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The military aviation in 1914

Written by Sakhal

The diverse air forces

In August 1914, the "heavier than the air" component of the German Imperial Aviation Corps had 246 aircraft, 254 pilots and 271 observers. There were 33 Feldflieger Abteilungen (Field Aviation Section), each with six aircraft, and eight Festungflieger Abteilungen (Fortress Aviation Section), each with eight aircraft. The first were under direct operative command from the Army, aggregated to each of the Army and Army Corps' headquarters. The second had the mission of protecting the fortress-cities of the German borders. About half of the available aircraft were of the type Taube, which had been produced in large numbers in the years previous to the war. The unarmed Taube had a maximum speed of 96 kilometers/hour. Other models in service, all of them biplane, were the AEG B.II, Albatros B.II, Aviatik B.I and DFW B.I.

The French Aviation Militaire (as the corps had been rebaptized) had 132 aircraft available, with another 150 in reserve, almost all of these latter reunited in Saint-Cyr. The first-line aircraft were distributed in 24 escadrilles, each with six aircraft in average, for this number could vary. There were five equipped with aircraft Maurice Farman, four with Henry Farman, two with Voisin, one with Caudron, one with Breguet, seven with Bleriot, two with Deperdussin, one with REP and another one with Newport. All of them had the role of reconnaissance and were aggregated to the five French armies deployed in the West Front. The other main beligerents in the European continent in August 1914 - Russia and Austria - had very little in the matter of aviation. The Russian Imperial Aviation had 24 aircraft, while the Austrian aviation had 36, almost all of them of the type Taube. In fact, the small Austrian aeronautic industry did not develop until the summer 1915, when it suffered a fast expansion after the entry of Italy in the war.

The military aviation in 1914

At the beginning of the war a French small squadron was equipped with the aircraft Caudron G-3, which were employed for the first bombardment missions before the advent of the first aircraft specifically designed for such purpose. Weight: 732 kilograms; wingspan: 13.40 meters; length: 6.40 meters; engine: Gnome of 80 horsepower; armament: one machine gun; crew: 2; speed: 110 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 3000 meters; operational range: 4 hours; bombs load: 9 kilograms.

At the outbreak of the war, the British Royal Flying Corps had about 180 aircraft of every type, albeit many of them were outdated training airplanes and only 84 could be classified as fully operative. The naval aviation had 71 aircraft, of which 31 were seaplanes with floaters, based in a number of locations along the eastern British coast, from the English Channel to Scotland. The airfields were at a certain calculated distance ones from others, allowing the naval aviation to organize coastal patrols that overlapped each other.

Deployment in France

The 13th August 1914, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Squadrons were sent to France, with 65 aircraft, 105 officers and 775 men more, to support the British Expeditionary Force, being initially reunited in the area of Amiens. Also it was established a temporal airbase of the naval aviation in Ostend (Belgium), being started patrols with seaplanes between that base and the one of Westgate, in Kent, to protect the troops transport ships that transported the British Expeditionary Force to France. The 19th day, it was made the first reconnaissance flight of the war, from Maubeuge (Belgium), by Captain Philip Joubert de la Fert (who would be the Chief Commander of the Royal Air Force Coastal Command in the Second World War) of the 3rd Squadron, flying in a Bleriot, and Lieutenant G. W. Mapplebeck from the 4th Squadron, flying in a BE.2. The Royal Flying Corps had its first dead the 22nd August, when an Avro 504 of the 5th Squadron was shot down by enemy rifle fire over Belgium.

Increasing the reconnaissance activity in the days before the Battle of the Marne, it was a matter of time that the first air combat took place. Until then no aircraft on both sides was armed, albeit the crew usually carried a pistol and sometimes a carbine. The crews of the 5th Squadron had been experimenting mounting a machine gun in the cockpit of the observer in their aircraft Henry Farman, but the increase in weight caused an unacceptable reduction in the prestations. Then, the 25th August, an enemy two-seater was forced to land after a series of "passades" by three aircraft BE.2 from the 2nd Squadron. One of the British pilots, Lieutenant H. D. Harvey-Kelly, landed near and, along with his observer, forced the enemy crew to refuge in a forest before burning the German aircraft and taking off again. In another isolated incident, Lieutenant De Bernis, observer of a French aircraft piloted by Roland Garros, fired six or seven times with a carbine against two German aircraft Albatros, without apparent results. That same day a second German aircraft was captured near Le Quesney.

Air combat

However, until the 4th October 1914 did not take place the first true air combat. That day a biplane Voisin of rear propeller from the Escadrille VB 24, armed with a machine gun Hotchkiss and piloted by Lieutenant Joseph Frantz, with Corporal Quenault as observer, shot down a two-seater Aviatik near Reims. The two crewmen of the Aviatik died when the aircraft crashed while in flames: they were Wilhelm Schlichting (pilot) and Lieutenant Fritz von Zangen. Quenault effectuated 47 shots against the Aviatik, which was the first aircraft in History shot down and destroyed by another aircraft. Franz, who survived the war - the same as Quenault -, added two more aircraft Aviatik to his record in May 1915. Franz died in Paris in September 1979 while Quenault had died in Marseille in April 1958. The 22nd November they were the British who annotated a victory in their record, when an Avro 504 armed with a Lewis machine gun met an Albatros; the British observer, Lieutenant L. G. Small, depleted two ammunition drums against the enemy aircraft. The Albatros, damaged, effectuated a forced landing and its two crewmen were made prisoners.

