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repaired ; broken struts replaced ; tyres changed ;
in short, there are a thousand and one everyday
duties which have to be performed by the air-
mechanics of the corps, and upon their con-
scientious and swift fulfilment depend, not only
the efficiency of the corps, but the lives of the
pilots. It must not be imagined, however, that



42 AIRCRAFT

these laborious tasks are not often performed
under the most dangerous conditions possible.
An incident which was exceptional for its nature
rather than the bravery required and this is in
no way deprecating the courage of the men con-
cerned, but emphasising the dangerous nature
of their daily work occurred when one of the
propellers of a British airship broke during an
important journey. Two of the crew at once
volunteered to change it in mid-air, and coolly
effected the renewal, straddling on the rod hold-
ing in position the propeller, which was the only
thing between them and the Channel, over which
the airship was then travelling.

This is but one instance out of many of the
deliberate valour which the men of the K.F.C.
and the R.N.A.S. have constantly shown. The
acts may vary, but seldom the courage exhibited
in performing them. Often it is necessary for an
aeroplane to be repaired under heavy fire from
the enemy. Here there is none of the intoxicat-
ing abandon of a bayonet charge to lighten the
consciousness of extreme danger, so that the
heroism shown by the air-mechanics must be of
the most intense description.

In the course of a lecture which he delivered



CH.III THE E.F.C. AND THE E.N.A.S. 43

six months before the War, Colonel F. H. Sykes,
then Commandant of the E.F.C. said :

" Success in war l will depend as much on the
efficiency and keenness of the ground personnel
as upon those whose duties are more essentially
in the air, and we should not overlook the fact
that, although our officers and men are of the
keenest, those employed on ground work must be
continually subjected to the disheartening effects
of seeing the results of their hours of toil brought
to nothing by the mischance of a second. To
the good air-mechanic the machine for which he
is responsible is his pride. I know men who
regard their machines almost as living things.
They are intensely proud of its achievements."

With what keen insight and sympathy has
this distinguished officer expressed the feelings
which inspire the mechanics of the air services.

And what a tribute he pays them !

1 Col. Sykcs was, of course, specifically referring to the R.F.C.



CHAPTER IV

SCOUTING FROM THE AIR

ANY one who has not flown at a considerable
height might think that, once well over the
enemy's lines, it is then quite an easy matter
for a pilot or observer to obtain and record all
the information required regarding the dis-
position of the enemy's troops, supply bases,
lines of communication, etc. But this is not
nearly so simple as it may at first appear.

For it must be remembered that, while it is
generally possible to undertake reconnaissance
at a height of about 6000 feet, where a pilot is
to a degree safe from being hit by anti-aircraft
guns, it is often necessary, owing to misty
weather or other circumstances (such as when a
very detailed report has to be made), to perform
the work at a considerably lower altitude, and
this is when the anti-aircraft guns give the

44



cn.iv SCOUTING FROM THE AIR 45

airman a very unpleasant and dangerous time.
It can be said that the German anti-aircraft
guns are really a greater menace to our airmen
than are their aeroplanes, for their shooting
with those weapons is certainly good, probably
because they have so much opportunity for
practice, with our pilots continually flaunting
them over their own lines.

The danger from anti-aircraft guns lies not
only in being directly hit by them ; the balance
of an aeroplane can sometimes be completely
upset by the air-zone in its line of flight being
violently disturbed by the bursting shrapnel
from an " Archibald." This is, of course, very
unfortunate from the aviator's point of view,
for it counterbalances the advantage which he
would otherwise derive from the fact that it is
very difficult indeed actually to hit the speck
which an aeroplane flying at any speed between
seventy and a hundred miles an hour presents
at an altitude of a mile or so.

