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theatre of war.

Aerial supremacy in war is almost entirely
based on the following qualifications : A suffi-
cient supply of effective aeroplanes ; efficiency
in regard to care and repair of machines ; the
quality and numbers of the flying corps per-

Dealing first with the question of aeroplanes,
there is one definite outstanding fact : that
the finest pilot is almost useless in war unless
he is provided with a really good machine,
the flying and climbing speed of which must
at least equal, if not excel, that of any
machine in the possession of the enemy.
Nothing has been shown to be so essential
in an aeroplane for war purposes as effective
climb and effective speed, the one as much as
the other. Climb and speed mean as much to
an aeroplane as guns and knots mean to a ship,
and it is a scientific certainty that the fastest
ships with the biggest guns will win the day,
although this allows that superior strategy and
better gunnery can secure victory even for an
outclassed ship under adverse circumstances.


These conditions are reproduced in the air,
where the fastest flying and climbing machine
will, other things being equal, destroy a slower
opponent in combat, unless outwitted by
superior strategy. But strategy is just what
plays an eminent part in the air, and superior
strategy has been the cause of many victories
for British aviators.

The word " effective " in the sense that it
is used in the preceding paragraph cannot be
accurately defined, because what is effective
to-day is to-morrow obsolete, so swiftly is air-
craft developed ; but an effective aeroplane
in war is one which will climb and fly at
least as fast as any possessed by the enemy.
Therefore, the fact that out of such large
numbers as sixty and eighty consecutive aerial
combats hardly a single British aeroplane was
lost, while many of those employed by the
enemy were either captured or destroyed, is a
definite proof of the superiority as regards
flying and climbing speed of those British
aeroplanes which were engaged against the
German machines ; and this can be said even
allowing a percentage of wins as being due to
superior strategy and not to better machines.


Apart from these two all-important qualities,
German aeroplanes possess higher qualifications
in many respects than any other models, for
they are extremely stable, reliable, and safe.
German constructors for years specialised in
machines with swept - back wings, designed
primarily for stability, until they were practically
superseded for military use by faster types ;
while the remarkable powers of reliability and
endurance in German aeroplanes are accounted
for by the wonderful aero engines made by
such firms as Benz and Mercedes, for no finer
motors of the stationary type exist to-day.
These engines enabled German pilots to capture
almost all the duration and long-distance records
before the War, non-stop flights up to twenty-
four hours' length being made.

In Germany, aviation received the utmost
official encouragement and support, both moral
and financial, for a considerable period before
war broke out ; while in this country the in-
dustry was, to say the least, in the most pre-
carious position possible, owing to the Govern-
ment not being fully alive to the possibilities
of aircraft. Curiously enough the result was
that German constructors, full up with orders,


paid more attention to standardising existing
machines than to attempting progress with new
types, and when war broke out, although they
had easily beaten us so far as output was con-
cerned, several of our constructors to whom
the utmost credit is due had, by devoting
their time and money to experimenting, been
far more successful in producing really fast-
flying and climbing machines. This was par-
ticularly fortunate for us, because the experi-
ence of the War has shown that nothing is of
such great importance in a war aeroplane as
these two qualities. Everything else, even
perhaps extreme aerodynamical stability, must
if necessary be partly sacrificed to them. In-
cidentally, far more real safety is obtained for
the active service pilot in that way.

It can be admitted that our machines do
not possess such extraordinary powers of en-
durance as some of the German makes, but this
is a disadvantage which is not frequently felt
at the Front, because it is seldom necessary
for military * machines to make flights requiring
very exceptional qualities of reliability ; for all
ordinary every-day work, up to a maximum

1 Specifically aeroplanes belonging to the Royal Flying Corps.


total of four or five hours' flying per day,
British aeroplanes are practically as reliable as
German ones. It is only some way after that
the advantage possessed by the German machines
in this respect begins to tell ; but as no pilot
could possibly stand the strain of more than
four or five hours' flying a day under war con-
ditions, if as much, this advantage is not often
brought into play.

