The Aeroplane in Warfare
By Charles Lincoln Freeston
(Founder Member of the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain and Ireland)
[Scribner's Magazine, July 1915]
The development of aviation as a science has long been watched with varying degrees of interest by every civilized nation, but its application to military purposes is a matter of more or less secret history. Few people, for example, know why, when the outlook was threatening to the last degree, Germany and France did not actually come to blows at the time of the Morocco crisis. It so happened that the French military manoeuvres had just taken place, and the aeroplanes with which France had by that time provided herself in large numbers performed such amazing feats, and foreshadowed so drastic a revolution in warfare, as to petrify with astonishment all the foreign attachés who were present on the field. Just when every one was expecting war to be declared at any moment, the German representatives hastened to Berlin and pointed out that, as Germany's own aeroplane equipment was at that time all but a negligible quantity, it would be utterly hopeless for her to enter upon a war against France with any prospect of success. When one sees what has been done in the present war by the aviators of both sides alike it is easy to understand the correctness of Germany's decision in the Morocco period, for so remarkable a preponderance as then existed on the French side would have gone far toward outweighing the German superiority in numbers where its ordinary army was concerned. Instead of declaring war, Germany set to work to develop her "fourth arm," with the result that when she took the field against France in 1914 she had a colossal array of aeroplanes and trained pilots to control them.
It was a single event, too, which speeded up the. British War Office—reputedly the most conservative of human institutions. Aviation had been developing with rapid strides in Great Britain for a good number of years, and the government had been even moved to devote a grant for the production of aeroplanes on military lines. The money provided, however, fell very far short of the requirements of the case, in view of the immense progress already achieved in France, and the speed with which Germany was endeavoring to set her house in order. Nevertheless, the British Government and the War Office continued to regard the question as an insular matter pure and simple, in spite of the reiterated protests of the leaders of British aviation, who knew what was being accomplished elsewhere. Obviously some striking lesson, of instantaneous value, was needed to convince the government of the error of its ways, but it was left for a small committee of practical patriots to provide the lever which should burst open the coffers of the reluctant treasury. The intrepid Gustav Harmel was engaged to attempt a long-distance flight from England across the Channel, and thence over foreign soil. After an initial failure which, so far as I am aware, has not been recorded previously, he made a triumphant journey right over into Germany, reached Dusseldorf (two hundred and thirty miles) in three hours and ten minutes, and finished twenty miles farther on in Cologne. It was open to the advocates of progress to point out that if a British aviator could fly thus easily and speedily into German territory, a visitation from a German aviator, or German aviators, was equally feasible. More convincingly than ever was it shown that Great Britain was no longer an island so far as concerned immunity from distant attack. The War Office woke up, the government voted the money, and the training of military and also naval aviators proceeded apace.
As a practical result, British military aviation had undoubtedly attained a greater degree of organization before the war broke out than at one time appeared possible, or indeed than was realized by the British public. Like every other department, of course, its personnel and equipment were not based upon a scale in any sense commensurate with the magnitude of the gigantic war with which the nation was suddenly confronted, but nevertheless were ready and complete enough to astound, by their effective work, every man who was not already aware of their inspiring capabilities. At the very outset of the campaign they saved the British Expeditionary Force from extinction, for, if his aviators had not warned him in time, General Sir John French would not have known of the oncoming of immense German hordes charged with the Kaiser's express command to wipe out the "contemptible little army." As every one knows, the memorable retreat from Mons was strenuous enough as it was, and ranks as one of the greatest of military achievements; but in his historic despatch Sir John French could not conceal his satisfaction with the services which his gallant flying men had rendered, while General Joffre awarded the British Flying Corps the decoration of the Legion of Honor forthwith. As the British aviators began, so they continued; and the history of their achievements is one long record of deeds of gallantry and daring. Fired by these exploits large numbers of young men passed through the schools and were enrolled as pilots, while the manufacture of aeroplanes was pushed forward in every available factory. The efficiency of the flying contingents at the front has not only been increased accordingly from month to month, but the outstanding feature of the aerial warfare has unquestionably been centred in its scientific no less than its military value. Whether voluntarily or under orders, flights have been made, and with conspicuous success, of a kind which had never before been attempted. In wind force nothing short of a hurricane has prevented the aviators from carrying out their duties, while the machines themselves have proved capable of things which only enthusiasts would have ventured to predict; indeed, reconnaissances in ninety-mile-an-hour gales have been officially recorded. The art of flying by night, too, has received ah extraordinary stimulus.
