greeted by waves between the pilots, but soon pistols, rifles and grenades were carried for aggressive purposes. So the first airborne weapons were guns. Gunnery At the outset, the role of the Royal Flying Corps in France was reconnaissance for the army, and, although many felt that battles would have to be fought in the air, time had been insufficient for the proper arming of the British aircraft. Although some carried rifles, revolvers and hand grenades into the air while on reconnaissance, few had an opportunity to use them and they were ineffective anyway. Luckily, the Germans were reluctant initially to give any opposition to the reconnaissance aircraft from the air, though ground fire did cause some damage and injury to the British aviators. Although the first British aircraft deployed to France in 1914 did not carry guns, experiments had been conducted, particularly by the naval wing, for the carriage of machine guns. Two types of mounting were subsequently developed: (a) a fixed forward-firing gun aimed by the pilot, and (b) a gun fired by 87


an observer. The difficulty with the fixed, forward-firing gun was avoiding damage to the propeller. The RFC had been offered an interrupter gear before the war, but funds were not available at that time for its purchase.1 The French fighter ace, Roland Garros, had tackled the problem by fitting steel, triangular plates to the propeller of his Morane monoplane to deflect any bullets that chanced to hit a blade. This device enabled the pilot to aim the gun by aiming the aircraft, obviating the need to fly the machine and aim a moveable gun at the same time. Garros shot down at least a dozen German aircraft before engine failure caused him to crash-land in enemy territory, but before he could destroy his aircraft he was taken prisoner and the enemy discovered his invention. Anthony Fokker, the Dutch-born engineer, was working for the Germans and was set the task of solving the problem of firing safely through the propeller disc. He designed and constructed a device to stop the gun firing when a propeller blade was in front of it, and he fitted the device to his own aircraft, the Fokker E1. The success of this innovation became the cause of the so-called ‘Fokker scourge’ in 1916 when losses of British and French aircraft soared. The system only worked with guns of the Spandau or Maxim type, and not with the Lewis. The Lewis, before it is fired has an empty breech and the round is rammed by the forward motion of the breechblock when the trigger is depressed. The Spandau or Maxim (namely Vickers) machine guns, by contrast, have a round in the breech, awaiting the pull of the trigger, making easier the timing and synchronization with the propeller. The British could only adopt short-term measures: • Fitting a Lewis gun on the upper plane of the BE2s, which was

fired using a cable. The Lewis gun was plagued with stoppages, however, which were not easily cleared with the gun in this position. 88


• Fitting a Lewis gun for the observer in the rear cockpit to fire.

The observer’s job was reconnaissance, photography or artillery spotting from which he was distracted by this extra, but vital, task. • Using the few Vickers FB5s available. These aircraft were of the ‘pusher’ design, which had the pilot behind the observer, who was thus left a clear field of fire with his Lewis gun. Aerial gunnery has some problems, one of which will be familiar to those who use a shotgun. Since the projectile from the gun takes a measurable time to reach the target, it is necessary to aim where the aircraft is going to be, not where it is. The aiming-off is known as deflection. Clearly, firing from dead astern involves no lateral movement of the target, so no deflection is required. The disadvantage, however, is if the target has an observer with a gun, he needs no deflection either, and his task is simplified. A later tactic adopted was to approach the target aircraft from astern and underneath with overtaking speed, so the observer could not bring his gun to bear because of the tail of his own aircraft. In a dogfight, deflection was often needed when the fleeting opportunity to fire occurred, but not all pilots were able to judge the amount of deflection required. Furthermore, if the aim is directed at where the target is going to be, the line of sight must also be on the line of flight of the target. Judging line and deflection in the stress of combat is difficult, and probably most aircraft were shot down from dead astern and at close range. Albert Ball also used, in extremis, the method known as ‘flythrough’, where the aircraft paths are crossing at something like 90 degrees, and a short burst well ahead of the target could sometimes score the necessary hits. Placing the gun on the upper plane solved the problem of firing through the propeller, but correction had to be made, called harmonization. The aircraft on the ground was placed in the flying 89


attitude by using trestles under the tail, and a board was placed in front of the aircraft with discs indicating where sight and gun should point. A scope was fitted into the breech and the gun was adjusted in its mounting until it was pointing at the appropriate disc. The same was done for the sight. But there was an angle between the line of fire and the line of sight, and the two were arranged to cross at a selected range, called the harmonized range. For a gun above the line of sight, at ranges beyond the harmonized range, the bullets would be below the line of sight, and at closer ranges above the line of sight. In most First World War aircraft the distance between the gun and sight was probably not great enough to cause great errors, particularly since other errors were present. If the aircraft were flown with slip or skid, the aim would be inaccurate, and in unstable aircraft like the Sopwith Camel, accurate flying in combat conditions was not easy. The means adopted by the most successful fighter pilots was to close to very close range where large errors were unlikely to accumulate in the very short time of flight of the bullets. The Germans began in 1917 to equip their fighters with two guns firing through the propeller, which significantly increased their fire power and lethality. The aircraft in the First World War were not easy to destroy since they could absorb many hits from the relatively small calibre machine guns in use at the time. Bullets could pass through the canvas covering and, unless they hit a critical part of the structure, would cause little damage. On the other hand, a bullet cutting a bracing wire might lead to a structural failure under the stress of manoeuvre. The practice was to aim for the pilot from underneath and as close as possible. One French airman returned from a flight covered in blood from his quarry, and admitted to having been ‘rather close’. The Germans tried to use larger calibre guns, but the rate of fire was slow and, given the great difficulties of aiming in a split second in a cold cockpit in an aircraft that was difficult to fly, the innovation had little success. 90


Guns The Lewis gun, designed in America, was of .303 inch (7.7 mm) calibre and was the machine gun the British infantry used. The gun was gas operated from the fired round and for use in the air it was converted to air-cooling by the removal of the radiator and fins. There were fears that the gun might overheat, but in the event, the opposite was the case and special oil had to be developed to counter the freezing that could cause stoppages. The ammunition was carried in a 47, later 97 round, circular drum, which was relatively easy to change in the air. The gun’s weight at 25 lbs (11 kg) (some references have 27 lbs) made it suitable for use in aircraft. The rate of fire was adjustable between 500 and 600 rounds per minute, and the gun had a potential effective range of 655 yards (600 metres), although in the air it was seldom used at such extreme range because of the sighting problems (see above). The Lewis operated on the ‘open bolt’ principle, where the breech was empty before firing and the first round was rammed on depressing the trigger. The Vickers was based on the Maxim gun and also used .303 inch ammunition. It was recoil operated, with gas assistance, and water cooled when used by ground forces. It was converted to air cooling when used in aircraft. The rate of fire was 450 to 600 rounds per minute, and the effective range was 810 yards (740 metres). The ammunition was belt fed, and a canvas belt held 250 rounds. The Vickers operated on the ‘closed bolt’ principle, which meant that a round was in the breech before firing commenced. This system was easier to synchronize with the propeller, than an ‘open bolt’ gun. The Parabellum gun (LMG14), built in the Spandau arsenal, was used in German aircraft and fired 7.92 mm (.312 inch) ammunition. Its rate of fire was up to 700 rounds per minute, and was water cooled, although the water jacket cover was perforated to be further cooled by the air. Although belt fed, the belt was housed in 91


a circular box to protect it from the slipstream. The action was by recoil and the gun weighed 10 kg (22 lbs). The Parabellum, like the Lewis, was unsuitable for use with interrupter gear, and was the observer’s principal weapon. The Spandau (LMG08/15) was used by the Germans in their aircraft, particularly with interrupter gear to fire through the propeller disc. It, too, had a calibre of 7.92 mm and a rate of fire of 500 rounds per minute, and being based on the Maxim design was very similar to the British Vickers gun. The ammunition was fed from a 550 round belt, and a counter was available to the pilot to indicate the number of rounds fired.

Ammunition The ammunition used in these guns was generally ball, namely solid metal rounds. These, however, proved unsatisfactory when used against Zeppelins, where the object was to start a fire. The Buckingham round, introduced in 1916, was an incendiary containing phosphorus and was specifically designed for use against large airships. The Brock bullet was both explosive and incendiary, as was the similar Pomeroy. A Lewis gun drum was generally loaded with a mixture of Buckingham/Brock/Pomeroy bullets for use against the Zeppelin. The Hague Convention prohibited the incendiary round and the RFC did not use it against aircraft in France for some time, since the ‘flamer’ was feared as a terrible way for the pilot to die, trapped in a burning aircraft. Oughton2 described a conversation between Edward (Mick) Mannock and his good friend McScotch (William MacLanahan) when the former particularly asks the latter not to use the Buckingham round against German aircraft because of the consequences. McScotch retorts that the Germans did not have such scruples, but the British were still observing the Hague Convention in 1916. The other development in ammunition was the tracer round which indicated where the bullets were going from the machine 92


gun, and thus helped the pilot in his aim. The tracer round followed a slightly different trajectory from the ball round, but the indication to the pilot proved invaluable. Unconventional weapons Slessor described a weapon available to counter the Zeppelin: The weapon of those prototype night fighters of 1915 was a small oblong bomb full of petrol, of which three or four were carried in the cockpit. They were pushed by hand through a tube in the floor. In the tube an electrical contact ignited the fuse, whereupon the bomb burst into flames and a bunch of large fish-hooks came out at the top. These, theoretically, would catch in the Zeppelin envelope and allow the burning bomb to do the rest. It was a weapon worthy of Mr Heath Robinson at his best, and never succeeded in destroying anything more than the odd haystack or two.3 An additional problem was that the Zeppelin could easily outperform the BE2C, so the aircraft could seldom get above to drop the weapon. The RNAS had introduced the Ranken dart, which carried 1 lb of explosive (0.45 kg) and which was dropped through a chute beneath the pilot’s feet angled at 45° rearward. The round was drogue stabilized and had a sharp steel nose and four pivoting vanes at the tail. The dart was designed to penetrate the target’s skin and the vanes at the tail, catching on the skin triggered the detonator. Some 24 rounds were carried and were dropped, ideally, from 300 to 400 feet above the target. They were used operationally against Zeppelin L17 in August 1916 being dropped from a Bristol scout, but no damage was recorded. The Farnborough Fiery Grapnel was another attempt to find a



weapon to counter the Zeppelin. The weapon consisted of a fourfluked grappling hook that was packed with incendiary material and was trailed below the fighter on a length of cable. When the hooks caught in the Zeppelin’s fabric the incendiary material was intended to set it alight. Quite what effect the impact would have on the fighter is not recorded, neither are any successes. Some FE2bs of No. 100 squadron were equipped with a onepounder pom-pom gun for attacking ground targets. They were used on a night raid against Douai when damage was caused to ground installations, but no account is given in the official history of the particular damage caused by the pom-pom, nor of its widespread use. Martin Gilbert recorded that a steel arrow dropped by a French aircraft killed a German general on horseback. Truly, it is written ‘he who shoots often must sometimes hit’.4 Neumann stated, ‘At the end of the war we were about to use flamethrowers from aeroplanes.’5 No further details are given, so one can only conjecture what this development might mean to the target, and the aeroplane from which it was to be fired. The German navy developed a special torpedo, which anticipated much later developments in guided weapons. Neumann provided a description: A few words concerning the ‘Fernlenkboot’. This device, of which the practical development had been undertaken as early as 1915, had to undergo many tests and much research before it could be deployed at the front. The ‘Fernlenkboot’ was a kind of torpedo which travelled along the surface of the water and was under the control of the firer. It was driven by a petrol engine, and contained in the nose a large mass of explosive which would either destroy or seriously damage a ship in the event of impact. An electric cable, which unrolled as the boat proceeded, connected it with an observation post 94


on land whence, originally, its movements were directed. As it was impossible to observe its movements accurately at a distance, an aeroplane was shortly introduced in order to direct operations. This aeroplane transmitted its instruction by wireless to the land station, whence they were automatically relayed to the ‘Fernlenkboot’. Two stations were set up on the Flanders coast to test the practicability of this new invention under war conditions. They succeeded in putting a monitor out of action by a direct hit.6 Rockets The Le Prieur rocket, developed by the French, was bought by the British War Office, principally as a weapon for use against the Zeppelin and kite balloon, although the British pilot Ball tried them against aircraft, without success. They were first used by the French in 1916 during the Verdun battles. Six, eight or ten were attached to the aircraft’s interplane struts, and were fired electrically (see illustration overleaf). The range was relatively short at 125 yards and the gravity drop was such that they had to be released in a steep dive from above the target. This was the problem in attacking a Zeppelin, in that the weight of the rockets so degraded the aircraft’s performance that it could not climb above the Zeppelin. No Zeppelins were destroyed using the le Prieur rockets, but some success was achieved against kite balloons, which, of course, operated at a much lower altitude and were static. In 1917, the Buckingham incendiary round was introduced that was more effective than the rocket against gasfilled balloons and airships. Bombs and Bombing Maurice Baring recalled: On October 7th [1914], a German left a card on us, pour prendre congé, from the air. He dropped a bomb on the 95


Figure 4.1: Le Prieur rocket installation: Sopwith Pup


Aerodrome. It fell in the field, on the opposite side of the road from where No. 5 Squadron was established. Theoretically, it was a beautiful shot, practically it hit a turnip. And this was the case with many bombing efforts in the future.7

Bombs Early in the war, during 1914, the missiles dropped from aircraft were tiny, some being merely hand grenades. An experiment was tried with ‘flechettes’, which were steel darts measuring 5 x ⅜ inches (12.7 cm x 0.95 cm). A canister holding 250 of these darts was fixed under the fuselage and released by pulling a wire that 96


opened the canister. Although this weapon was the forerunner of the cluster weapon, it was not successful. Bombs had one advantage over artillery shells in that the casing did not need to be so robust because they did not have to withstand the pressures sustained in a gun barrel. So the 20-lb bomb of 1915 contained a 7-lb bursting charge, which was about the same as the heavier 6-inch shell. The 100-lb bomb contained a charge of 40 lbs, equivalent to the 9.2-inch shell that weighed 380 lbs.8 As bigger aircraft were developed with greater lifting power the Germans used bombs of 110, 220 and 600 lbs in weight. When dropping bombs from a very low level, it was prudent to use delayed action bombs to avoid damage to the bomber. The 1650-lb British bomb was the largest the Allies used during the war and it was dropped just a few weeks before the conflict ended. The Germans used an even bigger bomb, which weighed 2200 lbs, in the final stages of the war. When the lifting power available increased as larger aircraft designs came into service, a dilemma arose. Was it better to drop a number of smaller bombs to increase the chances of a hit, accepting that the damage caused would not be extensive, or should one drop fewer, heavier bombs that would cause more damage when scoring a hit, but the probability of achieving such a hit was reduced by the smaller number dropped? The decision was influenced by the intended target, in that one was more likely to score a hit on a large factory covering a large area, so a larger bomb, causing more damage, could be used. Bombing troops in the field, however, would probably be best effected by a larger number of smaller bombs. Incendiary bombs were produced as a way of spreading the effect of bombing by causing fires. These projectiles were small, so a large number could be carried. The earliest types the Royal Navy produced used petrol as the fire agent, but phosphorus was widely used in later versions. It became the practice to mix explosive and 97


incendiary projectiles in the bomb load so that the former would open up buildings and the latter set them on fire.

Bombing theory Until the advent of radio/radar aids and laser guidance much later in the twentieth century, the bombing technique used in the First World War was, perforce, visually-aimed, free fall. The characteristics of this technique determined the accuracy, which from 1914 until 1942 was subject to a number of factors, a number of which were outside the control of the aircrew. The salient factors were: • The target had first to be found and then identified. • At the release, the aircraft had to be flying straight and level, at

the height and speed previously selected, and without slip, skid or turn. • Some device was required to calculate bombing angle (see below) and to offset drift. • When the bomb was released, the aimer had no further control over where it went. The problems of navigating aircraft have been described in Chapter 3 above, and the problem soon became worse when the need to limit losses forced the bombers to operate at night. Identifying the target was difficult, unless there was a moon, but then, searchlights could pick up the slowly moving aircraft and antiaircraft guns brought to bear. The run into the point of release had to be flown accurately and steadily, which made the task of the guns simpler. The free-fall bomb, is accelerated by gravity and will continue to increase its speed until terminal velocity, which depends on bomb aerodynamics and air resistance, is reached. The time of fall of a bomb, without considering air resistance, can be calculated using the formula t (in seconds) = ¼√h (in feet), which is derived from 98


Newton’s formula S = at + ½gt². The effect of the wind will be greater when the point of release is higher, and Table 4.1 shows the effect of wind on the bomb released at varying heights. A problem is that the wind varies with height, and using the drift angle being experienced at the height of release may not apply at lower altitudes and may introduce an error. Clearly, releasing from a lower altitude reduces possible error from this source, but increases the vulnerability to ground fire. Table 4.1: Uncorrected wind error in yards at various altitudes Height (Feet) 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 9000 10000



44 63 77 89 99 109 117 125 133 140

89 125 153 177 198 217 234 250 266 280

Windspeed (knots) 30 133 188 230 266 297 325 351 376 398 420



177 250 307 354 396 434 468 501 531 560

222 313 383 443 495 542 586 626 664 700

Note: Thus, a bomb dropped from 6000 feet where the average wind speed to ground level is 30 knots, will accumulate an error of 325 yards downwind. If flying into wind, this will be the distance the bomb will undershoot the target, unless the aimer corrects it.

When the bomb is released, it will be travelling at the speed of the aircraft at that time, and will continue at that forward speed during its fall unless another force acts upon it. The only such force is air resistance, which we shall have to ignore here. The combination of height and speed determine the bombing angle; that is, how far ahead the target has to appear for the aimer to release the bomb if it is to hit the target. Bombing angle can be calculated as follows: 99


If the aircraft is flying at 10,000 feet, the time of fall of a bomb (ignoring air friction) is found from the formula ¼√h, so is 25 seconds. If the aircraft speed is 100 knots (169 feet/second), it (and therefore the bomb that has that speed, too) will have travelled forward 4222 feet from release to impact. The bombing angle can be found 4222 ÷ 10,000 = .4222 and the angle whose tangent = .4222 is approximately 23°. A bomb sight has to be able to compute this bombing angle and also drift, which requires a knowledge of speed, height, heading and wind velocity.9 Analysis of the results of dropping bombs from low level (that is below 5000 feet) has revealed that the pattern achieved is elliptical, with the error in range (along the track of the aircraft) being greater than in line (across the track of the aircraft). At high altitude the error has been found to be circular, and having a Gaussian distribution around the aiming point. Given the errors in bombing and the relatively limited radius of effect of conventional bombs, the number of bombs that must be dropped to achieve a reasonable probability of attaining the required level of destruction becomes very large, as the following example shows: The number of bombs that should be aimed at the centre of a circular target of radius 200 yards, if the required number of bombs to fall within this radius is 50, and the overall circular error (to a 50 per cent level of probability) is 500 yards, is 476. General Salmond’s report on bombing suggested that, when bombing from height, an error of 1000 yards was ‘not excessive’, so the error in the above example is, if anything, an understatement. Clearly, if the target is much smaller than 200 yards, say a railway junction or bridge, the number of bombs to be dropped at these 100


levels of accuracy to achieve even a 50 per cent chance of success with that level of accuracy becomes very large indeed. In 1915, an analysis of the bombing results led to the conclusion that attacks on railway tracks were ineffective and as railway junctions were now heavily defended the aim would be further degraded by the effects of gunfire. Trains, particularly those on the move, became the preferred targets, since they were unlikely to be heavily defended and their destruction would more effectively block the line than attacks on the track. Successful bombing attacks were made on railways behind the front in support of the Battle of Loos, although the lack of records hampered reaching a quantitative conclusion on the air forces’ contribution to the gains on the ground. The attacks had to be made from lower altitudes to achieve any degree of success. Even the best aimer, then, could not achieve predictable accuracy, and the limited effect of the bombs being used worsened the problem. These, in 1914, did not contain much explosive and, furthermore, if the bomb landed in soft ground, much of the energy was absorbed by the earth and was expended in making a crater. A larger bomb would have greater effect, but the lifting capability of the early aircraft was limited by engine power and aerodynamic efficiency. Measures were taken to improve the chances of achieving damage: •

The height of release could be reduced, but then the vulnerability of the bombers to ground fire was much increased. (Remember that the aircraft on the approach to the release point had to fly straight and level, making the defending gunners’ task easier.) • The bombs could be dropped in salvo (that is, at the same time) and would then form a pattern around the aiming point. Alternatively, the bombs could be dropped at intervals to form a ‘stick’ or line along the ground that could be aimed to straddle a target. 101


• The bombers could fly in formation and all aircraft release their

bombs on a signal from the formation leader. In this way, a pattern of bombs on the ground might improve the chances of a hit. • Bombers could approach the target into or downwind to try and eliminate line error. • Heavy bombers were designed to carry a heavier bomb load. The following are examples of specialist bomber aircraft in the First World War: Gotha G IV (2 engines) Zeppelin 4-Engined ‘Giant’ Zeppelin 5-Engined ‘Giant’ Handley-Page 0–400 (2 engines) Vickers Vimy (2 engines)

Useful load: 1000 lbs (455 kg) Useful load: 2250 lbs(1,000kg) Useful load: 10,125 lbs (4602 kg) Useful load: 2900 lbs (1318 kg) Useful load: 1400 lbs (637 kg).9

A bomb sight Some officers in France had been experimenting with constructing a bomb sight and had made a contraption from a couple of nails and a few bits of wire. RFC headquarters intervened and sent 2nd Lieutenant Bourdillon back to England to turn his ideas into a practical sight; this resulted in the so-called ‘CFS sight’. The sight had a timing scale so that the pilot could time, with the aid of a stopwatch, the interval between two observations on the same object on the ground. The moveable foresight was set to the time interval, and as long as the same height and speed were maintained, bombing angle could be established and head/tail component of wind incorporated. Jones,10 the source of this information, does not record what was done about drift, but it is possible that the time scale could be slewed in azimuth to measure, and thus offset, drift. The navy had to make some modification to fit the CFS sight for sea operation, but the sight was in use until the end of 1916, when more advanced sights were introduced. 102


Pictures of an observer looking over the side of an aircraft holding a bomb little bigger than a hand grenade may seem comic, but they portray an aspect that was crucial in the development of thinking about air power. Air power is essentially aggressive, and the limitations of the defensive in warfare had been long understood. Field Marshal Colmar Baron von der Goltz in his 1883 book, The Nation in Arms had observed: ‘He who stays on the defensive does not make war, he endures it!’ As in many fields, not less in business, it is necessary to be proactive, not reactive, to achieve success. Airspace cannot be defended as land is held, and the offensive can frequently outwit the defence by surprise, tactical routing or mere weight of numbers. Bombing carries the war to the enemy and this idea lay behind the bomber command’s offensive in the 1940s when it was the only means open to the British of attacking the enemy, although less than fully effective. A valuable side benefit of these attacks can be seen in the following quotation from Hinchliffe: The ground personnel of the Luftnachrichtendienst – the Air Signals Service – to man these control areas and their coordinating centres alone amounted to almost 40,000 servicemen and servicewomen. To form an idea of the full manpower requirements that were consequent upon the Bomber Command offensive one has to bear in mind also the vast number of personnel – one estimate puts it at 900,000 – needed to man the anti-aircraft guns and searchlight positions deployed throughout Germany [in 1942].11 A similar effect pertained in 1914, but not to the same scale, but those servicemen engaged in air defence could not be used for the offensive. The amount of bombing during the war was not inconsiderable. German airships and aeroplanes dropped 270 tons of bombs on 103


Great Britain, which killed 1414 people and caused nearly £3 million worth of damage. On the British front in France during the period May–October 1918, 3714 bomber sorties operating at night dropped 16,085 bombs killing 1152 people. The accuracy and explosive power problems described above restricted these operations, but the morale and political effects were out of proportion to the results achieved. Haig’s assessment of the strategy of bombing Great Britain was: ‘By bombing raids against London and in England, they have tried, trusting to their effect on public opinion and to the political agitation that was bound to follow, to make us dislocate our flying forces in the field.’12 The diversion of effort into air defence was not included in the memorandum Marshal Foch, commander-in-chief of the allied armies, drew up for the president of the War Council dated 13 September 1918. In this document, the object of bombing Germany was stated as: To carry the war into Germany by attacking her industry (Munition work) commerce (Economic crisis) population (Demoralization) These bombing raids on the German population do not properly speaking constitute reprisals – this like poison gas is a means of warfare which was first used by the enemy and which we are forced to use in our turn.13 Importantly, this document also called for the coordination of bombing effort and placed all British, French and Italian bombers under the command of General Trenchard. Although not included in the ‘objects’ above, the memorandum gave Trenchard free scope to attack enemy aerodromes. The high command had realized that, 104


given the limitations of the aircraft, bombs and aiming techniques, significant results could only be achieved by the concentration of force.

German raids The German navy operated the Zeppelins that first attacked Britain in 1915 and that carried a crew of about 18. The payload initially seems to have been around 760 lbs (345 kg), but later in the war this increased to over 8000 lbs. In 1913, the German navy took over three of the airships Count von Zeppelin had been operating commercially, L1, L2 and L3, but L1 was lost in the North Sea and L2 caught fire and was destroyed. In 1915, when the Kaiser gave limited approval for air raids on Britain, six more Zeppelins, L3 to L8, were made available. The first raids were made on 19 January 1915 by Zeppelins L3, L4 and L6 and were planned against the Humber area and London. In the event, L6, destined for London, had to return home with engine failure, and L3 and L4 were blown off course and bombed King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth. In total, four deaths and thirteen injured were inflicted on the civilian population. From this less than auspicious start, the Germans achieved the results summarized in Table 4.2, modified from Jones.14 Table 4.2: Summary statistics of German air raids on Britain, 1914–18 Type of raid Airship Aeroplane TOTALS

No. of raids

Bombs dropped

51 52 103

5806 2772 8578

Weight lbs 441,960 165,551 607,511

kgs 200,891 75,250 276,141

Casualties killed 557 857 1414

The first Zeppelin to be destroyed in the air was on 7 June 1915 when a German army machine, LZ37, was brought down by the last 20 lb bomb of six dropped on it by Flight Sub-Lieutenant Warneford, RNAS, flying a Morane Saulnier monoplane. 105


Table 4.2: continued Type of raid

Casualties injured

Estimated Monetary value (£) of damage

Airship Aeroplane TOTALS

1358 2058 3416

1,527,585 1,434,526 2,962,111

Weight of bomb

75 lbs 59 lbs

Average casualty per bomb dropped

Monetary damage per bomb

0.33 1.05 0.56

£263 £520 £345

The Zeppelin had multiple gas bags inside as an insurance against leaks, but the hydrogen gas inside them was highly flammable. The results obtained by the Zeppelins seem rather meagre, but the raids adversely affected British war production and diverted resources (469 AA guns, 622 searchlights, 258 height finders and 376 aircraft) away from the fighting in France. The Zeppelins, however, were badly affected by the weather, particularly wind. On the 20 October 1917, 11 of the most advanced Zeppelins set out for targets in northern England, but encountered very strong winds at their operating altitude, such that only one dropped its bombs, and those on London. One Zeppelin of this formation disappeared without trace over the Mediterranean! The Zeppelins were, however, proving to be vulnerable to the defence as the summary in Table 4.3 shows. Table 4.3: The fate of various Zeppelins Zep




L1 L2 L7 L15 L17 L19 L20

1913 1913 2.5.16 31.3.16 28.12.16 31.1.16 2.5.16

Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy

Lost in bad weather over North Sea Caught fire in mid-air and crashed Hit by RN gunfire near Tondern Hit by AA fire, crashed in sea near Margate Hangar fire at Tondern Fired on by Dutch riflemen and crashed Became lost crashed in Norway


WEAPONS L21 L24 L31 L32 L33 L34 L44 L45 L46 L47 L48 L49 L50 L51 L53* L54 L58 L60 L62 L70 SL11 LZ37 LZ38

28.11.16 28.12.16 2.10.16 24.9.16 24.9.16 28.11.16 20.10.17 20.10.17 5.1.18 5.1.18 17.6.17 20.10.17 20.10.17 5.1.18 11.8.18 19.7.18 5.1.18 19.7.18 10.5.18 5.8.18 3.9.16 7.6.15 7.6.15

Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Navy Army Army Army

Shot down by Lt Cadbury RNAS near Norfolk Hangar fire at Tondern Shot down by 2nd Lt Tempest near Potters Bar Shot down by 2nd Lt Sowrey near Gt Burstead Hit by AA fire crashed near Mersea Island Shot down by 2nd Lt Pyott near Hartlepool Shot down by AA near St Clement, France Landed at Sisteron in France, burnt by crew Hangar fire at Ahlhorn Hangar fire at Ahlhorn Shot down by 3 attackers near Theberton Landed at Bourbonne-les-Bains France, captured? Disappeared without trace Hangar fire at Ahlhorn Shot down by Sub. Lt Culley over North Sea Destroyed on ground at Tontern by RNAS Hangar fire at Ahlhorn Destroyed on the ground at Tontern by RNAS Blew up over North Sea Shot down by Maj Cadbury near Wells-next-Sea Shot down at Cuffley by Lt Leefe-Robinson RFC Shot down by Flt Sub Lt Warneford over Bruges Destroyed by bombs at Brussels-Evère by RNAS

Note: * Last Zeppelin to be shot down in the war. Data compiled from Fegan, The Baby Killers.

The German army had been less successful with its airships than the navy, so it sponsored the development of the Gotha G IV twinengined aeroplane. With a 78-foot wingspan, it was a big aircraft, powered by two 260-horsepower Mercedes engines. The payload was 4 x 110 lb (50 kg) and 10 x 55 lb (25 kg) bombs, plus some incendiaries. The first raid, when 23 Gothas bombed Folkestone, started on 25 May 1917. Others continued through June and July, including one on London, but, aided by bad weather, on 18 and 22 August 1917 the air defence began to have some effect. After six Gothas were lost through a combination of AA guns, fighter aircraft and bad weather, the Germans switched their raids to night time. In September 1917, the addition of a squadron of Staaken ‘Giants’, which had, depending on the mark, four, five or six 107


engines and a wingspan of 138 feet, augmented the attacking force. Now the individual size of bombs was being increased, first to 660 lbs (300 kg), then to 2200 lbs (1000 kg). The disadvantage was that the ‘Giant’ could only carry one of the bigger bombs and, given the problems of accuracy, the increased power offset the difficulties of hitting the target. However, since the first raid using these bombs was on London, the German bombers were sure of hitting something, and in this case it was the Royal Hospital Chelsea. During the Allied spring offensive in France, the German bombing force was employed on tactical targets behind the Allied front line, and the last bombing raid on Great Britain was conducted on 19 May 1918 by a force of 28 Gothas and three ‘Giants’, of which six Gothas were destroyed by the defences. The bomber aircraft did not present such a large target as the Zeppelins, but they could only cruise at about 75 mph at lower altitudes, which would have been reduced when flying to their target into a westerly wind to around 35–40 miles per hour, relative to the ground. Nonetheless, early in their series of attacks, they were hardly troubled by the anti-aircraft fire directed against them, but this was to improve greatly with the improvement in gunnery with experience. Cameras The first reconnaissance from the air was conducted by an observer in an aircraft making sketches and pencil notes of the enemy territory. Photographs, however provide permanent, accurate evidence and can be examined closely and interpreted on the ground, so they can reveal more than an observer, who was frequently distracted by enemy artillery, could. Experiments had been conducted before the war but a photographic section was formed at RFC headquarters early in 1915 under the command of Lieutenant Moore-Brabazon (who later became Lord Brabazon of Tara); it used the ThorntonPickard camera, a type specifically developed for airborne use. There are two types of photograph taken from the air – the



oblique and the vertical. The oblique picture is taken with a handheld camera, perhaps with the support of a mounting on the aircraft, and the detail becomes more difficult to distinguish as the range increases. The view is as an observer sees it, and it is relatively easy to interpret. The vertical photograph is taken with a fixed camera pointing vertically downwards from the aircraft. The pictures can be taken at regular intervals aiming to produce a 30 per cent overlap on successive prints. These prints can be viewed in pairs through a special viewer to provide a stereoscopic view of the terrain beneath and trained interpreters can discover a wealth of information from these pictures. During the Second World War, a photographic interpreter of the Women’s Royal Air Force was the first to detect a V1 launching site before anything else was known about these weapons. The camera has to be offset to compensate for drift angle, and the interval of the exposures is calculated from knowledge of the groundspeed to secure the required overlap. If a further track is then flown parallel to the original, and correctly spaced to give a lateral overlap, a mosaic can be formed of the ground beneath, which can be used as the basis for mapping. Lieutenant Darley of No. 3 squadron was briefed to photograph a brickyard that the Germans, who were inflicting casualties on British patrols, had occupied south of the canal at La Bassée. Darley’s photographs revealed a complex of trenches within the fortifications as well as a few vulnerable positions. The attack planned with the help of this photographic evidence was successful and in February 1915 the brickyard was captured. As accurate anti-aircraft fire forced reconnaissance planes to fly higher, visual reconnaissance became less reliable and the photograph that could be studied in detail post-flight became essential. The added height brought lower air temperatures, which made handling the photographic plates difficult with frozen fingers and biting slipstream. Later developments moved on to roll film and the use of plates could be discontinued. 109


Neumann summarized the development of aerial photography from a German perspective: Focus increased from 25 cm to 120 cm. The science developed from photographs, that resembled picture puzzles more than anything else, to stereoscopic clarity of the most minute details: from the crude, inaccurate confirmation of maps to the exact science of topographical surveying from the air: from the single exposures of the hand camera to the cinematographical series of many hundred exposures: from complete dependence on sunlight to the possibility of taking photographs by night.15 These developments became necessary because the fighter and antiaircraft defences forced photographing aircraft to fly higher and higher. Towards the end of the war sorties against targets in England were at heights of 20,000 feet or more. Passive measures against aerial photography included camouflaging ground targets, which had not been necessary previously. A further use for aerial photography came with the invention in 1916 of the Hythe Gun Camera, in the form of a Lewis gun that took a photograph when the firing trigger was pulled. When the ‘gun’ was cocked, the film was transported for another exposure, and so on until the spool was finished. The films, when developed, showed a series of concentric circles around the point of aim and, one hoped, a picture of the target aircraft. The speeds of the aircraft were known and an assessment could be made of the accuracy of the shooting. The device clearly improved the shooting of students passing through the higher training squadron of the training brigade in England. Conclusion When it was decided that aircraft had a role to play in war, the subject of weaponry was not long in being addressed. The first



weapons used were what were readily available, namely the revolver, rifle, hand grenade and machine gun. Artillery shells were modified so that they could be dropped from aircraft as bombs, and cameras were adapted to meet the requirements of longer focal lengths and different films. Weapons, however, had to be modified to suit the special environment of the aeroplane. Machine guns had to be mounted so that an observer could traverse quickly to engage opportunity targets, and the technique of deflection shooting had to be learnt. Ball ammunition could not always be seen striking the enemy aircraft, so tracer rounds were introduced to indicate where the bullets were going. Bombing was not easy and methods of improving accuracy had to be studied and bomb sights developed. Difficulties were encountered in attacking Zeppelins, both in having the aircraft performance to achieve a firing position and in destroying the airship if that could be achieved. Ball ammunition was ineffective and the unconventional means that were tried did not work, so the Hague Convention had to be breached by the introduction of incendiary ammunition. Learning had to be fast to invent solutions, but knowledge also had to be disseminated rapidly so that best use could be made of innovations. The RFC and RNAS were technologically aware and many of the solutions attempted originated from those doing the fighting. The performance of weapons, like that of the aircraft and engines, imposed a limit on what air power could achieve. Effective strategic bombing could not be achieved with the equipment available at the time, even though the strategic thinking suggested that such operations could play an important part in the winning of the war.


