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Compromises - The Corps Aircraft
The Corps aircraft operating in their artillery co-operation and photographic roles were arguably the RFC assets that contributed most directly to the success of the British army.
‘Observation for the artillery, visual reconnaissance, air-photography and the ‘contact-sortie’ became, therefore, the principle tasks of the Royal Flying Corps on the Western Front,…’. Peter Mead, The Eye in the Air (London: HMSO, 1983), p. 62.
Yet these crews were expected to survive in the obsolete B.E.2 during the battle of
in 1917. The replacement of the B.E.2 had begun with a RFC request for a two-seat reconnaissance aircraft that was capable of defending itself. The result was the Bristol Fighter, introduced in April 1917. Its robust design, powerful engine, good manoeuvrability and relatively heavy armament enabled it to excel as a fighter aircraft, condemning the Corps crews to fly the uninspiring compromise replacement, the R.E.8, and from June 1917 the F.K.8 until the end of the war. Arras
Compromises - The Ground Attack Role
‘… 437 British machines had been wrecked on our side of the line, and 113 of our machines were missing. … that the large number of machines wrecked was owing to the amount of low flying taking place; also that such low flying machines get badly shot about. … that the casualties had been heavy, primarily due to machine-gun fire from the ground; 210 pilots had been killed, wounded, or missing, and 105 observers killed, wounded, or missing. National Archives CAB 23/6 Image No 0004.
Unlike the Germans, with their armoured Halberstadt CL.II aircraft specifically designed for ground attack, the British, due in part to the emphasis on fighter production, did not produce a dedicated ground attack aircraft.
Compromises - The Human Cost
The manpower compromises are a little more emotive. The human cost, whilst not avoidable, could and should have been tempered. As stated previously the operational tempo generated by Trenchard’s offensive policies placed a strain on the RFC’s training system that led ultimately to higher casualties. Trenchard was aware of this as is evidenced by his complaints to the War Office concerning the quality of the new pilots and his decision to send Smith-Barry back to
to ‘try out his ideas’. Trenchard reportedly said to Smith-Barry ‘It’s about time you went home to try out these ideas you’ve been pestering me with.’ (Boyle, Trenchard, p. 202.). Trenchard’s time at the CFS before the war and his home involvement in the initial RFC expansion during 1914 provided him with a clear insight into the pressures being placed on the training machine. With this in mind it is perhaps easier to subscribe to Ralph Barker’s view: England
‘The failure to impose strict training programmes on new squadrons as they arrived, and to organise routine training programmes on all squadrons in France, surely amounted to culpable if not criminal negligence.’ Barker, Mons to the Somme, p. 220.
Quantifying the degree to which Trenchard’s policy compromised the development of the RFC is problematic, but what is clear is as John H. Morrow states:
‘Trenchard refused to acknowledge that materiel and manpower imposed very real limitations on doctrine.’ John H. Morrow, The Great War in the Air (Washington: Smithsonian, 1993), p. 175.
CAB/23/2, Image Reference 0041
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 123, (20 April 1917)
CAB/23/2, Image Reference 0052
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 134, (8 May 1917)
CAB/23/3, Image Reference 0027
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 179, (9 July 1917)
CAB/23/4, Image Reference 0017
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 243, (2 October 1917)
CAB/23/5, Image Reference 0053
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 361, (7 March 1918)
CAB/23/6, Image Reference 0004
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 382, (4 April 1918)
CAB/23/40, Image Reference 0008
War Cabinet Minutes. War Cabinet 6, (5 April 1917)
CAB/24/2, Image Reference 0009
Duties of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps, (February 1916)
CAB/24/2, Image Reference 0037
CAB/24/6, Image Reference 0091
CAB/24/7, Image Reference 0006
CAB/24/10, Image Reference 0068
CAB/24/11, Image Reference 0096
Air Board, Report to the Cabinet, (26 April 1917)
CAB/24/25, Image Reference 0023
CAB/24/26, Image Reference 0004
R.F.C. H.Q. 1914-1918 (London, Bell & Sons, 1920)
Royal Air Force
The War in the Air Volume 1 (Oxford, Clarenden Press, 1922)
‘The Air Force’, RUSI Journal, 65 (Feb./Nov. 1920)
‘Gun versus Aeroplane’, Flight Magazine, 7 December 1912, pp. 1127-1132
Giffard, Hardinge (Viscount Tiverton)
‘Independent Air Power’, RAF Spirit of the Air Inaugural Edition 1 April 1918 pp. 7 - 9.