As an illustration, in passing, of the advances made from the technical point of view, since the war actually began, I may mention two unrecorded feats which were performed only a few days before I write. A friend of my own crossed the English Channel, from Folkestone to Boulogne, in twelve minutes! Another aviator left Farnborough, in Hampshire, with a stiff gale behind, flew down to the coast, crossed the Channel, and sped across France to Sir John French's headquarters in an hour and a half, and it is computed that the machine at times must have attained a speed of one hundred and fifty miles an hour. As to the first-named feat, the fact may be recalled that M. Bleriot, in his epic flight across the Channel, took thirty-five minutes, while, as regards the second, it is sufficient to point out that Lord Kitchener at the War Office and the commander-in-chief at the front could communicate by aeroplane, if need be, with a celerity that is only rivalled by the telephone itself.
To General Joffre, no doubt, the capabilities of the aeroplane came less as a surprise than to Sir John French, and this may account for the fact that the services of French aviators have received infrequent mention in the despatches. It was not, in fact, until March of this year that it was stated that, from the beginning of the war up to the end of January, the French flying squadrons had carried out about 10,000 reconnaissances, corresponding to more than 18,000 hours of flight. According to official estimate, the actual distances which these flights involved amounted to no less than 1,800,000 kilometres, or forty-five times the circumference of the world. These figures show strikingly enough the efficiency of the aeroplane as a military adjunct, without drawing any invidious and wholly unnecessary comparisons as to the records of the airmen of other nations; but to the French communiqué was added a statement as to "grievous losses, which are comparable to and often more severe than those of other arms so far as the number of killed, wounded, and missing is concerned."
The explanation of this sentence is not one which is ever likely to be published in official documents, nor has it up to the present been manifested elsewhere. Nothing has been more remarkable, so far as concerns the British aviation corps of both sections, than the astonishingly small degree of failure, either as regards men or machines. The number of deaths, either from accidents connected with flight as such, or from the enemy's artillery, has certainly not exceeded three per cent. Not for a moment, however, could it be said that the flying men of the British forces have been coddled and those of the French ordered to take extreme risks; the most dangerous ventures, indeed, in the shape of organized raids, have been carried out by the Royal Naval Air Service.
The plain truth of the matter is that, relying upon their superiority in equipment as compared with the air departments of other nations, the French had allowed their military aviators to grow slack, and at the time when the war broke out they were by no means in a state of high efficiency. The government machines were neither of the latest nor best nor were the men who handled them the most expert the country could produce, either as pilots or mechanics, while trained observers were at an utter discount. The losses referred to in the statement above quoted, there is reason to believe, were for the most part sustained in the earlier months of the war, and matters assumed a different aspect when reorganization was effected, although meanwhile the French army had to borrow from the Royal Flying Corps of General French. But not only were new and better machines eventually forthcoming, but the services of well-known civilian pilots were enlisted, and experts such as Verrier and Louis Noel were summoned from the English aviation grounds, where they were giving exhibition flights. France has never lacked skilled and daring aviators in plenty; all that was wrong was that aviation had been mismanaged on its military side. Even the French losses, however, have been fewer than might have been expected as compared with popular ideas of the dangerous nature of aviators' work, and on the law of averages most people would have calculated upon a higher percentage of disaster even if the same number of flights had taken place under peace conditions.