5 The Men

Strategy is a human activity concerned with the interaction between means and ends. Thus, an organization can decide on its goals and then assemble the means needed for their accomplishment. The means required include the necessary resources, particularly money. On the other hand, the ends may only be decided upon when the required technology is available. During the First World War, the limitations the available technology imposed influenced what air strategy could be pursued. How were these decisions taken and by whom? The body of research into strategy formulation that adopts the ‘strategy as practice’ approach seeks to find out what the multiple actors in an organization actually do and what they use to do it. This research perspective was clearly described in Jarzabkowski1 and has influenced the approach adopted for this book, which now looks at a number of the men involved in developing air strategy ab initio. Unfortunately, the protagonists cannot be interviewed and so secondary sources have to suffice. Hugh Montague Trenchard, 3 February 1873–10 February 1956 Hugh Montague Trenchard was probably the single most influential figure in the development of air power in the First World War. Much of the following detail is based on Andrew Boyle’s 1962 biography of Trenchard, but the conclusions drawn are mine. He was not gifted academically as a boy, but, after several attempts, in 1893 he passed the necessary examinations for gazetting as a 113


second lieutenant and began his military career in India. Later in his career, in 1899 while serving in South Africa in the war against the Boer settlers, Trenchard was wounded in the chest and partially paralysed from the waist down. He was repatriated to England, but went on to Switzerland and recovered in the pure mountain air. He decided, at the age of 39, to try and join the Royal Flying Corps, and he learnt to fly at Brooklands by paying £75 out of his own pocket for the privilege. He qualified on 13 August 1912 for the Royal Aero Club licence and was awarded pilot’s certificate No. 270, but he was a determined rather than a skilful aviator. Trenchard took part in the reconnaissance missions during the September 1912 manoeuvres described in Chapter 2 above, but his duties at Upavon were to act as the school examiner. When war was declared and the RFC squadrons moved to France, Trenchard was appointed commander of the naval military, in the rank of lieutenant colonel, and remained at Farnborough. Here his considerable administrative skills predominated and were used to organize the training of the pilots required to form new squadrons. He will have had some time for theorizing on the use of air power because he offered a criticism to Henderson of the air operations in France for their failure to fight for air supremacy. Brigadier Sir David Henderson commanded the Royal Flying Corps from his headquarters in France and offered Trenchard command of the first wing, which he accepted and moved to France in November. The corps commander, General Sir Douglas Haig, asked Trenchard what the air forces could do for him during the forthcoming offensive. His reply was that they could provide artillery observation, though with signal lamps reporting the fall of shot (radio was still not widely available) this had been little practised. Trenchard was astonished to hear Haig say that if the aircraft could not fly and perform this task and reconnaissance, he would probably delay the planned attack. Perhaps General Haig’s confidence in the RFC was a result of the accurate reports of enemy troop move114


ments he had received from it during the retreat from Mons. In the winter months of 1915, the squadrons trained for and practised their new role, and Trenchard learnt from the pilots who were actually developing the techniques in the air. He was constantly with the pilots, seeking their opinions and stimulating their ideas for the use of this new weapon, and he also kept an eye on what ideas the French were developing. In the event, the British attack on 8 March 1915 went badly and one of the factors in this lack of success was that the signals from the aircraft on the fall of shot were either misinterpreted or ignored. One gunner said to Trenchard afterwards: ‘I’m far too busy fighting to have time for playing with your toys in the air.’2 Haig responded by assembling all his senior artillery commanders and reprimanded them for their ‘early Victorian ideas’. He backed the air service fully, and the artillery commanders had either to follow his orders or go. Such high level support for the new air service was immensely valuable. In the next battle, in April 1915 at Aubers Ridge, the cooperation between the aircraft and artillery was much improved, though the battle itself proved inconclusive. When Henderson moved back to London, Trenchard assumed command of the RFC in France and he practised what was later to be given the name ‘MWBA – management by walking about’.3 He exercised supervision by constantly visiting squadrons and talking to the pilots and maintenance men. He would listen to suggestions, many quite hair-brained, and would have the more promising tried out. As a result, everyone participated in the development of ideas about the use of this new weapon of war, and Trenchard could make sure that new ideas circulated readily among the squadrons. The whole of the RFC was learning by doing, but its aircraft and equipment were inadequate for some of the new ventures that were being tried out. In September 1915 during the Battle of Loos, the RFC bombed railway lines, trains and stations in an attempt to prevent, or at least delay, German reinforcements reaching the 115


front line. The only bombs available weighed only 100 lbs, so with the inherent inaccuracies of aiming and the limited radius of effect of these bombs, nothing much was achieved. The aircraft used for bombing were makeshift and did not have the power to lift a heavier payload, even if the bombs had been available. Even so, perhaps unwittingly, a new role for air power had been discovered – that of interdiction. In the future, this was to become one of the major uses of air power. When the Germans invented a way of firing a gun through the propeller disc and thus enormously improving the efficiency of their fighters, they used this to advantage during late 1915 and early 1916 in a period that came to be known as the ‘Fokker scourge’. Losses of French and British aircraft increased dramatically, but Trenchard had recognized another characteristic of air power – its offensive nature. Air battles were not to be won on the defensive, and the RFC carried the battle to the enemy over its own territory. Trenchard risked the morale of his pilots by maintaining this offensive spirit, but he felt it had to be done if some semblance of air supremacy was to be retained. For Trenchard, this was a test of his will: many others would have quailed at the casualties being suffered and would have ceased offensive operations. As du Picq observed, ‘In battle, two moral forces, even more than two material forces, are in conflict. The stronger conquers. The victor has often lost … more men than the vanquished. With equal or even inferior power of destruction, he will win who is determined to advance.’4 Trenchard believed that through failing to take the offensive in large enough numbers the Germans did not extract full advantage from their superiority in equipment and aircraft. So, when the Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916, the RFC assumed control of the air over the battlefield. Supply of new aircraft for the RFC was falling below requirements and the planned expansion of the number of squadrons on the Western Front was not happening. Nonetheless, by 1917 Weir 116


on the Air Board had delivered the superior SE5 and Bristol Fighter, which were redressing the performance problems against the new German fighters. The submarine menace was causing the war cabinet serious problems and the Air Board had suggested that the RFC help by bombing the U-boat bases. Included in Trenchard’s 1916 plans was a force of ten long-range bomber squadrons, but now, in 1917, he was afraid that concentrating on producing this force would weaken the army’s support on the Western Front. To make matters worse, General Robertson, chief of imperial general staff at the War Office, was complaining that the RFC was receiving too large a share of the resources made available to the army. The Germans chose this time, 13 June 1917, to launch a daylight raid by Gotha aircraft on London, and Lloyd George asked for a raid on Mannheim in retaliation and for standing patrols over the Channel as a defence against the Gothas. Trenchard told the cabinet that a raid on Mannheim was impossible given the range of his aircraft, and that standing patrols in the air for defence would be wasteful and inefficient. In the event, two fighter squadrons were removed from France to provide air defence for London, and the RFC in France quickly suffered as a result. When plans were laid for the formation of the Royal Air Force, Trenchard reluctantly accepted the post of chief of air staff under Lord Rothermere, the air minister. This appointment proved to be an unhappy one for Trenchard and he resigned in April 1918. After a period of uncertainty, during which Sir William Weir replaced the air minister, Trenchard assumed command of the newly-forming Independent Air Force (IAF). Already over-ambitious ideas on the effects of strategic bombing were being voiced, but Trenchard held the view that only when the air war over the Western Front was won and when sufficient resources for bombing were available could he mount any sort of effective campaign against industrial targets in Germany. Mason gives a detailed account drawn from Trenchard’s papers of the controversial discussions in 1918 on 117


strategic bombing.5 Although valuable work was done in tactical and strategic bombing, the end of the war came about before the IAF had the aircraft it had been promised, and its full potential was never realized. Trenchard made his own summary of his work, which is a fitting conclusion to this description of his part in the development of air strategy. My job was to prod, cajole, help, comfort and will the pilots on, sometimes to their death. It wasn’t pleasant. They were a new breed of fighting men grappling with unknown forces in the loneliest element of all. They had no precedents, no book of rules, nothing else to lean on but their pride of squadron, their corporate spirit of endeavour and unlimited personal courage, which made me feel humble and thankful. I think it was the sense of being tossed head first into the most impersonal type of battle any group of men had ever faced in history which helped them to rise above the risks and write their own traditions in the skies.6 Trenchard acknowledged that air strategy was being written on a blank sheet, but with customary diffidence, he did not emphasize his own central role in that process. Maurice Baring, 27 April 1874–14 December 1945 Maurice Baring is described in The Dictionary of National Biography as ‘a poet and man of letters’, and he served in the intelligence corps at the Royal Flying Corps headquarters throughout the war.7 He was a gifted linguist and translator, and, in addition to his knowledge of Greek and Latin, he spoke French, German, Russian, Italian and Spanish. Being neither trained as a pilot nor technically minded, he would probably be mildly surprised to be described here as one of the key individuals in the development of air strategy.



In his role as Trenchard’s amanuensis he produced lucid and convincing reports expressing the views of his inarticulate commander. Trenchard was the visionary thinker, but Maurice Baring interpreted and clarified these views. They both visited squadrons indefatigably and discussed with the pilots and maintenance men events, tactics, supply of vital parts and everything to do with aviation. Trenchard concentrated on the maintenance of his men’s morale, and the urbane, humorous and highly intelligent Baring was vital to that link. Major-General J. F. C. Fuller obviously spoke from bitter experience, but these remarks cannot be said of RFC headquarters: If intercommunication between events in front and ideas behind are not maintained, then two battles will be fought – a mythical headquarters battle and an actual front-line one, in which case the real enemy is to be found in our own headquarters. Whatever doubt exists as regards the lessons of the 1st war, this is one that can not be controverted.8 Baring’s linguistic skills were also vital in assuring good relations with the French military, securing the supply of vital engines and spares from French manufacturers, and in negotiations with the Italian air counterparts. Baring’s role was hermeneutic and vital in the formulation of air strategy. Major Robert Smith-Barry, 1886–1949 Major Robert Smith-Barry was known to Trenchard at Upavon and, after he had commanded No. 60 squadron in the field, he was posted back home to Gosport to reorganize air training. SmithBarry introduced system into training new pilots, whom he confronted with the dangerous aspects of flying but under dual control. His theory was that there was little that could be done in the air that was dangerous if one knew how to do it and to recover from



the attempt. Smith-Barry’s contribution to air strategy may seem marginal, but his training methods resulted in a better product and increased their survivability. Air power depends on the professionalism of its aircrews, and Smith-Barry introduced systematic training methods as an essential ingredient. Murray Fraser Sueter, 1872–3 February 1960 Murray Fraser Sueter (later Rear Admiral Sir Murray) joined the Royal Navy in 1886 and became a torpedo specialist ten years later. As the Royal Navy’s interest in airships began he was appointed inspecting captain of airships in 1910, then head of the air department in the Admiralty in 1912. In that year, he laid before the board of the Admiralty the duties of naval aircraft, the first two of which were: • Distance reconnaissance work with the fleet at sea. • Reconnaissance work off the enemy coast working from

detached cruisers or special aeroplane ships. These seemingly sensible roles did not take account of the technology available at that time, and a great deal of development work was necessary before they could become a reality. By the end of 1913, it had become clear that the Royal Navy was going to break with the Royal Flying Corps, and Sueter was the energetic and innovative leader of the Royal Naval Air Service who planned seaplane and airship stations along Britain’s east coast to protect the navy’s assets. Although Churchill, as first sea lord, gave him his backing, the power of decision on aviation matters rested with several of the sea lords and the plans became bogged down in bureaucracy. The development of airships had broken down and the provision of ‘aeroplane ships’ had many practical problems. Sueter, however, searched for solutions and, in 1914, he specified the need for a ‘bloody paralyzer’ aircraft to bomb German naval



bases, railways and industrial sites. After discussions with HandleyPage, the O/100 twin-engined aircraft was ordered, but did not arrive in service until November 1916, when it was also used for daylight maritime patrols. Admiral Fisher also ordered the development of the SS (submarine scout) airship, which was quickly accomplished by adapting existing craft. At the outbreak of war, the Admiralty administered the RNAS, but the commander in chief of home fleets exercised operational control. As the number of stations increased, the Admiralty decided in February 1915 to place the RNAS under the orders of the director of the air department, who in turn reported to the Admiralty board. The Commander-in-Chief, Nore, objected and quoted King’s regulations on the issue of naval discipline, which was the prerogative of a flag officer, in this case himself. Winston Churchill left the Admiralty in May 1915, so he took no part in these deliberations, but in July 1915 the decision was taken that the RNAS was an integral part of the Royal Navy and would come under the orders of the commander-in-chief in whose district they were situated. Following this decision, the post of director of the air department was abolished and Rear-Admiral Vaughan-Lee was appointed director of air services, confirming the control of the air by the salt water since Vaughan-Lee was not an experienced aviator. Sueter, now a commodore, was placed in charge of the section responsible for the development and supply of aircraft, while that for airships passed to the director of naval construction. As Raleigh observed, ‘The senior naval officer who was inexperienced in the air was promoted over the heads of the pioneers of naval aviation who were junior in the navy.’9 Following Sueter’s suggestion, the liner Campagnia was bought for conversion to carry up to 12 seaplanes. This vessel was fast enough to keep pace with the fleet. Sueter was also pursuing the development of torpedo-carrying aircraft, and instituted a programme with Mr T. O. M. Sopwith for development of what 121


became the Sopwith ‘Cuckoo’, examples of which were embarked on HMS Argus at the time of the Armistice. Torpedoes had been dropped from a Short seaplane operating from Ben-my-Chree in the Dardanelles campaign in August 1915 and three drops had scored three hits against enemy shipping. Sueter complained about delays in the development of torpedo aircraft and for his pains was sent to a command in the Adriatic. While there, he committed the sin of writing to the King to complain about the lack of acknowledgement of the part he felt he had played in the development of the tank. He was recalled from the Adriatic for this solecism, placed on half pay and denied permission to transfer to the Royal Air Force on its formation. He later became a member of parliament and wrote a book, Airmen or Noahs, in which he made numerous complaints about the way the Admiralty had developed and used air power. Discussion of the rights and wrongs of this spat have no place here, but it is regrettable that an officer who contributed so much to the development of naval aviation should have had his career end in such a way, regardless of where the fault lay. Air aces Air aces were probably accorded too much adulation, and less prominent airmen who performed as valuable, if less glamorous, tasks did not share the limelight. Nonetheless, the development of fighter tactics was largely in the hands of these leading combat pilots, and, in turn, their ideas fed into the developing theories of air strategy. Some were not skilled in aerobatics, which they regarded as an unnecessary skill for the fighter pilot. The successful pilot needed good tactical awareness and accurate shooting. The following is a brief account of some of the leading scorers. The number of aircraft they destroyed is disputed, mainly because the claims are difficult to verify so long after the event, but Kilduff10 recorded the results of painstaking research of German and British records. Pilots often did not have the luxury of observing their



quarry hit the ground for fear of being attacked while distracted, and some victims who did crash were not claimed and some who escaped were credited. We have to exercise caution in respect of the number of ‘kills’ assigned to individuals.

Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke, 19 May 1891–28 October 1916 Hauptmann Oswald Boelcke came to prominence with the introduction to service of the Fokker E1 Eindekker, which he with Immelman was the first to fly with Feldflieger-Abteilung 62, although it was not a popular aircraft with the German pilots. He, with Max Immelman, tried to work out the theories of air fighting and to instruct their colleagues in how to succeed. Thomsen, the Chef des Feldflugwesens, encouraged him to write down the principles of air fighting that he had evolved, and these are recorded as Dicta Boelcke (see below in Chapter 6). Immelman was killed on 18 June 1916 in combat with an FE2b, while Boelcke was elsewhere flight testing the Albatros D.I (120 hp Mercedes). Boelcke was then sent on a tour of the German squadrons in the Balkans, to avoid the possibility of the further loss of a fighter ace. In August 1916, as part of the Hoeppner reorganization, he was recalled to duty and given command of Jasta (Jagdstaffel) 2. He found that the unit was flying two-aircraft barrier flights (sperrflüge), which were ineffective, and he introduced flying in formations of four or six, after giving the pilots the necessary training. They were then flying the Fokker D.III, powered by a 160horsepower Oberursel rotary engine, which was a better aircraft than the E.I, but the Albatros D.I (powered by the 160-horsepower Mercedes engine was even better. These aircraft re-equipped Jasta 2 in September 1916 and Boelcke’s successes mounted, until at his death, he was credited with 40 victories. Boelcke was killed in a crash following a midair collision with one of his colleagues, Lieutenant Erwin Böhme, who wrote: ‘Boelcke and I had an Englishman right between us, when another opponent pursued by 123


friend Richthofen cut in front of us. During the simultaneous lightning-quick evasive manoeuvre, Boelcke and I, obstructed by our wings, did not see each other for an instant and then is when it happened.’11 Manfred von Richthofen was flying in the formation and wrote in a letter to his mother: ‘Nothing happened to the other poor fellow (Böhme). At first Boelcke went down normally. I followed him immediately. Later one of the wings broke away and he went rushing down. His skull was crushed on impact; therefore he died instantly.’12 Böhme had to be prevented from committing suicide on landing. Boelcke was buried in Cambrai cathedral.

Von Richthofen, 2 May 1892 – 21 April 1918 Rittmeister Manfred Freiherr von Richthofen was born in Schweidnitz in East Prussia, now part of Poland, into a noble family carrying the hereditary title of Freiherr (Baron). He was early destined for the army and, after the requisite training, joined a cavalry regiment in 1911. After a short time on the Eastern Front, his regiment of ulanen moved to France. As the offensive ground to a halt, the cavalry’s usefulness declined and Richthofen became bored. He applied to join the Fliegertruppe in May 1915 and trained as an observer. At this stage of the war an observer was the captain of the aircraft and the pilot, frequently of non-commissioned rank, was regarded as little more than a taxi driver. Despite the extensive training given to observers, Richthofen completed the course quickly and was assigned to a bomber unit on the Eastern Front, where he saw action. Posted back west, Richthofen had a chance meeting with Boelcke and determined to become a pilot. On qualifying he was posted to a squadron flying the two-seater Albatros C.III, but he wanted to be a fighter pilot. He was fortunate to be selected by Boelcke to join Jasta 2, and gained his first kill flying an Albatros D.I on 17 September 1916. On 7 January 1917 he was appointed to command Jagdstaffel 11 and two days later was awarded the Pour le 124


Mérite, the highest and most coveted German medal. On 9 March, flying a new Albatros D.II, he was shot down but uninjured and on 7 April 1917 he was promoted to Rittmeister (cavalry captain). On 24 June, Richthofen was appointed to command the new Jagdgeschwader 1, a fighter wing comprising four Jagdstaffeln. In July 1917, he was again shot down, but was less lucky this time and sustained a head wound and skull fracture. He was to suffer headaches thereafter, but was back flying on 16 August, 40 days after being shot down. On 31 August, he scored his first victory flying a Fokker triplane, an aircraft with which he is particularly associated, but he already had a score of 59 kills (out of his final total of 80) so most of his successes were not in the triplane. The triplane had been hastily copied from the Sopwith triplane, an example of which had force-landed into German-held territory. The Fokker machine, however, had problems because the top wing was collapsing in flight and the rotary engine oil was proving unsatisfactory. Richthofen met his death on 21 April 1918 and it has been established, almost without doubt, that he fell victim to ground fire from an Australian machine gunner. He had been showing signs of combat fatigue and was still probably affected by his earlier head wound, but he had broken his own rules by following a victim down to low level. His air combat operations manual (discussed in Chapter 6 below and sent to supreme headquarters on 19 April 1918) encapsulated all the great ace’s experience and built on the earlier Dicta Boelcke. He observed in his book: The great thing in air fighting is that the decisive factor does not lie in trick flying but solely in the personal ability and energy of the aviator. A flying man may be able to loop and do all the stunts imaginable and yet he may not succeed in shooting down a single enemy. In my opinion the aggressive spirit is everything.13



Kaiserin Auguste Victoria attended Richthofen’s funeral in the Garrisonkirche in the Unter den Linden in Berlin on 2 May 1918. Manfred’s brother, Lothar, was also a successful fighter pilot (40 confirmed victories) and flew with Jasta 1. He was, by some accounts, a better natural pilot than his brother, but he was in hospital, wounded, when Manfred was killed.

Werner Voss, 13 April 1887–23 September 1917 Werner Voss was born in Krefeld and enlisted in the 11th Westphalian Hussar regiment in 1914. On transfer to the air force, he was found to be a natural pilot, but had to serve as an observer for some time before joining Boelcke’s Jasta 2, where he became a friend of Manfred von Richthofen. He scored his first victory on 27 November 1916, flying an Albatros D.III (with a white swastika on the fuselage), which earned him the Iron Cross. Converting to the Fokker triplane, his final total of victories amounted to 48. He met his death in combat with seven SE5s piloted by some of the best pilots of the RFC, including James McCudden, who described the combat in his book Flying Fury (pages 186 and 187): The Hun triplane was practically underneath our formation now, and so down we dived at colossal speed. I went to the right, and Rhys-Davids to the left, and we got behind the triplane together. The German pilot saw us and turned in a most disconcertingly quick manner, not a climbing nor Immelmann turn, but a sort of flat half spin. By now the German triplane was in the middle of our formation, and its handling was wonderful to behold. The pilot seemed to be firing at all of us simultaneously, and although I got behind him a second time, I could hardly stay there for a second. His movements were so quick and uncertain that none of us could hold him in sight at all for any decisive time. … I had temporarily lost sight of the triplane whilst changing a drum 126


of my Lewis gun, and when I next saw him he was very low, still being engaged by an S.E. marked I, the pilot being RhysDavids. I noticed that the triplane’s movements were very erratic, and then I saw him go into a fairly steep dive and so I continued to watch, and then saw the triplane hit the ground and disappear into a thousand fragments, for it seemed to me that it literally went into powder. … His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent, and in my opinion he is the bravest German airman … it has been my privilege to fight. Voss was an individualist and led by example, but the days of single aircraft surviving had passed with the increased use of large formations.

Peter Strasser, 1 April 1876–6 August 1918 Peter Strasser joined the German navy (Kaiserliche Marine) at the age of 15, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1895. He was a gunnery officer, but trained as an airship commander. He gained experience before the war in the civilian airship Sachsen and commanded L3 in the important imperial manoeuvres just before the war. He was promoted to Korvettenkapitän and became chief of the naval airship division. In this role, he organized the training of new crews and secured more funds for the Zeppelin force. He was convinced of the strategic importance of the Zeppelin and of the bombing campaign against England, and exercised his considerable powers of leadership to instil pride and confidence in his men. He oversaw the development of the higher performance Zeppelins – the superclimbers – but had to cover up some of his force’s shortcomings, particularly their poor results. He was appointed as Führer der Luftschiffe in November 1916, in the rank of admiral, and he was awarded the Pour le Mérite in September 1917. On 5 August 1918 he decided to take part in a raid and flew on the maiden flight of L70, commanded by the inexperienced Kapitänleutnant Johann von 127


Lossnitzer. Major Egbert Cadbury and gunner Captain Robert Leckie, flying a DH4, intercepted the L70 and their incendiary bullets set it on fire. It crashed into the sea off Wells-next-the-Sea and Strasser died in the crash. He was a pioneer of the strategic bombing of military and industrial infrastructure, and his lessons were not lost on future air commanders.

Albert Ball, 16 August 1896–7 May 1917 Albert Ball was born in Nottingham and educated at Trent College. He was rather shy and sensitive, but, although lacking the arrogance of some fighter pilots, he was determined and aggressive in the air. He preferred to fight alone. He enlisted in the army in the infantry in 1914, but paid for his own flying tuition at a civilian school. He was awarded his Royal Aero Club certificate (No. 1898) on 15 October 1915. He was accepted into the RFC and gained his pilot’s brevet on 22 January 1916. He was posted to No. 13 squadron and flew reconnaissance and artillery spotting missions in the BE2c, but was granted his request to fly fighters and joined No. 11 squadron, flying Bristol Scouts and Nieuports. After scoring six victims (and thus becoming an ace) he was posted to No. 8 squadron flying BE2cs again, probably because of the shortage of pilots brought about by the Fokker scourge. He was soon back on fighters, and in August 1916 was back with 11 squadron, flying Nieuports. From 15 to 30 September, he scored 14 victories including three hat tricks (he had already scored the first ever on 22 August). After resting, he was posted to No. 56 squadron flying the Nieuport and SE5a on 7 April 1917. He met his death on 7 May in mysterious circumstances when, in air battle and following an enemy aircraft, he entered cloud. He emerged from the cloud and crashed to the ground, but his body only had a slight bruise on the head and no gunshot wounds. The conjecture is that he may have become disoriented in cloud, or that his aircraft was the victim of ground fire. Lothar von Richthofen 128


claimed he had shot down Ball, and had witnesses to corroborate the destruction of a triplane, but Ball was flying a biplane. On the other hand, Manfred von Richthofen wrote in his book that his brother was in hospital on 5 May, two days before the combat. Ball had scored 44 victories. The Germans gave him a full military funeral in Annouellin cemetery. Ball was an individualist and disliked flying in a formation. He was the first to observe that it was easier to approach large enemy formations than small ones because the pilots in the former seemed to be less alert. Ball’s great value lay in his fighting spirit, which inspired the RFC when the German dominance accorded by the Fokkers lowered its morale. He was a first-class shot and, in contrast to the calculating McCudden and Mannock, was dashing, even impulsive in the attack .

William Avrey Bishop, 8 February 1894–11 September 1956 William Avrey (Billy) Bishop was a Canadian aviator who, credited with 72 victories, was the highest scoring Commonwealth pilot of the war. Like von Richthofen he began his flying career as an observer, but quickly undertook pilot training. After a short period on a home defence squadron in England, in March 1917 he was posted to No. 60 squadron flying the Nieuport 17 scout. Later in 1917, probably in September, he returned to Canada with a score of 47 victims, and then went on to a mission in Washington, helping to set up the United States’ air forces. He returned to France to command No. 85 squadron in April 1918, flying SE5a scouts. The Canadian government, however, was concerned about the effect on morale should he be killed and, in June 1918, much to his chagrin, he was posted back to England. In his last combat mission he destroyed five more enemy aircraft. He remained active in aviation after the war and was still involved in recruiting during the Second World War. He died in his sleep. In his book, he recorded his views on air fighting, which are 129


not, in the main, very different from the Dicta Boelcke and the official RFC account: I had learned that the most important thing in fighting was the shooting, next the various tactics in coming into the fight, and last of all flying ability itself. … To be able to fight well, a pilot must be able to have absolute control over his machine. He must know by the ‘feel’ of it exactly how the machine is, what position it is in, and how it is flying, so that he may manoeuvre rapidly, and at the same time watch his opponent or opponents. He must be able to loop, turn his machine over on its back, and do other various flying ‘stunts’ – not that these are actually necessary in combat, but from the fact that he has done these things several times he gets absolute confidence and when the fight comes he is not worrying about how his machine will act. … [If he is] unable to shoot his opponent down, he must risk his life still more in order to get out and away from the enemy, and that is why I put aerial gunnery down as the most important factor in fighting in the air. Tactics are next important because, by the proper use of the best tactics, it is so easy to help eliminate risks. … Surprise is always to be aimed for. … When flying alone, or with just one other, it is always a case of constantly turning around in your seat, turning your machine to right or left, looking above and around or below you all the time. … In ordinary fight or duel we had tactics, of course, to suit the occasion. The great thing is never to let the enemy’s machine get behind you, or ‘on your tail’. … It is well if you are against odds never to stay long after one machine. If you concentrate on him for more than a fraction of a second, some other Hun has a chance to get a steady shot at you, without taking any risks himself. 130


In fighting in company with other machines of your own squadron one must be very careful to avoid collisions. … Where a large number of machines are engaged, one great thing is always to be the upper man – that is to be slightly higher than your particular opponent. With this extra height it is quite easy to dive upon him, and it makes manoeuvring much easier. An extraordinary feature of these fights, which occupied any length of time and entailed such manoeuvring, was the fact that they were generally undecisive, one machine or the other finally deciding it must quit and make good its escape.14

Edward Mannock, 24 May 1887–26 July 1918 Edward (Mick) Mannock was born near Cork in Ireland where his father was serving with the Royal Scots Greys, but was to move several times, including to India, before his family settled in Canterbury, but without his father who had abandoned them. Mannock worked as a telephone engineer, but also joined the Territorial Army in the Royal Army Medical Corps. He was working in Turkey at the outbreak of war, but it took some time for the Turks to repatriate him as unfit for military service. In 1915, he had been commissioned into the Royal Engineers, but his heart was set on becoming a pilot, despite his being blind in one eye – a fact he kept very much to himself. He bluffed his way through the medical and was accepted for training. After qualifying as a pilot he was posted to No. 10 reserve squadron in February 1917 based at Joyce Green, near Maidstone in Kent. He was posted to fly Nieuport Scouts with No. 40 squadron in France in April 1917, just in time for the opening of the Battle of Arras, which proved to be a testing time for the RFC in France. He was slow to gain his first victory, which was the topic of some comment by his fellow pilots, but, on return from leave, he 131


said ‘I think there is room for brains in this game, and I hope to balance the weakness of the flesh by formulating tactics. I’ve spent hours thinking out schemes of catching the wily Hun (since I’ve been home). Watch me bowl them over when I return.’15 At the end of 1917 with the squadron re-equipped with the SE5a, and in March 1918 with 23 kills to his credit, Mannock was posted to command a flight on No. 74 squadron. He had had to endure a short spell as an instructor before his new appointment and quickly established a rapport with the students. He had a poster produced for the students to memorize, it read: ALWAYS ABOVE; SELDOM ON THE SAME LEVEL; NEVER UNDERNEATH.

His commanding officer, Major Grid Caldwell, viewed him as a strategist, an average rather than a brilliant pilot. Mannock was, however, a brilliant shot and could fire deflection shots while most had to rely on firing from dead astern. He was generous, too, to the inexperienced, and one such recalled his first kill: It was after his [Mannock’s] patrol and he took me with him – just the two of us – and I don’t quite know where we got to, but I saw him waggle his wings and dive, and I followed him. Then suddenly he zoomed up and I found the Hun – a two-seater – right in my sights. He’d already given the Hun a burst. Edward often deliberately gave what was legitimately his own score away to younger men.16 He was promoted in July 1918 and assumed command of No. 85 squadron from Bishop. Bishop was an individualist, whereas Mannock believed in planned, deliberate attacks in formation. His first sorties with the new squadron set a new pattern for them 132


because he took a ‘vic’ of three to act as a decoy and deployed the rest of the squadron in two layers above them. Of the nine Fokkers that attacked them, four were destroyed. Mannock, however, was tiring and suffering the stress of three tours of fighting. He was a sensitive man, a violinist and reader of poetry, and was obsessed with being shot down in flames. On 26 July he flew out with an inexperienced pilot and engaged an LVG, killing the observer before handing the gift to Inglis. Unaccountably, Mannock then followed the quarry down as it was crashing – something he always warned against doing. He fell victim to ground fire from the trenches. Ball and Bishop were widely admired as great fighters, but Mannock, the great character, was loved. Many sources credit him with 73 victories.