On the other hand, the direct benefit of
superiority in speed and climb is felt in every
flight that is made, for even when it is not used
in a contest in the air, it is always invaluable
for getting beyond the range of anti-aircraft
guns " Archie " or " Cuthbert," as they are
called by the Flying Corps.

So far as climbing goes, rather peculiar
conditions exist. The world's altitude record
was made three times consecutively by German
aviators on German machines (although in one
notable case with a British-built engine) ; but
what is required in war is a fast rate of climbing
rather than only an ability to attain a great
height. An aeroplane is not particularly useful
on active service just because it can climb
20,000 or 25,000 feet, if it is going to take all


day to do so. Ten to fifteen thousand feet is
about the limit at which aerial work of any
sort is carried out, and an altitude of about
6000 the general rule for reconnaissance. There-
fore machines are wanted which can attain
those heights very rapidly, and so get above
enemy aeroplanes in a combat. Both in this
respect and in flying speed our single-seater
scout is superior to anything made in Germany.
The Germans have scarcely anything to touch
our small fast biplanes of the " tabloid " type,
such as those made by the Sopwith, Bristol and
Martinsyde firms.

What has to a certain extent occurred in the
War has been the reliability of German aero-
planes against the speed of the best British
machines. And there is no doubt that the
advantage has been with us, in spite of the
fact that the speed of German aeroplanes has
greatly increased in proportion, since the com-
mencement of the War.

Since the beginning of the campaign we have,
of course, enormously increased our output of
military aeroplanes, and there has been rapid
development in the aircraft used on each side.
The great object when introducing an improve-


ment is to do so as rapidly and suddenly as
possible, in order to gain the advantage of
taking the enemy by surprise. For under
present conditions it is hardly possible to
employ exclusively for long an improved type of
any instrument of war, especially in the case of
aircraft. Only one example of a new aeroplane
has to fall into the enemy's hands, and any
secret details it embodies may be disclosed.
Sometimes it is not necessary to wait even for
that, as many things can be copied on grasping
the principle on which they are worked, or
perhaps immediately the idea is seen.

In matters relating to aeroplanes there is
no doubt that the British and French have been
far the most fruitful in ideas and innovations
during the War, but the Germans have been
extraordinarily quick to grasp an idea and to
utilise it in some cases sooner and often more
extensively even than its originators. There
is no doubt the Germans recognise a good
thing when they see it. For example, they
copied the Avro biplane which had to descend
at Friedrichshafen, and also produced an almost
exact replica of the Morane monoplane ; while one
German " battle plane " is similar in principle


to the original Caudroii double -engined biplane,
many of which had been used by the French
months before the Germans employed machines
of this type.

Active service has proved how necessary
standardisation is for aeroplanes, and there is
no doubt that the high pitch, of standardisation
reached before the War by the German authori-
ties in their military aeronautics, and, in
consequence, by German aeroplane constructors
in their factories, has stood them in good stead
throughout the campaign, although it may not
have altogether compensated them for the lack
of progress which it caused in peace time.
Nevertheless, as a result of it they have been
enabled to produce continuously a large output
of aeroplanes and an adequate supply of spare
parts, which is just as important. This last is
essential, for an absolutely inexhaustible supply
of spare parts of every description, from a bolt
to a spare wing, must be stocked at each aircraft
base. The more perfect the standardisation,
naturally the task of keeping a large number
of aeroplanes in repair and flying order is
made more simple, and can therefore be more
efficiently performed.


An ever-increasing fleet of aeroplanes, both
in the firing-line arid in reserve for training pur-
poses a supply equal to, or larger than, the
enemy's fleet is most necessary in present-day
warfare. Although Germany started the War
with far more aircraft than any other Power,
and also with better facilities for manufacturing
them, we have reached the position when this
does not affect us, in view of our own and
France's tremendously increased output.

In any case, air power does not by a
long way depend on aeroplanes alone, either in
numbers or in quality ; and Germany could not
wrest from us our ascendancy in the air if she
had ten times as many aeroplanes as we have.