Two main factors, indeed, have to be borne in mind, when considering the extraordinary efficiency and comparative immunity from loss of the aviation squadrons of the Allied armies. The first was known before the war began. Aviation may be said to have entered the realm of practical science when it was discovered that, notwithstanding the fact that an aeroplane is heavier than air and working against gravity by the power of its engine, the pilot is nevertheless not solely dependent upon the latter for the preservation of his own life. A headlong and fatal flight to earth was assumed to be inevitable when the engine failed; but when it was shown in due course that an aeroplane could glide down in spirals and alight without disaster, if only the pilot could choose a safe landing-place, the problem of flight assumed an entirely new phase.
As for the second factor, which only the war has taught us, it has been shown beyond doubt that, to a large extent, an aviator may be said to bear a charmed life even when over the enemy's fire. Time and time again machines have descended with their planes honeycombed with bullets, and it has been shown that to bring an airman down by gun-fire or rifle-fire it is necessary either to kill or wound the man himself or to damage an integral part of the machine to a degree that makes it uncontrollable. Rifle-fire has proved ineffective, save by sheer luck, but anti-aircraft guns are a more serious matter. They can fire almost straight up in the air to a distance of about seven thousand yards, and the Germans place their guns in groups, so that when an aviator is sighted he has not to fear a single weapon only, but enters upon a zone of fire. This fact notwithstanding, he escapes oftener than not by a quick change of course, coupled with a rapid ascent, and the opportunities of effective marksmanship are generally inferior to the pilot's chances of escape. What he fears, indeed, even more than the prospect of being actually hit is the disturbing effect of shell-fire on the stability of his machine, and there is no gainsaying the fact that aviators generally, from this cause, experience many anxious moments. As a matter of general practise, however, it has been found that reconnaissance work is fairly safe at anything above six thousand feet. Insomuch as rays of light diverge from the human eye, a machine that is travelling at any considerable altitude appears to be absolutely stationary, and its speed cannot be gauged, while at a height anything near the full range of the guns it is, of course, invisible.
It is almost superfluous to say that no official details have been vouchsafed as to the composition of the Royal Flying Corps or the Royal Naval Air Service of the British Expeditionary Force. As an illustration of the tardiness with which information filters through from the front, I may mention that it was not until the war had been in progress for seven months, or, in other words, a month after the article on "The Motor in Warfare" appeared in SCRIBNER'S MAGAZINE, that any material reference was made by the official "Eye-witness" at the front to the question of mechanical transport, by which time, however, he was pleased to inform the world that this was "a petrol war." I may state here, however, that the number of machines employed by both wings of the British forces was about two hundred in all in March last, since when, however, the government orders have been rapidly maturing from week to week. No one type is paramount. Though the government factory, of course, favors the "BE2" biplanes of its own design, the output is not particularly large. Official plans were supplied to motor-car factories and others, but rapidity of production was hampered by the fact that numerous alterations of design were made from headquarters.
Meanwhile, the various aeroplane manufacturers themselves have been working on government orders for their own machines, and have produced these at a much more expeditious rate than the official factory itself. As a result, the types are no less varied than they were at the outbreak of the war, when everything that was available at the moment was requisitioned. The monoplane is out of favor because it is neither so speedy nor so stable as the biplane, but it has nevertheless figured at the front because of the exigencies of the occasion. The preponderance of the biplane is, nevertheless, emphatic, although in great diversity of pattern. While it may be said that the capabilities of the distinctive types were well known to aviators before the fateful August 3d of last year, sundry reputations have been materially enhanced. The Avro biplanes, for example, have proved remarkably efficient, and are a striking example of the rewards of persistent endeavors on the part of their inventor, Mr. A. V. Roe. Many years ago I saw him vainly striving to rise from the earth on a little tri-plane, fitted with a nine-horse-power motor, at the first aviation meeting ever held in England, amid general laughter. The Avro of to-day, with an eighty-horse-power Gnome motor, can do 84 miles an hour, with a slowest speed of 30, and can land at 20, while it has laid to its credit the most remarkable achievement of the war. When the Admiralty aircraft raid on Friedrichshafen took place, the machines by which this feat was accomplished were three Avros which had never before made a single flight. Constructed in the north of England, they were packed straightway in crates and sent to Belfort, on the French side of the Swiss frontier. There they were unpacked and assembled, and were mounted forthwith by the gallant trio—Squadron-Commander Briggs, Lieutenant Babington, and Lieutenant Sippe. Briggs, it will be remembered, was wounded in the head and taken prisoner, but the other two returned and landed within 250 yards of the spot from which they started, having flown about 240 miles in wintry weather, and mostly over enemy territory.
