Airplane Warfare in WWI

During World War One, the role of airplanes and how they were used changed greatly. At first planes were only used
for sport, but people started realize that not only could
airplanes be useful but they could even influence an outcome
of the war greatly. Soon the war was filled with blimps,
planes, and tethered balloons. By the end of the war,
planes became a symbol of fear, but they were not always
treated with such respect.

In the time leading up to the war, the general
feeling about planes was, they were a sneaky, unfair tactic
that should not be used in warfare. During The 1899 Hague
Peace Conference it was put on record that the dropping or
shooting of any projectiles or explosives from the air
during a time of war was forbidden and was considered a
crime of war. It was also decided that airplanes could only
be used for reconnaissance or spying missions. (Villard-227)
The airplane may be all very well for sport, but for the
army it is useless (Quoted in Villard-227) Even by the
beginning of the war in 1912, the use of planes in war was
still prohibited by the War Office. Shortly thereafter this
changed, people awakened to the possibilities of air
warfare. The world soon started to realize the
effectiveness of planes in war and how the control of the
skies could influence the outcome.
Although the French were the first to have a
working, conscripting air force and to license fliers, their
trust in airplanes still was not up to par. Their lack of
trust was justified, for the planes had no armaments, too
many wires, and no reliable motor. (Villard-228)
Soon all countries in the war effort had their own
little air force, built hangers, and started to train
pilots. The first bombing occurred in November 1911.
Although the first bomb was dropped by the Italians, soon
all countries were involved in bombing raids. (Villard-229)
It was followed by the first aerial dogfight in 1912. This
consisted of a primitive exchange of pistol fire between
British and German planes . (Harvey-95)
The first flying experience for the United States
occurred in 1862, during the Civil War. General McClellan
went into battle against the South with a balloon corps
floated by hydrogen and pulled by four horses. (Saga-51)
Literary fiction started to breed ideas about the
use of planes in warfare. The most famous writer to explore
the idea was H.G. Wells. He wrote The War In The Air, a
book about the future in which battle is conducted with
planes. (Wohl-70). In Germany, literary fiction preceded
the actual development of warfare in the air. Rudolph
Martin was a writer who predicted that the Germans future
was not on the sea, but in the air. He also believed that
further development in aviation would kill the importance of
distance and help to lead toward the German unification of
the world.(Wohl-81) Martins novel helped to prepare the
Germans for their use of planes in the war. The fiction
soon became scientific fact. (Wohl-71)
The United States, ultimately was slower than
France and Germany to develop an air force. On March 3,
1911, Congress appropriated $125,000 to start an air force,
which consisted of five planes. The first squadron was
organized by the Americans on March 5, 1913, in Texas City.
It consisted of nine planes. Although the United States
entered the war in 1917, it did not use planes in the war at
that time. (Villard-231)
U.S. pilots had little or no experience in
cross-country navigation. They did not have good maps and
sometimes they became lost, ran out of fuel and would have
to land behind enemy lines. (Villard-233)
As the Americans advanced in the use of planes in
warfare, so did the Germans. Initially, the Germans made no
effort to hide their skepticism about the use of planes in
warfare. In the beginning of the war, many Germans raised
in newspaper articles and on government committees the
possibilities of warfare in the air, but the country as a
whole was not quick to initiate the effort. (Wohl-70)
This quickly changed, however, because the development of
airplanes during the war was mostly credited to the Germans.
The Germans came out with advances in planes that outdid
anything that France had to offer. Even though France had
the largest air force in the world, they soon became
second-best. No matter how hard the other countries tried,
the Germans were always one step ahead in airplane advances.
These advances were so great that even though the Germans
were outnumbered eight to one, they still came out on top.
For instance, the mounting of a machine gun behind the
propellers seemed like suicide, but the Germans came up with
the idea of a timed switch that would allow the gun to fire
in-between rotations. This made it easier to aim and fly at
the same time. Roland Garros, an allied flier, who mounted
a gun in the cockpit and put protective plates on his
propellers was trying to match the German timed device, but
it was a faulty, unsafe rip-off . (Harvey-95)
Another advancement used by the Germans was the
introduction of luminous paint so that pilot would not fly
into each other or shoot each other during night raids.
(Duke-130) The allied countries tried many times to
duplicate this and many other German inventions, but failed
each time.
The Germans started putting up hangers and domes
around its boarders. They introduced more and more types of
planes. As the war went on, Germany introduced the
BI-planes and Tri-planes which made the use of one winged
planes obsolete. The more wings, the more mobility,
stability, and speed the plane had. The mobility made it
easier to evade gun fire or to maneuver better in dogfights.
The stability made these new planes handle better in
turbulence, and in reconnaissance missions the speed was
most important for escaping the enemy. These new German
planes dominated the skies and made lumber of the
allies flaming coffins (old mono-planes)
The BI-plane was considered to be the best
all-around plane. It was the favorite of the German Flying
Ace, Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the
Red Baron The Red Baron was the best pilot in the war,
and was credited with shooting down 80 allied planes. He
was equally respected by both sides, and when he was shot
down, his enemies held a service for him to show how much
respect they had. This show of chivalry was not uncommon,
for in the beginning of the war, it was tradition to throw
down a wreath if an enemy plane was shot down, to show
respect and honor. However when bombing was introduced, the
feeling about planes turned from noble flying knights into
fear, death from above.
The evolution of aircraft during World War One was
profound and unmatched by any other advancements in any
other field at the time. From Reconnaissance to bombing,
the use of airplanes in the war became a necessity
and by the end of the war airplanes and pilots had earned
the respect they deserved. Todays warfare relies heavily
on the use of aircraft, not only for destruction and
transportation of troops and supplies, but also for its
initial use of reconnaissance.

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