Very little has been done in the way of
armouring aeroplanes, except underneath the
pilot's seat, and, in some cases, the nacelle. It
is, in fact, astonishing how often a well-built
but unprotected aeroplane will stand being hit



46 AIRCRAFT

by rifle-fire without its flying capabilities being
affected. Indeed, a British aviator, after one
flight, counted no less than three hundred bullet
holes in the wings of his machine, and in spite of
these it flew as well as ever. Strange as it may
seem, even the wooden spars between the wings
of a biplane are often hit without disastrous
effect, the result being only partial splintering.
Nevertheless, there is a great deal in favour of
steel being used for struts and spars and, in
addition, wherever else possible in the con-
struction of the machine. For steel will only
bend in most cases, and hardly ever smash save
under very exceptional conditions. A number
of military aeroplanes have, as a matter of fact,
steel construction almost throughout. With
aeroplanes as they are to-day, in spite of the
many soft places where a bullet can go through
without doing much damage, there are, of course,
many vital spots, such as the propeller or the
engine not to mention the pilot where one
well-directed bullet will stop the mechanical
flight of the machine instantly.

Aeroplanes are not armoured extensively to-
day owing to the great extra weight that would
have to be added, and which would seriously



CH.IV SCOUTING FROM THE AIR 47

impair the efficiency of any machine. But it is
certain that some satisfactory means will have to
be devised of protecting the pilot and his machine
to a greater extent than at present. The best
principle appears to be that of having only two
classes of substance in the aeroplane : one kind
that will let the projectiles pass through without
serious damage resulting, and the other substance
steel plate that will absolutely repel the
gunfire. It is not the slightest good fitting
armour that will only partly stop projectiles
fired from the ground ; it is necessary to fix
the given height at which the armour is to be
effective e.g. 5000 feet and then have it thick
enough to turn off anything that may be fired
at it.

There is one factor, however, which it is
almost impossible to allow for in advance ;
i.e. the atmosphere. For instance, in the present
war reconnaissance at the Western Front is
carried out mostly at 6000 feet, and at this
altitude in France as much can be seen as at
3000 feet in England, because the air is so much
clearer. When armouring aeroplanes in peace
time, it is not possible to anticipate in what
country they will have to operate. The climate



48 AIRCRAFT

may make it necessary for them to be immune at
2000 feet, or again, at 8000 feet ; and as the
difference in weight between the armour required
for the former altitude and that for the latter is
very large, the question is one of importance.

There is yet another danger from which the
scouting aeroplane must be more perfectly pro-
tected, and that is from rifle fire of his own lines.
Things are certainly better than they were, but
at the beginning of the campaign a pilot was as
much fired at by his friends below as by his
enemies. This was the case on both sides ; and,
considering the widespread ignorance regarding
details of the various types of aeroplanes that
was prevalent when war broke out, it was only
to be expected. Although an expert can tell
almost any type of machine in the air at a
glance, it is exceptional for a novice to be able
to recognise a certain make of aeroplane even
from drawings, diagrams, or photographs which
he may have seen. There is no doubt that in
the future, or quite possibly before the end of
the present War, every unit of an army will be
able to differentiate between their own and
hostile aeroplanes as easily as every unit of a
navy can tell its own ships from those of



<*. iv SCOUTING FROM THE AIR 49

the enemy. The distinction will have to be
recognised, however, by the shape and design
of the machine, and not by the flags or other
marks which are now painted underneath the
wings, for these become almost invisible at a
distance.

But if those on the ground do not find it very
easy to identify a flying machine, the observation
which has to be carried out from the aeroplane
itself is far more difficult to perform accurately.

A great deal depends upon the observer him-
self, for his work is quite as individual as that of
the pilot ; and, unlike the pilot, military know-
ledge and experience are essential to him. The
earth looks amazingly different from an altitude
of a few thousand feet to its appearance at
the level of the ground. Objects lose all their
upright shape, and to a large extent their colour ;
a block of large buildings, for example, appears
as a small patch of variegated grey, a field like
a little space of grey-green. There is so much
merging of colour that it is essential the
observing officer should have a 1 most perfect eye-
sight. Roads and railway lines are simple to
locate when the weather is clear ; but when it
is even slightly misty or foggy it is sometimes



50 AIRCRAFT

hardly possible to discern details on the
ground.

The responsibility attached to observation
duty is enormous. Imagine the difficulty of
judging the numbers of troops in either massed
or open formation. Probably all that can be
seen from the aeroplane is a little dark mass,
or many small scattered groups. Are there fifty
thousand men down there or seventy thousand
or a hundred thousand ? Upon the correct
judgment of an observer may depend the lives
of thousands of soldiers, and ultimately, perhaps,
even the issue of a whole campaign.