In February 1914, the British 11th Squadron, then based at Netheravon, in Wiltshire, received its aircraft Vickers FB.5, developed from the Type 18 "Destroyer". This two-seater FB (Fighting Biplane) was armed with a Lewis machine gun mounted in the fore cockpit and it was propelled by an engine Gnome Monosoupape and a rear propeller. Initially, the series aircraft were delivered to the squadrons in small number. The 11th Squadron was the first one that was fully equipped and it became the first specialized fighter squadron in History. It was sent to Villers-Brettoneux (France) in July 1915 and during several months it effectuated ground strike and combat patrol missions. In November of that year arrived also to France the 18th Squadron, equipped as well with aircraft FB.5. But this aircraft, that resulted to be a good "workhorse", would not be a true enemy in combat for the aircraft that the Germans had already in the air: the Fokker.

The military aviation in 1914

The Avro 504 was the first significative British light diurnal bomber, specially due to the incursions against the hangars of the Zeppelin in Germany and the bombardment of those dirigibles in flight. Weight: 715 kilograms; wingspan: 11 meters; length: 9 meters; engine: Gnome of 80 horsepower; armament: one Lewis machine gun if required; crew: 2; speed: 100 kilometers/hour at an altitude of 2000 meters; service ceiling: 4000 meters; operational range: 4.5 hours; bombs load: 36 kilograms.

The Zeppelin

To know what the enemy was preparing behind a hill constituted a crucial problem of the military since several centuries ago. This was what decided the warlike utilization of the first air balloons or aerostats, considering above all to ascend out of the range of the enemy weapons. Hence, from the beginning, all of the contenders of the First World War thought on using the heights with the last technical achievements available in 1914 and, for such, airplanes, dirigibles and captive balloons were equipped with the best optical and photographic means. On the other hand, the possibility of flying over the enemy pointed to the idea of aerial bombardment. Already in 1910 it had been created the Michelin Prize for aerial aiming. But in 1914, the only flying machines with enough load capacity and a good operational range were the dirigibles. For the time being, the aircraft resulted insufficiently potent. The engines of 80 horsepower only allowed them to reach altitudes of 2000 meters in 25 or 30 minutes. Lieutenant L. A. Strange had the idea of installing a machine gun in his aircraft and when he tried to chase the enemy he could not ascend above 1200 meters due to the weight of the weapon.

However, such problems only existed in the beginning; later the fast technical development benefited considerably the airplanes. The dirigible little could improve except in reaching somewhat higher speeds, but the invonveniences generated by its extraordinary volume could not be made to disappear. The country which used more the dirigibles was Germany, which taking into consideration their formidable capacity of load, started a program of regular bombings. But in 1915 they had suffered so many casualties that only some nocturnal raids were effectuated. In Germany both the Army and the Navy had constituted before the war aviation corps whose pride were the dirigibles known as Zeppelin, which took this name from the company that made them. These dirigibles, in comparison with the contemporary airplanes, resulted formidable. They flew at 80 kilometers/hour, speed slightly lesser than the one reached by the best aircraft, and they had much higher operational range and service ceiling. They could reach very deep inside the enemy lines with a load of bombs over 450 kilograms, something unthinkable for the aircraft until the advent of multi-engined bomber aircraft. For self-defense the Zeppelins were armed with several machine guns installed in hanging cabins.

The military aviation in 1914

The BE 2a of Charles Samson

The most dynamical and influential of the pioneers of the British naval aviation, Charles Rumney Samson was also an extravagant, intrepid and skilled pilot whose deeds and raids in the first months of the First World War were matter of countless anecdotes which became legendary in the scope of aviation. Born near Manchester in 1883, he could have lived a life of corsair in the sea as in the antique times if in that time the aviation had not already appeared, causing fascination on him from 1910-11. He had 28 years and was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy when he learnt to fly manning a biplane Short in Eastchurch. Thanks to his arguments, the Admiralty accepted to create the Naval Flying School in Eastchurch in 1911. The following year, Samson was promoted as Commander of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps. The outbreak of the war caused the transference to Ostend of the Eastchurch Squadron commanded by Samson. It comprised two BE, two Bleriot, one Bristol TB-8, one Farman Short number 42 and two Sopwith. One of the first mentioned, a BE 2a, serialized with the number 50, was the aircraft that Samson chose to fly.

Following orders by Winston Churchill, the Eastchurch Squadron flew to Antwerp to attack the hangars of Zeppelin in Dusseldorf. The BE 2a number 50 was among the aircraft sent there, much to the regret of Samson, who feared to not see it again. However, after the fall of Antwerp, the number 50 was returned to Dunkirk, where the Eastchurch Squadron had its operations base. Armed with a rifle firing incendiary bullets and light bombs, Samson effectuated numerous raids in the enemy positions in Ostend, Zeebrugge and Middelkerke, as well as some occasional attacks against German dirigibles. He made these flights alone, with the fore cockpit occupied by an additional large fuel tank. Called again to Britain in February 1915, Samson received the order of transferring the Eastchurch Squadron to the Dardanelles. He arrived to Tenedos in the late March with a certain number of aircraft Farman and his beloved number 50. From then he removed the supplementary fuel tank from the fore cockpit and, when he enrolled as observer for the naval artillery, he normally brough with him an observer. He continued piloting his old number 50 during many months and in September he carried out raids over Berghaz Liman and Kilia Liman. Near the end of the war, Samson commanded the famous seaplane carrier HMS Ben-My-Chree in operations in the Syrian coast and, occasionally, as Wing Commander, he commanded the aeronaval station at Great Yarmouth.

The military aviation in 1914

BE 2a from the Eastchurch Squadron of the RNAS (Royal Naval Air Service), piloted by Wing Commander Charles Rumney Samson in 1915. Wingspan: 10.68 meters; length: 9 meters; height: 3.73 meters; engine: Renault of 70 horsepower; maximum speed: 113 kilometers/hour; service ceiling: 3050 meters; operational range: 3 hours; armament: one bomb or equivalent of 45 kilograms.

Categories: Aviation - World War One - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-06-27

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