The author has some 17 books to his credit on military subjects and writes for magazines and other publications. In this new book, he has packed a great deal of interesting information into less than 200 pages, covering the most dynamic aerial combat.
NAME: Pioneers of Aerial Combat, Air Battles of the First World War
CATEGORY: Book Reviews
AUTHOR: Michael Foley
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: aerial combat, air wars, air forces, technology, tactics, WWI, First World War, World War One, Great War, pioneers
DESCRIPTION: The author has some 17 books to his credit on military subjects and writes for magazines and other publications. In this new book, he has packed a great deal of interesting information into less than 200 pages, covering the most dynamic aerial combat.
It is difficult today to understand the rate of development in aviation before 1918. After 1918 the pace slowed dramatically, only to pick up again the mid 1930s, as countries lurched towards a second major global conflict.
The Wright Brothers performed the first recorded controlled flight of a powered aircraft in 1903. There may have been earlier flights by other pioneers and there were flights of unpowered aircraft, including flights in gliders by the Wright Brothers. The first recorded British powered flight was in 1908. The Royal Navy conducted extensive testing from 1903 of towed man-carrying kites. Balloons had been flown for more than a hundred years and used in battle from the American Civil War of the early 1860s. During the Franco-Prussian War, politicians escaped the German siege of Paris in balloons and the first viable airships were used in the closing years of the 19th Century. However, even by 1912, only the German rigid airships offered viable military platforms.
The Royal Navy test dropped the first torpedo from an aircraft less than a month before the start of WWI in 1914. RNAS aircraft were used to bomb airship sheds and port facilities from the start of war, bombed and destroyed German airships in flight, and launched torpedoes at enemy warships, in 1915 sinking Turkish ships, in one case while the RNAS seaplane was preparing to take off.
By 1918, aircraft were routinely employed on strategic and terror bombing of enemy towns, fighters fought large battles and the starting point could be as high as 20,000 ft without oxygen. Carriers had developed to the point where they could operate as a carrier fleet to attack an enemy fleet in port. Radio was being fitted to enable aircraft to be directed against enemy formations and report back in real time from reconnaissance patrols. The fastest fighters could reach almost 200 mph, a speed not to be exceeded until the metal monoplane fighters of the mid to late 1930s.
Over the trenches along the French and Belgian borders, the first Army aircraft were scouts without armament or radio, required to fly relatively low over the trenches to take photographs and return to base. It did not take long for the combatants to arm their scouts in an attempt to blind the enemy by destroying his scouts. The development race swung back and forth with one side in the ascendancy, and then being out run by the other side. The design format emerged as the many wildly different designs of frail machines before 1914 gave way to biplane and monoplane aircraft with a tailplane and tractor engines, machine guns mounted on flexible mounts for observers and fixed forward firing machine guns operated by the pilot. Open sights gave way to optical sights and bomb-aiming systems provided the means to drop bombs much more precisely.
The forms of aerial combat also developed very quickly. Terror bombing by German airships on British cities provided the determination to develop effective fighter aircraft that could destroy the airships, requiring improved weapons and aircraft that could climb higher and faster to intercept. Ground attack aircraft were developed to survive in low altitude attacks on trenches. Long range strategic bombers were developed to take the battle to the enemy’s war production and lines of communication.
The author has done a very effective job of conveying the speed and breadth of development of aerial combat. The text is supported by monochrone photographs through the body of text. This is a book that can serve a wide readership from the aviation novice to those with a well developed knowledge of the subject.