Friday, June 17, 2011

British Aviation in the First World War – Pt 6

Back to Part 5

Growth of the RFC (Aircraft Development)

In 1914 the British aviation industry was well behind that of France and Germany.  Attempts to catch up and meet the demands of the RFC and RNAS were exacerbated by inter-service rivalry.  Friction between the War Office and the Admiralty over aviation had begun as early as October 1914.  Both were competing with the same suppliers, in the case of the French produced aero engines the Admiralty outbid the War Office on several occasions and successfully increased the market price.  During 1915 a special government committee, under Lord Derby, was established in an attempt to solve the problems of competition over the supply and acquisition of aviation equipment.  Derby resigned after 6 weeks due to the stubbornness of the Admiralty to give in on even the most insignificant issue.  While the Admiralty had no hesitation in ordering, at inflated prices, goods from firms on the Army list, it refused to allow the War Office to approach its firms.

Towards the end of 1915 agitation over inadequate British Air Defences, the inability to retaliate against the German homeland in response to the German Zeppelin raids, and the awareness of British inferiority to the Fokkers on the Western Front came together in the form of a demand for the formation of an Air Ministry or Department.  Many people were beginning to realize that the division between the RFC and RNAS was harmful to the effectiveness of air operations.  It was not until well into 1917 that the inadequacies in the British aviation industry were finally addressed and it took the formation of the RAF in 1918 to finally address the inefficiencies in the procurement system.  As the war ended the British aircraft industry was only just approaching full capacity.

The Technological Pendulum

The German aerial policy on the Western Front reflected both her industrial reality and defensive military strategy.  By the end of 1916 Germany was starting to lose the aircraft production race (see numbers on slide).  They tended to husband their smaller resources, very rarely engaging in combat on the Allies side of the line, and concentrated their aviation forces to seek an occasional mastery linked in time and space.  Technological development by both sides was rapid and the capability pendulum swung backwards and forwards throughout the war.  When the pendulum favored the Germans the RFC paid a heavy price conducting Trenchard’s offensive policies.  Right up to the armistice German pilots and German technology proved themselves a force to be reckoned with.  Despite fuel and pilot shortages the Fokker D.VII arguably the most advanced fighter of the war exacted a heavy toll from the Allies during the 100 days.

Next: Aviation Roles

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