James McCudde, 28 March 1895–9 July 1918 Major James Thomas Byford McCudden joined the Royal Engineers in 1910 and transferred to the RFC in 1913 as a mechanic. He went to France in August 1914 with No. 3 squadron and did some flying as an observer. In January 1916 he started pilot training and was awarded his wings in April 1916. In June 1916 he joined No. 20 squadron flying FE2s as an NCO pilot, but soon was transferred to No. 29 squadron flying DH2 scouts. He was commissioned in February 1917 and returned home. After a short spell on No. 66 squadron flying Sopwith Pups, he was appointed as a flight commander of No. 56 squadron, flying the SE5a. McCudden had had to work at his gunnery and he was a ‘stalker’ rather than given to headstrong dashes at the enemy on first contact. He wrote in his book: My system was always to attack the Hun at his disadvantage if possible, and if I were attacked at my disadvantage I usually broke off the combat, for in my opinion the Hun in the air must be beaten at his own game, which is cunning. I 133


think that the correct way to wage war is to down as many as possible of the enemy at the least risk, expense and casualties to one’s own side.17 He would stalk aircraft for 15, or even 30 minutes, if necessary, before attacking to ensure that he had the advantage. He returned home for a further break and was then posted back to France to command No. 60 squadron. After landing safely in France, he took off to fly to his base airfield, but suffered an engine failure. On attempting to turn back to the airfield, his plane sideslipped into the ground and he was killed. He had amassed 57 victories. ‘Top cover’ An innovative idea needs a product champion if it is to be adopted. In the bureaucratic world of national defence, it is unlikely that a single entrepreneur could have started military aviation, for there was no single individual with the power, both political and financial, that could have carried out such a project. Thus, gradually a group of enthusiasts in the military field started to exploit the work of the Wright brothers. The greatest impetus came from France, with Germany falling a little behind in fixed-wing aircraft development because of their interest in airships. Britain lagged behind both other countries, particularly in investment. Nonetheless, there were people of influence who supported these tentative efforts and who could envisage a future for air power. Winston Churchill qualified as a pilot. While his efforts in the air were not applauded, his support secured a place for aviation in the Royal Navy and he early mapped out many of the roles of the aeroplane in war. When the Admiralty was ordered to take over the air defence of Great Britain, Churchill dispatched minutes to his director of air division specifying in some detail the measures that needed to be taken. He had the vision to specify that aircraft were



to be assigned the task of attacking the German air bases, that interceptor aircraft equipped to operate at night were to fly from Hendon, and that ground communications were to link the elements of the air defence forces. Although much of what he proposed was impractical given the technology available at that time, these proposals were to be incorporated into the developing ideas of air strategy. Admirals Fisher and Beatty also supported the air arm, and they were admirals whose opinions were attended. Lord Kitchener, who for a time dominated the military scene in Whitehall in the First World War, was an enthusiastic supporter of air power and encouraged ambitious expansion plans for the RFC. General Haig was Trenchard’s commander and the two worked closely together to meet the needs of the army in France. Haig, as commander of the British armies in France, was a powerful man and he pressed London for the growth of the number of squadrons in his command. Without Haig’s support, Trenchard would have had an even more difficult task developing and extending the uses of air power. Lord Smuts, whose report led to the formation of the Royal Air Force, grasped the concept of an ‘indivisible air’ and tried to overcome the disruptive division between the RFC and Royal Navy. Many other less influential but nonetheless prominent people lent their support. In the early part of the twentieth century, then, there were a few voices crying in the wilderness, but some of these were powerful and influential. Aviation in Britain would eventually have had to be incorporated into the defence structure because the existence of an opposing air force on the battlefield would have made it essential. Trying to play ‘catch up’ in 1914 from virtually a zero base, however, would have been too late and would have exposed the BEF to the full potential of unopposed air power. This disaster was avoided, but only by the exertions of those with power who supported aviation, even though air strategy had yet to be expounded in anything other than the vaguest detail. Those in power, however, 135


took the enlightened step of forming a separate air force, thus acknowledging that there was an air war separate from conflicts occupying the navy and army. This air war needed its own strategy. Conclusion Strategy formulation is a human activity that calls upon fact and experience in an analysis of how to achieve a stated aim. The facts and experience were to be found in France among those performing the tasks of air power and those organizing and directing these activities. The people at the top in London did not have an intimate enough grasp of events to qualify them to direct operations at the front, but they were exposed to criticism for any failures or shortcomings. The RFC headquarters in France had no power to influence matters such as re-equipment and training, and could only request and lobby. The press and public opinion were, to an extent, ‘noise’ in the communications system and affected the politicians more than the military. Because society has changed so much it is difficult in the twenty-first century to recreate the mindset of the men engaged in fighting the air war. We can write confidently, without fear of censure, of the men involved because there were no women doing the fighting, although they were playing an increasingly important part in the war. The empire was still intact and a matter of pride, and ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ was questioned mainly by the poets. The role model was ‘the gentleman’ and people were expected to observe good manners, fair play and a ‘stiff upper lip’. The point here is not to criticize or applaud, but to recognize the different paradigm of that age and people. If a strategy of offensive action resulted in casualties that we today would find unacceptable, at that time it could be sustained as necessary for victory. If the nation could accept 120,000 casualties on the Somme in July 1916 alone, who was to object to a ‘few’ dead airmen, who were heroes anyway? This world was different from any we will experience now,



but this was the context in which the strategy formulation process took place and that has to be remembered. Trenchard’s centrality in the development of air strategy was inevitable given that he held key positions in the RFC, but a lesser person would have been unable to discern the way forward while beset with a mass of detail and the worry of heavy losses of the men under his command. Tactics are usually derived from strategy, but in the first air war the tactics the men evolved in the air led to a greater understanding of the possible uses of air power and thus to the strategies for air war. The men doing the fighting were developing the uses for air power, while leaders like Trenchard were compiling these fragments into doctrine and strategy.


6 Roles and Tactics Roles During the First World War, bitter experience determined the roles of air power and the tactics employed. Reconnaissance, both at sea and on land, was the first role envisaged for air forces and a capability quickly developed to direct artillery and photograph enemy positions. The need to deny these operations to the enemy in war naturally followed, and aggressive acts against other aircraft and the need to defend one’s own led to the development of specialist fighter aircraft. As engines became more powerful, aircraft could carry bombs of increasing size and effectiveness, and the advantages of attacks on lines of communication, depots and rear areas were quickly identified. The capabilities afforded by the Zeppelin were exploited in attacks on industry and civilian targets, and there was even speculation that the morale effect of such raids might lead to civil unrest and the lack of the will to fight. Aircraft could also be used directly in attack on enemy ground forces, and to raid enemy air bases. Increasing experience and better technology led to the identification of new roles for aircraft, and thus developments in air strategy.

Long range bombing Bombing had early been seen as a role for air power, but the results gained in the First World War did not justify the exaggerated claims made for it. The aircraft could not carry a heavy load over a long range; initially the bombs were small, navigation and bombing 139


accuracy were a problem and weather could severely disrupt operations. The destruction of New York as H. G. Wells depicted it was way outside any capability available until well into the twentieth century. Nonetheless, bombing did cause damage, which helped the cause and adversely affected morale, but not to the extent predicted. As the range and load carrying ability of aircraft increased, targets remote from the land operations could be attacked. From the early days of the war, Zeppelins mounted attacks against mainland Britain with the aim of damaging the means of production of strategic goods and of terrorizing the population. German airships and aircraft dropped a total of 8578 bombs during 103 raids on Great Britain, which killed 1414, injured 3416 and caused damage to the value of £2,962,111. The political effect was considerable as the populace clamoured for protection, and 622 searchlights, 675 sound locators, 469 anti-aircraft guns, 166 aircraft and 11,822 artillery personnel were eventually provided for this purpose. This effort was diverted from the war in France, so has to be counted as part of the cost to Britain of the German bombing offensive. Politicians and the public agitated for reprisal attacks of a similar nature on Germany, though the air staffs, hard pressed to field enough aircraft to support the ground and sea wars, saw this as a diversion of the available effort. The promised heavy bombers were never provided in the numbers required, though by the end of the war the Independent Air Force under Trenchard was bombing economic targets in the Ruhr and planning raids on Berlin. Even so, General Salmond at the Royal Air Force GHQ in France argued in June 1918 for each army to retain its own bombing force. The report was very frank as the following excerpts reveal: •

Our effective bombing force is limited. The selection of objectives presents a good deal of difficulty. … Except during a concentration [that is of the enemy], it is doubtful to what extent any damage we can hope to inflict would cause any real 140


dislocation of the enemy communication. … With the limited bombing units at our disposal there will be no effective bombing force available during a battle to undertake long expeditions to distant objectives. … Material damage from day bombing is, I am afraid, very small and must remain so as long as it is necessary to bomb from great heights at which an error of 1,000 yards is not at all excessive. Material damage from night bombing is undoubtedly greater on suitable nights, but all experience in this war shows that it is seldom vital. There were over 100 night and day raids on Dunkirk last summer and autumn, but we have continued to use the port without interruption.1

Bombing accuracy could be improved by releasing the bomb in a dive and from low level but, given the slow speed of the aircraft, vulnerability from ground fire was greatly increased. In September 1914, the Germans had plans to bomb targets in Britain, and formed a squadron under the code name BrieftaubenAbteilung Ostende (carrier pigeon section at Ostend). The performance of the aircraft then available, however, was insufficient to carry out bombing missions at that time. The unit was moved to the Eastern Front, and did not return west until 1916. Then, the crews were quartered with the headquarters in a train and this mobility meant that different armies in various parts of the front could use the bombers as required. The bomber’s vulnerability, particularly to anti-aircraft gunfire, was a problem, though the Gothas over Britain gave a good account of themselves against attacking fighters (James McCudden could not succeed in bringing one down). They flew in formation, which gave some mutual support against attacking fighters. Some raiders were shot down, but the move to night bombing reduced the loss rate, but increased the problem of finding the target. The British naval squadrons operating from Dunkirk had 141


experience both in day and night bombing and their commander produced a report giving the advantages of operating at night: • •

• •

• •

There are more clear and calm nights than days during the year, therefore night operations can be more regular. Owing to the inaccuracy of anti-aircraft fire at night a high performance is not required, and about four times the weight per horsepower of bombs can be carried in a night bomber as can be carried by day. The aeroplane can descend lower over a target at night, which makes for increased accuracy. When attacks are made on aerodromes enemy fighting aeroplanes will be in their sheds at night, whereas in the day empty sheds may be bombed. A night-bombing aeroplane can operate night after night, but as day bombers are nearly always hit over well-protected areas by AA and machine-gun fire, it is found that only one-half of them can be kept in commission. No difficulty is found on clear nights, even when there is no moon, in locating an objective. Train activity, movements of convoys and movements of men nearly always take place at night.2

Trenchard agreed, but observed that night operations required careful training. He had been opposing production of the DH9, which was under-powered with the BHP engine, and gave his support to the Handley Page bomber for use at night. Despite this, the RAF started the Second World War with a bomber force trained in day bombing, and with aircraft of inferior performance.

Escorting duties Bombers in the First World War were slow and, though equipped with defensive machine guns, were vulnerable to fighter attack. The 142


practice of providing an escort of fighters to deter or fight off enemy attackers therefore developed. The fighters flew high above the bombers so that they could pounce upon any enemy fighters, particularly if they were too intent on the bombers to notice the escorts in the sun. Of course, escorts could not provide protection from anti-aircraft guns, but bombers and strategic reconnaissance aircraft flew as high as possible to lessen the chances of being shot down in this way. The problem that resulted was the inaccuracy of the bombing from height. When the bombers moved to bomb at night, escorts would have been ineffective, so were not used.

Interdiction The term interdiction was not used in the First World War, though attacks on communications, resupply and rear areas were practised then. General Salmond’s report on bombing in June 1918 records an attempt of this nature: Before the Somme Battle in 1916 we selected six points, the temporary destruction of which – if it could have been secured – would have isolated the battle area from all reinforcements. At only one did we achieve any marked success, i.e. at St Quentin, where infantry were caught entraining and an ammunition train blown up, and the total effect as regards holding up reinforcements was practically nil as far as we know.3 Even if these operations did not achieve great results, the principle of using air power in this way had been established. These attacks require coordination with the ground forces’ operations, for it is essential that the enemy’s troops are consuming matériel, thus exerting additional pressure on the resupply organization. The interdiction of Turkish supply routes in Gallipoli caused problems to the enemy, but the numbers of aircraft available to the navy were 143


insufficient to complete the task. In the Italian campaign in the Second World War and in the Korean War, the denial of reinforcements and resupply to the enemy was a crucial part of the success in ground operations.

Counter air Achieving and maintaining air superiority was approached pragmatically in the First World War because there was no theory or doctrine to guide those planning air operations. The obvious approach was to shoot down enemy aircraft that were impeding one’s operations, and aircraft development at this time aimed at what we would now regard as an air superiority fighter. The idea was that, with better equipment, skill and determination, the enemy was subjected to such attrition that, to all intents and purposes, the skies became one’s own. In practice, achieving air superiority in this manner was costly and constantly affected by the introduction of new aircraft that altered the balance. A more aggressive approach was to attack enemy airfields and bases, either to destroy their aircraft on the ground, or even to deny them the use of an airfield for even a short period. The bomber aircraft of the time had limited performance, but German raids on British airfields were destroying two aircraft for every bomber used. Night bombing could be very productive since the aircraft on the ground were collected together in sheds, which were large targets and thus more easily identified. Counter air attacks were, therefore, cost-effective, but higher priority was given to attacks on the enemy’s communications in support of ground operations and to raids against industrial targets in Germany. An early application of counter air attacks was against the airship threat. The Zeppelins posed a severe threat to the British, since it was evident that the airships could outperform the aircraft available in 1914. Churchill, in the Admiralty, realized that the build-up of adequate defensive forces would take some time and 144


concluded: ‘it was no use sitting down and waiting for a year while these preparations were completing. Only offensive action could help us. I decided immediately to strike, by bombing from aeroplanes, at the Zeppelin sheds wherever these gigantic structures could be found in Germany’.4 A successful attack by Flight Lieutenant Marix, RNAS, on the Zeppelin sheds at Düsseldorf on 8 October 1914 was one result of this policy. Flying a Sopwith Tabloid, he bombed from 600 feet and started fires that destroyed the airship inside. The raid had been launched from Antwerp, which fell to the Germans shortly afterwards, denying the Royal Navy use of that base and thus the ability to make further such raids because its aircraft lacked the necessary range. Further raids were mounted where possible and, operating from a base at Belfort in France, on 21 November 1914 four of the RNAS’s Avro 504s attacked the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshafen. Each aircraft carried four 20-lb bombs, one of which failed to release from the aircraft, and damage was caused to a Zeppelin and the associated gas works was blown up. Bishop recorded his ‘private venture’ attack on his own on an enemy airfield in which he strafed aircraft on the ground and shot down three aircraft shortly after they took off.5 He flew this sortie on 2 June 1917 (on his day off!) and gave his reasoning thus: I planned an expedition into the enemy country, to attack an enemy aerodrome. I had carefully thought it out, and came to the conclusion that if one could get to an aerodrome when there were some machines on the ground and none in the air, it would be an easy matter to shoot them down the moment they would attempt to come up. It would be necessary for them to take off straight into the wind, if there was a strong wind at all, so I could not be surprised that way, and would be able to hit them if I came low enough, before they would get a chance to manoeuvre or turn out of my way.6 145


He was awarded the Victoria Cross for this exploit, although after the war doubts were cast on the whole episode. The RFC practised this strategy later in the war, as Neumann recorded: During July 1918 large squadrons of seventy to eighty machines would appear, and while two-thirds of their number remained at various heights to act as escort, the remainder would systematically attack our aerodromes one by one. Thus, for example, in the neighbourhood of Lille and Courtoyle, in the course of two days they succeeded in completely destroying three formations of fighting machines by bombs and machine-gun fire.7 The idea of bombing airfields at night had been considered early in the war but it was only carried out from 1916 onwards and did not achieve significant results. The counter air offensive is now firmly high on the agenda of any air force in war. In the Six-Day War, for instance, the Israeli air force attacked Egyptian air assets at the outset of the conflict in two attacks and Churchill and Churchill observed: ‘In these 2 hours 50 minutes the Israelis destroyed the offensive potential of the Egyptian Air Force and effectively broke its back as a fighting force.’8

Air fighting: day First attempts to chase off enemy aircraft by firing rifles or revolvers at them in the air proved less than effective, so machine guns were mounted on the aircraft instead. The first machine guns mounted on aircraft fired forward above the propeller disc, or backwards from an observer’s position, which could be in front of, or aft of, the pilot. Although in a pusher aircraft the observer could fire forward, the big advance in air to air fighting came with the invention of the interrupter gear, enabling the gun to be fired 146


through the propeller disc. Developments of engine and airframe increased the speed, manoeuvrability and rate of climb, and tactics were developed progressively to improve the effectiveness of the fighter aircraft. Operating aircraft singly was found to expose the aircraft to too much risk and in 1916, during the ‘Fokker scourge’, RFC aircraft were ordered to operate in formations of two to six, which provided a measure of mutual support. Since the enemy was also operating in a similar fashion, clashes now involved aircraft in numbers. Principles and tactics of air fighting began to be formulated as experience was gained, and these are described here in the ‘Tactics’ section below.

Air fighting: night Attacking enemy aircraft at night posed many more difficulties than those faced by the day fighter. Spotting something even as large as a Zeppelin at night was a matter of luck unless a searchlight illuminated the target. Even then, the anti-aircraft guns working with the searchlights would be firing to the hazard of the fighter as well as the target. There was no adequate means of accurately warning of a night attack, except with sound locators and ground observers, which had severe limitations. This lack of warning meant that the fighter had difficulty reaching operating height before the raider arrived, and attacking a Zeppelin needed the fighter to be above the airship to give any chance of success. Even when the wireless transmissions from Zeppelins were detected and gave warning of an impending raid, the direction of attack and timing were imprecise. Consequently, fighters in Great Britain were kept on patrol lines, which was both wasteful and ineffective. The exhaust glow of a Gotha might be spotted, but fighter pilots had difficulty assessing its range from the target, and the Gotha had a rearward firing gun position in the lower fuselage waiting for an attack. Even if the fighter were in a position to attack, the weapons available were 147


inadequate, though improved by the introduction of the incendiary bullet. On the night of 19/20 October 1917, British fighters flew 78 sorties, but destroyed no raiders. By contrast, six Gothas were lost in a raid the previous month, but only because they crashed on landing at their home base in bad weather. Captain Murlis Green achieved the first night fighter success9 on the night of 18/19 December 1917 in a Sopwith Camel equipped with twin, upwardfiring Lewis guns. The Gotha was caught in searchlights but the attack was not without incident in that Murlis Green had to take avoiding action when the Gotha released its bombs and later he had to recover from a spin caused by hitting the bomber’s slipstream. The bomber escaped but was so damaged that it ditched in the sea near Folkestone. The home defence’s forces were becoming increasingly effective, though at the cost of much effort, and on 19 May 1918 four Gothas were destroyed in one night, which proved to be the last such raid on Great Britain, the German bombers then concentrating on raids on targets on the Continent. No. 151 squadron was the only specialist night fighter unit in France, and it flew Sopwith Camels, modified by the removal of the fabric over a part of the centre section of the upper wing for ease of sighting the enemy. This squadron was formed on 12 June 1918 under the command of Major Murlis Green, who had earlier brought down the Gotha over Britain, and it flew to France on 23 June 1918. There, their duties included patrols in the vicinity of enemy lighted areas and attacks on searchlights with 20-lb bombs, although one returning enemy bomber was destroyed. Major Brand, who had also already brought down an enemy aircraft at night, soon replaced Major Murlis Green. The squadron operated for only five months before the Armistice, but in that time had destroyed 16 aircraft over Allied territory, five over enemy territory and five ‘probables’. These totals included a Giant, five Gothas and two Friedrickshavens, so the night was holding fewer terrors for the fighter. 148


Balloon strafing The kite balloons were strung out a mile behind the front line and were principally used for registering artillery, though some reconnaissance was also possible. They would have an artillery officer as the observer and, being stationary, he could pass more accurate reports quickly to his battery over the telephone line. The balloons were usually well protected by anti-aircraft guns on the ground and machine-gun fire from ground troops, so they were quite hazardous targets to attack. Lewis gave a description of the attack: There were two methods of attack: one with special tracer ammunition, the bullet containing phosphorus, which would set the gas in the envelope on fire; the other by means of rockets. These were mounted in tubes wired on to the outer wing struts, pointing forward in the line of flight, four rockets on each side of the machine, eight in all. They were ugly looking things, with heavy iron-barbed heads to tear open the balloon fabric as they entered and then explode and set off the balloon. All the rockets were wired up electrically to a button in the cockpit. The pilot dived at the balloon, ranged it with tracer ammunition, and then touched off his rockets.10 The static observation balloon has not been used since the First World War.

Artillery observation Lewis described cooperation with the artillery as practised in 1916: Artillery Observation was the job of correcting a battery’s shooting till it had accurately ranged its targets. It was carried out in the following manner. The observer (that is, the passenger in the machine who was trained in this work) would call up the battery with which he was detailed to work before 149


leaving the ground by phone. The commanding officer would tell him the objectives on which he wished to range – an enemy battery, a dump, an important cross road – and would give their exact map coordination on the special largescale squared maps used for this purpose. They would also agree the time the shoot was to begin. At this time the machine would be in the air over the battery. The observer would then let out his aerial – a long piece of copper wire with a lead plummet at the end – which unwound from a drum in the cockpit, switch on the transmitter, and call up the battery in Morse. In the dugout by the battery the wireless operator would report that all was ready. The machine would call upon the battery to fire, and then watch carefully to see where the shot fell. A code was used to give the exact position of the burst in relation to the objective aimed at: ‘Over,’ ‘Short,’ ‘Left,’ ‘Right.’ After a pause to correct sights, the battery, on being signalled, would fire again. By this means, in three or four rounds it was usually possible to get a direct hit on the target, and the airman would send down the triumphant ‘OK.’11 Although now aided by efficient voice radios, the direction of artillery fire by aircraft was still being used by the American forces in Vietnam in the 1960s.

Contact patrol Lewis described the function of the contact patrol: It was an aerial liaison between the front line and the battalion and brigade headquarters, designed to keep them in close touch with each other during the inevitable disorganization of other means of communication during an offensive. At such times, it was realized, the advance would often find 150


itself cut off from its supports and would have difficulty, or sometimes be actually unable, to send back word where they were. But an aeroplane patrolling at low altitude could easily see the red flares which the Tommies carried and were instructed to light at given times. The observer could mark the positions of these flares on the map, write down their coordinations on a slip of paper, put it in a weighted message bag and, swooping down over the battalion headquarters (whose position was known by a semi-circular sheet of white cloth pegged out on the ground), drop the message-bag. As the attack progressed, the latest positions of the flares could be given hour by hour, and as the battalion headquarters moved up behind the advancing line they would move their ground sheets also, so we should always know where to drop our messages. Such was the principle of Contact Patrol. It had two other refinements: a signalling ground sheet, which consisted of a black-and-white venetian blind – this on an elastic return spring, opened white and closed black, and enabled the ground to send Morse messages to the machines above – and a Klaxon horn, which the machines carried, used to call on the infantry for flares and transmit Morse message to the ground.12 Inevitably, it did not always work smoothly, but it was the best that could be done in the absence of portable radios on the ground. Neumann commented on the problem faced by the infantry in attack.13 In territory substantially modified by the artillery barrages, maps were of limited use and even the infantry did not know where they were. Under these circumstances, and given the problems of communication, it was difficult for ground commanders to control their troops’ manoeuvres, and it was quite possible that any supporting artillery barrage might actually fall on their own men. The 151


attempted solution was for the troops to indicate their position by the use of strips of coloured cloth when requested by the aircraft. There was some understandable reluctance to this scheme by the ground troops who were not keen to advertise their position to the enemy as well. These low-level operations over ground troops were hazardous for the aviators, too, since the aircraft were subjected to a great deal of rifle and machine-gun fire from both sides. The German solution was to armour their ‘trench strafing’ aircraft with sheets of chrome-nickel steel. In later years, after the First World War, contact patrol developed into close air support, in which aircraft were used in close contact with the ground forces. Now that voice radio was available, forward air controllers (FACs) directed their fire. These FACs were army officers trained to describe the targets to be attacked as the aircraft approached, almost a reverse of the artillery spotting by aircraft. This role led to a further specialization in the design of aircraft, and in the Second World War, Tempests and Typhoons were developed specifically for close air support and equipped with specialized weapons, such as the three-inch rocket.

Resupply by air The Turkish occupation of Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, was deemed to be threatening British oil supplies from Iran and the government of India was given the task of ejecting them. After landings at the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab waterway a rapid progression was made beyond Basra. However, the British force was besieged at Kut al Imara, partly owing to a lack of aerial reconnaissance before the battle of Ctesiphon. British India had no planes, but Australia provided some and others were begged from the forces in Egypt. The RNAS provided some aircraft and they were subsequently reinforced, but operating seaplanes from the Tigris was difficult. At the time of a relief attempt, the RFC had four aeroplanes, the RNAS two aeroplanes and three seaplanes, but 152


German pilots flying Fokkers were supporting the Turks. Some sporadic dropping of small articles into Kut had been undertaken early in the siege, but the commander in Kut made an urgent request for a 70-lb millstone, which was successfully dropped in by parachute. The garrison required 5000 lbs of supply every day, and the air assets available for this task were four BE2cs, one Voisin, one Henri Farman and three Short seaplanes. Hastily designed containers for the supplies were attached to the aeroplanes, which did not improve their flying characteristics. In all, 140 sorties were made on food dropping and 19,000 lbs were dropped in a fortnight, with the biggest single day total being 3350 lbs. This creditable total still fell short of that required and the British garrison in Kut was forced to surrender. The Fokkers attacked the British aircraft and destroyed one seaplane, but the supply planes could not afford the weight of carrying defensive armament, and had to be escorted. The resupply operation was an isolated incident in the First World War, but it indicated yet another role for aircraft. Later developments used aircraft for carrying troops and supplies, as well as dropping parachutists, but these operations did not figure in the First World War. An air ace from that war, however, was involved in an attempt on Hitler’s orders to resupply the beleaguered Sixth Army at Stalingrad: Reichsmarschall Goering, on hearing what the Führer wanted, immediately summoned a meeting of his transport officers. He told them that 500 tons a day was needed. (The Sixth Army’s estimate of 700 tons was ignored). They replied that 350 tons would be the maximum, and then only for a short period. Goering, with breathtaking irresponsibility, promptly assured Hitler that the Luftwaffe could maintain the Sixth Army in its present position by air. Even on the lower figure, no allowance was made for bad weather, unserviceable aircraft or enemy action.14 153


The Berlin airlift was more successful, but only at the expense of many sorties by many aircraft. Resupply by air is possible, but needs enormous resources.

Maritime air In the First World War, maritime operations were conducted by the Royal Navy’s air arm, which undertook the following tasks: • • • • • •

reconnaissance gunnery spotting air defence and air fighting bombing torpedo dropping operation against submarines

At a tactical level, the Royal Navy and army each controlled the forces at its disposal, but the problems occurred at the strategic level, which will be discussed in the next chapter. The maritime environment imposed its own characteristics on aircraft operations, so, for instance, seaplanes were soon found to be too difficult to operate, leading to the development of the ship-borne carriage of land planes on specially designed aircraft carriers. Seaplanes or flying boats, which had a longer range, more crew and were more robust, were more successful. The lack of range and endurance of early aircraft hampered the development of land-based aircraft in maritime operations. The navy had, however, realized the potential and was the first to operate the twin-engined Handley Page 0/100 bomber aircraft and, in the Second World War, land-based maritime aircraft were to account for the majority of the German Uboats destroyed. Airships had some advantages in maritime operations, particularly against submarines where their long endurance was a decided asset, but the Royal Navy’s bad experience with Mayfly had dis154


couraged development along similar lines to the Zeppelin. Layman15 recorded that the first British rigid airships did not enter service until late in the war, and he could only find one occasion when they were engaged in a combat, when airship R29 assisted in the destruction of submarine UB115. The Germans, on the other hand, regularly reconnoitred British naval operations, to the annoyance of the Royal Navy, which could do little but try to attack the Zeppelin bases. Torpedo dropping was also slow to develop and, despite a bold plan by Admiral Beatty for the use of such aircraft, little use could be made of them, although some successes were achieved in the Dardanelles campaign. Only one naval aircraft flew in the Battle of Jutland and the balloon-carrying ship was too far astern to be useful, otherwise that inconclusive battle might well have had a more positive outcome. Tactics In the war, someone tried a manoeuvre and, if it worked, others tried it. Observation showed that certain manoeuvres invariably ended up in disaster and, even if the victim did not survive, his companions would have noted the mistake. Eventually, this collective experience was codified in a memorandum from GHQ in February 1918, which can be found in Jones,16 and is reproduced here as Appendix 4. It is referred to in what follows as ‘the Memorandum’. This document, seen in retrospect, is a mixture of tactics, doctrine and strategy, but it was an important codification of the experience gained at high cost. Tactics, as they were developed, added to the uses for aircraft, which, in turn, revealed the potential for air power. Some strategic ideas were developed in theory first, but others grew out of the usage of aircraft in practice. Fighter tactics The study of the characteristics of air fighting and the development of tactics was widely discussed years after the end of the war, not 155


least because the ‘aces’ wrote of their experiences, or were written about. Air fighting was seen as glamorous, and even compared with the knightly battles of the past. The reality was a good deal grimmer, but fighter pilots’ exploits captured the imagination rather more readily than bombing operations, which in truth needed at least as much courage and doggedness. On the other hand, the tactics of air fighting were more complicated than those of bombing, and it was necessary to try and codify the tactics as developed in the hard field of experience. Here, the views on the tactics of air fighting are developed by comparing Boelcke’s Dicta and a paper on air fighting by Richthofen with those in the Memorandum.

Dicta Boelcke Boelcke formulated the following list of fundamental tactics: • • • • • • • •

Try to secure the upper hand before attacking. If possible, keep the sun behind you. Always continue with an attack you have begun. Only fire at close range, and then only when the opponent is properly in your sights. You should always try to keep your eye on your opponent, and never let yourself be deceived by ruses. In any type of attack, it is essential to assail your opponent from behind. If your opponent dives on you, do not try to get around his attack, but fly to meet it. When over the enemy’s lines, never forget your own line of retreat. Tip for Squadrons: In principle, it is better to attack in groups of four or six. Avoid two aircraft attacking the same opponent.17

Height ‘Height invariably confers the tactical advantage,’ said the Memo156


randum. Nature, in the form of the peregrine falcon, had already worked that out. Recently, I saw a peregrine being harried by a magpie, and the two flew around with the falcon little concerned. Maybe the peregrine tired of the interference, but it climbed away. Immediately, the wily magpie broke off and headed for cover as quickly as possible. Maybe it had seen a peregrine stoop at speeds nearing 200 miles an hour (faster than a First World War fighter), and realized the danger. Height can quickly be converted into speed, so the aim always was to make height as quickly as possible before contact was made with the enemy. As recorded above, Mannock had a mantra that he instilled into his students, ‘Always above; seldom at the same level; never underneath.’

Sun Looking into the sun is impossible, so the aim was so to position one’s aircraft that the sun was behind. Coming out of the sun conferred surprise in the attack, and the superior height was used to build up overtaking speed. Experienced fighters, such as Mannock and McCudden, would spend 15 or even 30 minutes manoeuvring for position before launching an attack. Flying out of the sun conferred the advantage of surprise and the Memorandum observed, ‘Surprise has always been one of the most potent factors of success in war. … To achieve surprise it is necessary to see the enemy before he sees you.’ The corollary of this advice is that every pilot must search the sky systematically and constantly. This advice was later to become, ‘Keep your head and eyes moving.’

Determination The attack must be aggressive and purposeful, swift and decisive. The Memorandum observed, ‘Every attack must be made with determination and with but one object, the destruction of the opponent.’ Mannock may have wept at the sight of a dead German he had killed, but in the actual fight he was ruthless, and on one 157


occasion attacked a downed aircraft on the ground, ‘to make sure’. Should the opponent be given a chance, he might fly better than you can and turn the tables. The experienced and skilful dispatched opponents quickly and ruthlessly, and were not diverted by fleeting targets.

Fire at close range The inexperienced tended to fire at long range, whereas the aces would often close to 15 or 20 yards before opening fire. McCudden came back from one sortie with blood on his aircraft and on himself, indicating how close he must have been to his quarry. Long-range firing would be taken to indicate that the attacker was probably a novice, nervous or afraid, giving heart to the experienced opponent. Firing at long range would alert the target whose crew may not have seen the approaching fighter, and the observer would have a better chance of a hit. (The retreating target has a longer range with his gun than that of the overtaking aircraft because of the speed differential.) In addition, there was the problem of accurate aim at long range in an aircraft lacking stability. Fighter aircraft were designed to be relatively unstable (and the Sopwith Camel was a notable example) because this conferred manoeuvrability, whereas a stable aircraft would require effort and time to divert from its original flight path. Slip or skid would ensure a miss, even if the target were held in the sights. Firing at long range also introduced gravity drop on the rounds, introducing a further error, and at the greater distance the required deflection increased, needing great judgement of lead and line. Although Boelcke’s advice to open fire only when the target was properly sighted is sound, experienced fighters sometimes loosed off a few rounds to unsettle an opponent, because the sound could be heard above the engine noise and tracers seen passing by. The target pilot might then do something rash or silly. All the fighter aces were expert shots, which they placed ahead of aerobatic ability. Indeed, 158


Richthofen and Mannock were only classed as average pilots, but the latter was an expert and deadly exponent of deflection shooting. Mannock always checked the alignment of guns and sights himself and all the aces spent time firing at the practice target on the ground, usually a square of turfs on or near the airfield. They could then be confident that the bullets would go where intended.