In point of speed, however, the chief honors have been gained by machines of the "baby," or "tabloid," scout type. They are biplanes with very small planes, and are equal to a speed of 90 to 100 miles an hour, and a slow speed of 40; they require, however, a particularly skilful type of pilot. The Bristol, Short, "BE2," Sopwith, Avro, De Havilland, Blackburn, and Handasyde may be mentioned as British aeroplanes which have done chief service at the front, while there are, of course, a number of machines of French pattern which have long been manufactured under license in British factories. The engines themselves also, with the exception of the Green, are all of foreign type, though manufactured in England. The famous rotary Gnome motor is largely employed, but the Renault, with eight inclined cylinders, and the Austro-Dairnler are also used to a considerable extent, and ever since the war began have been manufactured in leading British motor-car factories, such as the Daimler, Rolls-Royce, and Arrol-Johnston.
In France a curious situation arose at the outset, inasmuch as certain types of aeroplanes were deemed unsuitable for military purposes, and their manufacturers were confronted with the prospect of either closing down their business or producing machines to government order from the designs of their own rivals; the Blériot factory among others had to set to work upon the making of biplanes. The most prominent types in use are the Voisin, Caudron, Henri and Maurice Farman, with a new type of the latter, and the Morane "parasol," all being biplanes with the exception of the last-named. The Caudron can rise three thousand metres in ten minutes but is not overspeedy in a straight flight. The new Voisin is a large and powerful machine, fitted with a two-hundred-horse-power motor, and is built of steel; it can not only carry a machine gun, but a good number of bombs as well, while its landing-power has been improved as compared with its prototypes.
As for the Germans, they had taken the lesson of the Morocco incident so seriously to heart that they entered the theatre of war with an aeroplane equipment which was far in excess of that of any other country; indeed, it is believed that the German aeroplanes were quite 1,500 in number, with between 600 and 700 pilots. They were of various types, chief among which was the Taube, in several varieties, both monoplane and biplane, together with the Albatros, also in both forms, and the Aviatik, D. F. W., and L. V. G. biplanes. The motors employed were the Mercédès and the Benz. The first-named engine, by the way, is the best thing yet produced for its purpose in the aviation world, where reliability and duration of flight are concerned. In the earlier months the Taube machines were the most prominent, not only by their number but by their distinctive shape. As a matter of fact, however, though they resembled and were named as "doves," the Austrian inventor, Etrich, whose designs machines the Germans unblushingly annexed, did not take his idea of the wing formation from a bird, but from the leaf of the zanolia-tree. The impression, nevertheless, created even by the original Etrich monoplanes when in flight was essentially that of a giant bird. I have never seen anything more beautiful, in fact, than an Etrich which flew over my head on a London golf-course during a short visit which the inventor himself paid to England. And thereby hangs a tale. Herr Etrich drove in a taxicab to the flying-ground at Hendon, in order to pick up his machine and fly home. He forgot, however, to discharge the cabman, and after waiting five hours the latter proceeded to make inquiries as to his fare. He was met with the reply that, according to a telegram just received, Herr Etrich had passed over Calais!
