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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 German's 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) Martin's 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 it's 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. Today's warfare relies heavily 

on the use of aircraft, not only for destruction and 

transportation of troops and supplies, but also for it's 

initial use of reconnaissance. 



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