Observation and ruses We have noted above the need for alertness and keen vision, but the successful fighter pilot had great spatial and tactical awareness. His was the opposite of tunnel vision and, like a standoff half in rugby, could sense the gap or the approaching opposition. Concentration on the opponent could often lead to being attacked unawares from behind, but the guns had to be aimed, so there was little opportunity for long bursts of fire. The dogfight involving a number of aircraft was chaotic, but the pilot had to try and form some view of what was going on and to avoid colliding with another aircraft. The stress was intense and after landing following one bad experience, Mannock virtually collapsed in the cockpit from sheer nervous exhaustion. In the early days of the war the gallant, single-handed dash into the attack was commonly practised, but as aircraft and pilot skill improved, it became necessary to fly in formation and to employ cunning and tactics. McCudden observed that Ball would probably not have lasted long in late 1917 and Voss, although a brilliant but individualistic, pilot did not survive in the massed formation era. The sight of a lone two-seater often meant that there was a formation above, in the sun, waiting to pounce on any attacker. Sometimes two or three aircraft of a squadron would fly into enemy airspace to provoke an attack in the knowledge that the rest of their squadron were stacked above, waiting. An experienced, cunning pilot would pretend he had not seen an opponent, while all the time manoeuvring. McCudden noted an aircraft on a patrol line and 159


positioned himself in the knowledge that it would soon come back towards him. Courage and dash were still required of the fighter pilot, but they had learned that cunning paid off.

Manoeuvre Boelcke’s advice to attack from behind is fairly obvious, though the head-on attack was used when circumstances demanded. In the latter case, two fighters approaching head to head and firing was more in the nature of a joust and could be fatal to either or both. The Memorandum observes that attacking a single-seater fighter was best done from above and behind, while two-seaters could also be attacked from below and behind, or on the flanks after diving from above. The aces’ accounts seem to show that they would dive on their quarry, particularly the two-seaters, fly under the tail and pull up from underneath to fire at the cockpit. The intention was to kill the crew because the airframe could absorb a lot of punishment unless vital parts were hit. Aircraft might fly home with a shattered main spar or even after losing a large part of the wing of a biplane. The aim in attacking a two-seater was to avoid the fire from the observer, and there was a blind spot beneath the tail. The Memorandum recorded that: When attacking an enemy formation, one of their number, more often than not their leader, will sometimes fly out of the fight and climb his utmost with a view to getting above the attackers. The leader of the formation should watch for this manoeuvre, and be ready to frustrate it by climbing himself. … A hostile pilot who attempts to come up unawares from behind and below can usually be defeated by a quick climbing turn. … When it is necessary to swerve to avoid a collision or to break off the combat temporarily to change a drum or rectify a jamb, this should be done by a sudden turn or climb, care 160


being taken subsequently to avoid flying straight or losing height. … If surprised or forced into an unfavourable position a pilot must never, under any circumstances, dive straight away from his opponent. To do so is to court disaster, since a diving machine is an almost stationary target. … If surprised in an unfavourable position it should be the invariable rule, if time permits, to turn and attack the adversary before he comes to close quarters [see Dicta Boelcke above]. … If, owing to being cut off from his formation and being attacked by a superior number of machines, a pilot is forced down low, his best method of escape is usually to go down quite close to the ground and fly back on a zigzag course. For the novice pilot, all this was a lot to remember when gripped by fear, uncertain about what was happening and not yet adept at handling his machine.

Escape route There was a danger that, being absorbed in a battle that could last 20 or 30 minutes, the pilot could become lost. This danger affected the RFC most since they adopted the aggressive tactic of operating over enemy lines and, given a predominantly westerly wind, had to return home into a headwind. Furthermore, they would be attacked by the enemy anti-aircraft artillery. The Germans were reluctant to operate over the British side, which made their recovery to base so much easier, and when they were forced or shot down, their position also made confirmation of claims of their destruction more difficult to confirm, and the pilot was not taken prisoner. Von Richthofen made a collection of the pieces of fabric bearing the tail number of aircraft he had shot down, which could only be possible 161


if they had fallen on his side of the lines. It was the practice of both sides to try and block the escape route of their opponents, particularly when trying to start a fight.

Formation flying The Memorandum observes: ‘The development of aerial fighting has shown that certain fundamental maxims which govern fighting on land and sea are equally applicable in the air. Among these are concentration and mutual cooperation and support. The adoption of formation flying has followed as an inevitable result.’ In the winter of 1915, when the RFC was suffering the results of the ‘Fokker scourge’, Sefton Brancker in command on No. 3 wing tried to limit the losses to his BE.2cs by sending two or three together in formation. The BE2s were flown single-seat so that bombs could be carried, but they were slow and vulnerable. The innovation of flying in formation made it easier to protect them with an escort of Vickers Gunbus fighters. On 14 January 1916, the practice of formation flying had become mandatory in an order from RFC headquarters: It must be laid down as a hard and fast rule that a machine proceeding on reconnaissance must be escorted by at least three other fighting machines. These machines must fly in close formation and a reconnaissance should not be continued if any of the machines becomes detached. … Flying in formation must be practised by all pilots.18 When first practised, flying in formation was close, but this meant the wing men were concentrating on holding their position and not assisting in the lookout for enemy aircraft. With experience, the formation would be opened out on approaching enemy lines so that the wing men could relax more and look around them. Despite this experience, RAF tactics at the start of the Battle of 162


Britain in 1940 were to fly in close formation with a loose ‘spotter’ weaving above them, which proved to be a very vulnerable position. The lesson of open or ‘battle’ formation had to be learnt again, at the cost of lives. The British practice in the First World War was to regard six as the largest formation one man could control. Some singleton flying was done by the very experienced even late in the war, but these flights were often flown as high as 20,000 feet, to ensure advantage.

Von Richthofen’s air combat operations manual Manfred von Richthofen recorded his views on air combat in a report dated 19 April 1918 (which was when supreme headquarters issued it and which was two days before his death).19 He recorded that Boelcke, his mentor, used flights of five or six aircraft, and six or seven aircraft were the optimum for one leader (see Memorandum above). The Geschwader, or Circus as the British called them, would number between 30 and 40 organized into four Staffeln, one left, one right, one above and one above and behind. Such a large group necessitated a careful briefing before flight. He made it clear later in his report that such a large formation would not attack a single aircraft, and that it was looking for large formations of enemy. The Geschwader in this form was not easy to manoeuvre and order was quickly lost when the attack began. He made the rather telling comment that he did not like attacking enemy aircraft that were turning, ‘as I can never hit an opponent who is turning’. He discussed training beginners and began by stressing the need for careful attention to guns and ammunition belts. (‘There is no such thing as a gun jam! When this occurs, I blame only the pilot.’) ‘I place significant value on the skill of flying itself. I shot down my first 20 [victims] when I still had the greatest difficulties with flying itself.’ He forbade aerobatics over the airfield, and the tyro pilot must have the experience of having flown cross-country flights and 163


know the terrain in his sector without a map. Then the beginner would fly 50 metres behind and pay attention to the leader. The advice he gave in the report is detailed and precise, but does not contradict the general principles outlined in Dicta Boelcke, but can be seen as an expansion of them. Tactics of offensive action The Memorandum is attached here as Appendix 4 and a comparison can be made with these German tactics. They are very similar. Night operations As the performance of fighter aircraft improved and more effective anti-aircraft guns were deployed, bombing by day became increasingly hazardous. Bombers were slow and had poor manoeuvrability, although, when operating at a distance from base, they could climb quite high. Since there were no effective defensive aids for locating targets at night, bombing at that time carried little risk from enemy fighters. On the other hand, operating bombers at night was inherently difficult: navigation was difficult and so was the subsequent approach and landing. Fegan recorded that more Gothas were destroyed by accidents on landing than for any other reason, including hostile action.20 The RFC’s first recorded night flight took place on 16 April 1913, and the first night operation was on 21 December 1914 when Commander Samson of the RNAS bombed Ostend from a Maurice Farman.21 At night the horizon is not always visible and the artificial horizon had not been invented in the First World War. On the other hand, the big bomber machines were inherently stable and, left to themselves, would level their wings. This was not so for fighter aircraft; turbulent conditions carried the risk of loss of control at night and if conditions were sufficiently rough even big aircraft had problems. The ineffectiveness of night air defence meant that bombers could fly quite low, which improved their chances of being able to map read for navigation and reduced their 164


bombing errors. Neumann22 suggested that German bombers used the stars and constellations for navigation, but he does not say how. The use of a sextant was highly unlikely, if only for the difficulty of reducing the sights by mathematics in the air, and the lack of a horizon was only subsequently resolved much later by the invention of the bubble sextant. Neumann’s assertion, therefore, needs further explanation, which does not seem to be available. A blackout was imposed in Britain after the first night raids, but there were often landmarks available, blast furnaces and steam trains, for instance, were impossible to black out. On the Continent, the Germans used the 3.7 centimetre rocket pistol fired from the ground as a navigation aid in the following manner: ‘The rocket batteries at X and Y will give the direction signals, that at X being four shots at intervals of three minutes; that of Y being a shot every two minutes, three seconds pause, then a second shot.’23 In the Second World War, in Germany, patterns of searchlights (for instance three vertical beams, or one vertical beam and two crossed) were displayed from known locations, such as large towns, to assist the navigation of single-seat Focke-Wulf 190 fighters being used as so-called Wilde-sau night fighters without radar. The bombing run the Germans made in 1914–18, particularly when attacking defended targets such as airfields, was done in a glide with the engines throttle back to reduce the giveaway noise, and the observer used a bomb sight standing in the nose. On return to their base airfield, the bombers would either fire a Very cartridge or flash the squadron code in Morse, which was a signal for the ground to switch on the lights, then flares or searchlights illuminated the area to be used for landing. The British fighters carried two parachute flares for use in a forced landing, and the Money Flare, made by fitting paraffin-soaked asbestos into a wire cage, was used on the ground to form a flare-path for landing. Although intruder operations, where an enemy night fighter joined the circuit at an enemy bomber base to shoot down return165


ing aircraft, were to be developed in the Second World War, similar events occurred in the First World War. The departure of Allied night bombers was noted (presumably by spies) and German fighters arranged to be over the airfield for their return, when the bombers would probably be burning navigation lights for safety. The French lost some aircraft that way. On the other hand, an Allied bomber flashed the Morse code for a returning bomber over a German airfield and the ground party obligingly switched on the lights, only to be bombed for their pains. The problems of night fighters have been discussed above and operating a single-seat fighter at night was fraught with difficulties. The artillery spotting aircraft became increasingly vulnerable in daylight as the war progressed, so it was natural that this work, too, should be attempted at night. The observer had to be able to differentiate between a flash caused by firing a gun and a flash from the explosion of a shell. Communication in the case of non-radio equipped aircraft had to be conducted by coloured Very lights. Night, then, had its advantages, but operating aircraft in this period in the dark, particularly in bad weather, was hazardous and resulted in many crashes. Conclusion Although there had been a great deal of speculation on the role of air power in war when hostilities began, the only firm role adopted was that of reconnaissance. When opponents challenged the free use of aircraft, air fighting gradually appeared and specialized aircraft were designed for that purpose. The mobile warfare of the Schlieffen plan degenerated into the static slogging match of trench warfare and the artillery were likewise relatively immobile. As a result, the use of aircraft to register and correct the fall of shot became a valuable additional role. Bombs were dropped from aircraft very early in the war, and, even though the missiles were very small and the accuracy poor, enough results were obtained to



encourage further development. Since the characteristics of the bomber differed from those of the fighter, further specialization of aircraft design was required. As technology advanced, the expectations of air power increased and the pilots and observers flying the aircraft worked on improved tactics, often learning from bitter experience. As improved tactics resulted in better results, so the horizons of those devising a separate air strategy widened, even to the extent of exaggerating what could be done at the time by thoughts of what the future held. Air strategy grew out of the operations and tactics developed by the pilots and observers flying against the enemy.


7 Air Strategy

If tactics are the means of winning battles, strategy is the way of winning wars. Strategy, in general, is the means by which one achieves one’s ends. It is clearly important, therefore, that one has a clear idea of the aim. In other words, how does one define ‘winning’? How does one know when victory has been won? The aim, too, has to be realistic and within the capabilities of the resources to hand. When aviation became a reality, the prospect of a change to military operations provoked a spectrum of responses from wild over expectations to disbelief. In the middle were the pragmatists, into which category one can place Trenchard. He has been described as a visionary, which seems to imply some separation from reality, whereas he never allowed his future hopes to separate him from the task in hand. This approach is clearly seen in his attitude to strategic bombing, which, in his view, could only be undertaken when the more immediate needs of the army had been met. Technology influences warfare and has done so for centuries. Eliot Cohen1 discussed how military technological advances come about, for example, ‘form following function’ or harvesting the work of scientists, but the work on aviation as an activity before the First World War was not designed initially to fulfil a military function. Conquering the air was not undertaken for military purposes and, when it had been done, there was no clear idea about how it was to be used other than as an airborne cavalry. Great advances



were made in airframes and engines during that war, but arguably the most significant development was not in aerodynamics but in gunnery, with the introduction of the interrupter gear to allow machine guns to fire through the propeller arc. The challenge was to develop uses for the new technology of the air that the military had not called into being by design, and in responding to that challenge air strategy was born, though the parturition was not without considerable pain. One lesson that emerged from the air operations of the First World War was that there was an air war, in the same way as there is a land war and a war at sea, and the air war needs to have its own aims. Usually, the aim will be to neutralize the enemy’s air forces, so that we can achieve what we want to do with our air forces. The realistic aim is not that the enemy will not be able to fly against us at all, but that we will have enough superiority in the air to enable us to carry out the roles of air power to our advantage. Even in the closing stages of the Second World War, the Luftwaffe could impose casualties against the Allied air forces, but it was a spent force and could not materially affect the achievement of what the Allies’ tactical and strategic forces wanted to do. There will always be casualties in war, but Trenchard’s great achievement was to maintain offensive air operations during bad periods, like the ‘Fokker sourge’ of 1916, and to contest the air battle: the RFC would not yield control of the air to the enemy. Without this aggression, the British air forces could not have carried out the other essential tasks, such as support of the land forces and the bombing of the enemy’s lines of communication. At the outset of the First World War, these fundamental concepts had not been formulated, and the RFC felt its way forward, learning as it went and writing its air strategy on the initial blank piece of paper. There was a constant interaction with what the enemy was doing and for most it was not a time to sit quietly to work out the elements of the strategic uses of air power, for every 170


day the pilots and observers were having to do their job and, it was hoped, coming back to fight another day. The leader was the person on whom it fell to work out what to do and what the emerging trends and men’s sacrifices actually meant. In some ways, the Royal Naval Air Service was ahead of the RFC in its thinking, because at the outbreak of war it was advocating air strikes against enemy air bases, but, to it, its air forces were only for the support of naval operations. For centuries the navy had exercised power at a distance, whereas the army’s preoccupation was usually the enemy at its front. Even so, not all naval commanders could see value in aeroplanes and, as late as the Second World War, the following advice from Sir Arthur Harris to Admiral Sir Tom Phillips went unheeded: ‘Tom, you’ve never believed in air. Never get out from under the air umbrella; if you do, you’ll be for it.’2 It was obvious that the air could not be defended in the way the land could be, with trenches, redoubts and static emplacements. The air war was to be more analogous to the war at sea, where opposing forces manoeuvred in, but did not ‘hold’, areas of the oceans. The naval doctrine was to seek out and destroy the enemy wherever it might be found, and this idea fitted well into the developing air doctrine. The air was a battleground on which the struggle for superiority was waged, but the aircraft had to return to land as their fuel ran low and the airspace could then quickly become empty. Air battles were ephemeral, and a battle won now had to be fought again and again. Superiority was a matter of will, as well as attrition. In 1900 Hans Delbrück proposed two forms of strategy – Niederwerfungsstrategie (the strategy of annihilation) and Ermattungsstrategie (the strategy of exhaustion).3 The first sprang from von Clausewitz’s idea of the decisive battle where, by concentrating the available force in time and space at the critical point, the enemy forces were reduced to impotence. In the air, the Battle of Britain in the Second World War was an example of such a climactic battle on which the practicability of a German invasion depended. Even 171


when this battle was over, the airspace over Britain still had to be contested, and losses occurred there on both sides for the duration of the war, but the Germans had failed to take command of the air. On the other hand, the bomber command offensive against the economic and moral power of Germany also in the Second World War was a strategy of attrition. Bomber command suffered 55,573 aircrew dead, which was 50 per cent of those who flew operationally and they dropped 1,300,000 tons of bombs. The Germans lost tens of thousands of men, women and children, hundreds of thousands of buildings and millions of marks worth of national treasure, but their airspace was not denied to the RAF even though they imposed great losses on the attackers. Continuing the battle in the face of the heavy losses of men and machines was an act of will that Harris, like Trenchard before him, had to sustain. A more modern classification of military strategy is into two categories – manoeuvre and attrition. In essence, this view does not differ from Delbrück’s, but substituting ‘manoeuvre’ for ‘annihilation’ emphasizes the mobility aspect of concentrating the decisive force in time and space. The enormous losses both sides suffered in the air war might lead to the conclusion that this struggle was one of attrition, but the aircraft over that static war of trenches was the only means available to manoeuvre and to attack the enemy’s lines of communication and reserves. The air was the only mobile element that could be used. It might be argued that, after 1916, the tank restored a degree of mobility to the land forces, but the time of armoured forces had yet to come. In both cases, however, the air power resources available were insufficient for a decisive blow in the First World War. There is a paradox in that the static nature of the land battle in the First World War encouraged the development of air power and the use of the aircraft in war. Had the land war been one of manoeuvre, the emphasis in air operations would have been on reconnaissance (as it was in the early months of the war in late 172


1914), and given the lack of range of those early aircraft, their bases would have been constantly changing. In this case, the logistical problem would have complicated the supply of bombs, and even replacement aircraft and engines. Paul Richey’s account4 of the British fighter squadrons’ operations in France in 1940 during the German blitzkrieg gives some idea of the chaos and constant moving that would have been involved in a mobile war in 1914–18. Artillery spotting would have been less feasible when the location of batteries was being frequently changed. There would have been less pressure for the development of more powerful aircraft, and so air fighting, bombing and close air support may well have been slower to be adopted. That is as may be, but the static war on the ground encouraged the exploitation of the useful characteristics of the airborne machines. If offensive action emerged as a principle from First World War air operations, then the need for a counter air strategy came quickly afterwards. Regardless of what jobs the army or navy wish the air to perform, a prime task in the air war is to counter the enemy’s air forces. Initially, the German air force fought in the air as a means of gaining air superiority, but, as bombing became a more feasible operation, the advantage of destroying the enemy on the ground was realized, even if the means at that time were insufficient fully to achieve it. The lesson is still relevant today and intense operations against enemy air defence assets preceded the air operations in Serbia and Iraq, and electronic warfare was used to suppress air defence activity during the subsequent bombing. The aim is not necessarily to reduce losses (though that is an obvious wish), but to increase the probability of the destruction of vital targets that have been chosen for attack. Even after a counter air offensive the enemy could well retain an air capability that could be used against ground troops. The army cannot see the strikes against enemy airfields miles in the rear, and when the enemy’s air forces attack the troops it is understandably 173


resentful. Attacks from the air are particularly damaging to the morale of the recipients. If the enemy is determined, it is seldom possible to prevent such attacks entirely, even though one has achieved a measure of air superiority. Field Marshal Montgomery recognized the importance of air power: ‘If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war, and we lose it quickly.’5 The problem of command and control If the air war is a separable part of the total struggle against the enemy, it would seem reasonable that it should be fought under a single commander. In the First World War, however, this was not so, since the Admiralty and the War Office kept control of the air operations relevant to their sphere of operations. Tactical operations in support of the fleet or armies needed to be under the operational control of the local commander for a specific battle. When operations against the enemy’s homeland and economic infrastructure became possible, however, problems arose. Both the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps flew bombing missions against targets behind the lines and in Germany, but there was little coordination of targeting and timings. The RNAS was committed to targets that largely affected the sea battle, and the RFC bombed army targets as well as German industry. In the First World War, the Admiralty and War Office were in competition for the supply of aircraft and engines and Lord Hankey for one regarded this inability to agree as a scandal. The Independent Air Force came into being too late to rectify the situation, and the arguments were to go on well into the 1930s. In the early days, naval aircraft were mainly seaplanes, for they needed to operate from the sea to participate in naval battles. When ships became available that could operate wheeled aircraft from specially constructed decks, the land planes were preferred on account of the greater ease of takeoff and their superior performance without the drag caused by floats. Future carrier aircraft,



however, had the added weight of a hook to engage arrester wires, stronger undercarriages to withstand deck landings, and folding wings, which together added weight that degraded the performance of ‘land’ aircraft used at sea. In recent years, vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have lessened the differences between land and sea based aircraft, the Harrier being the principal example. Torpedo aircraft were needed for a task for which there was no counterpart on land, but both seaplanes and land planes could carry these weapons. Land-based aircraft could also lay mines at sea and could be used to hunt submarines, but reconnaissance remained important for air power at sea too. Airships, with their long endurance, had much to offer in the sea war, but the navy suffered from an earlier decision to discontinue development of these machines. An independent air commander might well decide to use aircraft with a predominantly maritime role temporarily to support ground operations or a bombing campaign. In such a case, the naval commander would feel aggrieved if assignment of ‘his’ assets to another task limited his operations. A reverse situation could occur when bomber aircraft were used for operations in support of the navy (as in the bombing of the Tirpitz in the Second World War) or in mine laying, to the disadvantage of the commander conducting the strategic bombing campaign. These decisions would lead to a demand that air resources for a specific purpose are kept for that purpose, and under the command of the naval or land commander. Such a deployment, however, can lead to a situation where a commander holding onto resources that are not being fully utilized prejudices a critical need for air operations in another sphere. There will never be such a provision of air power that there will be a surplus where the under use of resources can be tolerated. On the other hand, there has seldom been an occasion when available aircraft could not be found a task. A particular instance, which has caused much heated debate, is land-based maritime air operations. Because of the need for long175


range and extended endurance, the aircraft used in this work are large and often four-engined. These aircraft are markedly different from carrier-based aircraft, and require aircrew categories not found in aircraft operating at sea. They can be used in other roles, such as bombing and even troop carrying, so have uses outside the maritime theatre. Such flexibility, however, is not seen as a great advantage when viewed through naval eyes. ‘Command’ is the power to deploy and use assigned military assets in accordance with the commander’s intentions, whereas ‘control’ assigns such powers to another commander, but with duration and/or geographical limits. A theatre commander, for instance, may have squadrons of close air support and reconnaissance fighters assigned to him only for the duration of a particular operation in his area, and have air advisers drafted in to provide expert staff advice. The solution adopted during the Second World War for maritime air operations was to form a joint headquarters staffed by the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, but ultimately the Air Council was still in charge of the coastal command and the Admiralty of the fleet. This solution buried the sea/air dichotomy in one headquarters in which disagreements were resolved at a personal level, not always without acrimony. An analogous situation can occur on land when a corps, or even divisional commander, would wish to have close air-support aircraft at his immediate disposal to attack strong points hampering his operations. Not all sections of the front, however, have a continual need for such airborne artillery, and one’s aircraft may be underutilized while another’s are over stretched. The days when there was enough money available to equip the squadrons that such a deployment would demand are long gone (and probably never existed). What is more, the available aircraft may be better used farther behind enemy lines interdicting resupply and communications rather than tackling targets on the immediate front that might just as well be hit by the artillery. Making such a judgement at a distance from the land commander in an air headquarters may be 176


difficult and even reach the wrong conclusion, so airmen are needed at army headquarters and vice versa. There was a lack of unified air action in the First World War because the forces were split between two masters. The air is seamless and does not vary over land and sea, but it proved impossible to unite the control of air power in the same way. The command and control problem was not totally solved during the First World War, nor is it fully resolved now. The great white hope From a period of disbelief in its utility, enthusiasts came to see air power as the force that would completely change war, or even lead to its abandonment as an instrument of policy. Bombing strategic targets in the enemy’s homeland would, it was suggested, lead to their economic and moral collapse, and the duty of armies would merely be to occupy the territory conquered by air power. Such a view overlooked the facts that the German bombing campaign in the First World War did not achieve either of these objectives, or even come close. Absenteeism after raids adversely affected war production and there was a good deal of public clamour, but realists like Churchill saw that this was largely a reaction to novelty. The Zeppelins could carry 4500 kilograms of bombs, but the accuracy of delivery they achieved was dismal, since often they could not even identify the towns they were striking, let alone individual targets. The bombing aeroplanes could carry a much lower weight of bombs and had a severely limited range, yet the enthusiasts extrapolated into the future and made claims that were to be proved extravagant even in the Second World War. Problems of navigation, target identification and bombing accuracy, to name but a few, were overlooked in the theoretical analysis conducted by such as Giulio Douhet. Given the inaccuracy of free-fall bombing from a height, a very large number of bombers would be required over a target to achieve any certainty of destruction. The British



bombing effort against Cairo international airport during the Suez campaign, although large and conducted by the most modern aircraft available, did not render the runways unusable even after dropping hundreds of high-explosive bombs from high altitude. The claims for strategic bombing, however, suited the Royal Air Force in the inter-war years when it was frequently fighting for its own continued separate existence and such operations strengthened their case. When the atom bomb was dropped on Japan causing an abrupt end to the Second World War, the enthusiasts claimed that, at last, the means existed to fulfil their claims for air power. The paradox was, however, if the enemy also possessed nuclear weapons, their use offered only the prospect of the immolation of both nations. Since that time, ‘smart’ weapons have gone a long way towards solving the accuracy problem, given that the weather conditions are suitable for their use. Now a bomb can be arranged to enter a building through a selected window, making the destruction of the target much more assured. These weapons, however, are considerably more expensive than free-fall ‘iron’ bombs and so their use in such an extensive campaign against so many targets, as in the bombing offensive in the Second World War, might lead to national bankruptcy before the other side capitulated. If the case for strategic bombing was overstated, air power could still have a profound effect on land and sea operations, but some degree of air superiority was now necessary, even if only local and temporary. Since ships could not safely operate outside the air umbrella and, frequently, land-based aircraft were not available, the navy had to take its air power with it to war. The aircraft carrier now became the most important capital ship in the fleet at sea, and required screening vessels to guard against air and undersea attack. With the battleship now replaced as the principal weapon, the importance of the aircraft to the Royal Navy became central to its role as a ‘blue seas’ navy. Thus, if Britannia wished to rule any 178


waves, the aircraft carrier was essential, but modern technology has made such a ship difficult to defend, as the Exocet attack on HMS Sheffield in the Falklands campaign illustrated. These problems exist, but the carrier can lurk at sea for a period of time, being victualled without need to return to port, although the heavy demand for fuel and weapons in operations predicate the need for either a large number of supply vessels or a nearby land base. So the argument goes on for the carrier against land-based air power, but the requirement still exists for a single air campaign to achieve air superiority and to inflict the required damage on the enemy once hostilities have replaced threat or deterrence. The selection of targets and the assigning of priorities need to take account of the effect on the land, sea and air battles, which argues for central decision. One test of the value of air power in the First World War is to consider the nature of the conflict if aircraft had not been invented. The probability is that the war would have followed a similar course and would have lasted just as long. In this case, air power as such was not then decisive, but only because both sides were so provided. If one belligerent, but not the other, had air power or had a virtual monopoly of its use, then the advantage accruing would have been telling, if not decisive. When aircraft were invented, air supremacy became a necessary goal in war. Some drew unwarranted conclusions from the air operations during the First World War, but air power was not a magic touchstone that obviated the need for land and sea operations, nor did it consign von Clausewitz to the dustbin. Nevertheless, wars cannot now be fought without air power, as Rommel knew: ‘Anyone who has to fight, even with the most modern weapons, against an enemy in complete command of the air, fights like a savage against modern European troops, under the same handicaps and with the same chances of success.’6 The principles of war Carl von Clausewitz is the most famous example of a philosopher



of war, but other students of war have long tried to establish commonalities from the study of conflicts, and theorists in many countries have produced lists of principles of war as a guide in the planning and conduct of war. These are particularly useful as a framework for analysis at the strategic level. Napoleon recognized the need for such principles in his fifth maxim, although he does not reveal his particular list: ‘All wars should be governed by certain principles, for every war should have a definite object, and be conducted according to the rules of the art. War should only be undertaken with forces proportioned to the obstacles to be overcome.’7 The list now in use cannot be employed as a checklist for what to do, but experience has shown that ignoring some or all of them is likely to prejudice the outcome of a battle or war. The current British list can be found in Joint Warfare Publication (JWP) 0-01,8 and these principles will be used here as a template to aid discussion of air strategy in the First World War.

The selection and maintenance of the aim Selecting the aim is the prime principle in war, for it defines the object of the conflict and thus the means employed to achieve it. In the first Gulf War, the aim was to eject the Iraqis from Kuwait, but when this was done, the calls for a drive on to Baghdad were defining a new aim, which called for a further war, not an extension of what the military had planned and executed. The aim defines what is conceived of as ‘winning’ and all means and resources must be concentrated on that one object. It follows that the selection of the wrong aim can lead to disaster. Once the aim has been correctly and succinctly defined, it is essential that transient events do not deflect one from that purpose. This is not to say that aims are immutable, but the same careful thought that went into defining the initial aim must be brought to bear on its revision. War has been seen as a clash of wills by none 180


better that Clausewitz: ‘War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.’9 The maintenance of the aim thus requires a strong

will to withstand setbacks and the lack of resolution of weaker vessels. Air strategy was developing during the First World War, as too were the air forces’ aims. At the outset, it is doubtful that the RFC’s aim was to defeat the enemy’s air forces, for experiments in mounting guns on aircraft had not yet reached fruition on either side. The aim was to support the army in the field, as the aim of the RNAS was similarly to support the fleet. When air combat evolved, the aim of the air forces, as an independent entity, would have to become the destruction of the enemy’s air forces as a prerequisite to gaining air superiority. This concept must now seem obvious, but it carried the seeds of the need for an air force independently of the other two services, and thus was unwelcome when the army was in such dire straits. Trenchard’s great contribution was not to agitate for a separate war, but to maintain the aim of supporting the army, even when losses of aircrew and aircraft were sufficiently heavy to provoke a parliamentary enquiry in London. He maintained to the end of the war that the RFC should not embark on an all-out campaign of long-range bombing missions to Germany until the needs of the ground war were met. There was plenty of opposition to Trenchard’s views, but he maintained his policy to the end, and his will proved to be stronger than that of the enemy.

Maintenance of morale If war is dependent on the will of the commander, it also depends on the morale of all the men and women involved. Morale is a mental state many factors affect, including trust in the higher command, belief in the aims of the conflict, training and discipline, comradeship, and the exercise of leadership by those in command. Many leaders believe that moral factors outweigh physical factors in the conduct of war. 181


For the Royal Flying Corps in France the maintenance of morale had to be taken seriously and positive measures adopted. Shortly after the emergence of aerial combat, the Germans scored a considerable advantage with the introduction of the interrupter gear that made forward firing guns more accurate and practical. The socalled ‘Fokker scourge’ reduced the survival chances of Allied pilots, and the parallel development on the British side was slow to emerge. Confidence in British aircraft was affected by rumours, and the assignment of such nicknames as the ‘spinning incinerator’ to the DH2 and the distrust of the RE8 had an adverse effect on morale. Trenchard countered the depressing effect of these rumours by constantly visiting the fighting squadrons, listening to the pilots and giving frank and truthful answers. He inculcated an aggressive spirit in his pilots and a will to win. He could appear to be a hard, unfeeling man, but the accounts given by Maurice Baring, who knew Trenchard better than most, dispel that impression. The aggressive policy began to affect the German morale adversely, particularly at the time of the Somme offensive when the RFC seized the initiative and forced them to adopt a similar approach. By the time the Armistice was signed, the morale of the German air force had all but collapsed.

Security Security of physical assets and information is a necessary base for successful offensive action. The air forces must provide the ground and naval forces with as much protection as possible, but these objectives may require action at a distance from, and out of sight of, friendly forces in making attacks on the enemy’s air bases. Unfortunately, while the struggle for air supremacy is being conducted, friendly forces may be subjected to attacks from the enemy’s air forces. Security of information is important and it can be argued that the need to deny the enemy reconnaissance information led to the development of air fighting. Wireless became an 182


essential adjunct to air operations but introduced the problem of secure communications. The Zeppelins’ departure message provided early warning of an impending raid on Britain, and ground wireless was used to send confusing, inaccurate messages to the enemy purporting to come from artillery spotting aircraft. Security can be extended to the protection of the command and control system, which is increasingly being used as a prime target for air power. Fuller recognized the vulnerability of the command system: ‘The brains of an army are its Staff – Army, Corps and Divisional Headquarter. Could they suddenly be removed from an extensive sector of the German front, the collapse of the personnel they control will be little more than a matter of hours.’10 Both sides made some isolated attacks on military headquarters, but there is no evidence of a systematic campaign of such raids. Air power, however, had introduced an additional threat to physical security.

Surprise The value of surprise is in the psychological effect it imposes on the recipient and in the unbalancing it brings with it. Surprise is more readily achieved at the tactical than at the strategic level, but in either circumstance it is a powerful weapon. Surprise can be used to grasp the initiative, as in the Israeli air strikes against the Egyptian air force in the Six-Day War. Although delivered with audacity, speed and originality, surprise needs careful planning and timing to achieve maximum results. In the First World War the Zeppelins achieved surprise, even though their attacks had been widely forecast and caused alarm and panic, though not on the scale that had been expected. An adequate, well-organized warning system did much to allay the fears of the population because the element of surprise was reduced. The slow speed of aircraft in this period made surprise attacks difficult to achieve, but the reported raid on an enemy airfield by Bishop was unexpected and caused panic and mistakes among the enemy. 183


The technological surprise of the interrupter gear did not last long, and the counter tactic of formation flying was soon introduced as a defensive measure, but while it lasted, losses of British aircraft were uncomfortably high. At the strategic level, then, in First World War aviation there were few strategic surprises, but the initial effect of them was usually disproportionate.