Eventually large numbers of the Taube machines were eliminated from the field by accident or attacks in mid-air. The German pilots have proved far inferior in initiative and skill to those of the Allies, and were evidently trained too much on military lines pure and simple. Even their theatrical displays over Paris came to naught, and were regarded as an interesting diversion by the inhabitants of the gay city, who used to crowd the bridges whenever the "doves" were signalled or expected. On one occasion an enterprising person brought out a large number of chairs and hired them to spectators at so much per head, but on that particular morning no hostile aircraft appeared, and the unlucky speculator was thrown into the Seine by his indignant patrons. The most useful thing that the German aviators have ever done was the saving of Von Kluck's army from annihilation, as they were able to inform him of the unsuspected presence of General Foch's army in the neighborhood of Amiens and also of large forces behind Paris. Without this forewarning Von Kluck's army would certainly have been cut to pieces, but thanks to the aeroplanes he was able to extricate himself just in time. The Austrians, too, would not have been able to hold Przemysl for five months but for the fact that their aeroplanes located the Russian guns wherever they were laid.
The work of the aviators at the front has been a curious admixture of purely routine operations and feats of supreme personal danger. The primary duty, of course, of a military aviator is that of effective reconnaissance. It may take the form of watching for the advance of hostile troops, directing artillery fire, or the locating of the enemy's concealed batteries when they have got to work. But what is sauce for the goose is proverbially sauce for the gander, inasmuch as the enemy is always endeavoring to achieve like purposes, and a highly important feature of the aviator's services is that of warding off the reconnaissances of his opponents. Now, one of the things of which the Royal Flying Corps has especially good reason to be proud is the undoubted way, as testified by Sir John French himself at a very early stage of the proceedings, in which it established an ascendency in this respect over the German aircraft. Aviators with whom I have conversed many months later have convinced me that this feature has been maintained throughout. The value of the German equipment has been largely neutralized by the fact that whenever a British pilot sees an enemy machine he goes for it without a moment's hesitation, and in the resultant aerial duels the Germans have lost so many machines and men that now they generally decline to put up a fight, and retire from the scene as hastily as possible, in which process they are undoubtedly helped by the great power of their machines.
The methods of repelling an aerial attack are various, and depend, of course, on the types of machine engaged. It is commonly supposed that one pilot invariably attempts to rise above the other and shoot or drop bombs from above; but the British aviators have lately adopted another method with success, if the hostile aircraft is a biplane, by getting in front of it from below, and thus obtaining a fair mark at the pilot himself. The circumstances vary, however, in every case according to the nature of the machines engaged, and also of their armament. A pilot may be alone, or the machine may be a two-seater with an observer armed with a rifle. The position of the observers, moreover, is also dependent on the type of machine. On the larger English and French biplanes he is placed right in front, while on the German biplanes, which have heavy engines, he is a good way behind the pilot, and incidentally in a much more desirable position in every way. The carrying of machine guns and the armoring of aeroplane bodies is the exception rather than the rule, but the seats themselves are high and bullet-proof more often than not.
While reconnaissance work, as has been mentioned, is the main duty of the aeroplanist in war, his power of offensive operations is by no means to be despised, and almost daily sorties are made from the Allies' lines in order to drop bombs on batteries, powder magazines, ammunition trains, railway junctions, aeroplane parks, submarines, etc., and often to invaluable effect. So far as the British forces are concerned, this has been done in routine fashion by the Royal Flying Corps, but wherever a great distance is involved the work has been performed by the Royal Naval Air Service, whose daring exploits have been the most dramatic events of the whole war. Not only have they achieved the most important practical results, but their moral effect has been tremendous, and Teutonic complacency must have received a series of very severe shocks by the magnificent raids on Dusseldorf, Cuxhaven, Friedrichshafen, Hoboken, and other places. The combined raid, moreover, of English and French machines, to the number of forty, on the Belgian littoral must have provided one of the most imposing spectacles of the war; at the same time, it may be pointed out that artistic imagination, as displayed in the illustrated papers at the time, was hopelessly at fault in showing the forty machines rising into the air ensemble like a flock of birds, for the simple reason that they were despatched one by one, at five-minute intervals.