The air scout must also constantly be on the
look-out to detect important objects deliberately
concealed from him, such as masked batteries
or gun emplacements hidden almost under-
ground. Colonel Sykes, in March 1914, referring
to the arduous duties of an observer in war
time, said : " Know that much, very much
depends on you, your vision, decision, accuracy
and certainty. You see something. Your flyer
throttles down to the lowest safe flying speed.
Unless your faculties are well trained you have
passed it, and not decided what it is. Long train-
ing and much practice for observers is essential."



,

I 1





CH.IV SCOUTING FROM THE AIR 51

In fact, just as a good pilot is one with a
natural talent for flying, so a good observer is
one with an " eye " for country and location ;
and, just as the manipulation of the aeroplane
is to a certain extent instinctive to the former,
so is the immediate mental grasp of the essential
details of a panorama more or less natural to the
latter. But although it may come naturally to
him, he has not only to assist and supplement his
faculties with field-glasses, maps, and sketches,
but to record his information accurately with
reports, photographs, and further sketches of his
own. Added to this, he has at times to look
after wireless apparatus, message bags, signals to
artillery, and also to keep an eye on the petrol
supply, and thus it can be imagined what a
very busy man he is.

Photography from an aeroplane is always
difficult and sometimes dangerous, and an
observer must not invariably rely on his camera,
but observe as though he did not possess one. In
some cases the photographer has to lean out of
the machine in a most perilous manner in order
to get the view to be taken correctly focussed,
and not distorted and slanting, for in many
machines direct downward vision is not possible.



52 AIRCRAFT FT. i

A fairly common method is that of fixing the
camera underneath the aeroplane.

A new Italian camera, 1 invented specially for
air reconnaissance work, was described in a
recent issue of Tlie Aeroplane. The camera is
fixed underneath the machine, and holds about
three hundred negatives, which are automatically
released at given periods. A series of views is
therefore taken at regular intervals, and thus
an absolutely consecutive and complete record
of the ground traversed is obtained. The time
between each photograph is easily regulated by
the pilot, synchronised with the height of the
aeroplane, for, of course, fewer exposures are
needed the higher the altitude. It is estimated
that, at 3000 feet, three hundred views would
completely photograph a strip of land 160
miles long by 1 mile broad. It can be seen
what great possibilities the invention offers.

It has been mentioned before that wireless is
used on aeroplanes. Special obstacles lie in the
path of wireless being fitted to craft travelling
at such a high speed as an aeroplane ; but very

1 The camera referred to is the Piazza-Douchet Photographic
machine, described in the Aeroplane, of May 26, 1915. A somewhat
similar Italian camera, called the Fabri, was exhibited at the Aero
Show at Olympia in 1914, and described in Aeronautics of April 1914.



CH.IV SCOUTING FROM THE AIR 53

great progress has been made in this direction,
the exact nature of which cannot, naturally, be
disclosed here.

In a different sense from wireless, of course,
the aeroplane is itself a wonderful message-
carrier, swift, sure, safe. For these reasons it-
has frequently been used for certain kinds of
despatch-carrying work during the War, such
as transporting documents from town to town.
In entrusting an important despatch to one of
our airmen to deliver, the commanding officer
is to a large extent relieved from anxiety of the
hidden dangers which lurk behind every hedge
for the ordinary courier.

The pilot ascends and the next moment is
out of sight ; and there are very few things
that will stop him from arriving at his destina-
tion. Should he encounter a hostile aircraft,
he would endeavour to evade it rather than
fight, for he must not run even a small risk of
failing to carry out his task. This would also
be the policy of an air scout returning home
after having obtained valuable information.

But in all these operations there is one
enemy from whom it is impossible to escape
the weather. A storm or a hurricane may



54 AIRCRAFT FT. i

arise when a pilot is coming back, tired out
from a hard day's work ; for these caprices of
the weather nearly always seem to occur at
unfortunate moments for the pilot. In war
he cannot, as in peace time, land in the nearest
suitable field, for that field may be in the enemy's
hands. So often the only course open to him is
to struggle back to his own lines. Every airman
has to fight the weather innumerable times in
his career, but the difficulties of doing so are
accentuated in war time. The service pilot must
ascend each day to perform reconnaissance work
and direct the artillery fire in practically any sort
of weather, and so flying often takes place under
conditions which would be considered impossible
in time of peace.