Offensive action Wars are not won by defensive action, though the attrition caused by a successful defence can be beneficial. Sooner of later, however, attack is necessary to defeat an enemy. Gaining the initiative through offensive action breeds aggression, determination and improves morale, even though casualties are suffered. The initiative is the means of asserting some control over events, making things happen rather than reacting to the enemy’s moves. Trenchard early realized that air power, by nature, has to be aggressive and constantly urged his pilots onto the offensive. The Germans, by contrast, kept their aircraft on the defensive for a good deal of the war and seldom ventured over the British lines. General Hoeppner, who took command late in 1916, reflected on the ineffectiveness of the Sperrflüge or barrage flights for air defence at Verdun, and ordered a more aggressive policy. Since air power was used more passively at the beginning of the war, the adoption of aggression by both sides signalled a development of air strategy. Interestingly, the RNAS was more aggressive from the outbreak of war and executed a bombing raid as early as 1914, since the Royal Navy had long exercised power at a distance and had learnt the advantages to be gained from offensive action. Air superiority is gained by grasping and holding the initiative, which the RFC tried to maintain in France, even while sustaining heavy losses.

Concentration of force The art of the general is the concentration of superior force at the 184


decisive time and place. It is difficult, given a limit to resources available, to be strong everywhere, but this limitation can be compensated for by the ability to bring together the requisite strength when and where it is needed. Concentration of force requires great skill on the part of the commander, and discipline and mobility on the part of the forces under his command. The response to aggression in the air was to order aircraft to fly in formation so that through mutual support the vulnerability to fighter attack could be reduced. Furthermore, bombing raids needed to be concentrated in time and space to reduce the shortcomings of bomb aiming and the limitations of damage resulting from the small size of the bombs that could be carried. Often all the bombs a formation of bombers carried would be released simultaneously on the leader’s signal, which was found to be better than individual aiming and individual error. Lack of suitable aircraft, however, prevented assembling decisive numbers of bombers in 1918 for effective attacks on industrial targets in Germany.

Economy of effort This principle is a corollary of the previous one. Effort must not be expended on operations that fail to achieve the aim. Small raids that might involve losses but insignificant gains are clearly wasteful. Economy of effort was forced upon the RFC because of the limitations the lack of sufficient replacement pilots and aircraft imposed. Nonetheless, the army’s demands for reconnaissance and artillery spotting meant that aircraft were needed in numbers every day. Despite the need to husband resources, the daily tasks had to be fulfilled.

Flexibility It might be thought that maintenance of the aim required dogged adherence to a plan, but the commander needs constantly to consider different ways to success. Trench warfare gave little oppor185


tunity for fresh thinking, and the enemy would always have plenty of warning of an attack provided by the preparatory artillery barrage. In the Second World War, Hitler’s intransigence during the siege of Stalingrad led to the loss of General Paulus’s army. Iron will has to be tempered by common sense, and knowing when to withdraw to fight another day on ground of one’s own choosing. Air power was quickly recognized as a very flexible arm. Fighter aircraft could be switched to close support of the infantry, as used in the Battle of the Somme, dropping bombs and machine-gunning the opposing troops, but could be back in the air as interceptors shortly afterwards. Bombers could hit fleeting targets on the communications behind the enemy lines in a way impossible for artillery, but the next raid could hit industry in Germany. This flexibility came about through technological developments, which improved the performance of aircraft. Greater power of engines conferred higher speeds and faster rates of climb, and improved designs provided longer radii of action. Four naval fighter squadrons were released from duty at Dunkirk and were lent to the RFC to bolster the forces in France, and returned to naval duties when the crisis was over. Bombers could hit submarine bases one day and army reserve areas the next. Flexibility, used with concentration of force and economy of effort, is the hallmark of air power, but would have been enhanced in the First World War if unity of command had proved possible.

Cooperation Most operations require some degree of interaction with other forces, and cooperation is necessary to optimize the results. The Royal Flying Corps’ principal task was to cooperate with the army, although it took a little time to establish the trust of the artillery batteries. Even when air fighting and considerations of air superiority became the RFC’s major preoccupation, the air battle was subordinated to the needs of the land battle. Trenchard resisted 186


calls to bomb Germany until sufficient aircraft became available to undertake that task without prejudice to the needs of the army. Although there was a separation of air power in support of the sea and of the land, there was still a degree of cooperation between the Admiralty and the War Office, and the RNAS loaned four fighter squadrons to the RFC when supply problems were at their worst.

Sustainability Sustainability as a principle is a modern alternative to what was previously termed ‘administration’, and reflects the need for wellplanned logistic support for operations. These provisions also include administrative services, such as hospitals, chaplaincy and postal backup, which are essential for the maintenance of morale. The assumption in the early part of the First World War was that the conflict would be short-lived and, as a result, Britain was slow to organize its economy and industry onto a war footing. Lord Kitchener did much to change that attitude and demanded the recruitment of a large army and the expansion of the RFC. Such orders could not be fulfilled without changes to the country’s administration, and profound changes to society were to be a lasting result. Marwick11 gave a detailed account of these adjustments to Britain’s social structure, which brought lasting and irrevocable changes. When the RFC squadrons flew to France in 1914, the British air services owned 272 machines, but in 1918 this number had increased to 22,000 and, in addition, replacements had to be found for aircraft destroyed in combat and accidents. The organization for training aircrew and groundcrew was overstretched and had to be reshaped when it was found that pilots were being sent into operations with insufficient experience. The shortcomings of the supply system for new aircraft and spares had a marked effect on the development of British air strategy and, until the latter stages of the war, Trenchard was always short of resources. A better supply organization would have enabled the RFC to begin bombing 187


Germany at a much earlier date and, as a result, theories of strategic bombing would have had a firmer basis on which to support predictions, thereby reducing the exaggerated claims subsequently made for these operations to a more realistic level. Strategy formulation The organizational structure applied to the RFC had an effect on the formation of its air strategy. Table 7.1 shows the broad levels in the organization. Table 7.1: The levels of RFC organization Political Headquarters in London Headquarters in the Field The Flying Units

The political/military interface The policy/operational interface Strategy and tactics Operations

The political level formulated the war aims and coordinated the nation’s attempts to achieve them. However, because politicians need a power base of supportive individuals, which they maintain by patronage, the political dimension introduced the complications that invariably arise when power, personalities and factions enter the equation. The Lloyd George government lacked the support Churchill was able to command in the Second World War and this exacerbated the political manoeuvring, with the result that it is not at all certain that the best individual was appointed to a particular post. Curzon was supportive of aviation, but Lord Rothermere, who was less so and less effective, replaced him. Also, Balfour’s aggressive stance complicated relations between the Admiralty and War Office and just when the situation called for negotiation, tradeoff and bargaining, the doors were slammed against the army. It could be argued that the First Lord was merely supporting the service he represented, but when seen from a wider perspective, the 188


schism did nothing to help the war effort and certainly hampered the formulation of a unified view of air operations. Because the RFC headquarters in London was responsible for maintaining the supply of aircraft, spares and men, it needed to interact with other ministries, such as the Admiralty and Munitions, and this automatically subjected it to ministers’ political agendas. When critical commodities were in short supply and there was a battle for matériel, the power of the Admiralty, stemming from centuries of pre-eminence, put the War Office at a disadvantage. At the uniformed level, agreement was possible so long as the Royal Navy’s ability to manage its own affairs was not compromised. The political influence was most keenly felt when the Zeppelins and Gothas started to kill voters. As a result, extra resources, even though they were largely ineffective, were assigned to that task to the detriment of both navy and army operations elsewhere. In this environment, short cuts were taken; for instance, barely trained pilots were sent to a likely early death in France to satisfy the operational headquarters’ demand for full manning and no empty chairs at the breakfast table. The RFC suffered 600 casualties between July and November 1916, a rate of about 33 per cent; the heavy loss of life led to a judicial enquiry, which was set up as a result of a debate in parliament. The headquarters in France had to fight a difficult war in which, with increasing experience of the value of air power, new tasks were evolving while the supply of aircraft and pilots was inadequate. In 1916, in response to political pressure for British air forces to bomb Germany in retaliation for the bombing of Great Britain, promises were made to RFC headquarters in France that a bomber force would be provided. The aircraft did not arrive until 1918, and in the meantime raids were carried out with the existing, inadequate aircraft, while they were also trying to interdict German supply lines to the front. Trenchard’s task was to continue a policy of aggression, accepting heavy losses while maintaining the morale of his 189


pilots. The nature of the air war was developing fast and Trenchard spent much time talking to pilots and groundcrew, and seeking their opinions on tactics and equipment. As a result, the pilots complained, rumours spread and confidence in the aircraft was undermined. The RE8 (nicknamed the ‘Harry Tate’ after a musichall artist of the time) was a particularly difficult aircraft to fly and much disliked. On one occasion, eight RE8s had flown together on a mission and all were shot down. Aircraft were being pushed to the limits of their performance (and sometimes beyond) in the desperate air battles of the time. The pilots who flew the missions developed their own theories and tactics for success and survival. Some, such as Boelcke, Richthofen, Bishop and Mannock, thought out the tactics of success and wrote them down or taught their fellows. The use of air power was being devised in the skies in the most unforgiving of universities, war. The appreciation When strategies were being developed in RFC HQ, it is likely that the appreciation method would have been used.12 The appreciation uses a set structure of headings for problem solving: • • • • • • • • •

Review of the situation Factors affecting the selection of the aim Aim Factors Enemy courses Enemy’s most probable course Own courses Selection of the best course Plan

Few strategic utterances seem to have emanated from the headquarters in France, or London (or at least found their way into the



public records), although a review of the air situation in December 1917 (see Appendix 5 to this book) is a notable exception. This review is described as an ‘appreciation’ and its content bears the marks of this kind of analysis, but its intention would seem to be more a warning to London against falling behind on the supply and training programmes than a plan of action. RFC HQ had only a small staff and it is not known how many had been staff trained, but probably very few. They would have seen their problem as fighting battles (namely tactics) rather than devising strategies to win the war as a whole. Conclusion The logic of air strategy seems simple. Given the existence of aeroplanes, one needs to deny the use of the air to one’s opponents and forces dedicated to that task can conduct this defence. This force is defensive, however, and fails to exploit the offensive characteristic of aircraft that permits the exercise of war power at a distance. Offensive aircraft can destroy the enemy air force on the ground and then have enough flexibility to be redirected against logistical targets, both civilian and military. An extended range and endurance fits aircraft for anti-submarine and air transport work. In the First World War, there were three impediments to the realization of this logic: • •

The air extends over both land and sea, where war operations were controlled by two separate arms – the navy and the army. The design and production of aircraft and engines were in their infancy. Performance of the available aircraft limited the effectiveness of the air forces, and the shortcomings of the productive capacity prevented the formation of a force of decisive proportions. The shortage of machines exacerbated the competition for resources between the navy and the army.



It would be wrong to portray the senior officers of the two services merely as pig-headed obstructionists having a marked shortage of brain cells. They had the responsibility for their service and for the provision and development of air power to further their operations. Competition was a fact of life for them, but the two services did cooperate. The navy had a better link with aircraft companies than the army, which sourced its aircraft from government bodies, and had used this influence to secure the heavy Handley Page aircraft for anti-submarine patrol duties. These aircraft, however, were surrendered to form part of the Independent Air Force in 1918. The formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918 did not solve the land/sea problem, as became evident when, in 1937, the navy reassumed control, of the Fleet Air Arm. Strategy did not emerge from one source, but from the multiple interactions of people and from the pressures the context of the separate services and events exerted. Some decisions were shortterm reactions to setbacks or unwelcome events like the bombing of Britain, and short-termism is an enemy of long-term strategic thinking. On the other hand, the supply system could not meet its targets, so the forces in the field had to take short-term contingency decisions and, since strategic decisions result from bargaining, tradeoffs and negotiations, power comes into the equation. Trenchard had little political power, but he had referent power, which stemmed from his unsurpassed experience in air operations and the force of his personality. As an added source of power, he also had the trust and support of the French high command. The process of air strategy formation during the war was, then, a muddle in which well-meaning, dedicated people did the best they could in a context not entirely of their making, and strategic ideas emerged from what they did and what they thought. After the war, the discussion could be conducted in the different context of three services, rather than two, but the close association of the air with the land and sea diminished in favour of theories of strategic bombing. 192


The argument here can now turn, in the final chapter, to consider this information on air operations and the formation of strategy in the light of theories of strategy process developed within the discipline of strategic management.


8 Analysis and Conclusion

In this final chapter I seek to investigate how the air strategy that emerged at the end of the war came about. From what we have seen occur in the First World War, there are some similarities with companies in business, and this analogy will be made from time to time here. After all, companies are trying to achieve competitive advantage, which is similar to the fundamental idea in air strategy of air superiority. When an air force seeks air superiority, it knows that it is unlikely to have a monopoly of the use of the air, but it tries to achieve enough dominance to give it a strong assurance that it can use the air to its advantage. So it is in business. The nature of strategy The environment in which we live our lives and conduct our business is complex and uncertain. Attempts to predict what is going to happen are frequently wrong, yet we have to have some such thoughts if we are not merely to live for the moment. Strategy involves trying to understand this environment, which is so full of paradoxes and surprises, and to plot a course of action that will lead to reaching the aims we have set. Even setting aims is difficult, for our capabilities influence what we want to achieve. Set the sights too high and those involved are likely to become disillusioned at what they deem to be an impossible task, but too modest an aim will leave potential untapped. The period in which the strategy is set also has to be considered. The extant technology limits or opens choices and in First World War air battles the former was often the 195


case. Thus, the context in which strategy is formulated has a powerful effect on what final course of action is chosen. Strategy, unlike Pallas Athene, does not emerge mature and fully armed at birth. There has to be a process by which a decision is reached, and the necessary human thoughts and actions are the special focus of this book. Strategy formulation is a human activity, and the strategist’s character, knowledge, attitude and host of other attributes influence how decisions are reached. Even describing those involved in the plural may be controversial in a military setting, when it is often assumed that the commander is the one who formulates the strategy. Grattan1 tried to dispel that myth and to show that many people are involved. The commander may make the decision, but is not alone in producing the strategy. Nonetheless, the mindset or paradigm of those making the strategy will influence the choices they make. Their attitude to risk will have a marked influence on what they perceive as legitimate choices. Hitler tended to be a gambler, and some of his decisions before the Second World War, like the reoccupation of the Saar, frightened his generals, but they were based on his belief that he was a genius. Strategists need to have self-belief and self-confidence, but a modicum of humility and an acceptance of human frailty are necessary counters to overweening arrogance. We all look out on the world and use our personal paradigm as a basis for an analysis of what we think events mean, but interaction with others who have a different mindset can lead to misunderstanding and confusion, or new ideas. We are often forced into discussions with others who think differently, but a military training and doctrine impose some degree of standardization of outlook. The down side is that this conformity can lead to inflexibility and a clinging to outdated concepts. Thus, the process through which a strategy evolves will have an influence on what strategy is eventually chosen. Pettigrew2 produced a diagram (Figure 8.1 below), which is still widely used, which illustrates the interaction of the three elements 196


just described. This concept was devised for strategic management theory, but applies equally well to any form of strategy. Figure 8.1: The three dimensions of strategy Content



Source: Andrew Pettigrew (1988) The Management of Strategic Change, Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Pettigrew made clear that these dimensions, like the length, breadth and height of a box, cannot be considered separately, because each interacts with and influences the others. This view of the dimensions of strategy can lead to further illumination of the nature of strategy: •

To be understood, strategy formulation has to be approached longitudinally rather than as an isolated incident. Each strategy decision has a legacy that has to be considered. So, although the development of air strategy has been described here as being written on a tabula rasa, there were related antecedents that had an effect. The existence of two separate bodies to fight wars, a navy and an army, led to the division of air strategy into two, which hindered the perception of ‘the air’ as an integrated whole. The value of the early use of balloons by Napoleon and in the American Civil War had pointed to the benefits that could be expected from airborne reconnaissance, but doubts still remained in the conservative minds of many in the military. Strategy is holistic in that it has to encompass all aspects of the 197


enterprise. Strategy has been described as needing a detached, ‘helicopter’ view, and the division caused by the traditional settings for warfare, land and sea hampered the growth of an air strategy in the First World War. Furthermore, a shortage of aircraft, engines and spares complicated the development of this over-arching view. Bombing of industrial Germany may have been a desired strategy, but the wherewithal simply was not available. Strategy cannot be formed in vacuo, and has to take account of factors outside of the control of the enterprise. Strategy, on the other hand, has to be practical and is not some abstract entity chosen for its intellectual elegance or adherence to theory. Theory, to be sure, can guide and provide a framework for thought, but it is not an iron maiden for our restriction and torture. Trenchard could appreciate the strategic value of bombing, but he was not prepared to pursue that strategy until the more immediate and pressing task of helping the army to victory had been satisfied. Strategy is about decision, since deciding on one strategy automatically rules out an alternative. Studying the process of strategy from the point of view of decision theory has not always been successful, for strategy formulation is often a stream of decisions. This phenomenon was evident in the approach to devising a strategy for the Cuban missile crisis, where we are fortunate to have tapes of many of the discussions President Kennedy conducted and a penetrating analysis of the whole 13 days.3 Air strategy in the First World War grew organically out of the pressure of events and the many subsequent decisions made by commanders and by individuals in the air.

Generic strategies The overall approach to the air war can be seen through the lens of Delbrück’s alternative strategies of annihilation and attrition. The RFC pursued an aggressive strategy by operating over the German



lines and by imposing its will on its opponents, whereas the Germans flew barrier patrols over their own territory to gain superiority by attrition. Attrition proved to be too slow and too reactive, and the initiative passed to the more proactive British. The Germans, after the air battles associated with the British offensive on the Somme, changed their strategy and made greater efforts to seek out the enemy and to destroy them. From the experience of these two approaches, the aggressive nature of air power became apparent. Trenchard has been criticized for continuing to operate RFC aircraft over enemy territory, even when British losses were perilously high. Damaged German aircraft could land behind their own lines and the crew fight again, while British aircrew in the same predicament became prisoners of war. The aggressive action of the British, however, allowed them to retain the initiative, making the Germans react rather than dominate. Annihilation worked better than attrition over the battlefield, but the latter policy was the basis for the intended bombing of German industry. Strategic thinking Like every human being, strategists store their knowledge, experience and resulting view of the world in what are generally termed ‘cognitive maps’, which are formed over time through education, experience and interaction with others. This map can be used as an interpretative filter to discard some information as irrelevant, and as an aid to making sense of the various stimuli from the outside world. An optimist may play down negative facts; arrogant people may assume that they are always right; and damaged ones may be averse to risk. A problem has to be defined and understood before it can be solved, and the strategist must approach both activities with logic and a disregard of prejudices. The military system of the appreciation4 is an attempt to avoid jumping ahead in this process and deciding on a course of action too soon. Some strategic thinking is structured and deliberate, for it is



associated with a planning system that makes the process as rational as possible. On the other hand, strategy can come from creativity and lateral thinking when even the bizarre is considered possible. Military thinking usually takes place within a structure in which logic and systematic problem solving are preferred to intuition. One cannot be intuitive without having relevant experience; otherwise one is making a guess, inspired or otherwise. During the Cuban missile crisis, ‘Tommy’ Thompson made a crucial intuitive judgement that Mr Khrushchev, the Soviet president, was seeking a way out of a difficulty he himself had created. Thompson knew Khrushchev personally so his intuition was not based on guesswork, and his intervention in the strategy process led to the USA deciding to mount the blockade. In military circles, a radical solution needs to be backed by careful staff work before being presented to the commander, and Trenchard’s submissions to the War Office were always closely argued from fact. The military system, though predominantly logical and rational, does permit creative ideas, but these need to be closely argued and defended against criticism from less radical members of staff. The military is suspicious of new ideas, for experience has shown that in war events seldom work out exactly as planned, and there is assumed to be less risk in using tried methods. In 1915–16 the air commander in Iraq refused to bomb a Turkish airfield near Kut, but took on the resupply operation instead, although that had never been done before and required some ad hoc modification to the aeroplanes. Strategy formation There are different views in strategic management on how strategy is formulated. The process can be seen as a deliberate one or, alternatively, as one in which strategy emerges over time, almost by accident. Empiricists find it difficult to accept that the leaders of the organization do not control and order such an important activity as strategy formulation. Organizational behaviourists, on



the other hand, see strategy as a continuous, unstructured activity that involves many people from different levels of the organization. Simon5 held that human beings have bounded rationality; in other words, the brain cannot comprehend the totality of the complexity required to plan and formulate a perfect strategy. Lindblom, as well as Braybrooke and Lindblom,6 suggested that, given the complex nature of strategic problems, humans cannot fully comprehend them in a synoptic fashion and can only consider them in a fragmented, incremental way. As a result, problems are not solved in one comprehensive decision, but are tackled a piece at a time. This method is less risky than taking one big decision, since the results of earlier decisions can be taken into account before making the next move. Lindblom found that this incrementalism was prevalent in government offices. Supporters of the emergent process suggest that there is less risk, which is more rational, in moving forward by a series of small steps, rather than making large, risky changes. This view has it that strategy emerges from what happens day by day and the small decisions that are constantly being made, rather than an assessment of what is likely to happen in an uncertain future. Furthermore, strategy in this view is not decided at the top of the company only, but involves the thoughts and actions of people at all levels. Quinn7 called this process ‘logical incrementalism’ on the grounds that each step was logical and rational, but each step was small. The critics of this method suggest that a series of small steps can lead to ‘strategic drift’, with the organization failing to notice that it has moved to an undesired position, because it did not detect the trend established by the small steps of incrementalism. Air strategy formulation in the First World War followed the pragmatic, emergent process. In the environment where the planning method is used, strategy is expected to be formulated at the highest level in the company and then passed down for implementation. The emergent view suggests that events at the operational level influence what the 201


strategy will be, and people at the top of the company often find themselves having to endorse a de facto strategy arising from day-today decisions made at a lower level. Other evidence suggests that the process is both up and down, and the discussions iterate around the organizational levels of the company until a strategy emerges that satisfies both top and bottom. The strategy as practice school of theory has a research agenda that ‘is concerned with strategy as a situated, socially accomplished activity constructed through the actions and interactions of multiple actors’.8 The situation and the actors cannot be taken for granted, as different groups and different people become involved at various times. The strategy process can be more chaotic than managers would wish. Apart from the formation of the RFC, the big decision of this era was the creation of the Royal Air Force in 1918, which might be looked upon as a one-off revolutionary change. In fact, thoughts of a separate air organization were circulating as early as 1915, and were revisited and refined successively until the decision was finally taken in 1917, by which time the concept had acquired the status of conventional wisdom. In operations, the progressive development and expansion of the RFC was conditioned by the design, production and supply of improved aircraft, weapons and equipment, but the RFC/RNAS split can be seen to be at the heart of this problem. The decision to form an Independent Air Force was not a change of strategy so much as an attempt to solve the intractable logistics problems and as a reaction to the public pressures on the government to defend Great Britain properly and to retaliate in kind to the bombing of London. Lindblom’s model of small incremental changes fragmented throughout the organization seems to fit what happened in the RFC. The military makes plans because of the need to coordinate the activities of men separated by time and space and to bring them together at the right time and in the right place. The plan, however, lacks flexibility and discourages initiative, so in the First World War 202


on the Somme, some British units dug in when reaching their objective, not realizing that there was no opposition before them. The German system of auftragstaktik required officers to understand their mission, while being left free to decide for themselves how best to accomplish it; it was in effect an attempt to counter the confusion of war.9 The British system used to be that, when the unexpected occurred officers on the spot contacted headquarters for instructions. If they could not contact headquarters, they generally did nothing. The former idea better sums up how air forces operate, since a pilot or crew can be very much on their own in the air and have to make their decisions on the basis of their understanding of their mission. On the strategic level, Trenchard was evolving his strategies as more resources came to hand, but he was constantly in touch with his men, with his commander Sir Douglas Haig, and with the air department in London. Trenchard had to have a plan so that he could convince London of his needs for resources, but operationally his strategy emerged from day to day. He must have had a vision of where he wanted to be, and would do nothing to prejudice achieving that vision, but his strategy had to be firmly anchored in reality. This reality was being manifested to him by the men he spoke to on the squadrons who came up with ideas and complaints about their equipment. Strategic change Strategy has to be adapted as the context changes and new objectives emerge. Skill and perception are required to recognize when a change becomes necessary. A loss of nerve in the face of setbacks can lead to a premature abandonment of a strategy that would have worked in the longer term. The situation in the RFC allowed only evolutionary changes, principally because of the limitation imposed by the technology, but also because the corps was learning its business. The introduction of air power into war



was to prove a bigger change than first thought, which some, but not all, welcomed: There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. [This is] because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527) The introduction of the interrupter gear was an abrupt change that brought about refinements in air fighting and the introduction of formation flying in war, and the suddenness of the change conferred tactical advantage on the German air force that could have had the strategic effect of forcing the RFC onto the defensive. Had not the RFC maintained its offensive policy, the setback might have created a defensive mindset that would have been very difficult to reverse, and might have cost them air superiority. In the main, though, change was organic and evolutionary. Circumstances forced the RFC to move into new areas of air power for which it had no knowledge or experience, but the same can be said of its opponents. Striving for competitive advantage, or for air superiority, led both sides into air fighting and bombing and in both cases the German air force had the material advantage in better equipment for much of the time, but the Allies imitated and, in some cases, eventually bettered each advance. Context Military aviation in the First World War was a growth ‘industry’ in which demand outstripped supply, and innovation and technology could change the balance of advantage, if only temporarily. The interrupter gear changed the rules of the game and brought about



the developments of air fighting that, in turn, spawned operations in formations. Fighting in the air was an insufficient means of gaining air superiority and both sides undertook attacks on airfields to try and hasten the process. Reconnaissance of the lines of communication led to the natural development of attacking the movements in the rear of the front, instead of merely reporting them. These developments, however, were adventitious, rather than the results of careful planning. A strong element in air strategy development resulted from what airmen were doing in the air. The Germans abandoned the ‘barrier flight’ defensive measures in the face of the RFC’s aggression, and the RFC flew larger formations to tackle the Jagdeschwader led by such as von Richthofen. Attempts to dictate the rules of the game seldom lasted long and the advantage that they conferred was fleeting, though worthwhile. Tactical decisions had an effect on strategic thinking. The organizational context The RFC was divided first into wings and then into brigades, which were provided to meet the army’s needs. Wings contained aircraft performing all the air-power roles their associated corps needed. Initially, fighter aircraft formed part of a squadron flying reconnaissance sorties, but later specialized fighter squadrons were formed, so that the aircraft within a wing could support their fellows synergistically. Seen from a business perspective, British aviation had two competing divisionalized ‘companies’ operating in the same ‘market’, the RNAS and RFC. They competed for the available resources and both had bomber and fighter elements, which operated without knowledge of the other’s activities. They could cooperate, but the first allegiance of each was to the arm it supported. In that it lacked an effective single commander, the air defence of Great Britain showed the limitations of this separation of powers. The shortcomings in the organization of the air element of the British forces came to be recognized and led to the formation of the Royal Air



Force, but powerful forces in both the army and the navy, though compelled to conform, remained unconvinced. Since executives need to exercise control, organizations impose restraints on their employees to ensure appropriate behaviour. Military regulations specify permitted and unacceptable behaviour; furthermore, tradition and honour are powerful factors operating on individual servicemen. On the other hand, some companies, particularly those staffed by professionals and individualists, allow their employees considerable freedom of action on the grounds that they are more likely to succeed if given a degree of autonomy. Creativity might thrive in the former type of organization, but the military is less likely to tolerate individuals going off and doing as they please. Because they had to make decisions in isolated circumstances, the airmen developed an individualistic frame of mind. For example, Bishop decided to make a counter air attack on an enemy airfield on his day off. Aviators needed self-confidence, so tended more towards arrogance than diffidence. Being accustomed to making their own decisions in the air, they were less amenable to unthinking discipline on the ground, which did lead to behavioural problems, particularly in the navy. Flying every day was very stressful, and the aviators tended to relax with alcohol and riotous, even childish, mess activities. Even so, despite these freedoms, the organization was more controlled than chaotic. The tendency in the military is to take decisions at the top. Trenchard was a strong, dominant leader who, while making his own analysis of the events surrounding him, also listened to what others said. His leadership was an essential factor in the British approach to the air war, where the maintenance of morale and the need for offensive action despite heavy losses were held in a precarious balance. Because the ‘fog of war’ imposes uncertainty on even the most careful planning, a military attitude to risk is more cautious than entrepreneurial. While shortages of equipment and of 206


experienced pilots added to the risks the RFC faced, these were seen as transient rather than strategic factors. The patriotic ‘king and country’ culture of the RFC, as well as of the other armed forces, emerged from the values of ancient Rome that schools, particularly public schools, instilled into growing boys. These men could be asked to give their lives to a noble cause, and they would do so. These mores, which were present in the formulation of an air strategy, helped to identify, maintain and confirm the offensive nature of air power while suffering heavy losses. The culture and form of an organization will affect how much influence each actor can have. An organizational structure designed to control can stifle discussion and an authoritarian culture can encourage ‘group-thinking’, where no one questions the edicts from the top. Peter F. Drucker gives an example of the opposite approach: Alfred P. Sloan, Jr, is reported to have said at a meeting of one of the GM top committees, ‘Gentlemen, I take it that we are all in complete agreement on the decision here.’ Everyone around the table nodded their assent. ‘Then,’ continued Mr Sloan, ‘I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting, to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what the decision is all about.’10 In the military, rank indicates the amount of power allocated to a particular person, and that power is underwritten by military law, which provides sanctions and punishments for those who disobey legitimate orders. Under those circumstances, it is difficult for a junior staff officer to disagree with his commander or chief of staff, but unless he or she is prepared to do so the staff principle is undermined. Robert Kennedy illustrated this problem with what he encountered during the Cuban missile crisis: 207


I believe our deliberations proved conclusively how important it is that the President has the recommendations and opinions of more than one individual, of more than one department, and of more than one point of view. Opinion, even fact itself, can best be judged by conflict, by debate. There is an important element missing when there is unanimity of viewpoint. Yet that not only can happen; it frequently does when the recommendations are being given to the President of the United States. His office creates such respect and awe that it has almost a cowering effect on men. Frequently I saw advisers adapt their opinions to what they believed President Kennedy and, later, President Johnson wished to hear.11 Trenchard was less than articulate and could be gruff and forbidding, but his pilots were prepared to air their views with him, and he listened. It was a standing joke in the RFC in France to quote Trenchard (but not in his presence) with ‘Note that down, Baring’ on a new idea or tactic.

Strategy and structure A. D. Chandler12 concluded that the organizational structure should follow from and be determined by the chosen strategy. He used General Motors as an example of a divisionalized organization that had arisen from a strategy of decentralization and from the differentiation of the car market. The RFC structure in France was directly related to the strategic concept that air operations were an extension, but still part of, ground force operations. The RNAS was a separate organization following its own aims. The RNAS/RFC split impeded the coordinated development of a separate air strategy. This structure determined that aircraft were used as an extension of their parent service, denying the existence of an ‘air’ war in its own right, separate, but connected to, the war on land 208


and at sea. The formation of the Royal Air Force arose from discussions, which had started as early as 1915, on the need to resolve the adverse affects of splitting air assets between the two organizations. The decision to form an Independent Air Force was also a tacit acknowledgement of the existence of an air war separate from army and naval operations. The creation of the third force arose from a changed strategy, but the reorganization allowed the further refinement of air strategy.

The learning organization Organizations are repositories of knowledge, some of which is made explicit and is available to all, while some is tacit, confined to the brains of people in the group. Knowledge is a strategic asset, particularly if it is valuable and is possessed by one organization and not another. Learning is the way that knowledge passes from a source to a person, and the organization structure and culture must facilitate the exchange of knowledge from those who have it to those who need it. One obstacle to a free interchange in this way is that knowledge is power. The expert gains esteem, fame and probably an increased salary from the knowledge he or she holds, and to dispense it freely will lessen that personal power. Knowledge was transferred around the RFC in France mainly through the efforts of Trenchard, with the help of his trusty amanuensis Baring, who together constantly visited wings and squadrons urging on the pilots and gathering and dispensing information. Trenchard knew of shortages of spare parts and shortcomings in equipment, and pursued complaints from his men. One squadron he visited complained that its oil was inferior to that being used by the RNAS. Enquiries showed that the RNAS thought that its oil was inferior, but chemical analysis of samples from both services revealed that they were identical. Nevertheless, that the commander cared about such issues contributed greatly to the morale of the men doing the fighting. The air aces were revered, but Mannock 209


took men from his flight into battle under instruction, and showed them by demonstration how to fight in the air. There is little doubt that Mannock should have claimed more ‘kills’, but he would hand over a damaged, and possibly disabled, target for the novice to shoot down. Not all the aces were that self-effacing, but the experts saw it as their duty to hand over the knowledge they had acquired.