‘Further Developments of Military Aviation’ Flight Magazine, 14 February 1914, pp. 170-173
‘Forward’, RAF Spirit of the Air Inaugural Edition 1 April 1918 p. 1.
Sir Frederick Sykes and the Air Revolution 1912-1918 (London, Frank Cass, 1999)
‘Air Power Leadership: A Study of Sykes and Trenchard’, in Peter W. Gray & Sebastian Cox (eds), Air Power Leadership Theory and Practice (London, The Stationary Office, 2002)
Air Historical Branch
A Short History of the Royal Air Force (Air Ministry, AP 125, 1936)
The Royal Flying Corps in France from Mons to the Somme (London, Constable, 1994)
The Royal Flying Corps in France from Bloody April 1917 to Final Victory (London, Constable, 1995)
Bishop, William A
Winged Warfare (New York, Doran Company, 1918)
Trenchard (London, Collins, 1962)
The Brabazon Story (London, William Heinemann, 1956)
The Birth of Independent Air Power (London, Allen & Unwin, 1986)
Through German Eyes (
Finnegan, Terrence J.
Shooting the Front – Allied Aerial Reconnaissance and Photographic Interpretation on the Western Front – World War One (Washington, NDIC Press, 2006)
Fischer, William Edward
The Development of Military Night Aviation to 1919 (Washington, US Government Printing Office, 1998)
Bloody April … Black September (London, Grubb Street, 1995)
Somme Success (
Bloody April (
Aces Falling (
Jordan, David & Sheffield,
‘The British Army and Air Power’, in Peter W. Gray (ed), British Air Power (
Full Circle (
The First Air War 1914-1918 (New York, Macmillan, 1991)
‘A German airman and his war: Oscar Bechtle’, in Hugh Cecil & Peter Liddle (eds), Facing Armageddon (Barnsley Pen & Sword, 2003)
No Parachute. A Fighter Pilot in World War I (London: Jarrolds, 1968)
On a Wing and a Prayer (
The Eye in the Air (London, HMSO, 1983)
Morrow, John H.
The Great War in the Air (Washington, Smithsonian, 1993)
Winged Warfare (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1992)
Air Bombardment (London, Chatto & Windus, 1961)
‘Douglas Haig and Air Power’, in Peter W. Gray & Sebastian Cox (eds), Air Power Leadership Theory and Practice (
The German Army at Passchendaele (
The Killing Ground (
Turner, Charles C.
The Struggle in the Air 1914-1918 (London, Edward Arnold, 1919)
The First of the Few (London, Penguin, 1982)
Winged Victory (St Albans, Mayflower, 1974)
Journals and Periodicals
‘Sustaining Airpower – Influence of Logistics on RAF Doctrine’ USAF Journal of Logistics, 30 (4) & 31 (1), (Winter 2006, Spring 2007)
‘The 'Cult of the Offensive' Revisited: Confronting Technological Change Before the Great War’, Journal of Strategic Studies, 25 (1) (2002)
‘Evolution of a Close Ground-Support Role for Aircraft in World War I’, Military Affairs, 39, (1) (February 1975)
‘The Royal Air Force and Air/Land Integration in the 100 Days’, Air Power Review, 11, (2), (Summer 2008)
‘Aspects of the Employment of the British Air Arm, 1914-1918’, RUSI Journal, 131 (4), (December 1986)
Meilinger, Phillip S.
‘Trenchard and "Morale Bombing": The Evolution of Royal Air Force Doctrine Before World War II’, The Journal of Military History, 60, (2) (April 1996)
‘Air Power taken to its Limits and Beyond. The
‘The German Air Force on the Western Front’, RUSI Journal, 69 (Feb./Nov. 1924)
‘Some Aspects of the Work of the Royal Air Force with the B.E.F. in 1918’ RUSI Journal, 67 (Feb./Nov. 1922)
‘Progress of Aviation in the War Period’, Flight Magazine, 26 June 1919, pp. 853-854
Bradbeer, Thomas B.
‘The Battle for Air Supremacy over the Somme, 1 June-30 November 1916’,
‘British Naval Flying’, Flight Magazine, 20 April 1951, pp. 467-471
‘Operational Lessons from the Dawn of Air Power’,
‘Earning their Wings: British Pilot Training, 1912-1918’