The First World War (WWI)

The First World War (WWI)

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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.

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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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