And, therefore, many things have been learnt
during the War about flying in bad weather,
facts which otherwise would not have been found
out for years.



CHAPTER V

AIR RAIDING

THE air raids of the present War demonstrate
forcibly, if in an elementary manner, the vital
difference which exists between aircraft as a
weapon and every other kind of weapon ; what
they also show is that the immense power
possessed by this new arm will, when it has
reached its full development, far exceed that of
any which exists to-day.

Wherein lies the fundamental distinction
between this and all other implements of de-
struction in war ? Not so much in the extent
or severity of the damage which it can inflict,
as in the ubiquity of its range. Hitherto it has
been possible to determine, to a certain degree,
the limits of a theatre of war, at any rate for
the time being ; that is to say, we have known,
for example, that the operations at the Eastern

55



56 AIRCRAFT

Front or in the Balkans would be confined
within a relatively limited area, and that if the
area expanded it would do so at a comparatively
gradual rate. But in the case of aircraft this
is not so. Every place within hundreds and,
in the future, it will be thousands of miles of
a given spot is immediately within the direct
range of aircraft. There will be, in other words,
no such thing as a Front.

In the present campaign, however, air raids
are carried out on what will later be regarded
as almost an experimental scale. Only four or
five years ago the idea of sixty-two aeroplanes
setting out and dropping bombs on a place
nearly a hundred miles away would have been
generally regarded as the unattainable ideal of
an enthusiast. But to-day such a raid is merely
fait accompli.

At present, success in air -raiding depends
almost entirely on the flying and bomb-dropping
capabilities of those engaged, which are purely
due to inherent talent. This explains to a
certain extent the essential difference between
the raids which have been carried out by British
aircraft and those performed by the Germans.

Raids are made by the R.F.C. almost daily ;



CH.V AIR RAIDING 57

l)ut these, although often of equal or greater
value, have not been on such a big scale as some
carried out by the R.N.A.S.

Almost the first British raid of note was
carried out by the late Flight-Commander C. H.
Collett, who flew to Diisseldorf, in October 1914,
on a Sop with biplane, and dropped bombs on
the Zeppelin shed there. Commander Collett
flew the journey at a height of 6000 feet, and
descended to 400 feet within a quarter of a
mile of the shed. However, he did not succeed
in completely destroying it, so about a fort-
night later, it will be recalled, Squadron-Com-
mander Marix made a further attempt. This
time both the shed and the Zeppelin inside it
were completely wrecked the Germans admitted
it flames over 500 feet high springing out
immediately after Squadron-Commander Marix
had dropped his bombs. On the same day as this
success occurred Squadron-Commander Spenser
Grey performed a remarkably fine flight of nearly
four hours' duration from Dunkirk to Cologne
and back, where he discharged his bombs on
the military railway station, effecting con-
siderable damage.

A notable raid was carried out the following



58 AIRCRAFT

month on the Zeppelin Works at Friedrichs-
hafen by Squadron - Commander Babington
and Flight-Commanders Briggs and Sippe. A
flight had to be made of 250 miles in all,
across mountainous country (over which very
bad climatic conditions for flying nearly always
prevail), and the airmen were subjected to
a heavy fire from below when they descended
for the attack. Bombs were successfully
dropped on the Zeppelin factory and much
damage was done. Unfortunately, the petrol
tank of Commander Briggs' machine was
pierced, forcing him to come down in the
enemy's territory, where he became a prisoner.
The results obtained from this raid were very
valuable indeed, for the work at the Friedrichs-
hafen factory was greatly hindered.