Volumes might be written, if all the facts were known, as to the innumerable thrilling adventures and narrow escapes which have been incidental to this aerial warfare throughout. A certain number have found their way into the world's press, and others one hears of privately, but it is safe to say that many will never be recorded. In the second category may be mentioned the remarkable experience of an English aviator named Mapplebeck. A fragment of a shell entered his right hip, struck a five-franc piece in his pocket, and the splinters of each ploughed across his body to his left hip. By all the laws of surgery he ought to have bled to death. He retained consciousness, however, until he alighted, and was then, after temporary attention, despatched to a base hospital, where the surgeons found that though an artery had actually been pierced it had been automatically plugged by a severed muscle. Verrier, the French expert, also effected a descent under extraordinary conditions. One leg was completely paralyzed by the enemy's fire, while the observer on board was even more seriously wounded, and Verrier had to guide his machine earthwards not only when all but disabled himself, but with the whole weight of his passenger leaning on the control levers.
In the way of sensational falls two may be mentioned as specially noteworthy. One of the best-known British aviators, Mr. B. C. Hucks, was flying against a sixty-mile-an-hour gale, at a height of six thousand feet above the German lines, but in spite of his slow speed trusted to his altitude to save himself from artillery fire. A shell found its mark, however, and passed between Hucks and his observer. It opened up a big hole in the fabric, and carried away a main strut, two ribs, and the-petrol-pipes. These facts notwithstanding, however, he managed to alight with safety. Flight-Commander C. Grahame-White, during the naval air raid on the Belgian coast, ran into a fierce snowstorm, which overweighted his planes, disturbed the balance of his machine, and literally hurled him-into-the sea from a height of seven thousand feet. After being thirty-five minutes in the water he was picked up by a French mine-sweeper, which was then shelled for an hour and a half by. German guns. Truly a lively experience.
Very remarkable, too, are the instances which go to show the way in which pilots have escaped disaster under other conditions than that of disablement, but none the less abnormal. One member of the Royal Flying Corps, for example, was rendered almost completely dazed by shell-fire at close quarters, and lost command of his machine. For some little time it gyrated about in all manner of ways, and finally "looped the loop," but before the point of actual disaster was reached he regained possession of his faculties and alighted with the machine under control. A naval airman when flying seaward entered a thick white, cloud and wholly lost his sense of direction. He only realized that he was upside down on finding that things were falling out of his pockets. Then his belt broke, and he had to hang on by his knees and elbows. At length he emerged from the cloud and saw the sea apparently over his head, but was able to right his machine and continue his flight.
Baron de Neufville flew for three hours above the German lines near Arras, at a height of nine thousand feet and in a temperature of thirty degrees below freezing-point. Even the anti-aircraft guns, as he remarked, did not serve to warm him! A young English aviator, the bullet-holes in whose planes bear testimony to his repeated exposure to fire, had one narrow escape with an amusing ending. Mistaken for a German airman, he was fired at by the French and forced to descend through the puncturing of his petrol-tank. When the mistake was discovered, of course, profuse apologies were forthcoming, and he was presented by the mayor of the district with a bouquet! Talking of bullet-holes, by the way, I may mention that the record is held by a British aviator who, escaping from a hail of shrapnel, counted ninety separate punctures in his planes.
It is not to be supposed that the flying man misses any opportunity "of poking fun at the enemy. A French aviator flew over Antwerp and dropped leaflets to enliven the inhabitants. The Germans, of course, opened fire, and thought they had winged him, but to their chagrin he "looped the loop" several times in obvious derision, then sailed away. Hoodwinking the Germans under much more dangerous conditions has been practised several times with consummate faring. Verrier, for example, found himself over a German camp, and immediately became the object of a furious fire. He "banked" right over and dropped like a wounded bird, but when at close quarters he suddenly righted the machine, distributed half a dozen bombs in the middle of the camp, and in the resultant confusion effected his escape. As a matter of fact, however, it is absolutely necessary for the British naval aviators, at all events, to do something of this kind, for they are under Admiralty instructions to descend to three hundred feet in order to make sure of their mark. To fly in an aeroplane at all, under peace conditions, is usually supposed to be fairly indicative of courage, and vastly more so to pass over the enemy's lines; but surely the sublimity of human bravery is reached in cases like that of the Friedrichshafen raid, when, according to the Germans' own admission, the English trio descended to within ninety feet and into the heart of the enemy's fire, in order to effect, as they did, the wrecking of the Zeppelin sheds.