Organizational politics Whenever groups of people work together, the aims of some will differ from those of others. One person may have a clear perception of what needs to be done and be frustrated that the rest see it differently. Politics is to do with power, so a frustrated individual will seek ways to forward his or her cause by less than direct means. Coalitions of like-minded individuals form to provide a widened power base and to seek the support of the powerful. Politics can be viewed as destructive, but, more positively, it can be a force for innovation and change. Trenchard despised politics and manoeuvrings, an antipathy that fuelled his dislike and distrust of his colleague and rival Sykes, possibly because Trenchard was not good at it and Sykes was. Though organizational politics can introduce division in a fighting force, this does not seem to have happened at the fighting level in the RFC. Squadrons had too many problems fighting the enemy to engage in internecine strife; politics happened at a higher level, mainly at the political/military interface in London, but its influence was felt at the headquarters in France. Politics, like death and taxes, is unavoidable in organizations; so a successful strategist needs to come to terms with and be good at it. On the other hand, Trenchard succeeded because of his integrity, firmness of purpose and professionalism, rather than any political ability. Summary In the First World War, aviation strategy tended to emerge rather than be planned; the lack of delivery of the requested equipment



often frustrated the planning that was attempted on the British side, so contingency plans were frequently necessary. Although aviation was a revolutionary innovation that had a marked effect on military and naval strategies, changes in its strategy were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The RFC’s aggressive spirit and morale was a valuable resource that accounted for a large measure of its success. The British ‘corporate’ strategy never solved the organizational problems the division of aviation between the RNAS and the RFC caused, and the synergy between roles that would have benefited the cause was never realized. The air services were organizationally slightly more chaotic than the army because pilots had to make more choices and take more initiatives. Strategy, then, depends on the dramatis personae assembled at a particular time and place. The process changes if an amenable person replaces an authoritarian commander who goes to another post, or vice versa. The exchange of ideas that follows when the power of knowledge is redistributed in an organization is likely to lead to more rounded and complete solutions. Hitler was a good example of the perils of top–down authoritarian leadership, for appalling mistakes were made because no one dared challenge his decisions for fear of the punishments that might follow. The culture of the organization is a factor in locating power and thus in deciding whether top–down, bottom–up or a combination of both methods are used in formulating strategy. Conclusion The focus has been on how the strategy was derived, and by whom, and the main level of analysis has been at the RFC HQ level, although events at the political/military interface in London have also been considered. Reasoning on air strategy was a priori because there was nothing pre-existing. Those involved worked out the problems pragmatically, and the significance of events was often only appreciated on reflection, but there was little time for philoso-



phizing. The real strategy debates took place after the war had ended, when often-extravagant claims were made for what air power could and would do. Strategic bombing, which Britain adopted mainly in retaliation for what London had suffered, was elevated to a way of winning wars without the need for armies. This may have been a convenient argument for a new and vulnerable Royal Air Force, but the concept of strategic bombing distorted the preparations for the Second World War, and the necessity for air defence was considered only in the nick of time. The combination of the required weight of bombs, delivered accurately, was the subject of wishful thinking. RAF aircraft in the Second World War could carry a heavy weight of bombs, but, forced by enemy defences to bomb at night, the accuracy was woeful, until radio and radar aids were developed later. The American bombers at that time could bomb accurately by day, but the bomb load was lighter than that of the Zeppelin in the First World War. The strategic bombing theories of the interwar period were simply unrealistic. The unity of the air and the need for an air campaign in its own right was slow to be considered in Britain because of the split of air forces between the army and navy. Although the Germans faced the same problem, the location of power was the reverse of the British situation. The German navy was subordinated to the Prussian-led army, and complained about being starved of resources. The need for air power in support of land and sea operations was, and is, real, and the need for air superiority is now clearly understood, but in 1914 the only way to have air support that was trained and knowledgeable about land or sea operations was to have one’s own force. Visual reconnaissance needed observers who could interpret what they saw and could recognize the equipment the enemy deployed. An army observer probably could not tell a light cruiser from a destroyer, and similarly a naval observer would have problems differentiating a company from a battalion. If the commander did not own the air forces, they might 212


be diverted away from him to another, perhaps more important, mission, but this could prejudice the original operations. The navy at the time operated everywhere around the globe, and needed to take its air forces with them; operating from carriers required special training and special skills. In 1917–18, the army needed bombers to raid the enemy’s communications and supplies, but some bombers had gone to the navy for anti-submarine patrol duties. In 1914–18, there were insufficient aircraft for all the identified tasks. The nature of war has changed since 1914–18 and, as in all strategy formulation, if the environment changes, there has to be an adaptation of means. Air power has had to adapt to these different forms of conflict, and Mason gave a comprehensive analysis of these developments.13 Air strategy in the First World War emerged from operations in the field, from the analysis at RFC HQ, from the supply of aircraft and pilots, and from the high level debates at the political/military interface in London. Ideas did not travel up and down this ladder in a way we can now detect, and they will not be replicated because the strategy process is uniquely dependent on the personalities, knowledge, mindsets and will of the men involved, and on the context in which it is conducted. We can be sure that Trenchard was at the centre of this process and was essential to the favourable outcome of the air war. His influence extended beyond just the British forces, since he had the trust of Foch and the French air force, and, later on, the American air forces. Trenchard, however, neither made nor claimed to have made the strategy singlehandedly. He had the support of many influential men such as Churchill, Kitchener, Haig, Foch and Smuts, without whom he could not have succeeded, but he was not without opponents too. His pilots fighting the air war fed in their views and he took these into account. Trenchard could not do all he wanted to do because of the constant shortage of aircraft and pilots, and the late delivery of improved types of aircraft, but his great skill was coping with 213


such shortages. His small staff, too, gave him loyal and valuable support. Air power has grown up now, but the original dichotomy persists. The indivisibility of the air can be subordinated to financial pressures on the defence budget and the wish, still latent, for land and sea commanders to have their own ‘air’. The British army now flies attack helicopters in support of ground operations and conducts reconnaissance with unmanned vehicles. The navy plans to operate aircraft carriers equipped with the Joint Strike Fighter. The requirements for air support of land and sea operations still exist and the financial pressures on the defence budget may see the return, yet again, of arguments for the division of air power. The events of the First World War would seem to indicate that flexibility, concentration of force and economy of effort would be sacrificed by this division for little gain, other than, possibly, to the Treasury. The message Strategic management theory has not advanced sufficiently to be prescriptive on the formulation process and most of the work in this field is descriptive, so this section is not called ‘The lessons’ but the more diffident, ‘The message’. We are entitled, however, to conclude with what this study seems to reveal. •

First, as in all strategy formulation, the primacy of the aim and its maintenance in operations is evident. The link is evident in the Second World War, when, if the Allies had not persisted in demanding unconditional surrender of the Germans, the war would have probably ended sooner and with less loss of life. The aim of air power in the First World War evolved and became primarily the achievement of air superiority, but that concept first had to be formed. Reaching the wrong aim successfully is a strategic failure.



Since strategy needs to be based on facts and knowledge, those at the top of an organization should listen to those at the working level, to whom the shortcomings of the organization’s strategy are most evident. This attention to the lower levels might seem to be lèse-majesté, but is surely better than making decisions in ignorance of the realities of the operations. The leaders need to be firm in their purpose but flexible in their thinking. War and business need a strong will, but leaders are paid to think, and keep on thinking. Ignoring the realities may lead to a disaster, but vacillation weakens morale, cohesion of the organization and trust in the leadership. One must avoid both Scylla and Charybdis. Strategic thinking must be based on as many facts as it is possible to assemble and then to analyse as logically as possible. It is unlikely that there will be only one analysis that fits the facts, and the wider the discussion, the more likely the best will be identified, although the process will be frustrating, annoying and fatiguing. A split organization is in danger of spending more energy competing internally than fighting the real enemy outside. Jesus (in Matthew 12:25) observed that ‘Every kingdom divided against itself goes to ruin; and no town, no household, that is divided against itself can stand.’ The air services in the First World War did not go to ruin, but the competition between the RFC and RNAS reduced the potential and the capability of the British air forces as a whole. The timely supply of inputs of consumables and money into the company is frequently given insufficient attention, and so it was for the air services in the First World War. Sir William Weir (later Lord Weir of Eastwood) was an industrialist who greatly improved the supply of aircraft and engines to the RFC, both while in the Ministry of Munitions and then as secretary of state for the Royal Air Force, but throughout the war the 215


squadrons in France were short of serviceable aircraft. They could have done more with better and sufficient equipment. Strategy is formed by discussion, negotiation and trade-offs, so it can be deemed a political process in which the distribution of power is important. Who says something is frequently more important than what is said. Politics can be corrosive, but controversy is necessary if one is to reach the optimum solution.

The Royal Air Force ended the war with 291,175 men and 20,890 aircraft. (It is unclear whether the ‘men’ figure includes the 25,000 non-combatant women in the Women’s Royal Air Force). This sizeable force had developed air strategy, air tactics and the roles of air power, and war would never be the same again. In a dispatch dated 20 July 1918 Sir Douglas Haig reported: Throughout the period of active operations our airmen have established and maintained a superiority over the enemy’s air forces without parallel since the days of the first Somme battle. Not content with destroying the enemy in the air, they have vigorously attacked his infantry, guns and transport with bombs and machine-gun fire, and in the fighting south of the Somme in particular gave invaluable assistance to the infantry by these means on numerous occasions. In addition, the usual work of reconnaissance, photography, artillery cooperation and bombing has been carried out vigorously and with remarkable results.14 The uses of air power had been established and the strategies for its employment were emerging from the trial and error of the war years.


Appendix 1 Timeline 1914–18


April 20

General Events

Aviation Events 1914

June 28 Grand Duke Ferdinand assassinated in Sarajevo July 1 28 Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia 29 Russia begins mobilization August 1 Germany orders mobilization; France orders mobilization 2 Germany declares war on Russia; Germany invades Poland 3 Germany invades Belgium; Britain orders mobilization 4 Britain declares war on Germany 7 First BEF troops land in France 8 Britain declares war on AustriaHungary 13 19 20 22


Sopwith Schneider wins Schneider trophy in Monaco at 86.78 mph

RNAS officially established

First French air casualty, small arms fire wounds an observer RFC squadrons and HQ begin to deploy to France First RFC reconnaissance First RFC casualty, rifle fire from ground wounds Sgt-Maj Jillings, observer First RAF aircraft (an Avro) lost


Start of the Battle of Mons

2 sqn, RFC, aircraft forces down first German aircraft German aircraft dropped three small bombs on RFC airfield at Compiegne, no damage resulted Paris bombed by an Etrich Taube

29 30 September 3 6 12

British and French aircraft detect von Kluck’s turn eastward

First Battle of the Marne starts Battle of the Marne ends

Storm damages RFC aircraft on ground leaving only 10 serviceable; RFC’s first operational use of aerial photography RFC first uses radio for artillery cooperation German Albatros attacks RFC aircraft in air

14 22 26 27

War of movement becomes trench warfare

October 1 First Battle of Arras begins 4 9 17 19 25

French Voisin III shoots down first German aircraft near Rheims First RNAS bombing raid on Germany, Zeppelin Z9 destroyed No. 6 sqn arrives in France

Antwerp surrenders to Germans First Battle of Ypres starts

26 28 29

Lord Fisher made First Sea Lord

November 5 Britain and France declare war on Turkey 11 Turkey declares war on Allies 21 22

First French bomber group formed

Anglo-Indian troops occupy Basra


Bad weather thwarts RNAS raid on Cuxhaven Zeppelin sheds British troops shoot down No. 4 sqn aircraft RFC aircraft adopt roundel marking in place of Union Flag

RNAS aircraft bomb Zeppelin factory at Friedrichshafen


No. 5 sqn Avro forces down German Albatross First German seaplane air raid on Britain, but bombs dropped in sea off Dover

24 December 15 German High Sea Fleet shells Hartlepool, Whitby and Scarborough 21

A Taube drops first bombs on England, in Kent German FF29 drops two bombs near Cliffe in Kent


January 19 24

1915 First Zeppelin raid on Britain. King’s Lynn and Yarmouth bombed

Battle of Dogger Bank

February 5 11 First Canadian troops land in France 21 28 US creates the US Coast Guard

Vickers FB5 Gunbus enters service German aircraft bomb targets in Essex

March 7

RFC’s first tactical bombing to support ground troops at Menin First RFC bombing of enemy railroad installations

10 April 1 18 22 25 26

First use of poison gas in France by Germans in 2nd battle of Ypres Allied landings at Gallipoli Italy joins the Allies

May 7 Sinking of the Lusitania 24 Italy declares war on AustriaHungary 26

Lt Roland Garros’s first kill using deflector plates on his propeller Lt Rolan Garros shot down

Lt Rhodes-Moorhouse, RFC awarded posthumous VC for bombing raid

First German air-to-air victory; Zeppelin raid on Southend



Zeppelin raid on London

June ? 1 6

Fokker E1 Eindecker enters service First flight of Airco DH2 Zeppelin raids on English east coast; Lt Warneford shoots down first Zeppelin Zeppelin raids on English northeast; French aircraft bomb Karlsruhe Austrian air raid on Venice

15 24 July 6 25 30

Lt Boelcke’s first victory – a Bleriot 11 sqn RFC in France with Vickers FB5 Gunbus aicraft German army uses flamethrowers

August 1 6 Allied landing at Suvla Bay 9 12 Zeppelin raid on English east coast 15 19

20 26

Zeppelin raids on English east coast RNAS drops first torpedo from a Short seaplane in Dardanelles Seaplanes bomb Venice Trenchard appointed GOC the RFC; Lt Boelcke in a Fokker E1 shoots down aircraft using interrupter gear

Italy declares war on Turkey French aircraft bomb poison gas factory at Dornach

September 7 25

Lt Immelman’s first victory

Zeppelins raid London and east coast of England

Battle of Loos begins

October 4 Anglo-French force lands at Salonika 13 Germans execute Nurse Cavell 14 Zeppelin raid on London November 3 5

First takeoff from a ship – Bristol Scout from HMS Vindex

Britain declares war on Turkey

December 10 Evacuation of Gallipoli begins


APPENDIX 1: TIMELINE 1914–18 12 15 17 18 20

First flight of Junkers J1, the first allmetal aircraft Douglas Haig becomes British C-in-C First flight of Handley Page 0/400 Battle of Verdun ends Anzac army withdrawn from Gallipoli


January 9 Withdrawal from Gallipoli completed 11 French occupy Corfu 12

Immelman and Boelcke awarded the Pour le Mérite

February 7 9 11 16

No. 24, first single-seat fighter squadron, forms with DH2s First flight of Sopwith Pup

Start of Battle of Verdun Britain introduces conscription

March 1 Germany begins unlimited submarine campaign to starve UK April 5 First Battle of Kut 15 24 30

Easter rising in Dublin Besieged British troops in Kut surrender to Turks

May 25 Fighting on Vimy Ridge 28 31 Battle of Jutland begins

First flight of Sopwith triplane

June 1 Battle of Jutland ends 5 Death of Lord Kitchener; Arab revolt in Hejaz against Turks 17

Navarre, first French ace, shot down and wounded: ends career with 12 kills; first flight of RE8 Immelman shot down and killed

18 July 1

British planes deliver 13 tons of supplies to besieged Kut

Battle of the Somme begins



Sopwith 1½ Strutter enters service with propeller/gun synchronizer Middle East Brigade of RFC formed

15 August 2

Lt Leefe-Robinson shoots down a Zeppelin over SE England Boelcke creates first fighter squadron – Jagdstaffel 2

27 29

Field Marshal Hindenburg replaces Gen. Falkenhayn

September 2 15 First British tanks in action at FlersCourcelette 18 23 October 25 28 29 Admiral Beatty commands Grand Fleet – Admiral Jellicoe becomes First Sea Lord

First Zeppelin shot down over England Von Richtofen scores first kill Two Zeppelins shot down by ground fire, one by Lt Sowrey First flight of Bristol F2B fighter Boelcke killed in mid-air collision

November 19 End of the Battle of the Somme 23

Von Richthofen shoots down Major Hawker VC First German LVG CIV seaplane raid on Britain

28 December 1 5 Asquith resigns as prime minister; Lloyd George becomes prime minister 18 Battle of Verdun ends 22 New Ministries and Secretaries Act becomes law 24 1917 January ? 2 Lord Cowdray becomes president of air board


First German aircraft fitted with radio

Sopwith Pup enters service with No. 54 sqn First flight of Sopwith Camel

APPENDIX 1: TIMELINE 1914–18 February 3 US severs diplomatic relations with Germany 21 Germans make planned withdrawal to Hindenburg Line 23 24

British reoccupy Kut

First night bomber squadron (No. 100) arrives in France with FE2b aircraft

March 11 British capture Baghdad 15 Tsar Nicholas II abdicates April 6 US declares war on Germany 9 Battle of Vimy Ridge May 7

Mannock scores first kill; Capt Ball killed – 44 victories French Capt Fonck shoots down six in one day

9 15

Gen. Pétain made Allied C-in-C

June ? 13 25 First US troops land in France July 7 19 31

Sopwith Camel in service First Gotha raid on London

Second Gotha raid on London Reichstag calls for negotiated peace Battle of Passchendaele begins

August 2

Sqn Cdr Dunning makes first ever deck landing by aircraft Dunning killed in deck landing

7 September 3 17 26

US 1st aero sqn in France French ace Guynemer missing Fonck shoots down six in one day for second time

October 11 British offensive at Passchendaele 17 19


RFC bomber from Ochey raid target near Saarbrucken Last Zeppelin raid on Britain


US troops fire first shots Battle of Caporetto

November 2 Balfour declaration signed 20 Battle of Cambrai

RFC attacks anti-guns and strongpoints to clear a path for tanks Air Force Bill receives royal assent

29 December ? Lord Rothermere heads air board 9 General Allenby enters Jerusalem 15 Armistice between Russia and the central powers 16 February 5 March 21 Start of German spring offensive


24 April 1 Royal Air Force and Women’s Royal Air Force formed 8 13 14 Gen. Foch appointed C-in-C of Allied forces in France 21 25 Sir William Weir replaces Lord Rothermere as air minister May ? 1 US troops join fighting in France for first time 10 Royal Navy attack Ostend 15 20 June 8 24

Trenchard accepts post of chief of the air staff Lt Thompson first kill for US Germany has 1680 aircraft. RFC has 579 Capt Trollope (43 sqn) shoots down six Germans in one day

SE5 in service with No. 56 sqn Trenchard resigns as CAS Von Richtofen shot down and killed

First flight of Handley Page V/1500

Trenchard takes command of IAF in France Last German air raid on Britain British IAF formed First use by RFC of 1650 lb bomb


APPENDIX 1: TIMELINE 1914–18 July 9

McCudden killed after engine failure on takeoff Mannock (73 kills) shot down by ground fire

26 August ? 6 11

Fokker D.VIII entered service Last Zeppelin raid on Britain First use of parachute; German pilot bails out of Pfalz DIII

September 28 Allied/Bulgaria armistice signed 29 Allies break through Hindenburg line ? October 1 5 14 26 27 30

General von Ludendorff resigns New German commander authorizes withdrawal from France German High Seas Fleet mutinies

November 3 Austria-Hungary signs armistice; German fleet at Kiel mutinies 9 Kaiser Wilhelm abdicates 11 Armistice Day 21 Surrender of German High Seas Fleet at Rosyth 30

Allies lose 560 aircraft during ‘Black September’ Mitchell takes command of US army air corps Garros shot down and killed Handley Page 0/400 drops 1650 lb bomb, biggest of the war

First flight of Vickers Vimy


Appendix 2 The Build-up of Squadrons in France and Casualties, 1914–18

Date of arrival in France

Squadron number

Duties at

Casualties (killed and missing)

Squadrons in France at year end

1914 3 August 13 August 13 August 15 August 7 October 8 December

2 3 4 5 6 9

G then C G then C then F G G then C G then C G then C



1915 10 February 7 March 8 April 25 April 25 July 25 July 6 September 19 October 19 November

16 1 7 8 10 11 12 13 18

G then C G then F G then C G then C G then C FR G then C G then C FR then B



1916 23 January 23 January 7 February 20 February 1 March 16 March 25 March 1 April

20 21 24 25 27 23 29 22

FR C then F then C F FR F then B FR F FR


THE ORIGINS OF AIR WAR 24 May 28 May 28 May 29 June 15 July 30 July 30 July 2–25 August 8 August 12 October 15 October 20 October 21 November 16 December 24 December

70 A Flt 32 60 70 B Flt 34 19 70 C Flt 40 42 45 41 46 52 57 54

FR then F F F FR then F C F FR then C F C FR then F F C then F C FR then B F



1917 1 January 17 January 26 January 23 February 6 March 8 March 17 March 28 March 8 April 25 July 9 September 21 September 23 September 24 September 8 October 15 October 27 October 12 November 20 November 18 December

53 43 35 59 55 48 66 100 56 101 69 AFC 68 AFC 84 102 28 64 65 49 82 71 AFC




1918 9 January 10 January 23 January 27 January 22 February 4 March 30 March 3 April

73 58 62 80 79 83 74 98



APPENDIX 2: THE BUILD-UP OF SQUADRONS 20 April 25 April 26 April 26 April 12 May 19 May 22 May 31 May 2 June 9 June 16 June 20 June 1 July 1 July 22 July 4 August 31 August 31 August 18 October 31 October

88 99 87 148 103 104 85 38 149 107 151 17 American 148 American 92 108 97 IAF 110 IAF 115 IAF 152 94




Notes: G = general, C = corps, F = fighting, FR = fighting reconnaissance, B = bombing, NB = night bombing, NF = night fighting, AFC = Australian Flying Corps * January to 21 July only


Appendix 3 Heads of Agreement about the Constitution of the Inter-Allied Independent Air Force

(An agreement reached between the British and French governments and transmitted through the Supreme War Council to the American and Italian governments for approval.)

1. The object of the force To carry war into Germany by attacking her industry, commerce and population.

2. The plan of campaign Air raids must be on a large scale and repeated, forming part of a methodical plan and carried on with tenacity.

3. Execution of the plan The complete realization of this scheme is not to be undertaken until the imperative requirements of the fighting have been satisfied or during the intervals of the fighting. It will, therefore, be possible to carry out this plan in two ways according to circumstances. (a) During periods of active operations. The requirements of battle will have to be met first, thus reducing in varying proportions the 231


strength of forces available for raids on the interior of Germany. The bombing action being begun will, however, have to be pursued even with a reduced strength. (b) During steady or quiet periods. Bombing raids on the interior of Germany become the chief work of our bombing squadrons. Having satisfied the Air Service requirements of the Army, all available long-range aeroplanes will be free to take part in the raids.

4. The establishment of the Inter-Allied Independent Air Force This establishment will include Allied Flights of heavy weight carrying aeroplanes with a wide radius of action, and will probably be reinforced later by further Allied Flights of the same type. The force will be placed under the command of General Trenchard, as Commander-in-Chief, assisted by a staff including besides the present staff, an officer of each of the Nations represented in the Bombing Force. General Trenchard will be under the Supreme Command of Marshal Foch for operations.

5. The name of the Force shall be the Inter-Allied Independent Air Force. 3 October 1918 Appendix XI of H. A. Jones (1937) The War in the Air: Appendices, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Imperial War Museum.


Appendix 4 Fighting in the Air

Memorandum issued by British GHQ, France, February 1918 I. General

1. The necessity of fighting The uses of aeroplanes in war in cooperation with other arms are many, but the efficient performance of their missions in every case depends on their ability to gain and maintain a position from which they can see the enemy’s dispositions and movements. Cavalry on the ground have to fight and defeat the enemy’s cavalry before they can gain information, and in the same way aerial fighting is usually necessary to enable aeroplanes to perform their other duties. Artillery cooperation, photography and similar work can only be successful if the enemy are prevented as far as possible from interfering with the machines engaged on these duties, and such work by hostile machines can only be prevented by interference on our part. The moral effect of a successful cavalry action is very great; equally so is that of successful fighting in the air. This is due to the fact that in many cases the combat is actually seen from the ground, while the results of successful fighting, even when not visible, are apparent to all. The moral effect produced by an aeroplane is also out of all proportion to the material damage which it can inflict, which is in itself considerable, and the mere presence of a hostile 233


aircraft above them inspires those on the ground with exaggerated forebodings of what it is capable of doing. On the other hand the moral effect on our own troops of aerial ascendancy is most marked, and the sight of a number of our machines continually at work over the enemy has as good an effect as the presence of hostile machines above us has bad.

2. Similarity to fighting on land and sea To seek out and destroy the enemy’s forces must therefore be the guiding principle of our tactics in the air, just as it is on land and at sea. The battle-ground must be of our own choosing and not of the enemy’s, and victory in the fight, to be complete, must bring other important results in its train. These results can only be achieved by gaining and keeping the ascendancy in the air. The more complete the ascendancy, the more far-reaching will be the results. The struggle for superiority takes the form, as in other fighting, of a series of combats, and it is by the moral and material effect of success in such combats that ascendancy over the enemy is gained.

3. The necessity of offensive action Offensive tactics are essential in aerial fighting for the following reason: To gain the ascendancy alluded to above. 1. Because the field of action of aeroplanes is over and in the rear of hostile forces, and we must, therefore attack in order to enable our machines to accomplish their missions, and prevent those of the enemy from accomplishing theirs. 2. Because the aeroplane is essentially a weapon of attack and not of defence. Fighting on land and sea takes place in two dimensions but in the air we have to reckon with all three. Manoeuvring room is, therefore, unlimited, and no number of 234


aeroplanes acting on the defensive will necessarily prevent a determined pilot reaching his objective.

4. Choice of objectives An aerial offensive is conducted by mean of: (a) Offensive patrols (b) The attack with bombs and machine-gun fire of the enemy’s troops, transport, billets, railway stations, rolling stock, and moving trains, ammunition dumps, &c., on the immediate front in connexion with operations on the ground. (c) Similar attacks on centres of military importance at a distance from the battle front or in the enemy’s country with a view to inflicting material damage and delay on his production and transport of war material and of lowering the morale of his industrial population. (a) Offensive patrols The sole mission of offensive patrols is to find and defeat the enemy’s aeroplanes. Their normal sphere of action extends for some twenty miles behind the hostile battle line, and the farther back they can engage the enemy’s fighting aeroplanes the more immunity will they secure for our machines doing artillery work, photography and close reconnaissance. Since, however, aerial ascendancy will usually be relative only and seldom absolute, patrols are also required closer in to attack those of his fighting machines which elude the outer patrols, and to deal with his machines doing artillery observation and similar work. Fighting may take place at any height up to the limit which the machine can ascend, known as the ‘ceiling’. Artillery observation imposes a limit of some 10,000 feet, but fighting, bombing, and photographic machines may fly at any height up to 20,000 feet or even more. Offensive patrols must, therefore, work echeloned in height (see para. 10). 235


(b) Attack of ground targets in the battle zone with bombs and machine-gun fire The attack of ground targets cannot strictly speaking be described as fighting in the air, but it is an integral part of the aerial offensive designed to weaken the morale of, and cause material damage to, the enemy’s troops. It is carried out by fast single-seat machines flying normally at anything from 100 to 2000 feet, either singly or in formation. Fixed targets and, to a certain extent, troops can be attacked with advantage at any time including periods of sedentary warfare, but the attack of moving targets such as troops and transport is of the greatest value in connexion with ground operations either offensive or defensive. (c) Attack of ground targets at a distance Targets at a distance are usually attacked by bombing. Such raids may be expected to produce their maximum effect when undertaken against distant objectives, since they may cause the enemy to withdraw artillery and aeroplanes from the front for protection of the locality attacked. They are also, however, of great use in rear of the immediate front in connexion with operations on the ground. Every patrol or raid should, therefore, be sent out with a definite mission, the successful performance of which will not only help us to gain aerial ascendancy by the destruction of hostile aircraft, but will also either tend to induce the enemy to act on the defensive in the air, or further the course of operations on the ground.

5. Types of fighting machines The machines at present in use for offensive purposes may be divided into four main classes: (a) Fighters (1) single-seaters (2) two-seaters. (b) Fighter reconnaissance. 236


(c) Bombers. (d) Machines for attacking ground targets from a low altitude. (a) Fighters (1) Single-seaters are fast, easy to manoeuvre, good climbers and capable of diving steeply on an adversary from a height. Their armament consists of two or more machine or Lewis guns, whose axis of fire is directed forward and, usually, in a fixed position in relation to the path of the machine. Single-seater fighters are essentially adapted for offensive action and surprise. In defence they are dependent on their handiness, speed, and power of manoeuvre. They have no advantage over a hostile single-seater as regards armament, and are at a disadvantage in this respect when opposed to a two-seater, and, therefore, the moment they cease to attack are in a position of inferiority, and must break off the combat, temporarily at any rate, until they have regained a favourable position. On the other hand, provided they are superior in speed and climb to their adversary, they can attack superior numbers with impunity, since they can break off the combat at will in case of necessity. (2) Two-seater fighters have, in addition, a machine gun for the observer on a mounting designed to give as wide an arc of fire as possible, especially to the flank and rear. Their front gun or guns remain, however, their principal armament. The two-seater is superior in armament to the single-seater, since it is capable of all-round fire, but is generally somewhat inferior in speed, climb and power of manoeuvre. It has greater powers of sustaining a prolonged combat, being less vulnerable to attacks from flank and rear, but as in the case of single-seaters its chief strength lies in attack. When fighting defensively or when surprised in an unfavourable position, it is often best for the pilot to fly his machine in such a 237


way as to enable the observer to make the fullest use of his gun, while awaiting a good opportunity to regain the initiative. (b) Fighter reconnaissance machines The first duty of these machines is to gain information. They do not go out with intent to fight, but must be capable of doing so, since fighting will often be necessary to enable the required information to be obtained. Those at present in use are two-seaters, the pilot flying the machine and the observer carrying out the reconnaissance. They approximate to the two-seater fighter type, and in the case of missions which can be carried out at 15,000 feet or upwards, are capable of acting alone, and usually do so. (c) Bombing machines Bombing machines usually carry at least one passenger, so that they can, in case of necessity, undertake their own protection, even when loaded. Their requirements, as regards armament, are similar to those of fighter reconnaissance machines. Machines carrying more than one passenger usually have a gun both fore and aft, and are strong for defensive fighting. The greater weight of bombs they can carry the better, (d) Machines for attacking ground targets Machines for this purpose will, as a rule, be single-seaters. Climb is of relatively minor importance, but they require to be fast and very manoeuvrable and must have a very good view downwards. Singleseater fighters can be used for this work, but it is probable that a special type of machine will be evolved in which the pilots and some of the most vulnerable parts will be armoured. They will probably be adapted for carrying a few light bombs and will have at least one gun, capable of being fired downwards at an angle of 45º to the horizontal, and another firing straight ahead.