IT is important to note that in the earlier despatch
mentioned in the last chapter Sir John French
specifically speaks of " the individual ascend-
ancy " gained by the Royal Flying Corps ; special
stress must be laid on the word " individual "
to understand properly the reason for our aerial
achievements during the War.

A good pilot is born and not made, although
a man can become a competent aviator in
the real sense of the word only by systematic
training and acquired experience. However,
skilful pilots in relatively large numbers can
only be trained from men with a natural
talent for flying. Pilot for pilot, our service
aviators are far superior to the Germans, which
is extremely fortunate for us ; for, after all,



it is only a matter of luck and not of virtue
that the British national temperament happens
to be splendidly suited for flying, just as it is
for hunting or cricket ; although, as a matter of
fact, it is largely a direct result of our bent for
most kinds of sport.

At any rate, the British service airmen are,
on the whole, the finest in the world, for they have
all the brilliant daring and confidence of the
French, but more restraint ; while the German
pilots are too clumsy, and lack the dash which so
often carries ours out of difficult corners. In
the future, when flying is as simple and mechani-
cal as driving a motor-car, we shall not derive
nearly as much advantage from our national
talent as we do at present ; but that, of course,
does not affect the immediate position, which is,
that however many aeroplanes Germany may
build, she is utterly powerless to obtain a
sufficient number of good pilots to fly them.

In the superiority of the pilots of the Koyal
Flying Corps chiefly lies the secret of all our
success in reconnaissance work, directing artillery
fire, bringing down enemy aircraft over our lines,
eluding them over their own lines "getting
away with the news " and in repeatedly raiding


important military places. The same applies
to the personnel of the Eoyal Naval Air Service.
Some readers may not be conversant with the
distinction between the R.F.C. and the R.N.A.S.,
as the two flying corps are generally called, so
a few of their fundamental characteristics will
be enumerated.

The R.F.C. exists, primarily, for service with
the Army in the Field, and to it falls the tasks
mentioned above : air reconnaissance, co-opera-
tion with artillery, and bomb-dropping. The
R.N.A.S. is a service of the Navy (its officers
all append " R.N." after their names, although
they receive the special ranks of Flight Sub-
Lieutenant, Flight-Lieutenant, Flight-Comman-
der, Squadron - Commander, Wing - Commander
and Wing -Captain), and its chief functions
comprise co-operation with the Navy with sea-
planes and land -machines, the aerial defence
of the British Isles, 1 and air raids. In addition
to this, a certain part of the British front in
Belgium has been allocated to the R.N.A.S. for
various operations.

In many respects the R.N.A.S. is to the Navy

1 Since this was written, it has been announced that the aerial
defence of London is to be transferred to the War Office, i.e. the


what the R.F.C. is to the Army. Thus, in the
naval attacks which were made on the Darda-
nelles, the R.N.A.S. directed the gunfire of the
ships with deadly effect, both in the single-
handed attempt made by the Fleet, and in the
combined operations with land forces which took
place later. For work of this kind, or indeed
for any that has to be performed by seaplanes a
considerable distance away from an air station,
seaplane-carrying ships are used, and these are, of
course, fitted with special apparatus for hoisting
the seaplanes on board and for letting them down
gently on to the water again. These ships are
very comprehensively stocked with stores and
spare parts of every description.

The defence work carried out by the R.N.A.S.
is of various kinds. Constant aeroplane patrol
duty takes place all round the coast, and the
R.N.A.S. also patrols part of the Continent. A
large amount of seaplane work takes place, an
important phase of which is searching for
submarines. Nothing could demonstrate more
forcibly the exclusive advantages which aero-
planes possess for certain kinds of work than this,
for a submerged submarine can often be seen
clearly from the air when it is invisible to a ship


even in close proximity. Just as our land-
machines signal to the gun-batteries below them,
so the seaplanes direct the attention of the
destroyers, with which they co-operate, to the
submarines. On one occasion, it will be re-
membered, Squadron - Commander Bigsworth
even destroyed a submarine from his aeroplane
without assistance. A significant fact in con-
nection with this is that now practically all
German submarines have lately been fitted with
anti-aircraft guns, which fold down out of sight
when not in use.