Among other individual deeds may be mentioned that of a French armored aeroplane which attacked single-handed three armored Taubes near Amiens, and succeeded in driving them off. Another French machine with a gunner on board brought down a Taube and two Aviatiks in one and the same flight. Pégoud, the original "looper," has been decorated for many achievements, among which was the dropping of nine bombs on a German ammunition depot, the terrific explosion which followed nearly upsetting his machine. He had three bombs left, however, and with these he scattered a company of soldiers. On another occasion he rose to a great height, then dropped within fifty feet of a captive airship, which he demolished with his final bomb, but again with serious risk to himself. An English airman, endeavoring to locate a battery, stuck to his task while one hundred and fifty rounds were fired at him, but when the smoke had cleared away he was able to signal the position, and give the range to the British artillery, who promptly put in effective work on the German guns. One could multiply examples almost indefinitely of individual daring, or of the extreme utility of the aeroplane in attack or defense; but space will only allow the mention of one striking example under the latter heading. The German army was advancing secretly by night, when suddenly the search-light of a British aeroplane revealed the presence of the Prussian Guard at a distance of barely one hundred and thirty yards behind the British lines, and the intended surprise was converted after heavy fighting into an utter rout.
While the war has, for the most part, merely brought into effective and worldwide prominence the capabilities of machines with which students of aeronautics were already familiar, it has evolved one new departure in connection with the use of the hydro-aeroplane, or seaplane, as it is termed by the British Admiralty. Isolated experiments, of course, had been made as to the launching of seaplanes from a battleship's deck, but the attack on the Dardanelles produced an unheralded novelty in the shape of a vessel devoted solely to the carrying of aircraft. This was the Ark Royal. Originally designed as a cargo steamer, she had the front half cut entirely away, leaving a long and wide level platform. The aeroplanes employed were stowed in the hold, and being either of the scout type, with only twenty feet spread, or the Short, with folding planes, they could be hoisted without previous dismantling, and once on deck could take to immediate flight. The appearance of the Ark Royal, in its semi-truncated form, is decidedly novel. Of course, there are many other seaplanes of a larger type which could not be disposed of in this way; one of the largest is the Curtiss "flying boat," and the British Admiralty has not only several examples of this well-known American machine, but it has also been adopted by other countries.
The attack on the Dardanelles, by the way, also presented a fresh feature for the consideration of pilots, from the fact that the forts were bombarded by battleships from varying distances. The object of the seaplanes, of course, was to signal to the gunners, but, as the battleships were firing projectiles with differing parabolas, it was naturally extremely difficult for the air pilots to determine the highest point of the arc in each case and so keep out of danger. In the end they had to adopt the plan of getting behind or to the south of the forts themselves. It must be added that, while the vast range of the Queen Elizabeth's guns is regarded as being the new factor which made possible the bombardment of the Dardanelles forts, even the modern gun would have been useless without the aeroplane to direct its fire upon invisible marks.
In a word, without the aeroplane in its numerous forms, the war would have been waged on utterly different lines at almost every point. Either the trench warfare would have been indefinitely prolonged, or there would have been an ever-recurrent number of surprise attacks, with alternate successes and defeats, and a ceaseless shifting of the balance of advantage; and when so many millions of troops were engaged, over fronts of unprecedented lengths, Heaven alone knows how the commanders-in-chief would have controlled their forces or directed their tactics. In any future war no country will take the field without regarding its "fourth arm'' as its most precious and indispensable factor. The monoplane will probably have disappeared, and huge biplanes will be employed, of great speed, enormous lifting-power, surprising strength, and efficiency in every part, and, in short, an all-round capacity for attack and defense which will all but eliminate the element of chance, and transfer no small portion of the fighting to the region of the air.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald