The Role of Air Power In Worl War I


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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