II. Principles of aerial fighting

6. Factors of success The success of offensive tactics in the air depends on exactly the same factors as on land and sea. The principal of these are: (a) Surprise (b) The power of manoeuvre (c) Effective use of weapons. (a) Surprise Surprise has always been one of the most potent factors of success in war, and although it might at first sight appear that surprise is not possible in the air, in reality this is by no means the case. It must be remembered that the aeroplane is working in three dimensions, that the pilot’s view must always be more or less obstructed by the wings and body of his machine, and that consequently it is often an easy matter for a single machine, or even two or three machines, to approach unseen, especially if between the hostile aeroplane and the sun. Fighting by single machines is, however, rapidly becoming the exception (see para. 7), and surprise is more difficult of attainment by machines flying in formation, though by no means impossible. Even when in view, surprise is possible to a pilot who is thoroughly at home in the air, and can place his machine by a steep dive, a sharp turn or the like in an unexpected position on the enemy’s blind side or under his tail. A surprise attack is much more demoralizing than any other form of attack and often results in the pilot attacked diving straight away or putting his machine in such a position that it forms an almost stationary target for a few seconds, and thus in either case affords the assailant an easy shot. To achieve surprise it is necessary to see the enemy before he sees you. To see other machines in the 239


air sounds an easy matter, but in reality it is very difficult and necessitates careful training. The ground observer is guided by the noise of the engine, but the pilot, of course, hears no engine but his own. Again, while the ground observer sees the machine, broadly speaking, in plan, the pilot sees it in elevation, presenting a very much smaller surface. Add to these the variety of background, clear or cloudy sky, or the chequered appearance of the ground from above, and the obstruction offered to the pilot’s view by the wings and fuselage of his machine, and the difficulties will begin to be realized. Every pilot must, therefore, be trained to search the sky, when flying, in a methodical manner. A useful method is as follows: divide the sky into three sectors by means of the top plane and centre section struts, and sweep each sector very carefully. From port wingtip to a centre section search straight ahead and then do the same from centre section to starboard wingtip. From starboard wingtip take a steady sweep straight upwards to port wing tip. In addition it is essential to keep a good lookout to the rear, both above and below the tail, in order to avoid being surprised. This can be done by swinging from side to side occasionally. The results of a concentrated search of this description are surprising, while a pilot who just sweeps the sky at random will see little or nothing. In addition to seeing the hostile machine it is necessary to recognize it as such. A close study of silhouettes will assist the pilots to do this, but until thoroughly experienced it is a safe rule to treat every machine as hostile. This, of course, necessitates going close enough to make sure, and soon results in a pilot becoming familiar with all types of machines in the air. The types of hostile aeroplanes must be carefully studied, so that the performance and tactics of each, its blind side, and the best way to attack it, can be worked out. Some machines have a machine-gun mounted to fire downwards and backwards through the bottom of the fuselage. 240


Every advantage must be taken of the natural conditions, such as clouds, sun, and haze, in order to achieve surprise. If observed when attempting a surprise it is often best to turn away in the hope of disguising the fact that an attack is meditated. Flat turns may cause the enemy to lose sight of a machine even after he has once spotted it, as they expose much less surface to his view than do ordinary banking turns. (b) Power of manoeuvre Individual skill in manoeuvre favours surprise, as pointed out above. Individual and collective powers of manoeuvre are essential if flying in formation is to be successful of even possible. They can only be obtained by constant practice. To take full advantage of manoeuvre the highest degree of skill in flying and controlling the machine is of the first importance. A pilot who has full confidence in his own powers can put his machine in any position suitable to the need of the moment, well knowing that he can regain control whenever he wishes. The best way to gain the required confidence is for the instructor to take his pupil up, dual control, throw the machine out of control himself, and allow the pupil to right it, the instructor only taking control should the pupil fail to regain it. Once confidence has been acquired, practice will make perfect. The second essential is that the pilot shall know his engine and how to get the best out of it, and thoroughly understand the use of his throttle. Many a chance is lost through pilots allowing their engine to choke in a dive, and no pilot can become really first-class unless he acquires complete practical familiarity with his engine by constant study and practice. Good formation flying can only be carried out by pilots who know how to use their throttle. The leader must always fly throttled down or his formation will straggle. While they in turn must make constant use of their throttle to maintain station, and twist, turn, and wheel without confusion or loss of distance. 241


Other points to which attention must be paid are the following: pilots must know the fuel capacity of their machine and its speed at all heights. The best height at which to fight varies with each type of aeroplane. Each pilot must know this height so that he can make the very best use of his machine. As a general rule machines should patrol at a greater altitude than their best fighting height. The direction and strength of the wind must be studied before leaving the ground and during flight. This study is most important since wind limits the range of action, as machines when fighting are bound to drift downwind. (c) Effective use of weapons Machine and Lewis guns. The essentials for successful fighting in the air are skill in handling the machine and a high degree of proficiency in the use of gun and sights. Of these two essentials the second is of even more importance than the first. Many pilots who have not been exceptionally brilliant trick fliers have had their greatest success as fighting pilots owing to their skill in the use of gun and sights. The manipulation of a gun in the air, especially on single-seat machines, is a very much more difficult matter than on the ground. Changing drums, for instance, though simple on the ground, is by no means easy when flying. Every pilot and observer who is called upon to use a machine gun must have such an intimate knowledge of its mechanism as to know instinctively what is wrong when a stoppage occurs and, as far as the type of machine allows, must be able to rectify defects when flying. This demands constant study and practice both on the ground and in the air. It is absolutely essential that pilots and observers should know exactly how their guns are shooting, and they should be tried on a target at least once a day. With his gun out of action a pilot or observer is helpless either for offence or defence. Aerial gunnery is complicated by the fact that both gun and 242


target are moving at variable speed and on variable courses. Consequently, however skilful the flier, he cannot hope to be dead on the target for more than a very few seconds at a time, and it is essential that hand, eye, and brain be trained to work together. Accurate shooting on the ground from a fixed gun at a fixed target is the first step in training; subsequently constant practice on the ground both when stationary and when moving at fixed and moving targets is essential. Finally, every opportunity must be taken of practice in the air under conditions of combat. Except at point-blank range, it is essential to use the sights if accurate fire is to be obtained, and constant practice is needed with the sight provided. The aim can be checked with absolute accuracy by means of the gun camera, and combats in the air during which the camera is used are a most valuable form of training. Tracer ammunition is of some assistance, but must be used in conjunction with the sights, and not in place of them. Not more than one bullet in three should be tracer, otherwise the trace tends to become obscured beyond short range. The principle should be to use the sights whenever possible at all ranges. Inexperienced pilots are too apt to be content with diving and pointing their machine at the target and ignoring everything else. Mere noise and fright will not bring down an opponent; it is necessary to hit him in a vital spot. From the time a pilot starts to dive he should not have to fumble about for triggers and sights. His eye should fall automatically on the sight and his hand close on the trigger. By holding the right arm firmly against the body and working only from the elbow the machine can be held steadier in a dive. Bombs. Skill and accuracy in bombing in the same way can only be acquired by continual practice and careful study of the conditions which govern the correct setting and use of bomb sights. Such practice is best obtained by the use of the Batchelor Mirror or of the camera obscura, and must be carried out from varying altitudes 243


up to 15,000 feet, from which height bombs will often have to be dropped on service. An exception must be made in the case of bombing by singleseater fighting machines from a low altitude, a method of attack which has been employed with very considerable success. In this case no sight is used, and the method found by experience to give the best result is to dive the machine steeply at a point on the ground a few yards in front of the target. The lag of a bomb released from a few hundred feet on a steep dive is very little. Individual pilots must find out by experiment exactly how far ahead they must aim. III. Formation flying

7. Evolution of formation flying The development of aerial fighting has shown that certain fundamental maxims which govern fighting on land and sea are equally applicable in the air. Among these are concentration and mutual cooperation and support. The adoption of formation flying has followed as an inevitable result. Any mission which has fighting for its object, or for the accomplishment of which fighting may normally be expected, must usually, therefore, be carried out by a number of machines, the number depending on the amount of opposition likely to be encountered and on a third fundamental axiom, namely that no individual should have more than a limited number of units under his immediate control. The evolution of formation flying has been gradual. When aerial fighting became general it was soon discovered that two machines working together had a better chance of bringing a combat to a decisive conclusion than had a single machine. The next step was for two or more pairs to work together, and this quickly became the accepted practice.



The chief difficulty is control by the leader of the remaining machines primarily due to the difficulty of communicating in the air. For practical purposes this limits the number of machines that can be controlled by one man to six, and even when wireless telephony between machines is perfected this number is unlikely to be exceeded. The principles and causes which have led to formation flying remain in force, however, and are bound to result in a further development in the case of offensive fighting, namely two or more formations working in close cooperation with each other, and the best means of achieving such cooperation is the next problem to be solved in aerial warfare. When a force on the ground is engaged in offensive action the troops comprising the main body must be protected from surprise from the front, flanks and rear, hence the universal employment in open warfare of advanced flank and rear guards. In the air the third dimension renders flank and rear guards unnecessary, their place being taken by the ‘Above Guard’ which can perform the duties of both. Whether we consider a single formation, therefore, or a group of formations acting in close cooperation, an ‘Above Guard’ is necessary and may consist of two or more machines in the first case or of one of the formations in the second. These should fly slightly above the main body, either directly behind or echeloned to a flank. The main body carries out the offensive fighting, the ‘Above Guard’ remaining intact above them to protect them for surprise.

8. Some principles of formation flying The formations adopted vary in accordance with the mission and with the type of machine and must be strictly observed. (a) As on the ground so in the air the bed-rock of successful cooperation is drill, and good aerial drill is an essential preliminary to success in formation flying for any purpose. 245


Before commencing drill in the air it has been found of great assistance to practise on the ground until all concerned are thoroughly conversant with the various evolutions. Simplicity is essential, and complicated manoeuvres are bound to fail in action. Drill should commence in flight formation, each Flight Commander instructing and leading his own flight. Subsequently the Squadron Commander should lead and drill his whole squadron in three flights, each under its Flight Commander. A really well-drilled flight can manoeuvre in the air with as little as a span and a half between wing tips, but in action it is better to keep a distance of 80 to 100 feet, otherwise pilots are apt to devote too much of their attention to avoiding each other. (b) One of the first essentials of successful formation flying is that every pilot thoroughly understands the use of his throttle. He will have to do so instinctively. The throttle must be used to keep station. If a pilot attempts to do so by sharp turns instead of by using his throttle he will inevitably throw the formation into disorder. (c) The formation adopted must allow quick and easy manoeuvre by the formation as a whole. (d) A leader must be appointed, and a sub-leader, in case the leader has to leave the formation for any reason, e.g. engine trouble. The machines of leaders and sub-leaders must be clearly marked. Streamers attached to different parts of the machine are suitable. Good formation flying depends very largely on the leader, who must realize that his responsibilities do not end with placing himself in front for others to follow. The ability to do so depends very largely on himself and on constant practice together so that they know intuitively what he will do in any given circumstances. (e) An air rendezvous must be appointed, and the leader must see pilots and observers before leaving the ground and explain his 246


intentions to them. To save waste of time in picking up formation in the air and to ensure a really close formation, machines must leave the ground together or as nearly so as possible. When all machines have reached the rendezvous, the leader fires a signal light, indicating that the formation is to be picked up at once. He should then fly straight for a short time, as slowly as possible, while his observer, if he has one, reports on the formation. If one or more machines are rather far behind, the leader should turn to the right or left, after he or his observer has given a signal that he is going to do so. Thus the machine behind will be enabled to cut a corner and close up. When the leader is satisfied with the formation he fires a light signifying that he is ready to start. The actual signal to start can be given either by the leader or from the ground; in the latter case the officer on the ground, who is responsible for the dispatch of the formation, will also be responsible for deciding when the proper formation has been adopted. It is usually best for the signal to be given from the ground. The decision as to the suitability or other of the weather conditions will rest with the leader of the formation. A suitable code of signals for formation flying is given in Appendix 4A. Signal lights must be fired upwards by the leader, otherwise machines in the rear may have difficulty in seeing them. (f) Pilots must clearly understand how the formation is to re-form after a fight. Once an attack has been launched it must tend to become a series of individual combats, but if a formation is able to rally at the first lull and make a second concerted attack it should gain a real advantage over a dispersed enemy formation. Definite instructions by the leader on the point are essential. A rendezvous over a prearranged spot has been found suitable, in the case of a small area. In the case of a large area two or more spots may be designated previously, the rendezvous to take place over the nearest. It must be realized that prearrangements 247


may be found unsuitable, and in every case each pilot must invariably close on the nearest machine. If there is a choice he will join two machines in preference to a single machine and three machines in preference to two. This applies to the leader also. To rendezvous successfully after a fight needs continual practice. Appendix 4A Code of light signals to be used in formation flying Colour

Fired by



Leader in conjunction with K strips and red light from ground

Leave the rendezvous. Leader fires a light to indicate he is ready to leave the rendezvous. The formation leaves on his signal or awaits an order from the ground consisting of K and a red light


Leader, or from the ground in conjunction with N in strips

Return to your aerodrome, Expedition abandoned. This signal applies east or west of the line. If fired east of the line it also indicates ‘keep formation till line is crossed’.


Any member of formation

‘I am being attacked and need assistance’



Rally to continue operation – (attack having been dispersed).


Any member of expedition (including leader).

‘I am forced to return to my aerodrome.’ This signal, if fired by the leader, does not imply that the expedition is abandoned. The leadership must be taken up by the deputy leader.

Source: H. A. Jones (1937) War in the Air: Appendices, Appendix XX, pp. 92–110. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Imperial War Museum.

(g) Formation must not open out under anti-aircraft fire. It has been found by experience that fire is usually less effective 248


against a well-closed up group of machines than when directed on a single machine. To open out is to give the enemy the chance, for which he is waiting, of attacking the machines of the formation singly. The enemy’s aim can be thrown out temporarily, if the fire is very hot, by turning sharply, diving or climbing, but it is seldom advisable to lose height, especially when far over the enemy’s lines.

9. Use of formation flying Flying in formation is necessary in the case of (a) offensive patrols; (b) bomb raids; and is the normal method of carrying out these duties. Medium and long distance reconnaissance may also have to be carried out in formation, but a fast machine capable of flying at a great altitude can often carry out such reconnaissance by itself, including photography when large-scale photographs are not required. A further development of formation flying is in the attack of ground targets with machine-gun fire (see para.12).

10. Offensive patrols The sole duty of offensive patrols is to drive down and destroy hostile aeroplanes, and they should not be given other missions to perform, such as reconnaissances, which will restrict their fighting activities. In the face of opposition of any strength offensive patrols usually have to fly in formation in order to obtain the advantage of mutual support, but the formation adopted can be governed solely by the requirements of offensive fighting. Single-seater scouts or even two-seaters, if superior in speed and climb to the great majority of the enemy machines, may be able to patrol very successfully alone or in pairs, taking advantage of their power of 249


manoeuvre and acting largely by surprise, but in the case of machines which do not enjoy any marked superiority, formation flying is essential. Fighting in the air, however, even when many machines are involved on each side, tends to resolve itself into a more or less independent combat and it has been found advisable to organize a purely fighting formation accordingly. Such a formation can suitably consist of six machines organized in groups of two or three machines each, every group having its own sub-leader, the senior of whom takes command of the formation. A deputy leader should also be designated, in case the leader falls out for any reason. As far as possible, the group should be permanent organizations, in order that the pilots may acquire that mutual confidence and knowledge of each other’s tactics and methods which is essential for successful fighting. It must be impressed on pilots that the group is the fighting unit and not the individual (see para. 14).

11. Reconnaissance and bomb raids In reconnaissance the whole object is to protect the reconnaissance machine or machines, and enable them to complete their work. Opposition will usually take one of two forms. The enemy’s scouts may employ guerrilla tactics, hanging on the flanks and rear of the formation, ready to cut off stragglers, or attacking them from several directions simultaneously; or else the formation may be attacked by a hostile formation. The modern type of two-seater fighter reconnaissance machine is able to deal with either class of opposition without assistance. The machines must fly in close formation, keep off enemy scouts which employ guerrilla tactics by long range fire, and be ready to attack a hostile formation if the enemy’s opposition takes that form. Reconnaissance formations, like fighting formations, can be organized in groups, each with its sub-leader, but as the object is to secure the safety of the reconnaissance machine, the whole formation must keep together and act as one. 250


A suitable formation in the case of six two-seater machines has been found to be two lines of three, the flankers in the front being slightly higher than the centre (reconnaissance) machine, and the three machines in the rear slightly higher again. The intervals between the machines should not be more than 100 yards, and the distance of the rear rank from the front should be sufficient only to admit of a good view being obtained of the leading machines. The pace must be slow, otherwise the rear machines are bound to straggle. Machines must, therefore, fly throttled down. Sharp turns by the leader also lead to straggling; a signal, therefore, should always be given before turning, and a minute or two allowed, if possible, after giving the signal before the turn is commenced, in order to give the machines on the outer flank time to gain ground. The duty of the bombing machines is to get to their objective and to drop their bombs on it and only to fight in the execution of their duty. The secret of success is the most careful prearrangements, so that every one knows exactly what he has to do. The bombing machines, like a reconnaissance, must keep in close formation. Any tendency to straggle or to open out under antiaircraft fire will give the enemy the opportunity he is seeking to attack and split up the formation. A well-kept formation, on the other hand, is seldom attacked at close range, unless by very superior numbers. When bombing from a height the best results have been secured by dropping bombs while still in formation. Three machines drop their bombs simultaneously, the centre observer being responsible for the sighting or, if preferred, all machines simultaneously on a signal from the leader. If it is necessary for machines to break formation to drop their bombs, a rallying point must always be chosen beforehand where they will collect and resume flying formation as soon as their bombs have been released. When a very large raid is contemplated, it will often be best to carry out the attack by two separate formations, since there is a 251


limit to the number of machines that can be controlled efficiently by a single leader. Six bombing machines are normally the maximum. The departure of the two formations from their respective rendezvous, if they are to make a single raid, should be so arranged as to enable them to give one another mutual support in case of a heavy hostile attack. The rendezvous should not be too close together, 10 to 15 miles apart is a suitable distance. Departures from the rendezvous should be timed so that the first formation is leaving as the second approaches, and the leaders should watch each other’s signals. With modern machines an escort to a reconnaissance formation or bomb raid is seldom desirable, and far better results are obtained by sending one or more offensive patrols to work independently over the area where opposition to the reconnaissance or raid is more likely to be encountered. If an escort is provided, its primary duty is to enable the reconnaissance or raid to accomplish its mission and it should only fight in the execution of this duty. It is usually best to keep the escort and the machine it is protecting as distinct formations under a separate leader. The escort flies above the reconnaissance or bombing machines in such a position as to obtain the best view of them and the greatest freedom of manoeuvre in any direction. Its role is: (a) To break up an opposing formation. (b) To prevent the concentration of superior force on any part of the formation they are protecting. (c) To assist any machine that drops out of the formation through engine or other trouble. While the bombs are being dropped, the escort should circle round about the bombing machines, protecting them from attack above, and ready to dive on to any hostile machine that may interfere with them. 252


12. Attack of ground targets Formation flying has lately been adopted for the attack of ground targets with excellent results, formations appearing to be no more vulnerable to rifle and machine-gun fire from the ground than is a single machine. This is probably due to a tendency to fire at the formation as a whole instead of picking out a particular machine. On the other hand, a formation, as against a single machine, possesses the following advantages: (a) There is less chance of machines losing their way as there are several individuals instead of one only attempting to keep their bearings. (b) A greater volume of fire is brought to bear on any target discovered. (c) A formation is stronger if attacked. (d) A formation may be expected to have greater moral effect on the enemy’s troops. Formation flying at low altitudes demands even more constant practice together than does formation flying at a height, because fire from the ground makes continuous changes of direction and height a necessity. A suitable height from which to attack ground targets is 600 to 800 feet. The essential point is to go low enough to make certain of differentiating between our own and the enemy’s troops. Above 800 feet this is difficult and the chances of interference by hostile aircraft is greater, but these seldom come down to fight below 1000 feet. Formations for low flying should never exceed six machines. IV. Fighting tactics

13. General Fighting tactics may vary with the type of machines and with the



powers and favourite methods of individual pilots. No hard-andfast rules can be laid down, but the following hints based on the experience of others may be of use to the young pilot until he has acquired experience of his own. There are four golden rules which are applicable to all offensive aerial fighting: (a) Every attack must be made with determination and with but one object, the destruction of the opponent. (b) Surprise must be employed whenever possible. (c) If surprised or forced into an unfavourable position a pilot must never, under any circumstances, dive straight away from his opponent. To do so is to court disaster, since a diving machine is an almost stationary target. Moreover, the tactical advantage of height is lost by diving and the initiative surrendered to the hostile machine. The best course of action depends on the type of machine and is discussed below. (d) Height invariably confers the tactical advantage.

14. Single-seater Fighting Fighting in formation with single-seaters is a most difficult operation and demands constant study and practice, the highest degree of skill on the part of the individual pilots, mutual confidence between them, and intimate knowledge of each other’s methods. The patrol leader’s work consists more in paying attention to the main points affecting the fight than in doing a large share of the fighting himself. These main points are: (a) The arrival of more hostile machines, which have tactical advantage, that is height. (b) The danger of the patrol being carried by the wind beyond the range of its petrol supply. (c) The patrol getting below the bulk of the hostile formation. 254


As soon as any of these conditions occur it is usually better to break off the fight temporarily, and to rally and climb above the enemy before attacking them again. When fighting in formations of two or more groups, the fighting unit should be the group, each selecting its own objective and acting as described below. The groups will often become separated, but every effort should be made to retain cohesion within the groups. The practice of individual pilots breaking away from the formation to attack hostile machines almost always leads to disaster sooner or later. If the enemy machines scatter, attention should be concentrated on those lagging behind, and, if they dive and are followed down, at least one group should remain at a height as a protection from surprise. The dangerous quarter in the case of a formation of single-seaters is the rear, and care must always be taken to keep a constant watch behind and above. If surprised in an unfavourable position it should be the invariable rule if time permits, to turn and attack the adversary before he comes to close quarters. If, however, he succeeds in doing so the best chance lies in a quick climbing turn. Any method which involves losing height such as a side-slip or a spin is bad, as the hostile machine has merely to follow and attack afresh from above. Surprise by a formation is difficult, and success must be sought in close cooperation and boldness of attack. If the enemy is inferior in numbers, an opportunity will occur for a concerted attack by a group against a single machine. The actual attack should be carried out by two machines, the third remaining above to protect them from surprise. The two attacking machines may converge on the enemy from different directions on the same level, but the attacks must be simultaneous so that they cannot be engaged separately. Another method is to attack echeloned in height, the lower machine diving and attacking the enemy from behind, while the upper machines await an opportunity to swoop down on him when he turns to engage the machine that attacked first. 255


An attack of equal numbers will usually resolve itself into a series of individual duels. The leader must always ensure that his formation is well closed up before attacking, giving the rear machine time if necessary so that all pilots can attack their adversaries simultaneously. In attacking superior numbers the best chance of success lies in the destruction of the enemy’s morale by excessive boldness. Decoy tactics are sometimes successful. One group tries to draw the enemy on to attack, while the other flies high above it, ready to surprise the enemy should he seize the apparent opportunity. Watch must be kept for similar tactics on the part of the enemy. The group going down as a decoy must not be more than about 3000 feet below the remainder or it will run the risk of being attacked from the flank by superior numbers before the groups above can get down to their assistance. If, owing to being cut off from his formation and being attacked by a superior number of machines, a pilot is forced down low, his best method of escape is usually to go down quite close to the ground and fly back on a zigzag course. Although as a principle single-seaters should not act alone, yet in many cases isolated scouts will be called upon to fight singlehanded, for example when a formation has become split up during a combat and a machine fails to rejoin its formation. Again, selected pilots on the fastest types of single-seaters may be usefully employed on a roving commission, which will enable them to make the greatest use of surprise tactics. Single-seater fighting calls for much individual initiative especially when a combat develops itself into individual fighting and the pilot has the opportunity of developing his own particular method of attack. Methods vary with the type of machine attacked, and may be conveniently discussed under two headings: (a) Single-seater against single-seater 256


(b) Single-seater against machines with one or more passengers. (a) Single-seaters are best attacked from above and behind with a view to getting within point-blank range if not observed. Height enables the attacker to anticipate his enemy’s movements more quickly and to guard himself from attack from behind by a sudden turn on the part of his opponent. It is therefore essential to have plenty of engine power in hand so as to keep the means of climbing above the enemy throughout the fight and thus retain the advantage of height whatever tactics he may pursue. When attacking a hostile formation, one of their number, more often than not their leader, will sometimes fly out of the fight and climb his utmost with a view to getting above the attackers. The leader of the attacking formation should watch for this manoeuvre, and be ready to frustrate it by climbing himself. The knowledge that there is one enemy above not only nullifies the advantage in height but divides the attention of the attacking pilots just when it should be entirely concentrated on the machines they have severally selected to attack. A hostile pilot who attempts to come up unawares from behind and below can usually be defeated by a quick climbing turn. He will often be taken by surprise and turn flat, offering a vulnerable target to attack from above. Attacks from directly in front or from the flanks are often successful, as the vital parts of the machine from the pilot forward are fully exposed. Aim should be taken at the front of the machine in such an attack. It is a common mistake to aim at the pilot, which usually results in hitting the fuselage, as the majority of the fire takes effect behind the point of aim. This is conclusively proved by the number of our machines which return with the fuselage riddled and little or no damage from the pilot forward. Similarly, when attacking from above and behind, aim should be taken at the leading edge of the top plane, thus increasing the chance of hitting the engine and pilot. 257


When it is necessary to swerve to avoid a collision or to break off the combat temporarily to change a drum or rectify a jamb, this should be done by a sudden turn or climb, care being taken subsequently to avoid flying straight or losing height. When ready, a favourable position must be regained by manoeuvre before renewing the attack. (b) Single-seaters attacking two-seaters can do so from behind and above, from behind and below, or from front or flanks. The most favourable method is perhaps to attack from behind and below, attempting to achieve surprise by climbing up under the fuselage and tail plane, the blindest spot from the point of view of the observer. A skilfully handled single-seater which can attain a position about 100 yards behind and 50 feet below a hostile two-seater without being observed, is in a position to do most damage to the enemy with least risk to himself. Once in this position the object of the attacker must be to keep out of the enemy’s field of fire as much as possible. The two-seater will endeavour to deprive him of the cover of the fuselage, and great skill is required to retain a position directly in the rear in spite of the frequent turns. If enjoying superior speed, which will usually be the case, the single-seater should always turn in the opposite direction to the two-seater, for example if the two-seater turns to the right, the attacker at once turns to the left, thus preserving their relative positions. When on the bank in the act of turning, the two-seater will offer a favourable target to the attacker if the latter is quick enough to take advantage. A short quick burst at this moment may confuse the pilot and cause him to dive, in which position it will be very difficult for the observer to do any accurate shooting, or even stand up to fire, owing to the wind pressure, and it is safe to disregard the rear gun for the time being. Should the observer be put out of action the rear gun can, of course, be disregarded altogether and the attacker can be close to point-blank range. 258


When attacking two-seaters from above a short-steep dive is effective because the gunner has then to shoot almost vertically upwards, which is difficult and impairs the accuracy of his aim. If approaching head on with a view to turning and attacking from behind, the turn must be made before a position vertically above the opponent is reached, otherwise the attacker will be left two or three hundred yards behind the hostile machine with no chance of surprise and in a not very favourable position for attack. An attack from the front and above or from the flanks precludes the use of the observer’s gun altogether in many types of machines, but care must be taken not to give the observer an easy shot by diving straight on past the machine after delivering the attack. Surprise can often be attained by carefully watching the adversary, preferably from behind. An especially favourable opportunity for surprise occurs in the case of a hostile machine crossing our front on some special mission, for once the hostile observer has satisfied himself that the air is clear, he will give his principal attention to his work. The enemy will often choose cloudy weather for such missions, and this gives special chances of surprise to a skilful pilot, working with intelligence. In such weather it must be remembered that it is often of advantage to approach the hostile machine on his own level when the planes form but a thin line, which is difficult to see. When surprise is impossible, advantage must be taken of the handiness and manoeuvring power of the scout to prevent the enemy from taking careful aim by approaching him on a zigzag course, and never in a straight line, since a machine attacking in a straight line offers a comparatively easy target. When within about 100 yards the zigzag course must be abandoned, and the moment when the enemy is in the act of shifting his aim should, if possible, be chosen. He can then be attacked in a straight line with a burst of rapid fire, or it may be possible to get below him and fire at him more or less vertically at almost point-blank range. 259


To open fire at long range is to give the advantage to the enemy, since it is necessary to fly straight to bring fire to bear, and an easy mark is thus offered. In the case of a group attacking a single two-seater, as in that of single-seaters, one machine must remain as an ‘Above Guard’. The other two will have a very good chance of surprise if one machine repeatedly makes short dives, firing a few rounds and climbing again. This will engage the attention of the observer and afford the second machine an opportunity of creeping underneath the enemy to point-blank range. In the attack of multi-seater machines, surprise is even more essential to success since they usually have a gun on a circular mounting both in front and rear, and consequently have practically no blind spot. Some types have also a gun mounted to fire downwards at an angle through the fuselage in order to deal with attack from behind and below.

15. Two-seater fighting The principles of fighting in two-seaters designed for the purpose are similar to the above, but in the actual combat they are able to rely more on their power of all-round fire and less on quickness of manoeuvre. The fighting tactics adopted should, therefore, be such as to favour the development of fire. The single-seater, when no longer able to approach its adversary, temporarily loses all power of offence and has to manoeuvre to regain a favourable position. The two-seater, on the other hand, can develop fire from its rear gun, after passing its adversary or on the turn. The gun or guns firing straight ahead must be looked on as the principal weapons, the fire of the observer being brought to bear after passing the adversary, on a turn, or against another machine attacking him from the rear. A two-seater, like a single-seater, must, however, never dive straight away from an adversary, as even though it can fire to the rear the advantage is all with the machine that is following. 260


Formations of two-seaters are less liable to surprise from the rear, since the observers of the rear machines can face in that direction and keep a constant look-out. Mutual fire support is also easier in their case, in view of their all-round fire. They are, therefore, as already pointed out, better able to sustain a protracted battle. The essence of successful fighting in two-seaters lies in the closest cooperation between pilot and observer. They must study their fighting tactics together, and each must know what the other will do in every possible situation. The tactics of an artillery or bombing machine should be more defensive in their nature since their primary work is not to fight but to fulfil their mission. Machines of these types are also usually at a considerable disadvantage as regards quickness of manoeuvre. They should therefore be fought in such a way as to give the observer every chance of bringing effective fire to bear, and the front gun should be retained for use when opportunity offers, such as when a hostile machine attacking from behind overshoots the mark.

16. Fire tactics Opportunities in the air are almost always fleeting, and consequently the most must be made of them when they occur. Fire should, therefore be reserved until a really favourable target is presented, and should then be in rapid bursts. Fire should only be opened at ranges over 300 yards when the object is to prevent hostile machines coming to close quarters, as in the case of an escort to a reconnaissance machine, and should not be opened at ranges over 500 yards under any circumstances. In offensive fighting the longer fire can be reserved, and the shorter the range, the greater the probability of a decisive result. For an observer on a two-seater machine, however, a range of from 200 to 300 yards is suitable, since it enables full advantage to be taken of the sight. Fire may be opened at longer range when meeting a hostile machine than when overhauling it, otherwise 261


there will be no time to get in more than a very few rounds owing to the speed with which the machines are approaching one another. Pilots and observers must accustom themselves to judging the range by the apparent size of the hostile aeroplane and the clearness with which its detail can be seen. This needs constant practice. A reserve of ammunition should be kept for the return journey when fighting far over the lines. Manoeuvre is an integral part of fire tactics, and every endeavour must be made to manoeuvre in such a way as to create favourable opportunities for one’s own fire and deny such opportunities to the enemy.


Appendix 5 A Short Review of the Situation in the Air on the Western Front and a Consideration of the Part to be Played by the American Aviation Memorandum of HQRFC, France, December 1917 1. To appreciate the position as it is today it is necessary to go back to the commencement of the SOMME battle on 1st July 1916. There is no doubt whatever that we caught the German aviation at a disadvantage at that time and that it had been neglected and allowed to stagnate and that there was little driving power in the superior command. We realized at once that this state of affairs would not be allowed to last and based our demands for the expansion of the RFC in France on the certainty that the enemy would put forward his best efforts to retrieve the position. This he did almost at once by placing Lieut-General von Hoeppner in command of his aviation and giving him undoubtedly wide powers to reorganize and develop it and at the same time mobilizing his resources to carry out the necessary expansion. The result was apparent even in the autumn of 1916 and has been increasingly evident throughout the present year. 263


Meanwhile our expansion has not been as rapid as we hoped, and we are still far short of the programme put forward in the summer and autumn of 1916. The result is that our ascendancy has become relatively less and less, and today, although in some directions we still continue to do more work, we cannot any longer, as regards the fighting which makes such work possible, claim superiority over the enemy. The very success which we achieved last year has enabled the enemy, by copying our methods, to reach equal efficiency in a shorter period of time and to pass from the purely defensive attitude he adopted on the SOMME to the offensive tactics which are the only road to success in the air. There can be no doubt that the enemy realizes to the full the supreme importance of aviation and the value of the progress he has made and that he will use every endeavour, not only to maintain that progress but to increase his advantage, with a view to gaining the ascendancy over us. 2. There is one way and one way only to defeat his endeavours and that is to pursue our offensive policy with the utmost determination and vigour. He will undoubtedly do the same and the result will depend on which has the means and nerve to maintain the pressure longest. If we allow ourselves, in view of his increased activity to adopt a defensive attitude, we shall simply be paving the way to certain defeat. The whole experience of the war – French, German and British – proves this without the slightest possibility of doubt. 3. To maintain a vigorous offensive next year three requirements must be fulfilled: (i) a sufficiency of personnel, (ii) efficient methods of training and employment, (iii) a sufficiency of machines of suitable types. 264


As regards the first, there is, I understand no cause for anxiety; as regards the second, the exertions of the present DGMA, when in command of the Training Division, have resulted in a considerably higher standard of training throughout the RFC. Experienced officers are continually being sent home from the front to ensure that methods and teaching are based on the most recent experience, and the officer now commanding the Training Division and his two Senior Staff Officers have only lately relinquished commands on the battle front. Everything possible is therefore being done to ensure efficient and up-to-date instruction. All this will be of little value, however, unless the Training Division is allotted and supplied with a sufficiency of machines, and in our programme of future development it is essential to bear this in mind. As regards the supply of machines to France, the C-in-C has lately put forward a programme of his estimated requirements up to the summer of 1919, but it must be remembered that the struggle will be at its height at the earliest moment the weather permits next spring and that any leeway then lost will be difficult, if not impossible, to make up subsequently. If the enemy once succeeds in putting us in a position of inferiority our moral effect will suffer, our casualties will increase, and as a consequence of the latter our programme of development will be upset. It is imperative, therefore, to concentrate all efforts on being as strong as possible next spring. Flying during the winter will be reduced to a minimum necessary for training and operations, and every endeavour will be made to husband our existing resources. Orders have been issued that every squadron will repair machines to the utmost of its ability so that depots may be freed to build up the reserve. Three points are of great importance as affecting our fighting strength next spring:



(i) All replacements must be done during the winter, Reequipping a squadron puts it out of action for a month and it is better to continue with an inferior machine than to attempt to replace once active operations have commenced. (ii) A new squadron which can have a month’s experience before being actively employed is of far greater value and experiences far less [sic] casualties than a squadron which arrives and has to be put straight into the fight during active operations. (iii) The search for perfection defeats its own ends. We must be sufficiently strong minded, once we have decided on a design, to refuse to consider minor improvements which delay output without improving the machines to any appreciable extent. A machine of good performance which comes forward in bulk at the time required is of far greater value than a slightly superior machine two or three months too late. Once a design has been approved in FRANCE by those responsible for using the machine, minor modifications and improvements in design must be rigorously forbidden. Otherwise delays, such as have been experienced in the past as each new machine has been produced, will continue. Such delays result in our never knowing what we shall have available for any particular operations and in the consequent dislocation at the last moment of all our plans. 4. An important part of our aerial offensive next year will take the form of long distance bombing in GERMANY itself. This has been projected for the last two years as soon as resources permitted, and every precaution is being made to carry out the policy with the greatest vigour. It is essential to remember, however, that long distance bombing can only be carried out on a sufficient scale if we are able, by pursuing our offensive policy elsewhere, to prevent undue interference with our bombing machines. It is of no use producing large 266


numbers of bombing machines unless we can bring about the conditions which will admit of their full employment. The completion of the programme of fighting squadrons is therefore of primary importance and nothing should be allowed to interfere with the output of these machines. 5. It is presumed that the American Aviation will begin to appear on the front in the spring and summer of 1918. In view of the time which must elapse in aviation between the conception and the execution of a plan, it is very necessary to consider now the place the Americans can take in the general scheme of aerial operations on the Western front. Apart from the necessary local work for their own Army which will require an organization of fighting, artillery, photographic, reconnaissance, and short distance bombing squadrons similar to our own and the French, American help as their production increases and in view of the enormous resources they should eventually possess, will be of especial value for bombing operations in GERMANY. Assuming that the American Army will occupy its present situation in the line, the American aviation will be very favourably placed to bomb German industrial centres in the UPPER RHINE Valley and should gradually allow us to withdraw our squadrons from the NANCY neighbourhood to our own Army area whence they should be able to bomb targets in the lower RHINE valley and beyond with the machines which should then be available. The advantages of operating from our own Army area are obvious. If this policy is accepted the Americans should at once commence the preparation of the necessary aerodromes. The whole country consists of deep ridge and furrow, and though first-class aerodromes can be made on the tops of the hills, the work entailed is stupendous, and unless they begin at once there is no prospect of the aerodromes being ready before late next summer. Sites have, I 267


understand, been allotted by the French, but no work whatever has been done on them. The aerodromes made by us will probably be available for the Americans in time, but our operations will have to continue for a long time after theirs commence. By the time bombing by the Americans is in full swing. It is more than likely that the enemy’s opposition will have stiffened, so that the Americans will have to make provision as we are doing for fighting machines to accompany their bomb raids. As they will be operating, however, from their own Army area, and not from a far distant front as in our case, the fighting machines operating on their Army front should be able to deal with any opposition in the forward areas, and it should only be necessary to provide a limited number of longer distance fighting squadrons to deal with any local protection the enemy may be induced to detail at the points of attack. I would repeat that it is essential to get into touch with the Americans at once and decide upon our future joint policy in order to avoid a waste of resources on unfruitful production. Policy must in fact guide production instead of production dictating policy. Source: H. A. Jones, (1937) The War in the Air: Appendices, Appendix XIX, pp. 89– 92. Reproduced with kind permission of the Imperial War Museum.