It is obvious that in all these operations with
aircraft, both on land and sea, a great deal more
is required of a service pilot than to be able to
keep his machine aloft for a given period ; this
is particularly so in the case of single-seater
aeroplanes, in which he has often to perform the
duties of an observer in addition to those of pilot.
If it is true that the best airman is almost useless
for active service on a bad aeroplane, it is even
truer that a good machine is useless with a bad
pilot, for not only will he be unable to realise to
the full the advantages of its good qualities, but
he will almost certainly smash it up into the
bargain ; so that surprisingly little could be

By courtesy of " The Illustrated London News."

The submarine is submerged, and only the periscope would be visible from the surface of the
water. Aeroplanes possess enormous value for naval as well as military use, and British seaplanes
have proved of the greatest value in revealing the presence of German submarines.


accomplished with even ten thousand aeroplanes
if an equal number of really good pilots was
not available to fly them. As a matter of
fact, this has been Germany's chief trouble as
regards aviation from the beginning of the War.
The German pilots were good enough so long as
they only had to exhibit qualities of stolid en-
durance ; in fact, probably no other but German
pilots would have had the perseverance or the
patience to have gone to the trouble of making
the flights which broke the world's height and
duration records in 1914. But when it came to
active service, something more than this was
required of them, and this something was lacking.
An aviator may be as brave as a lion and still not
have the skill necessary to out-manceuvre and
defeat his opponent in an aerial duel.

Take, for instance, the question of bomb-
dropping. There is at present no apparatus with
which an aviator can really accurately aim bombs,
so he must possess great personal ability to drop
them correctly ; such a talent it is impossible to
inculcate if it does not already exist in a pilot.
A satisfactory sighting apparatus will be invented
sooner or later, but there are many difficulties to
overcome, such as that of calculating the forward


impulse of the bomb after it is dropped, which is
influenced not only by its own weight, the speed
of the wind and that of the aeroplane, but also
by the altitude at which it is released. At pre-
sent, therefore, we have to rely on the skill of
our service aviators for success in bomb-dropping,
and here again we realise the meaning of our
" individual ascendancy."

Freak flying has come into considerable pro-
minence during the War. For some time before
war broke out, " looping the loop," tail-sliding,
and upside-down flying had been viewed with cold
disfavour from certain quarters, where such feats
were regarded as mere circus tricks almost be-
neath the notice of a serious pilot, especially if he
happened to belong to the R.F.C. or the R.N.A.S.
It was asserted that the possibility of such feats
having once been publicly demonstrated by
Pegoud (who, by the way, really was not the
first to perform them deliberately, Chanteloup
having got into serious trouble a fortnight pre-
viously for doing the same things, which were
considered by his superiors in the Army as taking
foolhardy risks with a Government machine), it
was quite unnecessary for pilots to practise such
evolutions. Happily, however, not very much

cH.ni THE R.F.C. AND THE R.N.A.S. 37

notice was taken by the pilots themselves of this
point of view, and, in fact, few aviators con-
sidered themselves expert until they could turn
their machine at will to any position and from
that attitude regain their normal equilibrium.
It was not enough to see some one else do these
things ; it was not enough even to try them but
once ; they had to be done often, until the pilot
could feel comparatively at ease, mentally if not
physically, in any conceivable position.

It is quite impossible to judge the value of the
complete confidence which this familiarity with
the unusual inspired not only in those who
practised it, but in those who witnessed it.
Innumerable times during the campaign this
knowledge of fantastic flying has been clearly the
means of saving the lives of many airmen. The
late Flight Sub-Lieut. Warneford, after dropping
bombs on the Zeppelin, was hurled upside down
by the terrific force of the explosion. Although
he was not himself versed in freak flying, he had
certainly learned enough from the experience of
others to enable him to keep his head difficult
enough as it must have been and effect a safe

Another case in point was that of a young


R.F.C. officer who was turned upside down in a
storm-cloud in bad weather. He only realised
he was upside down when his revolver slipped
out of his pocket but fortunately was able to
right himself.