But the next important British air raid,
which occurred, dramatically enough, on the
following Christmas Day, for sheer brilliance and
daring eclipsed anything which had previously
taken place. In the very early morning seven
R.N.A.S. officers on seaplanes, escorted by light
cruisers, submarines, and destroyers, set out to
raid the German naval base of Cuxhaven. The
attack commenced at daylight, starting from



CH.V AIR RAIDING 59

a point near Heligoland. This must have
been the most spectacular and novel contest
of the whole War. On the one hand were
our cruisers Arethusa and Undaunted, our sea-
planes, submarines, and destroyers, against us
the enemy's Zeppelins, aeroplanes, and sub-
marines. Quickly our ships' guns put to flight
the two German airships, while even the hostile
aeroplanes did not hit one of our seacraft. After
dropping bombs with great effect -on the harbour
itself and enemy warships lying outside it, our
seaplanes got ready to return. The British
cruisers, which had been waiting off the enemy's
coast for three hours, picked up, as arranged,
three out of the seven pilots ; three more w r ere
picked up by British submarines, and the re-
maining officer, Squadron-Commander Hewlett,
temporarily lost, was finally rescued off the Dutch
coast.

After these successful attempts, operations
began to be organised on a much larger scale,
and in February 1915 no less than thirty-four
British aeroplanes and seaplanes raided the
district round Bruges, Zeebrugge, Blariken-
berghe and Ostend, practically demolishing the
railway station at the last-named town, smashing



60 AIRCRAFT

the German gun positions at Middelkerke and
damaging the power station at Zeebrugge. In
this attack two machines were damaged.

Three days afterwards forty R.N.A.S. aviators
again raided the same district, in order to
complete the damage which had been effected
previously. This time the operations were con-
ducted on a still more ambitious scale, and the
results were equally successful.

A great many other important raids have
taken place, but the few mentioned will
suffice to show that the sole purpose which
animated ,them all was the accomplishment of
some object of direct military importance. This
has also been the case in most of the raids
performed by French aircraft, which has been
extremely active and successful in air-raiding
throughout the War. The British Admiralty
communique of the raid of forty R.N.A.S. pilots
even contained the following :

Instructions are always issued to confine the attacks
to points of military importance, and every effort is made
by the flying officers to avoid dropping bombs on any
residential portion of the towns.

So far as the German raids on England go,
quite a different state of affairs has existed.



AIR RAIDING 61

All the raids, up to the time of writing, have
been performed by Zeppelins, and they have all
taken place during the night, while ours have
been accomplished in broad daylight ; however, it
is owing to the very fact that the Germans have
had to use Zeppelins instead of aeroplanes that
their raids have taken place at night.

But the difference lies primarily in the spirit
which has inspired the raids. It is impossible
for the German airships to locate at night-time
any specific object on the ground below them, in
view of the darkened lights all over the country ;
so that if they effected any damage of military
value, such as the destruction of an important
public building or a munition factory, or the
bombing of a training camp, it would be purely
by luck. And even the chance of serious
damage resulting from the blind methods they
adopt is certainly very slight, for, although it
is possible for an airship or an aeroplane for
that matter to fly by compass with a certain
degree of accuracy, that degree is a very inexact
one, unless the pilot is aided by landmarks, as
he would be in daytime. One difficulty, for
instance, is that it is impossible to tell, or even
guess, in the dark, the extent of side-drift which



62 AIRCRAFT

a wind may be causing the airship. It is, there-
fore, clear that while the Zeppelins may be able
to fly assisted by their compass and the lines of
the coasts and the river Thames with sufficient
accuracy to tell, roughly, what county they
are over, and in very calm weather over what
town, that is the limit of their ability to locate
the country ; l at any rate, it is quite certain
that it is impossible for them to identify any
object or building beneath them, for everything
appears as a black mass, and an even twinkle of
lights.

Allowing for the slight amount of damage
which aircraft dropping bombs at random might
possibly inflict, even then the Zeppelins have been

1 This statement, which has been borne out by Mr. Balfour in
a letter, is entirely unaffected by anything which Lieut. -Commander
Mathy (who led the second Zeppelin raid over London) said in an
interview published in the New York World, and reprinted by the
London Press. The interview was given several days after the
raid took place, by which time Berlin would know from various
sources where the bombs had dropped. Commander Mathy was
able, therefore, to name important military objects near which
his bombs had dropped, and state that those military objects were


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Online LibraryWilliam Alexander RobsonAircraft in war and peace → online text (page 3 of 9)