Notes Preface 1. Robert F. Grattan (2002) The Strategy Process: A Military-Business Comparison, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 73. 2. V. M. Yeates (1934) Winged Victory, London: Jonathan Cape. Reprinted 1985, London: Buchan & Enright 1. Introduction 1. Bruce Catton (1963) Terrible Swift Sword, vol. 2 in the American Civil War Trilogy, reissued 2001, London: Phoenix, pp. 274–5. 2. Air Vice Marshal Tony Mason (1994) Air Power: A Centennial Appraisal, London: Brasseys. 3. Geoffrey Norris (1965) The Royal Flying Corps: A History, London: Frederick Muller, p. 19. 4. Bruce Catton (1965) Never Call Retreat, volume 3 in the American Civil War Trilogy, reissued 2001, London: Phoenix, p. 190. 5. Walter Raleigh (1922) The War in the Air, vol. 1, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum, p. 163. 6. Ibid., p. 136. 7. Ibid., p. 199. 8. Corelli Barnett (2000) The Sword Bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War, London: Cassell, p. 75. 9. R. D. Layman (1996) Naval Aviation in the First World War, London: Caxton, pp. 53–5. 10. Kenneth Munson (1968) Fighters: Attack and Training Aircraft 1914– 1919, London: Blandford Press, p. 97. 11. Herbert Simon (1945) Administrative Behaviour, New York: The Free Press. 12. David Braybrooke and Charles E. Lindblom (1970) A Strategy of Decision: Policy Evaluation as a Social Process, New York: The Free Press, p. 48.



13. Corelli Barnett (1963) The Sword Bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War, London: Eyre & Spottiswood, pp. 178–9. 14. H. A. Jones (1937) The War in the Air: Appendices, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum, Appendix XXXVI. 15. Arthur Marwick (1965) The Deluge: British Society and the First World War, London: Macmillan, p. 250. 16. David Lloyd George (1938) War Memoirs, London: Odhams Press, Chapters 5, 6 and 9. 2. Organization 1. Joseph L. Bower (1970) Managing the Resource Allocation Process, Boston: Harvard University Press. 2. Barnett, The Sword Bearers; Barbara Tuchman (1962) The Guns of August, New York: Macmillan. 3. Jones, The War in the Air: Appendices, Appendix XXXV. 4. Raleigh, The War in the Air, p. 335. 5. Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow (1999) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, New York: Longman. 6. Lord Hankey (1961) The Supreme Command, London: George Allen & Unwin, p. 549. 7. Ambrose Bierce (1911) The Devil’s Dictionary, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, reprinted 1996. 8. H. A. Jones (n.d., presumably 1937) The War in the Air: Volume Six, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum; and Williamson Murray (1999) War in the Air 1914–1945, London: Cassell. 9. Cecil Lewis (1936) Sagittarius Rising, London: Peter Davies. 10. Major Georg Neumann (ed.) (1920) The German Air Force in the Great War, translated by J. E. Gurdon, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press, p. 80. 11. H. A. Jones (1931) The War in the Air: Volume Three, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum, pp. 300–1. 12. H. A. Jones (1928) The War in the Air: Volume Two, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Musuem, p. 71.



13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22.

Jones, The War in the Air: Volume Three, p. 73. Ibid., p. 82. Ibid., p. 145. Ibid., p. 148. Ibid., p. 153. H. A. Jones (1935) The War in the Air: Volume Five, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum, p. 28. Jones, The War in the Air: Volume Six, p. 104. Peter Kilduff (1994) The Red Baron: Beyond the Legend, London: Cassell. Henry Mintzberg (1991) ‘The Effective Organization: Forces and Forms’, Sloan Management Review, Winter. Maurice Baring (1920) Flying Corps Headquarters, 1914–1917, London: G. Bell & Sons, republished, 1968, Edinburgh: Blackwood.

3. Aircraft, Engines and Equipment 1. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War. 2. Thomas Fegan (2002) The Baby Killers: German Air Raids on Britain in the First World War, Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books, p. 17. 3. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War. 4. Ibid. 4. Weapons 1. Andrew Boyle (1962) Trenchard: Man of Vision, London: Collins, p. 153. 2. Frederick Oughton (2004) Mannock, VC: Ace with One Eye, Bristol: Cerberus Publishing, first published 1956. 3. Sir John Slessor (1956) The Central Blue, London: Cassell, p. 11. 4. Martin Gilbert (1994) First World War, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson. 5. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War, p. 90. 6. Ibid., p. 75. 7. Baring, Flying Corps Headquarters, p. 51. 8. Layman, Naval Aviation in the First World War, p. 60. 9. Taylor, Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War I. 10. Jones, The War in the Air: Volume Two. 11. Peter Hinchliffe (1996) The Other Battle: Luftwaffe Night Aces versus Bomber Command, Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing, p. 110.



12. 13. 14. 15.

Boyle, Trenchard: Man of Vision, p. 223. Jones, The War in the Air: Volume Six, p. 33. Jones, The War in the Air: Appendices, Appendix XLIV. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War, p. 54.

5. The Men 1. Paula Jarzabkowski (2005) Strategy as Practice, London: Sage. 2. Boyle, Trenchard: Man of Vision, p. 136. 3. Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman (1982) In Search of Excellence, New York: Harper & Row. 4. Peter G. Tsouras (ed.) (2005) The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Military Quotations, London: Greenhill, p. 489, quoting Colonel Charles Ardant du Picq (1880) Battle Studies: Ancient and Modern Battle, Paris: Hachette & Dumaine. 5. Mason, Air Power. 6. Boyle, Trenchard: Man of Vision, pp. 304–5. 7. Baring, Flying Corps Headquarters. 8. Tsouras, Daily Telegraph Dictionary, p. 87. 9. Raleigh, The War in the Air, p. 486. 10. Kilduff, The Red Baron. 11. Ibid., p. 55. 12. Ibid., p. 56. 13. Manfred von Richthofen (1918) The Red Battle Flyer, translated by J. Ellis Barker,, Chapter 9. 14. Major W. A. Bishop (1918) Winged Warfare, London: Hodder & Stoughton, pp. 226–36. 15. H. A. Jones (1934) The War in the Air: Volume Four, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum, p. 134. 16. Oughton, Mannock VC, p. 154. 17. James Byford McCudden (1918) Flying Fury, London: The Aviation Book Club, 1939 reprint, p. 223. 6. Roles and Tactics 1. Jones, The War in the Air: Volume Six, pp. 111–12, italics in the original. 2. Ibid., pp. 167–8. 3. Ibid., p. 112.



4. Winston S. Churchill (ed.) (1993) The World Crisis 1911–1918, vol 1, New York: Barnes & Noble, quoted in Layman, Naval Aviation in the First World War, p. 101. 5. Bishop, Winged Warfare, pp. 198–205. 6. Ibid., p. 194. 7. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War, p. 208. 8. Randolph S. Churchill and Winston S. Churchill (1967) The Six Day War, London: Heinemann, p. 85. 9. Ken Delve (1995) Nightfighter: The Battle for the Night Skies, London: Cassell, p. 34. 10. Lewis, Sagittarius Rising, p. 99. 11. Ibid., p. 82. 12. Ibid., pp. 84–5. 13. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War. 14. Anthony Beevor (1999) Stalingrad, London: Penguin Books, p. 270. 15. Layman, Naval Aviation in the First World War. 16. Jones, The War in the Air: Appendices, Appendix XX. 17. 18. Boyle, Trenchard: Man of Vision, p. 163. 19. Kilduff, The Red Baron, pp. 231–40. 20. Fegan, The Baby Killers, p. 49. 21. Delve, Nightfighter. 22. Neumann, The German Air Force in the Great War. 23. Ibid., p. 169. 7. Air Strategy 1. Eliot Cohen (2007) ‘Technology and Warfare’, in John Baylis, James Wirtz, Colin S. Gray and Eliot Cohen (eds) Strategy in the Contemporary World, second edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2. Sir Arthur Harris to Admiral Sir Tom Phillips who lost his life commanding the squadron that included HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse sunk by Japanese torpedo aircraft in 1942. Quoted in Tsouras, The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Military Quotations, p. 28. 3. Gordon A. Craig (1967) ‘Delbrück: The Military Historian’, in Edward Earl Meade (ed.) Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, New York: Atheneum.



4. Paul Richey (2001) Fighter Pilot, London: Cassell. 5. Quoted in Tsouras, The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Military Quotations, p. 28. 6. Ibid., p. 29. 7. David G. Chandler (1987) The Military Maxims of Napoleon, London: Greenhill Books, p. 57. 8. Anonymous (1997) British Defence Doctrine, Joint Warfare Publication (JWP) 0–01, London: HMSO. 9. Carl von Clausewitz (1993) On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, London: Everyman’s Library, p. 83. First published 1827. Italics in the original. 10. Major-General J. F. C. Fuller (1972) The Conduct of War 1789–1961, London: Eyre Methuen, p. 243. 11. Marwick, The Deluge. 12. A full description of the method can be found in Joint Service Publication (JSP) 101 Manual of Service Writing, London: HMSO; and a brief account in Robert F. Grattan (2002) The Strategy Process: A Military-Business Comparison, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 145. 8. Analysis and Conclusion 1. Grattan, The Strategy Process. 2. Andrew Pettigrew (1988) The Management of Strategic Change, Oxford: Basil Blackwell. 3. On Kennedy tapes see Ernest May and Philip Zelikow (2002) The Kennedy Tapes, New York: Norton; on the analysis of the whole 13 days see Allison and Zelikow, Essence of Decision; see also Robert F. Grattan (2004) ‘The Cuban missile crisis: strategy formulation in action’, Journal of Management Decision, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 55–68. 4. See Joint Service Publication, 101 Manual of Service Writing; or Grattan, The Strategy Process, pp. 144–8. 5. Simon, Administrative Behaviour. 6. Charles Lindblom (1959) ‘The Science of Muddling Through’, Public Administration Review, vol. xix, no. 2 , pp 79–88; Braybrooke and Lindblom, A Strategy of Decision. 7. James Brian Quinn (1978) ‘Strategic Change: Logical Incrementalism’, Sloan Management Review, Fall, reprinted summer 1989, pp. 45–60.



8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

Jarzabkowski, Strategy as Practice, p. 7. Stephen Bungay (2002) Alamein, London: Arum Press. Peter F. Drucker (1977) Management, London: Pan Books, p. 381. Robert Kennedy (1968) 13 Days, London: Macmillan, p. 109. A. D. Chandler (1962) Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise, Cambridge MA: MIT Press. 13. Mason, Air Power. 14. Lloyd George, War Memoirs, pp. 1114–15.



Allison, Graham and Zelikow, Philip (1999) Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, New York: Longman Anonymous (1997) British Defence Doctrine, Joint Warfare Publication (JWP) 0–01, London: HMSO Baring, Maurice (1920) Flying Corps Headquarters 1914–1918, London: G. Bell & Sons, republished, 1968, Edinburgh: Blackwood Barnett, Corelli (2000) The Sword Bearers: Supreme Command in the First World War, London: Cassell, first published 1963, London: Eyre & Spottiswood Beevor, Anthony (1999) Stalingrad, London: Penguin Books Bierce, Ambrose (1911) The Devil’s Dictionary, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, reprinted 1996 Bishop, Major W. A. (1918) Winged Warfare, London: Hodder & Stoughton Bower, Joseph L. (1970) Managing the Resource Allocation Process, Boston: Harvard University Press Boyle, Andrew (1962) Trenchard: Man of Vision, London: Collins Braybrooke, David and Charles E. Lindblom (1970) A Strategy of Decision: Policy Evaluation as a Social Process, New York: The Free Press Bungay, Stephen (2002) Alamein, London: Arum Press Catton, Bruce (1963) Terrible Swift Sword, volume 2 in the American Civil War Trilogy, reissued 2001, London: Phoenix (1965) Never Call Retreat, volume 3 in the American Civil War Trilogy, reissued 2001, London: Phoenix Chandler, A. D. (1962) Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History of the American Industrial Enterprise, Cambridge MA: MIT Press Chandler, David G. (1987) The Military Maxims of Napoleon, London: Greenhill Books Churchill, Randolph S. and Winston S. Churchill (1967) The Six Day War, London: Heinemann



Churchill, Winston S. (ed.) (1993) The World Crisis 1911–1918, vol 1, New York: Barnes & Noble Cohen, Eliot (2007) ‘Technology and Warfare’, in John Baylis, James Wirtz, Colin S. Gray and Eliot Cohen (eds) Strategy in the Contemporary World, second edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press Craig, Gordon A. (1967) ‘Delbrück: The Military Historian’, in Edward Earl Meade (ed.) Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, New York: Atheneum Delve, Ken (1995) Nightfighter: The Battle for the Night Skies, London: Cassell Drucker, Peter F. (1977) Management, London: Pan Books du Picq, Colonel Charles Ardant (1880) Battle Studies: Ancient and Modern Battle, Paris: Hachette & Dumaine Fegan, Thomas (2002) The Baby Killers: German Air Raids on Britain in the First World War, Barnsley: Pen & Sword Books Fuller, Major-General J. F. C. (1972) The Conduct of War 1789–1961, London: Eyre Methuen Gilbert, Martin (1994) First World War, London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson Grattan, Robert F. (2002) The Strategy Process: A Military-Business Comparison, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan (2004) ‘The Cuban missile crisis: strategy formulation in action’, Journal of Management Decision, vol. 42, no. 1, pp. 55–68 Hankey, Lord (1961) The Supreme Command, London: George Allen & Unwin Hinchliffe, Peter (1996) The Other Battle: Luftwaffe Night Aces versus Bomber Command, Shrewsbury: Airlife Publishing Jarzabkowski, Paula (2005) Strategy as Practice, London: Sage Joint Service Publication (JSP) 101 Manual of Service Writing, London: HMSO Jones, H. A. (1928) The War in the Air: Volume Two, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Musuem (1931) The War in the Air: Volume Three, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum (1934) The War in the Air: Volume Four, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum



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Peters, Tom and Robert H. Waterman (1982) In Search of Excellence, New York: Harper & Row Pettigrew, Andrew (1988) The Management of Strategic Change, Oxford: Basil Blackwell Quinn, James Brian (1978) ‘Strategic Change: Logical Incrementalism’, Sloan Management Review, fall reprinted summer 1989, pp. 45–60 Raleigh, Walter (1922) The War in the Air, vol. 1, Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press/London: The Imperial War Museum Richey, Paul (2001) Fighter Pilot, London: Cassell Richthofen, Manfred von (1918) The Red Battle Flyer, translated by J. Ellis Barker, Simon, Herbert (1945) Administrative Behaviour, New York: The Free Press, 3rd edition, 1976 Slessor, Sir John (1956) The Central Blue, London: Cassell Taylor, Michael John Haddrick (2001) Jane’s Fighting Aircraft of World War I, London: Random House Group Ltd, first published 1919. Tsouras, Peter G. (ed.) (2005) The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Military Quotations, London: Greenhill Tuchman, Barbara (1962) The Guns of August, New York: Macmillan von Clausewitz, Carl (1993) On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, London: Everyman’s Library, first published 1827 Yeates, V. M. (1934) Winged Victory, London: Jonathan Cape. Reprinted 1985, London: Buchan & Enright



Aachen, 22 Admiralty, 5, 9–11, 13, 16, 19, 28–31, 40, 43, 45, 48, 56, 58, 120–2, 134, 144, 174, 176, 187–9 Adriatic, 70, 122 Air Board, 19, 29–31, 34, 56, 58, 117 Air Ministry, 50–1, 58 Airco, 65, 67 Aldershot, 3 Allison, Graham, 28, 30 Alsace and Lorraine, 21 America, 2, 91; see also United States American Civil War, 4, 197 Amiens, 23 Annouellin, 129 Antwerp, 145 Argus, HMS, 75, 122 Ark Royal, 37, 39 Arras, Battle of, 131 Asquith, Herbert, 30 atom bomb, 178 Aubers Ridge, 115 auftragstaktik, 203 Auguste Victoria, Kaiserin, 126 Australia, 84, 152

Austria, 21 Bacchante, 39 Baghdad, 180 Bailhache, Mr Justice, 29–30 Balfour, Lord, 29, 188 Balkans, 123 Ball, Albert, 89, 95, 128–9, 133, 159 Ball ammunition, 111 Barés, Colonel, 29 Baring, Maurice, 59, 95, 118–19, 182, 208–9 Basra, 152 Bavaria, 55 Beatty, Admiral Sir David, 9, 16, 41, 75, 77, 81, 135, 155 Bechuanaland, 3 Belfort, 49, 145 Belgium, 37, 55 Ben-my-Chree, 39, 122 Berlin, 64, 126, 140 Berlin airlift, 154 Bishop, William Avrey (Billy), 129, 132–3, 145, 183, 190, 206 blitzkrieg, 55, 173 Boelcke, Hauptmann Oswald, 30, 123–4, 126, 130, 156, 158, 160–1, 163–4, 190 Boer War, 114



Böhme, Lieutenant Erwin, 123, 124 bombing, 156 Bourdillon, Lieutenant, 102 Bower, Joseph L., 21 Boyle, Andrew, 113 Brancker, Major W. Sefton, 7, 27, 162 Brand, Major, 148 Braybrooke, David, 14, 201 Bristol Aircraft Company, 4 Britain, 3–4, 7, 9–10, 12, 16, 22–3, 28, 31–2, 34–5, 42–3, 47–9, 58, 71, 81, 84–5, 104–5, 108, 120, 134–5, 140–1, 147–8, 165, 183, 187, 189, 192, 202, 205, 212; see also England Britain, Battle of, 53, 163, 171 British Expeditionary Force (BEF), 12, 22–3, 44, 135 Brooklands, 83, 114 Buckingham incendiary round, 95

Carroll, Lewis, 62 Central Flying School, 5, 6, 35 Chanak, 39 Chancellorville, Battle of, 2 Chandler, A. D., 208 Chelsea, 36, 108 Churchill, Randolph S., 146 Churchill, Winston, 9, 13, 16, 44, 57, 120–1, 134, 144, 146, 177, 188, 213 Cohen, Eliot, 169 Cologne, 50 Conte Rosso, 75 Cork, 131 Courtoyle, 146 Cowdray, Lord, 34 Cromerty, 12 Ctesiphon, 152 Cuban missile crisis, 28, 200, 207 Curzon, Lord, 17, 29, 30, 188 Cyrenaica, 3 Daimler, 70–2, 79 Dardanelles, 37, 122, 155 Darley, Lieutenant, 109 de Havilland, Geoffrey, 67 Delag, 79 Delbrück, Hans, 171, 172, 198 Denmark, 42 Derby, Lord, 29 Dickson, Captain, 13 Douai, 94 Douhet, Giulio, 177 Drucker, Peter F., 207 du Picq, Colonel Charles Ardant, 116

Cadbury, Major Egbert, 107, 128 Cairo, 178 Caldwell, Major Grid, 132 Calshot, 12 Cambrai, 124 Campagnia, 121 Campania, 41, 74 Canada, 35, 129 Cannae, Battle of, 21 Canterbury, 131 Caquot, 41, 47, 77



Düsseldorf, 145 Dunkirk, 37, 141, 186

Fokker(s), 57, 65, 68, 72, 123, 125–6, 129, 133, 153 Fokker scourge, 29, 65, 88, 116, 128, 147, 162, 170, 182 Folkestone, 107, 148 France, 4–5, 7–8, 18–23, 26–7, 29, 31–5, 37, 44, 47, 49–51, 55, 57–9, 67, 73, 87, 92, 102, 104, 106–8, 114–15, 117, 124, 129, 131, 133–6, 140, 145, 148, 173, 182, 184, 186–7, 189–90, 208–10, 216, 263, 265 Fremantle, Colonel Arthur, 4 French, Field Marshal, 25 Friedrichshafen, 74, 78, 145 Fuller, Major-General J. F. C., 119, 183

Eagle, 72, 75 Eastchurch, 11, 12 Edmonds, Flight Commander, 40 Egypt, 152 Empress, 37 Engadine, 37, 41 England, 1, 4, 21, 47, 52, 102, 104, 106, 110, 114, 127, 129; see also Britain English Channel, 12, 117 Falklands campaign, 179 Farnborough, 3, 6, 19, 23, 32, 34, 114 Farnborough Fiery Grapnel, 93 Fegan, Thomas, 80, 164 Felixstowe, 12 Fernlenkboot, 94 First World War, 1, 14, 63, 65, 75–6, 82, 90, 98, 102, 113, 135, 139, 142–4, 149, 152–4, 157, 163–4, 166, 169–70, 172–4, 177, 179–81, 183, 186–7, 191, 195, 198, 201–2, 204, 210, 212–15 Fisher, Admiral, 13, 121, 135 Flanders, 28, 95 Fleet Air Arm, 192 Foch, General, 51–2, 104, 213, 232 Fokker, Anthony, 88

Gallipoli, 15, 28, 37, 40, 41, 77, 143 Garros, Roland, 88 General Motors, 207, 208 Germany, 4, 7, 13, 32, 36, 48–51, 53, 58, 66, 71, 79–80, 103–5, 117, 134, 140, 144, 145, 165, 172, 174, 181, 185–9, 198, 231–2 Geschwader (Circus), 163 Gettysburg, 4 Goering, Reichsmarschall, 153 Gosport, 119 Gothas, 31, 47, 58, 102, 107, 117, 141, 147, 14–8, 164, 189 Great Yarmouth, 105 Grierson, General, 6 Gulf War, 180



gun synchronizer, 57

James, Lieutenant, 82 Japan, 178 Jellicoe, Admiral, 41 Joffre, General, 24 Johnson, President L. B., 208 Joint Strike Fighter, 214 Jones, H. A., 33, 36, 40, 47, 102, 105, 155, 232, 268 Joyce Green, 131 Jutland, 15 Jutland, Battle of, 41, 155

Hague Convention, 92, 111 Haig, General Douglas, 4, 6, 16, 23, 30, 33–4, 36, 49, 56, 104, 114, 135, 203, 213, 216 Haldane, Richard Burdon, 4 Hamilton, Sir Ian, 41 Hankey, Lord, 29, 174 Hannibal, 21 Harris, Sir Arthur, 171, 172 Henderson, Brigadier David, 5, 7, 22, 27–8, 32, 114–15 Hendon, 135 Hermes, HMS, 12, 75 Hitler, Adolf, 14, 153, 186, 196, 211 Hoeppner, General, 55, 123, 184 Horse Guards, 47 Hotel Cecil, 34, 58 Hythe Gun Camera, 110

Karlsruhe, 49 Kennedy, President J. F. K., 198, 208 Kennedy, Robert, 207 Kent, 131 Kephalo Bay, 39 Khrushchev, Mr, 200 Kilduff, Peter, 122 King’s Lynn, 105 Kingsnorth, 12 Kitchener, Lord, 7, 16, 18, 26, 28, 135, 187, 213 Kittyhawk, 4 Kluck, 8 Koolhoven, Frederick, 67 Korean War, 144 Krefeld, 126 Kut, 66, 200 Kut al Imara, 152 Kuwait, 180

Imbros, 40 Immelman, Max, 123 Independent Air Force (IAF), 32, 48–9, 53, 55, 59, 74, 117, 140, 174, 192, 202, 209, 232 India, 114, 131, 152 Inglis, Captain, 133 Iran, 152 Iraq, 152, 173, 200 Ireland, 131 Isle of Grain, 12 Isle of Man, 39

La Bassée, 109 Lake Constance, 78 Larkhill, 4

Jagdeschwader, 205



Le Havre, 23 le Prieur rocket, 95 Leckie, Captain Robert, 128 Lewis, Cecil, 34, 149, 150 Lewis, Lieutenant, 82 Lewis gun, 8, 35, 88–9, 91–2, 110, 127, 148, 237, 242 Lille, 146 Lindblom, Charles E., 14, 201, 202 Lloyd George, David, 19, 27, 30, 34, 117, 188 London, 23, 27–8, 30–1, 34, 44, 47, 49, 58–9, 73, 104–7, 115, 117, 135–6, 181, 188–90, 202–3, 210–11, 213, 232 Loos, Battle of, 101, 115 Lossnitzer, Johann von, 128 Lowe, Professor T. S. C., 2 Luftwaffe, 53, 153, 170 Luxeuil, 49

Mason, Air Vice Marshal Tony, 3, 117, 213 Mauberge, 22 Maxim gun, 88, 91, 92 Mayfly, 10, 13, 81, 154 Mediterranean, 40, 106 Medway, 12 Mesopotamia, 152 Metz, 22, 50 Midway, Battle of, 75 Mintzberg, Henry, 58 Mons, 23, 115 Montgomery, Field Marshal, 174 Moore-Brabazon, Lieutenant (Lord Brabazon of Tara), 108 Murlis Green, Captain Gilbert Ware, 148 Murphy, Mr, 67 Nancy, 48, 50, 74 Napier, 71 Napoleon, Emperor, 2, 16, 180, 197 National Physical Laboratory, 4, 75 Naval Discipline Act, 11 Neumann, Major Georg, 35, 65, 81, 94, 110, 146, 151, 165 New York, 61, 140 Nordholz, 81 Nore, C-in-C, 121 North Sea, 41, 47, 105, 107 Nottingham, 128

McClellan, George B., 2 McCudden, Major James Thomas Byford, 126, 129, 133, 141, 157–9 McScotch (William MacLanahan), 92 Maidstone, 131 Manica, 39, 77 Mannheim, 50, 117 Mannock, Edward (Mick), 92, 129, 131–3, 157, 159, 190, 209–10 Marconi, Guglielmo, 82, 85 Marix, Flight Lieutenant, 145

Ochey, 48, 50 Ostend, 13, 141, 164



Oughton, Frederick, 92

Royal Aircraft Factory, 3, 7, 19, 23, 29, 32, 34, 58, 66, 71, 72 Royal Army Medical Corps, 131 Royal Engineers, 3, 5, 55, 131, 133 Royal Flying Corps (RFC), 5–8, 11–12, 16–19, 22–30, 33–7, 40, 45, 47–8, 54–9, 67, 71–3, 77, 87–8, 92, 102, 108, 111, 114–16, 118–20, 126, 128–31, 133, 135–7, 146–7, 152, 161–2, 164, 170, 174, 181–2, 184–91, 198, 202–5, 207–11, 213, 215 Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), 6, 9, 11, 13, 15, 23, 36–41, 47, 57, 71, 93, 105, 107, 111, 120–1, 145, 152, 164, 171, 174, 181, 184, 187, 202, 205, 208–9, 211, 215 Royal Navy, 1, 6–7, 9, 13–15, 19, 32, 39, 42, 47–8, 72, 77–8, 80–1, 83–4, 97, 120–1, 134–5, 145, 154, 176, 178, 184, 189 Royal Scots Greys, 131 Royal Signals Corps, 24 Royal Society, 4 Ruhr, 140 Rupprecht, Crown Prince, 55 Russia, 21, 50 Rutland, Flight Lieutenant, 42

Parabellum gun, 91 Paris, 8, 22, 45, 71 Paulus, General, 186 Phillips, Admiral Sir Tom, 171 Pickett, General George, 4 Poland, 124 pom-pom gun, 94 Potomac, 2 Prince of Wales, 10 Prussia, 21, 124 Quinn, 201 Raleigh, Walter, 4, 121 Rayleigh, Lord, 4 reconnaissance, 162 Regent Street Polytechnic, 36 Repulse, 10 Rhys-Davids, Captain, 126 Richey, Paul, 173 Richmond, 2 Richthofen, Lothar von, 128 Richthofen, Manfred von, 124, 126, 129, 156, 159, 161, 163, 190, 205 River Clyde, 39 Riviera, 37 Robertson, Sir William, 50, 117 Rommel, Erwin, 179 Rothermere, Lord, 32, 117, 188 Royal Aero Club, 114, 128 Royal Air Force, 50, 59, 109, 117, 122, 135, 140, 176, 178, 192, 202, 206, 209, 212, 215–16

Saar, 49, 196 St Nazaire, 23 St Omer, 23 St Quentin, 143



Salmond, General, 100, 140, 143 Samson, Commander, 164 Schütte-Lanz Company, 80 Schweidnitz, 124 Scott, Admiral Sir Percy, 44 Second World War, 10, 74, 76, 109, 129, 142, 144, 152, 154, 165–6, 170–1, 175–8, 186, 188, 196, 212, 214 Sedan, 22 Serbia, 173 Shatt al-Arab, 152 Sheerness, 11 Sheffield, HMS, 179 Simon, Herbert, 14, 201 Six-Day War, 146, 183 Sixth Army, 153 Sloan, Alfred P., Jr, 207 Smith-Barry, Major Robert, 35, 119 Smuts, General Jan Christiaan, 17, 31, 49, 135, 213 Somme, Battle of the, 116, 136, 143, 182, 186, 199, 203, 216 Sopwith, T. O. M., 38, 67, 121 Sopwith Camel, 17, 52, 90, 148, 158 Sopwith Pup, 133 Sopwith triplane, 125 South Africa, 114 South African War, 3 Spandau gun, 88, 91, 92 Stalingrad, 153, 186 Strasser, Peter, 127 Stuttgart, 50 Sudan, 3

Sueter, Captain Murray, 11, 120–1 Suez, 178 Sunbeam Arab, 72 Supreme War Council, 51, 231 Suvla Bay, 40 Switzerland, 114 Sykes, Sir Frederick, 32, 40, 210 Tenedos, 38 Territorial Army, 131 Thompson, ‘Tommy’, 200 Thomsen, Major Hermann von der Lieth, 30, 53, 55, 123 Tigris, 152 Tirpitz, 175 Titanic, RMS, 82 Trenchard, Sir Hugh, 1, 7, 16, 28, 30–1, 33, 47, 50–1, 53, 58–9, 104, 113–19, 135, 137, 140, 142, 169–70, 172, 181–2, 184, 186–7, 189, 192, 198–200, 203, 206, 208–10, 213, 232 Trent College, 128 Tripoli, 3 Turkey, 3, 131 U-boats, 154 United States, 61, 78, 129, 200, 208 Upavon, 114, 119 Vaughan-Lee, Rear-Admiral, 121 Verdun, 95, 184 Versailles, 51 Vickers, 67, 89



Vickers gun, 88, 91, 92, 162 Vietnam, 150 Virginia, 2 von Clausewitz, Carl, 171, 179, 181 von der Goltz, Field Marshal Colmar Baron, 103 von Hoeppner, General, Ernst, 263 von Parseval, Major August, 76, 80 von Schlieffen, Count Alfred, 21 von Sigsfeld, Hauptmann Bartsch, 76 von Zeppelin, Graf, 2, 78, 79, 105 Voss, Werner, 126, 127, 159

Weir, William, 31, 32, 50, 116–17, 215 Wells, H. G., 61, 140 Wells-next-the-Sea, 107, 128 Western Front, 28, 30–1, 77, 116, 117 Whitehall, 47, 58, 135 Wolseley Company, 73 Women’s Royal Air Force, 216 Woolwich, 3 Wright brothers, 3, 62, 134

War Office, 4–5, 7–8, 10, 17–19, 28–30, 36, 43, 45, 56, 58, 71, 72, 95, 117, 174, 187–9, 200 Warneford, Sub-Lieutenant, 105, 107 Washington, 129

Zelikow, Philip, 28, 30 Zeppelin(s), 10, 13, 37, 42, 44–9, 58, 61, 64, 74, 79, 80–4, 92–5, 105–8, 111, 127, 139–40, 144–5, 147, 155, 177, 183, 189, 212

Yarmouth, 12 York, Duke of, 36 Yorkshire, 48 Yorktown, 2