While on the subject of remarkable occur-
rences, one or two deeds of bravery performed
in the air and which stand out in the records
of the War may be recalled. One of the
finest of these acts was done by Second-Lieut.
W. B. R. Moorhouse, V.C., who died as gallant a
death as an officer and a gentleman could wish.
He set out from the British lines alone, and flew
towards the important railway station of Courtrai,
where he dropped bombs which effected consider-
able damage. In order to do this, he descended
to the low altitude of 300 feet, and was severely
wounded by rifle fire. Instead of landing in
the enemy's lines and saving his life, he deter-
mined at least to save his machine, and flew the
thirty miles back to our lines, although he was
in the greatest pain, having been again wounded,
this time mortally, by an anti-aircraft gun. He
made a good landing, delivered his report, arid
died the next day in hospital.

Another deed which required the greatest

OH. in THE R.F.C. AND THE R.N.A.S. 39

pluck was that performed by Captain A. E.
Borton and Captain Marshall, both attached
to the R.F.C. While on reconnaissance work,
Captain Borton was severely wounded in the
head by bullets fired from a hostile aeroplane.
The observer, Captain Marshall, leant over and
helped him to bandage his wounds no easy or
safe matter when travelling over eighty miles an
hour and the flight was continued. The German
aeroplane renewed the attack, and the British
pilot became almost unconscious, but neverthe-
less the reconnaissance was completed and a
consistently accurate report handed in.

The official " Eyewitness " put on record quite
one of the bravest acts of the War. This was
when an R.F.C. officer, Second-Lieut. W. Acland,
and his observer were attacked by a huge German
aeroplane with two engines. The British aero-
plane, however, got the better of its opponent,
which was forced to nose -dive 2000 feet ; but
Mr. Acland' s petrol tank was pierced by anti-
aircraft shrapnel, and the petrol was ignited by
the exhaust pipe. The whole machine rapidly
became a burning mass, but the pilot did not
collapse under the horrible mental suspense of
knowing that the aeroplane might fall to pieces


any moment, nor did lie give way to the intense
physical pain of being gradually enveloped in the
flames, but kept at his post with the greatest
courage, made a successful landing, and thus
saved the life of his passenger.

But if the officers of the R.F.C. and the
R.N.A.S. have the greatest possible chance to
distinguish themselves on active service, there is
hardly - another branch of the Army or Navy
where the N.C.O.'s and men have to work so hard
with such a small chance of gaining honours or
distinction. The N.C.O.'s and men who con-
stitute the rank and file of the Flying Corps are
air-mechanics, the great majority of whom are
skilled artisans of great experience, many of them
having been previously employed in aircraft
firms. Upon the skill, devotion, and hard work
of these men really depends the efficiency of the
flying services. It may be argued that they are
under military discipline and have to work hard,
whether they like it or not ; that is perhaps to a
certain extent true, but no one who is not entirely
ignorant of the conditions of work in all branches
of engineering can be unaware of the enormous
difference sometimes amounting to well over
100 per cent between the output of a man who

cir.m THE R.F.C. AND THE R.N.A.S. 41

is determined to do the least possible amount
consistent with safety (if he is under military
orders) and that of a man who means to work as
hard as he can.

Therefore, let no one belittle the magnificent
efforts of the air-mechanics of the R.F.C. and
the R.N.A.S. Few people outside those directly
connected with aviation realise what active
service means for aeroplanes. In the very im-
portant task of keeping a large number of
machines in care and repair in the Field, not only
the ordinary vigilance which is requisite in peace
time is necessary, but, in addition, a considerable
amount of ingenuity is required to cope with the
special unpremeditated difficulties which occur
almost every day. Repairs and replacements
of every sort have to take place incessantly at
the bases ; engines must be cleaned after a few
hours' flying ; fabric torn by bullets has to be

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Online LibraryWilliam Alexander RobsonAircraft in war and peace → online text (page 2 of 9)