AIRPLANES IN WORLD WAR I
Airplanes played a significant role in World War I. In fact, airplanes were first developed just before the start of World War I and aircraft technology further developed as the war progressed. World War I was a deadly conflict as shown by the millions of military and civil casualties it caused. The large number of casualties was the result, in part, of the development and use of weaponry that took place during the war. In all, airplanes were one of the most significant weapons of World War I alongside other important weapons, such as: airships, machine guns, poison gas, rifles, submarines and tanks.
DEVELOPMENT OF AIRPLANES FOR WORLD WAR I
At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the airplane was still primitive in design. This was primarily due to it being a recent invention. The first flight was carried out by the Wright Brothers only a little over a decade earlier in 1903. As such, when World War I began many of the commanders of the armed forces only used the airplane as a way to track enemy movement and the position of enemy trenches on the battlefield. Pilots were tasked with taking photographs of the battlefield and reporting back on their findings to help forces on the ground decide where to strike. For example, spotting and reporting back on enemy artillery placement was vitally important. However, as World War I advanced so did the technology and uses of the airplane in battle. As a result, World War I was the first major conflict that included airplanes and fighting in the air.
Most of the airplanes used in World War I were made out of wood and fabric. The body of the airplane was generally constructed from wood, while the wings were made of wire framing and fabric. This was the easiest materials to use in the construction of the airplanes, but also made them relatively susceptible to damage from enemy fire. As result, as the war continued, the countries involved made advancements in the use of metal. For instance, the first airplane to be made from an all metal frame was the Junkers J1 in 1915. It was developed by Hugo Junkers, a German aircraft engineer, and ushered in the basic airplane design that became the standard by the end of the war.
BOMBER AIRPLANES IN WORLD WAR I
While aerial photography was still useful throughout the war, by the war’s end both sides had established bombers and fighter divisions. For example, at the beginning of World War I, carrying out a ‘bombing run’ basically involved the pilot and a passenger pushing a small bomb out the side of the aircraft as it flew over the desired target. This was not accurate and rarely had any effect on the battle occurring on the ground. However, within a few short years planes were being used that were designed specifically for bombing runs as they had longer frames and could carry heavier payloads to desired targets on the ground.
An example of a bomber plane from World War I was the Gotha G.V., which was a long range German bomber. It was first used in August of 1917 and could carry a payload of 14 60-pound bombs.
FIGHTER AIRPLANES IN WORLD WAR I
As well as the bomber, fighter planes developed during the course of World War I and the victorious pilots who flew them became known as ‘aces’. Several of the aces from World War I became famous for their roles in the war, such as the ‘Red Baron’ from Germany. Fighter planes were smaller than the bombers and could turn and swerve much more easily in the air. Fighter planes changed dramatically throughout World War I in construction and design. In the early stages of the war, pilots would only carry handheld pistols, which they could use to fire at other enemy aircraft. This meant that actual combat in the air was uncommon and rarely resulted in a pilot successfully taking down an enemy pilot. However, soon machine guns were fitted to the airplanes and rival enemy pilots began to participate in midair ‘dog-fights’ against one another.
The issue that many planes struggled with in regards to the mounting of a machinegun was the placement of the gun. Early designs had the barrel of the gun placed behind the front propeller. This was not ideal as it meant that the bullets of the gun could hit the front propeller of the plane. To overcome this the machinegun was sometimes positioned above the propeller, and sometimes the blades of the propeller would be covered with metal in order to deflect any bullets and prevent the blades from being destroyed. In the end, most fighter plane designs included machineguns that would time their firing to match the propeller to solve the issue. In fact, the Fokker Eindecker was the first aircraft from World War I that included a ‘synchronization gear’, which allowed the machinegun to time its firing with the spinning of the propeller. The Fokker Eindecker was a German plane and gave Germany an advantage in air superiority in the early period of World War I. It was first introduced into the battlefields of World War I in July of 1915.
AIRPLANES IN THE BATTLES OF WORLD WAR I
As stated above, airplanes played a role in the battles of World War I from a very early stage. In the early months of the war, this was generally for the use of reconnaissance – spying on enemy troop and artillery placements. However, as the war progressed, and aircraft technology improved, the use of airplanes became more widespread. For instance, one of the first main examples of airplane use in World War I was the ‘Fokker Scourge’.
The Fokker Scourge was a time period from mid-1915 until early 1916 when the Imperial German Flying Corps dominated the battlefields of Europe and the air forces of Britain and France. This was due mainly to the introduction of the Fokker Eindecker in July of 1915, and the use of the synchronization gear for the machineguns. The Fokker Scourge continued until Britain and France were able to fight back with their own advanced planes.
Air superiority also proved important throughout the events of the Battle of the Somme and the Battle of Verdun. These were arguably, the largest battles of World War I and led to numerous casualties for all countries involved. Regardless, the Allied Powers (Britain and France) maintained control of the air superiority throughout the timeframes of both battles, which occurred in 1916.
Aircrafts remained important on the Western Front until the end of the war, with the German Spring Offensives and the events of the Hundred Days Offensive.
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