Wednesday, June 22, 2011

British Aviation in the First World War – Pt 8

Back to Part 7

Working with the Army – The Corps Machines


As mentioned previously the RFC’s greatest contribution during WW1 was the support provided to the Army.  The aircraft used by the Corps squadrons in this role are illustrated above.  The BE2  and RE8 were mention previously.  The Armstrong Whitworth AK8 was first used at Messines 1917, it was the first British aircraft designed to fulfill the Corps support role.  Support to the Army was provided in a number of forms:

·         Artillery Co-operation
·         Reconnaissance & Photograph
·         Contact Patrols
·         Low Level Ground Attacks
·         Counter Attack Patrols
·         Tank Support

Artillery Co-operation - The development of an integrated system.

Air Observation of Artillery:

Following early successes in aerial reconnaissance, aircraft were seen as a way of engaging “out of sight” targets.
First use on 13 Sep 1914 on the Aisne by Capt James and Lt Lewis, who had developed a simple system.
Maj W Salmond RA, at RFC HQ, produced first gridded maps.
Capt H.C.T. Dowding RA, commanding 9 Sqn RFC, developed  procedures at end of 1914.
Clock ray, concentric circles and codes - method of fire direction.
Amendment to Field Artillery Training 1914.
Growing success, and development of Zone Calls.
Early use of wireless with air transmitter to ground receiver (Short range, heavy radio sets, using morse code messages).
Signal panels for ground to air messages.

Air observation and accuracy of fire:

Growing importance of Counter Battery fire.
Poor quality of French and Belgian maps-Napoleonic systems.  German maps even worse.
Development of grid systems and improved RE survey.
Coincident with use of RGA methods and skills to improve accuracy (Better Survey, Met and MV) for longer range and heavier guns (for deeper targets).
Air photography integrated with Artillery Survey.
Aerial photographs vital for target detection, became important intelligence tools for General Staff, Artillery Staff and Infantry (more later).
Meteorology for RFC and artillery plus Calibration of guns, gave much needed improvements in accuracy.

Counter Battery Fire:

CB Fire developed as an integrated system at main artillery command level of Corps, under CBSO.
Aircraft provide means of acquisition, engagement and photography, also providing verification of efforts of other detection systems, using Corps squadrons.
CB system also includes Sound Ranging and Flash Spotting, both benefitting from improvements in survey.
More than one third of CB fire targets originated from aircraft in trench warfare and more in open warfare.
CB vital for success of tanks.
Close liaison, cooperation and coordination give a system for the all arms battle.

Air observation evolution:

Somme
55 aircraft allocated to 4th Army in June arty op order.
July to November- 8,600 targets registered.
Vimy
Maximum use of aircraft with practice beforehand.  CB fire silenced virtually all German guns.
Messines
German batterys well concealed behind ridge but use of aircraft makes CB fire successful.
Hill 70 Lens
240 calls for targets from the air over 3 days in support of Canadian Corps success.

Next: Reconnaissance & Photography

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